The joke is only funny
when you don’t get it.
Today began like any day at the office—
an applause sign gone haywire
flashing before the punchline.
The second hand scraped the grime
the chimney sweep must have missed.
Hashtags filled our cups, their voices
rising like curses from wells.
Medusa was demoted to worms.
She slithered to the water cooler.
Put a drop in each little mouth.
Gave them names
like Jane from accounting did with the pencils
after the miscarriage.
Jerry wore his tie at half-mast
for the sprinklers leaking tears.
The hour hand crept and crept
like it had a throat to slit.
The police helicopter flew
as if guiding someone home
(a lost child or a couple new to the city)
its searchlight waving
long brush strokes over the east side.
I think about you when real life is filled with bad dialogue.
During work and couples’ therapy, my attention drifts to you.
Together we have learned how to give
exactly as much as we receive
I share balmy rooms with you
where we cut the air
as if we think something will bleed from it.
There is a way of fearing age and fading beauty
that only comes to men without children
on quiet nights when the rent is paid.
I am tired of spitting into the wind and feeling only air.
We may never know the results of our kind words.
Our masterpieces will float over the heads in the crowd.
But you travel at a certain speed,
repeat an exact number of times.
When we’re together, you comb laughter from the hills.
When we’re apart, I remember your burn
real as a wish in a fountain.
I am a terrible chef,
but when I dream about cooking
every inch of my skin becomes a tongue.
This is exactly as problematic as it sounds,
but in the kitchen that I fashion out of night
and memory and borrowed will,
everything I do is delicious.
Sometimes I dream about music
and each pore is a sound channel
to a column of tiny drums
beating at my center.
All of this is to say,
if you want you can stop trying
and just hear the song into being.
You can speak, and the words
can leave your mouth
already in verse.
Some mornings I wake up so desperate
to remember the tune, I sing without listening.
At my best, I know why singing
without listening is the one great flaw,
a sin even for atheists.
Sometimes I wake up and submit to the voice
telling me to fill the gas tank at 3 a.m. and disappear
until dotted lines and a thousand discrete vibrations
think on my behalf.
You know the times in the kitchen
when your nose replaces your brain.
Or at the canvas when you are empty
and it’s just the stars reaching out.
When you’re not there. It’s just the forest
rubbing its thumb and forefinger together.
My favorite is when I sleep
like a pair of concrete shoes. Quiet and deep.
The dream bends every sound to its will,
and it’s like every taste bud is filled
with something sad and forgiving
and wise, the flavor of an animal
that someone once loved.