My first one looked, as gray dawn crawled
across my eyes, like a chorus-line
of spiders on the ceiling, set to fall
and fang me in my bed. No wonder
I submerged the monster in a Black Flag slough.
Anything so multi-legged and bristly
had to have a horror-name: Death’s-head
helldangler, say, or septic shadow-creeper.
Who’d have guessed house centipede,
as if each house comes, cozy, with its own?
Alien as the gulper eel (all mouth
and dangling tapeworm-gut), house
centipedes could have crash-landed
on Earth, speaking in isotopes of oxygen.
What relief, H.C., to crack open
California Bugs, and find you
are a shy recluse, harmless to humans,
though deadly to spiders: your favored prey.
Small savior who, traversing the TV
like a one-bug parade, made my son
annunciate, “Daddy! Him!”—death
to the black widow and brown recluse.
Long live your rowing legs, your speed
when startled, whirring quick as a breeze
across the carpet when, up for a midnight sip,
I flick the light. (Don’t crawl too close
to my bed, please.) May your hunting
prosper, frilled protector. May you fatten
on my enemies. May we share this house
All Happiness Comes from Attachment
The billion books moldering in Philly’s
Public Library, the scarred oak desk
where your wife-to-be loaned you
Strike It Rich Fixing TVs—let them go.
Cling, though, to breast-stroking
at Cayuga Lake, toweling each other
in the lodge. Cling to the swarms of leaves,
scorched orange by Autumn’s flame,
that slapped your rented home in Albany.
Cling to your own three-bedroom
ranch-style in Poughkeepsie, and your kids,
though they live “way out in LA,”
and rarely call. A lizard hunched
under hot Mojave sand can never miss
swinging through trees ablaze
with mangos, or slicing sapphire skies
with emerald wings. If we must die
of thirst, better first to drink our fill.
Better struck dumb than never to have had
Dangers of Drunkenness
“Always be drunk.”
Spaghetti-drunkenness makes people sing
Puccini off-key in the streets.
Summer’s heat-drunkenness can fry, bake,
poach, or roast you. Dirt-drunkenness
is worst in spring. The drunk stops hoeing
to inhale clods broken down by winter's
flight, sings, "O What A Beautiful Morning,"
dust-bathes, naked as a sparrow, or mud-grazes
till the lungs fill and suffocation comes.
Love-drunkenness floods the mind
with fantasies which, dashed or realized,
can lead to bankruptcy and suicide.
Poetry-drunks black out over Keats’ odes,
or rave in coffee shops for hours,
plagued by delusions of significance.
Skyscraper-drunkenness ends in a bloody
splat, or rescue by helicopter as the drunk
struggles to gulp a penthouse down.
Water-drunkenness comes when a single mom—
hoping, say, to win a radio contest
and buy a Play Station for her kids—
drinks so much water that her body’s
saline balance slips, staggers, falls hard.
She drives home with a screaming
headache, brain cells drowning, so to speak;
then she dies, leaving three orphans,
and the contest-organizers prey
to lawyer-drunkenness—more painful,
worse for the liver, and more common now
than any other kind.
After the Reunion, a Roaring Jolts Me Out of Sleep
No flash of bombs. No smoke or flames as—half-sloshed,
pants three-quarters up—I bump and flail down the dark
dormitory hall to where, as if Cerberus’ three heads have all claimed
the same chew-toy, the restroom spews a hellish bellowing.
I bound forward to berate some fat, fur-backed custodian,
then see the culprit. Not slim, true. Not good-looking
in blue pants and yellow sweatshirt, brown hair
in a ragged bun. Head down, she can’t hear me above
her floor-scrubber’s roar. Flab-festooned arms shake
as she shoves the scrub-machine, and ponders—Bills? Kids?
Lab tests? Faithless men? Does she nurse worry as my mother did
(and passed her fretfulness to me)? Does she conjure memories
the way, last night, I called up chords I hadn’t played in forty years,
and words my teenaged hormones memorized for me?
“Hello darkness, my old friend . . .” “Only in dreams . . .”
To this day, in dreams, Mom tells me Bless your heart.
My sister quacks, I've got a speech impediwar;
Dad shoves his Lawnboy, chanting, Kojak! Come back!
with a goofy grin. In dreams, summer still means home-run
derby, cannonballs at White Oak pool, girls in short-shorts,
their curves stamped into memory the way “Hot Legs,”
“Twist and Shout,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
left footprints all over my brain. Maybe this woman's
at her prom, beaming as her first love pins on her first corsage . . .
Oh, let her stay! Let her floor-scrubber blast me back
into my room. Let it heap blankets of din over my head.
Let its screaming engine launch my lumpy freshman bed
back to the welcoming orbit of my dreams.