'd with a
'd tumbling four
hands feel it
feet in the
with a speckled
the sea and
with a speckled
hands feel it
Previously published in Veer
is this right then we put
all our ducks in a row all
our ducks of the under-word all made
of quarks which are or are
not matter but certainly are not
meaning though the ducks
mean as we line
the ducks up they make
a surface a surface of
water surface and water that
are not do not matter but
do mean the matter then
cannot mean the meaning is
nothing but we keep
on lining up the ducks beneath
the surface of water
is depth the more ducks the more
depth and dark and
murk all of which is no
matter no matter not matter but is
dark murk and deep story
layered upon story stories without
matter but with meaning how
is it possible to live like
this to make stories that
mean but are no matter
Previously published in Ducky
the word to the cave
no part of the space that is not
the word the cave after
all is the space the word after all
others is all the space that
is the cave
Previously published in Ducky
s t o n e s
when the letters are stones
dragged placed abandoned
s n o w
when the letters are snow
packed curved left
y e l l o w c h a l k
when the letters are yellow chalk
up on the blackboard
g r e e n g r a s s
when the letters are green grass
woven placed in shade
b a t
when it brushes arm-hair
in the cave's deepest black
g a s h
when the glass-slivers
bubble up from the trench of blood
Previously published in Joey & The Black Boots
My Husband Discovers Poetry
Because my husband would not read my poems,
I wrote one about how I did not love him.
In lines of strict iambic pentameter,
I detailed his coldness, his lack of humor.
It felt good to do this.
Stanza by stanza, I grew bolder and bolder.
Towards the end, struck by inspiration,
I wrote about my old boyfriend,
a boy I had not loved enough to marry
but who could make me laugh and laugh.
I wrote about a night years after we parted
when my husband’s coldness drove me from the house
and back to my old boyfriend.
I even included the name of a seedy motel
well-known for hosting quickies.
I have a talent for verisimilitude.
In sensuous images, I described
how my boyfriend and I stripped off our clothes,
got into bed, and kissed and kissed,
then spent half the night telling jokes,
many of them about my husband.
I left the ending deliberately ambiguous,
then hid the poem away
in an old trunk in the basement.
You know how this story ends,
how my husband one day loses something,
goes into the basement,
and rummages through the old trunk,
how he uncovers the hidden poem
and sits down to read it.
But do you hear the strange sounds
that floated up the stairs that day,
the sounds of an animal, its paw caught
in one of those traps with teeth of steel?
Do you see the wounded creature
at the bottom of the stairs,
his shoulders hunched over and shaking,
fist in his mouth and choking back sobs?
It was my husband paying tribute to my art.
from Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003)
On the tendency toward solipsism in literature
Where am I in your poems?
How can you be there without
the boundary defining you—the place
we are accomplishing? Are you
a blob, unmanageable endless omnivore,
a science fiction fact, the total topographical
of earth, a mobile constellation, quirky quasar,
voluminous vegetal omniscient—
how about that?
Where are you leading—except
to Parmenides, his circle
The unimpassioned poem is retrospective of a flight
responsible only to
its own hovering images that link
Ming vases with the tense
of made things, of mental surfaces, and with feelings
shaped to the fixed glaze of a tight, washable glisten.
Feathers can dust the unimpassioned poem
but the poem whose rude textures
grapple with the live space
around the self
can grip the air
and hold light, and fly
as the earth flies
—D. H. Melhem
from “Children of the House Afire”, in New York Poems (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2005)
In Praise of Disorganized Minds
Let us begin, then, in the beginning,
attribute spin, then, to unspinning,
bright breathing freezing form to this unforming,
breath into sound, sound into name
Chaos or Kali or the primordial sea,
then from names to stillness. Old Frost-Brow,
pale death rumbling in his voice,
blowing over the surface of being
chill fear, shaky thunder crouched in his voice
grows trembling comical, an old fool
whose jests turn sour with knowing,
subject as we to King Decay…
Here is a trick of fools:
that, by fortune graced, and in time placed
at the happy silence between two unconnected events,
they then claim that space as their own.
Those who look on applaud, when they do,
neither those events, nor that silence,
but the measured stealth by which
a practiced hand may intersect the two.
A fool's greatness lies in waiting,
in quiet watching of the turning seasons,
patient attendance to winter's approaching,
then, with fumbling flourish, punctuating
autumn's last dark days
with one well-timed blast of breath,
shattering the waters' singular swell
into a thousand-crystalled shell
and only at that precise moment,
with each particle of this sea grown visible
in shimmering six-sided crystal glory
do fools, in smug-deep silence,
claim winter's hand as their own.
…claim…winter's hand…as their own…
I should probably explain.
You see, by now, I should already have invoked the muses.
You know. To be there. For moral support.
Sort of a cheerleading squad for poets...only they don't wear those little skirts
or do the splits and let us see their knickers for a split second,
and even if they did,
they'd probably be an enormous distraction from the main game…
I mean, who needs it, really?
Because overall, it's a pretty mousey conception of the muse, isn't it?
Bit domestic, really. So, okay, she uses big words,
because, you know, you can't just call her, you have to invoke her.
But it's still you that's doing the invoking.
And what I'd really like to know is,
am I the only one here who thinks this sounds like
some of the silly games that go on around dating?
Because I keep imagining the muse
acting like she's not listening for her telephone to ring,
and there's her sisters, and they're saying,
"Come on, Thalia, if you really feel that way about him,
why don't you just pick up the phone and call?"
"Oh, no, I couldn't do that. He's supposed to invoke me."
And you know, there are nine of them, right?
Which sounds good in theory, but come on…nine women?
Excuse me-nine sisters?
Sounds a bit exhausting.
And each of them has her own specialty, right?
So before I invoke,
I'm supposed to decide just exactly what kind of words I'd like to write…
Does anyone actually write like that?
Sitting there, thinking, hmm…I wonder if I should try for epic or lyric today..?
So all right, so I decide, and then I invoke the appropriate muse,
and maybe she's a little bit moody,
but when it comes right down to it, if I call, she comes, right?
Especially if I happen to be writing a poem about how gorgeous she is.
So, think about this for a minute,
because, you know, if this is the right formula for writing a poem people will listen to,
then it all works something like this:
"Oh, honey? Musey? My favorite? Could you come here for a minute?
I'm thinking about writing something…"
"Oh, really? What about?"
"Umm…well…I was kinda hoping you might help me with that, actually…"
"Oh. Oh. I see. Well. I don't know.
I mean, there are so many things to write about, really."
"Well, I did have one idea…"
"Oh really? And what was that?"
"Well, I thought I might try a play, you know.
I had this one idea-I thought maybe…"
"Well, it's about this prince, you see? The prince of Denmark, actually, and…"
"DENMARK? But it's so cold there!
No…no…I don't think anyone would sit still for a play about Denmark."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. So, what should I write about, then?"
"Well…let's see…I know! You could write about me!"
Well, there's an original idea.
So okay, because if I'm gonna invoke the muse, I probably ought to listen to her, right?
So there I am, trying to write,
and she comes in wearing a cheerleader skirt,
and she starts in with these cheers:
Rah! Rah! Rise!
Write about my eyes!
"Er...Your eyes are like...the deepest ocean...stretched to infinity…"
Rah! Rah! Reeze!
Write about my knees!
Your knees are like...the pulsing waves? Come crashing over me?"
Rah! Rah! Ritz!
Oh, come on, now!
I mean, imagine having to shout over that.
Especially in a pub full of horny males on the make…I mean, look at me!
Like anything I'm gonna say is gonna keep your eyes off some girl's knickers.
If that's what it's all about, this isn't about beauty, it's about vanity
-and what's worse, it's about the vanity of some girl I can't even see.
So, you know, if I start there,
if all my power comes from some muse I can't see,
if my whole aim is to capture her beauty,
instead of setting it free,
to cage some abstract notion in physical reality,
then it's not a poem about beauty,
it's me bragging about being able to capture beauty.
Bragging about how beautiful my girl is, and how your girl doesn't stack up.
And what's so beautiful about being captured, even if it is only in words?
A cage…is a cage…is a cage
…and any muse that'd let me drag her into one ain't the one for me.
You wanna know who really rocks my boat?
The primordial sea.
Just try that invoking shit on them. They'll kick your ass.
The point is, though, you don't need to invoke them, do you?
Because they're already there-
in every cloud
thundering the returning of water to river,
in the lightning, searing the dying branch,
in the branch burned liquid, penetrating,
soil to soil--in the soil,
the remains of the dead
housing the roots of the living,
in every dying thing
and in every seed
and in each seed life
and the ending of life,
in every trembling shoot,
every progress, each step the last step
through the last minute, never to be relived,
present, horrible glory,
sweet lady entropy,
undividing the indivisible
in which part and all and all in part
apprehend one instant's apprehension
--not fear, but knowing cast adrift
on the terrible sea of the infinite
in thrall struck dumb to the tumult
of all words wrecked upon the rocks of being,
and all the high-minded, bellowing beasts
stupified into stunned silence
by the passing of a single instant
and in that passing the loss of all sound save praise
for now and now again-
praise for that unreachable,
praise for the ice-blue core of the flame,
praise for beauty and praise for its terrible empty eyes,
praise for our own end and our own beginning and
praise for the presence of both, here, now,
in this house
(praise this house)
at this hour
(praise this hour)
with this being
(praise this being)
Sometimes I write about cats.
Sometimes I write about mice.
Sometimes the cats chase the mice.
Sometimes the mice chase the cats.
And sometimes they eat each other up
until there's neither skin nor bone nor
lung nor tuft of fur left.
Originally published in Codes of Public Sleep (Toronto: BookThug, 2007)
A poem should not mean
—Archibald MacLeish, “Ars Poetica”
My life an open book, or so it seems
Yet, I can’t even read the words, the seams
Unravel—it sounds like a command
A suave magician makes to silks that seem
Inert one moment, then alive with hope;
Blue infant whose chest expands now seems
Like Lazarus. More than a ghost—a man
Who first must leave this world before he seems
To know life, to see in brittle winter
Grass, the spring, or in the rock shelf, the seam
Of ore, the nugget of gold in mines
That bit by bit becomes the load, the seam
The horse struggles under, up winding paths
The prospector rides asleep; he seems
To dream of barrooms and clean chaps, whiskey,
Smooth skin—it won’t last, but for now it seems
All is possibility, the world not
An oyster but fresh pearls. All things gleam, seem
Priceless, rare: the way you read me like
A book—the words and pages, even seams
Fascinate, and Cynthia’s the moon in
Woman’s form, with each compare more is than seems.