The wooden workbench,
scattered with half-finished
projects. The saw and drill,
the red tool chest,
its internal mechanism
allowing only one drawer
to open at a time. The
pneumatic jack, its long,
white handle. The cabinets,
bought from an online posting,
hung and painted gun-gray.
The carburetor, sitting on a table,
the spring that makes it work.
The bin with empty cans,
the overflowing ashtray,
measures of the time
he’s logged here.
The gas-powered heater,
its flame, the soft blue glow.
The overturned metal-bottom
boat. The mouse nest,
the baby mice, their wriggled
mass. The smoke-stained
posters, the boxes and boxes.
The vice clamps, the free weights,
the picture of the two of us,
tacked to the wall. His feet,
sticking out from beneath the car.
The draining oil. The mind
that knows the problem,
how to fix it. The delivery,
picking the right tool
from the box,
carrying it across the cold
cement floor. Its destination.
My father’s anticipating hand.



You will stand at the edge of the river, pouring out
every memory of your father—his virtues and shortcomings.

A lion will be watching from the other bank, shaking ice
from its mane. Like a child, you will sense the mystery of your own

body, living and somehow new. Having done this, you will see
the cup in your hand, hear a voice calling someone’s name.



At the beginning of an affair
there is always one person saying
Red rover, red rover,

let me come over while the other
person sways to the side and
kicks a rock. I’m the pirate.

If I were greedy, I’d take all
your percocet. I have been here
before minus the stripes

and your country’s four-digit code.
All calls end in similar ways.
Time to sleep, time to eat

time to put down your voice now.


The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem SOME SUNLIGHT

Loneliness prances by like an invisible bull
where I loll at the overgrown rodeo.
You would’ve loved it.
I dribbled orange juice all over the bleachers.
I peed in the weeds.
I sat there for hours and hours with a giant book
I didn’t read.
A gate rattled against itself in the distance.
Existence, existence.
“Incalculable Loss,” says the Times.
The warmth of some sunlight on my back.
The pizzicato footsteps of a quail in the grass.


Pleasure Hotel

Smoke rose from the pleasure hotel. Smoke rose in the face of the pleasure hotel—in the moonless face of
a rose, smoke rose like pleasure burning. In the burning hotel pleasure rose like smoke, though moonless
we pleasured, we rose, we burning, the hotel moonless though we rose—yet less than burning—we rose
burning full of pleasure in the moonless hotel. We pleasured, moonless, we burning-faced moonless, we
face-to-face in the moonless pleasure hotel of smoke, yes, we rose and rose in the face of burning, and like
any burning, like any pleasure, any face in the hotel, in the moonless night—we rose.

The Amon Liner Poetry Award AN IMPERFECT FIGURE

                                is making biscuits in the morning just
for myself worth it
                                 kneading in the butter
filling the kitchen           with godly golden
                                 crumble smell
breaking open like a confession
                                 steam gasping into the air
apron covered in floury
                                 handprints           not caring
that it’s hot in the kitchen I will
                                 say of course           and more

                                 and then opening           the jam
last summer’s Michigan blueberry
                                 the near-black nectar smothering
licking my fingers
                                 I can live with the softness
padding my ribs for this           the crumbs
                                 all over the sticky counter
like waking up in the bed of the one I love
                                      a trail      of my clothes set loose
across the floor
                                 unconcerned if it’s messy
the answer is yes           and please


There is no history of accord,

only one of cruelty—

if the goat calms the stallion,

then debtors will clip the wires

or thrash the thick cypress fence

to steal the goat—

if the stallion loses by a leg,

the debtors will be jailed—

if the prisoners riot,

the guards will quell violence

with riot gas and side-handle batons—


Still, imagine how droll

the high school textbooks rewritten

to chronicle an affable people—

They shook hands and massaged each other’s shoulders,

they dressed in corduroy pantaloons

to serenade each other from balconies—

Imagine the cruelties we might have to imagine

to keep ourselves engaged—

snakebites, beds of nails,

mild electric shocks—


On May 15, 1970, the Jackson State killings occurred on the campus of Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi. On May 14, 1970, a group of student protesters against the Vietnam War were confronted by city and state police. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring twelve. The event happened only eleven days after National Guardsmen killed four students in similar protests at Kent State University in Ohio. The Kent State incident captured national attention; the Jackson State killings did not.




A bullet comes through the air. It’s not fair

simply to fear them as projectiles;

often they are warnings. That is

to say, they sound out through time,

running up ahead to let us know

the terrain before us does not welcome

our kind, almost singing a single note

of advice: run.





Above us, squinting through the scope,

above us frowning, sharpening the focus,

pain and quirk and need, what else does he call for,


he who wields the secret to death?

What else scares us . . . what else do we scare?

What else rustles the leaves, nervous,

trying to remain calm?


Courage and warmth, what else

ended today as the clouds opened,

spreading the clarity of light?


I remember how the sky winced, gray and opaque,

and then, wide-eyed, what else did the day do?

Did dandelions lift from their stalks?

What else got the hell out of the way?


What else got caught in the crossfire,

in the wake of the whistling? I can’t see

you for the fuselage of the city,

littering the air, strewn across pavement.


I still long

for the mundane moment

before the seed, the seed that does not grow,

got planted in my chest.


What else sowed but did not reap?

Was I the harvest? Was I not meant to yield?





Spring came and the sun came and both left

a hole where warmth once fell like a salve

for the chill and the sting of the chill.


Nightfall. Now, nothing behaves like spring.

Earlier, clouds burned off the sky

but no one celebrates a clear day

filled with violence. No platitudes


get exchanged after a killing,

sometimes after a death but never after a killing.

Who cares about the weather?


Who cares who won the game?

I see my body but I cannot feel

as others touch my body. Did I


ever feel my body respond

to the response of another’s body?

What’s the point of asking this question?


Under the night air, coolness prevails.

A cool, spring night, someone will say

walking their dog before going to bed.


Will they know how violent the day was

before dark? We think of violence happening

at night. Once more, a day stretches


possibility to the limit. Someone wakes

to the possibility, asserting, as their feet

touch the cold floor at the side of their bed,


a new day. A future of which they cannot

conceive. A death they won’t believe

unless it actually finds them.





Some bodies had fallen out of fear

like animals freezing still when facing

a predator. Some bodies got shot


but not shot dead. Their lives

continue but with wounds we’ll never see;

these wounds won’t heal.


Some flew like prey across the veldt

of the campus quad, flew on their legs,

flew without grace, like prey will do,


pissing and shitting themselves,

surviving. Some have names we will forget.

They won’t mind; they took off running


to be forgotten. Me? I was once promising.

I stood there, looking into the sun. Above me,

the roof tops, the clock tower, the glint


of the gun. Stand still and watch

as people come back into the scene;

that’s what I’ll do, I said.


People, still, will not remember my name,

maybe they’ll mention me tonight

as they lie down in the dark


after they turn off the news, but once the screen

on the set powers off, I’ll lie as dead

as the distance one crosses through the night

believing there will be a sunrise.


In the bleach-blue light of

                             morning, the reason to


                 stay in bed. In the glass

dropped by the diffident


                             hand opening of its own

                 accord, a one-word horoscope


of nope. In the Muzak

                             playing while you wait


                 in the yawning

line to order your dark


                             roast with cream,

                 in that sibylline satellite


radio, nostalgia’s anti-

                             gravity—the Buzz


                 Aldrin of your heart

planting flags that don’t


                             wave. In the dream,

                 a prophecy of more


dreams. In the crows,

                             take-take-take. In the way


                 one word breaks

into another like a wave,


                             something you didn’t want

                 to say, though you’ve thought


it before. In the TV’s blue,

                             in the sun, the fluorescents


                 at work: you, you. Light’s

always lifting dark’s


                             rock to find you wriggling

                 there, a worm under


the eye, as if that’s what you were

                             looking for. As if it was


                 the last thing you

wanted to find.


Anger can erupt like a lawn mower pieced together

Suddenly exploding

Yellow jackets


But it’s a mistake to thank fate

For the extra skin of denim

Draped around your tender ankles


If you’re unwilling to indict it

For your failure to engineer a kill switch

Or to wear a shirt

Those stingers can’t penetrate.


It’s not to blame when

The cloud of dust and dry grass

Churning through the blades

Above the evacuated rabbit hole

Transforms into a golden cloud

Of switchblades.


The sun doesn’t drop any slower

For anyone

But you

As you circle the yard


What might be your final



And isn’t anger like this—festering

Inside you all week until

It squeezes out through your skin

Leaving welts as it electrifies the air

Into a swarm so territorial


That you can’t—though you try to—

Outrun it?