Albert Einstein to Mileva Maric


Your eyes hold enough lies

Day-to-day walking through the market,

A woman walking freely without

The sleight of hand of my skin, this peccadillo.


What rests inside me will rise

Out my mouth to kiss you, to kiss

My confession into you each day, Mileva.

Will the truth offer you some freedom


Or will I simply invite you to sit in my prison?

Wouldn’t life play better if you visited me

In this cell, conjugal visits in which we pretend

We’re free? I’ll ask for you to come to me,


And I’ll tell you to leave me, eternally

Coming and going like the rain. I told you

Only that I’m a man, only through how I hold you,

How I look in your eyes, like stars announce


They’re stars by the dance and death of their light.

But you look sad as if you know now

What you must not know.


Our bodies cast a shadow of one

Body under a black-bulb pulse

In your mother’s basement. Light, even


When it’s black, moves faster than

Youth or old age; it’s the constant in

Our lives. But I remember when


I thought your house—always ready for

A party, even during the week—

Was the fastest element in my life.


Toenails, lint, teeth,

Eyes—everything was holy

Under the glow. I suspect


Even my bones were ultraviolet

When we danced, which was always more

Of a grind than a dance.


Whether the song sung came

From Rick James or Barry White,

We called what we did in the coatroom


Dancing, too: My hands, infrared

Under your dress, but innocent: We

Were only kids, after all,


I was 16 and you were a woman of 18.

Already, we knew how to answer each other

Without asking questions, how to satisfy by seeing


What nearly satisfied looked like

In each other’s faces. This all before

I ran out to sneak back into my mother’s


House in the middle of the night.

But, now, it’s eight years later,

You’re walking, it seems, so I offer


You a ride. And you look in and smile.

And when I see you I wonder

What would have happened


If we had stayed in touch. I have to get back

To work the next morning in DC,

A five-hour drive; it’s near dark


And I want to get on the road before night

Falls completely, but I stop anyway.

It’s been too many years.


And I mistake your gesture.

And then I realize you

Don’t really recognize me,


Until you back away and turn

On your heels.

Then a man with a Jheri curl


And a suit that looks like it’s woven

From fluorescent thread

Walks up and looks at me


Like I wasn’t born in this town,

And for the first time in my life,

I question it myself. He walks up as slow


And sure as any old player should on Sunday night.

While walking away, you two exchange

Words. You don’t look back. But


We see each other in our heads—aglow,

Half-naked—under our black-bulb pulse

In your mother’s basement. Given a diadem


By the lucid night and the streetlamp’s

Torch, the man wearing the fluorescent

Suit casts a broad shadow


Like a spotlight into which you step.

Maybe he’s the reason we’re here tonight

Beneath these dim stars, casting


A light true enough . . . finally,

For us, after all these years, to see each other.


I want to be the people

in the architect’s model

faceless shapely always

striding beside the shiny

walls girders windows halls

the architect wants us to notice

but he can’t show empty

because then we won’t

see ourselves within it

just as we don’t acknowledge

the cliff edge until sneakers

stub against stone we fight

our own tumble to oblivion

& awe draws the precipice for us

mighty & the earth a dark

planet with fire at its heart


I was talking to a friend

about this & we both confessed

we’d driven the long tree-lined

road & wondered about

twisting the wheel & our fear

was not of the twist but of

the wonder the capacity to be

any self suicidal murdering

adulterous the man who

committed the woman who

severed the child who touched

the live—so why wonder at all?

We can’t help it we see

a window & have to imagine

our reflection across it

twenty-three windblown

right after a laugh & what if

death is just like that

before you know it fully

an empty glass waiting

& you a silent movie

of something pouring out

The Greensboro Review Literary Award Poem NOT THAT HAPPINESS

Not bluebirds nesting in a wooden box

nailed to your picket fence.

No geraniums in the planter, but yarrow

where the trees begin, hawkweed

in a clearing near the black locust

and loosestrife—how you are helpless

against its beauty—everywhere

along the creek. No friends anymore

who ask about dinner, but a boy who woke

last week, singing counterpoint

to the wrens. To read, We are without

consolation or excuse, and remember

a sack of peaches from a roadside stand;

hunger the day you stopped for them.

Maxine Sullivan singing “Blue Skies.”

In winter, lullabies sung for the dead.

The shoulder roast simmering in red wine

with potatoes and sweet onions

on a day when the rain begins; your heart

sliding toward the sinkhole of November.

Who is not captive to some small happiness?

To love a field you can never own—the pink mist

of knapweed, the blue of chicory.

Or the heron that settles in the neighbor’s pond

and croaks through the last of your dreams.

You startle awake, patting your head, glad

that you are not a minnow, darting

among the muddy reeds. How it comes around,

this happiness, like a landlord sniffing out the rent.

Not what you ordered—pennywhistles, cellophane hats,

those hand-crank noisemakers—but the happiness

that finds you, scrawls a receipt, says,

“You paid for this,” whatever happiness is.


I’ve been left alone on my third wedding anniversary

until you return to my stoop with your payload,

a radiant caterpillar gripped in your mouth, clinging

all along your belly. At first I thought it might be

attacking you. You dove loud and low, almost hopped,

as if trying to shake it off. Those million legs

kept flipping you. Yesterday I watched you push against

each other on the steps until tumbling into a spider’s web.

While you thrashed and freed yourself, the caterpillar fell

limp, maybe knowing to save energy for some fragile version


of the afterlife. And today when you hum in from the river,

I can see right away the caterpillar is finally dead, although

you are still wrapped in full-body embrace. I forgive this

deception: this morning I allowed a fly to crawl the length

of my leg because I wanted to be touched, and a perfect

stillness sometimes feels like something’s coming.


The two of you make a remarkable creature, your glossy body

and violently blue belt, that corpse a flush berth beneath.

In fusion, you have altered each other, and my heart,

a nucleus, splits and splits. Its next punch could be its burst.


With four of your legs, you draw the weight you carry close,

a final cradle, and—bomber that you are—you spread

two dangerous wings, lift off for the river. Wasp,

we are not simple vessels. We are blistering atoms seeking

to be cracked, our bodies expanding into a cloud.

The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem WHERE YOU FELL

The snow held your shape like bedding,

the shadow of your hand over your head ruined

by the feet of the men who found and carried you.


I stayed in your house for a day, following your habits,

coatless to the shed and back. I finished the wood

you’d begun to split, feeling the heft of the axe


as you felt it. We are always becoming what

we lose. They will say they saw a fox whisper

into your ear. They will never come back.


I pawed the snow to form your hand again,

your sleeping profile. Then I pressed my face

to the mold of your cheek and I became you.


It’s not

the kiss of coffee

or the glancing touch of feathered down,

or first sunlight shared

like sections of the newspaper.


Yes, I’m through with that.


It’s not

about the sweet kingdom of cantaloupe,

or the curvature

along your foot or shoulder bone.

Our planet is flat,


And we shall never go to the moon.


It is

exactly what it is not.

The skillet sings a backward tune,

the toast unburns

and the yolk becomes it singular self

once again.


Please, pass the salt


for the wound.

Serve me up

all the reasons why we should,

and I will make an entire meal

out of veto and


Let’s not.


The girls hold each other up.

Cameras blacken and turn the fire

engines quiet.

                            An ambulance stalls.

When I see the yellow tape cross the stairs

into the station, I become part of the tallest building,

steady the sun on the sidewalk. Moths rummage

the stomach. The eye strains

sand from water. Sounds

                                                 come from boys

braced against a blue mailbox.

I almost do not believe. They are whispering

about me. They are saying something

about the devil. And not a word

about the boy who dared to climb a train.


The wide range converges.

The moon dilutes itself on the plate.


A blue shape, a coat of sorts, wears itself out.

They drift now, as if laced together,


into the long distance. The path to the bridge

now farther away and beyond recognition.


The monument of want cannot predict this mapping, and they,

running tonight, shelve the directions.


As though following up wood stairs, their ears move

back, swiftly, bathed in salt.

The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem THE VOICE BEFORE

Echoes uncurl down this canyon

     like patient honey rolling. Rocks repeat

everything I say. A tree falls

               as many times as I can hear it.


My body in shadows—misshapen

     echoes of light thrown

through cedars and ivory birch.

               You are the body in my throat,


pitched into this low vein of earth,

     cast over bald stones, pierced

on tentacles of aloe, and gummed

               in their heat-split stalks.


What was that voice before the voice released,

     the unheard body, the naked, shivering

idea of sound? What are you now, climbing toward

               my mouth out of the canyon mouth,


surrounding me with screams of torn

     clover and broken shale, a body broken whole

from my teeth? I would lay out

               the prairie of my tongue, my throat,


but you do not want return

     as I do. You have grown too thin

in the shape of air, in the sound of yourself,

               for bodies anymore.


               The first sound was an emptying.

The first return, departure.