BODIE GHOST TOWN
It isn’t exactly autumn.
I have this picture of you — arid shrubs,
Dolan House, a wicked sawmill
that strums moisture between my legs.
Here, walls are nine-tenths
cobweb. I take it as a confession,
a whisper of goose down
that simmers your head into sleep.
Slow rot wraps itself around
the living, shrivels wood planks,
deploys mottled umber.
You fingerpaint houses for the fire.
While further on, in dreams,
arrested decay becomes your tongue
lingering on the taste
of another woman’s ear lobe.
Long ago, they say,
someone was killed daily in Bodie.
SOMETHING LIKE A HUSBAND’’S DEATH
unwraps the red slingbacks.
They’re new. The coffeehouse crowd buzzes.
I order a milkshake the way she wrote
you really should have this
on the gift card.
We aren’t exactly acquainted.
At Jim’s funeral they said a woman
left the package. Lost and found.
I think we have the same shoe size.
I only know her by the sobs
over the phone.
We needed to talk.
She agreed to meet me at three.
It’s half-past four. The diner booth is black,
the Formica table gleams white.
I wait. She never said who she was.
CLOSE YOUR EYES
Imagine the torn photo in the waste
basket, sepia tones removed,
the colors cockleshelled in summer.
It’s your father, his smile like the nail
behind that painting in your study.
He is heading for the beach with a local
girl or two; the number imprecise.
Imagine his bare feet, jasmine scent
threading through heat and brilliantine,
freckles on his exposed left shoulder.
Imagine there’s no funeral at noon
or anyone in black. Wait. He’ll come
through the door, ask why you are crying.
They come in plastic bags
and leave through the drainpipe.
This could be their idea
of vacation; you go home
to them after your night shift.
Sometimes they swim
to meet you halfway. Other times
you cup a body in your hand
and want to know why
you keep returning
alive. You stop naming them,
as a precaution. You pat them
— there, there now —
on the back as they eat.
* * * * * *
The mermaid’s name
is Hannah. You trust her
to outlive you: acrylic scales
are missing from her tail,
and there’s an imprint of a claw
on her mouth. She remains
a constant in the fishbowl —
an icon, like a crucifix or clock
on the wall of a ward where
the dying sleep away their pain.
The first blackout of the season
and I was cutting quartermoons from felt.
I heard myself say they were for a dream,
when actually they were the dream,
a whole history of cave art.
The room parted like nougat, like industrialization
as it overlooks the ghost town.
A dumbwaiter clattered sideways, empty.
Somewhere, the sound of midnight wash.
Odd-shaped wants steam
the window, scratching at cracks, scratching
the atlas where Nuremberg folds
its corners into origami swans.
Scissors snapped a jazz version of the Morse code:
I held on because I knew in dreams like this
the needle would rotate clockwise
before entering that outer cortex of bone.