Excerpt from A House Waiting for Music
Laurel and Hardy Backwards
There was a bedsheet thumbtacked
to a wall, the rattle of the projector,
its one eye glowing behind us like a train
stopped inside a tunnel. In our homemade
theater, Laurel and Hardy were delivering
a piano, pushing it up the longest flight
of stairs. They heaved. They heaved
some more, faces cartooned into struggle.
We’ve seen this film five, six times.
It’s not funny anymore. We waited
until the end, until the filmstrip slapped
and slapped the projector, the bedsheet
radiant with light. Our mother stood
in the doorframe, three months pregnant,
saying it was time for bed. None of us
had seen our lives before—five, six times
or just once. None of us know
about the miscarriage scripted
for tomorrow. My brother flipped the reel,
threaded the film backwards. We watched
a bowler hat leap from the ground
and settle on Hardy’s head, slammed doors
opening by themselves. We watched
the two trace their footsteps
and wrestle the piano back down the stairs,
a thing now impossible to deliver
to a house waiting for music.
Wile E. Coyote Attains Nirvana
"It is neither by indulging in sensuous cravings
nor by subjecting oneself to painful, unholy and unprofitable
self-torture, one can achieve freedom from suffering and rebirth."
The Four Noble Truths
wonder after each plummet
down the canyon, the dust cloud
of smoke after each impact,
he’s back again, reborn,
the same desire weighing
inside his brain like an anvil:
catch that bird. Again
with the blueprints, the calculations,
a package from the Acme Co.
of the latest gadgets. Shoes
with springs, shoes with rockets,
but nothing works. Again
the Road Runner escapes,
feathers smearing blue across the air.
Again the hungry coyote
finds himself in death’s embrace,
a canon swiveling toward his head,
a boulder’s shadow dilating
under his feet. Back
from the afterlife, he meditates
under a sandstone arch
and gets it: craving equals suffering.
The bulb of enlightenment
blazes over his head.
He hears the Road Runner across
the plain: beep-beep. Nothing.
No urge to grab the knife
and fork and run, no saliva
waterfalling from his mouth.
Just another sound in the desert
as if Pavlov’s dog forgot
what that bell could do to his body.
Summers, you taught us everything
we needed to know that day you ambled
into class with your swinging hips,
your tin pail and box of razors. Lights off,
the overhead projector overexposed
your face, pale as white marble.
When you outlined the lesson in red
felt-tip, your magnified hand floated
across the movie screen, and what boy
didn’t image that hand slipping
into our jeans, tugging us toward bliss?
Before we knew it we were rubbing
our eyes in the glare of halogen lights.
You walked up and down the aisles,
bucket sloshing. Yes, before we knew it
a lamb’s eye gawked at us from our desks,
a fat pearl onion, gray and glistening.
Some of us were too squeamish.
Some picked up the razor and halved
the eye like a hardboiled egg,
eager to see how it sees: the aperture
of the pupil, the retina’s concave wall
where everything’s projected upside-down,
where the ceiling becomes the floor,
the floor the ceiling, and you,
Ms. Summers, hung in our eyes like a bat
before something inside our skulls
turned you over, right-sided you up
and flipped our hearts, dizzy with lust.
Sex and Death
the same two themes pushing through
the revolving door of the page or canvas:
O’Keefe’s skulls and vaginal irises, petals
engorged and flaming crimson. It’s the story
of the teenagers walking their libidos
to a moonlit cemetery, their studded tongues
clinking in the dark. And the mortician,
after a long day of opening cadavers like purses,
comes home to his magazines, glossy women
touching themselves as if to say, Here I am.
Here too, how the ashes of a woman I never met
cool inside the urn on a shelf. Gray dust,
bone-chip of pelvis or femur, her daughter
in the next room, her pelvis crashing into mine,
the bedroom fertile with the night’s soil
for us to plant the blue flowers of our breathing.