*Image: “Roller-life” by Irina Udalova, tempera on paper, 2008
Circle “C” If You Just Don’t Know
I failed the multiple choice exam. I failed to thank the driver
before exiting the bus. I failed my pet fish in the third grade.
I am failing to recall if it was the third or in fact second grade.
I failed Facts but passed Fervor & have placed top of my class
in Least Profitable all twenty-seven years so far. I passed my loneliness
to the stranger sitting beside me on the bus, failing to stop
going on & on about the first chapter of Italo Calvino’s
If on a winter’s night a traveler. I failed to move very much
for much of the Monday that was part of the long weekend.
I failed not to masturbate first, then finish the task. I failed
to save him first before he saved me from “our loveless
relationship.” I failed every religion except the Quiet Cult
of Unrequired Reading. I passed Gay Best Friend on shopping trips
while failing to do anything when my mother said again,
Those people are sick & with a small click of the remote
erased the two smiling grooms. I failed to look at my mother
in the hospital bed, after she had failed to keep standing,
had collapsed in the bathroom. I failed to glance up at her
from the book I brought. I failed to put things aside, I failed
to put the book down, put it gently, saying to my father, Can we
go now? as she lay there, I failed to choose her, wanted to erase her.
Together we passed with flying colors the senior project in Family
Drama. No rubric, no final grade for all the times & ways we’ve failed
each other, named the other the fuel & engine of every fracture.
I am failing, right now, to see her, to look up from my dear
words, my dramatizing of failure. Can I retake this, unmake this
scene of us? Can we go another way, another now? Can we
go, can we fail, a little differently?
I fingered him as I sucked him, entering
as I was entered, a tip, then deeper,
slow, then eager, his hairy thighs cradling
my greedy face, we were relentless
tenderness, all lick, small worming
twist, we grew new mouths, ways
to open, new tongues with which to fail
at the oldest speech—he came, as though
running toward me over great distance
with a great question, an untranslatable
unbearable gift, every wicked gulp of it,
& without previous experience I could not
have accepted it as graciously as I did,
this first love clearly not my first time.
& perhaps the only difference was,
after returning to our everyday bodies,
but before he rediscovered his phone
& the everyday tongue of pizza ordering,
asking what toppings, he liked pineapple,
did I like pineapple, before that question,
he asked softly, shyly, what I wanted
to ask him—How long can you stay?
The School of Sharpening
I sharpen a pencil
until it glows
like a newborn skyscraper.
I watch it eat the cloud of a page.
I watch it eat
two clouds. I feel it eat the sky
of an idea, the heaven
of a mistake, the whole
afternoon, I sharpen my pencil
& tell it eat, urge it grow.
But the more it eats,
the less it grows.
In its belly: planets,
gods, the future.
In my hand: a stick.
I sharpen my pencil
until it is all tooth,
small tooth. All hunger,
my hunger. Sleepless
chronic dreamer. Greedy
How Will You Live Now?
after Bhanu Kapil
As ancient pollen. As newborn
antimatter. As flummoxed
as always. As the version of
Gilmore Girls in which Lane
& Mrs. Kim get to star.
As the slowly expanding
sound of the word
armoire. As a light rain
beginning to write a long,
very Russian novel.
As an elephant’s ear.
As most likely
to die while trying to
think of a synonym
As a supremely
the window of a castle
inside an aquarium.
is a mean curl
you in roller-
blades. Let our
crossing of night
& terrible futons
too many miles apart.
Let our pelvises
be wrapped in
a silver blanket made
possible by celestial
the sun lending
itself to the moon’s
is a face
shorts & handing
in the midst
of spiky roaches,
till everyone has
a hotdog & is ready
to put on their
the moon’s hotdogs
& don’t taste all that great.
But friendship doesn’t
expect you to take
every bite, to finish.
Friendship wants you to
have what it can make,
what it is trying
to make, with its
small moon hands, its
crescent hands criss-
crossing the night
& our cities swollen
at the speed of heat
& one bite of mustard-
at the speed of a favorite
music video never
loading on Safari
while we wait
& wait. Friendship
is the crashed browser,
the honey of not
going to bed at
bedtime. We are busy
listening to friendship
in the softest part
of our pelvises.