My brother’s fourth grade science report:
A black hole happens when a large star dies and becomes as small as a pin, but still has the big-star stuff. Its gravity is so great it will suck you in.
Even light can’t escape.
Beneath, a drawing:
dark marker bleeding into lined paper, fibers saturated and separating like cloth.
Two a.m. our mother
the kitchen, darkness
arms raised expecting
to catch the sky.
This is what the end looks like: sepia tones, fish-like, Vaseline film with the sheen of metal, sleeping.
A quiet distance at two in the morning.
Standing in the center of the room. Shut your eyes.
Spread your arm Fingers comb the air.
Feel the cold rising to your skin, heat condensing at your center, the air sucked from your lungs.
These sensations may be slight. A black hole in the kitchen is necessarily small, but no less destructive.
From afar, my brother calls.
He won’t talk,
Best not to bother now.
She speaks of him, fourth grade, the way she had to search his room
night after night so that in his
sleep a black hole would not
inhale him into darkness and nothing.
She has a knowing smile.
When you are too weak to stand, you
can also find a black hole like this:
Sit where you can rest your head,
close your eyes, slow your breathing.
Your heart will beat in your
ears. Your muscles will tense,
feel gravity pulling from the
center of your body.
Then it will draw you in.
|THE BURGEO GUT|
|When I was dying|
|You spoke to me in low whisper,|
|a tremble, the shadow of a city sunk|
|beneath a swallowed coastline, in dammed reservoir.|
|Above: the trample of industry, diesel motors, electricity.|
|Below: the ebb and flow of breath and migration.|
|I should have been thinking of survival, flight,|
|but I was enchanted by the sun|
|slivered into shards so small.|
|The womb-shaped bay, the strangled umbilical chord|
|choked before it reached the sea. I heard you|
|though your words were only song.|
|It did not matter what they said,|
|the meaning was ours.|
|Who would have thought we would travel so far|
|to meet an end in shallow water?|
|The majesty of the deep released|
|in last exhale, a curse|
|upon those who took so much,|
|and blessing for a humble shore.|
HOW TO KNOW GOD AT THE END OF THE WORLD
In silence a pulse rises. Breath solidifies.
Feet wash in numbness.
This is how it feels to walk on water.
You will fall;
You will think you are falling. Sky and earth collapse.
1999, religious cults predict apocalypse— the promise of the new millennium.
But I am in Australia—a forgotten land.
Sydney prepares for the Olympics.
I hope for computer failure to erase student debt. Surfers paddle out to sea. The Blue Mountains burn—
a children’s game gone-wrong. Oil-filled trees erupt. Smoke spreads the smell of peppermint and wet fur.
Amid chaos a Canadian tourist vanishes Rescuers find a trail in the Outback— one sock, the other.
When they discover his bible, they predict: he is dead.
If lost: 1. Stay still
- Preserve energy
I had nowhere to go. At an age— too old for home, too young to find a way.
I wandered the beach collecting glass shards like seashells, poking jellyfish—helpless and deadly.
I should have been looking for jobs.
I was watching the way shadows flowed from the downtown traffic, to the lilt of strand, then out to sea.
Things are heavier in the desert.
The desert opposite the moon—buoyancy an anchor.
A towel over the head shields the sun.
Boots covering ankles protect against snakes.
Keep your eyes away from the sand.
Breathe through your nose.
Carry only what you need.
Recovered, the tourist carried a likeness.
Desperate. Euphoric. Thin.
Ghost-like. Made of clay. Hollow.
I thought of a man I’d seen years before
standing waist-deep in cold water, his
business suit clinging like a second skin.
The whale, beached in his arms.
Their breath escaping together—
steam at the water’s surface.
I left Australia before the New
Year, before the end of the world,
before explosions of fireworks,
stocking of water, hoarding of food,
building of shelters, praying to and
I thought of the man who
could not move the beast.
The beast who could not
comfort the man.
This is how we are cast-out
HOW TO FIX BROKEN TOYS
If the paint scraped away leaving an eye without definition, or a hinge loosened a limb, or “the head popped off,” these things are readily fixed:
Sharpie, paperclip, twist of hand.
If it is something more: translucent plastic cracked, hair torn from pin-sized follicles; eyes gouged in or out—this requires different care.
When my dad remarried he began sending our childhood belongings in cardboard boxes softened with mold and damp.He included messages: “Here you go,” “Thoughtyou might want these,” “Hope things are great.”
He needed to make room, we knew, for his new wife,
her children in their twenties, but still younger than us. They didn’t want our toys.
My brother and I did not want them either—childless, nomadic, city-dwellers short on space. We left the boxes seeping smells of our once-upon-a-time home.
A friend comes to stay.
In tow: a three-year-old left by her mother.
They arrive with the clothes on their backs, a favorite stuffed frog, a book about a dinosaur, a princess crown.
“They let anyone have children,” says my friend. I present boxes of toys.
Our father did not forget, but never knew which toys were mine, which my brother’s.
In the mail my brother receives the china tea set;
I find the Marvel figurines.
The three-year-old cradles
Wolverine and Spiderman,
“This is the mommy, this is the daddy.” By afternoon she has snapped leg from body, an amputation below the knee. After years of battle-
play, Spidey is bettered by a toddler. In jest my brother will smash my teacups, pink flower-patterned china in shards. We have long abandoned these,
run from our house— before our father kicked us out.
Before he remarried.
Before our mother died.
We are Hansel and Gretel, raised in the woods, in the gingerbread house, by things more misguided than wicked.
Such a strange delight to be malnourished on candy, how jealous was everyone we told, but also: the entrapment, slavery, seduction. And worse,
the things we did: telling lies, playing tricks, pretending to be what we were not, escape through that push into that firey oven.
We emerged from the woods scorched and starving.
“Fix it,” the three-year-old says to me,
Spiderman in one hand, leg in the other.
Some broken toys cannot be repaired. New stories must be told.
A hero is born: one-legged, lighter, impeccable balance.
“Look at him,” I say. He stands like a bird.
“Now he can fly.”
In the one-seater at the bar in Deep Ellum, Dallas the vending machine takes the space of sink and toilet combined, offering tampons, condoms, BJ blast, clit ticklin’ bunny, pink-opal mini vibrator, purple feather nip clips, But no change.
It makes sense: everything you need for a night-out at a venue occupied by twenty-somethings serving both beer and wine in plastic cups.
So different than the machines in the entrance to the grocery store. Stacked, hip high, holding gumballs, stickers, temporary tattoos, plastic charms in opaque plastic eggs to occupy any two-to-eight year-old for the duration of a shopping list.
In the hotel lobby beside the ice dispenser the machines are in categories: “caffeinated beverages,”
“stuff you only eat on vacation,” “smaller versions of things you forgot at home.”
The pleasure of dropping coins through the
slot, the privilege of selection, the anonymity of the machine, the magic of the correct arm twisting to release.
As much as it is about offering the right thing at the right time— predicting type, purpose, preference, need or desire—it is about being offered anything at all,
being considered, being known,
encountered by a stranger who says, “I knew you would be here,”
“I thought you might like this,” “You look like you could use a good ________________.
HOW TO WALK ON WATER
If it is frozen. Or shallow. Or thick with reeds.
Also, by dispersal of weight over space less than the pressure of surface tension: Tension (T) = ________Force (F)_______
Length over which the force acts (L)
Devastating to see the world clearly, when the shore becomes a marsh, eroded, beaten by storm and sea; the piers of plank and metal; the house on the hill—overtaken by mold— never enough for what we needed.
Once we needed next to nothing.
“You eat like birds,” they told us. Proof that we were avian waiting to grow wings.
We played this was our island alone, the dock a concept on the verge of completion, the house learning to grow like a tree.
You believed it wholly. I believed it also.
Gerri·dae Pronunciation: \ˈjerəˌdē\ Phylum: arthropoda Class:
Insecta Order: Hemiptera Suborder: Heteroptera
- a family of insects with the ability to run atop the water’s surface.
Sometimes called water bugs, water striders, pond skaters, water
skippers, Jesus bugs.
Always in summer
the water bugs,
to corners of a cross, bodies hovering
above still reflections.
This is why
the stones skip, the glass overfills without spilling.
not one thing, but
Red Rover, Red Rover;
the breath in unison.
You said, “magic.”
You said, “hold your breath.”
Some places exist in time rather than space.
Certain memories are constructed in collaboration. In the city the rain hits the only window. My apartment floods. The carpet sodden. I think of you.
You would have loved the outside flowing in. You would have imagined we were at sea.
You would have claimed
we could live an entire life treading water.
Half-way above. Half-way
to that thin film of surface;
the stone never settles
long enough to sink.
I could never hold when it mattered,
your palm clenched in my
palm. Red Rover, Red Rover. I
the collision; the pain of
the chain broken so much
greater than that of release.
I promise, this is not a coffin, but a
boat; beneath the ground there is a sea
with islands the shape of clouds racing
across the water.