Revealing the Spine

to S.A. 1990                                                      

Coeur D'Alene: I once told him it was a corruption of

heart of a lion. He liked that.

I later found out it meant

heart of an ice-pick. He liked that better.

They will keep asking for the skin.

That is all they want, sweat on lean muscles

dark and heavy hair

high and fine cheekbones

and riding, always riding

tireless gleaming ponies.

This is love as transaction, a one-way

profit venture: somewhere in this peeling

away, at the exact moment

bone shows through parted flesh,

when that blood exclaims itself in flowing ribbons,

they lose interest as they always lose interest.

You guys always look better on TV.

And she turns to me and says—why is it

that every time he opens his mouth

everyone else closes theirs?  Do they think each new word

might make the next new line of the latest

great poem?  Are they even listening?

Or taking the trowel to clay

moving bits of dirt and dust

with the surgical sweep of a horse-hair brush against bone,

now exposed to wind and rain and sun again.

Your remains, gathered and warehoused for future

scientific reference.

You were drunk that night

slurring magic words you might never speak again

might never remember, and like the apocryphal finite beats

in the lifetime of a heart, you may have loosed a poem or two,

a chapbook or folio into the ether of that autumn night.

You sloppy bastard, who I love with a ferocity

that can only be balanced with quiet rage.

Snoring, passed out on the floor below our bed

in that small dorm room, clothes on and covered only

with our care and feeding of your dreams,

we reached out and tweaked your head for fun—

how I wanted to fuck, and torment you later

with a retelling of the fun we had against your oblivion,

but she just smiled and said, go to sleep.

And I dreamed it was you fucking every man and woman

on the face of the earth—you had such love to give

and an ego to match, you sloppy saint.

What's it like to be the solitary member

of your own lost tribe?

The spine: if this were an anatomy lesson

at a crime scene investigation

spine might pass for spirit—

Great spirit, August spirit, Take-Your-Pick Spirit

or whatever distant word you might find

to exile this poet, to reify his breath

a harmless statue exalted on a pedestal

otherwise known as a barstool.

And this spirit, we might just spit on ourselves

in admiring its proud and stern and noble nature,

but we'd all secretly know that we never

really did want to know.

To the intellectual guerilla, the seething pacifist

swinging a pickaxe against buried history;

To the man who learned to drown in the desert

through keen observation, the heads going down, one-by-one

all around him, the names of schoolmates, cousins, and enemies—

Lester and Seymour and the fat red-headed BIA kid who everyone

beat the shit out of for sport and historical retribution;

To the man who spreads fire with the kindling of burning houses

and the hot vapor of exploding trailers; and finally, the man who knows

the words on a page mean never having to say please, thank you, or even I'm sorry,

even as they search for all of these things.

(Like forgiveness.



Three times as incantation, three times I click

my heels dreaming myself back towards home.

Am I exiled?  Has my divorce been finalized

with you as well?  As if one weren't bad enough.)

The spine, each vertebrate at a time,

move your lips

we are still here listening

reaching out to touch your head

while you sleep.

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