Why We Wear Togas
I am most myself at bonfire parties
where my skin is golden shadowed,
my face the etched profile of Adonis.
I poke at the flames with a piece of chalk.
The patterns it makes! Now an open book
of myths. Now a chariot of drums. Now a grinning
whose teeth look like a graveyard at night.
“You should ask her out,” the ghost says,
watching me watch her through a noose of black
smoke. “She’ll say yes tonight and no in the morning.”
Does the sunlight make such a monster out of me?
Before dawn, while my disguise lasts, I walk across
the coals toward the girl everyone secretly loves.
Her cheek is painted like a garden of jacaranda trees
as she wraps herself in burial cloth.
My feet, by this time, are medium rare.
If not for my tears, this would be a comedy. A boy standing
on the sun! A girl paying no heed.
Even the Stars
There is an ant bite on my heel.
It oozes the more I scratch it.
My brother is in the hospital
for trying to tempt mortality
on a hundred-dollar motorcycle.
In Berlin, soldiers bathe
in inflatable pools of beer,
There is a land war happening
over and over again
in every page of my sketchbook;
no one ever wins.
am I too hard on the universe?
My brother understands the world.
He could have built it better:
no five o’clock traffic, no mosquitos,
A local Scrabble championship threatens
the dinner I promised my grandmother.
The stars look on, untroubled,
until one of them explodes.
The Parthenon’s Scattered Pieces
We Greeks remember
What soft, smooth marble can signify
If shaped by believing hands
I would give my life to reclaim
Even one sacred stone they have taken from us.
In New York, they hoard the proof of who we were.
In London they hold hostage the Parthenon Marbles.
My sister walks her dog under the Acropolis at dawn.
She moves, as if in pain, ashamed to look up,
Her children cannot name the old gods,
They have forgotten how to pray.
Sometimes she touches the daffodils,
Listening, hoping to catch a whisper
Of Eurydice, or perhaps, if she tilts her ear to
Earth’s quivering heart, the distant music of a lyre.
Jason skips down the highway each day singing, praying, whistling to himself,
bringing seven roses and waiting for God to tell him who they’re for.
More dependable than the sun, he lives to give gifts, to cultivate smiles.
It has been a long time since I cried, but seeing him wilting in the Florida heat,
white roses in his hand at the base of the 3-mile bridge, I asked him if he needed
a ride home. He told me he already was.
It has been so long since I was young, since I bought that prom corsage and kissed
the moose head at McGuires Irish pub, since I asked Mom if she needed a hand
trimming the azaleas, since I gave anyone roses.
The city loves you, Jason. Do you know they call you “skippy” and “left-looker?”
It has been a long time since I saw you during my commute.
Maybe you got tired, or locked up, or wore out your shoes.
Maybe you ran out of roses. Or maybe you found someone else to give
roses to, to love so much you skip and whistle for them. To love so much
that when they fall asleep to dream, your eyes close.
You Damned Philosophers
Shame on you, philosophers, for trying
to take my free will, for trying to tell me
that when I call my grandmother to wish
her happy birthday, my action was
predetermined by the motions of atoms
in pterodactyls and meteors.
Now I get depressed when I think.
You stole the joy in wonder, truth seekers.
Plato taught us how to live and love
the world better. Now, you moderns
debate the ethical implications of burning
cats. How the mighty have fallen!
See how the old men dance with indecent
gaiety, hoarding secret happiness, while
the young stand brooding in their graves.
In his childish madness, he made us.
Carefully, intimately, with all the fleeting devotion
of an infant god, he traced our delicate lines.
So frail and faulty a sandbox he gave us
to grow and to learn love.
Here we were forgotten.
The world maker put away his tools, stood up,
brushed the sand like planets from his
crystal blue skin,
and walked slowly, purposelessly,
down the multiverse,
touching the hardness of stars
looking back only once to mourn.
The Curator of Santorini’s Musical Arts Exhibition: Her Name is Iris
I wintered with a Greek Tsabouna player
Who is also a Metaphysician.
Six notes, she played through flute
And goat skin, and I never caught her twice
In the same song.
We spent our nights in a Venetian tower,
Shivering with cold, our days,
Restoring old instruments, polishing
The strings for future display.
She played to warm her fingers,
Even when the ice wind covered
The garden, and withered the irises
On the windowsill.
Sometimes we danced
Turning tragic circles through empty halls.
The visitors will come again in spring,
In spring, they will love music again.
Slowly she froze, inside and out,
She could not thaw.
I heard over and over again
Her very last sound.
And the tourists will come
In herds of boredom,
Glimpsing the work of our devotion
Through touch screens.
How could I show you what I saw that night?
A rainbow petal, untouched by frost,
Pausing in the emptiness outside our bedroom window
And rising on the breeze
I listen to the closing notes of my own funeral
hoping to hear something comforting
about death, or something true.
There were once many angels
dancing the pathways between
here and hereafter. Now they waltz
tragic orbits, weary of dancing.
The instruments are rusted like the
hinges on St. Peter’s gates, which are
The road after is filled with
shadows, but it is not empty—
what is that sound? A soul crying,
lost in the rafters?
No, it’s just the organ music mingling with
incense. Ageless children balance on kneelers
looking for angels at this, my last dusk.
I should get up to trim the flowers,
but this coffin is warm
and the lid is so heavy.
Henry VIII of England on Jane Seymour
She kneels in the sanctuary, gazing up
at the stained glass of the abbey,
listening as if to expose a conspiracy
between martyred saints.
I wonder if she prays. What is the difference
between praying and thinking?
See the way the light touches her?
We will marry when my wife is dead.
God, give me a son! A man can puff
his breath beneath the sheets for what?
A sword for the lady, make it clean,
a quick blow and a cut to the neck—
after the funeral, the hands of her lover
brush her cheeks, and she trembles
at the fingers smeared with blood,
fumbling her rosary beads,
wondering when he will lead her
by the hair and lay her on the scaffold.
I, the killer sharing this church,
would evict God to marry such a woman.
What does the Pope know of love?
We are so small, we praying girls,
we kings. And we do not last long enough
to leave a fragrance or a stain.
Oh, Jane, be my wife! Pierce me like a roasting
skewer. Our future is both tragic and savory.
If I bleed, bite your own tongue to gushing
and catch it all in a basin made of glass.
Skin Keeps Our Organs In
My sister still believes in angels, the kind that accompany
God wherever he goes. Sometimes, though paralyzed, she
feels them resting against her skin, counting heartbeats.
But it’s only the fringe of a nurse’s sleeve, or the swift
antiseptic rush of doctors’ haste passing by her bed. As long
as she prays to angels, she is ready for life. She does not
avert her eyes from the car wrecks on her side of the road,
from the mangled scraps of glass and leather, the split rims’
anodized aluminum dust. I often visit her in that cold
and featureless room. By day, her bed vibrates softly with
hidden machinery, and by night the wind whispers through
cracks in the ceiling while I sit awake trying to touch
the brittle moonlight. This once, the angels let me see them
standing in a circle, let me smell the desert valley smells
on their robes and taste the cactus warmth and breathe deep
of the trumpet sounds and the invisible outlines of halos.
I imagine becoming an angel, spreading my silvery-delicate
wings and leaving my carbon moment behind—the voiceless
mourners, my sister’s sad silence, this suffocating room.
If a bumper sticker were to be her story, it would say in
tear-shaped lines: do not drive faster than your angel can fly.