I have never been to New Mexico
red desert wide, skies high
above the mesa, the plains, soft
dusted cliffs, a black bird
flying miles away.
Consider: rock shale: arroyo:
names of things meant to evoke
dryness and height,
the image of a cracked white
skull nesting near a riverbed that
sees rain once a season.
I learn its strange geology:
Paleozoic and Mesozoic,
layers of minerals colored like
blood and oranges, pressed down,
and down and carved by wind
into mesas and columns where
palomino clouds compete for
I am interested in time.
I want to know how things
change, in the desert.
And I place stars on my ceiling;
with small globs of putty
I build constellations for you
the subject of my affection
to better understand what you see
when you close your eyes,
mine open in the dark,
both seeking something no
longer in front of us, the stars
not real except in the meaning
we care give them: recall a moonless
night in Galisteo, the wind warm
on your bare child skin: recall
stars in the river reflection,
pines, palms, an ocean in the
dark, my memories
now, yours too.
In the Control Room
At dawn the fountain is empty
and the leaves blowse across its bowl
in rolling bursts with the light wind.
The chipped paint is hardly
noticeable from a distance,
or the words scrawled near the edges.
I have seen sometimes a cat shadow
the wall hunting birds.
A hundred yards away a man
in a yellow vest points a hose
and washes the ground where
the day before a boy
The water will have dried by noon.
Yellow caution tape removed.
I work in a studio
dim and cool and quiet,
tucked in a windowless hallway
on the second floor in the center
of a building in the middle of
campus. In the control room
we are suspended, and separate.
In the studio all day
long computer screens flash
and beam out broadcasts to students—
huddled under blankets in dorm rooms,
sipping coffee in their cars, laptops
balanced on their knees,
or in a cubby, maybe, at the library,
watching with headphones—
wires strapped to the ground and hanging
coiled from the walls the conduit
for these streams, though who can say
what really happens between the wire
(physical) and the image (something not
physical)? There is some invisible leap
in logic or substance. But we see the
picture in the end.
I find it hard to keep myself
out of the scene, to speak
outside of my experience,
or to ignore a need to find
the things I should have looked at.
A negative-space record.
There is the thing that happened,
and there is what is left.
And there is also what I can see.
But what ends up here is something
else and I cannot tell
if there is some immorality in
speaking without being able to say
what I feel, or in imagining that
what I feel matters very much.
Who is the subject and object
when every act is collectivized
shared archived remixed
the wires so crossed like the
thickest tendons or
venison, bitter and stringy
between your teeth?
The fifth wall: a membrane:
a caul: a way to tell myself
this writing matters.
The morning crew
goes to work in darkness:
at San Jac and 24th
too tired to stand straight they
slump, shoulders almost touching
but not quite
men dressed alike in orange vests
hardhats—cliché, but comforting
to see the familiar white: they are
a job, an action, a thumb-worn
dollar purchasing a one-way bus pass—
heading to a skeletal building where
every room inside is floodlit
and the hammers sound all night.
Mist gathers, rises from the creek.
Cicadas and traffic mingle.
The morning wraps hot arms
around the city.
Where do they come from, these
men? They ride every bus, wait
at every corner. Their work never
ends. The city spreads out and up,
roads, sidewalks paved to accommodate
millions in this desert town,
hard materials (sounds: cement,
concrete, ceramic, steel) hardening
their palms. They’ve touched
everything here except one another’s
hands, arms. Gloves in between.
They are men: they do not
do that. They know the smooth lines
of a truss bridge, or the swell
(sudden, satisfying) of foam
insulation, the gun nozzle tipped
with dew. Tufted weeds between
slabs of brick and stone.
They know what the city feels like.
Across the street their orange vests
flash. Red streetlights change to green.
And as they make their way to work
the bus follows its
own way through the city,
its other quiet passengers’
faces reflected in the windowpanes
we pass too fast to register
ourselves staring back,
the glass too grimy to let us
see precisely what we want,
details in the architecture
lost even as the sun begins
For my little brother
I am teaching you to wash your hands
with foam soap: the special kind that smells
pink and sweet and froths from the nozzle
in airy peaks, a merengue on our small palms.
I am eight, you maybe four.
I have shut the bathroom door and
this makes your shrieks louder when
you laugh at the endless slurps of soap
growing bigger in the sink—
we imagine it overtaking us, filling
the room until we are suspended in it,
sounds muted, the rosy froth buoying
us up, hold us together inside.
I am a cruel sister to you, bitter
with my suspicions: they love you
more than me.
I take every opportunity to
make you cry.
When my mother tells me fifteen
years later about the child she lost
after me—I always wanted you
to have a sister, she said—I knew it was true:
love is not undiscerning.
I do not know why, that day,
I decided to be kind.
It made you so happy to wash
your hands with me.
I wish many things about
our childhood but the most
is that you knew how much
I loved you. I tried so hard to
convince you otherwise.
Is it unfair to blame a ghost
I never knew was there,
a filmy web between us?
It is a relief to have something
to blame. I should not
In the bathroom you could not
reach the sink—I had to take the soap
bottle down for you.
It was afternoon, summertime.
The sun a ripe tangerine low and
heavy in the sky.
I could hear our mother calling
dinner on the stove.
But I kept the door closed
a little longer.
Everything we both wanted
was inside, right there,
We watch horror, Eli
and I, while Laurel sleeps
in the raggedy recliner, my friend
tired from too many office days
and not enough pay
and knowing time drifts now
bracken on the rivertop
moving faster than the eye can
follow. Gold sequins on her
dress glitter as she breathes.
She is beautiful, but worries
she is not.
In photos—I think of a sepia-
filtered shot, taken two days
after this night—she and I look
like the same woman. Hard to
tell us apart, our bodies and
hair swum together,
Ophelias in a Chattanooga kitchen.
Later this evening
Eli and I will go to a bedroom
not our own
fall asleep woven together
while Laurel sleeps alone.
There are still strands of her
hair on the pillow, the same
copper as mine.
I can hear her breathing
through the thin basement
walls, so little separating us
it might as well not be there.
But now here in the den in the mountains:
the creature from a Florida lagoon
backstrokes to the light—the heroine
screams—the hero leaps.
Three figures wreathed in salt-water
seaweed while bubbles constellate
burst, the monster falling away.
The movie over, the television screen turns
blue, washing over all our faces
so we all become, for an instant,