The poems I am working on these days defer to the impulse to archive and collect. Because of my interest in the collision of apparently objective methods of documentation and an explicitly idiosyncratic subjectivity, my poems employ the alphabet, the catalogue, the timeline, the diagram and the dictionary as forms. I seem to be in the middle of compiling a voluminous encyclopedia of ephemera, driven by a still un-rationalised desire to convert the perishable to permanent, to salvage the seemingly disposable from disappearance and erasure. I am interested in aggressively treating words and sentences as singular units of composition, polyvalent and prone to different registers depending on that which they are in proximity to. In other words, I am extremely attached to the act of enumeration.
At six I lost my first watch and gave up on biking. At eight I wanted a cow and a fridge to put the cow’s food in, and also a music box. At thirteen I broke a tooth in a dream and for days tapped each tooth in my mouth with my tongue, searching for cracks. At seventeen I lived with three strangers and at twenty-one I got chicken pox exactly two weeks before graduation. I prefer beer to wine. I prefer a couch to a chaise longue. I prefer landmarks to street signs. I prefer to say perhaps rather than maybe, which perhaps makes me sound officious, although I hope this is not the case. I like to watch horse races and figure skaters. I like not being good friends with my neighbors. When in the shower, I sing. When afflicted with a pain I have no name for, I sleep it off. I cry over migraines and missed deadlines. I would rather rent for life than be responsible for a house. I would rather spend a weekend up in the mountains than in the city, but this was not always so. I look forward to plane rides, if they are less than ten hours long. On trips I prefer to stay in the hotel and read books, often about the place I am visiting. I like to sit in the lobby and take pictures of window views. I do not mind asking strangers for directions. I do not get upset when the directions turn out to be unreliable. I do not think twice about spending money on books, but I tend to hold off on buying a bag of potato chips, no matter how intriguing the flavor. Sometimes, in my office, I choose not to answer the knock at the door, despite its persistence. I pretend I am asleep, or simply not there. I find turnstiles and carousels reassuring. I think photographs of shadows are inevitably elegant. There were years when I signed my name as well as the date and place of purchase in every book I bought, and there were years I did not. There were years I recorded in my journals and there were years I did not. I enjoy sitting in a coffee shop and listening to the talk at the next table, but I am annoyed when I tell my companion a joke and find the man at the next table laughing. I cannot look at a painting without reading its title first. I feel awkward making the sign of the cross. I feel compelled to write words with my index finger on dusty surfaces. I do not smoke pot if there is no one in the room I would like to sleep with. Mannequins make me nervous, as do poorly ventilated diners. I am always a little disappointed when the person I am calling picks up the phone. I have a hard time watching movies with scenes of rape and torture in them. I would rather not have a conversation begin with “We need to talk,” although experience has taught me that what follows is not necessarily terrible news. There are two or three things in my life that I regret. I am pro-choice but am amenable to a reproductive health law that excludes abortion. I am embarrassed to belong to one of two countries in the world with no divorce law. I read the news after I read the classifieds. I despise cops and evangelists. I can live without beauty pageants, although I find myself keeping the television on long enough to see the evening gown portion. Sometimes, alone in a restaurant, I feel obliged to finish my food quickly if there are others waiting to be seated. I stay away from people who hand out flyers. I stop in front of pet shops when rabbits and birds are on display. I compare prices. I make lists. I return by the due date. I think it is better to walk in the middle of the street and get hit by a car than to walk on a dark sidewalk and get mugged. I think a cab with a rosary hanging from its rearview mirror is safer to ride in than a cab without it. I have a hard time evading small talk. I have fallen down a flight of stairs twice. I have watched a group of men smash a car with lead pipes. I have stood on top of a mountain in one country to view the mountains of another. I have had sex in ten countries across four continents. I have been kissed inappropriately by a priest. When I am bewildered I think of olive trees half my size which I must have seen on a trip long ago or merely read about. When I am unnerved I recite the phone numbers I know by heart and am relieved that I still know them. There are two or three things I have done that I must apologize for. I sleep by myself on the right side of a double bed. I sleep with the lights off, and by this I mean I sleep with the light from the lamppost outside my window. When a man is in bed with me I leave the cat outside and ignore its meowing by the door. When a man is in bed with me I say screw even when make love is a distinct possibility. There were years I spent filled with road rage and there were years I did not. There were years I wrote thank you notes and snacked on cheese and crackers and there were years I did not. I do not underestimate receptionists and security guards. I am more likely to pick up a book with a beautiful cover even if it is by an unknown author than a book with a hideous cover even if it is by an author I love. I think dictionaries are more reliable than novels. I think swimming pools are far more bearable than oceans. I forgive friends easily, but I am a ruthless critic of acquaintances. I am sometimes rendered speechless by indecision. Sometimes, on my way to work, I see myself walking across the street. I feel the urge to follow myself, but soon enough, I change my mind.
I took the amaretto to mean there was no beer in the house.
I took the bassline to mean a particular addressee was in the crowd.
I took the clairvoyant weather to mean I could dismiss your unappealing conclusions.
I took the dry run to mean the echo was unreliable.
I took the elevated appeal of allusions to mean the fever had no fangs.
I took your fury to mean there was grass in the basement.
I took the gelatinous substance to mean a diminished generosity toward herbivorous endeavors.
I took happiness to mean I had the right syllable in mind.
I took the initials to mean just leave the front door unlocked.
I took the jellyfish scuttling by the reef to mean the kleptomania was the least of my concerns.
I took the kiss to mean a potentially inconsequential lesson.
I took the lesion barely hidden by your sleeve to mean you had no wish to mimic the tragedies of your flawed heroines.
I took the marionette on the clothesline to mean there was hope for the unsuspecting neighbor.
I took no to mean it was the only answer.
I took the oppressive serendipity to mean that panic might or might not send us straight into an emergency.
I took the paprika to mean quiz the cook, not the gardener.
I took the imperious quill to mean the repetition was intentional.
I took the sly reference to mean the substitute had surpassed the preference.
I took the song to mean you took the necessary pill.
I took the tricky decimal to mean I should unsay the speech I made over dinner.
I took the unexpected unification to mean veer away from condescending middlemen.
I took the violinist’s lisp to mean it was imperative to wait in line.
I took the waiver to mean there was a xenophobe in the building.
I took the third x-ray to mean you had nothing more to lose.
I took the yapping from the room below to mean the token zorroing was a far more appropriate gesture.
I took the zero dangling from the headline to mean the aphorism was a spell in disguise.
Half an hour in the house of indecision or procrastination
The cotton buds are attracting ants by the hundreds, they are almost flowers.
The blinds are behaving like piano keys at the mercy of an inebriated player. Or: the blinds are undulating like the sea on an uneventful summer day. Or: the blinds are shimmering like grass skirt of a woman scavenging for keys in a cavernous purse.
Are there three illegal puppies yelping without let up in the apartment next door or just two?
The dust clinging to the spokes of the fan spans several eras: The Era of the Apartment Devastated by Flood, The Era of Politically Incorrect yet Extremely Amusing Terms for Informal Settlers, and The Era of Citrus-Scented Cleaning Agents to Cover Up the Accidents of the Ailing Cat.
Instant coffee with condensed milk is too pleasant to be thought of as making do.
There is nothing in the house that seems to have emerged from a grandmotherly chest inlaid with mother-of-pearl save for the stereoscope and the box of slides of pastoral scenes in turn-of- the-century India.
In lieu of the guitar left in the office. In lieu of the sorely missed cable subscription. In lieu of mid-week nights at the bar with unexplainably cheap margaritas, now closed for renovation.
The term you mean to use when you say threshed out is fleshed out.
The studio photograph taken years ago to commemorate the shamelessly literary tattoo is languishing in a book bag from a forgettable conference.
Today is hopefully not the day the landlady slips the electric bill under the door.