—after Franz Wright



The door handle is missing, though he wants to be good,
he just can’t focus or grasp the way her body flattens out
over the bed.  Her bored preening.  A hockey puck bruise
under the stubble of her armpit. & the woman, Donna, says
nothing, which is almost the worst part.  At sixteen, my dad
used to drive out of dry counties in Arkansas to get a crate
of liquor for his best friend’s father, Leo.  A tin man who
couldn’t get out of bed without first lighting a cigarette. 
Raspy hacking, his Goddamn cops are swine & Goddamn
this trick knee.  His gentle way of singing, undressing
& crawling into the unmade Murphy bed each morning,
like a blind man, feeling his way, too inebriated to barter
with the aluminum hawkers who’d ruin him before the smoke
or cirrhosis could.  Green ashtray at the knot of her elbow
filled with menthol butts, Donna, nixed, finally just gets up
& does it for him, her gapped teeth & cracked red lipstick
at his collar, she can see him looking & not looking.  Dead
room, a kicked dent in the wall, & every two or three minutes
another John walks by & my young father, unbuckling his belt,
can hear the false giggling of the woman, the man’s wheezing
chuckle following her in.






The station-house walls seem to gasp
agape:  Boxcars, midnight                                               hiss
unhasp & heave off.  Gerti squirms                              slow-screech
into your wool blankets
with an orange                                           muffled heaving
candle & pillows her ears, humming               
to deaden the banter & staggered
banging.                                                     whimpering, grunts
All your father’s dirty
railroad cities & whore junctions
rasp in the cochlea, itching                                           night hubs
open insomnia’s purple bud.
Stumble drowsily                                                  don’t
to the washbasin                                        glimpse      
your father
full train uniform collar & jacket, station master cap
pacing the moonlit kitchen, half-naked, muttering                  splotched
to the specter of your eldest sister, who nods                                thighs
absently over an empty pot on the stove.
In the shadows (your neck frigid                                 not
& tight) see
what your mother knows                                 the family
of his body, what’s tinctured your                                           slathered
three brothers in the womb.






Pulls gloves onto the outstretched fingers
of doctors among
bickering corpses in a room
buzzing in bluish light. Who scours
the backs of her hands, her throat
lathered with medical soap,
grinning a little when she daubs it
like cream to her chin. This is the woman
who learns the give
of her own body by opening
the bodies of others, gently
tugging out the purple rope
of intestines, fleshy sack
of the uterus. Who thinks body
& its four letters, the word
itself, its plosive, soft & long vowels,
the signifier body
(does not prevent
her)                        saying it,
aloud now, under the red HOSPITAL
sign, as if fastening it to the shape of her
self like a safety belt across her chest & lap.
& she steps, breathing, (bleach, street air) into the night.





  To make sense of it I must go
To a Slovak-Hungarian train
Letters to an Imaginary Friend,
reading McGrath aloud
                                             In this sad country where number
                where love has no hands…
                                                          no fingers…
I went to the bridge in Györ, or where
the bridge might’ve been
A town divided by 3 rivers & nobody
follows each other home, but
little kids sneak up, giggle
& trot away, singing
into their bright alleys.
Older children ditch their muddy bikes
in the shrubs & drag
(slack-wristed) on cigarettes where
the east stream slurs to murk
& swan drift.
What’s left of a city spoiled
by the empire of its own ghosts?