I learned in science
you can never touch

anything. Surrounding every
object there’s a layer of air molecules.

Even when you put on a hat,
there’s a pillow of air

between your head and it.
I remember watching TV,

when I heard my mother
pound her head against a wall.

Don’t come up here—she cried.

I looked up at her,
through air so clear,

I forgot we walk around
all day. Levitating.



  The earth’s crust
is like a cooking pancake
in a black iron skillet, except

instead of sitting on the stove
it shoots around the kitchen.
It’s amazing how sturdy it feels

on top, in our dim museums.
With just enough light to make out
a why, a what, and a how.

Ignoring how much we ignore,
like fish living in underground lakes ignore
ignoring their eyes to ignore the dark.

How desperate life is to live
that it shapes itself so readily to the world,
so that what our world lacks, we lack.



  Next time that young bartender grabs the ashtray &
throws our ashes to the floor, I’m going to save at least one

howling soul. We’ll salsa through these doors
out to the place where they pound good cars into boxes, where

magic rebels from what magic usually rebels from: a world
that doesn’t bother to burn first, just smolders and blows away. Tonight,

sitting next to this one-legged Croatian, I want myself closer to Yugoslavia
than 3 generations. I want to remind Joseph of the word for perfection,

but I don’t know that language. So I flirt. Tell him—you are, old man, perfectly
& he laughs like a freight train caught

in wet sheets & he says I won’t tell you how I lost my leg & I say
no one cares unless it makes a good story anyway.



  Across from my mother and me, in the Roy Rogers
at the James Fenimore Cooper travel plaza
on the New Jersey Turnpike, is an old man

with Flirt stitched onto his visor.
All he’s done so far is give us
a nod and good evening. No offer to buy us

a drink. No wink. He’s flirting with flirting
how a one-legged bird flirts with walking.
My mother and I order chicken sandwiches,

and attempt to reswallow our hearts.
Moments before, we stopped dead in front of a car on fire.
Careening across four lanes of Turnpike. Backwards.

Even if she straightens out, she’s still on fire—my mother said.

At night the Turnpike is lit like a wet snake.
No matter which way you travel, you’re heading
for the fangs. Only the golden oil refineries

can relax, nestle in its coils. Yet we
scale the ridge of its back, flirt with tons
of speeding metal, even fire. Like two geniuses

dispelling a myth, we clutch our new truth tight:
You’re fucked even if you aren’t fucked—we say.
Clear our plastic trays. Get back on the highway.




  Shit—a rusted spot on the bars
catches my orange paper suit and
tears a hole in the ass. The fatter one
looks over, asks why I’m in this get-up
anyway. I got arrested at the river,
in my bathing suit. We were jumping
off the rocks and got in a fight.
Some cop turned around exactly when
James’ fist caught my chin.
Arrested us both. Funny,
I tell them, this paper suit is nothing,
the only thing warm in here
is my swollen cheek. The fatter one, still
shaking from the coke they caught her with
tells us if it were up to her
she’d let us all free.
The drunk one lifts her head from the toilet—but when’s it ever been up to you?