The Man Who Had Elbows Made of Rain

eventually came to resent being called in
to areas of drought, asked to wave or
do the chicken dance in cornfields
and flower gardens for no pay, only
a potluck dinner at the local church.
He thought about charging money —
it didn’t seem right, though he
couldn’t say why. Weren’t there
plenty of other freaks who happily
profited from the calamities of
their birth — an extra head, say,
or lobster claws, or a beard
where no beard should be? Still,
he never got over the feeling that,
inconvenient though it was, and
as many things as he ruined —
clothes, books, a velvet couch —
it was a gift to have rain elbows,
and the gift was meant to be shared.
So he always got up (with a sigh),
he always answered the phone, and
he always went — time after time
after desperate, dry time.


Care Instructions

And this is what your goldfish will eat:

orange slices
a gel made from squid and algae, in your microwave
an expensive grass plant that was supposed to cover the tank like a lawn
a moss ball that was supposed to live for several years and symbolize everlasting love
little bits of all of the above, picked out of the stones

And this is what it will mean to take care of someone:

the twice-daily feeding, the rush to the front,
the rubbery, muscular ecstasy at the sight of you,
the bringer of the food, the face through the glass.


Holy Balls!

That was the only thing I could think of to say,
really, that entire summer. Eventually, someone
made me a Holy Balls! T-shirt, which I still have,
maybe, unless I gave it to my ex-boyfriend, Chuck,
while we were still dating, and he never gave it back.
That would be just like him — and just like me, to
go and lose something like that. I think about this
all the time: Why we keep some things (a shelf full
of margarine lids, say) and let other things go.
A T-shirt shut up in a drawer somewhere, so it can
never speak to us or anyone else about that time
and place — who we were then, who was with us,
what we all said.


Do You Follow?

Do you follow my logic here?
I mean, are you and I in
cosmic sympathy — do we
listen to the same music
of the same spheres? Do we
make a shape together,
other than the shadows
of ourselves? Is this
where my bats want to
roost, under your eaves?
Do you have bats, too —
and can we ever get down
to brass tacks, something
like real conversation,
as one pink cloudbank
slides toward another?


Some Monkeys Chose Not to Evolve

It is optional that I join
The Family of Man,
shed my tail, begin eating
something other than fruit.
It is optional, and yes,
it is an option, and yes,
I’m strongly considering it.
But first, I want to know
what I’ll gain from this,
other than power (a tail
is pretty powerful, too,
you know), heart disease,
a few material comforts.
Will I have to destroy
my nest of leaves, never
make another? Because
let me tell you, that’s
not the worst way —
making a nest — to pass
the last hour of day/
first hour of night.
I’ve heard it said
that this is happening
whether we like it
or not — that choice
is an illusion against
this force of nature.
I don’t understand that
as well as I understand
figs. I don’t need that
as much as I need leaves.


Phantom Fish

The ghost of a goldfish
its small body
to our mistaken care,
was placed in a jar
on the mantel
until we could get to it,
the bitter task of
tossing it into the lagoon,
a dead, diseased fish
to possibly infect, kill
other fish —
another mistake.
So many compound errors
when we intended only care,
at least a measure of love.
And now the lagoon is to be
all the fish killed
and others put in —
bass, maybe, or sunfish,
I don’t know. But I do know
it won’t be carp or koi, or
a whole neighborhood’s cast-off
goldfish, the living and the dead.
Somehow, this too, feels like
a failure,
as if our goldfish is
no longer welcome there,
in the resting place we chose,
not even in phantom form,
the remembering bones
of other fish.


I Once Watched a Ballroom Dance Competition on PBS

In some other time that I cannot now place,
I once watched a ballroom dance competition on PBS
until it all began to make sense — the hairspray
and bright blush, the spangles and flesh-colored
nylon panels — as necessary equipment for
what was certainly a sport, like ice skating
without blades, or dressage in which the partners
are both at least nominally of the same species
and one does not ride atop the other’s back,
except in rare moments when, say, the woman is
lofted onto the man’s shoulders, spun across
his upper back, then set down with a gentleness
that must be at least a bit deceptive. Bones
are involved, and sweat, and ragged breath,
as well as a workmanlike decorum that denies
any notion of sex. This, even as they dance
around it, sex, with roses in their teeth,
in a parlor ringed by judges, held up by
an artifice that is stronger, more fragile
than any of us is ever allowed to see.