Paper

I am made from paper
fold an airplane, I fly for real
Crumple into missile, seems more substantial
than I feel
Paper
Paper
Paper

Paper, with a message
lost to disappearing ink
Strike a match, I curl to ash
in the kitchen sink
Paper
Paper
Paper

Cut from folded paper
Into dolls, joined at the fist       
a string of dolls each like the other
girls you kissed
Paper

I am made from paper
fragile husk, paper thin
So lightly here I disappear
on a breath of wind
Paper
Paper
Paper

Loyalty

Back when we were friends she had a lover who was once an extra
in a Woody Allen film, it might have been Manhattan
I never got to meet him. He was swept away
That was exhibit A of how she inspired passion
Exhibit B changed frequently, C was mythical
and she was an unreliable narrator       
I don’t know if she wanted me to know she was wanted
Or if she wanted me to hate her
But I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake
You can’t fake this kind of loyalty
Heartbreak and a copper snake                                                                
And the familiar ache of intoxicating cruelty
Made me hard to shake
I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake

Back then I could live on a little cash
And what I found in the trash, it didn’t take a lot
I was keeping company with anyone who’d let me
I was tough. I needed nothing, I gave more than I got
and no one owed me anything, it didn’t matter
I knew I could depend on my devotion and my sacrifice
and the luxury of righteousness, but that was long ago
And all of it was just a waste of artifice
But I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake
You can’t fake this kind of loyalty
Heartbreak and a copper snake                                                                 
And the familiar ache of condescending cruelty
Made me hard to shake
I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake

The story of a boy, this was long before
He led me to the floor while the band played MacArthur Park
The song went on and on and on, we fell into each other
The mystery of his touch became familiar in the half dark
And it felt like a beginning, a prelude to what?
It was a prelude to nothing, it was just a moment.
After it was over I was still lonely and haunted
And I was still terrified by everything I wanted
But I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake
You just can’t fake this kind of loyalty
Heartbreak and a copper snake                                                                
And the familiar ache of intoxicating beauty
Made me hard to shake
I was hard to shake
I was hard to shake
You can’t fake this kind of loyalty
Heartbreak and a copper snake                                                                
And the familiar ache of godforsaken cruelty
Made me hard to shake

Bluebird

They stitched my empty ribcage closed                                                                               
and left me up here on subsidy.
The birds come back year after year
With blood red breasts they build a nest high in the hollow tree
I’ll wait by my window watching
To catch the moment hatchlings
leave the nest
Bluebird, happiness
Bluebird

On the first day of my war
I floated above Normandy
Whole battalions bloomed up there
to dreamlike choirs of rifle fire and heavy artillery,                                           
I was the one to snag a tree
and hang there helplessly
with a shattered chest
Bluebird, happiness
Bluebird, happiness

My father fought at Amiens
I heard his stories as a kid
Then my war broke so I signed on
To prove my worth and claim my birthright like my father did
Bluebirds leave the nest, float through the air
On a wing, a prayer
And all the rest
Bluebird, happiness
Bluebird, happiness
Bluebird, happiness

Being Her Child

Her eyes are not windows. They are small blue stones
Her touch is bone on bone where she stops and I begin
There are rules but I don’t know them. I’m careful, often wrong
But her dependable disappointment in me is curiously comforting
There is never enough, no promise of more
She smolders, she has dignity
She watches over me with abiding indifference
That I take as proof of her superiority
Draw a line
Draw a line
Draw a line

After she dies I go by my dreams
Recurring ones, windows into memory
And vivid ones with sirens, flashing lights, a cast of thousands
Playing out an astonishingly honest drama
There are times when the past floods through the future
I’m wearing her clothes but maybe I shouldn’t be
I find a paint box full of small blue stones
I find an old photograph that looks like me
Draw a line
Draw a line
Draw a line

A heart beats for exactly a lifetime
When hers stops everything moves too fast, for a while
And then later, it moves too slow while I try to learn
How to unsolve the puzzle of being her child

Lucy Remembers Her Father

He would have raised a hundred kids, for a built in audience
But mother had had enough of him before I was even born
So I am the only one, running out and riding shotgun
when he pulls up to pick me up, leaning on the horn

Who in the world is that, banging on the piano keys?
Dad’s house is full of strangers playing tune after tune.
My father knows the harmonies, everybody sings along.
When he laughs Dad’s eyes are crescent moons

We were rich in dogs and cats and shade trees
Poor in existential angst and solitude
Rich in mosquito bites, moths around the porch light
Poor in pop culture TV news

When he planted this tree it was just a twig and so was I
Willowy was his word for me, so he chose a willow tree
And look now how it’s grown so high, all the years gone by
Sheltering and waving, remember me

We were rich in colored pencils, brown paper bags
Poor in long distance calls and cruises
Rich in homegrown tomatoes and river rocks
Poor in family feuds and excuses
We were rich in books and strangers on the porch steps
Poor in political influence
We were rich in wood smoke, dust bunnies, mouse traps
Poor in pedigree and regrets

He would have raised a hundred kids, he loved to have an audience
But I was the only one

Strange Boy

A strange boy became a strange man
He forgot the combination to his bicycle lock
So he talked his way into having to stay
then he could not turn back
he could not turn back the clock

A lonely boy became a lonely man                            
I gave him a poem for a valentine
He wrote suggestions and corrections                                
in the margins
margins in red ballpoint pen

A moody boy became a moody man               
He brought me whiskey then took it back
so we drank to ambiguity                                          
with water
water from the tap

A cynical boy became a cynical man                                         
He had elbows and eyebrows and excuses
and I had all the time in the world
to contemplate                                                             
contemplate my bruises   

A strange man became a stranger
He stayed up all night to watch me sleep
He was gone at dawn but a fleet of paper airplanes
Had crashed
Crashed into the sheets

Coyote Highway

There’s a dry creek that runs through this part of town
I call it the coyote highway.
At night they follow it down from the hills and into my neighborhood
I hear their cries up the block and I let time stand still.
It reminds me of something I wish I could tell you
but it’s not that kind of memory

I took Jay for his x-ray the morning of my birthday       
There would be no more bargaining                                
On the way home he went to the market for oysters to make me dinner
Are you sure, I said. I don’t mind…
and Jay said, no, we’ve been planning this for a long time
So he built a fire on the beach
From driftwood and crumpled pages of The Irish Examiner
He roasted corn and potatoes in the coals
and played his guitar until dawn.
Coyotes were calling from up the creek
Seven weeks later he was gone

No one remembered my birthday this year
The day came and went, another circle around the sun
And there will be another and another until it's done
Will anyone remember then?
Say it doesn't matter. Say there is always a beginning and an end
There is always a story
Last night I heard them calling on the coyote highway
Voices rising through my dream until I woke and wound the window open to hear better
Farther away than they sound I know, but I wonder
Are they getting closer?

Understudy

Mother, I’m your fondest fear, your darkest dream, your understudy
Your last best chance to get it right, beat me bloody

Silent with my hand locked to your hand like jets refueling in flight
Matching you step for step, how can I do nothing right?

Mother watch me walk away in heels so high the pavement’s bending
Your telephone will ring and ring but you won’t want to know the ending

Il Ne M'aimera Jamais (He Will Never Love Me)

I went to his house and took off my dress
and stayed for three days. What a mess.
Back on the street, in the window displays
I saw a man give a mannequin a withering gaze
Il ne m’aimera jamais

I said it was love as if that would explain
why I fell for familiar distain
Back on the street in the cold light of day
a little girl danced while her dad turned away
Il ne m’aimera jamais

I went to his house, slept in his bed
my little black dress, over my head
Back on the street by the sidewalk cafe
A man fed the birds but the birds flew away
Il ne m’aimera jamais

Story

He was late and I was angry
because I was suspicious
but instead of apology or excuse
He told me this story

When he was a boy his father took him to Africa,
it was not a holiday but instead a quest
to find the uncle who had vanished into Lagos
leaving no address.

One broken trail led to another
they walked deep into the dark chaos of the city
through beggars, stench of rotting fish and trash
He watched his father for clues

How do you find your way in a place like that?
they were hopelessly lost in the unbearable heat
when his father cried out and fell to his knees in the dirty street
and his heart stopped

He was nine years old in the slums of Lagos.
He watched barefoot children swarm to strip his father’s shoes,
and watch, his wallet, and clothes, his hat
and sunglasses, maps and scraps of paper with numbers on them.

Later he watched a man with a cart take away the body
but said nothing.
The sun went down and he walked in the dark.
He was afraid to stop. He didn’t cry.

When the sun came up he traded his shirt for a loaf of bread.
He traded his shoes for fruit.
He watched boys begging and stealing, and he learned to do it.
Days or weeks passed. He was not unhappy. He found his way. He saved himself.

You can’t be American, he said, and hope to disappear,
even in the unmapped maze of Lagos.
Eventually they came looking. At first he hid from them.
Then he let himself remember.

So he went home to his mother, to running water,
to a bed, to food on a table,
to New York City. He didn’t think about his father
until many years later

And now, he said, I think about my father all the time
Am I the age that he was then? How old would he be now?
Who would he be if he had lived?
Who would I be if I hadn’t been found?

And who is anyone really? What use is trust?
Can having replace wanting? Or are we just pulled
From place to place without closure or relief?
Is anything stronger than grief?

And we sat a long moment caught in each other’s gaze.
In my mind we are still there, lost in questions without answers
although we each moved on, drawn to something bright and new
that looked beautiful from far away

Luminary

Someday we’ll meet again on Jane Street
Will you remember, will you bend for a kiss
How’s it going to feel, seeing you for real
After all the years I’ve been avoiding this?
And will we go by Goldmine Jake’s for old time’s sake
If I’m hoping for something I hope I know better
Is the paradox lost on you, the bestselling author who
can’t even write me a letter?

But that’s just my side of the story, what’s yours?
Every mile, every road leading you back to Jane Street
You’ve been living with yourself, in sickness and in health,
For better or worse, overflowing, incomplete,
And focused and brilliant and destined for fame
Rising star, then notable, then luminary
When you look back from where you came
Do we seem breathtakingly ordinary?

Do do do do do do
Luminary
Do do do do do do
Back to Jane Street

If I’m honest I’d say you were forthright and real
and mysterious, gifted and complicated
When I couldn’t rescue you, I felt like a                   fool
So I tried to believe it was you I hated
But now I see it was me
For instance, how long since I walked down Jane Street?
Unless I wanted to find the Sunday Times
And read into your success my defeat

Do do do do do do
Complicated
Do do do do do do
Walk down Jane Street
Do do do do do do
Luminary
Do do do do do do
Back to Jane Street