Sample Poems

From The Body's Fire

James Baldwin at the Station

                                                J’ai laissé des ames dont

                                                                              la peine s’accroîtra de mon départ!

                                                                              —Rimbaud, “Mauvais Sang”


Uptown was the hard part,

getting over the look

of it, the over-flowered feel

of windblown places.

And the bus


struggled so, exasperating

dark clouds,

as if its organs had gone

hard stuffed

inside the ribs, finally gasping

up the backs

of the avenues.

I want to imagine his


last evening, how a woman smiled

at him in the station,

lounging against the wall, her curved

back springing

when he drew near

like a statue set

free, a skirt

tight as bronze, Rodin

holding linen down to sketch

a figure, an artist.


Here is Baldwin at last

on his way, a beret

in his bag, a gentleman on his arm

in Paris. He sees it

that way watching bus-darkened

faces cross before him

while he waits for the transfer,

imagines flying before he goes, and

the French—memoire,

joyeux, larme—

his language spoken

in the city of light.

Toward the Skin

                                      for J.S.


My friend stops his father
in the doorway, asks him
to show me the numbers burned
to his wrist like small white


promises. He asks this so easily
it surprises


me, as his father lifts
a hairy forearm to the hall
light and holds stiff
as sculpture


while we watch
and wait for history


to move past us. This is the same friend
I lie with in a tent
near the highway,
something desperate in our awkward

moves toward the skin,
some inevitable ride


we must take
away from each other. He tastes like salt,
as if he were made of it,
more like salt


than anything
I've ever known. And if after this

my landscape turns strange
and I run from the burnt field
of my desires
as if I could get around it


and my world seems
to collapse


from within, I ask what dark passage
was I called to, what rage
was I used, like so many others,
to answer?




At four in the morning the streets in Cleveland

 break up and roll themselves away


only to be planted again by the front wheels

 of cars rolling downtown at daybreak. No one


sees it, but I know it happens that way.

 There are people I used to work with


who would call thoughts like that crazy. Maybe

 they are. But I need to explain


the prostitutes on Carnegie, the gun in every

 other locker at the factory where my friend works,


the body face down in the lot where I saw it

 first. I knew a black man, fifty and


strong as an ox, who tore down his painting

 from our locker at Christmas. It was


beautiful and someone made him take it down. He tore

 it from the wall in pieces. Some answers


are hard to get: Places don’t mean much anymore and

 the smaller pains in a lifetime—


small because they weren’t yours or they happened

 long ago— fade away. But I know


there is something wild beating in our hearts and

 sometimes it gets out—you can almost hear it.


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Sample Poems

From Cymbalism

Insidious at the Big K



Kafka was Insidious’ favorite author.

He loved the wicked parables,

the inflated zebra references.

Sometimes he wished for dull oratory

instead. When he was young

his grandmother took him to Sunday School

for drawing. He made a universe

on his paper—stars, clouds, a train.

The teacher looked at him despairingly.

But his shell was already up.

He wandered among the cedars,

lindens, hawthorns.


His heart he knew now

was not in it. He looked up to the sky

where his chariot waited.

The boy falling out of it

he didn’t see. If you’re starting a revolution,

he knew, it was best to do it

with one eye closed.

Intimate Confessions


                                          . . . he writes letters to the President of the Solar System

                                                                     full of intimate confessions.

                                                                    — Zbigniew Herbert, trans. Alissa Valles


Dear Mister President,

There are moths inside

the stars. We heard

fluttering in midwinter against

our hearts. Two swans

live in the jet stream,

a kind of music

beneath the windy silence.


Last night we ate the river

with the stars inside.

The water drags

the sky along its surface.

Insidious’ Dream



At dawn, I. is descending

like a gull, not falling—an arrow always

in flight.  His father molds his arms

with wax, hopes for clouds and wind.

Later, watching starfish, he thinks,

You weave cities of illusion inside yourself.

At the tips of his pinioned fingers,

he feels a sudden stirring weave through.


Impossibly, without warning, he falls

asleep in the air—arm kites tearing.

Daedalus never saw how his cheek

brushed the water just as claws gripped

his back, and real wings—the only thing

borne—either grew then and there

or the noise drowned all else,

thousands of feathers erupting.

He couldn’t say where.

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