Did you ever know how to build a Tesla coil?

It’s not, as it appears,
a single wire wrapped tightly around its base.
It’s actually a number of separate circuits
that are never really connected at all.
But they’re tuned in to the same frequency.
They feed off of each other that way,
like a little planet directing itself by radio,
or like the fragments of a personality.

When he first developed this type of transformer,
Tesla had to keep the whole thing submerged in oil
to prevent those circuits from overheating and melting down.
You have to spread things out more:
you need more space between your circuits
if you want to be able to enjoy the open air.

The discharge from this contraption is,
in many cases, an afterthought.
However, you’ll find that you can really
fine-tune the voltage and directionality
by controlling airflow, capacitance,
and by holding yourself in a manner that is soft yet firm.

Waiting for the breath of life

I didn’t have a body so I built one out of scraps,
dragged it over rocks and beat it against mountains
until it was hard and smooth.

And I saw a vision
of earthquakes,
morbid obesity and sullen loneliness.

I saw the body of Christ as an ice sculpture,
saw wasted sex and empty generations.

I didn’t have a spirit so I stole one out of the wind,
held it captive in a dark room and fed it propaganda
until it was ready to submit and join the cause.

And I saw a vision
of bands and battalions,
drunk power,
angelic laughter,
of poetry and passion in disarray.

I saw the pain of soulfulness,
the way music forgets itself
and dreams dissolve into mystery,

I didn’t have a voice so I slept with demons,
soaking up their cries a single word at a time
until I had enough for an incantation of my own.

And I saw a vision
of worlds coming together,
a birthplace for gravity and
natural love.

I saw myself drawn with no outline,
a warm bath in the space between spaces,
saw words gather together and take arms.

I didn’t have a history so I invented one,
drew a name out of the waters and a face from the ages
and negotiated the terms of their surrender.

I saw a vision of you,
becoming your dearest wish.

I saw a vision of all of us,
building ourselves up out of dust,
forging our names into flesh.

I saw the truth growing out of nothing,
waiting for permission,
waiting for the breath of life.

When you’re a snow sculpture you end up

having some serious trepidation
about the weatherman’s calls for rain

you end up standing alone beside
burning buildings and feeling
merely out of place

you find yourself making myths
about the gooey innards you’d keep rhythm by
when the night went silent
and your boots became pieces
of the stiff and sleeping ground

you start to wonder whether you may have been
a river or an ocean
full of squishy squeaky struggling life

or whether your forebears had
the good sense to send you
any hidden message about your ultimate bright wet meaning

or some signal that you could
someday make yourself
the stolid limbs of some hardy bush
secure in knowing that they remain connected
to something, somewhere,
when the sun comes out and shows you anything.

The disturbing truth

is that we are disturbed,
that this is normal,
all these lonely nights
and private sufferings;
the whole order
of buildings and bureaucracies
are boundaries
around minds perpetually on the brink
of madness, loathing,
stark tears and uncontrollable anger,
all ordinary,
matters of course,
terrifying in their relentless
presence in our lives,
terrifyingly thin protections
against everyday psychosis,
against life that can never be lost
because it’s never had,
against sentences undeserving of punctuation
that we give our commas and question marks to
out of nothing more than hope
that the love we imagine
might be more than hunger,
that something is ultimately sensical
in a universe that writhes and pulses with us,
rocks crashing against one another
and order in chaos
and chaos and chaos
and dead emptiness.

This can’t be real, this endless frightful winter,
only struggling minds
arriving out of darkness, making pictures of life:
making ourselves up out of whole cloth,
pure dream image
and being born to it with no milk,
no breast,
no warm hearth and dancing family
and color and safety—
what there is is what we make and keep,

a candle with no wick or wax,
only fire,
only this,
only invention in endless night,
only us raising roses from dead soil
and sunlight from out of abyss.
Bread is water,
fear is endless,
and all of the struggle that one feels when alone is only
terribly ordinary,
the inevitable sounds of the edges tearing
and revealing that no truth lies beneath the page.
Only life.
Only this.
Only us.

There are demons at the window

great aimless ones
who can become
disillusioned on sidewalks,
who can read footsteps aloud
in spurts of music,
who bring dreams like bread and wine.

At night I stay in
and beat against my windows with brooms,
crouching alone inside,
waiting for angels of pestilence.

I have a very thin skin,
and it is not a toy,
and I choke on it.

There are demons at the window,
angels, too,
and rags tied to leafless branches
and hideous crawling things;
I want to tear open the shutters
but am frozen in fear.

Last night I acted in a play
in which I was myself and mother and father—
it’s always like this,
I argue with myself asleep and on streetcorners
like the working homeless,
like the dead parade.

And the reality Between the motion

I can’t sleep tonight
because the bad moon ever.

Because the far dream.

I can’t make a hat
that can hold the lot of us;
it’s hot in here and loud
and cold crystal out in space—
I can’t drift out here,
can’t sleep tonight.

Not with my constellation
of old bones scratching.

Not with all this information hanging off
my chinny chin chin.

Because the wrecks.

Because the silence.

Because the hope and strain.

I can’t make music
up here on the surface.

Not in the craters.

I can’t sleep tonight
because the raucous in the basement.

Because the stretched motives.

Because the abaissement de niveau mental.

Because the far far dream.

I can’t make a footstep in the wrong direction
in doughy spacetime tonight,
only fill up with air
and rattle my pan for jewelry—
I can’t lose the surface tension

I fall to bits

Because the bread is poison

Not as if anything

Not bad moon forever

I can’t tell you
there’s too much to listen
you’d never

I can’t go limp
because gravity and humble

I love you music hope strain

The right direction has got to be
the only direction

Gravity has got to be for me

Has got to be

I Seem To Be A Verb

I started in the swelter downtown, finding a perch on the stairs by the college and smoking cheap Columbian cigarettes in big hot gulps. Miami in the dog days is humid like the sky is leaning in on you, and everyone is foreign to everyone else. You watch them: a group of Cuban girls wearing brightly-colored nothing, swinging their hips as they go by; a red, sun-burnt beggar, claims he’s from Alaska, waiting for his sister to wire him some funds and any little bit would help in the meantime, really; an old man in soot-dusted purple robe, his whole hair a single defiant dreadlock, shuffling around corners waving his hands to the sides in rhythm with his curses and invocations. Somehow foreign isn’t ever foreign enough: you know these people, every one. Their weirdness is mere weirdness, is familiar. Mystery is what we crave, what we go out looking for, what we spend our lives waiting for. Even when we’ve given up, the habit of it is what causes us to rise each morning.

Time changes when you’re waiting for someone in a crowded place—breaks off into little glaring pieces. A few old Jewish women in wigs and long dresses are crouching up the steps up into a bus, with plastic bags full of fabric in their hands. The time changes and I’m a sense of myself, a wisp of pollen off the edge of a sun in full bloom. Waiting on the edge of space in a cloud of carbon monoxide, I’m a sensation of an idea of myself: me waiting for an unknown and unknowable not-me. Paranoia: the mind beside itself. Everywhere are fictions, verbs in the past tense swimming passively over brainwaves.

Waiting like this, you forget what you’re waiting for and start watching too deeply. A young mother bouncing her baby along brick sidewalk in its stroller, black smudges holding it in; a white kid goes by in polo shirt, nervously rubbing two of his fingers together in every step. You feel guilty, like a child watching its parent through the crack in the bathroom door at eight o’clock in the morning—everyone going on and you staying still. Everyone is out bustling, and here I am in the meantime merely waiting, playing the proud whale who has beached himself and is afraid.

In one of these extended moments, I saw her, and I followed. She was a little black skirt and a little white top wrapped around an Amazon rail of a twenty-something, deep brown skin stretched tall over square shoulders, narrow. She walked from the hip and I followed, trying to catch the scent of her thousand tight little pigtails and never catching it. Around the building and into the parking garage, up the elevator, and I followed. There was nothing really remarkable about her, and I followed anyway. This is the way things change. This is the way everything changes.

We were both parked on the fifth floor. Making our way down, two cars separated me from her little white Toyota, then three. Through a red light here or there and a couple of turns and I’m right behind her, the both of us through the whitewashed, picture-windowed design district and into Little Haiti. The area is suburban but crowded, people always standing in groups by the street, cooking on barbecue grills, waiting vaguely for poverty to end everywhere at once. The scene is quiet but menacing.

She pulls into a shady spot beneath a tree and I follow her lead, parking on the street a few spaces away from her with a car in between. I spend an extra long time playing with the meter, watching her little square breasts press out against her shirt as she chatters away with a bearded old man. They’re speaking the strange pseudo-French, Haitian Creole, vibrations rolling out of their mouths and dropping dead on the street. They both look over at me and I pretend to ignore them, making a trip around the car, ducking into the floorboards hunting for change. Everything is always changing, and nothing ever does.

Finally, over the meter, I watch her and the old man cross the street and fall in between a large round wooden double-door. For a moment I stand across the street, confused. Mystery is an increase in friction: any little breeze might completely sweep you away, might hijack your whole existence.

The enormous round doors are attached to the front of a big white box, with relief sculptures on either side: big red clay faces wearing horns, each one set in behind bars with its mouth pulled wide in a grimace, serpentine tongue extended. To each door is affixed a massive iron ring for a handle. With sweat rolling off my fingers in heavy drops, I reach out for one, and take hold of the thing.

For a moment it’s hot, then weightless. Blackness passes and the colors march by in regiment, losing their order like marbles rolling out from a kaleidoscope and into an ocean. Waves can only speak mathematics, the smooth run of surface through surface: can never tell you where you are or what. Eternity is an ocean that doesn’t care.

Time changes when you’re guilty and alone. In some clear morning, a rooster is crying, his eyes gouged out and hung from stars. The time changes and there is warmth and coldness, ice in the priestess’ mouth through rivers of hot white blood. Loa—Mystery—is the black mother in fifty robes speaking around ages’ orbits in marvel of sheer bended space. A razor falling off its own liquid edge, I am a sense of senselessness, a lost divine temple set out in the span of seconds. The whole room is illuminated around a central pillar, and I feel myself chanting on hard feet. Poteau-mitan, it’s called, and it is the liberty of trance at the center of the room, myself and the motions locked in dance. It is the point of communication between myself and other; I have memory of entire lifetimes spent in conversation.

My legs are older but stronger than before, loosing their sweat to the hem of my gown as I move. But there’s more that I can’t speak or think or dance. La langue n’est jamais exacte. It’s always two steps removed, always flowing out of some someone else’s mouth at exactly the time it feels it should be coming from your own. Demain aujourd’hui hier, the fiction of any of us, anywhere. We are shifting around together, trading skins, and nothing changes because it already has. Je tuerai ce soir. Je ne peux pas m’aider. J’ai tué aujourd’hui.

Matris, operor vos aspicio ut ego amor vos?

The mystery of mysteries, my ordinary girl, is dancing with me about the poteau-mitan. To each other we are spirits. I stop to watch her body heave above our little altar, her naked back flexing. She brings to me the book, enormous, swaying in her walk like a great dancing jungle cat. She is the mother of us all, the magic of dark places; she hoists the book up to her chest and passes it along to me with a kiss that is warm and wet and frightening.

The book is gigantic beneath my gray beard, written in a language no one has ever spoken, and which only I pronounce: there is wildness there—time changes into something that never was; I and she like king and queen are everywhere; my old hands scoop the pollen from the sun’s soft center; my tits are the hard milk of the African plains; my met tet is the gros bon ange of inextricable universe, the fabric of an old woman’s projections, the child lost to stained hampers in the endless heat.

Perched between the parchment pages is a dove, white, like the ones outside. I can feel the strain building in my biceps for a moment before I begin to see it happen, and am utterly possessed: the book closes, hard, and the animal is crushed, lost in blood and spirit. The mystery is unreadable; the lines have run together. I am Ahab, slaughtering myself from inside my own enormous belly. The time changes and I was a verb, and now I am only a fiction.

The Structure of a Revolution

“Reality is an illusion,
albeit a very persistent one.”

-Albert Einstein

I flip the pieces ’round themselves
in temper-fits that last for days—
and while it’s true I tell the truth,
it’s only in the thoughtful ways:

the green the pastures tell the cars
as they go by in smoky fog
and revel in the passersby
in burnt out ends of salted hog

is just the sort of self-defeating
admiration of itself
that paints a blue sky out from under
silky black and endless bog!

You see? the pieces fit each other
across the bread in marmalade;
the truth is only true so often
that when it is, I am afraid.

I don’t really care

that much about
the pressing issues,
the wars and revolutions,
all universe falling apart
and coming together,

and all of us,
the flesh of us
going crazy and
coming off the bone—

I’m really a lot
more interested in music,
in the gentleness of thought,
the way in dreams
we find we
stroke the hair of angels,
assign them names that,
while beautiful, can never be true again,
names we’ll never even

I don’t really care
about the government—
it’ll never work
and they’ll never stop trying;
I wish that all the voters
and the soldiers
and the lovely meter maids
would come and lay with me
with open mouths.