Clouds and Trees

"Nothing ever goes away enough or arrives enough,/ and I want to cry when I think of my heart,/ muscle pounding in muscle, greedy always for joy." – 'A Warning', Eric Anderson

Category: Sex

Favorite Poem of the Day – “The Play of Light and Shadow” by D. Nurkse

This poem is by my first teacher and adviser during my undergrad studies at Sarah Lawrence College. Technically he’s my ‘Don’; I’ll leave it to all of you to discern what that means. I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to have a personal relationship with this guy because besides being a brilliant, universally wonderful (or to use a word I’ve only ever heard him use, numinous) person, he’s also become one of my favorite poets in the world.

The Play of Light and Shadow

We want to give ourselves away utterly
but afterwards we resent it, it is the same
with the sparrows, their eyes burn so coldly
under the dusty pines, their small chests swell
as they dispute a crumb, or the empty place
where a seed was once: this is our law too,
to peck and peck at the Self, to take turns
being I, to die in a fierce sidelong glance,
then to hold the entire forest in one tilt
of a tufted head, to take flight suddenly
and fuck in midair, tumbling upward.



Last night there was another storm and he could see patches of black ice on the road where the river must have flooded. The radio crackled quietly. He looked out the window and shifted down a gear. The water had been very high and further down the river there would be rapids.

He parked in the gravel lot. As he stepped out of the car he could smell the cold. The sunlight was grey but the sky bright blue and the river, dark green and brown. It was higher than he had ever seen it and thunderous, a static cupping his ears and a resounding deep bass far away, like a drum struck by god.

He stepped through the gate with the ROAD CLOSED sign. The gravel path had disappeared into the river; it looked as if the river had exploded. The trees along the bank had already been exposed completely, the dirt entirely stripped from their roots. The forest seemed naked, shivering. He had taken a walk here with his parents right after the big storm a few years earlier. He had been looking down at his feet, stepping carefully. He looked up; his dad was helping his mom over the rocks.


Two huge fisherman were walking towards him. They nodded as they passed. One was missing his arm above the elbow, the sleeve of his waders held closed against the water with a rubber-band.

He had come hoping to find a small island in the middle of the river. He remembered the rapids in that spot had risen to almost six feet. He had stared at those waves crashing in on themselves, his face wet, but never rushing forward until his parents had said they had to move on.

When he reached the spot where it used to be there was only water, flat and fast, water rushing straight through trees. He stared at it for a minute. He took a deep breath of cold air. Once, it had been warm and the water was lower; he had jumped across the rocks and stood on the island. As it started to rain lightly he had stripped and gone into the river.


Closer to the car, the water slowed into a wide curve and a dead tree jutted out from the bank. He remembered his Dad crouching on the edge and pointing.

“Right there is where I want you to scatter my ashes.”

“Okay, Dad,” He had tried to laugh, to clasp his shoulder naturally, “Not for awhile.” Just two men by the river. When he was younger they used to walk together here and he would find sticks to throw in. He ran along the edge racing them downstream as they dipped and bucked through the rapids until they blended with the water and he lost sight of them.


Two vultures in the morning
Arrive together with the crows;
This – insanity I wake up from.


Vultures are noiseless except for wings
Thumping the air. From far away:
Heavy things falling to the ground.


Vultures who love each other
sit together on the pool-house roof
opposite my parents on the porch.


I visit home again, watch them
shade each other from the sun,
black bones thick, outstretched.


Flying over my brother, he looks up:
grotesque feet, grey genitals, fingers,
Shadows on us, through the porch.


Heavy things fallen to the ground.
Mom never looks up, I hear:
I have no idea what that was.

First Steps

I’ve got a list and a pair of hands
I’m using to hold it into my mouth.
Am I a good enough poet yet?
I learned all the methods they got.
Sure, I know how to be honest.

There are too many ways around.
More like holes in the road.
These aren’t poems they’re
Fucking holes I filled with words
So I could climb out. Now watch:

I am bouncing from doubt to doubt.
You want confessional? I’ll give you
Priestly. You want right now?
I’ll give you two lines ahead and
Look back – already crossed out.

My word is shit. Don’t listen to me,
Even if I promised. I want to boil
Out of my skin, get light-spirited,
Make peace with the starry night.
I am alone in a cloud. I want out.

Other people seem to feel this.
In rare moments when the surface
Of my chest folds back like paper
And my feelings breathe and see
Light, not stale, dark body vacuum

I hear it in every song,
Read it in every poem.
Why are we rolling in bed
Trying to make sense
Of our discomfort?

I fall asleep, always, in the face
Of that which I don’t understand.
I think others know how to talk,
Feel free, and judge me. Sex
Isn’t satisfying but it should be.

I am trying to figure out how
To seduce. But I still feel like
people my age aren’t doing that yet.
Why doesn’t anybody talk to me?
They do – all the time – I just don’t

Talk back. No I do! It just feels
Like they’re alone in a room
Talking to me, who’s also alone
In a room, completely silent.
And I am funny and intelligent.

But I am lying. Or I am pulling
Strings which connect my brain
To things. It’s not like I memorize
Speeches, I just imagined this
Conversation before we had it.

I think the stars are clouds
With poems in their mouths.
I promise myself I’ll get out.

The Waste Land Visited

O She holds me in the near-dark and shakes me. I see the coals reflected in her eyes, that glint; she’d like to slap me.

O I hear a song; the wind-borne whistling of a fisherman ambling the Lower Thames.

I haven’t spoken since I arrived. We are too tired on the bed and she’d like me to stay.

“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.”
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.”
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?”
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

Her accent is in another room. There are four doors ajar. The fifth is closed, out of reach, only visible around corners.

O I fished with him, the river lapping our feet. The tongues of rats. I see him in the water once more, fishing for his pearls.

She tries to memorialize with me. “Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember nothing?”
The fire extinguishes, the pressure changes, the wind runs out through cracks in the room.
“What is that noise?”
She is too possessed to understand. I see the river-sand shifting.

O We sit in the dark and quiet on the bed and a third person sits just behind her. She wants to utter me from distraction.

“Are you alive or not? Is there nothing in your head?”

I hear chanting. A word or three. In the dark, the room shakes. A sphere, musical, open everywhere.

Abattoir of Passion

1. Painting

The painter knows perspective well.
The Bathroom at Twenty-Nine
Rotates around a single point,
No empty hurricane eye,
No clear inside/outside,
More like a horizon —
The ‘no-line’ between
What swirls down
And its aperture.

Naked hangers,
Drained hot-water bottle
And separate sleeve, the bare
Light-bulbs, all revolve down
Until you have to be standing
On the ceiling. Beneath you:
The woman squeezing soap
over a hollow frame,
the shape of a man.

2. Sculpture

The surprise when I look to my right:
I was sure that wall was straight!
I walk along it; paintings to sculptures.

A Man Amongst Red Trees, his cock
Hanging out, he is about to cover
His eyes and run, fear or discomfort.

Two Grey Figures in short-sleeved suits,
They seem to be made of a day of bad rain.
Something goes whispered between them.

In the Museum of Modern Art, New York,
I remember being amongst the trees,
Lamp-posts, bent or curving, some hung

Half-way up a wall, midsections exposed.
Anxiety pills, over-sized and pink,
Frozen in towers about to fall.

3. The Critics

In the Museum Basement
I think no one is around.
We make love together
quietly among old art
sleeping frames and stone.

But someone walks up behind me
As I stand imagining in the hall.
I turn myself off, shake loose
unfamiliar perspectives of you.
I shuffle my thoughts.

I send a museum postcard to you,
The painting on the front, my poem
On the back. I think I feel bad,
I want you to know and not know.
I let it go. Be nothing again.

Just shapes: the basis of a poem.


It looks like the same scar,
seen three times: two inch line,
raised and slightly purplish,
on three different women.
I saw it today – neck,
yesterday again – wrist.
Nothing like that, I’m sure,
they look almost like burns,
or like awful birthmarks.
Scars, skin over something
within; bubbles of pain.

They can’t all be the same. The first one told me, “Touch here,” indicating it — on the inside of her bicep. It surprised me — a needle underneath her skin. She tried to explain but pointlessly — I was drunk. She went to sleep. I had a dream — I was at home looking up at the sky. I pointed and she looked — meteors, burning slow and curved across each other. I looked away, she had said something. I looked back and the lines had faded.

Figures, Speech

Bare shoulders.
Mirror frame.
Bed sheets.
Window panes.

. . .

Pieces of things are never all
you see. Through a door-frame—
the whole room is visible and isn’t.

Pieces, trapped within the bodies
they imply. Inescapable spaces—
beds and rooms inhabited.

. . .

I see her in the mirror.
The look on her face.
Love is a thing you are in
or out of.

Grass …from A Portrait of a Bird

That morning they decided to take a walk in the woods. He thought they should spend a little more time outside. Downstairs, she stepped past him through the screen door. Her shoes flapped against the patio. He looked up. The sun was white through thin clouds. Nothing had changed for a few days. He wanted to take her to the field.

As they walked across the yard he turned to her. “You should’ve worn long pants.”

She looked down at her dress. “I’ll be fine.”

He pushed prickers out of their way. The path was hard to see. He walked ahead of her. She was stepping carefully through a tangle of bushes when he stopped.

“This is it.”

He didn’t expect her to be impressed. The field was small but special for a forest like this one. Low grass was mowed down in so many lawns or shaded to death in the forest around the house, but it flourished here. Each blade came up to their waists and resisted their legs. The crushed stalks unfolded in their footsteps.

They flattened a circle to sit. He watched her hesitate, her lips tightening a little bit, her fingers pinching her dress. She lowered quickly, legs folding to the side. He sat across from her. The grass rose over their heads, borders became invisible; the field, endless.

He kissed her. He didn’t know how to make the day beautiful but this was close, he thought. She smiled with tight lips, leaning back on her hands. She tilted her head toward the white sun. He stared out into the grass. She was looking at him.

“What are you thinking about?”

He coughed into his hand. A car passed down the road, far away, snaking through the woods. He was silent for a second.  “Nothing. All this. How young it is. Where you’re from trees are hundreds of years old, or you don’t know until you cut them down. Here, everything started growing fifty years ago. It was farmland, then pastures my dad mowed. What we’re sitting in is overgrowth.”

She ran her fingers along a blade of grass, looked at him. “Don’t do that.” She blinked. Her eyes stayed closed for too long. Not quite a grimace. He felt the urge to apologize.

She looked up at the sky. “I’m tired.”

“I think we stayed up too late last night. Ok.”

He stood and gave her a hand. Tiny grass-colored spiders were crawling up the fringe of her dress. He brushed them off.

“What is it?”

“Nothing. Just grass.”