Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

If Not For You

The dashboard gasped 98 degrees
while Bob Dylan whined that he couldn’t
even find the floor without me, when
I kissed the bumper of a tall
stranger from West Orange, New Jersey
who looked nothing like the brooder from
Duluth, Minnestoa, but a grumpy
pavement dweller, whose eyebrows
separated when I chuckled a
cordial greeting, offered my insurance
card, made small talk about the poorly
designed parking lot at Kings market,
which somehow brought us, via the amount
of miles on my relatively new
car, to the Boulders Inn, still
operational in 1986,
where perhaps I prepared his smoked trout
mousse, a warmed beet salad for his wife,
enriching her blood to prepare for their
son, conceived that evening. A police
report ushered the end to our second
bump, closing another circle, when
I wished his family well, rolled down
the windows, silenced Bob while the two
distinctly arched eyebrows, framed in pavement,
directed me from the corner in
which I had found myself. It was then
that he thanked me for the warmed beet salad.

Ode to Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Would you rather hear a love song or a song about the good life?

A love song, a love song.

Ay, ay. I care not for good life.

Feeling sated by a shared meal and a rare
fellowship for a family far-flung with
grown-up lives hindering us, we fall back
into an unspoken line, re-creating

a long-lost dynamic in the name of
nostalgia, of yearning, behaving more
like school children than those burdened
with keeping the lights on, the beds made.

We share stories of the day, now with
the high-tech aide of pocket computers
we all have to chain us to our responsibilities,
Show-And-Tell with digital photography,

the short leash held in our trembling hands. My daughter
shares a video of a raccoon, given pieces of cotton candy
which disappear in a puddle where he washes
his full paws, waving his tiny human-like

digits through the artificially sweetened water,
gazing at the camera through a forlorn mask.
My youngest daughter – virginal – weeps at the cruelty.
Silence greets her, interrupted by laughter as the wise

amongst us recall the lost moments of our own
desires, love scorned, gripping onto beautiful
illusions, tantalizing images as ephemeral as
puffs of smoke, vapor trails, or digital messages.

A grievous moment, when one realizes they are
holding nothing, counterintuitively making the release
more vigorous, a lamenting handicraft echoing that of
Sir Andrew, our recognized Shakespearean fool:

the comic sadness of spun sugar, which dissolves
so quickly on the tongue, albeit adored once too,
as some ancient ancestor summons a brogue in my throat,
not my own, to sing with a sobering hilarity:
“A stick in me hand and a drop in me eye,
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny Blue, we hardly knew ye…”

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation
forces an impressionist painting of a river
displayed in our dining room to
hang at a five-degree angle.

Passers-by adjust it, usually with a thumb
and forefinger at one of the lower corners
with delicacy, leaning back on their rear
leg, with a squint and a tilt of the neck

to ascertain the line of the adjacent
window. Alas, the truth of the matter
is the square of the distance of its center
is perfectly equal: it is the house itself,

more than two centuries old, that lists,
to the opposite degree of the art, a mimetic
representation of the river that rushes
by our Westerly windows. The structure

is subject to time and its universal effects
on its earthly subjects, shifting sills,
listing beams and turning arthritic joints,
all the while still housing us, embracing us

with silent stoicism, paternal wisdom
and immortal affection.

The Cliché

Careening down a hill, perched on
her scooter, her only braking method
being a tumbling leap into the grassy median,
my daughter learned how to coast

downhill, finding the brake that she
operated with her rear leg, best applied
while crouching in a ninja position,
her center of gravity low to the ground.

Still, we are here, crouched even
lower to the deck a week later,
her wound festering white and angry
under the all-important Band-Aid.

I rubbed coconut oil on the adhesive,
the memory of screaming fits on a hospital
bed still vivid, while she stared at
my shaking fingers, the image gnawing:

of her lying supine under a bright light,
my strong arms holding hers in surrender while
she hated me and cursed my betrayal,
swearing she’d never trust me again.

I liken the mother-child relationship
to an arranged marriage, a match
made by Natural Caste, for I know
you didn’t choose me, nor I you.

And yet somehow I fell in love with you
without even knowing you, the idea
of you endearing me, inextricably,
with every movement, every internal

biological sound that I couldn’t
decipher from my own. I wonder
if before you were conscious of what
lay beyond that path, you loved me too.

“Rip it off,” you said, in steadfast gaze
knowing full well that somehow I’d
hurt you again, and you me, all the while sharing
the only perdurable love we’d ever know.

With one swift pull, two matching grimaces,
I yanked Rumi’s plaster and let the wound
open to the air, to heal, to scar,
to usher in the light our clouded eyes crave.


The end of the earth is
what the French call their
Westernmost départment,
the tip of their beloved ground,

Where one can stand at
the edge of a rocky cliff
over rough seas, contemplating
a course to nowhere, the unknown,

With a stone in one’s pocket,
heavy, burdensome, worn smooth
with the distal phalanx of the
thumb in painful recollections,

And educational regret, or
the converse: a buoy of gratitude
and a truer understanding of
what we share, all of us.

My father described industriousness
as performing a task as if there was
no tomorrow, eagerly, frantically,
without restraint:

As one should perform every task,
as if encountered by the end of the earth,
touching foreheads with a loved one
over a deathbed, clutching hands.

If only such grace existed yesterday
And hindsight be wisdom, we could whisper
thanks and let many tomorrows be the product
of the hard-earned ground behind us.

A Woman on Earth

A Pittsburgh housewife is responsible
for flying the American flag
on the moon, where gravity grounds nothing
and the atmosphere hosts myth.

A womanly contribution to the Apollo
missions, at an inhospitable time for Her:
a curtain rod pocket and a pole to
pierce the lunar visage,

made of paper, cheese, igneous
rock, depending on one’s own celestial
mood, literary knowledge
or state of rational being.

Imagine the man on the moon
staking claims, driving golf balls
or longing towards a blue-green
orb at an impossible distance,

sliding down his own beams,
inquiring his way to Norwich, or
my lonely arms, finding nothing but
cold porridge that somehow burned his lips.

Preferring ethereal surroundings of weightlessness
dangling over paper seas, he pulls her waters and
matches the cycles of every terrestrial womb,
crowding delivery rooms on the brightest nights.

He remains an unrequited love
evasive during the darkest hours
and brilliant on the last ones when the
light that is reflected is — in sooth — our own.

Deconstruction of the Modern Personal Dialogue

Say what you mean, but don’t make me
do the work to tear it apart
just to understand what’s under
it all: a language completely uncentered.

Its artificial: a text that can’t
be naturalized or understood,
with or without context, or
empathy or modifications.

It’s a wonder any of us
understand each other, through words
that create tensions; unity
only rises to release some of it.

Modify, edit, add, take away
what you will, yet red will
still be read to me and I will
withhold any meaningless interpretations.

Questions are all any of us has, in truth,
that and the urge to scratch our heads.

Berceuse à la Une

Thinking night thoughts, lying supine,
hearing echos of the why’s and how’s,
one sings an oxymoronic opus
of deafening silence,

in itself a sharp fool, an etymological
contradiction in terms that
seems to fit the syntactic bill:
we sophomoric emotional wonders

make music between the notes,
a tinnitus nocturne punctuated
by pizzicato plucks of a string
of a staff, holding an ephemeral,

Venetian shadow song of memory.
Return to a rubato, diminuendo,
a solo, of one’s own composition:
whole and melodic.

Dandy Lion

For Hannah

is how you pronounced
an unwanted plant,
shot through the violet vinca like
a burst of yellow confetti,

its own high-styled
rebel, a wild flower
like you: tenacious,
resilient, hearty,

landed here, on the
prevailing winds,
a seed carried
on a child’s breath,

without plan, or
preconceived notions
on how it was supposed
to be, or become,

a culinary staple, a
lion’s tooth, roaring her
own benevolent yawp
over a Samaritan world.

Ode to the Brassiere

At the turn of the century came you,
freeing our confined, corseted torsos
from the high-fashioned,
short sighted, spleen crushers,
whale-boned, skeletal-deforming
straight jackets which kept us
swooning for the idealized
twenty-two inch waist.

Grace à vous,
le soutien-gorge
patriarchal control would
shift from our now free-breathing
abdomens to our boosted racks,
enticingly framing our throats
with half-orbs, a décolletage
to frame our now-oxygenated
cheeks, our pink visage.

Rocketed, coned, formed
in pockets in various
colors and fabrics, we breasts
rose in praise, pointing
to the sun we longed to
feel on our virginal skins.

And yet you singed, under protest,
by flames ignited by
angry, love-hungry hippies,
and rose from the ashes
like a wispy phoenix in the form
of the bralette, barely there
slips of fabrics left best to the
flater-chested of the girls to fly
with first amendment sensibilities
in the face of misogyny.

Decades later under a
glass ceiling, you held our
milk-engorged bleeders,
protected under layers of
absorbent cotton in
conference rooms populated
by gawking men. Exhausted
under silk, sexually confusing
to all those present, hinting to
the more sentient amongst us
that the only purpose of
these gorgeous mounds is to
fulfill their true desire,
to simply do what the
powers of the universe
expect them to do:
to feed a hungry world,
or not.