The joke is only funny
when you don’t get it.
It began like any day at the office—
an applause sign gone haywire
flashing before the punch line.
The second hand scraped the grime
the chimney sweep must have missed.
Hashtags filled our cups, their voices
rising like curses from wells.
Medusa was demoted to worms.
She slithered to the water cooler.
Put a drop in each little mouth.
Gave them names
like Jane from accounting did with the pencils
after the miscarriage.
Jerry wore his tie at half-mast
for the sprinklers leaking tears.
The hour hand crept and crept
like it had a throat to slit.
The police helicopter flew
as if guiding someone home
(a lost child or a couple new to the city)
its searchlight waving
long brush strokes over the east side.
On Skinny Dipping Alone
tonight you might as well be a bedpan.
Watching you used to be
like watching the door to a time machine hissing open.
Now I look into you and see
a man who could ruin a microwaved burrito.
You spam the air with information
even archive dot org wishes it could forget.
OCEAN: you will never ever understand what this life really is.
ME: It is what I make of it.
The last time I swam in you
I felt like a roofie in a gin fizz.
Looking way down into your lacquer
was like gazing up from a ferris wheel car
at the high point of its arc.
Back on shore
a dead seal exposed its teeth
like the moon was a camera flash
and it was saying cheese.
The government finally figured out
that lethal injection doesn’t deter crime
and the thing most universally feared
is not death, but prolonged exposure
to one’s own reflection.
So they send us here—
to the slippery floors, the permafrost.
It’s not so bad, not like you’d think—
all gangrene and chattering teeth.
We slide from place to place.
There are no doors, no corners.
It’s all solid and smooth.
Every sound bounces.
It’s the walls that get to you—
reflective in direct light, transparent in the dark.
Most of the time, everyone can see you.
But sometimes they turn on every lamp the place has got,
and there’s nothing to do but sit there and watch yourself.
Sometimes people lose it, start talking to themselves.
Their voices echoing, everything vibrating in the cold.
Word travels fast.
But sometimes you’ll hear your name rise
from the mouth of some steaming passage.
You’ll say hello? And get a hello.
You’ll meet someone without seeing them.
And for a second you think you’re dead,
but you inhale deeply and watch your breath escape.
There are two kinds of children:
door openers and door closers.
Depends on whether they feel the presence
in the closet or the hallway.
Actually, there are three kinds.
I opened it a crack and stopped it with a dumbbell,
the kind with sharp metal corners, handy in a pinch.
There is also the matter of sound.
The creaks they said were just the “house settling”
their eyes darting low as they lied.
I turned the heat on full blast,
for the fan’s blanket noise.
Nothing has changed.
Walking alone at night, I review the shopping list
because it’s something adults do.
But it gets so quiet,
I can hear the lighting gather.
I remember the dream I had
where my cat came back from the grave,
coiled himself in my lap and told me
in a kind of purr Morse code
that I was right to check the closet
all those years ago
that it’s all perfectly rational.
I mean, he added, who are we trying to convince
when we blame things on the wind?
Once I got lost.
In the woods with a friend, the sun set.
My hand went to the knife in my pocket.
Eyes floated behind the trees
lids half closed in partial eclipse.
What are those, she asked.
Deer, I said. Only deer move like that.