This is a poem done differently—

months of letters mid-air     before 
I knew her face, many more weeks     before 
I could look at it directly 

one middle finger tracing
		the back of a middle
	knuckle		a meditation		an introduction
to touch		if you listen

past breath, you can hear the sound 
	a woman’s skin makes 
		on another’s skin:      a prayer      a welcome

the luminescence of oil:
		how she makes a body shine

	even in its earthness

		(still, sometimes, 
		I fear she’ll turn
		or return
		to ivy)

	how I hold back 
my breath, my pulse, the full weight
of my mouth, so she knows 

	my reverence and desire 
	in perfect balance

This is a poem in moments 
	kind and cautious: 
	each deliberation
	a devotion, every exploration 
	a sanctity we cannot bear
	to reduce to romance

But What, they ask me, is Romance?

               with a line by Regina Spektor
I stand outside a New Orleans coffeeshop
in an Indiana town, my face all summer
sun, having just decided I will let my lover
love his wife. This is how I remember
romance: a rubber band. The longing
in its pull, the welt
left by its snap.

I left soulmate on a curb outside 
an abandoned gas station, fate and destiny
its burned-out neon signs. I tucked god 
in a bright white nativity 
and walked away. I know 
there's no such thing as mine. 

But reverence. Abandon. This hulking, dramatic beast, 
roaring against its harness, my hands raw
from the leash. I know there's no such thing
as mine. Still I seek a yard  
where it is safe for him to play.

Severance: A Meditation

I keep trying to remove myself from love,
	extract ego like a mass, irradiate

	adoration to wither any lingering whiff of self
so I can see it clearly—what is facet,

what is fragment. I wore white shoes
	to my confirmation and now I hold everything

	to that standard of purity. I want love
so clean that when I put my self back into it, 

I can forego fear. Peel off every edge
	of need. Find love a fencepost, its root so deep

	and concrete I could never bend it 
to my aching will. If I could anoint

your feet with oil, would you find me right
	after the resurrection? Would you love me

	like a fencepost, manmade and immobile?
In all my mythology, there are only two

loves: selfish and selfless. Both 
	have fractured me. 

The Goldenrod are Dying

and you are sure you’re doing all this 
wrong. You commend yourself for stretching

deeper than the old women 
on either side, you admire the tendons rippling

in your foot and still, 
you can't figure out how

to love. You don't smell it yet, but next week,
if it’s still warm enough for bikes,

their dying will certainly 
reach you. Always

the grieving, even for the squirrels
who escape, who remember 

where their past is buried. 
Is this your mother’s
voice? Still overruling
your own? It’s cuffing 

season—everyone is knitting
their socks together, making sacrifices, waiting

for the sun to stop 
trying so hard. You pedal faster

past the browning 
flowers and hope

Love Letter to the Estranged

            after Ocean Vuong

Krista, do not fight your grief. Your throat
is an eruption but lava forges
worlds. Close your eyes. Your mother 
went dormant long ago and you live

so far from the caldera, now.
Yes, you still burn on the back 
of a shoulder, the tip of your index finger, each
of your tear ducts, but here, now, you
no longer smell of smoke. 

Krista, you are safe. You know
the size of your footprint 
in ash and, love, it has grown

so large. Here is a bed 
with sheets of water. Here is a fireproof
lover. Krista, do you remember

how to rest? Stomach still
as an aftermath? Forget
the summit. Forget the men

buried in your 
cliffs. If you shudder
long enough, you can shake

their anchors from your angry
skin. Some day, you will 
wake to find your mother 

crumbling into some
distant sea. Here is a sky
so clear, just waiting to be filled. I promise—

I promise you, this smoldering
is not your ruin.