13 Ways of Boxes
When the kitchen door slammed shut,
your brothers scampered into the bathroom
to mother’s arms. Locked out, you hid
in a pile of boxes behind the door,
crawling deep into half-packed clothes.
For years she filled the same boxes
with hand-me-down dishes, hand-me-down clothes,
always ready for the next necessary move.
You remember the undisturbed sleep of boxes,
a dark box in a dark house,
a Chinese puzzle of containment.
In the corner of the closet a box of wounds,
bullets, patches, a deck of cards,
each one the ace of spades.
You filled your first box with nails
turned inward, placed your hand inside,
imagined a bird pricked with thorns.
At work he relished the act
of breaking down boxes,
using his own fists
to shatter their cardboard spines.
On the mantle seven music boxes
play “Beautiful Dreamer.”
She moves through the room as slow
as the winding of a clock,
her shadow more substance than she.
He keeps his bad heart in a box
lined with velvet, the whole thing shrinking
beneath the echo of its own beating.
The box speaks to you at night,
cardboard tongue whispering:
“Are these words worth writing down?
What could you do to keep them?
Is any of this really worth saving?”
The box of your voice closes its lid
around you, every no, every shouted word
another layer you can’t get through.
Who can know what shape
their own box will take?
Yellow grain of wood,
gold clasp above what might
be a door, handle unturned.
In the dream of boxes you see
a man with a box on his back,
your head resting on a box,
your body cut in two
in boxes, your life measured
out in closed doors.
What if you opened the box
and found nothing inside?
In the morning a disturbance of boxes
falling from a dusty shelf, each one
spilling its store of abstractions.
13 Ways of Insomnia
It was mostly the heat
in places like Greenwood,
Augusta, melting sheets
into pools of sticky thick wetness.
In dreams, when I’d run,
I’d wake up sweating,
breathing hard, eyes
probing into dark corners.
Such night terrors
could hardly be called insomnia,
more a fear of things fled
in light finding you unprepared
in night’s unknowable terrain.
At 10, I wandered out
to the stone porch, found
my grandfather stringing stars
into shapes of the exotic world,
“You mustn’t have anything to fear,”
he said, “to stand in the doorway
of storms like this. You know the power
could whisk you away, but you must be okay
with that, knowing no regret,
disappointment, ambition unattained.”
When I told him,
the Vietnam veteran,
said I must be feeling guilty.
I study the ceiling’s constellation
in the 14th house I’ve lived in
in 12 years, each with different
faces looking back at mine.
You hear every breath as loud
as wind through open doors.
You feel your heart beating
like something wanting loose.
You’ve studied 30 shades
of gray, every quality of half-
light there is, counted sheep,
ceiling tiles, days, the number
of times the heat comes on.
There is little to do but listen
to what might be coming, to each
thing transforming in darkness.
No one sleeps here
between the trains, the teenagers,
my neighbor smoking.
The noise of the world is deafening,
conversations, needs, emotions
unassuaged, putting things back,
drowns out what might
be heard in silence.
If anything, it’s only
the guilt of not
getting enough done.
I lie as still as death
until I know you sleep,
then rise, wander from room
to room, afraid to turn
on lights, steal
what everyone deserves.
At 3 A.M. almost no traffic,
the road as black as the past
you remember, any future
you might imagine.