The woman, wool-capped, filthy, knelt beside
a man asleep at the curb, so tenderly—
well, what can I say but that I envied
them in my full belly. I’ve never wrapped
my chest in newspaper or begged for change
with a Styrofoam cup or slept on the street.
And I welled up with self-pity: I’m safe,
I’m warm, I’m alone. My donor’s card reads:
Take the whole body, the body entire,
leave nothing behind for burial. The stone couples
lean against each other, and in the tomb
a queen’s dust merges with her king’s—the sweet,
the bitter, an apothecary’s mixture
to salve the horror of eternity.

from The Zoo at Night

“Report a Problem with This Poem”

(as noted on the Poetry Foundation website)

This poem isn’t meant for you or for anyone, really—
hairpin scratches in wet clay, hardly cuneiform,
whatever came to mind then left as quickly.

Resistant, like a child whose fist clamps around
a forbidden piece of candy, so melted now
into shapelessness the child licks the lines of his palm

and thrusts it at your face. “There, all gone.”
And yes, you could pretend to be a palm reader
polishing up your own carnival act:

“I see the acrid emptiness of our era, the oblique
impossibility of meaning, and how you’ve caught
it here in vivid fragments, dragon scales

and a shopping list. I see how it eats its own tail,
its head finally up its own ass, and that is risky
and altogether wonderful.” Go along with the gag,

agree that the Emperor’s in Armani or Ralph Lauren
while his sorry little bag of nuts is swinging
gently in the wind as he struts the runway.

Take a thousand lie detector tests, fail everyone one.
No matter: the operator’s in on it. When the poem is read
to a full house, the audience holds its collective breath,

asphyxiated. Polite applause will follow. A learned
article or two. But you? It’s like being burglarized
in reverse: Nothing’s missing, nothing’s rearranged;

still, you’re feeling, well, ripped off. You could pull on
your smug mask—hooded eyes, bitten lip, collar
way up to hide your limp neck hairs, un-thrilled.

Or, you could report a problem with that poem.

from The Zoo at Night

Near Capitol Reef, Utah

A scorpion sting felled Ivey May Holt,
three months old. Soon (it was 1895) thereafter
the farm flooded over, and childless,
the Holts moved on—where, I don’t know.
But here’s their fallow orchard across the road
from petroglyphs the Anasazi struck into a wall
of rosy sandstone a thousand years ago.
Though Ivey May never got to trace those
tiny big-horned sheep, hunters with bows,
medicine men carved into rock,
with her pink fingertip, or to hold a hot flint
up to her lips and blow the fire back into it,
she had her season.

from The Zoo at Night

Pears in Winter

They have my shape, my skin: matte,
roughened and mottled, etched in brown scars,
tiny skid marks that scarcely break the surface.

Beneath the seeming bruises, a pale green
presence persists. So that, nearing solstice,
I grow content to wait, as the amaryllis waits,

its pear-like bulb plunged in topsoil,
its come-hither leaf-finger reminding me
to turn to the light, what light there is now, 

just a few hours of it. I palpate the pear’s
woody stem, shriveled as a crone’s nipple
though not to check for disease,

as we do, but to test for the sweet certainty
of ripeness. And it will come, surging
from the mealy flesh, dribbling down the chin,

whiskered old chin.

from The Zoo at Night