I clench hair from the brush, open a window
and let the fistful fall down seven stories,
or be snatched in a beak for a nest’s batting,
or just float between the avenues for hours
before a soft land onto an old generator.
There is one color to the bundle lifted by wind:
my mother’s dark strands from the branch
of the family tree we never could trace,
my blonde tangles static even to the end,
the curls of a lover who left two drawers empty,
a blade of seagrass from the night spent in the sand,
more dreamy than a mess of stars
                they knot together in this whirl of a history,
                meaning something, not eager but willing to fall.


“Those that are completely ruined and no longer visible may be understood by the study of those that still stand and can be seen.”
                –Letter from Raphael to Pope Leo X (1515)


a bolt of lightning thrown
                will land in another town, not here
an anchor tied to the neck
                brings the saint to the bottom of the sea, not me
a bird that returns each day to eat all love from the body
                punishes those who would play with fire and dare to share it

I say let the gods make war


Here, on the sodden fields the children still kick the ball, and shout
                pass it to me, here, here, it’s mine

and the clothes stay clipped to the line, water weighs them down like plumb-bobs
                to make perfect alignments of ninety degree angles,
                though I must be entirely mad to measure such things–

if it rains when the sun has no veil of clouds, you will see a spectrum of colors
                though there is no metal compass or pencil which marks the arc

if it rains hard enough and does not hold back
                the shingles will fly off the roof, a whole avalanche of terra cotta,

and on the floors of the bathhouses the raindrops are drumming
                until even mosaics unsettle themselves and lose their jasper
                and obsidian, each tessera set free–


My friend has a face I once saw behind glass in a museum,
a lovely portrait mummy with the wood petrified,
a braided crown inked with pitch.

When I tell her, she says
But I am alive


We are already in the future and past,
it depends who you ask: a queen of an extinct tribe
or your great-great granddaughter

If you spend your days in the sulphur caves, as I do,
to search for the words an oracle murmured once
when I was in the many bodies of my ancestors

you might hear something in a lost language,
whispers stale but still worth gathering for a week,
to bring in plastic bags through the trembling trolleys of the city,

only to throw the fragments over the bridge in pieces
to let them fall into water or, if lucky,
make their way into a hungry beak–

I will be an ancient and so soon

Wall of Pope Urban VIII

The windows which were cannon placements
are now sealed with cement and full of birds’ nests:
pigeons and hooded crows. A few openings remain
empty, though the view is now of rusted trailers
and a flight of stairs blanketed in broken glass,
urine, rose petals. The children play in the window,
prop up miniature tables and cut handkerchief rugs,
leave a trail of crumbs for the mice. One doll falls
face-down on the stone, where a soldier once lay
his rifle for a moment, because I think he, too,
was tired of waiting for the enemy to climb the rampart.
The child’s hand lifts the stiff body, puts the hat back on,
                aligns each plastic leg, twists the arms from the shoulder hinges,
                buries feet into the dirt for balance– and the doll stands up again.


My mother called her a dove
even though it was a black pigeon
we found on our saltillo tiles,
broken beneath wisteria.

I half expected to find her wings
made from wax and feathers,
so fragile were those steps to the bowl
of breadcrumbs and water.

We kept our distance, crouching
at the foot of the magnolia.
I held my mother’s arm.
She lived, she didn’t live:

we can’t remember which.