If I were an elephant all my paintings
would be of oranges,
flecks left in where white paper could peak
out and mirror light on skin.
And people would look at the paintings and say
he is an elephant, fuck him,
he doesn’t know what he is doing,
this is all a mystery
to him, but if you pretend
some man you’ve heard of did these things,
you’d see how great they are.
And they’d be right,
I don’t know how art is made
the way I know where shoes come from
(from kids) or cellphones (kids,
again, in mines, and also men
and women in the factories with nets
like shot-up wings to stop their flying
out the windows).
Most people who scream don’t mean to,
their hands rush up to stop their mouths,
and anyway almost no one does it for long.
What does the body know, to know to do that? I woke up
once, woke myself up by screaming in real life
while I was also screaming in a dream at a ghost.
Later witches at a birthday told me that’s what you should do
to ghosts who won’t make themselves understood,
who won’t let you into the dance
of helping them get the things they want.
What does the body know? It can eat a lemon,
even though they’re artificial plants concocted by lost farmers,
like the thought of lemons was a secret your stomach always kept
while society caught up and found the path
from pomelo through citron and bitter orange
to this yellow synthesis that smells like a cleaned up room.
But then again what help did it get? What stories
does your body hide from you?
You’re made of different things
and sometimes you feel heavy
breath coming out of you
and think if there’s nothing I can do
I’ll shape what’s leaving me
into a singing, bright as skin
protecting the secret thoughts
of fallen fruit.
Trying anything is human enough.
I’ve been preening scale bugs
from this philodendron at my job.
They come up as scabby smut
rust-colored on the wet wipes
but it’s just nice to be able to put love
into something and help it grow. If I died
tomorrow it would take the people here probably
three days to figure it out or get notified
by the police, longer
if my girlfriend was out of town,
and by then Phyllis might have died from under watering
her carcass turned to peat
or they might just toss her out.
But I feel so lucky to have her,
and since I’m lucky, someone will adopt her,
maybe plant her outside.
You can leave a plant outside and it will live forever
but the second someone tries to think
about how to keep it, living
becomes a struggle.
But I guess anything becomes a struggle if you want it,
even growing the finest kind of wheat,
but calling it something bland like grain.
Just to crush it blindly into dust hidden from the sun,
a dust you mix with water and roast into dry bricks
to build your days out of and forget,
you would love it enough to make your life
depend on it.
Thinking about the Death of Frank O’Hara on what would have been his 92nd Birthday
I don’t think he went alone, to the island,
just turned 39ish, walking back to a friend’s house by himself,
maybe talking to himself the way a lonely person will after drinks
to include the night around him
in the social moment.
He was always so open, so hospitable to living details flowing in and out.
It seems like making him myself to try to give him privacy
in his interrupted thoughts, cresting the dunes,
the ocean sighing and applauding
like he did at all things flashing in and out of love,
the approaching motor like the city rushing forth to catch him.