Old Song

All morning
I was humming that song
about the road to ruin.
After a late lunch
I got going.
Nightfall, torchlight:
what does it look like,



"sometimes, however, to be a 'ruined man' is itself a vocation". —T. S. Eliot
When he refastened the opalescent plastic
                                buttons on her button-down shirt,
he misaligned most of them. She had to do it again.
What if somebody else
                                near the back of the bus had seen?
I overheard Melissa say "I'm tired
                                of everyone calling me Goody".
I didn't know.
                                Later that year,
the Ramones began recording Road to Ruin.
It had a new drummer, a lot more backup vocals,
the same no-nonsense pace, the all-male sound.
Gossip in school makes a kind of electrical storm,
or else
            a medium of exchange:
once you share what you know, then you learn what you can.
The Ramones were not boys.
                                The ruin of boy is man.
In junior high we drew
                                on almost everything,
incising, chiding, wielding ballpoint pens—    
the scratchy reptilian plastic seats
                                with torn-out safety belts,
the denim that made ladders up our jeans...
small flowers, boxy video game
                                protagonists, raindrops, capital letters, things
that girls thought scandalous,
                                boys thought obscene.
What else I heard I would not say,
wishing I were a girl,
                                or had ever been a girl,
or like a girl had secrets for some body to betray.
Road to Ruin had the Ramones' first
cover, the Searchers' yearning "Needles and Pins",
in which the boy says he "saw the face of love, and I knew
                                I had to run away".


Coda to Rue

All languages differ,
                                says the linguist Guy Deutscher,
not in what you can, but in what you must express:
for example, in English,
whether he did it to her, or she did it with him.
"All of it brings home", says Emily White
in Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut,
"my own past in the Washington High cafeteria,
where I looked around
                                furtively, trying to find my two friends".


Like, so

Like an old rocker who's wasted all
his line-ups and his comebacks 
but can't let go, no way, and takes
some rackety journeymen and kids
back on the road to the Wild Wild East,
the Road To Ruin Tour, far from jibes
about The Elderly Brothers or Simply
Remaindered or The Dewdrop Explodes;
and weeks down the road, is found dead
in a hotel room in downtown Vladivostok, 
his czarina-sized bed stacked with empty
vodka bottles and the kind of Russian
who knocks at your door in the small hours
wearing nothing but a bad fur coat...
So wily Odysseus, tired of palaces,
planned a last one-way adventure
and sent out the press-gang...
So blind Homer rattled to his feet,
pushing dementia away like a man
who fends off a wild boar with a harp,
to launch Odyssey II, the final sequel...


For Avril Lavigne

I used to be told
just what to play, and how to play:
I was wide-eyed
for the halides, the emerald tides
of applause, raccoon-eyed in the foreign sun.
That's the thing about spotlights: it hurts when they leave you alone.
Now I feel old:
at least nineteen, today.
It gets hard to decide
who to be: minx, brides-
maid, pirate, tagger, ghost girl, in search of more fun
than I cóuld be when I was my first name, blank as cut stone.
Dad, I want to say thanks
for forcing me to practice
every night after school. It's hard to postpone
what you want for what you will want later, to put things off
when you might change so much from each March to that May,
but now I know you have to study so hard to sound free,
and if everyone thinks
I'm fake, faux Goth, black lace
and tennis shoes and butterflies drawn
on denim in ballpoint, it is almost enough
to know you still pay me attention. I will say
that I'm crazy, I'm yours, I'm real, I'm lost, but the me
that I want to keep is the one that dictated the mix,
the author of pink notebook storyboards, not the star turn:
the planner in the mirror, the overhearer
who once stood in line for so long, who wanted to learn
the secrets, the customs, the costumes, the whole bag of tricks.


Exile variations 1-3

There was my father's 
old mouth-organ 
but on the way 
I dropped it.
There's a song. 
It wasn't 
about twilight.
Here they say 
look at the river, 
how patiently it waits 
to throw off its shackles, 
wrap itself in birch.
They don't believe 
persistence of ice 
can be the lesson.
Pickle's sharp 
on the tongue 
but we won't talk 
about the old days.
In spring, 
the new pack 
of heritage seeds.
In autumn, 
tomatoes picked 
and stored still green.


To Aphrodite

Awkwardly solicitous, you are
ruining it for almost everyone,
so eager to leave
or to have a good time.
"You didn't know what to want",
she said, "until you saw how someone else
could want it,
and now you want it way too much".
And at the camp
fire where you will make your
renewed, forever
naive, or pretending (nobody can tell),
sticks burn to shadows, birch bark
parallels a bra strap,
Hephaestos flicks an Olympian cinder
almost contentedly,
stirring the new twigs down.