The Rules of the Kitchen

Vol XL, Graphic

1. Graphic                                                                                               
2. Out of the Hat, a Red Car                                                                                   
3. Mary of the Tunnels                                                                                   
4. The Pilot                                                                                               
5. The Counterman                                                                       
6. Portrait of a Dyslexic                                                                                   
7. Portrait of a Schizophrenic                                                                                               
8. Portrait of a Sociopath                                                                       
9. Stalker                                                                                                           
10. Mouths                                                                                               
11. Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Ear                                               
12. Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Eye                                               
13. Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Hand                                               
14. Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Neck                                               
15. Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Tongue                                               
16. William Carlos Williams, in retrospect                                                           
17. Still life with a burglar on the fire-escape ladder                                   
18. Red house in the middle of the road
19. Chromatic



Dead girl taps on the door, eases it open.

Daylight is a line across the hardwood floor.
Daylight is a line fading yellow under the rug.

Death is not a door; it is a jar left uncapped for years.
Now, that jar has been filled with dust.
Nothing stirs anymore.

Dead girl stows her right hand inside the closet,
her left eye inside the bottom drawer,
her ears on top of the mantel,
her feet in the area under the easy chair
where no one will ever bother to look.





Out of the Hat, a Red Car


This prototype of blind dates
and to-order Russian brides
looms like a catastrophe.
A hat is brightly lit inside yet
it looks like any ordinary hat.
The magic tricks ensuing from it
are another thing. They change
according to perspective.
It is late. The wineglass tinkles
like the heat inside a sealed car
left exposed during midday.
She feigns surprise at his mention
of marriage. He pretends not to notice
the expression on her face, the slump
of her shoulders, the glint in her eyes.





Mary of the Tunnels


On her feet is the black river of piss, exhaust,
and civilization. The air bracelets her from
wrist to wrist, tackles her soundless flight.

Her toes sink into the sludge.
The sewer rats shriek. All their
shadows are symmetrical. 

Now her mouth is shaped into a vowel,
a scream. The darkest door.
Soon she will open up, receive us.





The Pilot


The sky is a bed nailed to the ceiling; it turns
when I sleep. I do not think about it that much

these days. It may show up in my psychological
tests, the ones I have to take every six months.

Most of the time I imagine the plane growing
outward, throttling the last breath of a giant tin can,

thickening the fog as it arches from takeoff,
the path of air lengthening in its wake.





The Counterman


Mornings are pickled, impatient.
The bell never stops ringing.

The knives clink to be sharpened.
The glasses tinkle like frozen birds.

All mouths and no eyes,
the dinner plates scream:

Mayo on the bun, salt on the sun,
pepper on the periphery.





Portrait of a Dyslexic


Her pain is a love poem,
her song, part-silence, part-scream.
She is as harmless as a schoolboy's
act of gnawing at a pencil stub.

Undisturbed by the natural pattern
of migrations, the death of prom queens,
she sometimes stifles her breath while
staring at words--condensing, out
of focus yet always there--
a momentary lapse, which follows
the direction of the avalanche.





Portrait of a Schizophrenic


What you are now is just a sight, a spark
of desire bereft of half a memory. You bloom
in secret, you lovely traitor, you. The sky
is a gassed lid, you say, a hand that has been
fractured in anger. Along the way, you pick up
discarded pieces of everything to find the ones
you've lost. You want to understand/not understand
everything/nothing. At home, you extend
that matted darkness to reach the back of your neck,
try to look behind you as you remain very, very still.





Portrait of a Sociopath


I do not know how to make
a bleached heart sing,
but I can count portable miracles
while I sit in the waiting room.
There's the toothless one,
the sagging, the bloated, the defaced.

Each grief is the price
of a five-second laughter,
I tell my grandson. He keeps on
playing near the stairs. In my dreams,
I see him tumble down; his toys remain
safe on top of the stairs.

My face--sometimes, I do not recognize it.
The mouth melts four times a year.
The eyes I can gouge out then pop back in.
What are these people in the waiting room
looking at? I am not here.

The streets end where I take them.
I leave the door ajar for my return.






The sidewalks are vessels filled with buzzing noise
and leftover grime from daytime's little cruelties.

A light bulb flickers somewhere, and someone lets
someone in. Nobody wants the smaller share

of darkness; every one is hungrier each time.
A hysterical rhetoric of love. A hand makes its choice,

covets the image at the farther side of the scope, worships
what the incendiary eye sees behind each eye.







All burning houses have doors like
theirs. They are not easily forgotten.

Furrowed at the edges. Like water
hammered and split against the grain.

Mouths rely on the integrity of the
jawbone. Can spit, stutter, and betray.

No other orifice can take back a lie
like this--so pitifully defiant, so red.




Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Ear


It can be mistaken as a crook of shadow,
a cross-sectioned seashell softened to keep
its shape against the weight of jewelry
suspended upon its lobe. It protrudes like that,
the side stitched to the skin to keep it warm.





Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Eye


An instrument of suggestion, it is
errant as a trace of flesh-colored wax
under a sculptor's fingernail.

It is out of focus yet always there.
It misses the signs, misreads
instructions, fakes loneliness.

It is a cutout from a nursery rhyme book,
the one about the old woman
whose stare can turn anyone
into stone, into paper,
then back again.




Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Hand


Here is the frying hand, handcuffed hand,
blistered hand, callused hand, bloody hand,
arthritic hand, dead hand, dirty hand.

Wash it down with a tug of drain water,
a slosh of dark river. It is born empty,
must die empty, curled into a fist--
the fetal position, the gesture of surrender.




Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Neck


It borrows contours like
pilfered heirloom dinner plates.

It is irresistible,
down to the collar bones
where the first seduction thrives.

A slight lifting of the hair exposes
its whole length, the throat,
the vulnerable back side.

This is where the body can snap into place,
where balance is at its moment of its perfection.





Director's Cut, Exterior Panel: The Tongue


It flicks in and out, always
the pornographer's choice.

It mimes the language of dolls who stutter
throughout their well-rehearsed monologues.

It never sleeps. It touches the back of the teeth,
coats secrets with spit, helps to tell lies better.

Whenever the mouth opens, it promises red.




William Carlos Williams, in retrospect


I have missed this: the upturned trough
where the white chickens bend down

to drink. All the mythical elements
blend at some point. Art books sum it up

with the laws of perspective. The red
wheel barrow is smeared with cow dung.

It is drought season, and the cows
graze what is left of the grass.




Still life with a burglar on the fire-escape ladder


At seven, during his birthday party,
his father disarmed the yellow
and red balloons, called off the clowns.

He played guns with the other neighborhood boys
by the pond fashioned out of hollow blocks
and filled with door hinges and rusted cans.

He could never forget
how crowded the bone garden should be,
how he poked the rodent's eyes shut,
how black the backyard leaves had become.

He went home at the end of the day,
found his apartment burglarized.
The kitchen tiles were speckled
with their own set of darkness.




Red house in the middle of the road

(after a painting by Steven Rhude)


The roof is blue brick. A touch of sky
and gray storm here and there.

There is a window for an occasional loneliness
and a dream of escape even if there is nowhere

to go. Stealthy in its silvery bones,
a river runs beside the house, beside the road.

Inevitably, the white line of the road splits
the red house in half, and something dark spills.






Blood is bright red on serial killer films,
black on zombie movies,
dark red on war epics.

White is for towels stolen from hotels.
Yellow-brown is for the undersides of wall maps.

Imagine a face fractured from
ear to ear, a decanted hemisphere.
It is grayish white when seen from above.

Unsaturated hues are seen in a museum of body parts.
All pale. A proof that there is still available light.

The stuttering lost children, their mouths full
of blue birds. Sometimes they stay out late.
Sometimes they come home.