My mother picked me
from a lineup, ill-shaven, sick
to my stomach. She caught me ravaging
a nunnery’s pantry
for chocolate coins.
Her assistant, the injured
ballroom dancer, says she travels
the countryside for the kind of talent
a train yard is born with. He says
the boy in front of you’s got it to spare.
They brought me here without my props,
I take my time,
keep my eye on the audience,
I find my place.
A young man in the orchestra seats
cleans his wire-rim glasses.
A pigeon bolts out
from the fold of a dusty curtain, lands
like a broken faucet
on a woman’s wicker hat.
I crack my knuckles on my jaw,
lick my hand to groom my hair.
There’s a moment
when I’m meant to sing, when the music
slows, after the overture, after
a paper horse trots my co-star
into a cellophane field,
and I’m ready (why am I afraid?),
I’m ready and the paper horse trots
into the cellophane field,
which is when I begin, only out of turn,
and the notes jangle.
Back in the dressing room, my mother paces
in the mirror,
fills the air with smoke.
She tells me she doesn’t eat
enough meat. Before she sends me
back to the stage, she strokes my hand, says
a painting grows more modern
like a weakness, watches me dress myself
in clothes from her brass-trim trunk,
a velvet bolero, long white gloves,
one wingtip boot.
It doesn’t look right, but the audience
when I clear my throat and I raise my hand.
When I start to sing
I feel her hair still tickling my tongue.
There are many predictions
about how the world will end,
and I believe them all.
The priests are planning a party in the rectory.
The children are drawing hopscotch on truck-beds.
I’m running a bath
and lighting scented candles. I’m thinking
of playing the guitar
badly. In one scenario,
our own sun becomes the enemy.
I sweat to death reclined in my living room chair.
In another (and this one’s my favorite)
the planet’s crust
pries away from its mantle. The poles
switch places like a young boy
twisting his ball cap
backward. The continents, they learn
to whistle like locusts—
it has happened before.
In preparation, I begin each letter to myself:
Forget the snow
that doesn’t fall. Father no children.