“Good is what you become when you think someone is looking.”

and other poems: "Permission" and "After Maine"

Good is what you become when you think someone is looking.

In movie theaters I knew what love felt like: saw it spin
the car in a sharp U towards the latched front door,

saw its tender underside, its doing without being watched
—though of course I was watching, all of New York
was watching, and we were in thrall: staked

to our plush seats with belief running cold as marrow.

I wanted to be together on the sidewalk, together

at the farmer’s market, two shark fins cruising.

Ogling radishes, noticing the girls’ wet hair

which bared their skulls like bulbs of scallions:

I wanted our brains to be holding hands.

I was learning so fast and so good,

I was a stalagmite of knowledge.

Love was a street of grand openings, racks of copper

pots dinging in the kitchen, a sweep

of automatic lights coming on one by one—gently, like touch.
Who knew about after the wedding, inside the vague

formula of marriage. I yearned

like this was the last, best toy in the crackerjack box.


Those years blur like stacked wax sleeves of crackers.

It didn’t work, it was obvious as starched linen whipping on a mast.

I was used to measuring my life

against anything other than itself.

Can you accept this by way of explanation?

Sometimes he baked bread and as it cooled

we hovered to hear its crackling, our ears turning close
as sister flowers.

Sometimes he looked at me like I was a dawn.

I thought to leave there had to be nothing
left, but always something shows

what it was.

Planes out of Newark skimmed overhead.

Tomatoes on the fire escape tightened in their skins through the night.

If you need a sign, I want to say, make it any of these.

After Maine

I knew.

I had known almost since the beginning
the way I looked at Carla,
the neighbor girl, and saw her
laughing like an unlatched door, caught
the whiff of danger in her house
like gasoline, wetness
you can’t identify.

One afternoon I saw it all
in a sudden crush:
her parents moving
through the unlit den like animals,
her bedroom curdled with silence.

This is how, when you turned away,
I heard you like thunder
sounding between the channels of sleep.
But in my house I had many drawers
and put knowing away
like an ornament, a knife.