Two Poems

"Whatever Vehicle Gets You Through" & "Words of Warning"


Whatever Vehicle Gets You Through

New York, NY


For months I’ve been curious about a bird

I’ve seen from the train I take to class,


a bird a city kid like me might assume

is a heron or a crane. Might assume

is a sign. They appear every time––


grouped beside the tracks, or sometimes one

all alone in a peat green marsh


& damn if I’m not impressed by the sight

of a marsh amid all this glass,

concrete, riveted steel, rust.


In class as a kid I dreamt up maps.

I designed cities & drew them inside


notebooks, in folders, on any scrap

of paper I could find. I gave my attention

to the streets & highways above


all else. When my school bus took

the interstate, my eyes were fixed


on what blurred past below:

neighborhoods I’d never been to,

neighborhoods my family had left.


By fifth grade we’d moved so much

I grew to love it, so being still


felt like a trap. It was the worst

in church: the endless sermons

I could never follow, the stiff pews,


how futile those fans were. Some

leapt from their seats & some fell


to their knees, mouths suddenly full

of strange tongues. Miss Betty said

they’d caught the spirit & I saw proof


the church needed A/C. I never

thought I needed belief, never had faith


in faith. But before the train emerges

from the tunnel I look forward

to the marsh, the traffic, the birds


I now expect to see, the view of a city

I’m speeding away from, the light.

Words of Warning

after Justin Phillip Reed


Before a screw in the rail broke the skin

on my hand as I told my brother not to open

the door for anyone. I mean before I left


him there alone. Before I told my friend’s

mother I can’t explain why I need  

to leave & she said be there soon.


Before I crammed my backpack full

of yes a change of clothes but also CDs,

black pens & paper I could use to write


as in the living room my brother turned

the television’s volume low. Before he sank

back into the couch & before he crawled


from beneath the bed. Before I yelled

Lord I can’t take this or whispered How

long you think we should wait until we


move again. Before that. Before the thud

of footsteps down the stairs receded,

& even before we could hear nothing


but our own held breath, our hearts

beating like impatient fists against doors

as we wondered if the quiet meant


he was gone. Before I began to wonder

if a cough or the way my brother winces

as he tongues a cut in his mouth might


give us away, give a man an idea

of where to aim a gun as he raps his fists

against the window, as his shadow stains


the drapes. Before my brother muted

the television when I said I can’t explain

you just have to hide and urged him


under the bed. It was before I peeked

through the blinds thinking I’d see who

knocked on the neighbor’s door, & locked


eyes with a man in a black hat who waved

a pistol in his free hand. Before we died

laughing at a cartoon hunter foiled again


by a rabbit. Before we heard the dead

-bolt slide into place. Before our mother

said to us, Don’t answer the door


for anyone & left with the woman

who begged for her help on our porch.

Before that knock on the door. Before


we were sure to close every set of blinds

to keep the house cool. Before the news

said it’d be a hot one today. Before drops


of blood appeared in the peaches

my brother ate straight from the can,

its serrated edge snagging the inside


of his lip when he tipped it back to first

down the juice. For him, that was the best

part. Before he went to the fridge, he said


he was in the mood for something sweet.

from Leafmold

A bottle of barbeque sauce and amateur psychology. As executor, I followed the bullets, quivering, a little wide-eyed but unpunished.


Hasn’t everyone wished for something that is sure to maim them? Hasn’t it beckoned you home?