Lines Composed in the Dark

Lines Composed in the Dark

Moths batter at fluorescence
I try to sleep in Ohio but it’s Chicago
that keeps me awake:

Fire department sirens on Western Avenue
shouted conversations in Polish
the hollow boom of too much bass

The sodium orange burn of never-quite-night
when the sun slides behind the ComEd building–
There are ways of looking at an absence

through the rolling Ohio fields of timothy
against the falling veil of Brandywine creek
drifting past smokestacks and silent huletts on the Cuyahoga

like a series of relics wrapped

and buried beneath the Chinese chestnut tree in the yard


[OV MFA thesis 1999
Revision 4 April 2016]

[Confused sense of place and dis-location in this one–I was living in the Ukrainian Village in Chicago–near Nelson Algren’s haunts– but homesick for Ohio. I am also obsessed with (disused) industrial locations–the Jaite Paper Mill at the bottom of Highland Road that closed when I was a kid; my grandfather worked on the docks; my father worked for J&L Steel (later LTV) (later bankrupt but naturally the executives got paid). I think there’s a lot in here. I just need time to excavate. #mapyear ]

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It’s Not Derrida

In the Hollow

Through a heavy eucalyptus evening
past a woman who clucks over places
where aphids have made lace of her roses

Some holes you can see: a child burying
her sister’s Barbie in a sandbox
or a ’78 Monte Carlo with Mad Max
pockmarks left by a Tec-9
or places where asphalt is backhoed
into chunks

None of these are the kind of absence
that has presence
like the acid of other peoples’ happiness
the kind of absence like cheesecloth
stretched to catch dust from the furnace
in winter


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1928 Me & High School Friends at Geneva on the Lake

Hips and smile are broad
as she kneels on sandy concrete steps
of the beach on Sturgeon Point
Lake Erie silvered behind her

Posed with her four friends in black wool
swimsuits with rows of buttons
Their bobbed hair slicked down or tucked
into swim caps

Two are flapper-thin but my grandmother
and two of her friends are thick-set
broad-shouldered and well-fed
nineteen and unconcerned

The one I am drawn to is the one
with her arms around the thin girl
Her chin tucked down and lips pressed
against the girl’s shoulder

Curly hair can’t hide a wicked glint
as the photographer
arranges them all in a stack
for a moment

Now dog-eared and anonymous
but for my grandmother’s handwriting
and the sound of her laugh
through the box of my memory


1928 Me & Friends at Geneva on the Lake Dorothy Joyce (kneeling, far left)

1928 Me & Friends at Geneva on the Lake
Dorothy Joyce (kneeling, far left), aged 19

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Dahlia–East Bay, 1998

Dahlia–East Bay, 1998

Aspen and I are stoned, holding a dahlia and
listening to a world-music band
whose name I can’t pronounce in a bar filled with Boomers.
It’s mid-July and she is beautiful, drinking tequila

while I think about  how my mother
would never approve
if I brought home the bartender
A man from Ghana with a wide smile and a voice
that slides over me
like the last time I went skinny-dipping
how my face
is unfamiliar in the mirror behind the bar
how I fall in love with waiters
named Jeff and how I cannot sit with my back to the door.

Aspen holds up our blood-red, velvet-red dahlia
and there is the paradox, the want and not-want
in our shots of Padron Silver, in the remains of the clip, in her smile.


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