p o e m s  

t o m  d a l e y

A slouch. A warrant. An assurance.

Poignant and cocksure angle of the hat.

Plait and wrinkle. Unbuttoning.

Cotton bracelet of the cuff.

An igneous lassitude. A granite condescension.

Goatee fraying, rimmed with salt.

Right hand wears right pocket. His hat

shadows his seduction. About to amble,

at rest from shuffling.

Cool, like old sweat.

Roughneck's poise,

plaint of a penitent.




She is stepping backwards now

and laughing, the twin straps

of her bathing suit

looped over her upper arms.

The afternoon coppers

her hair, her rebuke

has softened like chalk.


The tide is yanking the wind

out to sea beyond her ears.

At her feet, the magma

has forsaken its fire.

All her life,

she has warded off caution

with her mouth.


It is not for nothing

that the world has left her so:

bare-legged, wanton,

bristling like a vapor trail

in the track of the sun.




Two streets over, a yammering dog.

Tires wrinkle new asphalt, slosh between curbs.


June is a planet hatched from the fizz

of street lights looping shine


between brambles of wire.

A planet moored by giant moths


whiffling dust pan wings.

The world shears into silence


and tucks itself beneath

the snap of joints in a big toe.


A June night is a complaint, a mash

of mustard and sardines


still yellow in fingernails.

Across the street a child won’t go to bed.


He cranes to catch

the last light of the long day.


His father lifts him so he can see

through the sleeping-porch screen


the roofs of passing cars. June night,

June night, hold us to


the sound of calls crossing a sidewalk

and that dog’s bark like a punch clock


scoring the thunder of lavender twilight

as it slides between thin slats of blinds.




How he fidgets between rough trade and tears!

A dust mask festoons his neck like a skull. Short years


have threshed his mouth of any twinge or scowl.

It slumps into exhausted kindness and prowls


bravado’s back room. His silo eyes bless

your right pocket. Boy rumple, man slouch. You’re assessed


by shoulders sheaved in wary heft.

Indignation lulls his right eye, ramps behind the left.





Out on the pond

skaters sling calves and ankles

while snow, sharp, simpering,

troubles the ice like a powdery mold.


A boy with blond skin and a blue cap

circles the surface of the pond.

Snow silhouettes the blades’ tiny ruts.

The boy wobbles through a harsh ellipse

of wind and cold on Christmas day.


Sand stings the desert eyes

of anti-aircraft gunners

sullen in a December vigil.


Across a border, soldiers squat the desert floor

in front of the man in the red suit.

They huddle in their grey camouflage

like snow clouds.


Like a windowshade of war,

snow sleets the New Hampshire woods,

brittle as styrofoam in the box

bearing the gift ham.

Snow like patches of beard

on a young woman’s face, incongruous, fecund,

poised to spread.


The boy waterbugs, jitters across the ice,

whimpers with cold.


After the turkey, crisped and moistened

under a dishrag bloody with tomato sauce,

after the Egyptian carrots and before the toffee,

we venture again into the snow.


Current carves through wires

suspended over electric homes

spaced in frontier intervals. We sink

felt-lined boots,

over asphalt before the plow.


Street lights bronze the snow.

The suffering of the world

is wired without hope

over snow banks, oil derricks, missile berths.


It soldiers in grey sleet,

curses the light, the stinging sand,

the white that scarred

the almost perfect ice.





Mr. Hendrix ballyhoos a hubbub. He rounds

lapsed time over a bass line, detonates drum mutinies.

Maestro divvies Red Seas into sound.

Coo and cough flag their wings, easy


in the weather of his guitar. Sleet, cloudclap, madness—

all stratocast between major chords.

Contents of a fretted shaker strained over ice,

Ah, perfection of switching promises and rewards!


Notes skitter, decamp their oases

to a Jerusalem divided in blood.

Jimi’s fingers trill the timing. He’s aglow as

cat fur smoked on a sunlit car hood;


he’s mink as a milk-fed mouse lolling in the granary.

He’s gnawed by the eventuality


that all will be hellish, all manner of things

ruled by a luciferous diablo.

O hellbird swinging

Like the moon over tidal bores! O ghetto


elevators creaking in your sleep! O breast

of Gazan mother drizzled with milk! Tugged,


confined, kept close to the vest

like an unexploded grenade.


He excavates thunder

from a kaleidoscope. A procession of bird calls

undulates under jet engine wonder.

He papers a hornet in high-hat cells.


Will Maestro blow the amps? Can his wah-wah cork the clock?

Squash of bee noise. Moon dividing into sparks.



Okay, Dad, you listening? These bells are your freckles smashing in time to a pulley as
it dings a flagpole

a noise you told us was the sound of a shipwrecked pirate’s bell ringing underwater

Now you swim forever underwater with a porcelain doll cradled in your arms like a coral

Listen: feedback, gently blown through the amps:

It’s your voice coded in static from the vacuum tube radio on the kitchen table

Before you sprouted a merman’s tail you straddled the roof, paintbrush in hand, salt
marshes stinking left, bay water curling blue and hopeless to your right

A flapping noise—a hundred fireflies that you set free in the theater loom hugely in matinee shadows
as they swim in front of the projector

Reverb and whistle: The decay of your eardrums, last flickering of the synapses along
your auditory nerve the day we left you alone in the icestorm, alone forever in all the

Now hear this! Mr. Hendrix’ voice is sullen, is the unctuous, slightly cracked voice you
in your taunting temperature would turn on women who could not help themselves

Per your instructions at the drug store we help ourselves to boxes of small fireballs
yearning and plush in their cellophane windows

Trace of Ohio now in Jimi’s twang, trace of your friend Jake

The crash cymbals rattle Jake and his coy, gee-whilikers beer breath and spotted teeth

there where you and he exchange maraschino cherries and sales tips and phone numbers
of easy women in Marietta

I sit on your double bed the four posters shorn of their swags and curtains and you hold
the handkerchief over my nose and you say, “Blow”

Both of us turned inside out to the sad torpedo misfires in our lives

Dad this is metal hiss, a technical term. You never taught me anything technical, only
how to sleep at inappropriate moments, snore at Sunday dinner

also the importance of flossing the molars and attending to the minor mysteries of male

The snare and the rhythm guitar have been synchronized, and your bomber crew’s
watches have been synchronized

Your sweat comes up with smell of sorties over the Philippines and the heat of the anti-
malarial medicine that poisoned you into a padded cell in the Hartford sanitarium.

There’s a flute in the corner—is that you in the corner? Your shadow Easter morning
adjusting the menthol rub in the vaporizer when I lay croupy and wheezy dreaming of
green nylon grass and jelly bean wax?

Now— a drum thud: You turn to smooth my coverlet

Now a slash of flute and you stalk away underneath the South China Sea

Tape sizzle over headphones: Your tail fins shoosh and shoosh, you curse and bless as
best you can under all those far fathoms




The clue, you promised us,

shakes out in the whitecaps. How they flock

like a herd of blisters

toward something beyond

this painting's rim:


Toward you as you squat on the sand

on a day grey as Richter's.

You laugh your eyes

to a squinch, your

eyes steadying us

as we bob and yelp

in the breakers breezing up

over the turbid bay.


A line sorts the world

into one part sea and two parts sky.

That line is a hinge


where time clamps you

to its undertow,

when time is a joint

grafting cloud to wave.


Waves ringed by your pipe smoke.

Clouds crowding in a trance.

The sky whittles to a sharp blur,

husks like burnt skin.


The clue is in the whitecaps

unlocking the cooked sky. Whitecaps

wedge in like an affliction

foreshadowing storm. White


stains the uproar

in Richter's recurrence of blur. Blur

as gauze dressing, as sheen

negating shine. Blur is a relic

of our slicked heads

pitching in the roiled surf,

the testament of fingers

knitted by salt


to you there on the shore

keying us to whitecaps

blurred out of our time.




What hung? What dangled?

Short curtains in basement windows, heavy with sun


Cobweb braid, ash-slicked

Tassels furred like scrota on a bedspread’s fringe


Minute hand on china clock, straying across Roman numeral six

Rubber strap of bathing cap spangled by its plastic snap


Beagle ears, wetted with salt water, slightly contracted

What dangled? What hung?


Naked cousin, male, gripping cross beam, swinging ankles and genitals in 4/4 time

Limp knuckles of the attempted suicide bumped down attic stairs


Strips of flypaper, fleshy, adhesive, glittering with the trapped eyes of houseflies

Wet hair of coed who crossed from Jesus to Karl Marx


Love beads clasping the neck of the military cadet

Belt buckle trailing waist of fellatio tryout


Wet sheets whitening under clothespins tense as barn swallows

Wave spume falling in slow strings


Women’s breasts, ungirded and slippery

Male nipples lugging the family legacy of downturned slide


Necktie in bedroom closet, the lighthouse of communion Sundays

What hung?


Twilight stiff as goosenecks

Droopy, thunderclapped dahlia heads


A poster with peel-off applications tendering summer employment

Black bristled brush snarling the broom closet


Tumescent cock pooling pale blue pouches

What dangled?


On the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, semen glistening from vented meatus

Draggling from the monsignor’s Bermuda shorts, a few madras threads


Water pearling from brass nozzle of garden hose

Light fixture twine plumbed by a porcelain bob


Thumbtacked prayers to unrepentant pontiffs; to blowzy guardian angels with latex
wingspans; to toothsome martyrs pickled in bottles of friction pour le bain


Willow wands leafy with septic tank plunder

Nylon cord governing aluminum garage door like Caligula


© 2003 Tom Daley



 next page

contents download subscribe archive