How It Started and Where It Went
Clouds limped up the marble steps of the sky
over Tower Road by the cemetery,
its gray slabs sticking out, snaggle-toothed,
from the soft gums of earth
that morning you showed me the note
left on your windshield, vaguely threatening
but in a girlish hand, signed Ichabod.
We both knew this was a damsel-in-distress ruse
and ran with it anyway, awhile.
We had the same dream
the same night and lolled on the bed
until the sun slanted across 46th Street.
“My teeth were all loose in my mouth
but there wasn’t any blood.”
Your voice rose like a question. I poured myself
half a glass of Lillet and offered you one.
“At 11:00 in the morning?”
I swished it around like mouthwash and swallowed
and I shrugged. Mine were all over the place,
like Chicklets. I’d been playing hockey or learning
to skate but the rink turned into something else,
a car dealer’s showroom,
with all these racy jobs in candy colors.
You wanted to take one for a test drive
and just keep going.
You said, “Anything built on a lie sinks and collapses,”
your unvarnished fingernails sliding a cigarette
from my pocket, holding your hand out
for the lighter and I thought
maybe, but it can slide like a sled
down a looping lane
longer than you would ever guess
if it starts with a nod and an angular kiss,
a tease of hair between smooth fingers,
if you both think the score is tied.
It was around Easter and bells rang
from around the corner, St. Francis calling
the deaf, the widowed, the heavy-laden.
“What do you think it means, teeth falling out?”
Maybe losing autonomy or fear of growing old,
or something. You took a sip
from my second glass to slow me down
and I reached under you and pinched
like a crab in the heavens grabbing for a star.
My Nights Turn Into Your Mornings
Days belong to someone else
whether or not you work for yourself
but even if you spend them sleeping,
crammed with distressful bread,
the nights are yours for the shaping.
Security cameras shut down, traffic lights clink
for no one but you and the after-hours joint
serves poached eggs and a duo
that knows every tune
from “’S Wonderful” to “Spanish Moon.”
Croupiers, cocktail waitresses and lock tenders
whose time leans to sharp orders
and contemplated angles,
whom sleep eludes or who eschew it
know how to dodge the heat
in its many guises –
chorus of low talkers, the tenacious flatfoot,
a dank, unsheddable blanket.
In hours quiet as a shallow pond
when a few dogs, let out, bark across our lawns
where spiders play castanets,
condensation catches light that has travelled
since before life gurgled up here;
bends it, shifts its hues
and shoots it out again right past your ear.
Deep in the pillow sink the takings of the night;
cherry popped in a cheek,
moonstone, yellow opal, ruby,
a peach plucked and sliced into crescents
that bob among the half-spun clouds.
Sums and Subtractions
Reception in this low-lying place
is more erratic than I’m used to..
Rain on the roof entrances itself,
spills over the gutters
and after, the night remains, still and close.
I’m advised to better use the waking
hours left. This goes to nothing.
I have set down the labors that are gone
alongside things I did for fun
and that comes to next to nothing.
My important acquisitions were made
without speaking or seeing
anyone; the binge drinkers,
reverse prayer books,
crime scene cleansers and their bully barns.
Be a buddy and hand me the jar.
There is a creak and pop in every
little ship that drifts
with quarrelsome currents.
There is a puzzle in a box that represents
what’s better left forgotten
and a deck with one missing
every time we cut. These amount
to not a lot.
I don’t raise the scope more than I need to,
don’t tell the anaesthesiologist
how to mix his cocktails. I am going
to hear messages traders dream about,
down where manacles hang, sway empty
in the heat.
What I say and do are different matters
to wayward creatures hitching and hoping.
I am often told what I want to hear
so why shouldn’t I also give a little to get along?
It leaves a tidy sum.
A lucky few who neither lose sight
of their shores nor miss
friendly lanes they know will guide them
never lack sleep.
Mine is a narrative
of condensation and gravity, of little leaks
and invisible damage.
All that I remember of family
sleeps, slipped away in drawers.
The Reckless, the Wild Youth
“Setting fire to our insides for fun…”
Around dawn with the wind-up birds twittering
she said, “Has anyone seen my face anywhere?”
This was shortly after the menagerie ceased
baying and skittering sideways and dipping
the milk of penny-a-pound diamonds
that shot through the sky;
red stars, gumball satellites and a rain of silver
fell out of sight. I just wanted to sleep
but all the pieces left felt jagged
and her hunger lingered.
I had a pretty co-star who had her head on straight,
and rode her horse, Perfumo, English style
but I found I wanted two,
and a guest house
and steam punk sets
to play in. Our best nights strained
through a colander of cocktail talk,
Steve Winwood sounding thoughts
that didn’t quite piece together
and a sax with a fuzzy pedal.
If I’d had nothing to do as I always dreamed
but what I wanted, no day could have started
before noon; each stop at a new planet,
in search of that lost face,
plotted by color on a roughhouse wheel – chartreuse,
black cherry, charcoal and teal
rolling through a month of weekends.
Every trip extends the scope of the next
and pretty soon I’ll find myself alone
in the cockpit of a ship with controls
not made for hands with digits like my own.
David P. Kozinski has two full-length books of poems. The original manuscript of I Hear It the Way I Want It to Be (2022) was a finalist for the Inlandia (California) Institute’s Hillary Gravendyke Prize and Tripping Over Memorial Day was published in 2017 (both from Kelsay Books). His chapbook, Loopholes (Broadkill Press), won the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. He is Poet-in-Residence at Rockwood Park and Museum in New Castle County, Delaware and is Art Editor for Schuylkill Valley Journal. Kozinski was the 2018 Established Professional Poetry Fellowship recipient from the Delaware Division of the Arts. That year he was named Mentor of the year by Expressive Path, a non-profit that fosters arts participation for youth. He serves on the board of the Eastern Shore Writers Association and the editorial board of Philadelphia Stories magazine.