1.

I think you might have
a stable of crazy thoughts in your chest
, you said.

We were driving home in the Subaru, we were
sitting on the couch with
nothing in our hands and the movie paused.

The thought of us not loving each other
was not a thought.
I inhaled it as a wasp and it flew in.

I said I think you have some kind of timeframe for us.
You admitted it, so we laughed carefully, aware of the optics.

In the refrigerator, the case of Coca-Cola you got me
as a birthday joke didn’t get colder;
neither did the salmon in the freezer

I could throw like a skipping stone across Long Beach harbor.

Last weekend the new lovers—our guests—
and their two nights on the thin mattress of the fold-out couch,
their connection over brunch’s crossword puzzle,

had made us feel
like miles of old telephone wire on poles,
or eighteen-wheelers on mountain passes.

 

2.

We are aliens, parked here by the port,
to this unloading and reloading:
160 feet over the water

the operators of the gantry cranes twist-lock
containers on or off,

balancing as they go
the swing of weight with the swing of weight.

Slug-like, reinforced, the bollards
along the dock hold fast—

are unbelievable in holding
this container ship steady enough.

But from Signal Hill, the cranes are unmoving.

They stand like things to reach, like mountains.

Gulls, diesel, stink of sun-bathing sea lions.
Thousands of kindling reflections:

 

3.

Low-pitched wake beneath the upward
bend of Vincent Thomas Bridge.
Propeller wings suck

through the channel’s depths.

Even gantry cranes get shipped in.
For this the cops halt traffic, the tide

is timed, and the harbor pilot balances
an absurdity of inches and momentum.
Nothing can stop.

The man stationed on the crane’s tip
actually touches the bridge moving over him
beam by beam, rivet by rivet.

When we drive over,
what little compression we make
falls through expansion joints, dampeners,

the piles under the towers, and into the earth.

 

4.

Taxonomy of ordnance in the tidal salt marsh:
the Naval Weapons Station is weighted
with ammunition magazines hooded in grass.

Driving by, you said I’d call your intelligence discursive, or gamy.
Between the car’s visors, the sun let us have it.

I said I’d call it a kind of circumnavigation
or constant house-painting
.

Seagulls flew over,
their speed weird as it intersected with ours.

A landscape gets into you from the background of your reflection.

Snapshot, flipbook, of a field’s tilled lines
squared to the 405 freeway.

 

5.

Over the crows in Ocean Boulevard’s palm trees
weak clouds scramble
the whack-thump of helicopter blades.

Traffic coagulates.
We run and run, curdle and curdle.

The bicycle path flattens out, curves out, straightens out
over the dented beach.

The dream-line was
people know about life but stay in pain.
Then I was bitten on the thumb

by a rattlesnake, the fang marks
neat and bleeding, the dream-line
keep it lower than the heart.

 

6.

Sometimes our bed
looks like a field ploughed
in too many directions.

The floor furnace heaves warm air out of the basement.

I don’t know what holds us in or out,
holds true, makes us hold like whales

in the unfathomable smash
where we could drown
breath by bone, bone by breath.

You say, smiling
our life together isn’t that bad.

 

7.

Next to the half-eaten tiramisu placed
on the café’s busy midday floor— all the tables

taken, the chairs and couches full—
your right ankle is unadorned
above the sandal,

save for the slight veins
held as gently as slim branches
in the upper reaches of a tree.

Subtle edges formed between the white dress
and your hips by the thong as

you bend to put away your laptop,
just as gently held.

 

8.

I wish I could move my thoughts as well as Fred Flintstone
operates his dinosaur in the quarry—
pulley-systems, winches, all that friction put to work.

A bar at the southeast corner of Redondo and Broadway.
When someone comes in

they defy this tank of shade. It’s amazing
how much class wearing a scarf
buys you, especially

when Long Beach’s late September
is mild, as it always is,
and you are the first to think of it.

 

9.

Over the Wilmington Oil Field,
oil drilling islands
Grissom, White, Chaffee, and Freeman—

all named after astronauts—
sit on piles of boulders in the shallows
off the beach, the facades of the towers that hide
their oil derricks
a mickey mouse pastel.

They have their drills angled into
the collapsing sea floor,

and this means a transfusion of water
to hold things up as oil gets pumped out.

On land, pump-jacks pull up dirty oil.
A pump-jack is a “nodding donkey,”

a “thirsty-bird,” “a horse-head pump.”

They stand in their moving,

with a speed
equivalent to something violent slowed down,
like watching a fighter punching

a downed opponent in looped slo-mo:

the wound-up arm and shoulder never quite stopping
at the apex
before the fist comes down.

 

10.

Over a coffee table crowded
with beer cans
and out the sliding glass door

two coyotes angle through the yard.

One pauses to search the air,
paws making prints,
and our shifting conversation pauses too.

Native visitor, big-eared hunter on patrol—

all the rabbits have scattered.
We both look up and out

but I didn’t tell you that maybe
I pictured us that way: me sniffing around,
you better at navigation, keeping watch.

 

11.

Heartbeats recede like waves pulled out
on an ebb tide.

I match this with the high pitch of my own quiet.

Tree full of hummingbird wings.
Look at just a few and they’re fast — but

look at the whole tree, and it vibrates like jello.
Oh – what-the-fuck.

Oh – the sky a wall painted by amateurs:
brush strokes, thick drips, roller mistakes,

some other color, the real color, showing through the off-white.

But the wind: look close, and nothing.
Look at it all,

just a thin vibration of freeway traffic.

 

12.

The handbook from the American Red Cross says
get control of your feelings,
impulses, turn away for a moment.

Crows in Japan, their nests threatened by city officials,
make dummy nests as decoys.
I just sit here questioning myself as iTunes recounts

old breakup songs. The threat is nothing-everything.

But my insides cohere. They’re fine. We’re still together.
But the woman crossing Junipero is a pleasure to watch–

that woman crossing Junipero is a pleasure to watch,
and the crossing guards in front of the school

are well protected from the sun
on this, the first day of school—
their held-up stop signs afloat.

 

13.

Here, but in the day’s
still water,
in satisfaction’s edges,

the always and always of nothing:

where you love to be,
wearing your
coat for in-between weather.

There is a pain so undefined it

gives the world out, it gives the meanings out,
it straightens edges out,
and keeps the highways smooth against the trucks.

 

14.

Two years ago, two years ago,
it would be nine o’clock here, already
midnight in Manhattan.

You in your apartment with the lights off,
bagged lunch ready,
the pillows damp from your showered hair, the alarm

set, checked, re-set— and the cell phone
charging on the desk.
That old apartment, divvied up, converted.

The narrow hall that connects it all
like a long throat.
Your bedroom windows square out to the

airy marrow of the building.
My California dream weight would be creaking
the hardwood in the hall,

my fingers on the door knob
engaging the mechanism that lets me in.

 

15.

On the 405 delay goes back through the traffic,
fast at first, then slowing
like a wave propelled back through others.

A red MEDEVAC helicopter waits
as ambulance crews labor over the rider, whose
boots are visible behind a thicket of bystanders.

The motorcycle like a crushed insect.

We drive by, our windows closed,
our air-conditioning recycled.

The CHIPS have arranged the flares
in 90 degree zig-zags,
so that each one –warning, worry-thought – lights the next.

 

16.

Last night in Irvine a fire
pushed by the Santa Ana winds burned
up-hill fifteen miles distant and stared at me

the whole way up. What must have been ash,

under the street lamps like insects,
we breathed in, we breathed in, and still do the next day.

Under the grass, where the earth
ends against metal,
1.2 million gallons of water

are tanked in Hill Top Park,
in a disc the UFOs of our imaginations
would recognize. Or a belly laid down into the abused hill’s head.

(120,000 miles of blood vessels
have grown through your body and mine.)

These are layers worth talking about: what is in the air,
what is in the shrubbery, what is in the dirt,
what is under the dirt, the cranes against the bay,

Catalina Island 25 miles out,
the sky line of Los Angeles,
the office buildings near Irvine,

the American Kestrel
hover-hunting on the updrafts.

 

Benjamin Keating

Bejamin Keating holds an MFA from UC Irvine’s Graduate Workshop in Poetry and has taught writing at UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, and University of Michigan. He is currently working on a PhD in English. Another of his poems is forthcoming in Juked.

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