Schismatic at a Wedding by the Sea



I was lost in ribs of stone, fixated

on mossy shadows of angels winging

from behind your ears. When you said


you didn’t trust my eyes, your words

bobbed me back from my grave

of details, but your breath


formed a nettle which made

me still more upset: You had drawn

attention to yourself by referring


—like curtains ungathered in a boat

of glass—to a place the sea

does not reflect. Mirrored nowhere,


not even in the belly of the moonfish:

a personal sea of tranquility.

I understood too well to choose


not to let your face sink

in veils of Camel smoke. I remember

mostly your small teeth, your tongue,


the flounder of deep-sea love between.

My dream of your features, your face,

was drowned in a grave bereaved of intrigue,


as beyond that instant when the beam

of a lighthouse spiders through

the misty rigging of a clipper, turning waves


of what might have been black glass

into bright leaves bubbling with veins

of white film. It’s the glass, I guess,


which intrigues me because it might not

be glass, but a medium for other things

living but centuries old,


like bleary oaks in the bathroom window

or heads in closet mirrors, small children,

or better still, when I was scared like them


(this is only one pretend reflection),

just like what I gathered deep-sea

diving with my uncle. Read my mind.



I want to act out what I mean, to make

you see I don’t know how to act;

I can just pretend to do a thing like that.


I should tell you: He’s a madman,

my uncle. We dropped far down

from the boat, floating in murk, when


he grabbed onto me. I wanted to go,

but his hand was so cold. Dying,

I realized I was only a child, only acting


like I knew how to swim—as I am only

pretending to remember what

happened. To deny it is to find a way


of saying it is true. To a madman

the world is only a lie. Even children

like the one I’m pretending to be


are for me what the world is

for them. A missing world comes back:

I lie as stiff as shoulder bones in bed, the heads


on that wall becoming more real,

more real. I know your lips are moving

and I’ll listen even though the sounds


you’re making (you have to understand)

are stagnant as the body

of water from which I drew my body


(in wake of a drowning you just don’t

understand) is stormy, on the move. Again

I don’t know whether to sink


into doubt or focus on you, my vagueness

leaving your teeth half slurred

into white gowns which keep dragging


behind, merging with bric-a-brac

on lawns where grass turns wet and sluggy

and blue as the huey ocean. If any one


place can seem safe and distinct only

in the context of another, I come

halfway back to your face


because I have to, but only halfway

back because my nonsense makes me

Christlike. Oh sure, it isolates.




Among the Yellow Eyes of Succulents




Raindrops, tadpoles

breaking on our noses and hearts,

exploding tiny motives in the air,


we once lay side by side from noon to moon.




Now we’ll take a minivan to the edge

of the petrified mounds,

a surrender to the weather’s orchestration.


Even the mules, wet and matted into tufts,

slant toward slate.


Above their horny backbones,

mountains of cloud, not a hint

of white light in that body of dark vapors working.




If myth is part of the mortal tale,

carry the last icon to me silently, not as a lash

but a faintly incandescent woman


of silica filled with ambergris,

herself cradling a tiny corset

of black thorns.


About the Author

Stephen’s co-authored book, Cooking with the Muse: A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry, and Literary Fare, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. Acclaim for his other books includes an SFASU Press Prize for The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat; the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday; the Grolier Poetry Prize for Later on Aiaia; and a Van Rensselaer award, selected by Kenneth Koch. Massimilla’s work has most recently appeared in AGNI, Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Harpur Palate, The Literary Review, Poet Lore, RHINO, and Verse Daily. He holds an MFA and a PhD from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia and The New School.