The Engineer

Every August 5th the Mars Rover sings
‘Happy Birthday’ to itself. I imagine it
trundling over vast desolation,
delving into gray trenches, hungry
canyons, scuttling out of pitch-thick shadows
into the scorch of unfiltered sunlight,
the thin music of its dust-choked apparatus
writhing like a promise it could not keep
in its gears. I imagine a glitch: corroded wires,
infinite loops of fritz-stuttered signals
declaring that every day is August 5th,
so every day the machine sings, celebrates itself
alone, and next I see on earth
the engineer of this, the most mammoth loneliness
I can fathom, how every night they fall asleep
smiling, certain as a headsman
they’ve done a good thing.


I was born the youngest twin,
my grief already in the room, winking
body made of jaundice and bright.

Like other twins we built a language:
in “father” we found “air,”
held our breaths until we burst,

until we learned “absence”
means “where you exhale.”

“Brother” was a synonym for “ocean,”
its roar, its blunting force, the way
it could never escape itself.

But “mother” was a country
in which we wandered,
lost, its definition

shifting, twirling like shadows
dizzied by passing headlights–

one moment it meant “the heat
of a lap, fingers stroking our hair,”

the next it was “the pliable branch
peeled from the switching tree,”
or “the single match held up
against a moon-drunk window.”

When she died, my twin grief declared
everything a translation of mother:

“cardinal,” “bread,” “cloth pressed
against the mouth,” “smoke,”
“candle staked into a bottle of wine,”

the language between us
no longer a hidden lexicon,
wild vernacular, instead

a way of being,
as when metaphor blooms into metonym,
as when silence speaks.