A serviceable pool of light drips into dream
while my father haggles to highway back
before the sundown’s scrim. Which really
is dark’s absence, strip malls and invitation,
the slightly rancid smell of frying clams.
I cannot grasp the magnet of his East–
the lure of foul Elizabeth, how cities
always stink with raw desire. But I feel
our metallic body, how the car dreams of flight.
That somewhere on my father’s sweat-stained map
lies childhood. That he hungers to move on
before blue midnight orphans him.
Quaffing a medium mug of a Belgian ale
Brewed, the brasserie sign says, since 1240,
What a surprise to have Hutch Hutchinson’s name
Surface in my only slightly befuddled brain!
Hutch whom I have not thought of for a lifetime.
But then, I did not know him well;
Boys together, we were not chums.
Only, once his young parents invited me to dinner.
Goose was served, with which I could not cope,
It being too barnyard a fowl;
I would not try even a forkful.
After that, outside of school we did nothing together.
He was smaller and seemed gentle.
Ah, I remember now – his ears stood out!
I never knew whether his first name
Was nickname or real,
But it said “rabbit house” to me;
I thought him a bunny.
Now that I see him, I see nothing more,
Or almost nothing – just his mother’s shoe
Pressing a buzzer under the table to summon the maid.
Just Down Wilkinson Street, He Lived
I was still yet a boy,
And weasel-faced Warren Metcalf was
Also. But he was the leader
Of a gang, of which I was not a part
Though I yearned to be.
One day – just that one – he relented,
Letting me range with them
Through our neighborhood;
In the meadow we found smaller Keith
Whom they tied to the trunk of a tree.
Keith bawled “Let me loose!”
But gloried in the attention.
A friend of Warren’s arrived to warn: “Mrs. Bracker
Is on her way!” We hid in the basement of a house.
Through slats I saw her furious legs nearing.
That to me felt like an avenging goddess.
Routing us out, Mother insisted
All come back with her to where we lived
So she could read to us the riot act.
They sat like toads, unchastened. Then Warren and his gang
Departed after he deliberately sat on our cardboard
Globe of the world, denting it with the weight
Of his little butt to show what he thought of her.
I had to stay inside for the rest of the sunny day.
The sky, the horizon, my love for both
Love for people – family, friends
Honesty eternal, it never ends
Truthful engagement, heart and soul –
Follow the sky up to the stars
Or horizon’s line that mankind mars
Pathways followed, dead ends, or none
The journey, life’s lessons, go where you will
Learning continues if you’re breathing still …
Why are we here, do you know? I don’t
‘Cept failure to learn for what life will give
Makes a lie of a life, you have to LIVE!
Life spent unlived is life spent as a dolt
So many chances, people to love
And opportunities from Nature above
As every pear tree bears better if tended
So a life lived will bear fruit too
I love the ‘pears’ life gives, don’t you too?
Fossick around, dig deep as you go
Ask questions and listen, open your head
Live or life, or you’d be better off dead
Time spent on playthings, on nothings,
Fripperies, on mere lightweight fluff
These will show you’re not thinking enough
Thoughts, ideas, questions and answers
These can get most you the most from your life
Deeper lives come from troubles and strife …
Late at night my husband and I
go into the kitchen. We prattle
about this and that: who’s eaten
the most apple pie? What to cook
for the next dinner party – the regular?
Lasagne? And which cat is that
intoning a nocturne outside our door?
We scrutinise the glued pan handle,
contemplate when the milk will boil
and laugh when it spills over as usual.
Angus scoops the malted grains
and I stir in the frothy liquid – or I scoop
and he stirs. We meet to share chunks
of dark chocolate orange and part
to lick fingers and scrape out
the dollops left over at the bottom
of our mugs. While we dry dishes,
hang tea-towels and water thyme,
our chit-chat slows. The stars stretch,
his brow relaxes, my mind slackens
and we drift off like wind-borne leaves.
I With ruler
I appraise the clavicle.
II Among 206 human bones
the only long one lying down
is the clavicle.
III A shoulder blade, a clavicle
and a sternum are almost one,
all three girdle magic appeal in place.
IV Little key, open
V A stiletto heel
of bone and marrow –
not a place to lay your head.
VI Hens strut through
on splayed feet,
VII Laughing gull
on clavicle crane jib
brings drama to the face.
VIII O raised arch, O pedestal,
O furcula of wish and whim,
why do you break
more than any others?
Do you really bring luck?
IX Waists fatten, flesh droops,
all is subject to Time’s jiggle
but the clavicle shows little.
X You can’t be spanked, bitten or pinched,
kneaded, sucked or held onto.
You incur no nip-tuck bills.
XI Inner essence –
never fully known.
XII If I could be that mole on your clavicle,
I’d sing bold airs to your heart.
XIII Throw your head back
straighten your shoulders
raise a glass of Veuve Cliquot
in the chalice at the base of your neck
Next door, neighbors shuffle
junk in their yard, scrap metal
and rusted-out appliances
to resell on weekends.
Across the street, two girls
play hopscotch in a driveway,
screechy giggles trilling
through windows of our house,
where a ticking clock
like a needle
Staring at the muted TV
as if scrolling text
might actually reveal
an answer, I sit beside Dawn,
her face blank as winter sky,
my hand on her thigh
like a pebble atop
a cemetery marker.
here, I’m in Hell,
my scars plain to see,
there’s no drama – stolen –
no one knows me now.
I was living insanely,
I used up my words,
made an ass out of myself.
I am danger,
everything to lose,
down so low my brain stops –
I’m not myself.
Wearing basement clothes,
I never belong,
am not any kind of songbird,
can never sing.
Look down here, I’m in Hell,
my scars plain to see,
there’s no drama – stolen –
no one knows me now.
in her worn dressing gown
she leans over our falling down fence
asks me if i’m doing ok
i tell of ongoing tests and painful biopsies
waiting on cancer results
it’s not looking good
her eyes mist over
concerned and with care
i glance at a graze on her hand and wrist
magpie lands near us
white cat looks up
we stand silently still in this moment of us
no mention of last night
helping her in from the street
falling down drunk
screaming at air
her times on the bottle get more each week
it’s her stuff to face
i know how it is
she asks if she can help me through this difficult time
i say its ok
we both feel it’s not
white cat meows
i thank her and turn to go into my room
she takes beer and wine from her dented old car
i sit on the porch in my busted old chair
i wish i could cry
i’ve tried all week
but as low as i am i can’t find a tear
we’ve been next door neighbors for nearly three months
the last one the best
since i gave up the gear
i would have died if i didn’t quit
i wanted to live
i still so do
magpie flies into grey winter sky
white cat sits on the mat near my chair
she appears on the porch
bandaged hand holding flowers
i start to cry
she cries with me
a tall thin man
dressed in a filthy frock
shuffles along these streets each day
i drag myself along them too
on trodden grime
we separately seek our own evaporating reasons
for these solitary rambles to anywhere else
but the wasted now of this
weeks of passing each other
without word spoken
no nod or flick of friendly smile
no wink or silly boyish smirk
just numb solitary loping
and it unhinges me
dragging me deeper into my festering core
of wondering how and why
as our paths collided on a muddled corner of ill fate
i glimpsed a reservoir of tears in his milky eyes
i’m sure he heard the plea for help
screaming out of mine
i can’t face him
entwined in his insane crawling
or tread those medicated roads to zilch
i can’t move from where i crouch
suffocating in the bleak realization
of what i have become
and i loathe him and his part in my dreaded demise
for i know as i gulp at a gritty breathe
we are both destined
to dwell in shared darkness
I watch my granddaughter
Walk before me
Or rather, I watch the men
Staining their necks
As they watch her walk by,
Young hips swaying like the sea
And I am proud
That the blood of my blood
Can draw such rapture
Perhaps a little lust,
And I catch their eyes
And they know
Not with her.
There was a stand of trees
Where the road from work
Teed into the road home.
They would dance in the wind,
So close, their branches mingled,
If one moved, they all moved,
I would sit at the light,
Waiting to turn, and watch them dance
Swaying and bobbing with the wind.
I would even time my arrival
to catch the red
So I could watch my dancing trees,
A minor celebration at the end of day.
And then they were gone,
Removed for a billboard
Trumpeting the arrival
Of a future slum.
some minor city in Illinois
past midnight, the neon signs
running on the wet pavement
the tavern hard by the tracks
we stop here to let one off
or two get on —
minutes of stillness
in the long rough night
I watch him stumble from the bar
try to light a cigarette, give up.
He is looking right at me, through me
I doubt he even sees the train.
we slowly move away
the town drifting out of sight.
I wonder, were we really there?
She listened as I’d read my awkward lines of verse
at night, sitting, legs splayed and silent,
on the bed in shabby underpants–you could hardly
call them panties: faded cotton, color indeterminate, loose-fitting, frayed.
(Stray threads caressed her thighs; a poet in times past
might rhyme with envy on those loose ends).
Her breasts were full and firm. “Serious tits”
a randy office mate once called them–
though they weren’t averse to a little fun, now and again.
She always wore a bra. Business-like, I’d call it, if business
did not involve seduction: White, wide straps, no lace.
Chaste, you might also say. Suitable for some old lady
Or my muse.
We watched the mermaid
comb seaweed from her haughty breasts
as moon-pulled waves
sang their timeless John Cage song
beyond our outward gaze
beneath the pier
that August night
Only silence passed
And a night of
Mismar (Urdu) n. Demolished
you left me like a storm leaves a city :
and all i could do was
gape at the damage
in the eerie silence
of your absence.
so how am i supposed
to believe him
when he tells me
he loves me?
his kisses remind me
of your favorite song
but his love tastes
like the red velvet shake
we never ordered
because you hate
i am your aftermath,
and you took with you,
most of me.
is the rubble,
because now i
drink my coffee
in your favourite
i haven’t washed
since you left,
so it still
smells like you.
you were my timeline,
and this is the after.
but he came
out of nowhere
and claimed to be the
so how am i supposed
to let you go
and believe him
when he says,
when all i know
‘cross my heart
and hope to die’
in a time-machine
and as much as i want
it to take me ahead,
i go back,
in medias res
and in your arms
(a budding whirlwind)
i find peace
The building maker’s second son walks up and down flight after flight of stairs with a ring of keys. Lock doors. Count A. B.
Still. The site is under construction. Mid-morning groaning ceases for fifteen minutes. Then the first call is heard. ‘Lot 47’. Look a rickety elevator shaft floats upward. ‘Semi-detached unit’. Look someone’s left the light on. ‘312 A’. Fence. ‘B-block’. Drywall. Con the concrete. The triplex curves at the roundabout. ‘Lot 15’. The site forms an enormous aerial H. Watch from above.
Lots are plots. Buildings aren’t built; they’re grown in the dirt. Water the box hedges. Dos broke a soaker in C. yesterday afternoon. Where’s the hose? Nobody knows.
Water each box by bucket. Fences aren’t up yet. Put on a safety harness. Pray for a rain cloud. Bright sun turns green green to brown brown.
Sip coffee truck sludge. Pour it down your throat. Spray the cedars. Today’s lucky. The first paycheque paid at fifteen dollars an hour. Slosh the steps a bit. Set full ones down. Half full ones next time. A transfer slip floats down on the breeze from one of the upper storeys and lands with the rest of the garbage.
The building maker’s second son walks down to lower B. Sidestep new slop and sawdust. Grind down a cigarette butt. Unlock the door to no. 4
Exit. Get on the radio: ‘4. No delivery’.
8:15. The board boys have been at it for two hours already. Watch tenants in the completed pod across the road. They slouch into kitchens to cook their cold granola.
Fly to the place (not the person) in your mind. Do it in a dream. Imagine it’s years from now.
Laugh. Cover. Laugh some more.
Know so little of each other and so much. Mother. Meet family. Love. A daughter. Moon. Heartbeat. Red. Art, but don’t do it on the wall sweetie.
Flash a life. Play thru years in moments. Squeeze a hundred different lives out of every instant, and then, in a thrust, obliterate them. Give them up to the dawn. Fuck. Fawn. Rabbit. A pocket full of sun – burns. Skin raw pubis. There’s a lad. Cellphone light. Find keys.
Move the car.
String after string mark the rows
where rake and I must pull.
What if I find a knot. What if
I am caught, my rake beating
like a bird wing against the earth.
Evening. I empty the last bucket
of blueberry. Follow the string
back to the barren. Enough, I think,
enough of following the string.
Else life is nothing more than a thread.
They need a raker. So here I am.
After all, the barren is home.
I need the memory of string
on my thumb. I need the chaff,
the skein of so much blue on my tongue.
Our girl, turning seventeen today,
has grown too big for her pink room.
She feels closed in by the four walls
we helped her paint. The whole narrow
house, in fact, is too small for her
blonde longitude. The rooms,
the people, the whole city
lack the latitude she desires.
When she stands before her mother,
toe to toe and eye to eye now,
her blue eyes close or look beyond
toward a horizon we can’t see.
She strains through her second birth,
through the tight canal of family
toward a future that is not ours.
Still, she is our genie, pouting,
stamping, summoning the magic
of her tears against the bottle
of our tiny world. She will
get out—she will—even if
she must break something precious
to set herself free.
At thirteen my daughter chose her own swimming suit,
a bright pink two piece for someone with a figure.
The bikini’s leg holes arch over her thin hips,
over those twin bones still closed like folded wings.
After every dive she adjusts her bikini
bottom, arranging it around those hips that float
like hard white dreams beneath her brown skin.
The bikini top crawls up her chest when she swims,
the underwired cups reaching up like open hands
searching for the gift of breasts, ready to shape her
into someone’s dream. She checks her top every time
she surfaces, tugging it into place, checking
for progress maybe. I want to say, “Be Patient.
Enjoy the simple line you cut through the water.”
But boys are already calling her friends, and she….
Well, she wants her body now.
gullsoar slow winterbreeze
wintertrees branchetching blue sky
and milkstain clouds oozing eastward
no meaning message word
can hold as if it were a thing
as these things hold
a morning a timespace
in all this stillness
(even movement is still)
the throb the pulse
plucked strand of an infinite web
far away high waters crash
here silence crashes
one sound the true name of god
Tarragon, rosemary, fennel and thyme.
Barely a herb garden, more a collection
of herbs in pots, ranged in her small back yard.
Tarragon, rosemary, fennel and thyme.
She dwelt on the scents and the sweetness.
Rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
But no-one had died. He’d been for years in Spain,
but there were no calls, no postcards now.
She remembered the many weekend trips,
warm B&B’s, once a country hotel, a lodge,
walks, many walks, their breaths mingling
in the bright beginning air of the mornings.
Tarragon, rosemary, fennel and thyme.
What is it with the smell of herbs? Sweetness yes,
but aren’t there too a heaviness, near to over-full,
maybe a tinge of bitterness?
individual, perfect smallness
Do tears of an onion
look differently under a microscope
than tears of grief?
A cracked shard of glass
reflects the sun as beautifully
as a church window
Pizzicato spider feet
play cobweb harps up
in heaven near the ceiling
The sun’s lips kiss the earth
goodbye so fervently
Stars sparkle with glory
but are dead
and don’t know anyone’s story
Who notices that grasshoppers
pray summer sacred, that pebbles
are soft like a child’s wrists?
there is absolution
in the unexpected coolness
of a sheet_____the whispering
of lovelorn cicadas changing
form as life does—
_____in one room after
another_____in husks of cocoon
_____behind doors of eyelid,
by curtains of lashes
_____beads of days prayed one
by one, worried smooth
in the fingers of time
the unleavened moon dissolving
on night’s repentant tongue
healing psalms sung
by the impulsive swish
of the sleepy hair of a lover,
_____the rush of a silk dress,
a paper bag dancing in air’s arms
No motion permitted, lie back, hope
dermatologist named Lance knows enough,
laser in hand, can scorch an evil layer
off cheek in sixteen minutes plus.
Eyes closed to each flash, time to dream
womb, baby, dark to light. More sparks,
face teened, back seat, homecoming queen
staring up from underneath. No luck — wake,
only one hundred seconds gone, face of age
not wiped away, nine hundred left to hate.
milk of weeds
wisp of wind
feel of flight
I was lost in the ‘40’s for twenty years.
Sharp clothes and heroin. I found some comfort there.
I was born against my will, like every actor on earth.
But I’m in no hurry to leave
my sip of black coffee and crisp white shirts.
That’s how it is sometimes when the world is off your back:
like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in bed.
Although he died, of course. Shot in the back.
It’s forty degrees and raining this early November afternoon,
all the leaves dropped off my back. Sometimes I find
such beauty in the dead.
The clean white bones of the world in my teeth.
Nothing to do but watch the storm roll over
the prairie, listen for thunder.
It’s raining harder now, wind lashing
sticks against the window and what’s this
good time doing in my head?
I thought I was sick. It’s probably
just visiting but I wish it would stay for awhile.
The smallest bees I have ever seen
are swarming the foxglove and loosestrife,
standing on their heads for nectar in the delphiniums.
I stop under the silver maple for shade,
where the tiny oak tree fights for light,
stem the size of a gnarled, arthritic finger.
It’s always the old people who love flowers most
because they see life returning in the spring. It comforts them,
as Jesus The Holy Ghost for nuns. Little bees
the size of black and yellow gnats swarm around my hands
but don’t light or sting as I touch the soft petals and
life is transmitted through my fingers –
the touching keeps me alive another day, a week.
I eat the purple mulberries no one wants
but the birds, and it makes me stronger,
the stains and the gathering.
I walk on flat rocks stacked around the honey locust
and the sweet gum, three laps around the
Southern magnolias with waxy leaves and white blossoms,
but always return to the delphiniums, the deep purple towers
where I discovered the tiny bees. The variety is called
Pagan Purples. As for the oak,
I planted my acorn as an offering two years ago
and the seedling grew, twisted like a bonsai, fighting for light
beneath the maple, near the delphiniums
and the bees working their magic in the towers.
I feel the leaves of all the plants I love.
I gain life here, live for days
through the touching, a week.
A guitar strummer
sat down among us
in fifth grade and taught me
a lesson I still forget –
until I see it in the eyes
of someone I’m teaching chords to.
The bully who beckons his muse
onstage to sing his love song,
inches from her face.
An audience of millions,
cameras zooming in
to her helpless smile.
Now I understand the sunglasses
of the piano player,
hat pulled down.
The slight separation
of the audience
from the stage.
That autumn I lived in l’Hotel de la Petite Fleur
in the old part of Nice, la Vielle Ville.
The room, four flights up
a narrow winding staircase built during the Inquisition.
The walls a light brown Italian plaster.
Walking through the ancient streets
to the sun crested blue promenade
past a noisy market. A medieval gothic church
spires, stained glass: faces of saints
expressions of ecstasy.
on the marble steps in sets of three
like siblings celebrating
a nephew’s wedding
exchanging the family news.
I met with friends in cafés
drank red wine through the afternoon
talked of plans to travel
Greece in October
Spain in the Spring
I understood the French life
the passion of love and food
the intuitive voices echoing within.
My head is filled
my eyes are droopy
an old woman draws
a shade in her house
that is broken because
she is too old to fix it,
she wants to and she resents
just a little bit because
it doesn’t quite meet
her expectations, and that
only further reminds her
of her age and the fact
that she is old, and her life
is almost over, and it was not
much of a life
for her because she did not
make much of it, and it did not
meet her expectations and it was
just a waste really.
A big, mostly-empty, waste.
And the shade reflects that.
And my eyes are droopy like the shade.
Go walk in the tall grass of a farmer’s field
you may feel strongly the absence of the bison
all his gruff rolling muscle and tough horn,
and wonder where the puma has gone
the night is missing her angry yowling,
the ground the stamp of her large, rough paws
The black bear and the grey wolf, buried under
the concrete of a hundred thousand foundations
Lost from among the trees we suffer to exist
Away from the field the grey streets are named for
the trees cut down to make way for the streets and
Wooden silhouettes of absent animals dot the square lawns
This world we make is a world of loss, of forgotten
past and careless present, the future avoided at any cost
of willing blindness and a terrible acceptance
But while you sleep ragged coyotes roam under your window,
panting, and delicate red foxes pause, scenting the wind
on the black pavement of your large two-car driveway
All those beautiful women
in their twenties
with their naked, supple bodies,
buns, still firm and shapely,
and well-muscled thighs
wrapped around my waist,
as I carried them to bed.
Could that be the cause
30 years later of this excruciating back pain
that’s laid me out for nearly 3 days?
Me, the dumbest sentimentalist of all times.
Today I’ve been thinking on that run-down apartment
house my grandma lived in near downtown decades ago.
Been razed for years, but today
that musty smell in the hallway came back to me.
Is there even one other who remembers that?
And the dents my grandma put in the ceiling
with her broom when the Mexicans upstairs
made the walls shake with their conjunto.
Today I’m even weepy about her white Dr. Scholl’s,
her True Detective magazines scattered near her bed,
watching Divorce Court on a TV with rabbit ears akimbo.
My sisters and I’d eat on a fold-out
card table in the living room: fried chicken,
butter beans, cornbread in a cold glass of milk.
In the back, an alternative universe
of peeling paint, glass-strewn alleys,
old men parked on their back stoops, curling Colt 45s.
Everything is of a time,
and in time,
everything is lost.
In the psyche ward’s
cafeteria, she sits,
barely picking at her food.
Her brow, wrinkled
like a hieroglyph,
meaning unbelievable suffering.
Cutters, schizos, manics,
form a rag-tag choir. .
Belt out an off-key
“Happy Birthday to you”
to someone they don’t even know.
My eyes flit from face to face.
Whatever private hells
they’re going through
(and there must be many)
If I’d seen them outside
I’d figured these young,
good looking people
hadn’t a care in the world.
I can’t help it.
And when they finish,
I cut two small pieces of cake for us.
Then tell these blessed nut-jobs
the rest is theirs.
And thank, thank, thank them.
Only wish I could’ve given them more, much more.
Weekends in Connecticut,
chipper didacts, trust fund babies,
who live in cities but write of “nature,”
not as anyone who knows it sees it,
but as a kind of gentrified ecosystem.
Survival of the cutesy!
Woe to those poets of easy comfort!
May they wander for 4 times 10 years,
taking circuitous routes among quiet strangers,
while plagues of locusts
and insurance agents haunt them!
May they be cursed
with unflattering Facebook pictures
and boring, straight-laced children,
who will study engineering
and become life-long Republicans!
Woe to those poets of easy comfort!
May some unnamed Deity
visit their iniquity on their children
unto the third and fourth generation!
And may their words squirm from them
and hide in dark, maze-like corridors,
to be found by true poets
who always are at home in darkness!
Saturday nights the old folks scrub the dirt
from under their nails, as best they can,
wear dress comfortable shoes, go dance,
go to St. Hedwig or Liederkranz Hall,
go to talk crops and rain, go to drink beer—
beer barreled belly farmers and their wives
in clean starched cotton dresses like lampshades
glowing on the dance floor for this night.
Some people dance like saplings in the morning breezes,
sliding between other couples softly,
silent their steps in the hush of the dance,
and the music slips through them like their hands.
These farmers are oaks in the morning breeze,
grand in their resistance, creaking their limbs
knotted with fibers hard to the core,
the polka pumping to the beat of their hearts.
The old folks hop slower than the band,
heaving movements like tree crowns
lifted a gust of wind at a time, a half-beat behind
the wind’s song. They have grown thick, grown deep,
oaks dancing the polka.
Apparently invisible to everyone but me
and swinging a plastic shopping bag
from Wong The Grocers,
a large, dark-skinned, curly-haired man
walked past me on a busy Lima avenue.
He was naked.
He was in no hurry.
No one turned, the pedestrian traffic
ignored him so completely
he may well have been an illusion.
The sun had come out late that day,
the whole morning shrouded in low cloud,
turning the sky a pale blue, and you bent
over me to look into my naked eyes. I trusted you
to love what you saw.
garbage can juice
smoky plastic blinds
piled up on the sidewalk
blood under an old trestle bridge
graffiti the only positive color
parking lots filled with mattresses
broken baby cribs
used condoms and baby shoes
someone raked into a pile
scattered bricks and plywood
in the weeded lots
dead animals decomposing
tossed salads of grime
collect on the sidewalk
an empty driveway leads up
to where the house would be
everything bulldozed to gravel
a spray-painted address on the sidewalk
weeds high as dogwood
fish guts and shoelaces
and beer cans and wine bottles
and deadly Night Train
pickle jars baby photos sadness
and angry mosquitoes
the air thick as moist towels
we grind slowly like snakes
around the corner
head into an alley
and open our Thermoses
Cabin in deep forest
home alone in upstairs flat.
Final fifteen minutes
older guy or younger
the ending won’t be pretty.
He arrives by car
by lift by open window
music heavy light
but always ominous.
The car gravels to the cabin door
the upstairs door is keyed silently
‘I can’t let you do that’
‘Robert will be home soon’
to the floor collapse
blood and . . . TV ad break.
Back into it.
Door broken open
smashed window fall
soft fade music
pan to forest
to New York sky line
to slow blackout
all’s well that . . .
Standing at base camp
in the dark of early night
watching this huge cockroach
not even donning
an oxygen tank
about to climb
to the summit
of Mount Everest
and off it goes.
Easily scaling the
rough trunk terrain
the breaks in the track
the sudden death –
to you or me
I gaze in awe
as it rests halfway
to the summit.
this Mount Everest cockroach.
A brief stop – for breath?
Do cockroaches breathe?
Off again fast
no rarefied air
will slow this critter
in the foliage
of the tree
and I am left
how would I cope
if I was this
Mount Everest cockroach?
Maybe in the next life.
Hot sun, cloudless sky.
As far the eye sees, flat empty plain.
The track threads its lonely way to
the shimmering horizon.
The merciless sun drums the mulga bush.
On one side of the endless track,
slowly crumbling into dust.
Roof long since caved in,
snapped and rotten timbers
for an occasional magpie
or galah to nest in.
Empty window frame socket rattles.
Small ripple wind harp sings
and courts the old almond tree
beside the window frame.
This tuneful little wind turns,
seeking a way out of the maze
of rubbled sandstone,
finds a small hole in the one complete wall,
tumbles down the path.
Out through the wicker gate it goes.
The wind is free, and whisks off
across the purple plain
as the crumbling ruin
returns to silent peace
I was dapping through the archives
21st century, olden days,
when I came across this cryptic note,
‘Seven thousand tigers left’.
But before my birth
they’d all been killed.
‘Stick to generic brands, son’,
so when the food tube came
I read the label, what a shock,
‘Some ingredients are natural. ‘
I throw it out, damn quick!
‘Artificial’s safe and norm,
natural is bad.
Just remember my advice, son,
always eat what’s in a can,
or zap it with your gamma gun’.
Uncle Bill says,
‘When the world’s zoos closed
the animals were minced.
Pets were eaten by their owners.
Animal lib is dead.
Three cheers for common sense’.
I would like to own a human pet
next year they pass a law
that will allow us chosen ones
to buy them from a store.
I can’t wait to get mine,
Dad’s already built the cage.
Cars now in the past.
Old roads are just for walking on.
Those that cannot walk
at road side dumps,
but have your permit ready.
Maybe you can tell me,
‘What’s a tiger?’
Sun sets. Cloud tips gold.
Silver exhaust jets
upward through the blue.
Sun’s rays fade.
silently dip their masts.
Water surface scuds a fond farewell.
Sea gulls almost now departed.
Mum’s framed image
propped up in the front seat,
takes a gentle general salute.
in place at berths,
as she’d remember them.
Sky softens with a fading pink.
silent falls, at the loss of this
always constant visitor.
Mum looks calmly over all.
The window down as she would wish.
Adieu, sweetie, fond farewell.
Your trick is done.
Your sleep has come.
The sea will claim you shortly.
Ashes to ashes
Darkness. Lights of a passing ship.
The rain drums across the windscreen.
The solemn mood is broken.
The chill settles.
Freeman’s Landing becomes another’s haven.
A car pulls up with different memories, resolutions.
Five children died one summer under this roof.
Some epidemic—we don’t know. Cholera,
Typhoid, scarlet fever, the ordinary
Hard measles. Their small tombstones
Up the road enclosed by wrought iron,
Names eroding from granite.
When the old rafters creak in winter storms
Or the narrow stairs cry out beneath our footsteps,
It might be the mother weeping.
She must have planted the lilacs and bridal wreath.
She must have milked cows in the stanchions,
Walked the woodlot with an axe.
These jigsawed acres she received
While her brother got the prosperous farm.
This, I surmise, from county records,
How she eked out a sparse living.
The evidence of an old house,
Corn crib, chicken coop and barn.
The stone marker where her bones rest
For my consideration. No relative,
No friend, just a woman
Who grieved within these walls,
A shadow trespassing in the mirror.
Her sleeves rolled up as she labored
In the summer kitchen, now my office
Where I write this poem with a
November storm brewing. Her
Skirts still sweep the oak floors.
The plums on the dying tree
Once filled her jars. I can’t imagine
How she went on living.
They say a soul beset by grief
All this so long ago—
More than a hundred years.
He caught a snook
on a line
in the cockpit bottom
but still alive.
He bashed it
with a winch handle.
Its blood splashed his socks,
the cockpit lockers.
There is salt water
in my eyes.
I ask “Who is this man
with the weapon?”
He tells me
it’s the kindest way.
Quicker than suffocating
through lack of water.
I don’t speak to him
Eat only toast.
Drink only coffee.
Refuse to eat
home is where
the psychologist asks
I tap my chest
the textbook answer
a hollow sound
an echo of furniture
stolen when I wasn’t looking
a problem of the heart
the cardiologist says
as I collapse upon the treadmill
the echocardiogram detects
but what about those
bumps in the night
such urgent knocks
only the ghost
sighs the wind
of someone who once loved here
It’s a beautiful late fall Sunday here in Augusta
and he’s driving balls off a tee in his back yard,
hits the water every time. But then, his yard
faces the city lake and there’s no fence
and it’s a small town but a big lake,
no way he can miss it. His swing
is not PGA caliber and he knows it, knows
this is Kansas and not the National in Georgia
and there’s no green jacket waiting for him
in the clubhouse, never will be, but that’s not
the point. The point is
to fill up this dammed creek
with dimpled Titleist Pro V1s
and maybe, if he’s lucky,
smack a smug-faced big-city interloper
on the jogging path in the teeth,
an amazing hole-in-one,
let’s see that on the replay, Jim.
Time ticks in pipes
that grow and dim
with hot water
rush, a slow dissolve
absorbed by blizzard’s
roar, windows white
cold hard panes,
world blurred into
tiny fragments, perfect
crystals when water
stops its flow,
falls from frigid
sky and plants
upon glass before
it slips away
into time’s flow.
In worn cardboard
boxes lie old
torn, corners bent,
years and months
littered in neat
stacks on estate
a stranger’s life
up for bid, squares
on grids filled in
and passed and
worth a dollar.
Down in Little Dixie, near a creek
that feeds into the Red River. Heard
from an old black man buying snuff
and worms in a store off 70 east
of Hugo. He’d bought a used Chevy
from my dad. “You bring a pole, some
worms,” he said. “Bream big
as a logger’s hand. ‘Cept one thing…”
Uh oh, always something. “What?”
“There’s a spit at the mouth of the
creek, where it feeds into the river.
Them bream, they bite best there….
‘Cept you got to bring a .22 pistol.”
I felt my skin crawl, knowing what
might come next. My biggest fear.
“There’s a hole, a little bunker.
Mud and wet sand. You can see
snake tracks. Found my cat, dead
there. Moccasin, or copperhead.”
I weighed that against the aroma
of fried crappie and bream,
cornbread and okra. You make
“Bring a .22 and kill that sonsabitch,”
he said, “Maybe catch him sunnin’
hisself. I never could.”
The poet comes onstage in the dark,
then the spotlight rings his pale face
in perfect order few hairs slicked
beady eyes taking dual aim
pursed lips like slot machine
for fine effect pince nez perched;
English accent devastates
terse intros elucidate
silences packed with awe
but do not doze nor dither
watch those swift in-between moments–
wink-wink at redhead with big bosoms
coat flapped open to reveal rows
of watches–or did we really see that?
as he flaps offstage
in bright red plastic shoes
ten times their proper size.
Jesus could not have walked out on this water
this water belongs to Mishipishu.
Jesus could not have flown up in to this sky
this sky belongs to Thunderbird.
You see settler, you see occupier, you see colonizer
This land was created in the one breath
of all the animals, all of creation made it.
You see settler, you see occupier, you see colonizer
This land was created by one breath
of all of creation
and one dead little muskrat with a little mud
in it’s paw.
the tall tornado siren
stands mute over an unkempt stretch of green belt
deer graze beneath
canopies of twisted cedar elm,
preferring the thinning stand of trees
to the exposed pasture
wary too, of clearings
I watch them
from within a screened porch sanctuary
as lightning illuminates the sky
the storm is yet miles west
but still the deer bolt,
into the open field
I share their impulse
as barrages of thunder
approach an abandoned line
The television speaks in tongues. He sits alone,
black suit, tie slightly loosened:
through the archway, carnival atmosphere
vibrates the dining room: bits of conversation float
You remember Robey, she’s the one …
table bows under stuffed ham, squash casserole,
fried oysters, spoonbread, inevitable gelatin mold
…love the recipe, do you know who…
his daughters fill plates, refill platters,
son is on his third, or maybe ninth, beer
… drive Fords, the whole fam-damily!
grown grandkids catching up and catching on
to each other’s lives –
… Montessori school, if we scrape together…
one, on the stairway landing,
teaches a young niece the chicken dance
…got thermal drawers under her skirt…
The heaping plate someone filled
rests unnoticed on one knee:
through the triple window, frozen drizzle –
more grey on grey
…didn’t like Reverend Combs, not a little bit!
he remembers her agitation first rain after burials,
“Don’t bury me in the rain, please” she implored
…doctor told her, but she didn’t want. . .
but he did: plans were made, services announced
in the paper, then, he woke to sleet
…whichever airport you fly into…
mourners stepped around frozen hummocks,
huddled, shivering, beneath umbrellas
…boots leak, my last three toes are blue…
rain hasn’t let up all day,
and chill is invasive
… likely out of a job by next month…
They’d have been married fifty-eight years
come Veteran’s Day.
Our diamond was gold and soft as rosin,
good for sliding,
yet for every run we made we nearly died.
For our diamond had a single flaw,
a fourth base no one ever touched,
but each had to pass on the way to glory.
I loved the sure, straight lines,
the sweet smell of my pitcher’s glove,
the sound of crickets written through the grass.
The rules we knew by heart,
but when you passed that fourth base,
you crossed yourself twice or you died.
A perfect line, invisible but there,
to St. Gerard’s fire escape, where
Mary Croix hanged herself in mystery.
That was fourth base.
Still I return here, late at night,
when moonlight wounds my heart to memory,
cross myself, forgive that metal skeleton,
then walk the bases, one by one,
those high and hopeful errands we once ran
that seemed to forever promise home.
Who are we when we walk
Amongst the bitterns?
Our rubber boots sloshing like horse hooves
In the reedy mud. Twirling perfumes, organic’s
Of Bulrush root and reed grass.
A bittern’s calling haunting
The shadows that we are
To them. In a bittern’s world,
Through sunlit veils of mist
We are as a passing cloud would be.
A skulled shadow moving near the water
Disturbing nothing more
But the sunlit crests of pond ripples; for that moment.
No fear as you
Push me out
Onto the dark ocean
Of my death.
My old boat
May be small,
But the dish of moon
Will be my lighthouse.
Before I drift
Out of sight
Past your forgiveness
Take this hammer
And yank the planks
From the dock
Of your heart.
Follow the HURRICANE EVACUATION ROUTE
north away from the Gulf Coast to Fort Worth
past new subdivisions metastasizing
beyond Houston on freshly-bulldozed earth
carved out of the woodlands with beautiful
new floorplans from the low 100s
past the giant statue of Sam Houston
forever standing guard beside the interstate
past the Texas Prison Museum
in Huntsville, ignoring the billboard
advertising the electric chair
past Woody’s Smokehouse in Centreville
where the pits are always smoking
through Buffalo, Corsicana and Waxahachie
do I pull from the shelf
in this hour
marking my friend’s
return to that light-drenched
inkling before everything
Which title, which
weight shall I
do we hold if not
Being no one, I cannot say.
The earth keeps spinning
even as I walk
to the mailbox,
anticipating new words.
He cannot read these lines.
I do not write them.
If all our voices were to meet in the atmosphere
what could the rain achieve?
When we give nothing we have nothing.
Is it enough to listen?
Wisps and heaps, ripples and sheets.
Accumulated, dispersed, fingers
grip, steps taken around the flames,
in caution, in delight,
imagining the greatest undoings.
jazz in the lou
in the Big Easy
Monk and Mingus and Basie
Roach and Tatum and Goodman
Ellington and Armstrong and Blakey
jazz beyond the sax
jazz beyond the keyboard
words and rhymes and syntax
vowels and consonants and spaces
on the leaves of literary journals
penned by Dave Oliphant
who is alive and well and somewhere in Chile
I come unarmored,
my eyes making love to Oklahoma stars
have slipped into the Texas sky.
Crossing the Red
beneath an early morning moon
a gypsy shadow.
It matters not
to that moon nor the ornamental stars
why I must ride to Texas.
But she wears my name
tattooed in blue above her beating heart
and draws me
like the damned into the flames.
Things must be in this order then:
Opinion, size, age, shape, color, noun.
And so on.
It is an easy enough thing to remember.
Sweet small young round brown bear.
The mnemonics of our lives.
Don’t say it another way.
You will be made to believe
that your stupidity unmeasures you.
Language is the leash that governs,
the belief in a flat Earth,
the harm of looking directly at the sun,
the efficacy of prayer,
stepping on a crack to save your mother’s back,
as if all your carefully worded love letters ever made a difference.
To be distrustful of questions
is the best way to translate
three ravens clustered in front
of a house I was considering buying.
Even just a few months ago I would have
steeped the moment with symbolism.
The sheen of wing. Their beaded eyes that know roofs.
And trees. But no demarcation lines.
Before I would have said they were sent.
Instead I merely thought: I will stare at you
and shake off as many notions as I can.
Standing here is as close to being a raven
I will ever know. As I stepped toward to the house
you stepped aside, ushering me up the drive,
not needing me to speak.
It was much easier to open the door
now that I was full
of companion certitude.
It is a cave
we can only see at low-tide,
the moss drifting
like the hair
of drowned mermaids,
to the rocks.
Sitting on a bench at the dog park
a younger woman, someone who I
assumed was intelligent
because she was attractive,
said to me, “You have a dangerous dog breed.”
A single man has to double-consider
statements like that.
When God leaned over to Adam
with that fingertip cosmic spark
I’d like to think he said a few words,
which truly if God is anything like man–he would,
filling the space with meaningless chatter.
“Go get ‘em, tiger!”
There’s how we measure beauty.
And how we talk about it,
the lines that ignore we were just dust yesterday,
but today we don’t know how to talk
about when the leaves will change color,
about what is safe, unsafe, unchangeable.
There is a Providence in the perfect fold of a napkin.
There is sound in the light that the moon reflects.
Every day there is yearning, and more yearning still.
It was always New Year’s of a sort I guess.
That book was last year’s gospel.
You can’t read it anymore.
Here’s a new and different one.
It was like getting dumped in junior high by a girl.
Everything had changed! You leaned blind against the wall.
That night at home there would be mac and cheese like always.
And tea you would need to sweeten yourself.
But all you would really be able to think about
would be the love letters you still meant to send her,
all the love letters from her to you
that you never got to read.
I lose myself in daydreams of a sheep-
throwing contest on the moon. Distance
wins points. Bonus points are earned
for every sheep that lands upright and
magically prances away, launching itself
with strange floating grace. Is there,
somewhere, an animal whose mind drifts
to thoughts of a similar sport involving
the likes of me, flailing my limbs in
slow motion, propelled across the lunar
Wistfully I long for the day
when the Emperor of America
forgoes the affairs of state and instead
sits all night at his lamp-lit desk
absorbed in composing sonnets in tribute
to a girl he’d admired as a schoolboy.
Sipping peppermint tea, lips silently moving
as he tries out tentative phrases,
he’ll tap on his desktop with his finger
the rhythm of his lines, creating harm
and cynical mischief for no one.
I sit on the bench and borrow the view;
a small brass plaque spells out your name
as I hope you have all your answers now.
I watch the waves roll onto the shore:
the sea’s eternal gnashing at the land.
Your ashes long since flung to the wind,
scattered among the restless waves.
Along the tide-line bundles of seaweed
wet with a thousand tales,
anxious to begin a new journey, wait
to be claimed by the next sweep of sea.
Gulls ride the transparent funnel of air
where the dome of sky meets silver sea,
their cries carry over surf and salt-spray, echo
about the ragged walls of your mausoleum.
A fitting place to ponder life and death;
my body a hunched question mark
punctuating the eloquence of sea and sky.
There were two thousand red bricks that made up the front facade
of the high school I would eventually drop out of. I counted them
on a daily basis, as I waited for my step-dad to come pick me up after
class. Some days when he was on a roll at the races or the casino,
I counted them twice and three times. I loved knowing that whatever
loss befell us, as a result of daddy’s crippling dance with chance,
there would always be two thousand red bricks on the wall
to keep me counting on something.
Whenever I think, some notion
in the cloud or other confluence
that floats the mooring will seize
upon the wonderful convenience,
That bluster, “To duck, to dodge,”
has danced into its corner so few
adherents. Like a hollow barrel
the empty drum thinly porous,
I keep seeking that latent horizon
beyond a rip where a stone was cast
skimming that tide. It wasn’t easy to
wander back, when the cause gave way,
Henceforth as the middling struts
while the attendant speaks in tenets,
the graylag flock north of the Solway
knowing their ways instinctively,
Should such bold paths be excoriated,
our valorous sense refused by the heap,
that bluster will have taken root. Then
again, it serves as motivation,
Consider the cleverness of the Cooper’s hawk
who glides disguised the upslope of the roof,
crests the ridge, and dives on pigeons
perched at the feeder hanging from the eave next door:
the crash and sway, the spilling of seeds,
the prey pinned against the box,
the futile flap of wings
as talons sink in, and the predator
rises above the roofline, bundle compacted,
elevating toward hungry chicks hidden away
in a nest new-found since the city sawed down
the elm that canopied the park, a disease in its heart.
Pestilence and predation invert the arc;
the cycle turns on the wings of a hawk.
____Body clenched for months
____with mittens we try to clutch
____the transparent word.
____Humidity wraps round us
____hot towels obscuring the eye
____our achievement a few drips.
My inspiration lies as flat
as that new rolled field,
not a sprig, a twig sneaking up.
My body a sack of bones
with no dance to it
not a jog, not a kick,
not two bones to knock together
for one dismal tone.
My still poem is a soundless scream
in a terrifying dream
not a peep, not a word,
only breaking awake
in a sweat, absurd.
Don’t you understand?
You could be her grandfather.
Falcon stooping prey.
Fresh-picked berry, crushed.
Fragrant blossom cast aside.
Hummingbird wing, cut.
Cloak yourself in shame.
No excuses. Douse the fire,
stir the embers cold.
Lust exposed to light:
your name a scrap of paper,
Tattered coat, flapping.
Your days of empire over.
Girls are not playthings.
At first, I thought a brown dress glove
on the floor of the parking garage,
its seams raised like tendon lines
stiffening the back of my hand.
A life exhaled was folded flat,
composed like rain-dried leather.
The BMW was in my space again.
I saw my windshield note was gone.
I did not despair; now I wielded a bat.
With care I placed my new friend
against the driver’s window: an armored
send-off fitting a Teutonic Knight.
My angel took the car today;
gone, no doubt to a better space.
and the lake
are his memories,
cobalt images of clarity
and purity, running deep.
It was in this cove
where the black spotted loon
dove head first
into the heart of blue,
attracting the tender pulse
of her affection
to follow the creature
into the watery sweep
tangled with milfoil
that snarled her hair
while the checkered fowl
for its young.
Her blue eyes wide,
with the ripple of current
that swept beneath the surface.
He visited that cove often thereafter,
especially those days
where the sun’s gleam
highlighted the blue ghost
within the restless ripples
that will forever
wrap him in riddles.
Early morning, snow teases
the outstretched branches of birch
with help from the wind.
It is cold, but inside the stove’s warmth
cradles the recliner in the lamplight
where he reads poems.
His fingers, thick and calloused,
flip pages enthusiastically.
He notices the shape of his nails,
much like his father’s,
no moons rising.
And like his father had done,
it’s time to contemplate departure.
One day, the stove unlit, will dispense
the damp aroma of creosote,
the book will lie closed
upon the arm of the recliner.
One day, a relative will enter
that the house is empty,
no warmth, no breath, no poetry,
an indentation upon the seat
next to the book.
The change will go unnoticed
by the snow, wind, ice, and
those few crows meandering
for morsels upon the buried landscape.
He returns to reading,
the words delight him.
What would become of these joys,
Someone should take them.
This is grand prize for third date.
Slowly, I enter
relishing the warmth
as it permeates.
My weight settles:
a sinking ship
completing its watery descent.
Face to face
she is deep in thought
tells me ancient Egyptian women
inserted crocodile dung
into their vaginal canals
in order to prevent pregnancy
and somewhere between the words
dung and pregnancy
I melt like an ice cube
kissed by a blowtorch.
The village social, New Year’s Eve,
and he’s back from Cardiff, back
in the new routine, the old routine
he’s hankered for.
At ten to twelve, the Okey-Cokey.
You put your left leg in, your left leg out,
and there she is (hey, they’re thirty now)
across the circle, receding, receding,
plunging towards him, now receding again,
until the dancing’s midnight fervour
coils itself and spins and circulates
and it’s Auld Lang Syne and he’s next to her,
arms linked, hands held, it’s homecoming,
it’s Auld Lang Syne for sure.
This spoon all night on tiptoe
listening for the careless splash
that will never make it back –the cup
half hazelnut, black, half filled
so its prey can be tracked in the dark
the way one mouth finds another
feeds on the voice that can’t escape
–hour after hour being eaten
by the silence longing for the light
though even with the walls in place
even with her hands over your eyes
begging you from behind Guess who
you are circling the room, flying blind
spread-eagle, can hear the You
no longer moving between your teeth.
Where people get, no owls stay, a quibbling
I picked with night, when further down the road
the new guy hauled in lights, a trailer, bull-dozed
his land, bought pit bulls, started raising rabbits.
No one’s here but me. Still, he posted signs.
What did he expect? By definition,
I couldn’t ask. I gave up all he’d torn
from owlless night, yearned toward their absence
as though owls could give a piddling damn.
Not them, so much, I yearned toward. The texture
of the dark had changed. Since last winter,
coyoteless. I missed them in the abstract:
Romance as a tribal dog, I said, but really,
I didn’t care. They never sounded sad.
Just low-down and hungry. But after
the owls, darkness felt like stamp collecting.
I read. Drank. Became Episcopalian
from wariness of sensory withdrawal.
Then, my neighbor, survivalist cliché,
came by–big hat, mirror shades, holstered pistol–
and asked me to put up a mailbox. Sure
I said, Point where. I knew, though, that I wouldn’t,
which left us there, his right hand on his gun
butt, mine on the latch of the screen door.
Victrola records scratched and scarred,
the letters of van Gogh unread, and poems
to be painted, corrected and filed
after the words form, gently bidden.
I write a calculus for the intellect
and find a dust bin for desire.
The writing is all, or mostly all.
Lonely, a hawk alone, like
during the composition of a song.
A welcomed guest, anticipated:
Dark, misty, quiet, heath overgrown;
the hawk flies home.
Mysterious like the moors.
In April two lovers sit on a park bench. Pigeons pivot overhead. Kernels of corn at the lovers’ feet. Not just pigeons does their love feed.
During the summer months, their love is like the red of roses: vibrant, brilliant. If only roses didn’t have thorns and flowers didn’t wilt.
Autumn, and lovers meet. The same park bench, now dense with fallen leaves. She can barely lift her withered hand. Few pigeons left to feed.
When winter comes, the pigeons have gone and only one lover sits. The park is gloomy, the trees are bare—as empty as his heart without her.
like any other object, she said.
Don’t worry. They’ll observe you as they would
a vase or a tree.
A series of angles, planes, light, and shadow.
I’m okay offering myself for scrutiny,
step warily onto the platform,
letting inhibitions slip to the floor along with my robe.
I assume a pose, let my body be measured by those
who peer at me with squinted eye and extended arm.
I’m fine with them examining up close
or slowly circling to see me in 3-D.
I am servant
submitting myself as raw material for art.
Banish concern about hernia scar, paunch,
or private parts made public.
At break, even robed, I am still object,
subject of sidelong glances
or none at all.
I step back onto the platform,
in the center and elevated.
A man whose expressionless face belies
an ache in the supporting foot.
A person pulsing with feeling and thought.
I tune out their conversations,
look past and through the artists,
organize to-do lists,
compose poems in my mind.
And know that from the captivity
of this pedestal emanates the gentlest
I’m making eyes at the brown haired beauty
on the opposing balcony
both of us in his and her matching bathrobes,
mine at a conservative length,
hers mid thigh as she teases me with her cigarette
and I with mine and I really think that I’m in heaven
until my girlfriend, now aware of the elicit flirtation,
decided to untie my robe from behind and pulls it wide open
while my mystery woman convulses with laughter
before she compliments me on my nice boxers with a blown kiss,
and i am forced inside to watch the 2013 Academy Awards
when just as an ice storm begins to pound the North Plano world
outside I became convinced that none of these bad things would
have happened to me if I’d stayed behind in Los Angeles and my
girlfriend told me none of those bad things would have happened
if I wasn’t asking for bad things to happen me,
because I’d just won the Oscar for worst sense of humor
and that my trousers were more than likely to appear during
the in memoriaum sequence in between other honorees who had
nothing to do with the movies or even the big show she had
just put on for her vacationing sister’s neighbor.
You grew into yourself
knowing little about life
except through books.
Each leaf-vein, snake-skin, thumbprint
wrought second hand-
experience shaped forever, tacked
together, then tucked
into the bodice of your heart.
So many words helped you to grieve
or offered balm when all seemed undone.
See how you’re there already,
soothed by the glimmer of burnished gold,
the incense swinging in medieval
vaults; no safer place to go
when the light grows darker, but
back to the dense and thoughtful page.
Time is a twister, throws up
days when life seems skewed.
Again you reach out, search
for meaning to centre your world-
always, a book at hand.
Ten magpies—one leucistic—perch
on barbed wire above the railway line
five either side of a crow
a suspicion of omens from my window
a statement of strength in numbers
a school for omens a lecture theatre
awaiting the crow’s wisdom
but he is hunched slightly
aware of his cousins’ undoubted abilities
ten magpies—one leucistic—
sharp-beak-ready to peck away
his deep feathered cloak
his indiscriminate eyes
if he requires their children
An attention to omens
from my window it’s the small birds I fear for
the small birds
who may inherit the earth well before I am willing
to let go of their chattering wonder
their miraculous bones
All night the dog whined through strikes
and flashes while rain pelted the skylight
and sang through our gutters.
Morning hung over with lost limbs,
petals stuck to the patio, I steered
the dog across soggy yard, past runoff.
I remembered the summer the flood
sucked your car into the lake. One hand
dangled from the window when they
hauled you out. The dog stared at standing
water and strained on her leash to go back.
A beheaded tuberose spread far its thick scent.
”I keep having this dream that there is a garden
growing inside my chest, under the bones.”
~ Melissa Studdard
Tonight is an eye feast:
the honeysuckle climbing
over pickets in a long chain-link fence,
the soft swirl of wind teasing
the topmost branches of a mulberry.
Dusk, dying a blue-headed Friday
a deep shade of ebony.
How crafty this summer’s eve!
Shadows make worn and broken things beautiful—
like this dilapidated barn.
A family of tumbleweeds sits in the middle
of the cracked concrete floor rocking.
The aged slats look like a rib cage;
fortitude engraved its initials in rotting wood.
At Freedom Park, a jittery frog leaps
from the moon-stamped pond then disappears.
Who can resist such gifts, or hold happiness hostage
when this West Texas desert offers such splendor?
Look at this sky’s buffet of delicious stars!
Their champagne-light drips from a flute of darkness
into the unprotected yawn of a scalped pasture.
curtains of her long-lost love
in household chores where dust is found
a crossword puzzle of her loss
scattered wide on kitchen tiles,
withered, seemed like toilet bowls
which needed harpic now to shine.
groceries to put away.
so much to do.
so little time.
Midwinter night we share a glass of wine
Atop these seaside cliffs
Gazing out beyond the sea’s black hole.
Dark cloud clears. The new moon’s shine
A sharpened pair of horns. Perhaps a bowl.
Beside it Venus in orbit shifts,
Rising as the moon begins to set
Each reflected off the sea.
Pixellated lines of double white reach out
Like a school of silver fish darts from the net.
Twin searchlights flaring, feeling for the beach,
Mesmerize, head straight for you and me.
The boom car stomps its music
up and down the street
while inside houses
a rattlesnake warning,
and cranked-up bass
bounces sound waves off
T-shirts and blouses of residents
watching the car pass
a parade full
of mad, marching bands.
That some patch of dust
on that hard-to-get-to shelf yonder
could be dead skin cells
her bent, pain-racked body
more than 2 years ago now.
Or that some microbial creature
through my twisted, maze-like intestines,
a parting gift from her,
one last kiss,
that last time
we shared bodily fluids.
Moonlight pools, as if delayed,
in the folds of the duvet,
her second husband sleeping, lips pursed,
as if rehearsing.
He spoke in his sleep
their first night together.
She marvels at how he remembers dreams.
Over coffee he’ll describe his sister
appearing at the Redondo house
near the shutters by the rose bed—
only she’s grown up, plump, fidgety,
as though a crafty editor spliced
the frightened thirty-five year old
into their calmer childhoods.
They met on the set of the Williams play.
By himself on the folding chair,
he whispered his lines over and over.
They performed in the botanicum,
as Williams would have liked.
After closing, he kept whispering,
fixing what hadn’t been right on stage.
She could memorize his face tonight
as she’s done with the dock in Morro Bay:
customers huddling in the dawn
as Bill trawled in his salmon,
a pelican on a pylon, awaiting fish innards
carved by an old Mexican
(that may have been somewhere else)
with a curved knife and plastic bucket.
These images fill her own what if decades:
if she’d never met Tony, moved east.
She could be at the waterfront coffee shop
near women she grew up with,
with a crossword, scanning for the thousandth time
the thin arm of sand stretched across the bay.
Our first time together.
You kiss my berry lips
As I unwrap myself
From my shell
Your hands search
Uncovering every hill
My Flesh is like a peach
That you devour.
Melts in my mouth
As we bring one another
The fruits of our passion
And I no longer have to wait
Until I dream
To feel the touch of your hands
On my skin
And the weight of your being
On my body.
You stand still, the pom pom of a world.
It’s revolver voices loom over the budding announcements,
Like black morning coffee.
It exclaims nothing of my true disability.
The New York birth to the foreign parentage.
Whispering voices: “are you transparent?”
No, I was always a Swiss wrapped doll.
Loomed up in my own white cotton.
Smiles twisting like dead white coils.
I slept in that bed all night.
The water glass treated me like a revival.
It stood on my nightstand, the onlookers
Treated me as if I was already playing in the 2000 Olympics.
Dreaming, your homeland wisdom is only temporary.
Americanized, Love wraps around you like a great coil
With the fit of a snake,
You are all one on one.
The constantants laugh: they know no different.
The refinery smell taught them all,
Like mothers they alphabetize the brand names.
Counting by letters you are not simple,
The name of Plato rings in your head like normalcy.
Normalcy is my everyday rubber wagon.
Separate I know nothing of the golden spoon.
They slid past me like 1920 orphans.
Time is exclusive, I wear it like furs.
The Jeweler is my mother.
Her goodness lost me years ago,
Being lost I know I am all right.
Almond goodness and silver paper wrapped through.
You shall know nothing of me in millions.
On this windy April afternoon
cherries in full bloom and hemlock bowing
and bamboo bending as the zen proverb
tells us we should learn to do;
on this afternoon I lie on the couch
watching clouds pass
and think, first, of that almost other world
the wind comes from, cold circle of the pole,
waves slushing icy shores year after millions of years,
no one to hear but the migrant birds
and sea lions who slip from their caves
on the coast to follow cold currents north–
and then I consider that other world,
wherever it is, that we all disappear into,
and resolve not to rise from the couch
but to savor
this moment of wind and blossoms falling.