Blood's risks, its hollows, its flames
Exchanged for the pull of that song
Bone-colored road, bone-colored sky
Through the white days of the storm
Claire Malroux "Storm"
Translated by Marilyn Hacker
Once out of the grip of desire,
or, if you prefer, its embrace,
free to do nothing more than admire
the sculptural planes of a face
(are you gay, straight or bi, are you queer ?)
you still tell your old chaplet of names
which were numinous once, you replace
them with adjectives : witty, severe,
trilingual ; abstracting blood's claims,
blood's risks, its hollows, its flames.
No craving, no yearning, no doubt,
no repulsion that follows release,
no presence you can't do without,
no absence an hour can't erase :
the conviction no reason could rout
of being essentially wrong
is dispelled. What feels oddly like peace
now fills space you had blathered about
where the nights were too short or too long,
exchanged for the pull of that song.
But peace requires more than one creature
released from the habit of craving
on a planet that's mortgaged its future
to the lot who are plotting and raving.
There are rifts which no surgeon can suture
overhead, in the street, undersea.
The bleak plain from which you are waving,
mapped by no wise, benevolent teacher
is not a delight to the eye :
bone-colored road , bone-colored sky.
You know that the weather has changed,
yet do not know what to expect ,
with relevant figures expunged
and predictions at best incorrect.
Who knows on what line you'll be ranged
and who, in what cause, you will harm ?
What cabal or junta or sect
has doctored the headlines, arranged
for perpetual cries of alarm
through the white days of the storm ?
(Pushcart Prize Anthology XXX)
HAZAL: min al-hobbi ma khatal
for Deema Shehabi
You, old friend, leave, but who releases me from the love that kills?
Can you tell the love that sets you free from the love that kills?
No mail again this morning. The retired diplomat
stifles in the day's complacency from the love that kills.
What once was home is across what once was a border
which exiles gaze at longingly from the love that kills.
The all-night dancer, the mother of four, the tired young doctor
all contracted HIV from the love that kills.
There is pleasure, too, in writing easy, dishonest verses.
Nothing protects your poetry from the love that kills.
The coloratura keens a triumphant swan-song
as if she sipped an elixir of glee from the love that kills.
We learn the maxim: "So fine the thread,
so sharp the necessity" from the love that kills.
The calligrapher went blind from his precision
and yet he claims he learned to see from the love that kills.
Spare me, she prays, from dreams of the town I grew up in,
from involuntary memory, from the love that kills.
Homesick soldier, do you sweat in the glare of this check-point
to guard the homesick refugee from the love that kills ?
Why is it I don't like closing the curtains?
Even pinning pans of blue voile together
cuts me off too much from the winter morning's
comings and goings
and the tall, reassuring neighbors' windows
some with window boxes, some with their shades down
some cracked open from last night, so cold air could
refresh a sleeper.
Pick the stitch up, there in the place I dropped it.
Weave the ravelled sides of the day together
if December sun in a bedroom window
calls for a garment.
There are alphabets I could still decipher,
learn to read a stanza, or write my name in.
There are conjugations of verbs instructing
speech, song and silence.
Fear or hope or both of them made of me a
child who thought I'd probably be abandoned
if I misbehaved, if I lied about my
parents - or didn't.
How are you a Jew ? asked the young Greek woman
First, because I haven't the choice to not be.
Those who thought they chose found the same unchosen
barbed wire and ashes.
How am I a Jew? Through my mother's birthright,
turned into a death-warrant once; excuse to
seize the farms and villages of a people
"exiled by exiles."
You, the dead, my interlocutors, whether
friends or strangers - child on a no-man's land, her
satchel and school uniform clear in gunsights,
riddled with bullets --
while I clutch the moment, with a safe childhood
as my history, no grandparents' village,
no street where her father made shoes, his mother
measured out barley.
Strange that all I know of them is - religion?
Not if they had land, sent their sons to cheder;
Not which ones spoke Yiddish, Hungarian, or
Polish, or German.
Not which child, renamed, fed the pigs and dug up
frozen mud for potatoes; not whose notebook
browned inside a cupboard, while trains moaned through the
Must a murdered child, after generations,
be avenged by gunning down other children
far away from winter and pigs, potatoes
and nameless railroads?
If a Jew may not deconstruct the question
(two Jews, didn't we say, and three opinions?)
if they call the peacemakers anti-Semites,
who are my cousins?
Lost lands which I never would call my country.
How are you American ? she might ask me.
Language, economic determination.
Once, it was lucky.
As always, I drift off. They’re playing Bach. As the new spaces in his music keep opening, I find myself recalling Jan, dead less than ten months. Years ago, when he danced, he’d find, in falling, ways to land no one expected, as Bach does, to our delight. I remember how friendship outlasted his skirts, sex-roles, our many differences—and we were writing twice a week, until the cancer ate away his breath. And then the music’s back, Bach’s roller-coaster. I’m tapping my foot, the man to my right not sure where to place me. Opening after opening. I think of my mother: rather than ask me why I was here again, a place she thought of as dangerous, she’d have tried her worry out on a dozen friends. She died not knowing I planned to come back again. The man to my left doesn’t care for the violinist in the trio. He shakes his head. They’re playing Strauss, now, pure schmaltz. What’s the Russian for that? What’s the English? All I can’t hear gives me trouble now, as the dead do, falling through the music.
Mark Halperin Sentence 6, 2007
A NEW TOWN
How easy getting lost is,
not so much in a fog as
among constant distractions,
beacons, appeals. The eye numbs,
stunned by a fence, each paling
topped with a turret, the sting
of car fumes and sea salt—views,
horizons. If you could choose
to, you’d choose to misread signs,
landmarks, take the road that climbs
still higher, but by day three
turn right at the right corner,
not looking up to check for
the street, slip in the unsigned
entrance to your courtyard, find
you’ve climbed the stairs, fished out
your key and stand there about
to twist it in the lock, not
having thought where your route
led, attention waning, on
auto-pilot, as often
fading in as out, ahead
as behind yourself. You dread
what is coming, even as
now, turning the knob, you pause.
Mark Halperin New Letters, Vol. 73, No. 4/2007
After surviving, what arrives?
Some phrases are eighth notes ,
some trills , frost on the lawn , a flint
of moonlight in the grass.
Others sweeten breath
like blue noise in the deeper shade.
Like the jeweled beret she found
in a Little Rock thrift store,
the beer in her voice: I saw
streetlight through the tips
of her fingernails, the way
she stood slack-armed at
the window fronting High
Street: neon and gas lamp,
the elementary sadness
of downtown lights.
Let’s get lost , she said—
we don’t need to start
remembering until tomorrow.
All ascent takes the shape
of smoke leaving the body,
the body losing its shape.
To burn a word is a sin
unless it’s still in someone’s
throat. In the backseat
of Aleda’s convertible
the music seemed wrapped
in a flapping flag , torn
and muffled , though the sound
of a blown-apart embouchure
and a junkie’s croon
were reassembled in the wind
by her voice singing along.
We Started Home , My Son and I
after Jaan Kaplinski
We started home , my son and I.
Evening beginning. The small stains
of streetlight spreading across the sidewalk ,
thinning to darkness every few yards.
My son paused at the edge of each
then leapt , one hand in mine ,
to the next. Ahead , his mother
touched the meat twice before
turning it , rinsed the lettuce , called out
for his sister to wash her hands.
He said each spot of light
was a great land , each span
of darkness the sea. And we
followed his map home
out past the edge of town where night
filled the long blocks between
streetlights with oceans.
We rowed when we could , swam
the last few miles. Until the moon
reared up like an old man
startled from his nap. And once
again the roads of the world rose
beneath us. Before long , my son
and I were home. I watched him climb
the brick stairs to the front door ,
whose key I no longer owned.
His mother waved as he fell
into the house , the bright rooms
splashed with light. The ottoman
covered with horsehair; a damask
draped over the sofa: I couldn’t see
these or any other emblems of my
previous life. I felt the waters rise
around my feet , heard in the distance
the loose rigging in the wind , a buoy bell.
So far from the sea , I rolled up
my trousers , wading in
for the walk back .
You know, I have about the same interest in jewelry
that I have in politics, horseracing, modern poetry,
or women who need weird excitement: none.
--John Robie, To Catch a Thief
The last time I saw Cary Grant, he was tearing apart bread
at the marina , a cloud of gulls around him. He let me
try on his glasses , those heavy black specs he wore
toward the end , and I bought a pair just like them ,
though I didn’t look like Cary Grant, so I went back to not trying.
The night before he died, Cary called from Iowa to talk ,
just to talk. He said about David Niven: “He never
wore blue out of doors though every pair of pajamas
was a different shade of sky.” When his voice dropped
I thought a flock of sparrows had landed all at once
somewhere on the line between Davenport and Los Angeles .
“Sometimes ,” he said , “David held my hand while we talked
over coffee , while we smoked on his patio; he had a lovely pink house
on Amalfi Drive . Sometimes we just sat there watching the gardener
prune the bougainvillea , listening to traffic on Sunset Boulevard.
It was as if only half of what he was saying could be put into words.”
Cary was quiet a while before he said , “Goodnight , my dear.”
I sat without hanging up and listened to the dial tone , waiting
for the sparrows to lift , to go find another voice. What did Dudley say
to the Bishop at the end , a little wistfully as he watched the window
for a last look at Julia ? “I want to be far , far away from here.”
Away from what , I’ve always wondered , though that’s the half
that can’t be said: a dial tone , a hush , a blue hum in a sky
filled with gulls. I didn’t ask for his glasses that morning
at the marina , he just handed them over. “Wait till you see
what I see ,” he said. And he held my hand while I looked .
The Gettysburg Review
He has many;
women in small
towns make them
and his touch
on the balls
of the digits
to a younger man:
too happy to fall apart
in the open,
or in his office,
where he has his tramp;
he travels light,
by car when possible,
but he has his tramp,
and so close
where he had to walk
around Hyde Park
as a boy,
he now drives.
with Don Byron
q & a features
the best he knows;
had the best pipes
in this century;
this isn't Gunther's
idiom, on this campus
or any other
but Mr. Bassman
goes on to say
5 1/2 years with St.
"Divine," then moves
to another question,
emanations off the beat
in "Mr. P.C."
Trane's tune for
Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers:
both men avoided
pimps, gangsters, dressage,
getting to practice,
and being beat up
he would die for it
getting to Miles
Byron, who hates
he was told
he could never
master the classics,
his narrow lips
grads and undergrads
Davis, who was late
had to get home
to tune up;
the rest went to dinner
off Michigan Avenue;
we got paid;
for an extra day
I went out of the neighborhood,
from an all-night
retrieved my rental
in the snow;
Richard knew better
than to stay:
"Scrapple from the Apple,"
the best place to be:
Scarface, with "Fatha"
Hines playing only
the black keys
paid top dollar
if he liked you;
with vertical theory/
horizontal living proof
is aerobicly over: thanks to Richard.
@Michael S. Harper
Yaddo News Letter
for Jacob Armstead Lawrence
1917-2000, in memoriam
You told this to the children
when they confessed their works
were incomplete your dignity grace
a mapped space for trouble
your migration series at 23
synaptic code for having nothing
as you built off the backs of the poor
your symmetries where paint was talk
"gumbo yaya" Hayden (your collaborator)
coined it about his native paradise valley
a nourishment of the Detroit ghetto
while you were content with Harlem
a sixty-block walk to MoMA
for filial instruction
of the Italian Renaissance:
now in Seattle they lay you down
those parts Indian of your heritage
in Chief Seattle's words:
"This we know---
All things are connected like the blood"
migraines at gunpoint
bullet-ridden love song as migrants
to the highest plane
a vast battlefield of tones
over vegetation of the visible
where there is no insurance
yet in retrospective fantasy
to remake the spirit in your name
Michael S. Harper
The American Scholar
Year of the FirePig in Chinese New Year
Seven years back I lost a friend who died at home but ate no pig
(he was no muslim and no "firehorse" and he loved to cook)
Today we have leg of lamb in the oven in his honor to heal his bruises
(his son and namesake has his own "blues" over these seven years also)
A girl sat at his table holidays 'big-legged women with manners was his downfall'
(he extracted a promise from his physician-wife to provide exit-pills at his end)
I saw his daughters from that marriage 'go blank' at busstops near Brown's campus
(others who loved him his mother first murdered by a 'salesman' in her own home)
The Chinese in Chinatown in my favorite city eat FirePig in their own family restaurants
(I knew a Mei-Mei and Mei-Ling and Yin-Yin as a boy in Fillmore supple as ginger)
Later to breathe all night at Permanente Kaiser through E. Coli 'neonatology' cell
('the enemies of promise' everywhere fomenting eugenics in W. S. where all get eaten)
The second wife withheld the pills to ease my friend's last breaths
(a Hippocratic oath or a Jamaican rubirosa cigar an island getaway fully furnished)
This is all in code for I was born in the year of the Tiger lost my neighborhood 'duplex'
(never recovered from the deceit of the beloved and watched men fail warned or not)
The Pig is one thing but the FirePig once every sixty years is "Beauty Shell" covenant
(a lifetime of dread the spit open [NOT THIS PIG] upside down, eyes open)
Sing Sing and Treasure Island full of lifers 'dead in the hole'-then let out to kill
(mandarin writings "Message from the Nile" sphinx all at high table FirePig)
Michael S. Harper, 2007
Oregon Literary Review
single file, climbing sheets of rock
on slender equine limbs, thin air
stealing our breath, plumes of smoke
exhaling from the creatures' nostrils;
saddles creaked and lurched,
hooves struck a muffled beat against the stone,
lulling us as the lake sank
to a silver pebble a thousand feet below.
You were the better rider,
freer to feel your horse's muscles
between your thighs, freer
to inhale the cold smell of the mountain;
I see it on your face in the photograph.
You looked up first when the ridge broke open
to expose a sunlit grove of swaying aspens,
bark crudely carved, black hieroglyphs
on white papyrus, or hollow painted poles
in which Aborigines bury their dead,
except these rustled and shimmered
and angered me to find graffiti
in this wild abandoned place.
Our guide explained that shepherds
working their flocks left messages
for each other and themselves.
"Where do they go," you asked me.
"Most have probably died."
"No, the messages, in the winter
when the mountains fill with snow
and no one can read them.
Do they still whisper?"
"I don't know," I answered.
"Someday the snow will cover me," you said.
"and you will have to brush it off to read my name."
Today I took the dog to search for you
along the path we walked last winter,
in that brief lull between the storms,
and recalled the lines you loved
from Doty's poem, "no such thing,
the queen said, as too many sequins."
We both agreed it should have been your theme song.
As the dog and I approached the sign
that always made you stop and do the bump,
because, you said, that's what it said to do,
a gust of autumn wind engulfed a grove
of nearby elms and gave them such a shake
they rained a shower of sequins,
amber, crimson, emerald, gold,
upon our heads. The dog went wild
with chasing bits of fractured light.
I almost heard you laugh. Outrageous, you,
who once picked up your wine and placed it
briefly on the table next to you
because the pill you had to take
said "do not mix with alcohol."
Undaunted, you who told the hospice nurse
you had to walk because you knew
that if you stopped you'd die,
and so, like tireless Hobson in Milton's poem,
you walked and walked and walked
until the nurse gave up all hope
of ever laying you discreetly to your rest.
Then you stopped. Rude impossibility.
You whose laugh could crack apart
the morning sky became a silence
full of sequins, missing everywhere.
John Scarborough haunts this house.
He seeps through the broad pine floorboards,
wraps about the beams of winter light,
hangs in the air like incense after mass.
He came with our dial tone
late one afternoon while we were out
or inattentive or making love,
brought by a honeyed voice
sunny as dogwood, serious as clay,
persistent as kudzu, trolling by phone
from some cubicle down south,
sliding its filament of tidewater
accent through the static,
dangling a hook of sweet supplication,
fishing for one lucky bite from the lost
elusive wayward deadbeat John.
Like an abandoned sweetheart
she entreated him to call
about his delinquent account.
We erased the tape,
but the lady returned;
message followed message,
clogging the machine, invoking
John Scarborough, John Scarborough.
Month after month she persisted,
always while we were out
or inattentive or making love.
Thus he took up residence in our house.
It became our joke. We the abettors.
John the outlaw. John on the lam.
John of the underground railroad,
she the pursuer of fugitive slaves.
John the communist redistributing
Master Card's wealth. John the invisible.
John the invincible. John the transcendent.
John's libidinous disembodied virtual
self surfing the shopping channels
while we were out or inattentive
or making love, until one evening
we joined him, knocking down
shots of Captain Morgan in Anguilla,
sailing a sloop in Barbados,
tanned and untamed in Tahiti,
carving curves in the snow at Chamonix,
betting the house at Monte Carlo,
charging it all to John's account,
stepping out, inattentive, making love,
becoming ageless, beyond loss,
beyond grief, cut free like astronauts,
lifelines severed, the paltry earth
falling away, receding, shrinking,
slipping into silence.
The calls have stopped, but John lingers.
We never betrayed him, never
put his pursuer off her false scent.
Instead we give him this safe house
in exchange for the secrets
he whispers in the deep night about
what is possible and what is not.
All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;
and we all do fade as a leaf ... Isaiah 64:6
After my mother's father died,
she gave me his morocco Bible.
I took it from her hand, and saw
the gold was worn away, the binding
scuffed and ragged, split below the spine,
and inside, smudges where her father's
right hand gripped the bottom corner
page by page, an old man waiting, not quite
reading the words he had known by heart
for sixty years: our parents in the garden,
naked, free from shame; the bitterness of labor;
blood in the ground, still calling for God's
curse -- his thumbprints fading after the flood,
to darken again where God bids Moses smite
the rock, and then again in Psalms, in Matthew
every page. And where Paul speaks of things
God hath prepared, things promised them who wait,
things not yet entered into the loving heart,
below the margin of the verse, the paper
is translucent with the oil and dark
still with the dirt of his right hand.
swung like a
pendulum, back and forth
kitchen table in the light of five
where seven loaves were steaming.
It was the
past, could have been many pasts.
it gradually as mine.
dead that sat around the table were mine
and rose to
make me welcome.
It was not
as it is written
or album: wasp-
were not wasted
the bad blood had gone.
the gracious accents.
Here the old
talk, of crops, children.
the hands of snow.
I sat down,
we all sat down together.
grace, I saw the fingers fall
loaves that never can be broken
be shattered, pulled apart as loves.
have the hollow look
of beings bred on ether.
There's an air
removal from your life, the hawk's
indifference to the hare's terror.
You see it
in their palms, raised casually
against the fresco's surface, as to glass
or spacecraft, and you see
it in their eyes, oracular, that let you pass
unknown agony. The song
they sing is merely time.
WHAT IS MAN
THAT THOU ART MINDFUL OF HIM
Man is a
weapon of mass destruction –
man you dont eliminate
As dog to its own filth, so man returns
a swarm, a
fungus, feeding on destruction
as when a
child I fed upon my dreams
adrift in a
pool rainbowed with chemicals
already dead, intent on death.
Think of the
thousands I marshaled to destruction
years, having fed upon the earth
(there is no
better rhyme with death than earth)
I tore the
heart from Montezumas bride.
I saw Bikini
as a nippled blast.
at moth rise. I dream a jungle
fruitless cot. I dream my father
the walls of the house in anger.
I think back
to my mother. I think
was a man, born on earth of woman.
Woman is a
weapon of mass destruction.
I dream my feudal fruitless wars.
I dream of
peace the dovewhite dawn explodes.
Man is a
weapon of mass destruction.
I know this
now. Mans the best rhyme for war.
AMERICA I SING BACK
(a tribute for Phil Young, my father Robert Hedge Coke,
Whitman, and Hughes)
America , I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.
Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,
held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
held her severed cord beautifully beaded.
My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,
nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.
My song comforted her as she battled my reason
broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do.
Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,
as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.
My blood-veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries
circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.
Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and every peak,
carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—
and sing again I will, as I have always done.
Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing
the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside, polite
Mother of her world. Sister of myself.
When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,
day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—
Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so.
When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do.
America , I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
-Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
(originally included in Memorias, 2005 -
Poetry of the International Poetry Festival
of Medellin , Colombia )
WHEN THE ANIMALS LEAVE THIS PLACE
Underneath ice caps, once glacial peaks
deer, elk, vixen begin to ascend.
Free creatures camouflaged as
waves and waves receding far
from plains pulling
upward slopes and faraway snow dusted mountains.
On spotted and clear cut hills robbed of fir,
high above wheat tapestried valleys, flood plains
up where headwaters reside.
Droplets pound, listen.
Hoofed and pawed mammals
pawing and hoofing themselves up, up.
Along rivers dammed by chocolate beavers,
trailed by salamanders—mud puppies.
Plunging through currents,
above concrete and steel man-made barriers
these populations of plains, prairies, forests flee
in such frenzy, popping splash dance,
pillaging cattail zones, lashing lily pads—
the breath of life in muddy ponds, still lakes.
Liquid beads slide on windshield glass
along cracked and shattered pane,
spider-like with webs and prisms.
“Look, there, the rainbow
touched the ground both ends down!”
Full arch, seven colors showered, heed
what Indigenous know, why long ago,
they said no one belongs here, surrounding them,
that this land was meant to be wet with waters nearby
not fertile to crops and domestic graze.
The old ones said,
“When the animals leave this place
the waters will come again.
This power is beyond the strength of man.
The river will return with its greatest force.”
No one can stop her.
She was meant to be this way.
Snakes in honor, do not intrude.
The rainbow tied with red and green like
that on petal rose, though only momentarily.
Colors disappear like print photographs fade.
They mix with charcoal surrounding.
A flurry of fowl follow
like strands, maidenhair falls,
from blackened clouds above
covering the basin and raising sky.
Darkness hangs over
the hills appear as black water crests,
blackness varying shades.
The sun is somewhere farther than the farthest ridge.
Main gravel crossroads and back back roads
slicken to mud, clay.
Turtles creep along rising banks, snapping jowls.
Frogs chug throaty songs.
The frogs only part of immense choir
heralding the downpour, the falling oceans.
Over the train trestle, suspension bridge with
current so slick everything slides off in sheets.
Among rotten stumps in black bass ponds,
somewhere catfish reel in fins and crawl,
walking whiskers to higher waters.
Waters above, below
the choir calling it forth.
Brightly plumed jays and dull brown-headed cowbirds
fly as if hung in one place like pinwheels.
They dance toward the rain crest,
the approaching storm
beckoning, inviting, summoning.
A single sparrow sings the stroke of rain
past the strength of sunlight.
The frog chorus sings refrain,
melody drumming thunder,
evoked by beasts and water creatures wanting their homes.
Wanting to return to clearings and streams where ash, or
white birch woods rise, tower over,
quaking aspen stand against
storm shown veils—sheeting rains crossing
pasture, meadow, hills, mountain.
Gathering clouds converge, push,
pull, push, pull forcing lightning
back and forth shaping
windy, sculptured swans, mallard ducks, and giants
from stratocumulus media.
As if they are a living cloud chamber,
As if they exist only in the heavens.
Air swells with dampness.
It has begun.
-Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
(Charlie and Thelma Willis Memorial
Award Editor’s Choice - Cid Corman-
Abiko Quarterly International. Japan.)
We Were in a World
We were in a world, in a world, in a world. Sure, we had our glyphs, but we were providential. Once, some alphabet believers, glass purveyors, Ursus Arctos killers, sent all bailiwick on cursed course far faster gyration backspin, birling intrinsic angular momentum—boson melts. Spinning, it careened away iceberg, iceberg, iceberg; glacier braced time traced yesterday unshakable base—all below flushed alluvion torrent, Niagara pour, special spate, flux, flow, until their coastal citadels moldered from cyclone, tsunami, hurricane gale. Tornadoes tossed turf wherever they pleased. Eruptions molded Her back into something She deemed worthy. Not to mention quakes. And the people, the people, the People, pushed into cataclysm, a few generations from alphabet book imposed catechism, soon were calamity tragedy storm splinters, fragmented particles of real past, in a world gone away from oratory, song, oraliteratures, orations into gyrations reeling. Soon hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot. Hot, dying mangroves, disappearing Waimea Bay, Dengue fever, butterfly range shift, meadow gone forest, desert sprung savannah, caribou, black guillemot, bats, frogs, snails—gone. What will Sandhill Cranes crave? Winged lay early. Reefs bleach. Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, snow, snow, snow, fires flaming fiercely, fascinated in their own reflecting glare. Marmots rise early. Mosquitoes endure longer, lasting biting spreading West Nile. Polar bears quit bearing. Robins, swallows, enter Inuit life. Thunder finds Inupiat. Here, it is said, glyphs left rock wall, stone plates, bark, branch, leapt animated into being, shook shoulders, straightened story, lifted world upon their wing bone, soared into Night, to place World back into socket eased sky—stilled us. Some say the soup leftover was worded with decolonized language. Some say the taste lingers even now.
Allison Hedge Coke
A conspicuous freedom came out of everywhere.
Slower traffic kept right, against the glare,
before we got to Exit 133 and
on the edge of the first array of slovenly lumps
through which the river of rivers in Tennessee
bore islands into a ripply inland ocean.
We came to Cuba Landing and the Parkway Café,
sitting down to onions and buttered bread.
We spoke about how the fragrant air
would spill over our faces as we stepped
into a summer morning in Tuscany.
How different it was there than in Tennessee,
then or now. It’s certainly nice to be here,
don’t get me wrong, but Italy
you ventured. I looked over your shoulders
at the curtains covered with chickadees.
Are those chickadees or thrush do you think? I asked you.
Maybe finch, you suggested. I think they could be finch.
Background music swept over us from the background.
We took to the road again, constantly eastward
as the afternoon sped toward us awfully.
I decided it was time I read Deuteronomy.
The part about the man with loosed shoes is enough
to reveal real weirdness and negligible wisdom
from the blessed curmudgeon so prominent in this old book.
It seemed all day we drove beside smallish trees
through all of Tennessee.
Brown water spread amongst the woods.
Fine old wackyjack balsams were the dominant boscage.
One had a board nailed to it and above that a platform
like the floor of a treehouse, probably a deer stand, you said.
Thousands of others showed no such sign of people.
Immaculate ideas played over us through the windows.
You lit another cigarette. We stopped for gas, having become
an astonishment, a proverb, a byword among the nations.
The Kenyon Review
My old man the
lost his taste when
current burned to
blackened his tongue
My old man the
lost an eye when
his chisel broke its
its blade sprung
My old man the logger
lost an arm when
a drunk revved & swung
My old man the
kneel in the river &
he ministered to doves
who cooed while my
My old man the soldier
lost his faith when
drafted into war,
Cong / blood / bong
My old man the
lost his reckoning
cooked books for
hummed his corporate
of Father Time,
or whimsies of soul &
by stricken heart &
he scythes our way to
but now of course we
& trust our young to
to fathom work &
curriculum’s web &
but Grandson Jack
turns five next week
(who rhymes my old men
sweet boy who will
amend our luck,
Jack turns five next
The Ontario Review
weren't going to go insane, you said,
after your son's suicide--no matter what,
you'd endure. Now that you're dead,
find the true center of your art
to stones you pried from ground
often conspired (even for one versed
country things) to fuse your exiled
heart into intonement, into sound.
Between church bells
I held its breath:
air coming from half-states
it has visited where
dread meets ecstasy’s skidmark.
Allow us, mighty and
bruised oxygen. And I
imagined a black square
made of ariadne-thread
around the great city,
winds coming from corners
such that talking would
never cease. Talking should
never cease, heads bent
over documents allowing distinction
or zhivagoing solitudes, stitches
at the edges of
dignity. Decades of give-it-away
while these winds worked.
Lamps flickering in the
stable districts. Symbolic weight
being added to bodies
walking in ordinary courtship
outfits, in a park.
- Brenda Hillman
I wish I could find that skinny, long-beaked boy
who perched in the branches of the old branch library.
He spent the Sabbath flying between the wobbly stacks
and the flimsy wooden tables on the second floor,
pecking at nuts, nesting in broken spines, scratching
notes under his own corner patch of sky.
I'd give anything to find that birdy boy again
bursting out into the dusky blue afternoon
with his satchel of scrawls and scribbles,
radiating heat, singing with joy.
AND THE MEN
want back in:
all the Dougs and the Michaels, the Darnells, the Erics and Josés,
they’re standing by the off-ramp of the interstate,
holding up cardboard signs that say WILL WORK FOR RELATIONSHIP
Their love-mobiles are dented and rusty.
Their Shaggin’ Wagons are up on cinderblocks.
They’re reading self-help books and practicing abstinence,
taking out Personals ads that say
“Good listener would like to meet lesbian ladies,
for purposes of friendship only”
In short, they’ve changed their minds, the men:
They want another shot at the collaborative enterprise;
Want to do fifty-fifty housework and childcare;
They want commitment renewal weekends and couples therapy.
Because being a man was finally just too sad-
in spite of the perks, the lifetime membership benefits;
And it got old, telling the joke about the hooker and the priest
at the company barbeque, discussing the beer and
squeezing the shoulder of your friend
in a little overflow of
Now they’re ready to talk, really talk about their feelings.
In fact they’re ready to make you sick with revelations of
A pool of testosterone is spreading from around their feet,
it’s draining out of them like radiator fluid,
like history, like an experiment that failed.
So here they come, on their hands and knees, the men.
Here they come. They’re really beaten. No tricks this time.
No fine print.
Please, they’re begging you. Look out.
Today the sun rose,as it used to do
When its mission was to shine on you.
Since in unremitting dark you're gone,
What now can be the purpose of the sun?
In their grand
inmpurturbability the planets
must have their own
fish to fry. Why should they
worry about what they shine on
down here, though we
send up satellites in manned
and unmanned orbits prying
into their business--suppose
we let those other
their own solutions
the way they give
carte blanche to us
to cope with ours.
Mad Poets Review
"As her finger swelled they cut and bent this off."
He looked at it. "Well, it will be
Small, might fit her pinky." Why? Had they
Chopped out a piece? With a magnifying
Glass he peered inside and read,
"D.G.H. to E. Mc
"Oh, that should read E. McF., 22nd of May--See,
Here's mine, we gave them to each other."
He said, "I've had bands like this before, I've filled
The gap by soldering a cross to join
The broken ends. It helps to know
Her finger size." I said, "She won't be wearing it"
--I'll put it with her ashes in the urn
And bury it beneath the weathered stone,
Maine granite quarried by Dave Buell.
In June, Jack Jackson will have carved her name
And dates and the inscription--
As in her slanting hand across the leaf
Of her first gift to me, she wrote
"Like gold to aery thinness beat,"
Knowing I knew the line it followed,
"Our two souls, therefore, are one."
When hers is done he'll have the time
To letter on my matching stone,
"It's more-than-lifelong love that joins us two
With serendipity, as in a rhyme."
Addition of my final date
Will let our legend be conmplete--
"I'll have this mended in a week,"
He said, and gave me the receipt.
First published in The Hudson Review, Vol. 59, No.3 (Autumn 2006), (c) 2006 by Daniel Hoffman.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
For an origin, to find (found)
a beginning that was absolute
was never absolute. A series of stops more
like it, desire a body could handle, all skin
and goose-bumps, all to the good of nerves
(though bad tonight and bad last night
and possibly bad tomorrow): ample
evidence nothing’s a-
Who what why was
speaking in a high and nasal voice
loudly and also laughter. I wanted peace
which came in rag-tag pieces
I could not reassemble, the room
filling with the scraps, silence
I tried to pick out of thin air and place
around me until I got a sense of form
back. That was all in no special
order, no respite, the pressing-
pressure of the real,
nothing personal though
malleable, reachable, with good reason
from someone else for whom “Temperament
is a curious thing. The question of what one
can LEARN in regard
to general outlook on life.
When I think objectively
about the course of my life happiness
does not seem a just-
She promised to show me an actual
beautiful thing, an earthly depression
where song gathers
its dreams to cradle, to croon
to stones that stymied a comet’s
impact with stubborn granite
will. In the crater creosote tickles
their jutting rock chins,
lazily coochee-cooing for years
to no response. Then suddenly they crack
a smile. Suddenly, they’re totally
from someone else for whom “Temperament
is a curious thing. The question of what one
can LEARN in regard
to general outlook on life.
When I think objectively
about the course of my life happiness
does not seem a just-
She promised to show me an actual
beautiful thing, an earthly depression
where song gathers
its dreams to cradle, to croon
to stones that stymied a comet’s
impact with stubborn granite
will. In the crater creosote tickles
their jutting rock chins,
lazily coochee-cooing for years
to no response. Then suddenly they crack
a smile. Suddenly, they’re totally
t this time of year, even the
lets purpose fall.
When I was eight, maybe nine,
I picked up an autumn apple
and was stung by a drunken bee
sheathed in fragrant rot underneath.
And that was the first time.
Pulling spent tomato plants,
my father stopped, loped across the lawn
and led me inside. He pulled an ice cube
from the freezer, put it in my palm,
closed his hand over mine
until pain sluiced through our fingers.
Twenty years later he died.
I was far away and it was winter.
Uneventfully, red and brown leaves had fallen.
Ice glazed the highway and clicked
in the plastic cup of bourbon on the plane,
which banked away from Pittsburgh
to shudder through the clouds.
The shorter stewardess was kind,
and we dropped from the sky like sleet.
I filtered through the
all night, picked my way through relatives
but when I touched his cold hand the next morning,
just before they closed the lid
censer swung wisps
of perfumed smoke in our faces,
something melted through.
Outside, it threatened more snow.
Rock salt crunched underfoot.
The bees lay dormant, sleeping it off, dreaming
under a slick gloss of
if they dream at all, of spring, sweet arrival--
the inevitable blossoms of
Tar River Poetry
After three years of drilling, we reached
bedrock, two-thirds of a mile under
the hump-backed bulge of winter.
Each season, six fresh inches of ice
put us closer to Jesus on one side,
machinery to whatever else on the other.
Sometimes the scientists gave us trash
chips to splash in our gin & tonics–
you could hear bubbles of air & ash,
dust that’s fifty thousand years old crack
& pop. There’s so much pressure at bottom,
it squeezes a whole century into an inch-
thick wafer of time. Neanderthals roamed
Europe. Homo sapiens still hadn’t left
African plains when that sliver of core
was last exposed to the pale, thin light.
Now pieces break off the Antarctic cap
at rapid rates & float out to sea. Coastal
cities could be swamped in just a few
centuries. Sure I was drunk, but one
afternoon after work had stopped, wind
sliced through the rigging, & I’d swear
I heard singing. It was the last day
before the end of what passes for summer.
We’d soon leave for home. I spit a nickel
I’d kept warm in my mouth down the shaft
& wished. Like every hole that’s opened,
we fill, or hope something will come out of it.
Tar River Poetry
Ghirardelli: San Francisco
show women crave chocolate
more than any other food”
the start of the 17th century, pious
Mexican women sipped hot chocolate in church
Bittersweet warmth filled their earthly bodies,
& their spirits levitated above the cloistered
drone of mass. In their eyes, the
glassiness of sexual gratification. Jealous
of such passion, the bishop forbade the practice.
His imminent death was bliss, poison slipped
into his own bowl of cocoa before matins.
Montezuma thought it an aphrodisiac & quaffed
dozens of goblets a day. Bronze & doomed,
in the throes of ecstasy he’d picture the certain
swoop & rise of condors behind the shut
wings of his eyelids. At Fisherman’s Wharf,
I buy a sampler box for Valentine’s Day,
anticipate your teeth marks on every piece.
The one shaped & grooved like a seashell
might cause you to grow unpredictable
as the Pacific. Inside the perfect, dark square,
the tropical swell of coconut or oh, please,
yes sugar drift of caramel. Will you place
a wafer laced with praline on my tongue?
Back from a New World, I’ll come like Columbus
to Fernando’s court & offer the innocent gift.
Our father liked to play a game.
He played that he was dead.
He took his thick black glasses off
and stretched out on the bed.
He wouldn't twitch and didn't snore
or move in any way.
He didn't even seem to breathe!
We asked, Are you okay?
We tickled fingers up and down
his huge, pink, stinky feet-
He didn't move; he lay as still
as last year's parakeet.
We pushed our fingers up his nose,
and wiggled them inside-
Next, we peeled his eyelids back.
Are you okay? we cried.
I really thought he might be dead
and not just playing possum,
because his eyeballs didn't twitch
when I slid my tongue across 'em.
He's dead, we sobbed--but to be sure,
I jabbed him in the jewels.
He rose, like Jesus, from the dead,
though I don't think Jesus drools.
His right hand lashed both right and left.
His left hand clutched his scrotum.
And the words he yelled-I know damn well
I'm way too young to quote 'em.
Those are windflowers
glowing in the outer darkness
Just beyond the
gateposts. If I squint,
I see them clearly: white
windflowers, flicker of stargas,
By the gravity of dawn and rain, but opening.
It astonishes me again: I
am fifty and pregnant,
And beyond the bedroom
window September is gathering
Its cosmological light.
A child, the
Or hardly anything
Five weeks beyond
conceiving. And that monstrous
Morning star above
the neighbor’s gable mutters,
What’s one more human? Heartless,
These elemental things,
mist on the sidewalk, litter:
And so there are
gods again, suddenly.
The windflower opens its
sun advances degree by omniscient degree.
In the street a
shadow of sparrows echoes the oil slick
by yesterday’s downtown express.
Details gather ominously,
And that is the point,
precisely, a god’s favorite trick—
The accrual, like money in the bank, of our undoing.
But an arm’s-length away,
Womb of my sleeping wife
A consciousness. Listen, zygote. The
windflower’s true name:
Anemone. Its true
vocation: to be blowing
Against a wooden gate at 6
In the broken
dawn-light of the fiftieth September
Of a man old enough to
refuse to be ashamed
And the windflower’s fate?
It is enough, now,
to watch it being.
It is enough to be,
myself—again almost a father,
Watching the newsboy
wander the street—feeling,
Almost, the old gods’ abstract hearts contract.
I smell them gather above
me like ravens, wheeling
Over the promise my body
Hearted godhood has
left them hungry.
But it is they who
assemble, in the amniotic sac,
Bits of star-grit, skeins
of DNA, the holy chemistry
Of existence. What can I do but leave them to
Knowing what I know? My
Is a shambles-in-progress,
It reads like a pirated
version of a bad translation
Of a novel the young
Balzac wrote, then threw away.
No god forgives such
things. The gods have taste.
Smelling an uncouth sulfur
in the aura of the coming day,
The Supreme Will wrinkles
the Great Face.
The Gaze averts, and
here’s our chance. A space
Opens – ambiguous
territory, zygote. A vacancy.
-T. R. HUMMER
The Kenyon Review
When I was riddled with pizazz
and hot to trot,
gnats and mosquitoes didn't
bother me, after all it was heaven,
but now I'm past the middle
of that carrying on,
so long immunity.
parts once sleek
as that trickster snake,
and still fair,
the blush of apples,
where curves quiver.
So says the mower
in our garden.
Adam gone soft
in the middle hasn't solved
the riddle of love
any more than I have,
pulls me by the hair,
wants his dessert
when I want mine
while time, bent and warped
in its space time event,
prepares to blow
of our tryst
with incalculable pi.
Our faces caught in the mirror
above the piano soften,
hands resting on each other's
shoulders after we clear the dishes.
With a flourish you call
my attention to the four chairs
upholstered in my absence,
deep burnt sienna, color
of the wine we decant.
"This reminds me of..." you say,
lifting your glass.
Chairs, accept our humble bodies
heavy with memory and longing.
Once we sat on stones
on an island in the north,
seeking the key
to Spinoza's infinitely
Love, the hour grows short.
What was the comparison?
Three old women draped in black
cross themselves and bow, K-rees-to,
just outside Poseidon's temple,
then part and hunch along like crows
bent on a solemn search for supper.
Each one parts her grasses, peering,
moving, parting, peering, pulling,
slowly filling her apron, spilling it
over and over onto the common pile.
Working different parts of the maze,
they do not talk or pay any mind
to the buzzing infestation of tourists.
Like the same old shepherds, same old sheep,
these are at work the same as their mothers:
grasses for salad with olives and feta,
grasses for boiling to go with the lamb,
grasses for selling. Grasses are threading
mothers like beads who thread thousands of years.
They will never leave by ship, have never
gone. They will never throw themselves
over and down the long cliffs to the
sea, breaking on points of stone;
nor read themselves into an epic poem.
They'll thank whatever gods may be
before they wilt; and dip and tilt,
leaving their wake in green, three old
black sails. So the white news prevails.
-Mary Jean Irion
Said the Translator
Plato would be
easier, said the translator, and thus,
factory tour. One had to understand the language
Of Astro Turf
dotted with cannons or the non-alcoholic joy
a woman two-finger such eyewear
Firmly up the
bridge, all that rollicking uncertainty
Like a root
beer. Who cares about splitting hairs
When what’s at
stake is merely the history of robes?
The clock read
12:13, exactly when no seven were alike.
Yet, give him a
pencil and the knotholes of other mouths
Make a soft
hollow noise. But he knows everything he looks at.
Had I possessed
the poise to kick
faraway thirst for mornings or the wide
solo in a
listening glass, emptied of speech. Had I
had I danced a little more in the lush
your gaze . . . I, who believe in the fauna
of dreams, in
the hand that tunes a guitar, in the will
of pages, might
have journeyed to you
like ash and
abandoned all my fires, and named the epic
light over your
shoulders and seized your tumbledown rapture.
Asheville Poetry Review
Sometimes I am just waiting for the road to get here.
Sometimes I think I exist in a parallel world, like this morning
on this certain September Sunday in New York City.
The way Confucius felt beginning his career as a corn inspector.
You just have to find something to occupy your time.
Like this story in the paper about fish: Grouper are
Born female and become male later on. Doesn’t that say
Something about our sexual confusion? Not mine, of course.
It’s like Tieresias who gets to do it one way, then another.
It’s the way they now say the universe bounces along
from one Big Bang to another. The whole theory
looks like the graffiti someone painted over on Bowery Street.
It doesn't matter because you can still hear the moon
rub its back against the stars. The meanings are
all caught in someone’s throat. A baby robin eats 14 feet
of earthworms in a day. That gets me wondering about—
well, I’m not sure, but if I wrote it in here it must be
important. Don’t you see? The windows are all borrowed.
I am listening to Kenny Burrell's jazz guitar as it slides into
each corner of the room. The air sags. Walls slump.
I wonder if Tomaz will be at supper after the reading.
Some people say he walks on air. Some say he has wings.
It has been a long time since I myself have walked on water.
He is probably dreaming about his favorite Tiepolo or Fra Angelico.
I prefer Caravaggio and all his victims he painted as saints and
prophets. He must have been the cloud hovering over them as
they begged for help. 300 million cells die in the body
every minute without anyone’s help. “Hang in there,”
Paul Watson said in the room the other day, but “hang”? and
From where? Not the sky that keeps wenching itself down
Closer and becomes my ceiling. That doesn't mean heaven is
any closer. Heaven is just a sin away goes the old Kendall’s song.
Or a whisper away goes another version. Who knows? No one
Knows what Jesus wrote in the dirt, either. Pica is
a disease where you eat dirt. Sexsomania is a disease where
you have sex while sleeping. This saves a lot of time.
All the clocks in Pulp Fiction are stuck at 4:20. Opossums
reign in the woods behind my house in Tennessee. They have
cloudy eyes and would be ferocious if they weren’t
so stupid, and realized how sharp their fangs and claws are.
The ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain. It resembles
The brains of wall street that shrink with every rumor.
An ostrich can kick you to death but you can fly further.
Not like my dog Maggie who is afraid of the wind.
If you have enough diversions, or a good spin doctor,
you don't have to face the truth. Hence, this poem.
And who would ever check what these things stand for like
The underground river beneath the Nile but is six times
bigger. To testify meant originally to swear by holding
your testicles. There are only two things I’ve made up
in this poem, but really, only the future can reveal them.
The future is the hawk I heard but couldn’t see high
in the trees harassed by crows defending their nests.
The past is a chain saw. There's no fear that cannot be
translated into a form of love. 21% of frogs in suburban CT.
have become hermaphrodites. They drink too much
herbicide, flame retardant and pesticides just like us.
Black Olives, those are my favorite. They are stars that have
burnt themselves out. Sometimes the streetlights are aligned
so you have two shadows. You have to watch the other one
so you don’t lose yourself. A Chimera is a person who has two
sets of DNA. I never know where my other self wanders
or what she says. Some of my students think I am Marvin Bell
but I don’t understand why they fail to see Marvin is really me.
A starfish can turn itself inside out and hide its own feelings.
What are these words but the shed skins of some snake
that has warmed itself all afternoon on a desert rock?
That’s Marvin who just took us to the desert, not me.
The sunlight that strikes the earth each moment there weighs
as much as an ocean liner. I wonder if Terri and Kari will
return before I have to leave. I'll just wait. At rest we generate
100 watts of electricity, but if we harnessed it we would be
victims of spontaneous combustion. There’s no reason
we can’t be in two places at once. Everything seems a memory
like boarded up store fronts. Just now, Kenny Burrell's
guitar is exploding before he mellows out into Soul Lament.
I can burn this CD for you. His music is like a photograph.
The world keeps sticking to his retina. Everything seems to stop.
When galaxies stop spinning they topple over like broken wheels.
These words are like Borneo frogs that have no lungs.
The emperor moth smells a female at 7 miles.
It always knows when the end is near. One wall of graffiti is
always painted over another. Maybe there is no end.
We could go on here forever. But now everyone has arrived.
It’s possible we’ll be late for the reading, but the poem has to
end, like a trash truck loaded with excuses, headed for the dump.
COULD HAVE, SHOULD HAVE
I could have been one of those Summerians
who read the future in the language of footprints
left by birds in the muddy banks of the Euphrates.
Instead, I’m trying to decipher what the shadows
of bees caught between window panes and flitting over
the words on this paper really mean. Petrarch compared
poetry to the honey from bees. I want to embrace
the purple shoots of your Bromeliad succulent
that suddenly appear in all that green. I want these words
to fly off like owls gliding from one story to another,
disrupting the other words, picking up roadside trash
like the other DUI’s, sleeping in an open drainpipe,
appearing in some lipstick ad, because we never know
what use they’ll be put to, turning up, apparently,
in the cry of the woman holding her child who has been
roasted alive in her Darfur Village, burrowing through
the husks of dreams the raped woman of the Congo
still clutch, each word leaving its trace like blood spatter
at a crime scene unless they collide with other words and
change direction, like these that are following the shadow of
that stray bee trying to slide off the page. My words mean
only what they want to mean, nothing more, nothing less,
says Alice’s White Rabbit. But I want them to mean
everything. What is the name of that salamander whose limbs
grow back each time it loses one? All we want is
what steps into the mirror as we turn away. Even our shadows
eventually become fossils. Tree frogs throw their voices
to confuse predators. That way they are in two places
at once. I haven’t forgotten about those women, but what words
of mine really have the courage to face that? Metka’s painting,
Chalice (1985), pictures two bodies sharing the same head.
It’s why we laugh at tragedy, cry for happiness.
When you walk out walk out backwards so I’ll think
You’re walking in, goes one song, -- I wish I were in Dixie,
but she’s out of town, goes another. Maybe we measure tragedy
by the number of clown faces we draw. Apparently those bees
know that the random stories they trace on this page are
connected. It’s late fall so they are not looking for honey.
I want my own heart to stop stuttering. Is that my shudder or yours?
My friend, Jack Myers, would say they are the same.
Jack knows Zen, a word the Chinese say as Chan, derived
from the Sanskrit which means meditation and doesn’t need words,
so enough of that here. I’ll stick with metaphor the bees
point out: the sun is passing overhead on a stretcher. Everything is
wilting. It hasn’t rained here in weeks. It has never rained
in Calma, Chile. In the Bible Deborah thought the rain
fell through the spouts of stars. In Genesis the chicken
comes before the egg. Georgia wants to shift its borders
so it can drain water from the Tennessee River. It has
something to do with a faulty survey almost 200 years ago.
Because the earth is slowing down 2008 is one second longer
than 2007. We never know where we are. I could have been
a Summerian. I could have been a Zen master. Presumably,
I want my compass to point in one direction near the end here
if this is to make any sense. A million years ago we’d be living
on a continent called Godwana. Everything we’ll see is
everything we see. Except for W.I.M.P.S. which are not
wimps after all but Weak Intensity Massive Particles, a phrase
which also doesn't make any sense, though its particles pass
through us like wind through a screen. The bees are nervous.
Light fills the air with the color of wet straw, or there’s
a disconsolate rain on the way. We could be dying from things
we never said, a life never lived, the sky refusing or not refusing
the desires neither we not the bees have any word for.
I don't know how I found myself strolling into tomorrow
today. Nothing was in place yet. None of these words
even existed. I rode the bike I didn't have to a store
that hadn't opened. I could see the weather report needed
correcting. At least there were no more ruts to be
stuck in. The sun had gotten ahead of itself, starting
to burn up like when Phaeton took its reins from Apollo.
Apollo is the god of poetry. In the future everyone believes
in myth because today doesn't exist the way we think it should.
Nothing is saved. Today was just a house of cards.
The hawk on the branch outside my window looks back
at me then disappears. This whole thing began when
I started wondering about where we would travel next--
Tuscany, Slovenia, the land of Milk and Honey. Even
Moses never made it that far. What was the name of that
Italian Film where the Sicilians coming to America dream
they are swimming in streets of milk? Tomorrow we dreamt
someone plagiarized today. We have answers to questions
we never asked. I figured I was on the verge
of immortality until I realized one day is missing.
One theory has terrorists offering a ransom, another has
a ponzi clock, or a leveraged rainbow with no end.
I put in a new mailbox just in case. You can't be too careful.
No one takes responsibility anymore. Even the rocks
that decorate the mailbox base can claim plausible deniability.
Tomorrow, wheels and echoes are forbidden. Mockingbirds
outlawed. Serpents no longer coil up. Only the crickets
provide a kind of assurance you get from forgetting.
I don't see why I have to apologize for what follows --
effects without causes, afters with no befores, waking
without sleep. Even so, I sometimes hear a knocking
at the door which wakes me up. I think of Macbeth, but realize
I haven't killed anyone yet. You'd think there'd be something
on the TV news, but I'll have to wait till some other time
to be sure. Meanwhile, the hawk flies off. The milks sours.
New Ohio Review
to Peter and The Wolf on my 78.
Each time I played the last side I hoped the duck would finally get
I believed my mother when she told me I could see the faeries
dancing in the snow down below my bedroom window.
My first school was dark and expensive. I was dazed for two years.
I kept hoping we would pick pumpkins in the garden kids talked about
but couldn’t see.
I would dance in my soft brown Capezzios when Miss Staples played
on the piano in our first grade classroom. The
public school I could walk to.
The conductor was Serge Koussevitzsy.
I believed my mother would write a book.
She said she would, I should write a book, she said. About cheeses,
I wanted to pat my baby sister on the head. My aunts said no it
would hurt her.
Be gentle they said.
My first doctor was a woman.
My mother said you haven’t lived if you haven’t sailed.
My father taught me how to pour wine at dinner.
I collected leaves for a book, maple, oak, dogwood, sassafras,
The voice was Richard Hale.
I saved early for my mother for Christmas. Tea spoons one year.
Chinese vases the next.
I watched the blue window as sunset carved the light from my room.
I should write a book. About wine my mother said.
I watched my father use big scissors to cut out green pieces of
Are you making money, I said.
One morning my mother raised a red flag and waved.
My father and I drove to the Bronx Zoo. I sat in the front both
I inventoried the trees in our yard. Three oaks, three elms, six
pines, a dogwood, and
two dying hollies. Both the same sex.
I mustn’t wake my mother up in the afternoon. She sleeps naked on
the chaise longue.
I should write a book about cheeses. You haven’t lived until you’ve
I planted a garden by myself on the east side of the house. I
cultivated the soil.
From seed packets I planted dusty millers, marigolds, blue morning
glories, yellow asters,
We write our names in tar in the street with sticks.
I hit my best friend with a metal rod. My mother said I would go to
My father told me the secret to a good martini.
I memorized the string quartet that was Peter. In C.
I sang O Holy Night at the school recital. My candle was a small
bulb attached to a
D battery I could just hold.
I got a Kodak Brownie and took pictures of my sister and our dog.
I punched my friend Bobby in the head.
You pass the cap of the Vermouth bottle over the shaker.
Sides 3 and 4, Victor Red Seal Records, of Peter and the Wolf broke.
The broken record is what I have.
I was called The Terrible Tempered Mister Bangs.
Also Ferdinand the Bull who sat in the shade of a cork tree and
smelled the clover.
I forgot that.
I threw the hardest pitches of anyone but was afraid of teams.
I planted mint for my parents’ clear drinks.
We had a currant bush in our garden. You haven’t lived until you’ve
my mother said.
I still have the album. Peter faces front, his round face smiling.
He’s wearing a red jacket, a
black cap and boots. His arms are out like he’s going to float.
My neighbor saw my garden and gave me a pot of Scottish bluebells.
I planted them in the shade of an oak and tended them for years.
Outside, a kid said, don’t you know who that is that’s reamy jansen.
A photo of my mother and me I tore in two. Her side she found in my waste basket.
I had to tape them together. I’m listening to Steve Reich, It’s
Gonna to Rain.
The voice is Brother Walter’s.
I should write a book on wine my mother said.
Unpleasant Event Schedule
Two Ways of Not Hearing
First, bits of things begin to go,
a swatch of sound here, another there
like condensation in the mirror,
as you squint to see your face.
Students you ask to repeat themselves,
you knowing they can't pronounce a thing,
knowing your wife is just talking to herself
only sometimes and mouth somewhere else,
assuming you'll pick it up, but you don't,
and give out with a nod, a dumbshow of
apprehension to hide the panic.
But she's not worried because you tell her
the first alto is Benny Carter, now ninety six,
the next is Johnny Hodges, and the last, Bird.
But you know you've memorized all that.
Still, you can recognize Szigetti on violin
and Bartok on piano, but this knowledge, too,
comes with the bacon grease pops of the remastered 78s,
but imperfections can't be separated from art anyway.
And you can hear the bright, enameled sound of her laugh,
so who really cares about the rest?
In the second, so much simpler,
someone's taken an eraser to the board
and you can just make out blurs and foggy smears
but it's not exactly a palimpsest of sounds
and memory doesn't help you here.
And you know later, late at night when
you're asleep someone will come in with a pail
of dirty water and a wet rag and begin
to wipe it all away.
Everything's happening on the cusp of tragedy, the tip of comedy,
the pivot of event.
You want a placid life, find another planet. This one is occupied
with the story's arc:
About to happen, on the verge, horizonal. You want another planet,
try the moon.
Try any of the eight, try Planet X. It's out there somewhere,
black with serenity.
How interesting will our times become? How much more interesting
can they become?
A crow with something dangling from its beak flaps onto a telephone
pole top, daintily,
And croaks its victory to other crows and tries to keep its morsel
A limp shape, leggy, stunned, drops from the black beak's scissors
like a rag.
We drive past, commenting, and looking upward. A sunny morning,
too cold to be nesting,
Unless that is a nest the crow has seized, against the coming
We've been at this historical site before, but not in any history
The present has been cloaked in cloud before, and not on any holy
To know the stars will one day fly apart so far they can't be seen
Is almost a relief. For the future flies in one direction--toward
And the only way to sidestep it--the only way--is headed this way,
So, look. That woman's got a child by the hand. She's dragging
him across the street.
He's crying and she's shouting, but we see only dumbshow. Their
breath is smoke.
Will she give in and comfort him? Will he concede at last? We do
Their words are smoke. In a minute they'll be somewhere else
Everyone in a minute will be somewhere else entirely. As the crow
Meanwhile back at the branch, the long-awaited return of the cardinal
while two saxophones butt heads in a nearby warehouse . . . City, my
city! I’ve spent all day raking leaves from last fall, dodging two
yellow jackets that haven’t learned how to avoid people. But I have.
in a neighborhood where prowlers pee in our backyard, or leave behind
condoms and Dunkin’ Donut bags. Today, I scattered rocks at the base of
our fence. At night I opened our bedroom window, waiting to hear a
tibia’s sweet crack, the “shit, goddamit, shit,” from the creep who
my driver’s side window, stealing our Linda Ronstadt CD. Thirty years
ago, when he stole Santana Abraxis--the same guy, I swear it--I taped
razor blades to the base of my 8-track stereo, one night forgetting the
genius of the idea, shredding my calf while mounting a woman I would
love but not marry. Meanwhile, somewhere in the country--Simplicity: an
old man in his bathroom shaking off his penis for the fifth time, his
granddaughter asleep on the back porch, watching stars flame up in a
minute-by-minute account of the universe. Somewhere moose and little
beasties run wild, while people sleep soundly, deliriously happy to be
of Nature’s puny plan. But I’m happy, too, gripping the handle of a
pellet gun, crouched half asleep beneath my bedroom window, humming the
lyrics to Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou.”
Street prophet, soothsayer, stargazer
extraordinaire. In fact, he’s the local loony dressed in a red
beret, sky-blue shirt and red pants. Every day the same outfit,
pacing the same sidewalk, mumbling to himself or swearing at
passersby as if his balls are on fire. One day he screamed at
my infant and made him cry. “The next time,” I said, “I’ll kill
you.” I told him to imagine a noose swinging from the tree he
was leaning on. “I’ll lynch you,” I yelled. Quite
surprisingly, we became good friends. I can’t make sense of his
mumbling, yet follow him with the baby jogger every Sunday as he
eviscerates cans of garbage lining our street. He’s collecting
doomsday articles, one about strangelets, tiny cosmic missiles
that weigh tons and travel at 900,000 miles per hour, yet are
only the size of pollen grain. In 1993 one entered the Earth in
Antarctica and blasted out 23 seconds later in the Indian
Ocean. No wonder he ducks a lot, and why bother changing your
clothes when a little ball bearing might tear a tiny hole in
your head, exiting your left testicle one nanosecond later. I
explain this phenomenon to an old guy walking his nasty black
mongrel. A year ago, his dog leapt out of nowhere, snapping at
us. “I’m going to kill your dog,” I yelled, which made us
enemies for a very long time. But now he tags along―three wise
men, amusing ourselves as the Earth takes a terrible beating.
I admire the brute dampness of
snails. I ate them once in a little restaurant outside
Toronto. A medium-sized war was going on, and I was dating a
girl I skipped school for. We’d go to the zoo and watch the
orangutans regurgitate. We’d toss peanuts to the elephants, or
wave to giraffes, hoping for their approval. Sometimes we’d end
up in Canada, cubes of hash hidden in the studs of our jeans as
my 59’ Rambler American lurched across the border. Unlike most
stories, this one’s true, full of youth and trouble, but mostly
confusion, especially about God, whom I began calling “God the
Forgetful,” saddened that one baby could be born armless,
another with two heads. It had become hard to like God, or
depend on Him for the simplest chores. Even now wars rage on,
babies still exploding from wombs minus arms and legs. You can’t
even turn on the TV without hearing someone’s daughter explain
to a wide-eyed audience how she had sex with nine guys and one
woman to earn money for a home entertainment center. Makes me
want to revert to Plan B. Makes me wonder why I’m back in
Toronto, outside a jazz club, eating snails, watching an
unmarked aircraft descend upon the city.
It never bothered me the little
Dutch girls had no faces—
my quilt—a pink appliquéd length of them
bonneted blind. Or the fact they had no fingers
or elbows—hands folded to snowballs
on their still bells of skirt. Each one a mockery
in miniature, made of my mother’s childhood
dresses. My favorite among them, mild as wheat, a scrap
of aged yellow, my calicoed rose.
No radical sweetness, no radish-mauve
billow of baby skin—it was the natural perfection
of sunned cotton, calla lily sprung late in the shade—
the last patterned girl I saw each night before sleep.
With dawn the old woman on my chest withdrew
to the blood-cherry rise of my teak cabinet’s stain.
Nightmare trails—she was never really there. At eighteen
I worked the rigid calico of the garden section
at a hardware shop, cement floors the color
of night terror. It was a kind of disturbed sleep,
the cash register’s awful chimes. A man looking for the
clematis asked me through daydream if I knew
the Pre-Raphaelites. He said I looked as if I’d stepped out
of an oil to stand beside the plastic display fountains. I
with the hiss of water in my red ears, my cherubim
ran off with my bonnet and left me with nothing
but the whiteness of my sun-blocked sulk, my red hair,
my beguiling eyes. I didn’t say that. I squinted
for sun, deadheaded stalked shells of geraniums,
offered my childhood another dried bouquet.
My Great-Grandparents Return to the World as Closed
They’re not quite buried
in this cemetery, though they follow the afternoon
noise of bulldozers like tip after tip
of white tailed deer disappearing.
by the soybeans edging the delta from the dead,
keeping their clammy petals pulled
shut like Klan hoods. A language
they labored to forget—Swedish was Natchez silt,
loam in the throat
their children never spoke.
I know the spicebush swallowtails flutter like angels
over the wood ducks’ pond,
that the scum’s slow ripple
is the alligator case of my grandfather’s harmonica
and its chromatic shift
back and forth to sharp.
Though magnolia buds are too awkward
and pungent for angels, I know
they could hold the blood of a woman
or a man
like the gauze pads
she used in Germany to patch shrapneled
eyes of soldiers before knowing
the right place. Because this is the right place,
the wrong time,
the lapse of decades a salt brine between us—
of women linking arms. In the photograph—with me,
unborn, the bark hardening on a sycamore, dry wind
over the bayou,
the palsied cotton just about to fall.
Sappho on the Edge of the Bayou
Coughed up the jazz band’s brass throats,
weddings are a hollow music
pressed thickly around curls
of the wrought iron gate,
the cast solid magnolia. There is rust
coppering down the fine
edges of everything here
in this violet light—the white pickup’s
eaten paint, rose ash of cinderblocks,
the one cool sting
of dill on my palm. I wave
goodbye to you as the stone
face of the swamp refuses
your far-off reflection. It’s better
this way. As you leave under
that snow of thrown rice, your veil
is the thinnest fishing net. Gongyla, arm
and arm with a man whose vow
grows heavier midair—it hangs
there like a darkening
smile, sweat on the edges
of your gown. Goodbye, my rose—
This is the song I write
for your wedding, love, as pyramids
rise and weather: when willows
strangle the water pipes, a kiss
of cornmeal on your brow.
Now, I wipe a stone bird’s wings, now
the washboards miss a beat. With this
song I am snapped
loose like the sheep-gut
strings of a lyre.
Late June, walking the deer runs
to Goose Pond after supper,
summer begins. Sidestepping
dry-wading the slash from the pulpers' camps
ten years ago, keeping the imaginary
straight line from Duck Island Light to the north side
of Goose Pond Mountain in our minds' eyes, poking
our fish poles through young hackmatack
straight-arms, trying to keep from snagging
the green fur, the purple stars in the schooldesk landscape
of the nautical chart.
The island woods are yellow. The evening sun
sprays through from the other side of the evergreens.
Woodcolors, our first grade pegs
arranging. We push for the first view
of the marsh-edged shore, spruce stumpsticks
edging deep water trout
neverminding the cold. We know where we are:
a mile straight in on the yellow.
We lose our way. My son climbs a blue spruce
to see where we've been: the two Sisters,
Long Island Plantation. On the left, the Baptist
church in Atlantic. We head into the sun.
Late June, walking the deer runs
to Goose Pond after supper,
summer begins suddenly. We can hear
the creeing of gulls. Beyond the trees
they are landing, taking off, landing.
Saltwhite. Freshblue. It is all
prearranged. In a minute now
we will see the pond. Nothing has changed.
The New Yorker
KITING: A REVERIE
The only play is for keeps: the way the red-tailed hawk
curls a thousand feet over the stream and hurls himself in a chalk-
line down to bunch against the magnified neck, a minuscule drifter
stark in the pebbly waters of the stream-brain; the way Ophelia
herself weeps neither for wage nor the lover’s eye, leaving
the wings for good, the play forever, the irretrievable comfort of make-
believe; the way we drop in dreams to take
our place in the kingdom of the lost, to wonder beside the great stones
at the mica glints, the lost gazing before the shroud hovers in bones
of light over the back of our head, takes our neck in its mouth
to do with what it will; the way we drop into each other’s arms
from the day’s events, the hours polishing the table at the empty farm
for the love of gods, for mercy’s sake, the human dream.
This must go on we say, this keep-in-touch, this tangled play
of lobes and nipple burls, this fingering light
play of flesh opening and closing down from a great height,
handing ourselves over—oh, yes, to the hawk’s breath
on our fragile neck, and our tongue’s stealth.
The New Yorker
Butternut squash flowers bloom on the edges of the late
picked fields, and the hurricane season languishes
in the glow of Penn Warren's hundredth year, the anguish
of New Orleans in the autumn air, our state
of mind. His Band of Angels tracks us down
again,"sold down the river" in high yellow season
again, the nation's old theme. Long fuses, vines
bursting into trumpet flames, Amanda, brown
become "yaller," the genitalia of the map
the slave journey's end. Robert of Kentucky knew
King Louis' delta earth, the fecund sap
of life: mockingbirds, trombones, the brew
of bodies intertwined. When the walls came tumbling
down, the angels wept, fearing at the rumbling.
The Barnes and Noble in Evansville, Indiana, mostly sells coffee
though the manager said ten or twelve showed up once for a local author.
One, besides my friend Laura, came for me. I thought of priests
who must pronounce the full Eucharist even if no one goes to mass,
thought Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde looked kind of pained
as Barnes and Noble posters, and facing fifteen empty folding chairs,
I suggested we all just go downstairs for coffee. I was hopeful—
I hate bookstore readings which pay nothing but constant interruptions:
Customer service on line eight. Does one keep reading in that case, or pause
to incorporate the line into her poem? “No way! I came to hear poetry!”
said a woman in walking shorts and sandals with socks. “I’m a poet, too.
Can’t help the disease. It’s either write or go mad.” She had bangs
and plastic glasses like Ramona the Pest. “I’m Barbara. Don’t write
much now, too busy working and labor organizing at the Whirlpool plant.
Come from Henderson, Kentucky, over the river. You hear of a white person
committing a crime in Henderson, that would be my relative.
But let’s get going. I’ve got things to do yet tonight.” So I got going.
Sometimes Barbara moaned as if she’d tasted something delicious or cried,
“Hey, that was a good one.” People walking by eyed us the way
they look at preachers in bus stations. A woman and little girl sat in back.
The mom held a book about women who love too much in front of her face
like a mask, the girl imitated with a Madeline storybook, but sometimes
she peeked at me, and they stayed almost to the end. Barbara took my book
from the stack waiting to be returned. “Wouldn’t buy it if I didn’t like the work,”
she said as I signed, then walked out with us. “You know, it’s still 73 cents
to the dollar. No matter how much education you have, you’re working harder
and making less than a white man. For women of color, it’s worse.
And now all we get is backlash. Well, I’m a 50-year-old woman, and
they can kiss my ass.” That spring, Barbara fasted for 19 days at the gates
of the governor’s mansion because he’d turned Kentucky’s community colleges
into trade schools. “Do you know what that means?” she jabbed me with her bird eyes.
“No history, no political science, no literature, no going on for a college degree
like I did, and you watch, it’s coming to other states. Evil bastards will call it
job training, but it’s just one more way to keep poor people down.” Outside,
light mist was falling on cars in the parking lot, softening neon signs down the strip.
“Take care of yourself,” she waved a blessing. “Where the hell is your umbrella?”
Double the Digits
we called the game Jenny made up driving
back roads through West Virginia
at twice the speed on signs. Foot on
the gas, foot on the brake, she’d take
a 25 mile-an-hour curve at 50, triumphant
until something thudded under the hood,
then hissed as we drifted to the berm;
engine black cracked, her dad’s Peugeot
left for the wrecker, sold for scrap.
She never could tell him how girls,
16 and 18, could get so bend on speed
they’d ignore an oil light’s warning.
When my dad’s Plymouth Fury hit 78,
weightless, on a crested curve of Route 136
and nearly flew into the grill
of a soda delivery truck, we swerved
toward a pole on Donna’s side then
were gone before the guy hit his horn.
We never said it, but close calls
like that made us see state troopers
on front porches, hats in hand, moments
before our mothers open the door. Yet
we played that game every chance
we got until college separated us
from our fathers’ cars. Jenny divorced,
then married a canoe guide up north.
Because Donna married a black man,
she can’t set foot on her home farm.
And now, I can barely stay in the lines
so I keep going back, as if those times,
half a life ago, could explain why some women
get driven by a dumb desire for flight.
Julia Spicher Kasdorf
The Paris Review
Bat boy, Break a Leg
The student with two studs in his nose
and a dragon tattoo crawling from his collar,
who seems always ready to swoon
from bliss or despair, now flits
At my office door. I will look at his poem
drawn onto a music score and find nothing
to say about chance or HIV.
Only later I’ll think to tell him
the night before I left home, I slept
sadly in our old house until a wing
touched my cheek, tenderly as a breeze.
I woke to black fluttering at my feet,
and a mind fresh from the other side
said don’t turn on the light, don’t
Wake the man, don’t scream or speak.
Go back to sleep. The next morning
I remembered that people upstate
whack them with tennis rackets, that
the Chinese character for good luck
resembles the character for bat—
both so unsettling and erratic—
but it’s bad luck to say good luck
in China, as on stage where they say
Break a leg, so delicate bats
must be woven into silk brocade
and glazed onto porcelain plates.
Next morning, I found a big-eared mouse
with leather folded over his shoulders
hanging from claws stuck in a screen.
All day, my work made me forget, but
then I’d remember, passing the window
where he slept, shaded under the eves.
He was fine. I was fine. Then at dusk,
he was gone, suddenly. Pale boy dressed in black,
Maybe the best that can be said for any of us is that
once we were angelic enough to sleep with strangers.
He touched my cheek. I opened the screen.
He flew in his time. We did no harm.
Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Poetry in America
TOO NEAR A CERTAIN DEATH
Moonlight mounts the windowsill
a ghostly blade of light that cuts
across the carpet, sliding toward
the bed where you are curled
in sleep and I, awake, watch
as it moves unimpeded down the length
of bed, hallowing the space
between us; somewhere
I have read that lovers
sleep like seeds warm in the soil
of one another's embrace; we have always
turned our backs in search of solitude;
at first, I wondered if we feared we might
divulge some secret through
our skin, or touch
a wound that hidden had not healed, awake
we bend often toward love; probing
the spot where pain and pleasure
merge, giving, taking back, forgiveness
like a benediction on our lips, and prayers;
and on those softer
nights explore, exposing gently what
in sleep we choose to hide; some call it
courting lies, this back
to back focusing on silent corners
of the room, as if believing that the body comes
to truth in sleep, and in a way it does;
always too near a certain death, one needs
to privately embrace the cold, one needs
to face the prospect of the grave, only
when we are still warm from where our hands
have left their mark, are we that brave.
-Susan A. Katz
WHY SHE DIED
Because she could no longer see
the sun; past care
or caring, locked in the cell
of her insanity she cursed
the doctors and cried
into the tapioca; too tough
she muttered and remembered
something that mattered.
Because in Long Beach ants
invaded the back porch she boiled
water, steam rising to curl
her hair and dumped it on them;
they died in hordes, black bubbles
rising to the surface of that
temporary lake, already draining
through the boards.
Because there was no room left
in the family plot, we had to dig
the rhododendron out; by adding
her death to the rest, we tried
to make it matter less.
-Susan A. Katz
Manhattan Poetry Review
HALFWAY TO NOWHERE
Distance separates us from ourselves
and one another; divide a space in half
and half remains, we come
together but we never
touch, imagination fuels
our passions and incites
our fantasies to bridge
We meet halfway
to nowhere, like a dream begun,
unfinished by our waking; the game
is played out in our heads, our hands
hold air, our fingers feel
what isn't there.
What's real is what we think
is real and if space halves
itself then so must time and death's
preposterous since nothing stops
and nothing starts and if
we cannot meet
we cannot part.
-Susan A. Katz
West of Ireland Anthology
The worst is
before early light from Kyoto
on what is
left of the railway line to go
as far as you
can to Kobe,
with blankets, food, drink, clothes
cracked unrecognisable roads,
no Ko back from his charmed palace
years too late,
and the nights
turn blacker than you knew they could,
but you must
walk still four hours more uphill
to what was
once a Kobe university
and spend one
hour of greetings how are you?
how many are
the missing now, the dead?
your gifts of clothing, comfort, bread,
returning on land marked with holes and rubble
the worst part
being the last
railway line is breached,
when the light
torches fight the dark
struggle on alone,
trying to keep
to the way,
believe that there is a way
Driving To Noto
Men are better
says Toshi I know
no they are
not says I (I also know)
and so we
argue to the tip of Noto
To Suzu where
the wood huts slump in shock
suddenly in frocks of snow
and the sea is
whipped to icicles of frenzy
Over a nabe
pot of fish and cabbage
me not to call it cabbage
for it is the
vastly superior hakusai)
our host asks
me my age
than he thought
don't you like
So I assure
me from choosing
one of them
road is white, wide as a field
spread themselves with frosting
windscreen blanks out like a blizzard
at the iced-up wipers singing
waving me in
hangs in the boughs
The pine trees
are bent nearly in two
having a barbecue,
more than a mile over grassland
rises to eye-level,
green, its crop of dandelion heads
light as balls
turfed out of
In the laundromat, breathing steam,
Women were slapping flies
With sandals. Out
front a graybeard
Backed pickup into parked car, stove in
The trunk. Cop
said, “Better come along, mister,
For a mental evaluation.” Snort.
Snort. “What you mean, sonny?
Been drivin’ afore you was born.
Outta my way now, let me git on home.”
“Sorry, sir, it’s your safety
I’m thinking of and other people’s.”
Why dontcha ’rest these assholes park
In back o’ other people’s? Shoulda
Glumly, the geezer climbed
Into patrol car.
Woman with skunk
Stripe through her hair said, “Buggers
Thickern warts on a warthog.”
Slapping, missing, slapping,
“Amen, you say unto me,”
- X. J. Kennedy
All day the blanket snapped and swelled
on the line, roused by a hot spring wind....
From there it witnessed the first sparrow,
early flies lifting their sticky feet,
and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain....At dusk
I took the blanket in, and we slept,
restless, under its fragrant weight.
February: Thinking of Flowers
Now wind torments the field,
turning the white surface back
on itself, back and back on itself,
like an animal licking a wound.
Nothing but white--the air, the light;
only one brown milkweed pod
bobbing in the gully, smallest
brown boat on the immense tide.
A single green sprouting thing
would restore me. . . .
Then think of the tall delphinium,
swaying, or the bee when it comes
to the tongue of the burgundy lily.
Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?
The men sprawl near the baler,
too tired to leave the field.
They talk and smoke,
and the tips of their cigarettes
blaze like small roses
in the night air. (It arrived
and settled among them
before they were aware.)
The moon comes
to count the bales,
and the dispossessed--
--sings from the dusty stubble.
These things happen. . .the soul's bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses. . .
The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.
Then it was dusk in Illinois, the small boy
After an afternoon of carting dung
Hung on the rail fence, a sapped thing
Weary to crying. Dark was growing tall
And he began to hear the pond frogs all
Calling on his ear with what seemed their joy.
Soon their sound was pleasant for a boy
Listening in the smoky dusk and the nightfall
Of Illinois, and from the fields two small
Boys came bearing cornstalk violins
And they rubbed the cornstalk bows with resins
And the three sat there scraping of their joy.
It was now fine music the frogs and the boys
Did in the towering Illinois twilight make
And into dark in spite of a shoulder's ache
A boy's hunched body loved out of a stalk
The first song of his happiness, and the song woke
His heart to the darkness and into the sadness of joy.
What A Kingdom It Was
For William Carlos Williams
When you came and you talked and you read with your
Private zest from the varicose marble
Of the podium, the lovers of literature
Paid you the tribute of almost total
Inattention, although when you spoke of a pig
Did squirm, and it is only fair to report another gig-
gled. But you didn't even care. You seemed
Above remarking we were not your friends.
You hung around inside the rimmed
Circles of your heavy glasses and smiled and
So passed a lonely evening. In an hour
Of talking your honesty built you a tower.
When it was over and you sat down and the chair-
man got up and smiled and congratulated
You and shook your hand, I watched a professor
In neat bow tie and enormous tweeds, who patted
A faint praise of the sufficiently damned,
Drained spittle from his pipe, then scrammed.
What A Kingdom It Was
And so it was I sheered,
Eccentric, into outer space,
And tracked with lost paces
The forgotten journey of a child,
Across the creaking snow,
Up the deer-trail,
Over the snowdrifted hill
Into the secret country
Where a boy once found,
Routing from ledge to ledge
In a tumult at sunrise,
The cascading of Leaping Falls.
Now the falls lay draped
Without motion or sound,
Icicles fastened in stories
To stillness and rock. At the bottom,
A heap of broken icicles
Lay dead blue on the snow.
Cold was through and through,
But clouds at my nostrils
Moved. Then I uttered a word,
Simply a bleak word
Slid from my lips. Whereupon
A topmost icicle came loose
And fell, and struck another
With a bell-like sound, and
Another, and the falls
Leapt at their ledges, ringing
Down the rocks and on each other
Like an outbreak of bells
That rings and ceases.
The silence turned around
And became silence again.
Under the falls on the snow
A twigfire of icicles burned pale blue.
What A Kingdom It Was
Maybe someone pouring a first cup of coffee,
smoothing an alarming ATM voucher and puzzling
over an incriminating Polaroid with a phone number
on the back.
Or perhaps it’s the beautiful and petulant, tired
of modeling one teddy after another and refusing
to eat even butter lettuce until she has finished
my collected works.
Of course, there is always the Platonic reader:
comfortable chair, good light, my latest
on a Mission Oak table beside a steaming cup
of Earl Gray.
Then I remember that Plato didn’t trust poets,
so now my ideal reader has to leave the Republic
and cross the border to a lesser country, one
lit mostly by neon. He must be brave enough
to step into a store full of sheepish men
and ask in a whisper for my poems, his heart
pounding as the tattooed clerk looks both ways
then reaches under the counter where he keeps
the good stuff.
I have lived my whole life with death, said William
aetat 91, and haven't we all. Amen to that.
It's all right to gutter out like a candle but the odds are
for succumbing to a stroke or pancreatic cancer.
I'm not being gloomy, this bright September
when everything around me shines with being:
hummingbirds still raptured in the jewelweed,
puffballs humping up out of the forest duff
and the whole voluptuous garden still putting forth
bright yellow pole beans, deep-pleated purple cauliflowers,
to say nothing of regal white corn that feeds us
night after gluttonous night, with a slobber of butter.
Nevertheless, what Maxwell said speaks to my body's core,
this old body I trouble to keep up the way
I keep up my two old horses, wiping insect deterrent
on their ears, cleaning the corners of their eyes,
spraying their legs to defeat the gnats, currying burrs
out of their thickening coats. They go on grazing thoughtlessly
while winter is gathering in the wings. But it is not given
to us to travel blindly, all the pasture bars down,
to seek out the juiciest grasses, nor to predict
which of these two will predecease the other or to anticipate
the desperate whinnies for the missing that will ensue.
Which of us will go down first is also not given,
a subject that hangs unspoken between us
as with Oedipus, who begs Jocasta not to inquire further.
Meanwhile, it is pleasant to share opinions and mealtimes,
to swim together daily, I with my long slow back and forths,
he with his hundred freestyle strokes that wind him alarmingly.
A sinker, he would drown if he did not flail like this.
We have put behind us the State Department tour
of Egypt, Israel, Thailand, Japan that ended badly
as we leapt down the yellow chutes to safety after a botched
We have been made at home in Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland,
narrow, xenophobic Switzerland of clean bathrooms and much
We have travelled by Tube and Metro o'er the realms of gold
paid obeisance to the Wingèd Victory and the dreaded Tower,
but now it is time to settle as the earth itself settles
in season, exhaling, dozing a little before the fall rains come.
Every August when the family gathers, we pose
under the ancient willow for a series of snapshots,
the same willow, its lumpish trunk sheathed in winking aluminum
that so perplexed us forty years ago, before we understood
the voracity of porcupines. Now hollowed by age and marauders,
its aluminum girdle painted dull brown, it is still leafing
out at the top, still housing a tumult of goldfinches. We try to
and smile, squinting into the brilliance, the middleaged
the grown grandsons, the dogs of each era, always a pair
of grinning shelter dogs whose long lives are but as
compared to our own. We try to live gracefully
and at peace with our imagined deaths but in truth we go forward
stumbling, afraid of the dark,
of the cold, and of the great overwhelming
loneliness of being last.
Alaska Quarterly Review
The moon is backing away from us
an inch and a half each year. That means
if you’re like me and were born
around fifty years ago, the moon
was a full six feet closer to the earth.
What’s a person supposed to do?
I feel the gray cloud of consternation
travel across my face. I begin thinking
about the moon-lit past, how if you go back
far enough you can imagine the breathtaking
hugeness of the moon, prehistoric
solar eclipses when the moon covered the sun
so completely there was no corona, only
a darkness we had no word for.
And future eclipses will look like this: the moon
a small black pupil in the eye of the sun.
But these are bald facts.
What bothers me most is that someday
the moon will spiral right out of orbit
and all land-based life will die.
The moon keeps the oceans from swallowing
the shores, keeps the electromagnetic fields
in check at the polar ends of the earth.
And please, don’t tell me
what I already know, that it won’t happen
for a long time. I don’t care. I’m afraid
of what will happen to the moon.
Forget us. We don’t deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we’ve done. These nights
I harbor a secret pity for the moon, rolling
around alone in space without
her milky planet, her only love, a mother
who’s lost a child, a bad child,
a greedy child or maybe a grown boy
who’s murdered and raped, a mother
can’t help it, she loves that boy
anyway, and in spite of herself
she misses him, and if you sit beside her
on the padded hospital bench
outside the door to his room, you can’t not
take her hand, listen to her while she
weeps, telling you how sweet he was,
how blue his eyes, and you know she’s only
romanticizing, that she conveniently
forgotten the bruises and booze,
the stolen car, the day he ripped
the phones from the walls, and you want
to slap her back to sanity, remind her
of the truth: he was a leech, a fuck-up,
a little shit, and you almost do
until she lifts her pale puffy face, her eyes
two craters, and then you can’t help it
either, you know love when you see it,
you can feel it’s lunar strength, its brutal pull.
Facts about the Moon
LEARNING TO DRIVE
The long miles down the back road
I learned to drive on. The boy riding
shotgun. His hand on my hand on
the gear shift knob, our eyes locked
on the dusty windshield, the cracked
asphalt, old airstrip, the nothing spreading
for miles: scrub brush, heat waves, sky,
a few thin contrails. His patience
endless. My clumsiness: the grinding
gears, the fumbled clutch. The wrench
of it popped like an arm from its socket,
his blue, beloved 57 Ford lurching,
stalled in the dirt. I was 16, he was older,
his football-player shoulders muscular,
wide. Where did he get his kindness?
Why spend it on a girl like me: skinny,
serious, her nails bitten, her legs
bruised. Hours under summer’s
relentless heat, his car stumbling
across the barren lot until I got it,
understood how to lift my left foot,
press my right hand, in tandem, like dancing,
which I never learned to do, never wanted
to turn circles on the polished floor
of a dark auditorium, the bleachers
hemming me in. I drove toward the horizon,
gravel jitterbugging under his tires. Lizards
skittering. Jays rising to the buzz
of telephone wires. He taught me
how to handle a car, how to downshift
into second, peel out from a dead stop.
His fist hung from the open window,
knuckles clamped on a lit cigarette,
dragging smoke. We couldn’t guess
where we were going. He didn’t know
he was flying to Vietnam
and I was on my way out of there,
The Byrds singing Eight Miles High
when he turned off the radio
and told me to brake, opened his door
and slid out to stand on the desert road,
let me go it alone. His back pressed
against all that emptiness.
The Book of Men
I never really understood why the Beatles
broke up, the whole
Yoko Ono thing seemed an excuse
for something deeper.
Sure, she was an irritation
with her helium screech, her skimpy
leatherette skirts, those tinted ovoid glasses
eclipsing half her face.
But come on, Hey Jude
was putting caviar on the table, not to mention
those glittering lines of cocaine. Beatle music
was paying for moats dug out with a fleet
of backhoes circling the stadium-sized perimeters
of four manicured estates. Why Don’t We
Do It In the Road was backing up traffic
around the amphitheaters of the industrial world.
Yoko’s avant-garde art projects and op-art
outfits were nothing against the shiploads of lucre
I’m Fixing a Hole and Here Comes the Sun
were bringing in.
So why did they do it?
They had wives, kids, ex-wives, mortgages,
thoroughbreds and waist-coated butlers, lithe
young assistants power lunching with publicists
in Paris, Rome. And they must have loved
one another almost as much as John
loved Yoko, brothers from the ghetto,
their shaggy heads touching
above the grand piano, their voices
straining toward perfect harmony.
Maybe they arrived
at a place where nothing
seemed real. A field
bigger than love or greed or jealousy.
An open space
where nothing is enough.
Superman: The Chapbook
My brother wore his favorite shirt
that winter night they took him away
the shirt that "strongly suggests"
that those in power are illegitimate.
We knew they'd come with ritual offense
in the small hours reserved for small acts.
Friends slipped through the curfew
with luxuries—vodka, fruit, and fresh meat for
the latke pies prepared as for a high
holy feast—incense of their sympathy,
gifts to ease the waiting, sustain what was left
of sanity. We could deny the inevitable
while loosing time together; watching
the watchers, drinking white spirits
until they broke through as tears.
They sent back his shirt
without the buttons.
Each anniversary, I wear it.
Ice flakes scraped with the plastic edge
of my new green-card settle on the cuffs,
memorials to the missing buttons.
Windshield wipers smack at the edge
of space cleared but not yet enough
to see a way ahead, to see a way home;
but it's a beginning, here in Freedom,
Wyoming, a place I chose for its name.
Go, they begged, before they take both of you.
I no longer flinch when pipes bang. I bleed
only radiator air, the rust smell mixing
with last night's garlic. I no longer fear
hammering on my door—now, I long
for it—someone to speak my name,
someone bringing meat-and-potato pie.
You see, doctor, last night I dreamed I was a bullet again. It wasn't all bad, at first: I made a lot of bullet-friends, some of them I even got so close to that when it all turned, when I learned I was expendable, that I had given them all the ammunition they'd ever need to simply use me . . . well, shoot, I was already as vulnerable as a man, could almost feel what it was like to have skin. And then in the dream I dreamt I was a man. . . being pushed
out of a house like a gun giving birth to a bullet, and being made to walk down some alley like a shot in the dark. In the alley the air pushed down on my head, it was so strange to be moving so slowly. The walls of two buildings pushed towards me almost kindly, to cradle me or kill me, almost kindly. And this is so strange, I thought, to be taking a powder and think the walls might love me. It made me believe that everything I've ever done has been too fast, and I had an image of the face of my life exploding by, looking at me kind of sadly, like it would never forgive me or return. And that's why I'm here this afternoon. It's like all of a sudden I have a question or two, and this morning when I looked in the mirror, when I put my gun in my pocket, I hadn't the least idea of who to ask.
Spoon River Poetry Review
. . . half a century ago
when things still seemed pretty modern
and underlying motives were the same
though not the dark, intricate working out of them.
-John Ashbery, "Film Noir"
is to understand that Point A and Point B
are really quite
close. For example, there are many other
places further down the line that are
letters and letters away. And why would you
even think of Point F or Point S when B is
where he is, having dinner with his girl,
right there in the middle of some clamhouse,
open like an oyster that your bullet can
pearl. As for the reasons why, they were
personal, and I was compelled. Why should
anyone get away with something like the
worst smell of the worst part of town? You
know he might as well have done it to you,
even if he didn't. What was he thinking
moving around so early in the morning for
such a thing? How couldn't he know that you
would be in this position, that eventually
you would find the thing out, that mess in a
corner of Avenue A. It's simple math that
when a thing is done, someone will have to
do something else, and that I would do it
even if I didn't have to. It's so
obvious it could be a philosophy. It's so
could be an insult. I'll crack him like a
soft-boiled egg for not respecting me, even
though he doesn't even know me, for being so
stupid to not understand the consequences
that lead from this to this are as close as
the space between two letters. What, after
all, is the longest distance between
point A and point B?
The Dark Lady of the Movies
I don't have to shoot. I don't have to glide
words around the wound of the world, or my
own, like a schoolboy learning how to use a
slide rule, or something slipping down a
dark alley. Men are terminally glib--that's
the original sin. When they rib you, you'd
think they created you. The rib is the rub;
I let them think I'm amused. When I cross my
legs, or genuflect, I'm playing with two
things I made all by myself--them and me,
like the monster making Frankenstein, and
himself. I'm the bride, but not Christ's,
sugar, and not of any sucker in seersucker,
with a line in one hand and a little piece
of shadow in the other. I'm the bride of
myself, a holy matrimony made in a hollow
place near Saginaw, and a ceremony where I
play every part: priestess, bridesmaid,
bridesman?--I made that word up--the woman
who shouts her own objections. I'm the
church in a red dress, the sacrifice of
self-sacrifice, a union of necessity and a
torn piece of white linen. If you think you
see a streak of light across my eyes, it's
because the face of the world was conceived
blackly, and a voice told me to provide
something dark and shiny, some image of
self-image, repeated. I need an accomplice,
that's my fatal flaw, slouching towards a
couch in a shabby room when I should be the
Empress of China, Cleopatra, at least Theda
Bara. Even though the asp comes out of my
breast, it strikes back at its home; but
it's still a fatal mistake to think I won't
get the goods on you, that I could be
shanghaied is a dirty little myth: I'm a
hall of mirrors that no one should ever
He blew the famous opening figure of “West End Blues”
and then... A long pause. A long long pin-drop pause.
This sounded like nothing the four of us had been hearing out here
at the Famous Sunnybrook Ballroom in East Jesus, PA,
which was in fact a moth-eaten tent to which in summer
the post-war big bands, then fading into the fifties --
the likes of the Elgars or Les Brown and His Band of Renown --
would arrive to coax the newly middle-aged and their elders
into nostalgia and dance. My cousin, our pretty steadies
and I were younger, cocksure, full of contraband beer,
but the moment I speak of knocked even us in the know-it-all chops.
I suddenly dreamed I could see through the tent’s canvas top
clear up to stars that stopped their fool blinking and planets that
stock-still over cows and great-eyed deer in the moonlight
and ducks ablaze on their ponds because everything in God’s world
understood this was nothing like anything they’d known before.
It’s still a fantasy, that sorry tent a lantern,
transparent as glass, through which I beheld the landscape around it
as though it showed in some Low Country more-than-masterpiece
while no one danced. The crassest fat-necked burgher in the crowd
sat rapt, as did his missus, the moment being that strong.
It lingered strong, beginning to end, through the blues that followed.
Then Velma Middleton got up to jive and bellow.
She broke the charm, her scintillant dress like a tent itself,
and people resumed the lindy and foxtrot as she and he
traded the always-good-for-laughs double meanings
of “Big Butter and Egg Man,” “That’s My Desire,”
and so on. And so we four, or rather we two boys,
resumed our drinking and boasting until the band took its break.
Full enough by now of the Bud and some of the rum
that the cousin had brought -- which would take him in too sadly short a
away to another shore forever -- I stood and pledged:
I’ll get his autograph. It made no sense at all.
I staggered to and through the canvas’s backstage hole,
the mocking jibes of cousin and sweethearts dying behind me,
and beheld a row of semi- trucks: his equipage.
There were two doors as to a house in each, and a little set
of metal steps underneath. Without a hitch, I climbed
one stair of the bunch. It made no sense except it did.
I knew.... Something had burned into my reeling brain
when that opening solo started, and the man would have to be
just there where he was when I knocked on one of the several doors
inside the trailer, and the growl was Fate: it didn’t surprise me:
Come in, he said. How could he? How could he not? I came.
It was meant to be, and still I stammered with puzzlement, shame.
I’d had a vision, yes, and yet to have the vision
there before me.... Wonder! Great Armstrong at a desk
in an undershirt, suspenders flapping, his face near blinding,
sweatbeads charged by the gimcrack rack of fluorescent lights
so that he seemed to wear an aura -- it was all
one supple motion, the way he reached into a drawer,
drew out a jug of Johnny Walker, sucked it down
to the label, squared before him a sheet of paper, ready
for me, it seemed, flourished a fountain pen and wrote:
Red Beans and Ricely Yours at Sunny Brook Ballroom . Pops.
Back at the table they judged it was real enough by the looks.
“I just walked in and got it,” I bragged, as if a miracle
hadn’t transpired, as great as any I’d ever know.
I bragged as if my part in it all were important somehow,
and God hadn’t just looked down and said, Well okay -- him.
And what remains from then? Not the paper, long since lost,
nor the lovely, silken girls, Sally and Barbara,
nor the cousin, as I’ve said, who crossed the foulest river,
nor that brash, that truly and stunningly blessèd younger I,
nor the heavenstruck beasts and the trees and the moon and the sky.
Just a handful of opening notes from a horn which are there forever.
The Southern Review
In pattern affirm
expansion of thought.
In vagueness draw taut.
In craft avoid charm.
When jaded, transform.
When cast small, exploit
what is small. When brought
to extremes conform
if what is conformed
takes widening weight.
When rigid be wrought.
When assumed, disarm.
When fervor is sought,
yield frenzy of storm.
The Yearning in Mid-Life for Marriage
Gather me. The age
of love’s detritus
drops fast upon us
when all is heart’s sludge
dredged in vast tonnage
from holds within us.
Espouse and we plus
gross from loss, manage
a sweet, rare silage.
Or refrain, dismiss
a last, dearth-torqued kiss
and cuddle salvage
of brake and cactus,
burr and skunk cabbage.
The National Poetry
and limb burdened, buoyed smoke- and ghost-
and Christ-like in reluctant temperament,
citizens of crevices
and small lost pots,
they lack panache.
Once my mother made one of a wash-
cloth laced with blooded clay. Twelve years later
on a cold Tribeca bar-
room barstool in
a lean, gin-bright
Easter Sunday morning lull, I ate
two, diced and salted on a shell thin plate
of pale, petal stenciled trim
and orchid white.
This morning, the wind is all we have of time.
And though no one drowns, Tomales bay seems an afterlife
your father would want to enter, balloons lifting into sky
like the little boats cornered in his last breaths,
and the body's torturous slowing
winding the joy of a dozen children taut.
Look at how they dive and leap
just beyond our reach.
Look at how their gravity dissolves
and then returns, as if to practice leaving.
I know you feel it too:
how the laurel bays nod to the horizon;
How the endpoints of your father's history
suspend you in the thick blue dream
of a late summer noon,
the children gathered now around the candles.
And as they bend to damp the flame,
I want you to put your arm in mine;
I want to touch the girls we once were
in exactly the way they need.
I want them to hear you whispering, It will be alright,
just as here, high above the bay,
a flock of cormorants arrows west.
Their wings make a thrumming cloak
as they rust past, and then just as quickly
so that suddenly we are undressed
of all our ordinary shame, and perilously beautiful
in the winter of what follows after:
that orchard of dark rain
unfolding in the distance--
always the distance
ripening, gathering weight.
Parthenon West Review
An actual place in the actual city
where we all grew up. You and I pass it
on the way to school or on the way home
after work. It's where the old house
once stood, its wide eyes open day and night,
replaced by nothing. Call it an empty lot
though it's not empty. Wild flags in April,
a froth of lacy white flowers Mama called
wild chicory, and milkweed, rye, broom,
in autumn the aftermath of rhubarb
no one ever harvests, a long trench
suitable for warfare and once propped
with spare timbers from the first house
that crashed here.
Three blocks away,
where the local police station once ruled
over seventeen abandoned bungalows
and the pharmaceutical warehouse
the mice sublet, the traffic light stuck
on yellow years ago, so now the big semis
bound for Wyandotte go through
without bothering to slow. It grants
a certain misleading permissiveness
you'd expect to find in the brighter
neighborhoods of Amsterdam or Vegas,
those places where blown roses spread
their private charms on long stems
lacquered like toenails.
The real city
awakens on a late Saturday morning
in the new century to find its river
working seaward, the faceless moon--
awake all night--has stolen off
without a word. In the house
that stood here, a shade is raised
to let the day in, a woman's memory
almost takes shape as she stands
frozen at the window. If we're quiet
we might hear something alive
on the move through the dusty alleys
or the little, abandoned parks, some-
thing left behind, the spirit of the place
welcoming us, if the place had a spirit.
The New Yorker
Ruffian…Her speed outpaced the cougar. Her grace rivaled the Gazelle.
In the long history of horse racing, she was to be only a moment’s magic.
She had “the look of eagles” which no one could forget.” Dorothy Callahan
it was as if she had
wings and then
the wings turned to
wax, were melting.
There was a hush,
seconds after the
wild cheers as
ahead. It was hot
and the roses were
dripping. The sun
kept on, as it did
with Icarus falling
from the sky on
melting wings. The
birds didn't stop.
When her jockey
pulled her up that
last night, everyone
who knew must
From THE LICORICE DAUGHTER:
MY YEAR WITH RUFFIAN
-Texas Review Press
Such tabloid frenzy once word got out.
Never mind the flood.
Consequences standing in for God.
Question lyric authenticity.
This need we have to rescue ourselves.
As thousands storm the stage.
To trust mistrust instead of money.
Please go on. And on.
Sun and rain and the in-between.
A media circus in his pants.
Aboard an ark of our own making.
Far easier to go than not.
And love you long as the moment lasts.
Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art
where our initials remain
carved into the trunk
of an American beech
only lovers could inflict
on a landscape gone
spread beneath the shade
of false solomon’s seal—
caught up in a rhythm of speak-easy love
societal strictness as the grounds for drink
so found themselves exorcised of doubts
orthodoxy sabotaging the selfless selves
frolicking hard till the curtain came down
came in alone went out a stranger music
sounds more dog than dog would ever be
as praise embarrassed his gleaming horn
passersby rubbing fingers on his cheeks
to see indeed if the color would come off
It is a green globe like a vegetable light bulb
with a stem to meet either soil or small living tree;
it is mottled like an old man's face or is wizened
like the enormous head of a fetus. Now the stem
has come away from a navel.
It has the stolid heft of a stone. The smell seeps up
and leads the mind far away to the earth's ancient cave.
Its taste is also a pungent dirt with a kind of bark
that is quite difficult to chew;
here is the small tomb of woman.
Mother smells its fresh soil even with her dead sense. She feels
its husk. Her body inside is the soft flesh of fruit,
and her heart this oval green core.
Her grief, her anger is that she
no longer has life, but the stuff of her breathes a res-
idue that has remained in earth
and in the minds of the children.
Oh, now I know her skin sighs green
as this fluted fruit: her spirit
is the taste of it, transmuted.
The Fatal Shore
The horseshoe crab in frail armorplate,
broken open as if by a javelin throw,
lay in the sand like a cracked jam jar,
the son of some Trojan.
Achilles too arrived in medias res
at his mortal scene.
The booming foghorn, the groaning buoy,
tide by tide by tide
kept their mockeries to themselves.
Was there no end to them?
Lost Renaissance studies with a sepia cast,
the dunes receded in perspective.
Fog lounged in the marsh shallows.
A soda-colored dawn again and again
rubbed salt into the clapboards,
collapsing upon a radiant wild-eyed dailiness.
Dullness, too, was my god.
Tangled knobs of seaweed
drifted up the beach on the curt tide,
like myrmidons out of work.
The New Yorker
The winding road beneath the ancient oaks,
edged with palmetto scrub, like nature’s little jokes,
cut a crooked path to that antique Eden,
one that God forgot. A place like Sweden.
Past the sudsy gray lake where water boiled,
the treeless, marshy prairie, still unspoiled,
unfolded to the horizon, a hand-drawn chart
with monsters at the corners, like a work of art.
We lay beneath the gray-green oaks to rest,
while blizzards rang their changes further west.
Then, before us, a red-shouldered hawk
dropped like the hand of an invisible clock
into dry cracked reeds. The day grew still,
as if someone somewhere had grown ill.
At last the hawk lifted, with something in its claws—
even Dame Nature must obey her laws.
And that was all. No one else was there to see,
or provide the consolation of philosophy.
When we turned back, the breeze had shifted,
or was that cloud like an eyebrow lifted?
New England Review
The Blessèd Redemption of Delft
(i.m. Carel Fabritius, 1622-1654)
Rank with the clotted, simmering greens,
the sleek canals were overgrown
with shade, and then the thought of shade
the painter made his own.
The rain was taught by harder rains,
as if the heavens disagreed
with that distinguished, apostolic light
consoling in its need.
He loved the century’s moral itch,
the mortal purpose of the eye,
revealing what would constitute
a civilized reply.
Within the burnished, gilded frame,
the oil starts to turn to flesh,
as if the burning of long silences
let us begin afresh.
The New Republic
I knew a woman without blemish,
whose black hair fell past her face,
her breasts, her thin waist, her legs.
The last time I saw her, before she vanished,
she said, It's a spell. I never thought
anyone could be so beautiful.
You children of the lake, who climb
trees and steal eggs from nests, who steal
into the chicken coop and take eggs,
who hide in the ink at the edge of light
so no one sees you when you throw eggs
at the window of the woman you call witch--
in the morning you will find your yellow
names scratched in the yolk, you will
from there on be called Sulphur.
The Modern Review
An hour before the west
sips old wine,
the wind, lazy until now,
whips my hair, blond batter
for gulls. What are they
if not words in the sky
which otherwise might not speak?
Sun that measures earth is
on their wings, soft
flap of light.
Private as a dream, one
drops behind a wave;
another pilots it in
deserting his ship seconds
before it deserts him.
They rest awhile then fly
out to search for my
to the sea
to read and read.
-MARY LUCINA, RSM
They took ten phones out, piled
them in a box in the hall. Thought
they were rubbers no one claimed.
until I got closer and heard
ringing from around the country.
Can't disconnect voices telling
of vacation plans changed to flat
tires, of arthritis continuous as
wires on poles and stories spread
with the jellies of children.
After the new phones learn
our alphabet they'll know us the way
teachers did when we sat
in the rows of their foreheads.
Dial tone works but not
your voice. Back at the box
I call you. Your words fluff my rooms
like curtains in a breeze. Now I
know why these phones aren't
No box could hold the silence.
-MARY LUCINA, RSM
WERE IT NOT
Noise of the highway dims
as we follow a path
alongside a railroad.
Rust and steel, companions
on their way west, are heavier
than trains that once passed
Steam unable to take the heat
departed quick as it could
and the men who shoveled coal in
have switched to other tracks.
Glad to unload for awhile
some passengers slept.
Others waved as we skated.
Keys around necks were medals
that blessed ball bearings.
Our shadows on the lines
as we played hopscotch should
have been put out of the game.
We continue for a mile.
Birds arrive in trees and depart, their
schedule same as the wind's.
One sings to the tracks
hoping to relieve their pain.
Another flies toward the depot
which would collapse
from loneliness were it not
that sometimes in fog
a train pulls in.
-MARY LUCINA, RSM
Broken Rule #5
EVERYWHERE I GO THERE I AM
No self-pitying poems.
Two women lean at the cafeteria
counter in the last great
dime store downtown, Broadway
off Sixth. They've journeyed
through aisles of shower caps,
dollar jewelry, baby toys,
just to sit down. The old ones
hair's gone pale, tied back
like a trickle of snow,
her limbs so thin she could be
lifted on strings
like a puppet, then let go.
But her friend had looks she maybe
followed her star, came West.
Now she nightshifts someplace
for her bus fare and low rent.
She thinks, I bet, to hell with it
and rubs out her cigarette. Some
Yeah, it all adds up to one long
the escalator to the bins
of cheap stuff where you settle
for what you can get, then back up
for some lukewarm tea.
Don't be fooled, its just
poem about me.
Check back in twenty years
or so, you'll see.
- Suzanne Lummis
The Antioch Review
HURRYING TOWARD THE PRESENT
"No past tense permitted"
- Kay Boyle, A Poem for Samuel Beckett
Darlings, this may be the only
great escape we'll ever make:
start dropping your past
behind you-seeds, kernels
to be pecked up by scavengers.
You won't find your way back.
Or try this: package it,
mark it Was. Leave it in a locker
at the Greyhound Bus station.
Leave the door ajar. Let
a thief inherit it. You can bet
it'll dog him like it dogged you.
Step smack-flat into
the blasting present,
your heart asserting Now-Now.
You feel neither the pain
left behind, nor what waits
tapping its hard foot
And now, stand up the future!
Let it go on pacing and cursing
as it peers towards your whereabouts,
and the cat's eye gleam
of its watch calculates
the lateness of the hour.
The Cider Press Review
Tell me about it, for me
everyday's a bad hair day.
And no stylist in town'll
give me the latest non-
peroxide tint-they make
excuses, "Uh, sorry,
Ms. Medusa, we're all
booked up, no way."
Then people blame me
for my looks-jerks!
And shampoo? Yeah, right.
When soap gets in their eyes
try to pull a comb through these-
vipers you know, all of them
pissed off at each other and
the world. So, sure, they bite.
Plus: Girlfriend, you think
you've got it rough finding
men who aren't just mush?
All mine are rock!
But could I chip through
the granite and pull the men
back out? Guess not.
All I want 's a guy
who'd putter around out back,
fix things, come in handy.
And I'm still a babe-get past
my head, I'm hot.
I'm snake-bite candy.
In my dreams I let down, down,
my silky teen-queen locks,
and some cute prince climbs up.
If he asked I'd tell him, Oh,
those sculptures all along the walk?
Tributes to men who loved me
at first sight-that dangerous
emotion, like crystal Meth. Whoosh!
I took their breath.
- Suzanne Lummis
When the weather is right,
on the long drive to work, country roads all the way,
and walk the span to loosen my legs and check
before a car does. Last week, an old farmer idled by
His passing opened a huge quiet.
High water chuckled against wooden piers.
Mayflies glittered in the sun.
And the watertop was a black trance
until a light blue kayak floated into view below me—
a kid with a blaze of blond hair.
across gunnels, blades flashing, his face to the sky,
an Old Town canoe. I’d lie in the bottom, inspect the clouds
for shape, color, and size—my first job
toward some surprise, naming as I went: boot, nose, horsetail—
in a maroon cruiser, a white Stetson shading his face.
Did he think I was about to jump?
“You ain’t got any ideas, right?”
I smiled and shook my head. No ideas but in things,
my smart-ass twin almost said.
had dissolved into a picture of that boy in the kayak
“I was just looking,” I said,
“Just looking,“ and stepped from the rail
toward one more hour at the wheel.
All the way to heaven is heaven
some S.O.S. from the past.
that floats from your hand
into the patchwork shade.
leaves bursting into light,
It turns along the canyon floor in low winter light,
down into and up the sides of a dried
river bed through palo verde and jumping cholla
that bumped against could set your legs on fire.
I lag behind, again out of tune
with too much talk, pretending to retie my boot,
and see him again, Paul, drunk and perched
on the porch rail, trying to tie
his shoe, teetering, then falling a good five feet
into a bed of blue and purple pansies where
he lay playing dead, arms folded,
Ray pouring beer, taunting, Get up, you pansy!
I kept seeing him laid out, but this time not
by laughter. He fell in the kitchen
and never got up, came word from his son.
This last of my college housemates laughed
long-distance a month ago, us trading
insults as usual, him saying he’d get there first.
What I should do is stop at the first bar I come to:
Joe, Ray, and me will be waiting.
We might even buy you a beer, you dumb Polack!
Here I stand looking down at Paul in the pansies,
but still laid out, this desert air getting colder.
Darkness, like water, lifts from the canyon floor,
slowly climbs the redrock walls. My son
and his cousins are now far ahead, their laughing
voices faded into the repeated cheets of quail,
What am I doing? A few miles from the car,
off the trail, I pile some rocks into a small cairn,
mumble a prayer, and start to run,
watching for cholla, sweating and breathing hard.
In central Texas dry wind sifts
the powdered surface and no quarter section
holds its own. Mother took our hands
and led us out past the '32 Ford
on cinder blocks, past the tractor,
ancient red leaning into weeds,
seat peeling where the heat vents poked through.
I wanted to climb the tractor, but we walked.
Behind the farmhouse, we could see our father,
shirtless, digging himself into a hole.
Wide back wet in the sun, jaw set, he smoldered,
like a steam engine, and with each shoveled strike,
his hair tumbled wave over wave onto
his forehead, a golden surf of sweat.
She walked in dime-store sandals, ramrod prim,
the full white skirt of her sundress tossed
by each step, eyes fixed on the horizon,
as though she wished we weren't there. She didn't sound
like her sisters. Aunt Billie Doris
chewed a syllable like gum, loving the vowel,
pulling it out in a swoop. They all did.
We walked, and the labored calls of milk cows
beyond the barn grew faint. We stomped
scrub to hear the stiff crack against hardpan.
The house, its windmill and stooping tree,
sagged against the sky. The screen door
hung loose. Grandfather Gussie and
Uncle James rocked on the unpainted porch,
our father digging still. All around us
the stubble roasted in the blowing haze.
Our joined hands were moist,
my feet hard-baked, heavy
as oven brick. Behind a low mesquite,
our mother told us to pull down our pants
and squat. She did the same.
Off the Record:
Poetry by Lawyers
Glasses in hand, the better preserved lounge
in cliques, a dusky bar, the loud music ours.
I am praised for the distinguished graying
at my boyish temples, for my slim frame.
It's good-natured flattery from the girls,
themselves a year or two from sixty,
who talk like sisters sharing a history:
the awkward dates, holding hands up the steps
of Goodnoe's ice cream shop after a game.
Still, I respond with renewed, if subdued, lust
in my (I almost said, "heart," but the locus
of lust lies in a warm southerly country
where the rules of heart and lung and liver
get no respect, where religion spends its time
preaching pieties at each new generation
of sinners, where lust rumbles, even now,
like a gentle earthquake, and the blue skies and
sunshine of midnight embrace that simmering land,
its volcanic peaks, its desert, basking
and baking, just waiting and waiting
for that time when, in the end, you're done) heart.
On takeoff, rows of soldiers’ stones parry
memory, and warring wives lie buried
beside their men in recompense. The storied
and marbled ranks, my mother and father
farther down the gentle slope. I imagine
them lying uneasy together deep in
their plot—as she faced one way, he the other
in bed at home. My guess is she hasn’t
a word these thirty years of rest, even mulled
a drink, but he’s suffering without a ball
to hit, or her heart to call his own,
just as it was above ground, where she’s won:
her name south, his name north, from one stone.
Believe me when I tell you
I did not know her name
but remember the colour of her dress:
red, like my own school uniform.
I did not know death could come to a girl
walking home, stick in hand,
tracing circles in the dirt,
singing as she went along.
I did not know death
would find someone
for wearing the wrong colour smock
in the wrong part of town.
My parents spoke in hushed tones,
but I heard the story of her body
dragged from street to gully,
left sullied in semen and blood.
I heard the song she sang,
the one I wish I could sing now.
Truth is, I was that girl.
Truth is, I was never there.
ELECTION DAYS, KINGSTON
There are days so long the sun
seems always overhead, a hefted
medallion hanging in the sky.
They sit in the market,
gathering like flies on fruit, linger in dust
kicked up on roads scorched by drought.
They lie on the base of the neck
like beads of sweat stalling on skin.
These are the days in a country’s life
when the air is so still
it collects in folds, drapes itself
through the nostrils of young and old;
when the air is weighted with something
AT THE HANOVER MUSEUM
(Lucea, Jamaica, 2000)
Once many believed in a common dream
of this island, the variegated skins of its fruit
arrayed at market. Every mickel mek a muckle.
But the land keeps opening to loss—
flame tree seeds shaken loose from limbs,
sifted flour that will not rise into bread.
Stalks of cane grow, unaware of their irony,
scattered across this museum’s grounds.
Inside, shackles affixed to cement blocks
have rusted to vermillion, almost beautiful.
Here, the sea breaking against cliffs
is a voice I might mistake for the past.
At the entrance to town, the sea wall stands.
Balanced on the edge of water and land,
children play in the surf; fishermen,
visible in the distance,
will later bring in the day’s catch:
snapper on a string, mackerel, even barracuda.
In a place where wind drags through leaves,
where dusk can rip daylight to shreds,
I emerge into sunlight again,
remembering the lesson of how to eat sugar cane:
the trick—to spit out the pulp,
before it grows reedy and bitter in your mouth.
Crab Orchard Review
A flock of starlings scuttle on the rooftop
splashing in pools of rainwater.
The first leaves in the branches
of the red maple tree. Look, my friend says
there's a kind of dark all around us
you have to get used to it, s'all.
Bricker's neighbor shot himself in his garage, the summer I turned
He drove an old gray Plymouth,
a car with a single headlight like a beak.
Birdman of Church Street, we called him.
The car was pulled in when the shot went off.
A pistol, Tommy said, Smith & Wesson 38.
Once in winter I cut the yards,
saw him bent over his workbench--
the trouble light overhead, cigarette smoke.
He saw my shadow and looked up.
Now March rain keeps falling
and the news slips out.
The dead come back. A line of graying birds
are huddled together in the rain.
War Story #13
At the garbage dump
the air fills with flies,
I hear the droning sigh
above the truck's motor,
the cries of children
fighting for scraps of food,
tin cans, shreds of clothing.
Jenkins laughs, pushes
the fifty-gallon drum
over the tailgate.
The children shout, surge toward us.
Watch this, he says,
tipping the other drum on its side.
it splashes down, covers them
in coffee grounds, stale bread,
The North American Review
July 12, 1726: William Fly
A boatswain on an English slaver, he threw
his masters overboard, was caught within
the week. In prison, he refused all food
and drink, except for rum. Refused to forgive
his enemies, or say he had: No. I
wont dy with a lye in my mouth. He swore all the way
to the scaffold, wished the Goddamned ship would fly
away with devils, cursed himself, the day
he was born, and her that bare him, heaven, the god
who judged him, the man who turned him in. They prayed
for his repentance. He offered scorn, then awed
the crowd with advice to the hangman on his trade:
he tied the knot himself. They let him sway,
then tarred his body, and gibbeted him in the bay.
May 3, 1946: Willie Francis
St. Martinsville, Louisiana
They brought Louisianas only chair
in a pick-up from Angola into Saint
Martinsville Parish, to the Court House, where
a fifteen-year-old colored boy had lain
on straw for months. Jailhouse on the second floor:
Death kindly took the elevator. Wires
were tossed from dynamo to window. Four
men setting up the chair passed flasks, dead tired
and innocent of amps. They called the priest,
and pulled the switch, and thought hed die. He shook
and lurched and gaspedYoure not supposed to breathe!
They shut it down, freed him from straps and hood.
Then Willie Francis stood up without help
andmiracle, miraclewalked back to his cell.
May 9, 1947: Willie Francis
Saint Martinsville, Louisiana
The T IMES reporters asked him to describe
the taste of death. Cold peanut butter. Fair
stars, little speckles: pink and green, like shines
in a roosters tail. He said God foold with the chair.
His father smashed his gravestone into slivers
of granite. Hundreds wrote divine intervention,
how gold electrodes would corrode and silver
wires short if they tried to kill that boy again.
Like Daniel in the lions den; those men
in Nebuchadnezzars furnace; unusual; cruel;
double jeopardy: none of that could save him.
At noon the chair was ready, voltage full.
He said everything is all right and died
without pink stars, green, anything divine.
I want you to know that nothing happened,
and everything that might have is now sewn
into the hoop of Arizona sky
that stretched above our heads that shy
evening of talk when we left our books
and went out to read the papery news
of bougainvillea. Here was vegetation
more animal than plant, the dangerous spine
of cactus, its fleshy stem and thistle,
and those rubbery tongues lolling speechless
in the desert air where even domestic
herbs turn wild, parsley and dill spilling
over their planned containers. When your husband
broke off a piece of rosemary and held it
out to me, I smelled the sharp clean scent
of marriage, the scent that fills my loved world
three time zones away. My garden, the spotted
cat and aged brandy, the bed pillow minted
with the imprint of my husband's head.
Yet I confess that part of me wanted
to take in that moment the man you more
than half-made, knowing that what I love
most in married men is what is given
by wives. The elbow he leans upon
is your elbow, his listening quiet,
your quiet, practiced in twenty years
of bedtime conversation. If he loved,
in that instant, anything in me, it was
the shape and smell of one whole woman
made from the better halves of two--
your hard earned past and my present, briefly
flaming. Not long ago I watched a girl
I might have been twenty years ago, sit
literally at my husband's feet and adore him.
There are gifts we can give our husbands,
but adoration is not one. If I could,
I would be one woman diverging, walk
one road toward those things that matter
always, the trail long love requires.
The other, for what burned in the eyes
of your husband as he asked, What is the secret
to a long marriage? I gave my grandfather's
bald reply: You don't leave and you don't die.
There are no secrets. Together, the four of us--
your husband, mine, you and I,
have lasted. I started to say forty
married years, but no, it is eighty,
each of us living those years sometimes,
by necessity, singly, the whole of love
greater than the sum of its combined hearts.
That's what I mean about the sky. Its blueness
and the way it goes on forever. An old
teacher told me if you break a line in half
again and again, you will never reach an end.
Infinity is measured by the broken spaces
within as well as by the line spooling out
as far as we can see. I love my husband.
Still, there were spaces in that evening
that will go on dividing our lives. And if
the sky had not begun in that moment
to blink messages of light from stars I thought
had died out long ago, I might have answered
your husband's eyes another way.
And there would have been heaven to pay.
The Kenyon Review
I can say this night is a wheel grinding fine
the edges of bone-white stars so that they gleam
with the cold shine of new knives, the pepper-fine dust,
residue of such honing, falling, invisible, burning through
of night sky, no longer needed by the bodies it falls away from,
leaving only glare, essence without adjectives
to soften what the eye encounters.
* * *
I can say that night is one gear turning against another,
tension that keeps machinery whispering through
its low and unheard cycles, uncounted repetitions
that are finally the strokes we mark across
the unmoving faces time offers, the way my officemate crossed
days off of his calendar, a counting downward
both useless and satisfying.
* * *
The next blank always waits to be written on.
I can say time is the borad the techer wipes clear
at each hour's end or the chalk that is diminished
each time it makes a mark, each mark
simply record of its motion. I can say we are worn away
by the things that shape us, that each time
we write our names or stand in the backyard to watch
the progress of the moon, some uncounted portion
of the self drops away, joins the dust we swipe
from counters and tabletops to become
the hidden and burning debris of stars.
* * *
But we wake not among stars
but in the world of the ten-hour shift,
the skinned knuckle, where rusty nails wait
to bite the unguarded foot. This is the world
of pavements yellow with pollen, cars whose starters
grind the slow notes of their demise, dogs
that come home bloody and torn.
This is the world that waits each day to take
what the simple human body brings.
* * *
It's too simple to say this life is finally
a silver ring circling a finger bone, a watch
ticking on the bedstand after the heart is done.
I can say my route is planned, that I have
maps and supplies, that I know exactly
the day of departure, the angle of return.
I rode a horse at night once, bareback, far past
Any sign of house or road, but when we stopped,
I breathed the smell of someone's orchard.
I took a knife from my pocket, cut
the star-white flesh of an apple so sour
my mouth burned and so new its juices
rolled down my fingers to drop
sugary circles, dark as bulletholes, on my shirt.
Southern Poetry Review
The one the child must use inside a train,
His own absorbed face held where he stares
From this sealed, well-lit minor world as night
Falls upon pass-through places known by name
Only through an image of himself staring
Through himself at the only world he knows.
He can't help himself, despite the warnings
After his voice rises without his hearing
The sounds of his words because he had to
Feel the speed with which passing through
All that is stone metal shadow lights bodies
Happens. But he'll get used to it, the trembling
Showing itself in everything, and stops
Forcing people into people, strangers
Rushing away to wherever they have been
Off lit platforms beside the waiting tracks
Which point to everywhere they can go,
Reduced to seeing out through themselves through
Themselves at others like them opposite,
Who are nearly there before they are gone,
While another world assembles itself
Behind glass moving into another world.
He could tell them what he knows with his inside
Voice. But he will keep this to himself.
It is no secret
Despite what you thought.
It is the science of motion:
The wrist set back
Like a broken cup,
The ball sliding up
Over the open palm
Into the waiting nest
Of muscle memory
And practiced hands;
As his limbs uncoiled
His body would rise
Through the release
Natural as a breath
Before his descent –
With such backspin
And arc the net
Would hardly move
And no rim or backboard
Would be needed,
You know, knowing
You are not him,
As you bend your wrists
And knees one more time
To shoot, and shoot again.
The hawk changed by the second
Each scrap of grey Ohio sky
With the difference of its motion
Over the leafless trees and fallow
Black earth of early winter
Around that interstate we drove
After we buried him. I thought
A griever's thought: It's a message,
A quick, half-conceived thought
Trying to become belief. As if
The dead spoke in miraculous flight
Almost too quick to see—as a bird
Then a bird of prey. He's gone.
That's the cold truth. Stop thinking
That hawk followed something.
He dials his dead father's house
where timers go off at noon, at dusk,
at nine, allowing the gooseneck lamp
to come on in the den, the radio
to sift through the kitchen walls
and awaken the neighbor's dog,
who no longer waits at the side door
Six rings -- Mother
would have answered by now,
but she's kept in a vest that is tied
to a chair in the rest home he chose
from a list when he was in town.
Twenty rings, and counting:
the pilot light flickers in the stove,
a cobweb undulates
imperceptibly above the sink, the crystal
stemware chimes in its breakfront.
He closes his eyes and listens.
He would like to say something,
but there is nowhere
The New Yorker
LE REPAS FRUGAL
(after Pablo Picasso’s painting of the same
“A broken spirit drieth the
bones.” - Proverbs 17:22
Make no bones about it:
A meal’s a meal no
matter who’s had at it first. This one they found,
As they often do,
sticking out the window of the cooling shelf, still warm
On its cardboard shin, a
gift from the waiter they know only as Alex
Brachium. She has spread her shoulder wrap across the kindling chest,
& set their place:
milk-crate chairs, their backs to the wall, the alley now
In broken shade that
shimmers on this evening hotter than a pot of neck bones.
The tin plate will stay
with them when they go off to sleep amongst
The thick brush behind
the moss-jutting rocks of Brenton Park. The bottle
Stands ready with a last
whiff of wine to whet the t-bone they’ll soon inhale
As though it were all
there. Some of the grizzle & much of the fat remain,
Mixed with torn potato
skins & a cob of corn: a few yellow teeth still hanging
On, someone else’s
lipstick smeared like orange ketchup across the ruts. No
Concern: a quarter turn
will make it a never was. Villagers have watched them
Fade from taut to frail
during the long years, sitting close against the market
Wall, fingering their
tiny flutes, his hat upside down beside them, the flutes
Exquisite in their
trill. They fashion them at night from the hollow bones
fallen pigeons whose feathers weigh more than their bones. At dusk,
The coins that feather
their nest weigh something less than their bones, more
Like the light heft of
an owl’s plug of mice bones found on the attic floor far
Above their usual spot:
this windward side of Ganther Lane. You can find
Them here, pressed
together, as passers-by stride clear of them, whispering
Dull things about bags
of bones & arms too sparse even for soup bones, &
Fingers transparent &
gray enough to earn them a cadaver’s coin at Old
Sawbones’ cellar on
Wealtham Street. He’s waiting for one of them to bring
The other in for cash,
rattling dead on a borrowed bone wagon. Something
To get by on when alone.
Old Sawbones admires her vomer bone, & often
Stoops to drop pennies
in the hat to get a closer look, wanting to touch it,
Barely hidden as it is
by nostril skin. The husband’s profile, gaunt in its rusty
Hinge of a jawbone, has
caught the eye as well, but there will be no wagon
This night, not a
smidgeon of such thoughts, for now they have their bounty
Before them, tasting it
through closed eyelids. Feeling it in their bones.
I have awakened her
when the sky was at its blackest,
all stars erased, no moon to speak of,
and led her down the front path
to our dock, where we'd swim to the raft,
finding it by touch
fifty or sixty strokes from shore.
listening to things, the movement of water
around us drawing us closer, a hunched
double knot of child and father
hearing all there is to hear,
close beneath bats who see without sight,
whose hunger is fed by darkness.
The neighbors see her often in the woods,
on hands and knees, smoothing the moss
where it spreads in the shade, marveling
at the tongues of birds, the stained petal
of the dogwood, the vein of color
skirting the edge of an upturned stone.
This morning she awoke to the first flash
of the magnolia, and will save the petals
as they fall, their purpled lids
curling white on the lawn.
We meant to tell her how the rainbows come,
how they close into shadows,
how we would be there nonetheless;
we meant to tell her before
they arrived at supper this evening,
rimming everything in sight.
She wonders if we see them
cupping the stars, the kitchen lamp,
each other's face, and we say
The New Yorker
Soot everywhere. Trains, as if
World War Two were our era,
pulling out of old South Station.
At every grimy window,
two or three men their postures
The iron terminal all my
grandparents had arrived at,
their valises and sacks abulge
with whatever mean
practical possessions theyd
thought to lug into their futures.
Now I had their copper pans,
their Sabbath candlesticks.
Gloom saturated the enormous room
no light motes,
no cappuccinos, no New York Times
bestsellers. No matter
what the mission, youd be too
proud to fail to carry through?.
The hanging clocks hands could
hardly bear the inching heavy weight
of time; I couldnt see the arrows
move, but if even one local clock
were taken for repair or
replacement, wed be saved from separation.
Were we was I certain you had no
rational choice but to report
for duty? You shouldered an
Italian leather case I'd never seen,
I, whod polished and folded all
your belongings. I touched your face,
you, already distant, aching to
get on with it, and II knew
a great hole was being torn in my
life, my life that felt like
the kind of rice paper Japanese
printmakers always seemed to use
such colors, such defined images
of comfort and beauty ripped away.
Whod ordered you to go, to cross
and three oceans, knowing the
inescapable dangers? Was it
the Secretary of War, that
garrulous fool? What could I have thought
to do or say to keep you from the
mysterious assignment you welcomed,
impelled as you seemed to be by
your headstrong restlessness,
your admirable infuriating
insistence on doing whats too hard?
Was it too late? On Track Ten,
obstinate, oblivious of your wife
pleading in the metallic din,
were you off to rescue, or murder,
a harmless sinner, were you
already doomed to end in a dark alley,
iron and soot, by good angels
untenanted? Dont go dont go dont go
What was a horse but a colossal
machine that sped away with me, so
finally I hung by one foot from one
stirrup and bounced along the gravel?
Id thought I knew to make her canter
but I was dragged and scraped over
the country road, not thinking, feeling
This is It, nothing ahead for me but
and blood and ugliness Who was that
Queenie, graceful chestnut giantess,
retiree from a circus, rescued
from the glue factory or saved from
being horsemeat by the kindly father
of my friend Janet, what deliverer
of knowledge, that she so soulful when
her huge teeth snarked an apple from my hand
could, in one instant, catapult me,
a dauntless child of ten, from that morning
to this day I steer our car across a bridge
to your hospital, this brutal day I need
no brilliant doctor to tell me what comes
with the terrain, to say therell be no one to
lift me from the ground, to carry me to
the stable, to bring me uninjured home.
Was I the last one waiting?
tides tossed the island twice
each day, sometimes
a lazy shushing, sometimes
tides would frighten me,
count-down clocks striking
off the muzzy days and nights.
around mepin cushion, pale
shield, old mans
beard. One gray day, walking on
I found a wooden shoe last, size
1903, the cobbler whod worked
long gone yet why only now had it
ashore? And one night, I saw 6
tossed on the rocks Sarah
Bernhardts, I thought
fringed yellow hearts, their
palest pink petals
tinged vermilion, strewn,
lonely drowned bodies white in
the moons glow.
Where does anything come from?
I picked my way over granite to
then brought them back to the
where their frail heads drooped
from a Chinese vase,
nodding feelingly at the dead
Then, a little interlude of pure
so human then hail, rain,
wind, the flailing trees.
I thought of Donne, and how the pride must war--
Of Manley Hopkins, godlier by far,
His filial bemusement death and birth
Counting the spots of God on this, God's earth.
And then, asleep, I dreamed of Henry Ford
Wandering beardless down orchestral ways
Of factories. A patriarchal lord,
Counting his beads of praise.
FEED MY BIRDS
Feed my birds,
But not the whitethroat in his cage of air!
Feed robin, hawk,
The attendant flock
Of rooftree birds, and birds of prey or prayer;
But not the lost love calling, calling there.
At that wild voice
Trees touch their tips together and rejoice,
Rising full-leaved through waterfalls of sound,
That evergreen lament
Beyond all words has sent
Touch as soft as moss on woodland limbs unbound.
O feed them, scatter seed upon the ground!
Feed homing dove and jay,
Chickadees in black beret,
Feed simple starling, thrush, and small-shawled wren;
But sparrow, the white-throated one,
Feed not again!
The day I die
May not dawn fair,
But later, afternoon
A gawky breeze,
Touch your face.
And where you go
To choose my grave
The flowers will lie
All night for love--
Mosses and stones,
Leaves with the sun
Ablaze in their ribs,
And the soft, incon-
And so I'll not
Leave you alone.
You that sang to me once sing to me now
let me hear your long lifted note
survive with me
the star is fading
I can think farther than that but I forget
do you hear me
do you still hear me
does your air
oh breath of morning
night song morning song
I have with me
all that I do not know
I have lost none of it
but I know better now
than to ask you
where you learned that music
where any of it came from
once there were lions in China
I will listen until the flute stops
and the light is old again
Copper Canyon Press
TO THE WORDS
When it happens you are not there
O you beyond numbers
passed on from breath to breath
from day to day from age
charged with knowledge
indispensable and sleepless
keepers of our names
before ever we came
to be called by them
you that were
formed to begin with
you that were cried out
you that were spoken
to begin with
to say what could not be said
and helpless ones
Copper Canyon Press
My friend says I was not a good son
I say yes I understand
he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know
even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes
he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father
he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me
oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me
oh yes I say
but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
just because I’m here
I say nothing
he says my father
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don’t want to keep you
I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do
Copper Canyon Press
Do they strain to see the glimmer
of a soul rise,
two souls like a pair of dusty starlings?
Or is it the visceral they are interested in, this great
concourse of arms and legs and heads thronging
toward the center of the amphitheater, where,
at its vortex, a woman, the only stillness,
has, like a peach dropped in boiling water,
split down her gravid center? The rabble jockeys
toward her womb; men press through the balcony
bars, gesture largely, scrabble to touch the cloth
she lies on, a bit of thigh, or the back of the anatomist's
cape. The anatomist, a magician in his dark robes,
his prostrate lady before him, looks out at us
(what secret will he withdraw next? the veined
balloon of her bladder, the umber stalk
of the umbilicus, the fetus' tiny frog-like foot?)
and raises a finger to bid us attend. But it is the skeleton
who presides over this carnival; he sits
on the balcony railing, dead center, staff in hand.
He is regal and captive amid the gaiety, at the site
of his own dissection: this room to which bodies
stolen from the gallows are brought and are made
to play their final role, organ by organ, this room which,
with its hyaline dome where at night the stars
of the firmament ring, mimics heaven.
The skeleton turns his fixed grimace upward toward
the vaulted ceiling, its refulgent cupola
and lambent mahogany beams. Does his soul still swim
in the stippled air, among the steam of gold pieces rising
from the open womb of the newly dead: a mosaic
of ovum and gilded spermatozoa? Is the rotunda's
cylinder of air teeming even now with colorful bits
of the dead rattling against its diaphanous dome?
-Nadine Sabra Meyer
Nailed to the fence, a weathered wooden box;
Within, live treasure crowds a cup of stems.
A birdhouse empty at the equinox
By April is a case for keeping gems.
Open the case, a jet bead glares at you,
Pinfeather sheaths erupting, sapphire blue.
Under the hill a weathered wooden barn
dry-stone foundation crumbling, roof of rust
built eighty years ago for curing burley,
used since to shelter horses, cows, baled hay,
tractor and harrow, lately used for nothing,
wind whining through a vacancy. Not now.
The little father beats the bug he’s caught
Against the tree limb, gathers it back up
And briskly smacks it down again. Still not
Quite dead enough . . . sleek cobalt blue on top,
Russet below, the prettiest predator
As ever was, he gives that bug what for.
In the striped smelly dark the chick looks small,
the dirt floor vast. Fawn-colored down enfluffs him,
he wobbles and stares down, as if abashed.
Through doors long stuck ajar you crane and gawk.
Briefly, the mother tolerates your presence,
stays put, the pair grotesque but oddly touching.
He hunts, he pounces! From a clutch of six
Blue topaz eggs, three naked thimble-sized
Pink hatchlings broke; and magically, two weeks
Of stuffing these all day with tenderized
Bugs caterpillars worms brought them to this
Sublimely brilliant metamorphosis.
Her infant has progeria. His face,
black shiny visor, huge on one so young,
looks ancient. He stares down. You squeeze on through,
the mother panics, flops onto a beam
effaced in shadow; now you squat to stroke
her gargoyle baby with your fingertip.
They alter daily and you get to watch--
To live between them, padded jewel case
and gloomy relict, rot and garden patch--
to find and keep your balance and your place.
The three, sheer joy. The day you see her chick
“walking” on straight flat heels, your heart feels sick.
Black bird of death, blue bird of happiness
A no that never soars without his yes
A yes that cannot swoop without her no
Black wings of ecstacy, blue wings of woe
You watch them, live between them Come to feel
How each completes the round of what is real
Fair father, three voracious little maws.
He pushes through the entry hole; withdraws;
His nestlings jostle on their perfect claws.
The bald head bends above the downy one,
A harpy mother mothering her son
As best she can: rough care and carrion.
A Meditation Against the Recurrence of Cancer
My body is a farm,
My farm a territory
Policed by wolves. The harm
Imbrued all through a story
That, brutal base but true,
I learned when I was little,
Still drains and drains into
The sinkhole in the middle.
But deep in bony hills
My timber wolves are lining
The banks where moonlight fills
A drained clay bowl with shining,
The liquid light of trance.
Tongues lap it. Let them finish,
Lean legs and amber glance
Spring up through scrub and vanish.
No sound. But let them scent
The scavenger coyote,
Legs blur and paws indent
The farm that is my body,
And all is savage sound.
Yearlong, but best in winter,
Wolves guard the holy ground
Whose sinkhole is its center.
I know they do by this:
Five-petaled tracks, that crisscross
The farm my body is
In slushmelt mud so viscous,
That punch through snow’s stiff crust
So deep, they make a telltale
For where my wolves have traced
Their fourfoot mantra Heal-all:
My borders’ watermarks,
My stonelike standing waters,
My thorny strands of wire,
My bramble canes’ red arcs,
My fence, my slope of cedars,
My dark interior.
- Judith Moffett
“. . . her credits include an offbeat comedy-drama,
The Baptist Daughter, in which she briefly appeared
in the title role, with Angela Small playing ‘Mama”
and Brutus Chambers, the character actor, as ‘Pop.’
Said Small (years afterwards), ‘Verity was weird,
she felt we ought to be close outside the play.
Miscast, poor thing. She had to do it her way,
whatever we said. The “Daughter” role was a flop.’”
Yet now as before, whenever I take a part--
“The New Professor,” “The Patient,” “The Second Wife”--
whatever they say, that part shall be transcended:
What whole is it part OF? Never, to save my life,
can I stay in character. Life keeps upstaging Art;
something should be there, after the act has ended.
The Kenyon Review
(as "Ragged Sonnet")
“What a waste of space,” you murmur as the train cuts
through a cemetery whose halves rest like drowsy wings
between two pine forests, then “spooky” as our window
zips by faces smiling from porcelain plates glued to crosses.
You’ve crossed the ocean to marry me, so I cannot say
I knew only one of them, but they are all mine,
these dead turned strigoi who’ll not return
to their bodies because the earth’s too loud
and the town has betrayed them.
But I have to warn you—
We carry cemeteries on our heads,
in our bellies, round our ankles,
we carry them to work
and we carry them to sleep
and when we make love
they moan, they rattle, they sing.
When our spine starts sinking we spit
and curse and dance the pain off.
When I bring you to Grandmother’s grave,
behind the Dacian fortress, she’ll be armed
with questions: how hardy your love, how soft your fingers,
and your dead, how do you spoil them?
“After you cup your hands to catch the soul,”
she’ll want to know, “how do you release it?”
Don’t tell her about ashes thrown to winds, don’t say
you’ve never spilled red wine onto the earth
to quench your father’s thirst, or that you never read to him
the Sunday paper. Do not tell her you love him
but have never seen his grave. I’ll translate your silence
and spread a white cloth under the rose trellis. We’ll offer
walnut breads and gossip, and she’ll forgive, and bless us,
then send me back across the ocean with a saddlebag of ghosts.
Mihaela Moscaliuc, Father Dirt (Alice James Books, 2010)
for my parents
We wake to find two trout waggling in the sink.
The olive green polka dots and stripes of steel pink
plume father’s threadbare blue handkerchief—
a jagged anemone tucked under the plug.
Soon, they lose all interest in the forefingers
my brother and I, perched on tools, dip and wiggle.
By noon, we’ve assembled scales into necklaces and fingernails.
Mother tops our roe jar with one last film of heather pink.
Garlic and parslied lard melt upwards and pelt
kitchen walls dressed top to bottom in cut-out brides
(Gone with the Wind sweeping gowns, cascades of tulle,
pearl-beaded bodices, crinolines perfectly flounced),
and when we gather around the garnished fish
we hardly speak: the meticulous defleshing—a supplicant’s work.
Mother presses her lips to Father’s cheek,
then smudges the deep coral with her wrist.
Father cuts the heap of coarse corn porridge
─ mămăliga ─ with a butter-combed string,
brushes Mother’s fingers in the lemon & garlic dip,
parts the crisped sheath to let the succulent flesh cool.
She kneads each morsel of fish between her lips,
then entices us with the inspected bits
─ For good luck, she says, which I take to mean
being first to spot the ration truck,
take the ninety stairs in double strides,
grab my brother, and hurtle to the doubling line.
I try to read my brother’s eyes:
he dreams the next truck hauls not
bread, fish, or flour, but oranges ─
hard sweet foreign fruit brighter than our full moon.
I cannot ask him if I’ve guessed:
we never say our wishes aloud,
never name our fish.
Mihaela Moscaliuc, Father Dirt (Alice James Books, 2010)
Unlike you, Khaled, I was told to look
at the moon, know her hard, decipher
her changing countenance so I could learn
to know myself, but disobeyed that injunction
too, worshiping instead her lesser twin.
My native tongue has only one word
for both moon and month, one luna
that begins in a sliver of flesh, blooms
into a woman of unrivaled beauty,
then shrivels back into herself,
same luna who, invisible in the sun’s wings,
tallies our desires, cadences our breaths, wards
the blood cord of sisterhood. But I knew nothing of desire
or blood, so when, at fourteen, I emerged
from the unlit bathroom with crimson streaks on both thighs,
I was convinced my body had split open
to let death in. The sight sent my grandmother and aunts
into a teary glee refueled throughout the evening
with shots of plum brandy, frenzied Periniţas, and toasts
to sister Luna and her visit to our house. No one
told me I was going to be fine.
Later, hunched among drunks on grimy trains,
I’d ease my eyes through drapes of smoke
onto her shaped brightness, conjure my raffish
twin jazzing behind the Iron Curtain.
From this new continent to which I’ve fastened
my life, some nights I think I see my daughter,
unfinished still, in the ashen crater below the moon’s
right eye—but my Romanian book of myths
insists it’s only Cain sloshing his jug of blood.
Mihaela Moscaliuc, Father Dirt (Alice James Books, 2010)
It's the aftermath of surrender:
after the wound big as the sky.
All the sentries bowing,
the loud blood pouring into
the gutter of morning. Here
the body stops echoing
the heart's monologue, the
heart's non-stop mimicking
of what hurts. Rifle-butt
on bone. Boom goes the mind.
We can't stop seeing the eye's
final images: tide surging through
the great gates of the desert, a
lost convoy. A single lost conscript
staring till he sees it, the double gaze
of the heart, the burned star chart
of the body. Each of us the body's
patriot, hero to himself, to his
spotlit ongoingness. So why this
uninterpretable signal from where?
To be taught that each of us, once
only, is the soul itself. To be taught
that he colossus rises, one human
step beyond the breath-colored platform.
Beyond the five tyrant senses. This is how
we, staring at the sky, refuse it, the mind's
deep resuscitative kiss. This is how the
mistake pays us back. Give me once more,
please, silver leaves outside our window.
Trembling music, the miracle of his limbs
beside me. I know what is circling the house --
voices, broadcasting in the name of victory
in an hourglass, in a seizure of waves and
crosses - Victory in victory because you
and I heard it first on Death's request radio.
American Poetry Review