Most of what I’ve published is in lines, in verse–but not as strictly classifiable as “sonnets” (a form old as Petrarch, with a rich history) or “flash prose” (relatively recent as a genre, though everyone who cares should understand that “Flash Fiction” was an alliterative publisher/anthologist marketing term coined in 1991 to boost textbook sales, while Baudelaire’s “petits poemes en prose” was an individual’s modest descriptive term of a side project (to Les Fleurs des Mal) during the decade when photography was invented.
    OK: lengthy periodic sentence, but designed to clarify that much of my work has not been predetermined by purely formal considerations. What follows are uncollected works published since the 1980s that are not sonnets or flash prose or intended to witness the damages of war.
    From Rodger Moody’s occasional (now-retired) journal Silverfish Review (1997), “Like a Goblet:”


  • As though a hand were closing inside me
  • around something breakable and clear,
  • and tilting it slightly.
  • I stand on the back deck in the muslin
  • weight of summer air,
  • a few breaths of old fear
  • exhaled, taken from me in sips of evening,
  • in the small twitter-and-kiss
  • music of ruby-crowned kinglets making
  • a last foraging pass
  • overhead. Last light on the forehead
  • of Dillard Pass. The points of my firs and spread
  • of my oaks sink with me
  • in colors of forbearance,
  • in Velázquez grays and purples and leached
  • golds which pour over anyone old enough to believe
  • trees are to wait beneath, holding
  • one’s breath, letting it go, holding it
  • to better smell the chill—as of a good Riesling—
  • coming over the northwestern twilight.
  • It is straw-colored, and we sip at it.
  • Then color of pear-flesh, then burnished plums,
  • then black Santa Rosa plums.
  • We take it to our lips and test,
  • we sip with glassy, tentative kisses,
  • until it is emptied, and what’s left is
  • a transparent question tilted
  • in a hand the size of night. A kinglet
  • will sleep unafraid in the woods, a snowflake
  • knocks it at last to the ground. There are forty-odd
  • trees I’m responsible for, growing through this deck,
  • surrounding this house: the first stars pierce the black,
  • birdless canopy of oaks, and the firs
  • point me back to what is growing colder
    but no clearer—
  • why did I step outside if not for this,
  • what was I waiting to hear?
    • :: :: :: :: ::
      From the North Carolina Literary Review (2002), “7240 Wrightsville Causeway” and “The Warehouse, 1970.”


  • A house that once was filled with evidence
  • against me burned to the ground yesterday.
  • It stood empty for years. The fire made sense.
    • Shingled with cedar, knee-deep in wild mint
    • it overlooked the Inland Waterway.
    • Only a house. But once a self-evident
      • happiness to me—bare windows, white walls rinsed
      • with sun. I woke, drank tea, wrote poems all day,
      • then stood, empty. For years their fire made sense
        • in my mouth. Their pentecost of song like glints
        • of a great fire that would burn the world away
        • and all the houses furnished with evidence
          • of childhood. The moon lit my bedsheets, intense
          • as a magnesium flare; women would not stay,
          • could not stand my empty hours. Fire makes sense
            • the same way blue crabs burn red in a moment’s
            • scalding immersion. Their white meat became me:
            • a soul-house full of breath, a self’s evidence.
              • Magnolia blooms spilled their burnt-match stamens
              • on the porch. Heat-shimmer cooked the beach highway.
              • Who can stand empty for years? That fire made incense
                • of the cedar husk of my youth with one red glance,
                • like the sun closing its eye on the sea.
                • When a house that once was full of evidence
                • has stood empty for years, fire makes sense.
                  • _____________________________

                    THE WAREHOUSE, 1970

                • December prom, jukebox-powered in the blacked-out cafeteria—
                • everyone idles, preens,
                • twirls crepe flowers, and endlessly complains:
                • No smoke, no drink, no
                • getting stoned in that sea of pastel balloons.
                • The jukebox chokes down
                • quarters intended for condoms an hour before
                • the first hip-wiggle,
                • so I zip up my face and think about doing the Dog.
                  • Everyone wants to dance the Dog because it’s animal
                  • desire made social,
                  • a full-dress rehearsal for the undressed Yes we want.
                  • But our square steps
                  • describe a warehouse of boxes in which we shuffle,
                  • two to a box.
                  • We want out bad, but it’s the guy with no partner
                  • who twists free
                  • of the conveyor-belt rhythm: the teen machinery stalls
                  • as his body shakes
                  • invisible flames from hair and fingers. Our boxes
                  • bump a little more
                  • joyfully as he leaps and limbos down to a spasm
                  • on the linoleum, radiating
                  • a heat that is shameless, impersonal, absolute
                  • until the vice-principal
                  • shoves his head under the water-cooler.
                    • Only the last dance frees the rest to spin and grind
                    • and throw off carnations,
                    • shoes, aftershave stench, ROTC, home ec,
                    • and be done with dancing,
                    • and deliver our acne-bitten bodies down roads
                    • home to nothing but pines
                    • and crickets and stars, driving slow, slower, stopping.
                    • Shifting into Park.
                    • From each body still packaged in bright dance clothes,
                    • the telepathic urge—
                    • Unwrap this gift, take it out the box, use it—
                    • then all the hands
                    • start tearing at once, wild as Christmas morning.
                      • :: :: :: :: ::
                        From the Hudson Review, “Intertidal Zone” (1998) and “A Wound in Common” (2000).

                        INTERTIDAL ZONE

                    • What it’s like to lose the tag end
                    • of childhood on the beach: a struggle
                    • to jerk clean white rock-band-costume
                    • pants past your knees, while your date—
                      • older by years, not months, eyes painted
                      • blue as the lip of an Egyptian
                      • funeral vase—snap-rolls bikini panties
                      • off her ankles, to toss in the sea-oats.
                        • Midnight. On the town side of the dunes
                        • your band, The Other End, breaks down
                        • amplifiers and drum-kit, having winked
                        • and dog-woofed you away, free, with her,
                          • out of the explanatory zone of house-lights
                          • through the black onshore wind where no one
                          • goes, this late, into the teeth of the surf
                          • except ones who want to leave their bodies
                            • now, now, and she takes the iron pain
                            • you push at her and plants it knowledgeably,
                            • swift as like a rice shoot, in a place no stranger
                            • than a kid’s feet bare in warm marsh mud.
                              • Why then bare your teeth and jerk
                              • like the one time you peed on an electric fence,
                              • unless first sex is already addicted
                              • to death, a practice stiffening and agony rictus.
                                • I was The Other End singer, used, already,
                                • to rehearsal on rehearsal, one more time
                                • from the top. But this bargain was harder:
                                • her callused heels kick-drummed my buttocks
                                  • and shoved my salivary dissolve
                                  • a half-inch deeper into her disease, which was
                                  • want, or need, or will: which was her last name.
                                  • About the first name, I’ll say this:
                                    • it was Roman, and once a goddess,
                                    • but got misspelled on her. No moon rose,
                                    • drenched, that night out of the sea for us.
                                    • The only light—as we lay there, misfit,
                                      • apologizing, drying our genital tears
                                      • in the sand—came from grimace after grimace
                                      • of surf, like a head arched back in extremity
                                      • so its teeth and sightless eyes were exposed
                                        • at us. The other light came from the scud
                                        • of cloud upon cloud on top of the black water:
                                        • another face, another mouth rehearsing
                                        • its last breath and seeing nothing
                                          • of the great liquid force it lay connected to.
                                          • Goodbye, I began to say in my head
                                          • to Dyan Will as she relaxed her pretzel grip,
                                          • moving away, as she was meant to,
                                            • the next day, inland with her professorial family.
                                            • She thought me lucky to stay so close
                                            • to nights at the beach but if I could meet her
                                            • now, twenty minutes, a table with nothing
                                              • but coffee and the thigh-riding skirt she wore
                                              • in the snapshot she left me to come to her
                                              • memory by, I’d say No—luck laid that night
                                              • on us together, only we knew too well how
                                                • to segregate those absolute minutes from all
                                                • the days of distant postmarks. So we lay a minute
                                                • watching sky and sea magnify and replay the brevity
                                                • that had made us old as the world. Then stood,
                                                  • retrieving the wrinkled stuff we had to wear home,
                                                  • and dressed, and linked arms around each other’s
                                                  • child-thin waist, and walked over the dunes
                                                  • where two cars idled, awaiting our separate versions.
                                                    • ______________________________

                                                      A WOUND IN COMMON

                                                  • I was shot young—small bullet, small boy.
                                                  • The .22 rifle was my father’s as it was
                                                  • his father’s before him: it smelled of the century
                                                  • of horses and telegraphs. The walnut stock
                                                  • was smooth as an arm across a girl’s shoulder.
                                                    • Its trigger guard, a scroll of iron around the sliver
                                                    • that could squeeze me off at a bird,
                                                    • two thousand feet per second. I was sleeping
                                                    • with it in pine woods, the old rifle,
                                                    • lying on dry straw in a long plaid bag—
                                                      • it lay inside, with me. I was unwilling
                                                      • to stand it against a pine in fire-shadows
                                                      • for who knows who in the night.
                                                      • I dreamed it, in no one’s arms, floating,
                                                      • sighting in on me like an eye following
                                                        • my struggle to crawl from the bag.
                                                        • Then I seized up as though a copperhead
                                                        • fanged me—a wire dipped in fire in my ribs.
                                                        • That moment God came in a hurry
                                                        • into my life, and I mean my body.
                                                          • God entered me with his little finger,
                                                          • laid it on my rib to let me know who was who.
                                                          • In the biblical way I knew him, he came
                                                          • with a pain to brand the dead and put that seed
                                                          • in me, small as my trigger knuckle.
                                                            • I limped home—deserting the bloody bag,
                                                            • not the rifle—through a million dark pines
                                                            • to mother’s nightgown horror, father shaking
                                                            • with memory, woozy green noise of the ER
                                                            • and the mask clamped on, like a fighter pilot
                                                              • climbing through clouds a thousand feet per second.
                                                              • He’d flown there twenty years earlier.
                                                              • A 20-millimeter anti-aircraft shell burst
                                                              • his cockpit, sowing his leg with shrapnel stars.
                                                              • He clutched the Thunderbolt’s stick
                                                                • like a short rifle made into a crutch, traced
                                                                • the Moselle’s shiny meander back to his base
                                                                • and accepted the black mask of ether they clamp on
                                                                • to make you forget how deep they dig to retrieve
                                                                • what glows whiter than baptism on the X-ray.
                                                                  • He awoke to the pelt of dry snow on his gurney,
                                                                  • the bagpipe drone of German bombers,
                                                                  • the long unwomanly wail of the klaxon.
                                                                  • The nurse pushed him into snow-dusted mud
                                                                  • under the drum of bombs. There he lay,
                                                                    • and there—he told me this on his deathbed
                                                                    • —he knew that being pierced makes you
                                                                    • a bride of God: Jesus wasn’t the first,
                                                                    • he wasn’t be the last. “He screws you once,”
                                                                    • my father swears, high on IV morphine,
                                                                      • “the rest is up to you—” as I shave him
                                                                      • in the Coastal Cancer Center, and swallows
                                                                      • wheel in the eighth-floor sunset
                                                                      • “—and you decide where each nail will go.”
                                                                      • And when you do—I finger a scar’s
                                                                        • exclamation on my rib as I utter this
                                                                        • in his voice—your father will bring you
                                                                        • a handkerchief dipped in black vinegar
                                                                        • that is the balsam of the dead, and touch it
                                                                        • to your lips as he passes out, in heaven.
                                                                          • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                            “To an Uneaten Shrimp in a Sausalito Cafe” won the Balch Prize at Virginia Quarterly Review in 1999. You can also read it at VQR’s author archive.

                                                                            TO AN UNEATEN SHRIMP IN A SAUSALITO CAFE

                                                                        • So, little prawn, what about your prana? where did it go
                                                                        • in this confection of butter and garlic
                                                                        • you’re half-dressed in, congealing on the Buffalo china?
                                                                        • Does wine embalm your shock
                                                                        • from the instant the net hauled you clear in a streaming crush
                                                                        • of squid, ratfish, cowfish,
                                                                        • all in a grip huge as God’s in catastrophe mode, all suffocating
                                                                        • in a waterlessness the lesser powers
                                                                        • and dominions—like me—can breathe? If death is not just
                                                                        • a beheader and deveiner
                                                                        • who ices us one way or another, discarding our sensitive apparatus
                                                                        • and love of dancing around
                                                                        • in whatever medium sustained our respiration and aspirations,
                                                                        • then I should drop to my knees
                                                                        • in this starched white-napkin temple to one of the three mysteries,
                                                                        • the middle one, that takes the hand
                                                                        • of life and the hand of death, and marries eater to eaten
                                                                        • and says, It is well, and says, Amen.
                                                                          • I will not kneel, but I can bow over you and whisper
                                                                          • what I paid for the frutti di mare,
                                                                          • how I relished each guzzle and bite and scrape of the spoon
                                                                          • in the last blood-colored sauce
                                                                          • clinging to the bone-china tureen. And I can tell you,
                                                                          • my boiled insect, how depression
                                                                          • and age insert invisible spoons into my eyes and china skull
                                                                          • and sup, and make some unholy
                                                                          • dinner-table chat which I hear only as a high whine and rumble
                                                                          • and which, the ear specialist assures me
                                                                          • (being eaten like me, yes, even while he pontificates,
                                                                          • in his starched-napkin jacket,
                                                                          • the jargons of symptom and syndrome that prove him
                                                                          • merely a true believer
                                                                          • in the Physician’s Desk Reference and New England Journal of Medicine
                                                                          • to explain the invisible world),
                                                                          • assures me is simply decibel damage, the after-effect of years
                                                                          • of trying to be a guitar god.
                                                                          • My altar was a hundred-watt Marshall stack: I bent my head
                                                                          • close to those Celestion speakers
                                                                          • to find the sustained wail and explosion that would shred the veil
                                                                          • between myself and the higher gods,
                                                                          • who did not need us for meat and drink because they understood song
                                                                          • as the prime mover of rocks and trees
                                                                          • and stars and suns. I believed their dwelling invisible to killers
                                                                          • was open to any of us, crustacean
                                                                          • or biped guitarist, insofar as we were being killed, devoured breath by hour,
                                                                          • though only the suddenly murdered,
                                                                          • like you, would behold it entire, the paradise where life and death
                                                                          • are married in dance and song,
                                                                          • in whatever medium of thought or breath was most like
                                                                          • the one we had known.
                                                                            • And there, armored in gray, with blue stalk eyes, curved
                                                                            • in the near-questionmark shape
                                                                            • that makes you jerk and leap through the gray suspiring water,
                                                                            • you would dance in praise
                                                                            • at no longer needing to find, or to be, a meal. There, the guitar
                                                                            • would no longer howl
                                                                            • my blind deaf longing to shriek until waters parted to show me
                                                                            • the walls of the oldest temple,
                                                                            • ocean: where you died and returned a million million times
                                                                            • before my waterless gods existed,
                                                                            • before garlic and Goethe, before guitars louder than genocide,
                                                                            • before gillnet and purse-seine.
                                                                            • Deeper than all our religions you moved, with no desire
                                                                            • or even an eye for the sky,
                                                                            • like one nerve-pulse in a message being assembled across the entire
                                                                            • drowned sphere of water,
                                                                            • assembled cell by cell out of plankton and brine shrimp
                                                                            • and sand-dab and elver into us—
                                                                            • appetite evolved for dominion—, into our ten thousand recipes
                                                                            • for eating our way out
                                                                            • of death’s regard, in places like this, where windows let in the look
                                                                            • of water but not its smell or song,
                                                                            • where the crowded, prayerful noises of human hunger sound
                                                                            • like bottom-rocks grinding
                                                                            • inside a hurried current, where you go uneaten at last,
                                                                            • but not, like me, unprepared.
                                                                              • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                I wish I had known about California-based Runes before 2007: the first piece I ever sent them appeared in their final issue.


                                                                            • The problem lies, he writes,
                                                                            • in age: in being
                                                                            • a loose skin of aftermaths, decades past
                                                                              • the fabulous days and nights, still
                                                                              • trying to solve their original transit.
                                                                                • There was a white sky, he says,
                                                                                • and a woman’s feet
                                                                                • writing their path out of the sea
                                                                                  • toward him. There were kisses of skin
                                                                                  • and air and sun, and now he is reduced
                                                                                    • to this summary white hair,
                                                                                    • this sole quiet
                                                                                    • in a snow-banked house where he bends
                                                                                      • over late sentences and taps each pause
                                                                                      • into place. No question of recovery,
                                                                                        • he writes; his spine a black glow,
                                                                                        • one leg deadwood.
                                                                                        • For each face stranded in memory
                                                                                          • he has written an afterword, an exit
                                                                                          • sentence, to let each leave him before
                                                                                            • cancer closes out memory.
                                                                                            • Today he wrote
                                                                                            • the woman’s walk back into the sea:
                                                                                              • all his mistakes glistened in her hair,
                                                                                              • his old nakedness was safe inside her.
                                                                                                • * * *

                                                                                                  • Say love was a bribe, he writes.
                                                                                                  • A breast to stop
                                                                                                  • your mouth’s rainy muttering to itself. Say
                                                                                                    • her tongue twisted yours into a glossolalia
                                                                                                    • better than hymns, say friends poured midnight’s
                                                                                                      • black claret into the annealed
                                                                                                      • shape of clarity
                                                                                                      • you held. Enough, you say. And sleep stuns you.
                                                                                                        • Then hummingbirds initial morning with loops
                                                                                                        • of desire, iridescent over the field deer cropped
                                                                                                          • at night while you were being
                                                                                                          • confessed to, being
                                                                                                          • kissed. Morning comes too late for the young,
                                                                                                            • he writes: you’re wrapped in a sheet,
                                                                                                            • you smoke and yawn on a terrace, while trees
                                                                                                              • burst into starling wings and
                                                                                                              • fly past. All things
                                                                                                              • sing presentiments of vanishing, and you claim
                                                                                                                • you’ll take that singing down—later, after
                                                                                                                • whoever was in bed has stopped calling to you,
                                                                                                                  • after the last bottle rolls
                                                                                                                  • under the couch.
                                                                                                                  • Open a file, he writes: Face the blank screen,
                                                                                                                    • finger the zero key. Zeroes fill the white sky.
                                                                                                                    • Say each zero equals one breath of a woman
                                                                                                                      • who slept on the pillow
                                                                                                                      • by yours for years.
                                                                                                                      • Or press any key—question, exclamation, asterisk,
                                                                                                                        • period—for the moment the friend spills the last
                                                                                                                        • glass of wine on his shoes, relishing an old story
                                                                                                                          • you wish he had not begun,
                                                                                                                          • and now—its end
                                                                                                                          • in view, like the night’s—you want never to stop.
                                                                                                                            • A cipher for each time you breathed,
                                                                                                                            • Let this night not end.
                                                                                                                            • Watch the screen fill with black tallies again.
                                                                                                                              • * * *

                                                                                                                                • And his winter sentences?
                                                                                                                                • They lie in a book
                                                                                                                                • worlds later. Their list of closures matter
                                                                                                                                  • to no one he knew. To ones unknowably
                                                                                                                                  • young, with time to be finished by books,
                                                                                                                                    • to be impressed by the black
                                                                                                                                    • tattoo on the spine
                                                                                                                                    • of the man death has reduced to a book.
                                                                                                                                      • It compresses him to a few lines
                                                                                                                                      • and keeps coming. Out of his book it sings
                                                                                                                                        • to the young. Opens its mouth
                                                                                                                                        • in the moon shape
                                                                                                                                        • of a vowel, and they walk in, listening.
                                                                                                                                          • Consonants close over their heads.
                                                                                                                                          • The score is marked As Slowly As Possible.
                                                                                                                                            • * * *

                                                                                                                                              • Or say that when the book shuts,
                                                                                                                                              • it swallows no one.
                                                                                                                                              • It is no sea. Its consonants glitter
                                                                                                                                                • and have a salt taste, but are not green
                                                                                                                                                • in the day and black at night. Death
                                                                                                                                                  • keeps coming, a wave, and love
                                                                                                                                                  • walks in naked.
                                                                                                                                                  • But the book, when it is shut, simply talks
                                                                                                                                                    • to itself in a darkness it has made
                                                                                                                                                    • out of the darkness it did not make—
                                                                                                                                                      • as the man in his house of snow
                                                                                                                                                      • chooses a word
                                                                                                                                                      • for the woman’s belly, pillow, the night they lay
                                                                                                                                                        • beneath the pier, and lowers his head to the page
                                                                                                                                                        • as he laid his head upon her, their bodies striped
                                                                                                                                                          • by light falling through planks….
                                                                                                                                                          • The book closes
                                                                                                                                                          • its eyes like a man, closure does not stop it seeing.
                                                                                                                                                            • He saw the living walk overhead on a wooden road
                                                                                                                                                            • that goes a brief way over the sea, then turns back.
                                                                                                                                                              • Now the book sees them walk
                                                                                                                                                              • toward the O
                                                                                                                                                              • of the moon smearing waves at the fenced end
                                                                                                                                                                • of the pier, over where he once lay pillowed
                                                                                                                                                                • on the woman’s belly. They walk and turn back
                                                                                                                                                                  • and the moon, blank as an end-page,
                                                                                                                                                                  • watches them go.
                                                                                                                                                                  • Long after that night’s brief fact of love, the book
                                                                                                                                                                    • closes his mouth with hers. And the ones who
                                                                                                                                                                    • walked in the sea air over his head, oblivious?
                                                                                                                                                                      • They walk over him still. Now his
                                                                                                                                                                      • black glow is shut
                                                                                                                                                                      • in the grass. They walk to solve how his memory
                                                                                                                                                                        • made itself theirs while they were reading in bed,
                                                                                                                                                                        • and makes them variations on his aftermath.
                                                                                                                                                                          • In the beds where they lie,
                                                                                                                                                                          • the white zero
                                                                                                                                                                          • of the book’s moon looks past their faces—
                                                                                                                                                                            • on the lamplit way to sleep—while through the blinds
                                                                                                                                                                            • the original moon makes the sign of permanent
                                                                                                                                                                              • transience, a slow arc like
                                                                                                                                                                              • an hour hand.
                                                                                                                                                                              • The lines they read, falling asleep, included these:
                                                                                                                                                                                • The moon is earth’s headstone. From here, we cannot
                                                                                                                                                                                • see the names or dates cut into it, but they are ours.
                                                                                                                                                                                  • * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                    • In its largo calm, the book
                                                                                                                                                                                    • clarifies want:
                                                                                                                                                                                    • the desire to be swallowed up in this wave or that,
                                                                                                                                                                                      • the nights poured into a glass and not recalled
                                                                                                                                                                                      • in the late morning, the presentiments, the false
                                                                                                                                                                                        • memories made true, almost,
                                                                                                                                                                                        • by their measure
                                                                                                                                                                                        • of self-denial and deprivation, their conviction
                                                                                                                                                                                          • that the best lines we lay down in memory
                                                                                                                                                                                          • of desire make us death’s death-song.
                                                                                                                                                                                            • Open or closed, the book knows
                                                                                                                                                                                            • its words will be
                                                                                                                                                                                            • found wanting, desire reduced to winter sentences:
                                                                                                                                                                                              • aftermathematics of breath, meant to remain—
                                                                                                                                                                                              • like memory, or breath itself—the beloved problem.
                                                                                                                                                                                                • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                  And another shuttered little magazine, Taos Review, published the following:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1001 NIGHTS

                                                                                                                                                                                              • The thousand and one nights of sex collapse
                                                                                                                                                                                              • into one summer night: black sea, black sky,
                                                                                                                                                                                              • they collapse on a spit of beach lit
                                                                                                                                                                                              • by heat lightning, and the pier’s intermittent
                                                                                                                                                                                              • neon urgings: —FISH— —EAT—
                                                                                                                                                                                                • My hand arches her up from the sand, her hair
                                                                                                                                                                                                • —black, red?—whips the dune-slope, she comes
                                                                                                                                                                                                • and in coming dissolves to sand. The rest
                                                                                                                                                                                                • I can’t restore: a green eye flutters, an opal
                                                                                                                                                                                                • earring taps my teeth, but none of these pieces
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • amounts to one wholly memorized woman.
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • So I must go piecemeal, too, bits of mismatched
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • body and voice parceled through their memories.
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • My chest hairs will never whiten in the mind
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • of a woman long gone to Tennessee:
                                                                                                                                                                                                    • the rest of me has been rubbed out by her
                                                                                                                                                                                                    • husband’s palm on her breast, by the corrosive
                                                                                                                                                                                                    • balm of children’s laughter. Maybe my lips
                                                                                                                                                                                                    • open now in darkened rooms in Atlanta,
                                                                                                                                                                                                    • in Amsterdam: women kiss accustomed mouths,
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • but ask themselves, Is this his, his, or his?
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • The once-lovers all fall apart, their parts
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • are no longer private and keep rejoining,
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • blending into one body, one recurrent
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • night where no name comes first, no face is final.
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • I close my eyes, the black sea and black sky
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • resume, the angel rises out of the sand
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • and I struggle with her until she blesses me
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • with green eyes going brown, with sun-colored
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • hair reddening, blackening back into sand.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                            “Not Quitting the Choir” first appeared in The Cumberland Poetry Review in 1993. But in my faulty record-keeping I forgot I’d published it, and sent it to the North Carolina Literary Review in 2002. I have made this mistake only once (or twice).

                                                                                                                                                                                                            NOT QUITTING THE CHOIR

                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Kyrie kyrie, the osprey shrieks
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • to the bluefish in its claws. Christe,
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • answer its pink-mouthed chicks.
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • I sang too many years in the church choir
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • to hear it any other way.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • All that song about one death taught me
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • to keep hearing its requiem
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • grace-note everything else I heard—a harmony
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • that lasted past choir rehearsal,
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • that made a widening hymn
                                                                                                                                                                                                            • of tires on the wet beach highway, surf
                                                                                                                                                                                                            • against the pier, the cry that came
                                                                                                                                                                                                            • from fucking long and hard enough
                                                                                                                                                                                                            • and butter sizzling the morning after.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            • All of it somehow in Jesus’ name.
                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Beautifully efficient, how it filtered
                                                                                                                                                                                                              • cruelty, the surrounding cacophonies
                                                                                                                                                                                                              • of ordinary daily pain.
                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Pain’s accidental noise got altered
                                                                                                                                                                                                              • to fit my master score of epiphanies.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Blue crabs tossed live into
                                                                                                                                                                                                                • boiling water made this cracking sound.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                • I was middle-class, twenty-two.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                • My experience did not include a man
                                                                                                                                                                                                                • doused with gas, jerked off the ground
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • and burnt. No way I could
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • compare orgasm to someone gut-shot.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • The inner oratorio stops when you read
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • enough history. I was part of the choir
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • too long—I still don’t want to quit
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • trying to believe the world prays
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • over each thing that kills us:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • the Kyrie I still hear as the osprey
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • cuts the water open and claws
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • its silver tribute from the body of Jesus.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Another poem set on the North Carolina coast in the 70s, “Paolo without Francesca, Shell Island 1976” appeared in Peter Drizhal’s San Francisco journal Urbanus in 1998.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        PAOLO WITHOUT FRANCESCA, SHELL ISLAND 1976

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Just above the horizon
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • floats an image of the lover who wanted to meet you
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • after her swim in the lagoon. Start walking.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • The ferment of oyster flats stings your nostrils,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • your shoulderblades glow. For a moment, you forget
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • her last name.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Her last name matters less:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • her body heat answers yours, degree for degree.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • On a dog day like this, elemental borders
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • blur: air you swallow is sopping, sand smolders underfoot.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • The horizon dangles her image
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • like bait.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Like bait, you attract swamp flies,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • a black mesh of hunger that would dismantle you
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • bite by bite if you stood still.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Start running:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • they trail from you, black tatters.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Is she plagued by dog heat and the hunger
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • of flies, does she hurry this rendezvous simply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • to escape them?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • To escape them, you’d become a drop
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • of sweat vaporized up to some bluer, cooler
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • layer of late fall air, unseeable
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • above this Carolina steam canopy.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • You’d abandon complexities of bone
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • and muscle and feeling to become the lagoon
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • that rises in the distance, silver, floating
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • over a beaten metal which cools, each night, to quartz sand.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • A naked figure emerges from the molten blur
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • and simmers toward you.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Simmers toward you, waves.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Too late not to be seen, so you wave back,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • but at what? Through heat’s film
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • you see only sleights of heat. The wavering arm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • detaches, a comma of shimmer.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • The figure dissolves.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Dissolves, a trick of weather
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • and memory, a vanishing point you imagined a destination.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • A week ago she rocked you
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • in the hammock of her legs, yesterday her fingers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • grew limp in your hand,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • last night she faded in mid-sentence—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • and now, no footprints lead
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • in either direction. Flies are eating you, and the wind.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • The slightest wind, lifting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • off the glass swells, lifts your regard toward a boat
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • in which a solo fisherman
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • raises a net of flashings and writhings, to be transformed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • to flesh laid on ice
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • which other lovers will buy this evening, to grill and deliver,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • bite by bite, into each other’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • newly acquired mouth—a hunger predisposing each mouth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • to darker uses.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • But you are done with lies and kisses for a month.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • For at least a month
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • you are dissolution’s human cloud, a thing that will drift
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • after dark past lit windows
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • framing heads leaning into one another’s novel taste,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • drift, and not break up
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • as it crosses the drawbridge to beach bars lipsticked with neon
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • —Wit’s End & Olympia—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • and be asked by no one in the smoky aisles of this
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • shallowest circuit of hell
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • how a cloud can sit, can drink so much gin, why its eyes close
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • when it lifts each icy glass
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • of erasure. Why—if not to register this chorale of singles
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • singling out their new mirage,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • the aleatory and polyrhythmic shriek which is the music
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • of a hundred wingless bodies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • straining to couple, to be lifted by small mouth-winds of desire.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • A cloud like yours
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • drinks to bring itself down, to collapse into a smooth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • inertia of wet quartz sand.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • But for now, inside the cloud you keep floating toward
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • the lagoon that floats
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • and recedes, a fixed distance from thirst and the end of thirst,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • just above the horizon….
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          From Manoa (1999), this summer portrait of young girls (including my daughter) at the summer swimming pool. The title is taken from Randall Jarrell’s “Protocols.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          AND THE WATER DRANK ME

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • The pure pleasure of girls slicing into water,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • lifted up by it, to climb out streaming
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and slice in again. Eight year old girls, white
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • as white peach flesh, gold as pear flesh,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in one-piece sunflower wrappings, in millefiori
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • on night-blue backgrounds. Black hair,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • gold hair between their shoulder blades,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and the golds and the blacks streaming
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • clear from their water-combed ends, clear
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • as the streams off the girls’ limbs. To be
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • embodied and colored so like fruit and yet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • plunge through this substance that shines
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • brighter than any blade. So cleanly they cut
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • into it, this beckoning, yielding thing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • that solves the question of iron. This most
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • patient thing, nothing as thoughtlessly clear
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in meditative action, nothing on earth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • more capacious. The fruit of them going
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • into it, pure pleasure now and pleasure again,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • their fruit grows and is not eaten in a day,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • but is bathed in the thing it cuts through,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • is nourished by what will drink it at last.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Between these neutral infinities, the girls go
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • as shrieks, as exultings. They laugh and call
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and lengthen underwater, they are magnified
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and faceted, they disappear, rise and shed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • this streaming skin of preservation
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and dissolution. They dry hair and shoulder blades
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • on the grass, dry their bands of flowers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • planted in night blue, night black. For an hour
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • they impose on themselves their best pantomime
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of the poise death takes in the old books—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • stretched out, still, eyes closed, the peace
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of blades, of cut pears, drying in the grass.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • :: :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Another poem in which my daughter (even younger) appears, tied to events and memories from earlier decades: Marlboro Review (1998).


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • The fantailed goldfish is losing the marvel
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of ribbed, translucent satin that rippled it
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • through a twenty-gallon world. A fungus
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the color of aspirin has eaten it to a rag:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the belly of the fish is all impediment
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • now, no longer the round gold midair
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • floating of a Rubens belly. For a week,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • a girl I knew put pennyroyal, each day,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • into her herbal teas—chamomile, mint—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • with the sort of dropper you stick into
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • a baby flying squirrel’s mouth, hairless,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • blind, after your cat named Tiger has killed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the mother. White drops of cow’s milk, no good,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • they run down the pink stub shivering
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in your palm. To treat the fish I squeeze
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • twenty drops a day of something blue
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and distilled as the idea of equatorial depths
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • into the black-graveled tank. Maybe the tail
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • will come back; it has once before. The girl
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • was not yet showing when I stopped by last—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • on her knees among pineapple mint
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and lemon verbena. She thought she knew
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • where the bleeding would confine itself.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I thought she was wonderful in her teardrop
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • print skirts. Her breasts, against white muslin,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • seemed to study the tansy and boneset
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and approve the work of her hands in the dirt.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Later the neighbor found her leaning into
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • her arms on the round oak table where we
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • used to drink tea and talk about everything
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • but one small, looming, private fact
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • which must have cycled nonstop in her head:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • a song, whose needle grooved her heart over
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and over. There was blood—not much—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • coming out of all her nine openings,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the news account said. That was fact, too.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • It is Ophelia who gives herself to the water,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • singing the derangements of herbal simples.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Her name was Linda. It was a good name
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • for what she did best: hanging cut herbs
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to dry head down in her rooms, their stems
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • tied with primary yarns. The cat delivered
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the dead squirrel to our door, a headless
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • parachute of fur, and an hour later the wind
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • blew down her nest, as though it knew
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • we would want to make up for our animal.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • My mother was nursing my baby brother then,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • so when the refrigerator milk failed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I asked for some of hers, and she squeezed it
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • into the saucer without a word. How ordinary
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • she made it seem, to lend her thin, bluish
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • miracle to the only babies I wanted to save.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • The woman who found Linda said it was
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the next day that she realized the music
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • had been one song repeating itself through
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the window lit all night. I said the word fact
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • when I meant fate. The goldfish isn’t mine,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I bought the tank as a living night-light
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • for my daughter. Her fish swims round
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and round, inhaling blue medicine that seeps
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • down while she sleeps. It isn’t her only one.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          From Evansville Review (2004), a piece titled after a French folk song given a marvelous treatment by Canteloube in his Chants de l’Auvergne. There are spellbinding versions of this old story of pastoral betrayal by Dawn Upshaw and Renee Fleming.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          LA DÉLAÏSSÁDO

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Somewhere a crumhorn, peeping like a broken-winged
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • ground bird. Like a killdeer dragging its new
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • motherhood away from the nest already rifled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • by snake or yellow-eyed owl. Somewhere the end
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of the Middle Ages hangs on in the voice of that
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • outmoded instrument. The shepherd daughter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • is kissed by her throat to the ground of the hill,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • crying out so suddenly the sheep scatter away
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • from her fall like bursts of smoke. South of this
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • solo for two voices, another pope is named
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in white smoke. Killdeer and cicada, crumhorn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and tambour, when sheep girls stray out past
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • kissing range, goatherds enforce their two-edged
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • desire with hoof-trimming knives laid next to the head
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of hair filling with burrs and beggar lice. Ah me,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the hair sings, Ah me on granite ground littered
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • with thorny fleece and owl pellets full of baby
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • bird skulls. A girl’s throat, imagine, straight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • as a wooden pipe—to hold such notes when all
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • its stops are fingered, its mouthpiece forced
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • by desire. But the knife lies near, it was always
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • near as an inquisition tool to end an age
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the minute he’s done wiping his mouth on the rag
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of her childhood country. Ah love, he sings, rising,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • codpiece and swagger, Let me fly, and scatters
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • her father’s scattered sheep farther with a laugh
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • aimed at the high-walled stone amphitheater
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • where such duets are played out a cappella,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • one voice then the other. The garden
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and the running away from the garden, knife
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in hand. The agony moment of pleasure taken,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and the whistling after, walking home to his
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • mother’s hut where the rooster sleeps. One desire,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • many denials. The pope was invented to deal
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • with him, this rock, this Peter who understands
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • nothing but drink, eat, fuck, sing, who pulls out
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • his manhood like a little horn he does not know
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • how to play. So he makes everyone’s daughter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • he can catch alone show him another tune.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • End of evening in the Auvergne, the last blond
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of sun grazing the highest rim of his emptied
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • theater, and he takes it for gold better than any
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • pope’s hoardings. The sheep let him pass,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • they coronate his little triumph with bleated
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • puffs of fear, of dependence. By the stream
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • that points past mother to the cities he begins
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • his song: My love, your hair is like Ireland
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • on fire. The Renaissance will dawn in his
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • footprints tomorrow, the crumhorn evolve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • into cor anglais and oboe, camels
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and leopards and flamingoes brought across
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the Mediterranean, astonishing as polyphony
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • with no gods in it, as the massed quiver of violas
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • understood as a storm about to break. The hut
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • swallows his laughter, and his mother is glad,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • though once it was so hard on her—the ground
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • dirtying her back, too, the hay which spun
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • her hair to straw as she pushed his rude force
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • out of her bloody instrument. The Vatican
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • swallows another century of pastoral bulls
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • while he brags how the girl sang the shirt off
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • his back; its treasury fills with tusk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and rhinoceros horn, with gold torques
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • twisted off the necks of bare-breasted islands.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • The mother knits listening into an art
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • that will turn the city into a series of theaters,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • her patience will fill opera seats with lovers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • who attend but do not quite comprehend
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the tongue of the heroic tenor. And this girl—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • who pulls herself up into the heavy sack
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of the dress she’ll hike up, later, to drop
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • her fatherless burden from, lungs full
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of the first song that is the lighting of pain—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • she calls the sheep around her again,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and they come. They must all follow the same
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • stream down, though now it is nothing but a dark
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • continual sobbing she has always known,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • outside her window, on its way to lose
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • itself in rivers bound for the cities on the plain.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Mes yeux, she sings to herself, almost as though
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • it is a prayer to her eyes to go blind
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and make her depend on the alto sob
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of mountain water to guide her back to what
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • will never again be the hearth it was
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to the lullays and carols of first communion.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • But there is the corner of a smile in the words
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • somehow, a mouth whose lips know they belong
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to the white smoke that says Yes like a face
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • at night, and the darker smoke that says No
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the next day. Mes pauvres yeux, she says,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and the stars seem to listen more closely—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • gathering their constellations over her
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in stories faithful to her upturned face—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • as the sheep follow her night-whitened feet home.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          From 1997 in David Wagoner’s venerable Poetry Northwest, a reimagining of the transformations of warriors in Elysium.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          THE ODYSSEY, BOOK ELEVEN

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • In the afterlife, the war heroes are easy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to spot: their arms end in pincers now
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and they crouch to shield their faces.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • It is the famous old meadow of rewards.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Endless pillowing of white asters. Somewhere a pan-pipe.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • The sky a close, unfocused shimmer, like a snug harbor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • seen from its sunlit shallows. Once they flew
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Avengers and Phantoms. They stood with flamethrowers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • before a hardened, stuttering mouth to the underworld
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • and silenced it. In the moment of letdown
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • after the great, the selfless act, it is possible
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • to imagine them imagining themselves centaurs
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • or winged victories. But here a shadow glides
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • across the sun and they scuttle sideways. The eyes
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • have slid to the top of their heads, they lie
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • unblinking on stems short as asters, and face
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • a blue vanishing that looks like heaven heights
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • but is heavy depths: there they react to the plunge
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • and clack of iron tongs, to cages enclosing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • dead little heads, lowered on rope yellow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • as a sun ray in a child’s book. Their pincers,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • like their flattened skulls, are blue to say No one
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • knew this would be the bottom of the sky. They do
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • a dance of aversion, as though with castanets
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • crossed over their heads, among star-colored
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • flowers they cannot pluck or eat. In the brief
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • blue waterless weight of an afterlife
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • which even the least skeptical doctors call sleep.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            From 1997 in Green Mountains Review,a poem titled after a Paul Bowles phrase:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            THERE IS ONLY ONE MOUNTAIN, RIGHT ABOVE YOUR HEAD

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • And it uproots and inverts
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • when you no longer expect disasters or miracles,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • the point shaking loose
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • rodents and warblers and snails, white fungi,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • deadfalls rotten
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • as an old god’s teeth, the loose marble-bag
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • of glacial scour
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • and dandruff of the endless brown organic slough,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • all falling at a distance
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • far enough to be apocalyptic, like history
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • come to a retrograde point,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • or like poetry which, long before history, said everything
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • it needed to say
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • and has since simply accumulated amendments and renovations,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • so that when its totals are shaken
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • and the echolalia of epic and romance and lyric
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • in various tongues
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • mushrooms up in a radical draft and, slow as the Dark Ages
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • comes back to earth, it settles
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • its confetti leaves and wings in a rubbish pyramid corresponding to
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • the geometered pile of death,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • a heap of redundance about any number of nameable
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • loves and wars and deaths
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • which everyone comprehends too well, so no one
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • comprehends at all.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • And that is why even a painted mountain overwhelms,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • whether inverted
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • in a Bosch sky full of disrupted torsos and flying scissors,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • or parked in the blue distance
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • behind a Renaissance half-smile, Platonic, allusive.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • That is why one real mountain’s regard
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • is enough to suck the breath right out of you
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • and make the consideration
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • of anything other than it—planting mint, washing blue tempera out
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • of a daughter’s fingernails—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • seem worthless, because now you have to strain your neck to see it,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • and why not drive up
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • to its foot, and park, lace your good boots tighter, be the one
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • who will hike up today
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • and make it the emblem of your unspeakable life, worthless
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • as a dollar bill and common
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • as any mountain, and there are seventy or eighty mountains
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • in any human life
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • promising the same useless vision at the peak,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • your one good eye
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • like a hazed-out sun straining to focus, and not understanding,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • finally, any more than it could
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • at the top of last year’s bare common mountain.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • But here you stand,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • gnats and yellow-jackets competing for your warm exhalations,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • here you kneel, cooling palms
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • among tiny continents of basalt and moss, a little dizzy, yes,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • that’s all you’re sure of
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • in this middle passage of compulsion and vertigo,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • that your life turned
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • somehow upside down and is doing its best to shake you loose.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A poem about the onset of rainy winter in western Oregon, published in Chelsea 63:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    IRISH MUSIC

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • No brilliance in the sweetgum this year. A fall so mild
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • the crickets that should have stopped last month
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • still send radio pulses to the stars: appeals
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • to the race of giant, super-intelligent insects
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • they feel must be out there pitying these signals
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • that weaken in slow cold. No coronal colors
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • for this trash tree dying from the top down,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • only stunned browns like blank paper held
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • just far enough above a flame to not burn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • but to grow dry and useless for anything else.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Soon to let go, letting go now—on the sidewalk,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • on lawns in the floating world, their stars
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • blacken and exhausted crickets crawl aboard.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Insect-sized arks, which founder in a dew
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • wider than all the black violin music of stellar
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • prophecy; these five-fingered palms, making
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • the universal sign for goodbye to the sun.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • The crickets draw up their black instruments—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • part fiddle, part crutch, part beacon to every
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • unanswerable star—and wait for the next
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • clear signal to come down, as it will, one
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • wet note at a time until time is a million
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • cold notes at once, forever, sending their
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • star-boats into the gutter flood. Downhill
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • in a whirl, as their ancestors sang,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • and through the grated entry of the underworld,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • where they will not have to sing summer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • into miracle any more. Where ancestors wait
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • in strange completion, an achieved silence
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • black as space between the stars. Black
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • of the singing skeleton, rain-packed black
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • of the earth which never asked or promised,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • but stood ready to open, and take them in.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    From the Oregon State journal To Topos, two poems–one of which (the documentary poem about the young homeless man trying to sleep in my backyard) where they failed to print the crucial ending:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    CUSHION AND BACKPACK

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • He meant to sleep there—beneath the rug drying
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • on the back porch railing: he hadn’t slept yet.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Maybe he was hunting my courtyard for
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • something more than the green cushions
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • he’d lifted from the iron glider: blanket
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • or pillow, child’s wind-up lullaby-toy.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • God knows what gift he expected
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • rummaging outside the unlocked rooms
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • where I put off sleep with a guitar:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • quiet chords, quiet stars. He possessed quieter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • magic than both, maybe he was listening
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • to me, or my fountain aim its singular note
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • heavenward through its muted spout, or he
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • was testing the bedroom’s screen-door latch
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • because he wanted in, to the still-lit warmth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • of a queen bed, all those pillows
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • faintly illuminated through the screen.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • All I know is this: when the dog whimpered
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • for her final sortie to pee, he leapt out
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • of my hedge to the sidewalk—“Yo,” he said,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • “I’m searching for my cat, maybe she crawled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • into your bushes—she might be hurt.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Beneath the all-night carriage light he poised,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • jumpy with adrenalin, shirtless, tatted
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • on pecs and shoulders, jeans, boots, a wool cap
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • clamped to his earringed skull. The dog startled,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • retreated, barked behind my silly bathrobe.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • I judged his age: a son’s. But my voice cracked.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • “There’s no cat here, boy—you better get going.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • I slid toward him, he balanced on a crack
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • in the sidewalk—unmenacing, radiating
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • appeal—then ran round the corner, heading west.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • I called the dog in, dialed nine one one, stood
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • at the locked door, an antique kukhri in hand
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • until the black-and-whites cruised up to commence
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • their flashlight search.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • “You should see this,”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • they said, and lit me through the garden gate.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • On my hijacked cushions, his ransacked backpack:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • a flannel shirt, change of pants. Expensive
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • pomade, hydrogen peroxide, toothbrush.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Folded paper—emergency hotlines,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • local, for crisis, and the Salvation Army’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • next free breakfast, highlighted green. No ID.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Backpack pristine as a middle-schooler’s,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • first day in sixth grade. And when I saw
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • the athlete’s-foot spray, value-sized, like mine,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • I said, “That’s so hygienic,” I said, “I guess
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • all he wanted was a patch of grass, some sleep.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • One a.m. The latex-gloved officer unscrewed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • the “most suspicious” canister. What
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • was it? unchewed tobacco. “You know,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • I’ve quit these three months,” he said. Chilly,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • getting chillier, after the great heat
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • of the autumn day in which no one can hide.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • I thanked them, asked that they leave the backpack
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • on my car hood, where I’d last witnessed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • his retreating ghost.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Three a.m.: backpack gone,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • car hood clean. By now he’s reached the river
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in whose thickets many sleep, the Swiss Army knife
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the police spotlighted at the bottom
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • of the pack curled up, probably, in his fist.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I could have packed a sandwich, an apple
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • for his next class in the school of hard nights,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • or this knife—antique, curved, foreign—that lies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • across my journal to hold the page down
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • while I finish a portrait he’ll never read
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • nor own. Quiet stars, quiet chords.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I’d want a knife this sharp, pillow this soft,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • grass this luxurious if I slept out. I’d want
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • green cushions, the sudden excuse of a cat.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • If all he wanted was a grass bed I could have
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • presented him this rug—Herati, a worn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • prayer rug from Afghanistan, the women
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • who wove it had men who were used to sleeping
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • on stones before the next day’s war. He could
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • have laid it under the cushions and prayed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in whispers for that invisible cat to emerge
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • from the hedge, to locate him and in its small,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • hungering way warm two souls until dawn’s call:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • return the cushions, the rug, mouth goodbye
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to no one, and—neither driven away nor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • forbidden return—leave a father’s house in peace.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • _____________________________


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • A yard taken over by Queen Anne’s lace,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • blackberries, wild peas.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Summer, droughty as usual—the peaflowers withered,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the tiny lace doilies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • clenched into fists. She left this house fifty years ago:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the shed and fences,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • long fallen to ruin. Still, no one has broken a window.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Her husband’s grave
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is five hundred miles south. He called on her
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • at that nailed-up door
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to go dancing and when the dance was over, they eloped
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to California. Ripe blackberries
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • peer from the unruly hedge like neighbors did when she first returned,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to see her father
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • open his door to her but not the new husband, though running away
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • had been her idea.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • She steps toward her bedroom window, lifting her dress
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • to avoid thorns.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • When she looks up again, a transparent old woman faces her,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • hand to the glass
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • from inside the empty room. Behind her, her husband’s gaze
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • has joined the black eyes
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • fixed on her, impassively awaiting her dissolution beneath
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • a host of clenched doilies,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • thorns, dehydrated nosegays. Fifty years the wife
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • of a sanitary engineer—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • so he joked—cleaning toilets in the laboratory where others
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • perfected the end of the world.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • If I told you what’s in their trash I toss into the incinerator, he’d say,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • they’d throw us both
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • in jail forever. So when he came home from work at dawn,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • he liked a slice
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • of cold berry pie, and for her to lay a wet washcloth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • on his eyelids
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • fluttering in the bed, the draped room.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Fifty years to forget the end of the world is a flat stone
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • attended by grasshoppers,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • a house subsiding among the thickets of what could produce
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • a world of pies.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • She makes for the hedge, reaches in, begins eating the useless,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • sweet eyes of the dead.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Cleveland has been good to me–in particular, my editors at Cleveland State University Press: Leonard Trawick, David Evett, and the late Alberta Turner. I wrote this poem after receiving the CSU Poetry Center Prize for The Work of the Bow and enjoying one my few visits there. The title is a line from the Brahms Requiem, to which Leonard and Kirsten Trawick treated me in Severance Hall. The poem was published in U-Montana’s Cutbank in 1998.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              BUT WE SHALL ALL BE CHANGED

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • The minor devil wears a leather bomber
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • and overshoes to push through night-slush and sleet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • to the house of two retiring angels assigned
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • to distract him in Cleveland. He’s handed a plate
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • of delicacies, like local angels; bookcase speakers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • hymn them in with piano jazz; the white-haired hosts grind
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • coffee beans; angels talk poetry beneath a watercolor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • of a green cantaloupe sunning apples on a brass tray.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • When the host painted it, his wife and New York City
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • were young, he tells the minor devil, were more
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • devilish. The host’s green fruit will never decay.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • The devil envies this hospitality
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • that beams, through the snow, a homing signal to all
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • the locals practicing short-winged flights across
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Cleveland. His own flight pattern is a free-fall
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • sideways across America, homeless
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • as a cloud. But the same clear signal homed in
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • on him. Here he stands, almost human for one
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • night in this house where the difference between
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • what he is and what he could be closes in,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • angel after homely angel. This fresh drink
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • pressed into his hand, this seeking of his opinion—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • hell blows away outside, and who can he blame?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • The hosts insist on thanking him for flying
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • into Cleveland; for permitting them to take him,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • dressed like a bound heretic, to the Brahms Requiem.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Blessed be the dead, the chorus was singing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • in Severance Hall. I thought I’d have to die
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • to be done with this devil pose, he tells his protector:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • I didn’t guess I could lose it simply by
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • flying to Cleveland. Have another deviled egg,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • the hostess says. He does. He wants to kiss her
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • for feeding him like an angel among
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • snow clouds; her bright cloud hair makes his gray young.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • He could thank them all for ignoring his big
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • ingrown horns, his slightly sulfurous breath.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Narcissism is hell, however minor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • its mirror, however invisible. In this air
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • of tiny crystal wings cleaving to Cleveland
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • his heart is squeezed as though by a gold band
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • that marries him to a strange idea that death
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • and hell can simply be canceled anywhere
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • he pronounces the unlikely mantra Cleveland.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • The painted cantaloupe shines like a green sun
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • while angels bid him goodnight and step, one
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • by one, into the knife wind. Just one minute more,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • he says. Cleveland, he says, and opens the door.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              From Fireweed (1996), a western Oregon summer poem. From the same period as the Cleveland poem above, it uses a similar devil/angel trope.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              SUN HAT

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • These clarifying June days, after the slate of rain
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • that was valley winter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • falls back into the deeper slates of the Pacific,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • and the sky from dawn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • until dawn is one god-sized blue eye,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • my job wakes me,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • shines my walking shoes and reminds me to take
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • my sun hat.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • I like a wide-brim, open-mesh raffia, good for working
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • a garden all day
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • and not getting red-necked, though gardening’s an evening
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • luxury, not my job:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • my job is walking up and down on the earth,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • one of the fallen angels,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • charged with reporting on a very small quadrant.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • I like what the hat does
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • on the ground with my shadow: it becomes a nimbus
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • of shade eaten through
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • by moth bites of light above my body foreshortened
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • like a della Francesca resurrection,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • one of the barrel-chested soldiers trawled up in the risen
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Christ’s gathering gesture—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • somewhat lazy and devilish, somewhat of the wrong party.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • My morning report
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to Big Blue Eye confirms the ripe magenta condition of clover heads,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • accounts for the cooing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • emitted from the specialized day care at this end of town—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the little mistakes
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • of genetics are happy on the monkey bars for now—,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • and sums up the neighboring
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • cicada-noises of brushcutters and blowers, emergent
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • joyful noises we make
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • mowing, tilling, grooming all that lay disheveled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • by winter rains,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • refining space for tomatoes and roses to console us
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • for not being winged creatures.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Lord Blue, the blackberries need no help
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • to spread their exuberant,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • soon-to-be-sweet-in-the-mouth rankness everywhere,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • and self-heal’s ruby candles
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • and the pea vines and the vetch vines lift their flames
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • perpetual as June
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • below the cherries, which mime a song red with whole notes
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • to flocks of grosbeaks and juncos.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Lord, you didn’t even buy my hat, and the sun provides
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • a halo as ordinary courtesy,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • but I make report anyway: as your proxy I blessed the man
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • loading a leaky boat on a trailer,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • and the woman spraying gold—ridiculous!—on wicker chairs;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • blessed cats sleeping on car hoods
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • in pine shade, cats sprawled in sunny driveways, treating
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • old spines to heat;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • and juniper berries, Lord, and squat Mugho pines, I blessed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • their aroma, acrid and tonic,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • plus two masons singing in a trench, a hatless carpenter banging nails home—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • and now if you don’t mind
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I’m going in to pour a tall glass of mint water, take off
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • my sandals and yes, my hat,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and put my legs up until afternoon, when I promise
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to resume transmitting.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Two poems from Richard Long’s 2River Review:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          WHERE DELIVERANCE COMES FROM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I will lift up my eyes to the oaks where a thousand
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • starlings bitch and jubilate and connive. And down
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • to the boulevard fragrant with two-ton metal predators.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Racing each other’s dioxide stink. Digesting each human
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • in their idiot stomachs. And I will say: Why me?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Why again? As though the oaks would lean down
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • and hand me the answer etched in tannic acid.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • As though the ground should raise its grass dress
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • to show me what I’m made of. So I will be grateful
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • for being a witness: a pile of dirt with eyes. A stunned blink.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • And a mouth, such a mouth. Lips that once were fat
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • kiss-pillows, now thinning, hardening. Throat
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • that was full of the hum and lull and wail of Hendrix
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • now dry with gloat and derision. A faucet whose water
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • is red with rust. Why shouldn’t I want to look away?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • The world waits for us with its maw open. We flee in herds,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • armored against it, along boulevards. And from what?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Back where we switched on the escape ignition
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • there’s a yard where a girl makes a dandelion tiara.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Where a boy lies down and sings to ants.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Everywhere we go abandons them. And drives us
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • faster toward the mouth that will shell,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • crack, and swallow us in heart-sized morsels.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Look past the singing oaks and shaved hills.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • That huge yellow mane, see? Those long yellow teeth.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • No choice, then, but to shrug, and go, and try to sing.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Like the starlings, happy that it’s grown overcast.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • No choice but to stand it until you’re plucked and bitten.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Like this mushroom, Agaricus campestris, I lean down
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • to pluck, to bite. Is that a maggot in the pink gills?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • It falls in my palm—helpless as me before the size
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • of the sun—a squirm, half question, half exclamation.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • How to atone for nearly eating what was not eating you?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • The mushroom is full of tunnels. I aim the small white
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • life into one. And lay the mushroom on the ground.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • _______________________________________

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      45 NORTH

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • At 45 degrees latitude, the dead devolve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • in record rains: a hundred inches this year,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • rains deep enough to drink me, if they want.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • This year graveyards are awash, they’re sinking.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • When I was twelve, I shivered in a winter treehouse
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • with a friend whose great-uncle had just croaked
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • raving, drooling, the works. It rained while we talked.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • “If I live past sixty-four,” I said, “I’ll shoot myself.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • I’d lifted Dad’s .45 Colt down from his closet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • earlier that day, cradled it, heavier than a baby
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • for all I knew, unswaddled it from its gun-oiled T-shirt
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • and put its cold to my ear, all idiot bravado.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • 1:30 a.m. I sit on the back deck pierced by leafless
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • oaks that shiver, like I shiver in the rain winds
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • of my middle-age passage. Slave to what, bound
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • to whose profit? I’m smoking to summon my father
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • and his brothers to answer for me. Smoke brings the dead
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • nearer in the rain; like prisoners, they tap code
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • on deck-roofing adorned for Sukkot with branches
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • fallen from oaks and firs. Idiot age, they’re telling me,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • that’s what browns the oak leaves, what withers them.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • But suicides are thrown torn green branches to sweep hell.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Father, the smoke of you blows out my mouth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • to the corner of the house, sucked around its floodlit edge.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Smoke is all Uncle Ben managed to make himself
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • at sixty-one; Uncle Tommy at sixty-two. What did I want
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • at twelve from the smoke-colored metal in my hands?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • To sit on a wet chair and freeze, rain answers, on the deck
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • of rain’s night vessel going nowhere. On slave ships,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • sometimes, a hobbled necklace of men would wake
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • and see it was never going to be over, this capture,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • not with the end of a mere ocean, and they would walk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • off the ship, a spiraling molecule, singing as they chose
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • unsounded depths. Some had to be fathers and sons,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • ending the shackles together. Father, shackled by rain
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • to your brothers, why does no one get out simply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • by imagining a death he deserves? I flick the barrel
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • of the cigarette away. My black dog peers through
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • the storm door, anxious. Remember that painting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • of the black dog swimming hard, swimming faithfully
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • toward something Goya kept outside the frame?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Father, you should know now: show me
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • the other side of the rain. You’re slave to nothing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • but a boy’s fear, the rain taps. Slave-boy, depression’s dog,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • what are you in middle-aged night, this far north,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • this far west? In imagination you want to leap—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • why keep your animal head above water? Because
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • I want to sing how unjust it is that we’re chained
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • together, father and son, in death’s immortal mistake.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Is that reason enough? The rain won’t say. I’m the age
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • of my latitude, I’m freezing. A hand like my father’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • opens the storm door again, and the black dog
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • guides me through all the blinded rooms to bed.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • :: :: :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Originally a sequence of 17 unrhymed sonnets, “An Indefinite Sentence of Exile in Florence Massachusetts” came out in Zyzzyva in 1996. Funny thing: I could never publish anything about Massachusetts while I lived there, but once I came west the only things Howard Junker would take at Zyzzya (limited to West coast writers) were Massachusetts pieces. Go figure. This poem, which is faithful to a number of Florence establishments, enjoyed a funny, laugh-happy debut reading of the draft in Amherst, 1991–the year we moved to Oregon. I’m pleased so many years later that I seem to have prophesied my son Seth’s real, abiding interest in Pinot Noir in a casual allusion near the end of the poem. It might well be categorized among War Works for all the allusions (comic here) to traumatized Vietnam vets. Is there a syntactical trick? yes: in deciphering the title.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                AN INDEFINITE SENTENCE OF EXILE IN FLORENCE MASSACHUSETTS

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              At the butcher block in Everybody’s Market,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              behind the meat saw, Dom laughs at Cosmo’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              old hard-on joke while stuffing kielbasa
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I’m buying for backyard barbecue to show
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the vegetarian neighbors my family’s not deserting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              serious meat, no matter what they hiss
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in bean-and-tofu-tainted gossip—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              so loading the frayed Nigerian jute sack
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (Peace Corps, 1976) with salsa verde,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              malt vinegar, garlic matzoh and sausage,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I fetch Magnolia, our hundred-pound Samoyed,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              whose ancestors include White Fang and other
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Jack London-style dogs, and who will eat
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              BBQ kielbasa but prefers vegetarian cats,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and am hailed by our postman Mr. Ronald Ragan
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (Ron to friends) outside the P.O. to defend
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a position I took in my new commercial poem,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              that if flamingos ate grass, not shrimp,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              they’d be grass-green, not shrimp-pink,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              causing a crisis (admittedly minor)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              for manufacturers and owners of lawn flamingos,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              but the poem has been rejected by Life,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Redbook, Woman’s Day
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              , and Ebony,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ron chuckles, handing me
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              freshly slit SASE’s as he skips into
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Pizza Factory to announce that their
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              application for tax-exempt status has
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              also been rejected, though A-1 Pizza
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and Attila’s Pizza have been awarded
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              multimillion dollar contracts by
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the Department of Defense to manufacture
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              freeze-dried pizza to spiff up the morale
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of homesick Marine paratroopers stuck
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on Third World missions—and it’s true
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              that the many ex-Marine outpatients
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from the local VA relieve symptoms
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of post-trauma stress at A-1 or Attila’s,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              never at Pizza Factory, though one vet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              calling himself Nebuchadnezzar
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              seems to eat nothing but grass he plucks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from cracks in the village fountain,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which once spouted water from the Mill River,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which rich Yankees wanted to rename
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The Arno—having already upgraded
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the village name from Pleasant Meadow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to Florence—honoring Tuscan silkworkers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              who emigrated here to hatch silkworms,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              labor communes, and revolutions,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and to fornicate with married Yankee women
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on the pretext of supplying them with camisoles
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and silk teddies, while the rich doctor—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and lawyer—husbands sipped from
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the fountain, humming “Down by the old,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              not the new but the old, mill stream,”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              thinking Yankee money plus Italian labor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              equals more Yankee money, only to see
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              their kids end up squandering inheritances
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on pizza slices, pizza-counter girls, and, finally,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              pizza franchises (Ciao Yale medicine,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              arrivederci Harvard law)—so the Yankee
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              elders tried to forbid private use of silk,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              public consumption of pizza, mentioning
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the Arno, saying Ciao! to the postman,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              but when they voted to strike the name
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Florence, they were barred from
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the Miss Florence Diner (specializing in
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              veal parmigian and New England boiled dinner)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              with a jukebox in every booth,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and every jukebox stuffed with concertina,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              mandolins, Sinatra and Como! so they
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (the Yankee elders) had to confine
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              their persecution to Sacco & Vanzetti,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              whose photos hang cold and perpetually
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              fresh in Miss Flo’s pie safe, though Miss Flo
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              likes to keep everything cold—especially
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the coffee, and me drinking it with windows
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              open to a late April snow—because
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Miss Flo knows cold customers drinking
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              cold coffee need to buy hot veal and boiled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              cabbage to regain strength and wit
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              enough to skip the bill, and slip
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on a still-icy street, and be just barely
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              missed by the Volunteer Pumper Truck
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on its way to douse Nebuchadnezzar

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              setting his matted beard afire to protest
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              how the endless New England winter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              interferes with convalescence from
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the bone-shaking nightmares brought on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              by a year of jungle fighting—but Magnolia
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              my snow-dog has already knocked him
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              down to lick out his would-be Buddhist
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              self-immolation, and though dazed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              he allows me by way of apology
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to escort him to Sandy’s Vietnamese Cuisine
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              for lemon-grass tea and lichee-nut pizza,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which Sandy the dragon lady serves,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              lamenting in French the pizza franchises
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              she left behind in Hue and Saigon—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              but my errands take me back to Florence Center
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to Bird’s Store Since 1867
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Your One and Only Stop for Indonesian
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              clove cigarettes (me), Italian silk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              underthings (my wife), and Vermont
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              maple syrup (two kids), plus a stop
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              at Computer Farm to check their progress

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on my idea for software that generates
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              terrific commercial poems to break open
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a monster poetry market in Cosmopolitan
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and TV Guide and get my face into
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              supermarkets, and out of these tweedy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              academic quarterlies that bury my poems
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on the shelves of college-library basements,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              but it appears the local programmers have
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              applied my concepts to the random generation
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of freeze-dried pizza recipes because,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              as one jests, “What’s one flabby poet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              next to a DOD contract?” so I leave,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              saddened that Marines will keep on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              parachuting all over the world,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              bellies full of computerized pizza,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              instead of deserting to write poetry
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and drink lemon-grass tea with me
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in the pleasant meadows of Florence,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              with its three dozen graveyards
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and its library full of Puritan hymnals
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and its one-room museum with screeching
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              door and screeching floor and one
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              passenger pigeon stuffed under

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a bell jar, not to mention the tricentennial
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              witch-hunt festival, and crowds waving torches
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              outside Miss Flo’s when she threatens
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to throw Sinatra out of all her booth-sized
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              jukeboxes in favor of the Dead Kennedys
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              —yes, the Florentine air I breathe is rich
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              with the burnt-earth odor of exile
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              that made Ovid weep by the Black Sea
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and Mandelstam cough in Vladivostok,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and that makes the vet outpatients sneeze
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in memory of body hair seared by friendly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              napalm strikes or attempted self-immolation,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a measure that would solve nothing for me,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              since my exile includes children who
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              need me to fix boiled dinner, pour syrup,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              apply Band-Aids and teach them something
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              besides the notion that Adam invented
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              alphabet soup and kielbasa, while Eve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              invented multiplication, teacup etiquette,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and needlepoint, and that black men
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              make good athletes while white men make

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              good presidents, and women of whatever
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              color make good wet-nurses, as I’ve gathered
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from their social studies primer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              that my wife wants to burn though as a Jewish
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Marxist-feminist she’d get tied to a Maypole,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              doused with gas and lit while PTA
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              members prance around it, chanting passages
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from Hawthorne and Jonathan Edwards,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which reminds me to save some BBQ
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              kielbasa to take down to the cellar
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (last used by the Underground Railroad)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              where my better half has been in hiding
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              since that riot at the VFW Friday Night Beano,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              when she stood to demand that they send
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a ton or two of their used kidney-bean
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              game pieces to Vietnam, Nicaragua,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              or at least Grenada, and got us both
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              pelted with dry beans and chased home
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              through one of the newer graveyards
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              by a bunch of one-legged,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              one-armed, one-eyed drunks—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              nevertheless, I cherish her Red-Diaper-baby
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ferocity that drove her to move us
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from the gossipy dogwood haze
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of Chapel Hill, where our socialist-surrealist
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              fervor had rooted and spread like kudzu,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              although North Carolina no longer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              required two arthritic hippies in its
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              political-poetic avant-garde, leading
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              my wife to declare “In Massachusetts,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              we can end the witch-burning tricentennials,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the indiscriminate use of villanelles,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and the conspiracy to make the Third World
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              safe for freeze-dried pizza, while our kids
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              can learn to drink syrup straight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from the maple, and we can commute
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to work and political rallies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on cross-country skis!” and now she’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              shivering and dirty in the cellar,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              with only mice and spiders and the frowning
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ghost of Harriet Tubman for company,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              so I stop by Moriarty’s Drugs to get her
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a quart of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which brings All-One-God-Faith and Moral-ABC
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to anyone who can read while shampooing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              by candlelight on a dirt-packed cellar floor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              —yet what other soapmaker writes poetry
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and prints it in impossibly tiny characters
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on every bottle of soap he ships out,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              this blind Essene rabbi, master chemist,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              whose cousins were rendered into Nazi soap?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              FACE THE WORLD WITH A SMILE/
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              LIFE IS ALWAYS WORTHWHILE
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              WE LIVE GOD’S LAW TODAY/
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              WE WIN FREE SPEECH OK

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I chant Dr. Bronner’s bubbly praise
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              for the 96 billion fruit trees that will sway
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in the ruins of Beirut and Tripoli,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              for Abraham-Isaac-Moses-Buddha-Hillel-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Jesus-Spinoza, and add my own ad-libbed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              praise for Marines who forsake
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              grenade launchers to read O’Hara,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              drink lemon-grass tea, and bathe
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              multi-cultural babies in mint soap—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              but seeing his other customers flee

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the aisles when I chant ALL-ONE-OR-NONE
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the badly rhymed label of the entire bottle
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              at the top of my voice, Moriarty (sly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              American druggist) starts playing his
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              78 record of Harry Truman’s Happy Birthday
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Variations for Piano & A-Bomb
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              —so this vision, like most visions of peace
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I have, collapses under the boogie-woogie
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              weight of Truman’s left hand and the soundtrack
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of bombs that bracketed the day of my birth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in the early fifties, when Moriarty claims
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to have held a block party for McCarthy,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              distributing 8×10 glossies signed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              God Bless—Joe, plus plans for a backyard
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              bomb shelter of Moriarty’s design
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and barbiturate samples, in case the canned
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              soup ran out before the bombs did,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              but Moriarty’s the village liar
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and the only way to discourage him
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              is to buy nothing he sells, so I put back
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the soap, and steal some ipecac to help me

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              throw up the kielbasa casing later
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and head home to Corticelli Street,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              named for the silk-mill foreman,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a well-known socialist and little-known
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              surrealist, who forged a batch of letters
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from Rimbaud to Dante, erotic letters,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which he preferred to read aloud under
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the skirt or between the breasts of whatever
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              rich anemic Yankee wife he was taking
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              advantage of that afternoon, before strolling
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              home to piss away his soul into the narrow,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              sluggish Mill River that tried (and failed)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to be transformed into the wine-dark
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Arno, and it’s in Corticelli’s honor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              that I step through the ruins of poison ivy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and stinging nettles to the river bank,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to translate my own homelessness
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              into a prismatic arc of piss, a short, brief
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              rainbow that is my covenant with Ovid,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Dante, Rimbaud, and Mandelstam,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              who stood drunk with lethal exile
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and longing at the edge of that last river,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              into which all rivers and seas empty themselves,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              as I try to empty myself of myself,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and fail, and stand, ruefully, shaking my dick
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and my head, whistling up into a white pine
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              where four crows have alighted and hop
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              from branch to branch, full of the rust
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of crow-mockery: Ovid, Dante, Rimbaud,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Mandelstam, Hello, glad to see you again!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I call, inviting them to my kielbasa cookout,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              since I know only the burnt odor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of serious meat and a beakful of red wine
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              will allow them to croak out their human memories—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              But are those crow-tears I see? spurts
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of pure black bile, making a quietus
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of their laughter as they gaze past me,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and at what? —my children! my blond,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              sugar-lipped angels, curled together
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in their hammock that is stretched
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in the paradise shade between two towering
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              sugar maples, of course, what else
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              can strike tears from the great flying dead
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              but an intimate glimpse of this simple

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              mortal heaven their bargain with immortality
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              forbade? “Children!” I cry in a surprising
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              access of tears, sending my fingers through
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              their hair to wake them to this visitation
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of crow-poets, “My great and eternally
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              childless mentors, this is Seth, this is Sarah,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              these two are heaven’s reasons why
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I remain happy as a minor asterisk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of a poet, why my heart has not collapsed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              into a white-dwarf cinder beneath your fixed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and unattainable lights—” then Sarah says,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              “Hey, blackbirds!” and Seth extends
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a sleeved boy-angel wrist as a perch,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and, wisely, I think, while my feet are
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              underfoot, so to speak, and not in my mouth,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I go set up the barbecue and drinks—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              so while the children stroke his mournful
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              plumage, Mandelstam begins reciting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in trochaic tetrameter the ingredients
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of Siberian gruel: toenails of wolves,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              whiskers of cockroaches, dissolved in a broth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of Stalin’s tears, how the train to Vladivostok
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              rattled loose the one black tooth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in his mouth, how he composed his last poem
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on a garbage heap, with a bit of barbed wire,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on a scroll of his own skin the size
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of a postage stamp, one rhyming couplet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              begging the labor-camp warden for a pair
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of used swallow wings (I lay meat out
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on shining grass, the crow-poets harry it;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the sun, almost gone, fires the crowns
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of our maples to green torches; Ovid sips
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Pinot Noir from the saucer of Seth’s cupped palms)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              —then Rimbaud scratches his head
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              with one claw and describes the army ants
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which feasted on his mules, overloaded with rifles
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and dying en route to the King of Ethiopia,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              how he coaxed the ants to haul the rifles
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              by promising to show them Paris,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              then betrayed them to the King’s anteaters,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              for which crime he lost his love of poetry
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and ended up a poor bitter shopkeeper

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              on an island in the Indian Ocean, contracting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              gangrene from an ant bite and dying
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              before he got to see Paris again
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (stars salt the rain-barrel, Mandelstam,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              isn’t that right, on your revolutionary earth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              moving closer to truth and to dread,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              above the lemon-colored Neva at night—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              or are the stars, as Rimbaud believes,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              lice infesting the heads of fallen boy-geniuses,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              white bites of hell that crack under
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a mother’s murderous nails?)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              —then Ovid, waving his wings, shouts,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              No more poetry, who wants magic?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and the kids shout, Us! so he changes Sarah
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              into a laurel tree and Seth into a swan,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and, as soon as I protest, I find myself mooing,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              drooling hungrily at the dewy, starlit lawn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I forgot to mow yesterday, but when I bend
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              my bull-heavy head down for a bite,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Dante says, Ovid, that’s enough, and Poof!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the children become sleepy children

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              again in my arms (they’re my heroes,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ovid, and I’m theirs, with no wish to be
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              morphed out of our lamp-lit constellation
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of rooms among the maples, no compulsion
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              to hype our love’s claims to a size
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              that strains to move the sun and all the stars,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              as Dante drove himself to do, and so
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              broke his voice), and suddenly it’s late,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and Dante, perched on my lawn-chair,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              takes umbrage at my thought, clacks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              his hooked beak and caws something sharp,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              like Curfew! or Ecce Homo!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and the crow-poets fly after him, back into
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              their star-charted exile, leaving four feathers,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              which are tickets, I guess, good for
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a one-way family trip to the underworld,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              so sticking the feathers behind my ear
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I head to the cellar door, kicking it lightly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              three times (all-clear signal to wife),
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and look up at the stars (goodnight,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              good-bye, who knows which?) before carrying

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              the heavy sweetness of children underground.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              What follows? In general, much earlier works–things written and published before I decided what would be part of my first collection, The Power to Die. These are some of the orphaned works: a mix of 20-something experiments and voices, apprentice- and journeyman-work from the 1970s to mid 1980s. They’re not in chrono-order.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              From Juggler’s World in the 1980s:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              SIMPLE HOLDINGS

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I own a pear
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and two pecans

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                enough grass
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                to stuff three pillows

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                a ceiling
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                that weeps on my face in bed

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                plenty of nails
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                but no paintings

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                my mother blames
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                herself for this

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                visiting us she frets
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                that my family will go hungry

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                how can I tell her
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                we no longer worry

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                whether we are happy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                or unhappy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                we have neither too much
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                nor too little

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                nails to hang our clothes on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                when we tire of wearing them

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                the costless smell of grass
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                while we sleep

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and when my son cries
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and refuses to eat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I produce two pecans and a pear
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and juggle for him

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I am not very good
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                But he claps delightedly

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                even mother
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                has to hold her breath

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                at the pecans
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                passing swiftly hand to hand

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                at the pear weightless
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                as a sun in mid-air

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The earliest version of the title “The Work of the Bow” appeared in The Sun in the late 1970s. It’s a completely different poem than the title poem of my 1997 book, though based on the same proverb of Heraclitus (“The name of the bow is life, but its work is death”—a pun on the Greek bios, which mean “life” or “bow” depending on which syllable you accent):

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                THE WORK OF THE BOW

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I love how the bridge is strung
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  to sing like a harp
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  suspended in strong gales;

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I love the nerves
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  pegged over your ribs
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  like a zither tuned to my fingers;

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  and most of all I love to stand
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  still as the center
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  of a straw target

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  and await
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  the single note of the long bow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  arrowing through all things.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Bloomsbury Review in Colorado published a few short poems of mine in 1981, when I lived in western Colorado:


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I hear a wolf on the ridge
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    reach from his pulpit of bones
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    each step is a shallow grave
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and my bone-marrow shivers Amen.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Below, the wind hones itself
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    on my remnants: meat on a foxtooth,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    skin stuck to rock, boot in a crevice.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I owe these peaks more than one death:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    the hands fuse asking absolution,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    eyes freeze open in the highest pass:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    whatever lasts will climb until
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    it finds and opens the last gate of ice.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The following is based on the character thanatos (Θ), the title of one of Bryant’s best-known poems, and emblematized in the last two lines of this poem:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    THE HOME OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Dry rot has closed the poet’s home.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Visitors sign in on dusty windows.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Myrtle petals crowd the stoop
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      of the door no one answers—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      a skeleton key would unlock it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Termites restore a blind kingdom
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      beneath the eaves; I dawdle
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      with old petals, letting them fall.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      At last a boy who knows a way in
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      offers me a glimpse of the deathbed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      through a keyhole.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      From Sy Safransky’s The Sun in the mid-1970s, two pieces:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      THIS POEM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This poem calls attention to itself
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as goldenrod pollen blown in overnight onto your pillow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        calls attention to itself

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this poem is slight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as lichen that cracks a stone bench and holds the cracks together
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is slight

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this poem is weak
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as pine logged hauled sawn pulped beat into erasable paper
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is weak

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this poem is dispensible
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as a plainly dressed child laughing on a crowded playground
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is dispensible

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this poem is blind
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as tears climbing into your eyes when rain ages to snow and snow to ice
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is blind

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this poem is deaf
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as a diamond rough in the shovel fine in the watch of a dying man
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is deaf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this poem is dead
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as the sand wherein ghost crabs and rising sun clams have buried themselves
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is dead

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this poem is reborn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as I all my nerves restrung by your hands strummed in the new sun
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        am reborn


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        AND RESURRECTION

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Again a rattling alarm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          in all the pits of the body
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the limbs seize up

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the house dodders over
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the brink of silence wings sagging
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          on a lwn of sand
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          like an angel when it has lost
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the strength to hover

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          hoarse from another night wasted
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          shouting warnings at sleep
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          dawn’s surf crawls back under the porch
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          after a night ringing the buoys like church deadbells
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          it stretches out by the pilings
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          and digs

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the sun scrawls up
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the milky slate of the sky
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          chalk in a palsied hand
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          sentenced to write
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          until it gets it

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          and ever shall be
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          world without end amen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          great sheets of dew thrown up to dry stiff
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          will they ever come clean
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          of their bridal stain
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          while the needles of jets
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          mend north to south
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          where those blue patches wear and tear

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          where we shiver awake
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          cold in a draft

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          From the mid-80s, in the defunct Carolina Literary Companion, a persona poem:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          MISSING AT SEA

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Nothing but white noise on the shortwave,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            the telephone heavier each time I answer—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            tiny, helpless voices. If I let them
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            touch me I’ll turn into a widow.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This is the hour your trawler would slide
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            into view, gulls thrown up in its wake.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The storm waves are white flags: Give up.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The weather monitor mutters to the kitchen wall
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            From Cape Lookout to Cape Fear,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            visibility poor.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Upstairs, the shape we pressed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            into the sheets stirs as I open the window.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Upstairs, it’s still the night before

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            you go: your shirt slipping to the floor,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            your body pungent and mackerel-smooth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            against mine—let the black phone
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            keep ringing,the mattress moves like a groundswell
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            beneath us, your breath keeps rising,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            rising, and falling in mine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            From 1977, several poems from the Davidson Miscellany:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            THE MUSICOLOGIST READS BACK SATCHHMO’S ADVICE ON HOW TO IMPROVISE JAZZ

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ahem. Ahem—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              “now you get you a watermelon tote-boy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              look here I don’t mean no highyellow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              no highsteppin quadroon
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              they kiss the shit on a white man’s walkin stick
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I mean black like delta mud
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              nobody gone stepping on

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              now you heat him up about creole pussy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              till you see the white of his eye
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and his neck poke out like a king snake
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              when it seen a rattler slide out of its skin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              now you set him in the front seat with a dollar cigar
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              drive on downtown to the basin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              simmer his tongue in turtle stew
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              till it so hot
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              it scald fuzz off a green peach

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              now you let him alone in the wharf cathouse
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              shut them windows hot and tight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              except that one high over the river
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              open it wide as the bell of my horn

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              then you light you a stick of boo
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              strut your stuff on across the bridge
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              now when that panther wail come
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              slidin low along that black water
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              blow it back if you my man
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              squeal for squeal

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              yowl for yowl”


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ONE ACT SCENES

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                This man walks halfway
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                across a bridge, see,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                stares a minute at the coat
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                of algae the creek wears these days,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                where no reflection will ever again
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                show him up,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and no rings of refreshed water
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                spread their support beneath him

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                where his spit hits flat.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                But he can still go back to

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                whoever he has been, and does, sauntering
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                back wherever it was.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                That man pulls
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                a gun from a grocery bag.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                It’s all meat, he yells, waving,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                pointing at them, all of it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Like Baptists bells on Sunday
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                protesting Episcopal chimes

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                the gun quarrels disconcertingly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                with the cash register, so

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                the heads of the checkout clerks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                strike No Sale: bang/ching, bang/ching.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                That man locks himself
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                in the meat freezer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                so you can’t hear
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                who or what he prays to

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                before the alarm triggers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                his cornered amen,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                but you can hear the flies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                gather for a warbling love feast

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                against the automatic
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                unalarmed glass doors.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Angels weep tinsel
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  from the radio tower.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The disembodied carolers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  have sustained their full-throated ease
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  since Halloween.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Charity is a fluent cause.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Frosted jars of bacon grease, old newspapers rolled into logs,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  purchase domestic appeasement in the ghetto.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The firebells make a joyful noise there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  In all the homes of the deaf and old
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  are marvelous adaptations: the wise men
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  played by puppets, hymnings, aluminum trees,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  a manger scene where everyone stands very still.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Soft eggnog and cookies afterward.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Component stereos we have
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  turned on high. Santa
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  lends an ear to the shy and small
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  and importunate at each shopping center,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  his promises muffled in spun white fiber.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And for those unsatisfied
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  with an electric candle in the window,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  the television shows a nuclear submarine
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  splitting the North Pole apart,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  flying a red neon star
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  from its periscope.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Grown brittle and sharp as pencil
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Points in graduate departments, Eliot,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Schoenberg, Lorenz, Marcuse,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    undressing mannekins in the blank
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    pitiless window of fashion malls, Izod,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Cardin, Gucci, St.-Laurent,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    stuffing carpetbags with a salesman’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    rainbow of remnants and samples, Electric
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Ocher, Flamingo Flame, Bicentennial Dapple,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    stuffing briefcases with the fine
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    print of protection and security, Life,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Fire, Hospital, Earthquake,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    making a killing underselling
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    cuttings in forcing houses, Impatiens,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Purple Passion, Spider Plant, Joseph’s Coat,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    dispensing the New Age in twelve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    uneasy lessons to progressive aliens, TM,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Tai Chi, Kundalini, Zazen,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I hear the door of their Volvos
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    slam: wallets swollen with hunger
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    cling to them like spoiled orphans:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    now they have built their first house
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    of credit cards, persuading the trees to give up
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    their great solitudes and begin new lives

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    as vacation houses, doctoral theses, sanitary
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    napkins, news bulletins and reproductions, Klee,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Picasso, Matisse, Klein;

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    now their barbed grass establishes itself,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    the secluded lots gain interstate access,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    checks are written to cover everything

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and soon the invitations will make everything plain:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Dear friends, colleagues, classmates, members,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    in a short while our conventions are to take place…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    cocktails will be served wherever the sun goes down.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    STRONG TOILS OF GRACE

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Driving off the open road into a rest area,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      aching with the continual pulse of headlights
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I caught a migrant worker stuffing a wailing baby
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      into the urinal: Hey! I wanted to shout but
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      some silence, harder than the pulsing of pity
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      or anger, shook between us like huge compacted hands:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      before I turned to wash my hands he slowly flushed,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      stooped, and began to clean the feet of his son.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      From the Davidson Miscellany in 1973: first poem I placed in a nationally-circulated /peer-reviewed journal. Very much a teenager’s apprentice work, straining to summon nostalgia and irony and set them against each other like Rockem Sockem Robots….

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      THE LUMINA

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        They’re tearing down the old beach pavilion
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        shortly: business has been waning for
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        some time: condominiums inch skyward at a deliberate pace
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        nearby. Going up the blistered steps, memories
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        flit by and sting like sand.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Orphan corners of the ballroom contain
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        faint echoes of Glenn Miller and Gene Krupa, but
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        they’re dead & hard to recall amid
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the tolling pinball machines & flat beer. Out
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of the haze, out on the wind-worn promenade,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a local band stumbles through radio tunes
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        like a clumsy-needled jukebox, where
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        fashionable ladies once lingered beneath parasols,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        watching the persistent, chameleon Atlantic.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The skating rink is long since shuttered,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        locked like Bluebeard’s door, secret: skating
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is out of style.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I used to scamper and dig in that cool
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        shaded sand among the brown picnic tables
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        while tourists bought flip-flops and ate
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        sandy hotdogs in the breezeway; I imagined
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I owned the frolicking place—curator
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of skates & dancebands, dispenser of cokes
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and surfmats, bronze lifeguard supreme.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Termites mostly own the place now. Rusty cans
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        rattle through the breezeway, an empty pickle jar
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        rests on the saltwarped counter.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The beach shudders beneath throbbing, cold waves
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and fishermen dot the pier, lines askew.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        They’re tearing down the old pavilion.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And at night below the rampant moon,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a rough sea-wind rakes slats & shutters,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        forcing each wooden nerve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        to groan out its mildewed pain and love,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        pleas lost like a sigh
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        in the ocean’s dullish roar.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        :: :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        From a 1978 Davidson Miscellany:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        JOURNAL ENTRY

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Lying on my belly on limestone bluffs
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          since 7, waiting for pilot whales to migrate
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          past the cape. Cloudless: sun wanders;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          limestone reflects stovetop heat. I keep
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          my hands drowsing in a spring’s bowl, cool.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Overwhelming thresh of waves below: doze…doze…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          12:10 pm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Waking I find I’ve been briefly delivered
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          into the next life: chest, belly, legs stamped
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          with their mature likenesses—pebbles, fossils,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          clinging dirt; eyes drained colorless, a promise
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          to keep; back burnt red and dry and any maple leaf;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          hands wrinkled white—drenched, unpacking sprouts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1:20 pm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Glimpse of far spouts—a large pod bearing south—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          reminds me the salt breath between us freshens,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          blows, and dies down the same; we are each a life
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          bearing other lives with us, within us, always
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          toward the wonders of the sun, which all migrants follow,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          where all promises are delivered.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Same year/different issue:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          THE PRAYER OF NARCISSUS

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Cattail be my wand:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            when I break your ripe head, fly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            seed along this valley
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            to anchor the pond
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            that’s aged to a bog.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Black willow be a thicket:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            follow the wrinkled streambed,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            surround that strange child’s face
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            forever unwound
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            into sphagnum, flytrap, and sundew.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Same journal, 1976 (RHL = 23):

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            THE BOOK OF CHANGES

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              We quarrel now even while she dreams.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Squatting by the windprickled pond
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              she opens the Book of Changes:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I hear the faint clatter of yarrow stalks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              scattered, scooped, and counted.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The sand rasps as she draws the breaking lines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Opening the paper to world news
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I read how a mild tremor in Mount Etna
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              shivered walls in forty-nine Sicilian homes,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and how monks in the Capuchin catacombs
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              found two hundred skeletons—bishops, infants,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              lovers—shaken down, scattered across the dim floors.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              From a mid-70s Davidson Miscellany, 2 pieces from a cycle of “businessman” poems. I was working at a job with an IBM Selectric and a big clock and very little to do when I wrote these:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              BUSINESSMAN SETTLING DOWN

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The bonded eyes blear over an edge of his mahogany world,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                evading the calendar, the wire gates IN/OUT,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                swimming the shag wall to wall, between hungry dragons of hangover,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                then begin the graded ascent: file cabinet, shelf, shelf,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                diploma, certificate, hunting those trophies of order
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                indispensable to his position: Ceiling: the fuses never slouch there,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                they are in order: suns humming whitely through their tubes,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                conditioned wind from all four ducts,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                muzak to manicure the ball of dictating nerves.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                On go his electric typists, serving up yesterday’s stale memos.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Morning. Affirmative. The eyes drop clockwise,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                where there’s time to set up a buffer zone against noontime nausea,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                time to walk the minute hand around its imposing plaza till coffee.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3 EPITAPHS FOR A BUSINESSMAN

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  His telephones blink,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  stammering anguish.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Stockholding relatives
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  weep and retire.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A raise is not forthcoming.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    His pocket calculator
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    hums an unrelieved cipher.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Crepesleeved lilies hang out
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    sallow cupped palms, late wellwishers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    to this unpaid overdue extended

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The office percolater
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      regularizes commiseration
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      for a market open wide
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      just as he got away from it
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      all. Nothing in his dictaphone’s voice
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      intimates reappraisal, void as it is
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      of relevant memoranda.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The following batch of constitutes the end of apprenticeship. They were complex narratively, formally, philosophically, according to my liberal education. Written when I was 21, they appeared in the winter 1975 Davidson Miscellany:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        FOUR SONGS FROM GESCHLECHTSLIEDER:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Death hoho took love for a tumble
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      in driveins drab and alleys whooping
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      ‘hot honeypie!’ O now they but touch
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      when alack crawl the creeping willies

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. SONG OF THE YOUNG WIFE

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Tonight I dreamed I was a butterfly:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I shed the careweaved chrysalis of sleep,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and white wings bloomed behind my eye.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I danced—O sun!—sucked bright flowers dry;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I never kissed your mouth so long, so deep.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Tonight I dreamed I was a butterfly!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Caressed by sweetfingered winds, I soared, I
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        swooped—I laughed so loud to see snails creep!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And white wings bloomed behind my eye.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Then my back snapped, wings snagged. I—that cry!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        my flesh fed squalling swifts, a shredded heap.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Tonight I dreamed I was a butterfly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sleepless, sore where beaked flesh hammered my thigh,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I groan; you snore. Barren! The thought won’t sleep:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And white wings bloomed behind my eye.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I swell to wean: nested until I die
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I’ll squeeze this out and teach it to weep.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Tonight I dreamed I was a butterfly.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And white wings bloomed behind my eye.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. WE GATHER TOGETHER

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        …her sweat trickled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        through stiff stacked tinder
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        into clay.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        “Might God,” muttered the preacher,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ‘forgive, for our sins shackled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        to hewed tree.’
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Straw, harvest-dry, shaken
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        at the stake, crumpled blackly and burst:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Lucifer’s brittle yellow nails
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        searched her thigh.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Scrubbed children, sternly clapped to fencerails
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        facing, unlike elders left uncursed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        her tremor flaring into ecstasy, all stricken
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        with woe.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Wriggling into the devilsred gown
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as thongs hissing split,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        she wrestled him down to seal
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        their seizure in the embers.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Wheezing ‘I—do…’
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        she leaked from the corpse; from the coals’ ambers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        her odor infringed the town.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Turning, the elders converged on the rail
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        where her leashed boy foaming bit
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        his arms and fists:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Searing skin bowels very soul
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this deviance wanton after the calf
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        such our Lord utterly slew; the riotous soul
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        seeps under rocks or skitters chaff
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        from His just hands Who loving taught us to pray:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        So uttered father clasping him breathless untethered
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        while one drew from the corpse two long sooty bones;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        his brow blistered, they pushed him away,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        singing as he leapt and whimpered across the stones
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        which women in their skirts briskly gathered.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          3. DEEP THROAT

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Zooming even closer now the camera
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        gloats on those fluoristained
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        teeth which take their rigorous prey
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        like a fine fierce retriever and shake
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        limp what life remains: gulping
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        gasping cinemascopically into that dark
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        starless air your sacrifice shines
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        on contorted faces, legs in leghollows mingled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        in the roaring of stags whores on holiday
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        glittering cowboys who compare niceties
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of come-encouraging, antiphonies confused and multiplied
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        in the balcony the gilt niches like summercrowd chatter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        in Mammoth Cavens as shoving they spill
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        through grottos, eddy amazed around
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        gross stalagmites, and pause stupidly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        at any deadending gorge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Linda as you lay
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        somewhere else now doing what’s done off
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        camera, cinematic seed since burnt in your belly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        or passed through suave porcelain into sewage,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        do you wonder at the endless circuit
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of heads haloed briefly by your Klieglit flesh,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        who abandon the cartoon’s absurd epilogue
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the weltering aisles for familiar, yawning air
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        they call fresh, surging eager and stupefied
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        around the blighted sidewalk trees the branches
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        swinging spoiled and bare?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          4. SONG: TO CELIA’S YOUNGER SISTER

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Broken glasses, farewell toasts:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        apologizing parents crowd the door.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Clutching a watery julep
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the final debutante unzips her Dior.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Molting, bedding: legs like scissors spreading
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        to shear the thread that tangles core with core, unraveled–
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        on the miles of backroads rutting out tomorrow,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        car-enclosed, retrace your forehead’s sunworn furrow,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        shaping any smile relief from thought might borrow.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The bloodless moonround faces
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of children you claimed you knew
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        flap after you like kitetails
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        into a washed-out gauze of blue—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        drifting, shifting, if once then always sifting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        through cedar chests, mildewed cardboard for a locket—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The sun sprouts flowerweeds from its carious hero,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the halfmoon drops her blunt blackshafted arrow;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the bristling sow snaps bone to suck out marrow.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The junebug’s whir, the locust’s cant
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        smother under August’s sweaty sheet;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        your breasts yield to my knuckles
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        like hot sand to the pelican’s feet—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        teasing, dozing, dawn impels the choosing:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        what you dreamed we were betrays what we are.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Change your name the next time we meet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In the next curve’s crook is slung
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a circular pond, you’ll pass there—
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        into the next curve’s crooked loveless arm.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          :: :: ::
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The next two poems, published when I was 22 (Spring 1975 Davidson Miscellany), seem to me to belong to the next period of craft: not mastery but moving toward it. (The first, “Patrol,” was awarded a prize by Donald Hall though he never read the whole poem—someone failed to give him the last two stanzas).


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Seven letters,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        anagrammatic fatalist,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        spent between two suspended mirrors.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Evanescent pools, tang of wet air.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Seven years.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        How were the valentines scrawled?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I luv u. xxxx xxxx…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Nostalgic drivel through yearbooks.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        A plump cursive hand sprawling over lovers’ beachscapes.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Recurrent snapshots, recurrent promises.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And seven more.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The bridge sunken,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        steeped in green sheets of kelp,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the ferry drydocked.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Seven rainy months,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        spring split at the seams,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        oyster shells piling up to bleach;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the muttering roof sags, the heavy pelicans
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        swing southward.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Listless September drizzles manhood down,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        scouring lifted eyelids. The floodtide receded.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Stargazers, searobins gape, stranded:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        picked eyeless by whispering claws.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Winter gathers diminishing gusts
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        up the waterway. Boarded windows, sealed pores,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        shortwave solicitations twice a month. Anticipating
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        what little needs to be memorized, or planned for.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The door will lapse open, lisp shut: the vigil
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        creak out nights on an only chair, frost
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        smooth the hair of the marsh, power lines drag. Today
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a man: rain brims and smears a long line of footprints.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Seven miles to the breakwater.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          WAKEFIELD CAROUSEL

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Meshed in by gilt unicorns
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        gelded, elephantiasised
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        enchantress (flawless in the parlour
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        arts) quiring twelve androgynous
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        buffoon, wigs blown askew, flourishing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        fluegelhorns and tympani, whirls
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the oaken canopy plastered with zodiacal
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        motifs, gargoyles, lion and lamb
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        spitted on maypoles, streamers acrack
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        in the high luffing moorwinds and raucous
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        whine of overdriven fission–Aum! I
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        am realised! rejoiiced swarthy Rupa Singe, slamming
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        home the perpetualisor switch, gyring us
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        over that green terrific land, Klaxon
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        wauls, M. Dumaurat & his calliope
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        jettisoned–leaflet of Rachmaninoff,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Schoenberg and Coward borne down
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the west wind–goldllimned respirators,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        antigrav umbilical sheaths speedily
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        secured, M.B.E.s and postcards of Torremolinos
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        dispersed, addressed, honourably lowered
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        slung in a weighted hammock, crew mustering
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        manly chagrin as G-forces bare our teeth, guardrail
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        fuses, a string of flames–Yoyo effect, grimly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        nods the nonEuclidean emeritus and our stays
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and trousers burst into confetti,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        who are called upon to ratify this overload–Arcadian
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        spirit-ditties piped in–yonder
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        all before us deserts of vast
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        forgetful peace–contrita sunt for who
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        knows the revolutions of dust,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        can endure the radiant glory
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and live? We shall
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        be required to forfeit lives,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        women, and children. God save
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the Queen. –Praise God!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        cries Rupa the Sikh tearing off his mask:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Who is a coloured man! cueing the reassembled
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        host to kneel in dire alleluia as the fiery
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        wheel yaws into the black astral

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I spent a year and a half in he mid-70s working with poets in Bloomington, Indiana–chiefly Richard Pflum and Roger Pfingston and Frederic Brewer, who were kind but sharp about my 20-something presumptions. Here are a few of the pieces they approved (Stoney Lonesome, 1977):

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          POEMS WTH BIRDS AND TREES

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Stripped and tanned a pine
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        totters through a windless field
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        spitting woodpeckers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        It is my first fall as a man:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        doves who never took the nesting branch in their beaks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        are brought down
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        in nets of lead and air,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        spinning in the arc of the maple key
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        sent to unlock the turned earth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Whatever you pronounce
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        at the sunless beginning
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of a sloping forest
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is smoke.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Black thoughts swerve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        into nerves of your hand
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        like starlings swarming the bare valley sycamore.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The sea oats blended seeds to grow taller.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sparrows ate them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The parakeet sang to the bamboo You are a tree not a grass
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        so it was shut behind dry slatted bamboo hung in a garden
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        where monks walked pondering the song in the empty willows.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The diving loon searched for a deep tree in which to rest
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and found the hanging branches of the man-of-war.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Because water moccasins prowled the elder and sweet bay
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the chickadee perched on a slick knee of the oldest cypress
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        twittering beneath the hawk’s nest.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        * * *
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Horned owl has chosen the arrowheaded fir
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        to wear his necklace of feathers and pellets
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and quiver with his hunger.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Now, in thick afternoon, lowing like a fresh cow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        it calls me across the hill to gaher balsam
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        that drips from the lightning ark along its shaft.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        * * *

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Boiling quail eggs and sassafras root
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I do not forget:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        lying down in a hewn oak bed and feather pillow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I am no startled by regret;

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I close my eyes
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and open my wings and the wind
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        makes a sweet trail
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        out of my ashes.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          RESCUE PILOT

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Wheels chocked
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        tight, wings sag
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        gloved in ice: no
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        green flag scratches through
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        hard tundra urging me
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Go: propeller seesaws stiff
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as a head shaking No, I rock
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        my skin gone ice blue in a hollowed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        igloo whose one eye sees white like sheets
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of lime stretched across a mass grave: the air
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        slams down gray as a blind canyon,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        wind will draw me through its sharp
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        die, control wires and eye
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        crusting, corroding,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The International Poetry Review (1978) printed 3 poems based on North American Indian oral pieces:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          AZTEC WOMAN’S COMPLAINT

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        How can I help it, hearing him call me
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a red wildflower?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        His house is turquoise.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Tomorrow I will cross the slopes to catch
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        that flower for my hair.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        After I wilt between his hands he will find me
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a bag of crabshells,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        marrowbones, a cracked figurine.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        As he shuts me out he will say to a servant
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bring me my turquoise vase.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          TO BE CARVED ON A STRING OF CROW CHARM BEADS

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        During spring walks when we stretch out under cherrytree shade,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        grass greening in the four directions, sun soaring overhead,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        we feel like dozing, don’t we?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In autumn when a little breeze hones its knife on the leanto
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        where we squat, hearing weeds rub each other dry,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        we lean back drowsily, don’t we?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        On days when a drizzle speaks through the sod roof
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        with a muffled voice, and we warm our soles near the embers,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        we nod and drop off, don’t we?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Those nights when we sit smoking, breathing long slow clouds
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as the warm wind pushes mist heavily through the trees, we forget just when
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        we start to snore, don’t we?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        After hiking all day through huddled pines, we find a hollow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        for a fresh camp and cut boughs while the wind freshens.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Fatigue covers all our limbs like a heavy dew. We go in,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the needles rasp as we lie down. Pine cones loosen overhead,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        they drop like swooping owls, but we will be asleep before
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        they hit the roof.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          TO PACIFY


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Stamp your feet in pollen,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        jab and slash through pollen,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        scatter your curses in pollen,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        fall down and rage in pollen–

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        now pollen rubs your back,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        pollen sheathes your knife,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        pollen smoothes your face,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        pollen sweetens your breath,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        polllen coats your shadow,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        its mantle swirls over you,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        rising, slowly settting.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Be still.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        :: :: ::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        One Response to “Sundry”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Elden Loyack Says:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Hello, I just hopped over to your webpage via StumbleUpon. Not somthing I might usually browse, but I appreciated your views none the less. Thank you for creating some thing worthy of reading through.

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