Kelli Russell Agodon of Kingston, Washington for Mirror Beetle; Ode to Snow in April; Early Morning.
Srinjay Chakravarti of New Delhi, India for Ikebana of the Blind.
Danielle Cadena Deulen of Madison, Wisconsin for How to Pray; Speak X.
Jeannine Hall Gailey of Redmond, Washington for Dogwood; Turning Back; He Makes Dinner.
K.A Hays of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for Marta in Miasino.
Dove Rengger-Thorpe of Coffee Camp, New South Wales, Australia for Thelonius Monk; Hollow; Green Hope.
Rachel Richardson of Greensboro, North Carolina for Light; Spring; Mississippi.
Avery Slater of Seattle, Washington for Butterfly; Train Between Cities; That near.
Gillian Wegener of Modesto, California for Letter to My Husband Far Away; Madame Curie at Work; Confession.
Craig Arnold of Laramie, Wyoming for Consider with Plato how; A Ubiquity of Sparrows.
Nicole Beauchamp of Wales, Wisconsin for Phillip; Lucia; Africa's Children.
Robin Ekiss of San Francisco, California for Still Life: Girl with Vase and Flowers; Looking at (and Beyond) Monet's Water Lilies; Anniversary Poem.
Miriam Bird Greenberg of Austin, Texas for West of Rovaniemi, North of Alta; Indian Summer; Translation.
Mihan Han of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada for All that Remains; Spring in the tundra.
Rebecca Lindenberg of Salt Lake City, Utah for The Imminent Sweetness of His Return; An Appetite for Rain; In Circles.
Tod Marshall of Spokane, Washington for Whan that Aprill with its Shoures soote; Conversion; Marrow.
Sara Michas-Martin of San Francisco, California for Sunset in the Desert; Encounter; Stalling in Maine.
Nancy K. Pearson of Provincetown, Massachusetts for How the Heart, Too; Elsewhere; String Theory.
Elizabeth Percer of Redwood City, California for Einstein's Bath; Miracle; Eve.
Felicity Plunkett of Wooloowin, Queensland, Australia for Articulate; Stitching the Night; Learning the Bones.
Eleanor Stanford of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Parsnips; Invention for Cavaquinho and Pedal Steel; The Mangrove.
Melissa Stein of San Francisco, California for Hinges; Trout.
Sridala Swami of Hyderabad, India for How Do You; After Twenty Years.
Rhett Iseman Trull of Greensboro, North Carolina for Heart by Heart the House; Sonogram on the Way to Earth; Human Resources.
Amanda Turner of Portland, Oregon for The Nest; In the End; Of Nectar.
Marla Alupoaicei of Frisco, Texas for Ode to the Theory of Everything; Prodigal the Prodigal; The Cutting.
Timothy Bradford of Paris, France for Sea Voyage Instructions; Ophelia's Dream; At the Window; Before We Knew.
Temple Cone of Annapolis, Maryland for Starlings; Salve; When I Picture the Beginning of Time.
Keith Ekiss of San Francisco, California for Above Muir Beach; The Cemetery at Hall; Thunder, Range, Lightning.
Ari Finkelstein of Astoria, New York for After the Fall; The Pivotal Moment; Triolet.
Tess Jolly of Hove, East Sussex, England for Sewing Machine; Overdose; Labour.
Jennifer Key of Dallas, Texas for The Sick Dog ; West Virginia; Autumns.
Karen Llagas of San Francisco, California for Archipelago Dust; Open; Manananggal.
Idra Novey of New York, New York for About a Field; Seated Nude X; The Sonatas.
K.B. Ballentine of Dayton, Tennessee for Countdown; The Gloaming.
Susan Briante of Dallas, Texas for Peachtree; Windows Wood Roof; And Suddenly it's the First of the Month.
Chad Davidson of Carrollton, Georgia for Anthem; Take Care; Astronomy.
Katy Didden of Columbia, Missouri for On Hearing of the Trend for Sexy Chamber Music Trios; Ode to the Ear; Planetarium(s).
Brieghan Gardner of Nottingham, New Hampshire for Studies in Yellow and Blue; Clutch.
Henrietta Goodman of Missoula, Montana for Solution; This Is How You Can Tell; Thermodynamic Elegy.
Alisa Gordaneer of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada for cicada; acolyte; saving summer.
Heather Hartley of Paris, France for To My One Love's Letter; Une Voix Céleste - at an Organ Concert; Epithalamium.
Kristen Henderson of Red Hook, New York for Poems Everywhere.
Catherine Hope of Mt. Waverley, Victoria, Australia for Autumn, Winter ... and Spring.
Nina Lindsay of Oakland, California for Fortune; Mondays are like this.
Jenna Martin of Austin, Texas for The Origin of the Swallow; I've; Friends.
Valerie B. McKee of New Haven, Connecticut for Grappling ; Last Will and Testament; What Stays.
Michelle McLean of New Brunswick, Canada for Sunflowers; Gardening Notes; Degrees of Separation.
Alexis Orgera of Santa Monica, California for From the Field of Disquiet; The Elderly Mohave Finally Speaks Her Mind.
Lisa Ortiz of San Francisco, California for Astronaut; To be Happy; Why You Can't Sleep.
Joshua Rivkin of San Francisco, California for Psalm; The Snap; Winter House, Galveston Island.
Emily Rosko of Columbia, Missouri for Vehicle; (How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love) Central Pennsylvania; Legends from a Dead-End Street in West Virginia.
$250: Honorable Mention
Allen Braden of Lakewood, Washington for Anniversary Card; Postcard Beginning with a Line from Dafydd Ap Gwilym; Birthday Card from an Escalator.
Joshua Edwards of Brooklyn, New York for Walking the Road to Cuajimoloyas; Adversus solemn neloquitor; Sonnet for Summer Winds.
Chloe Green of Clagiraba, Queensland, Australia for A meow in the morning.
Jennifer Grotz of Greensboro, North Carolina for The Sidewalk; Rescue; The Umbrella.
Gwenda Hague of Nundle, Australia for Secrets.
Matthew Ladd of Columbus, Ohio for For My Sister on Her Birthday; Two Trees.
Christopher Locke of Miami, Florida for No Siesta; Open; End of American Magic.
Joan T. Miles of Eupora, Mississippi for Anticipating Twilight.
Beverly Monestier of San Antonio, Texas for A Czech Woman Hears a 1721 Stradivarius in Dvorak's "American"; Who Owns These Words; Journey.
Kristi Lynn Moos of San Francisco, California for A Hat for Natalie.
Vivian Nguyen of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia for Eulogy for Vincent Van Gogh; The Expedition; Classroom walls.
Steve Norwood of Lewisville, Texas for the effort; resurrect; vein and cleft.
Allison Seay of Greensboro, North Carolina for Concerning the Incident at the Busstop, 1985; Dear Sleepwaker; Letter to the Artist: Mother and Daughter.
Alison Stine of New York, New York for The Magician's Wife; Our Three; Observation Unbelieving.
Kristen Tracy of Kalamazoo, Michigan for Tree Turning Red; Awake.
Shoshanna Wingate of St. John's, NL, Canada for Neighbors (Chapel Hill, North Carolina).
Our thanks to everyone who entered and
congratulations to our winners!
Kelli Russell Agodon
If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of this creation
it would appear that God has a special fondness for stars and beetles.
-J.B.S. Haldane, British geneticist 1892-1964
Because I tried to reflect
on what was, a mirror beetle
appeared in my garden.
I opened my hand and the beetle
flew my palm, a miracle
As I passed the bamboo,
I discovered a universe
in a web, a red spider nebula,
a Beehive Cluster circling above.
Sometimes I looked to Scarabaeus,
the beetle made from stars,
because it seemed easier to trust
Insects disappeared, came and went
with the seasons, but stars circled
a dependable dance on the ceiling.
I'm learning how life's created
from a galaxy of surprise
occasions - wind chimes playing a concerto for moths,
a damselfly sewing
the last stitch of summer
to August's fallen hem.
And when the mirror beetle arrived,
I felt the cocoon I was wearing
begin to unravel while Betelgeuse
brightened Orion's shoulder.
And here on earth,
I trusted chance a little more
and the glow mirrored in my hand.
-for Peggy Shumaker
I offer praise for dirt,
for snowflakes, for fingernails
digging deeper, holey
garden gloves, holy
tulips surviving a surprise
snowfall in spring.
This is not life
according to Western Garden,
weathered blooms on a cold cold day.
I told you once I'd make choices
and I became the Golden Artist,
the Mona Lisa, a Blushing Lady
with roots weaving
beneath the hyacinths.
Our rice-paper gardens,
where a pagoda of snow
can cover a Concerto, a Sunset Carpet.
I broke through a fence
of icicles to walk the melting path
below, I found evidence
of belonging - two pairs of footsteps
remaining in the last patch of snow.
Note: Golden Artist, Mona Lisa, Blushing Lady, Concerto and Sunset Carpet are names of different types of tulip varieties.
While others drift through dreams,
I taste juneberries still cool
from the night air.
This new world, blooming
with high rises of evergreens,
an eagle's penthouse view,
I move like a traveler
from berry to perfect berry.
As the sunrise begins,
the sky suggests that time may be
the color of peaches.
This neighborhood rising,
children wake, eat breakfasts
of figs and toast.
The farmer has opened
the barn doors, tossed hay
to the horses out in the fields.
What do we need except this
morning where waxwings
appear like blessings?
How can we forget
that even morning glory
can be beautiful
as it wraps itself
around our fences to hide
what separates you from me,
my house from yours.
He picks up vowels and consonants,
shape and form as the subject
of his fingers: dexterous
and facile, exploring
the impossible fragrances
of jasmine or lily.
He starts with the white nouns,
the basic folds in his alphabet;
then come the verbs
rustling in blue pleats,
and the adjectives forming
themselves into pink creases.
Working with his second
sight of crisp movements,
the grammar of touch and feel
harmonizes textures into rhythm
with his color schemes of thoughts,
perfumed with imagination's pollen.
Stretching a point too far -
on a flat sheet, he crinkles
compound curves out of its locus;
spiral gerundives of yellow,
vertexes twisted gently
into cutting edges, visualized
in the blackness of permanent night
into cascades of flowers: buds and blooms
of rose, lotus, gladiolus.
In his hands blossom the ritual
petals of inflexions and hyperboles:
curving branches, scattered leaves,
patterning an illusion of foliage.
Wildflowers, captured manifold
in squeeze and press, squash and push -
Saburo Kase's nostrils
still tingle with the blossoms
he had smelt as a child
on the mountains near his home,
when vision was not yet lost.
Now it is origami's paper magic
that parses down his constructions,
that eternizes them into immortelles
in his fingers' vernacular.
Living in the moment, still
center of the now, an old man
always in the dark,
but never without light;
his hands always redolent
Saburo Kase (b. 1926): one of the world's greatest origami artists.
Danielle Cadena Deulen
Almond branches, wilting over the girl, look as if
they are bowing, and the line of her neck follows -
or perhaps - it might be too much to say - they follow.
She's only a girl, after all, walking without permission
beneath a dangerously dim sky, in a grove large enough
to lose a girl in - a girl's body in - the roadside fruit stands
shut up and emptied by now. Only a few cars heading home.
It's 1964 in southern California and my mother's run away.
She's packed two pears, her new white dress, and a bible
in the basket at the head of her bike, ridden until the lots
stretched so vast they couldn't be contained by fences,
the sidewalks sprawling into gravel alongside the highway,
She's gone looking for Canaan, or someplace closer
to promise than Orange County, a dirt backyard enclosed
by cyclone fences, her tanned brothers brooding
on the back porch, their large, dark eyes already done.
She wants an angel to arrive. She wants sleep without
the dream of a distant house on fire, across a narrow valley,
smoke rising so quickly it blackens the sky. She can't yet
read the gathering clouds, the fever of consummation.
In the almond orchard, her head bowed, wilted
blossoms scent her long, dark hair, her damp skin.
My mother doesn't know how to pray for what she wants,
only to imitate the wind in her breath. Irrigation ditches
draw long, dry sighs. The blooms threaten to catch fire.
Between rows, dirt is mapped with tiny tributaries - not
the lines that lead to Canaan and its burdens - not water,
but a promise of water. Where water will run when it rains.
She taught me how to say hello and goodbye in Khmer -
sounds I no longer remember the feel of in my mouth,
like the broth she once poured over my tongue, something
of salt, spice, heat, or the incense she burned each night
before a small brass god whose many arms gestured toward
many exits, or points of arrival, the places I'd never been:
Here, she said, dropping her finger on a globe to a country
of blue and green, its hills warming beneath her hesitation
before - all the way to here - sliding over mountains, oceans,
memory, to the classroom we shared for hours each day,
waiting for bells to ring us home. In Cambodia, January
is a dry season , she once said of our birthday month,
and in summer monsoons make floods . I imagined blue sky
soaking up green fields, the sun an orange fingerprint
blotted in the air, like the small, round scars on her belly
that she saw me see when we undressed to dress for bed.
Cigarette burns , she admitted, once we turned out the light and
our four arms rested beneath her thick blankets, but I was small ,
my Mother says nothing to ... but she finished the sentence in Khmer,
a language, and also a word meaning speak x and I love you ,
depending on how your tongue hits the consonants and where
the vowels are placed: above, below, in front of, after.
In English, her last name was Oak, spelled like the tree.
Her first name, the memory of flight.
Jeannine Hall Gailey
I grew up with the uneven petals
Spring for me was not the pink faces
of cherry blossoms,
not the wide white faces of magnolia,
not skunk cabbages or plum.
The tough and twisted branches
grafted last winter on the dogwood
lifted me up.
And you wonder
how I grew this knotty,
beauty burned at the edges,
blooming before my leaves
even caught the light.
You can't go home again,
because the house you grew up in has been razed,
along with the rose garden and oak trees and fossil rocks.
You keep touching the place like a scar,
trying to figure out what was lost. You try rebuilding,
stone upon stone, a little ghost in the window and a cat on the lawn.
What were you looking for? Here, the mountains don't have any trees,
and that sound you hear is the ocean.
One by one you take out the chairs, the books, the bats from your hair.
Artifacts you remember your life by.
So many pages with worn-out handwriting,
and a phone number of someone you've forgotten.
You turn around and it's burning outside;
maybe it's the moon, blood-red over the city lights, or the angry maple leaves,
or a fire made of leaves and the severed limbs of trees and roots,
or just the mist around a ship that's gone astray on the harbor.
Honeymoon, a circle of vessels to keep your spirit in. Those bird calls a map,
that last broken branch a totem, a path to guide you home.
The thick knife gleams
under your sinewed hands,
slicing carrot, onion, garlic, pepper,
scattering slivers into the air,
staining your fingers
with their gold juices.
You chop so quickly the definite line
between "hand" and "knife"
dissolves. You strew pine nuts
into the skillet, listen for the right sting
and sizzle of oil and wine,
waiting to feed me the work
of your hands, your broken finger,
the tiny cuts and burns
that lace and scar your surfaces.
Outside of Miasino, the cows mingle
with the flies and the Miasino churchbells fold
into the cowbells' clangs, the music having given way
to sound, the street to weed and broken stone.
Like rain in tin buckets, the bells keep panging dully
from the necks of cows. They say, for the cows,
And Marta, it is a fight: even the fresco
on the roadside shrine is bleached, rubbing out
the people painted there, saints maybe,
whom someone hoped to make immortal.
Still here, they once said, you can be sure.
Even the flies hum it as they fly.
Marta, in Miasino this morning, you were yelling
and holding out your arms, running ahead
of your mother, who called,
Piano, Marta, piano!
Look at the grass, how it puckers, flips up,
bends down, and is soon threshed for hay.
Marta, you will hear piano always.
The churchbells, cracking, hear it,
and the cows that lie down in the meadow.
A room will say it, and the night, and the body,
aging. Even, at times, the mind.
I am telling you, Marta: you must be as ornery
as the flies, as stubborn as the bells,
calling over the shrines, over the whited-out saints,
over even your lovely mother when she goes -
when the sky has gone green.
When the day lifts a hand over you,
ready to swat , to come down,
Marta, run ahead. Still here.
Hold out your arms.
Jazz oozes from the stereo
and mingles with a cicada's percussion
on a late night in early autumn.
Thelonius Monk in a mellow light,
the piano, the saxophone, the trumpet
move slowly, one, two, three.
The lamp's yellow glow lights the rug,
the wooden floor gleams and
all is easy on the couch.
The shaker and cymbals collide
softly with the keys, while gentle fingers
of brass probe the air, leaving me tender,
barely breathing after a long trickle of notes
tickles my ear and then dies away.
The cicada remains, its midnight music
comes back to me
with the sound of loss.
The way a shell
mourns the ocean
The small patch of green hope has dried up
leaving withered stalks
shuffling sere, dry scraping on the wind.
Deep below the worms turn and spin, swallowing
and shitting dirt,
churning the past into the future.
I am faithless. Heart worn.
The worms know
the grass will grow again.
The light touches everything.
No, my daughter sees:
the light touches anything
that sticks out its hand to be touched.
Here, on the jutting corner of wall
in her bedroom, it pleats in rectangles,
making moving, overlapping chunks
from the hard edge of window,
bending around corners
as if they weren't there, as if it could
Here, on the top dresser drawer,
half open with socks
and nightgowns, white
pushed around in drifts of fabric,
it smears worn and soft, following
the wood's grain, working its way
into her bedclothes.
On the sill, it gathers and sparks,
bounces off her little glass creatures,
glinting, reflecting from their backs
as if they're sunning: a tiger
lounging, outstretched; an elephant
marching in the heat.
From her bed, she watches it slip closer.
Here, she holds out her hands. Land here .
Water hasn't been this high in years. New ponds swamp
the roads; pines sink in mud. Crawfish burrow
in ditches, crawling out to the street, one after another smashed.
I know the way water ruins - I've mourned
the tall emaciated stalks and sculpted cypress stumps
that stud our lakes. But I can't banish the rain -
it fills the yard, puddles in low places, pings
into a bucket left out. I'll wait for what I know
is coming: the purple sky blazing, cracked
straight through, and another day ravaged. Green.
I'm going to tell it like this:
the river's brushed
silk, its boats cradled, cattle calm on
banks, a synchronicity
of water wheels. I'm a child and
you're one too, and
cotton fields are opening before
us. This wailing unwailed,
a photographic trick - sorrow's
Unhinged bones rest safe inside coffins.
On the banks, rattling cane,
a cropduster's dive, the small-town
A pilot corrects the error in
a compass, they say; I'll
trace the river backward , to where
pose families on roofs. They're lovely,
since they're gone. No river
on fire, no gas lines snapped - none of it
able for weeks. This is what I should
have said before: towns built
on mud, we love you. Bring back
the drought year blues,
old Pontchartrain bridge. Cover the dead
with lace. Here's a story
to send us off to sleep: let's say
the levees held,
say bread and sugar graced each table ...
I stooped to the wings like roosting kites
to watch the pause in flight sip dust and shade
but found crushed innards dried and stuck
to gravel's schist and quartz. I took
its edge of wing by fingers, tip to tip.
Its amethyst, its blue and red, its furred face like a tiger:
what flower dreamed this camouflage
to eyelash-legs, neat lack of scent?
My fingerprint, left glistening with feldspar-talc:
a bruise-remaindered cosmos.
This hinge of what would seem too thin
for sides, in glyphs like clover leaves,
describes a labyrinth of stain;
the other side - beside its eye - grisaille.
Its penciled abdomen
was ghost already of a staircased
worm. Its death: less afterthought
than daring, in these cupping hands
haphazard gusts of air's applause
and all left-rushing wind to pick its lock.
Past the glass, the stationary green
of April blurs. We patiently head towards
our separate addresses, caught between
the drop of evening and our window seats.
Moving at a clip that stifles words,
we've brought ourselves to leave the sure
hospitables for this pane-shaking speed.
Life pools, renews, shore-held as any sea.
For every exit, entrance...but before:
spines ease into slump. We prop up feet.
Hearts leap through long goodbyes and corridors
where footsteps fade or near. Mean-times we lean
heads emptied by departure, having boarded.
There is the hope all ends will be afforded.
-the Etruscan tomb painted for "The Hunter"; Tarquinia.
Celebrating death has ended.
Parties of the mourners leave,
brave with shouts and narrowing music...
through the sapling-staked pavilion.
Trout-like, darkened lanterns nod
with wind-blown, rattling fabric.
Thinner than a laurel's bark,
than frost along a laurel branch -
paused mid-step, drawn by their exit -
one deer steps across
earth's tamped surface, and survives
as sketch, as painted shade. No moon
so tissue-fine: her pelt of light,
her hesitant, gloved bone.
She is the last alive. She hangs
her brow to dust, as brushed into
this final scene, a tempered hue.
Below the baking fields of grasses,
walls a bulb illuminates
are vivid, still. Through lightless acres
roots reach, unaware,
to thinnest edge:
she is that near...
She is the threshold where she waits,
dividing earth's long siege from air.
Missing bones; the hunter, taken.
Banners writhe and figure wind.
Depth, attending, crouches; holds
where one bright-painted gap in darkness
keeps the deer...
she is that touch,
that brushing near.
The house is not empty without you.
It thrums and bumps, the walls relax and sigh.
The water heater dutifully comes on, rumbles
with heat, waiting for your shower to start.
How many times today have I heard
your truck in the driveway, the floor creak
with your step, felt your breath against
the back of my neck. At least that often,
I've turned to tell you something,
or hand you a piece of cheese or plum,
but it is two more days until you return.
It is just me in this room, with this plum,
with this good fortune, and the far flung love.
The ink runs across the cramped pages.
Paper can never hold every thought.
Light spills in around the door sill. What time
is it, she calls, is it morning?
She carries radium in her pocket sometimes,
malleable, vaguely warm, a whole world burning.
Words are nearly meaningless. Even formulas,
sprawling across the page like the dance-paths of bees,
cannot contain this newborn meaning.
Pierre brings the tea. They bend together over the work.
The tea gathers the chill of the murmuring room.
Pierre carries the stuff in his waistcoat, shows it to friends
for amusement. Marie keeps a few grains of radium at her bedside.
It makes a soft light, a private light, almost like the moon.
Pitchblende, radium, polonium -
the word radioactivity is hers.
She never realizes - the notebooks are dangerous,
ink glowing on each bright and terrible page.
I never know how to start a poem,
so I scan the first lines of other people's work,
a poetic peeping tom, wanting to see how
they find a way in. I climb in the window
after them to see how they do it, how they
become so intimate with words, how they
finger them and pick them up and put them
down and feint and fall and finally taste them,
first gingerly, then with the whole yearning body.
I mean no harm. And I don't stay long.
Just long enough to see their thrill
and then I'm back out the window,
dawn's poking at the horizon,
I'm heading down the sidewalk,
pencil in hand and a morning's work ahead.
the mind might be a cage
of birds would it be busy
a basket of caught starlings
or quiet a canary
under a velvet cozy
a parrot shabby gray
who has heard the same words
called out so many times
he is tired of answering
would it grow into its prison
as a half-pair of lovebirds
who headbutts his reflection
in the bell-jangled mirror
who after awhile alone
forgets how to sing
maybe a bird who needs
no cage who is his own
cage an owl in sunshine
a swan with a clipped wing
A certain traveler who knew many continents was asked what he found most remarkable of all.
He replied: the ubiquity of sparrows. - Adam Zagejewski
Sparrow who drags a footlong crust of bread behind him
across the floor of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal
Sparrow your speckled breast and the black beads of your eyes
your blue-gray cap and the sudden explosion of your wings
Sparrows dashing to any spot where sparrows are gathered
Sparrow whose head is pecked bald from so many quarrels
Sparrow hopping across the patio toes together
waiting for you to turn your back to plunder the table
Sparrow who cocks her head to one side as if doubtful
Sparrow beating her winds to haul off a half strawberry
Sparrow bandito with black mask and bandanna who robs her
Sparrow the poet's lover keeps close in her lap
to make him jealous nipping her finger hard harder
Sparrow who follows every flick of your hands moving
Sparrow chasing a papery butterfly flapping and snapping
the butterfly each time impossibly escaping
the sparrow savage the sparrow persistent is there no mercy
Sparrow who spies from far off the flag of a shaken tablecloth
Sparrow chick dropped on a lawn on a windowsill
hunched in its feathers not knowing enough to move
Sparrow roasted over a piece of bread to catch the entrails
Sparrow whose feet barely sway the twig of a willow
who leaps into the air with the smallest of leaf-shivers
Sparrow the color of dust and mud and dry grass-stems
Sparrows kept on the wing by farmers banging saucepans
kept flying until they drop a soft heap of bodies
Where are the sparrows when next spring comes in a cloud of locusts
Sparrow who says cheap sparrow who says Philip Philip
Sparrow who keeps the secrets of wistful men and women
Sparrow shot by a boy with a pellet gun brought down
but not quite killed sparrow under a boy's bootsole
crackles like brown October leaves a wing trembles
Sparrow whose fall from the sky is noticed by what god
Sparrow who squats in the bluebird nest in the martin houses
who moves in with a gang of thugs and there goes the neighborhood
Sparrow who shot Cock Robin and later was hanged like a thief
Sparrow astray in the airport tracked by the one-eyed guns
Sparrow said to have brought the English unto belief
Sparrow who flew through the king's hall as he sat to table
in winter a little life who fluttered out of the snowstorm
warm rambunctious scuffling under the high-pitched rafters
Sparrow who stumbled in one door and out of another
between two blind and endless corridors of nothing
the one forever before the one forever after
Car rusting in the Namibian bush,
to numbing waves of sniffed glue,
swirling into a stupor in the stifling dark.
Police came with food
when they remembered the boy
left to live in the car.
They came only sometimes
because so many children live
in places like cars.
But by then he'd been there many years and
his name and age,
dying because there wasn't much else to do.
How does God bear these things,
14 million times over?
Each morning now Phillip rolls off his mat on the tiles
and prepares the younger children
a mass of gray mahangu porridge,
which they eat with their fingers
in the cool slants of light.
He comes home from school
in a coarse blue uniform,
wipes the steaming dust off his shoes before lunch.
We ask him about his examinations,
friends and rugby matches,
and call him fourteen years old.
Sometimes Phillip has visions
of Jesus collecting grapes
gently into airy pockets,
storing them safely
Dead unnamable things
live in her head and stomach.
All these words are only bruising
sound to a shaking girl, robbed
of all good things.
Speak into her.
and red triangle and eiers ,
pencil and baaikostuum and music ,
lunch, seven eight nine,
do you want to go for a walk?
So loved the world.
Speak kaas and biltong and the sky is blue ,
speak throaty Afrikans and stunted English,
Let her mimic your holy words.
Speak healing through clay letters
rainbowed on a plastic tabletop
to spell out L-U-C-I-A and N-I-C-O-L-E.
Speak a Father who won't hurt
sweet dreams, Lucia
let's go home.
Speak to her, tenderly enough
to raise the dead.
We are many
calling for redemption
for family and sweet
crowing mornings of light.
We dance in sharp movements
of our hips, we smile wide.
We swell the continent
with life, much of it
happening in streets of dust.
We fight for a blanket
for food and life
for our little sister, who we'd carry
on our backs through the lonely bush
if she needed it. And she has.
We know Death.
It is a sluggish thief
grasping our mother piece by piece
as we smooth her hot skin
and try to keep the floor clean.
It wakes us up screaming
But give us a voice,
and from our stomachs we'll sing
Hope, who is often
the only one remembering
We know how the ball of ginger sun
hangs in the arid stillness
of the melting day.
We sleep in the dust
under bold stars.
The girl holds the empty vase,
but out the window
its emptiness is erased:
on the hillside, the grass bends
away from the wind
but does not break.
In the winter, it's green
buried beneath brown -
still there in the ground, though.
The world is amazing and amazed:
the gillyflower and the green almond
on its spare wrist of stem,
the sparrows circling
in the thin, high air,
and life there -
embarrassment of coins
at the bottom of a well.
What makes the water shine?
What fills her mind with such hope
not even birds can tell,
who sing their halo to the lamplight,
under which she waits
for Spring to break
this interminable hush,
to deliver something
as forgiving as a few petals
into her hands.
It's not about the water
or the flowers,
but the sky reflected in them,
only you must choose
to see the expanse of light
at the bottom of the lake
that makes the flat world
take its shape. On the surface,
one illuminates the other:
before there was day, night;
before water, light -
the pale peace of morning
in cloud cover, the promise
of one day stretched out
beside another. Beside me,
what washes over you
is river silt, returned to our bed.
In that mauve hour,
before the sun breaches sleep
and breaks the surface
of imagination, there's a joy
as hidden as the face of a fish
beneath a fern. Impermanent as words,
foreign-sounding as rain,
it is joy, after all - not a trick
of the eye, but the hard art
of looking away
from the darkness
that separates us
from each other.
Married to imagination:
you are the bright pole
I navigate toward
on wind-washed seas.
what is love, if not
Beside you, I'm the bare root
of a flowering tree.
There's nowhere in the world
I'd rather be.
Miriam Bird Greenberg
What does it mean to move north, cant your whole body
toward the sea and burning , an entire matchbook
set aflame at once? Here, taiga grown wild
with rosehips, rock wall and traces of salt
on the sea stones at shoreline.
Map drawn across the body of a woman,
eighteenth century beauty
crinolined, leaning into some inner ocean
with her right hand raised: here, fields of rocks, the wind,
then liquor stores, fireworks, an unmanned crossing. Cross.
Hitching, a woman stops for us, rolling cigarettes one-handed; later
a carpenter; then a Sami radio journalist
turned math teacher. We drink the water here, icy, with our
cupped hands from the rivers.
The day luminesces; long past ten we are paused
on the roadside, waiting. The firth is cut with cragged
stones, small Sami houses shut up for the summer
and the branch A-frames for drying fishing nets empty.
Two degrees from a horizon on the Arctic ocean
I roll cigarettes one-handed, watch the spires of small boats
rise out of the ashlight at nightfall:
low-masted and white. What edge of land
have we come to, winter reindeer
foraging in the streets, low green hillocks birthed
spectral from the inlet? I squat, gutting fish with an antler-
handled knife, cut
so every bone , over the fire, pulls easily away. Even stopped,
I am moving: what I have been searching for,
if there is something,
has left. On the walls of our tent the moon through pines
is tracing a nest or cocoon in the shadows,
the wind - listen, hushing - is calling, in dark's early chill,
a name: but whose? Not mine.
Imagine this land gone back to green. A girl stands
ankle-deep in the dried grass, the tiny white stars of crocus
are mouths opening up around her through the thatch
of the yard, point six directions at the sky,
at the bellies of dogs, streets away, tangling and knotted
in weedy alleys. Shut up houses shift east down the slope
of streets toward silty ditches separating fields
of sorghum from cows facing into the wind. Clouds turn murky
under night, heat lightening low on a horizon of rooftops. The girl
opens her mouth, in the heavy air she sings a veil of gray
silk pluming like smoke in the wild traffic of starlings'
shrill cries, low voices of the fighting, teeth bared, of dogs
or men, or their ghosts. Here, night prizes every lock
and crevice. Here, she shifts in the wind, has stepped
through split window frames onto the porch dense
with wicker, wringer washing machines, the rot
and mold of old clothes. Then into the grass, she sings. Here,
dust devils whirl in the streets, flatter and rattle
the rusted hinges of mailboxes, break suddenly in the bramble
of yards gone to bloodweed. There in the grass, a girl sings.
"The meaning of a word is its use in the language." -Wittgenstein
In the third week of October, let the fresh prints of a fox on snow
remind you of a procession under willow trees
to the creek's edge. Let fabric scraps tied on the cedars beg
forgiveness for trespass beyond the yellow dust of the roads.
Let the low orange moon and its rabbit's body come to mean mortality,
yours and mine, a brief distraction. The scarved women
selling berries here walked miles in woolen stockings
through this forest, and double that last decade; the men selling old radios,
rusted mechanics' equipment and stray electrical wiring,
are gathered at this roadside to rid themselves of this unwilling gift
of the past.
This fading thread on the purple-papered branches,
let it serve as thanks for the orange moon, the slow forgetting
of these oxidized tools, these torn-out wires.
There is a photograph
on the mantle above my fireplace.
My mother is standing slightly off
center on an egg-white smear of beach.
In the background there is a blur, sepia-toned:
an island with steep limestone cliffs.
Her expression is faded, unreadable.
I prefer to imagine her smiling though
she may well be grimacing (time is a thumb
smudging out the details).
One hand is on her hip, the other holding
my (impossibly small) hand.
Although you cannot see it
(the crux of our joined hands
obscures it) hidden in her pocket
there are pebbles.
This is all that remains:
a ghost on a beach behind glass and silver frame (lingering
on the mantle above my fireplace),
pebbles covered with dust like parchments of ancient skin.
How precise and knobbed as the small bones in her hand,
How scattered and unintentional as love.
How can hardened permafrost know
that life is germinating within
when frozen landscapes are white and
starched as the hospital linens before
she descended, abruptly as
spring in the tundra?
When melting snow perfuses
the swelling hills and creased valleys,
sprouting capillaries around glacial
till embedded like fibroids
in a womb,
when the blue people descend
from their distant mountains, hoisting the sun
crimson fields blossoming
between her legs,
the north wind is a newborn crying,
in my mother's arms.
"But I cannot express the uneasiness caused in me by this intrusion of mystery and beauty ..." Marcel Proust, Swann's Way.
Glass, he said, is like
hardened water. I replied, without
looking at him, Don't you mean ice?
He stared and answered,
Not at all. He was
governed by correspondences
I didn't understand -
The flight of water down stairs
had nothing to do with spoiled carpeting.
He stood ankle-deep in a flood of ruin,
I remember, he told me once, the first time
I remembered you. Only he
could make that make sense.
That's how I knew I would come
to love you. He loved me.
Among other things.
We were in L'Aquila and it was raining
like it's raining now, only that rain
battered the pavement in whatever Italian is
for battered the pavement.
Some grace-note consonant combination
spa or sfu or gli, or it should be -
something that means both the sound
of rain ruining itself upon the ground
and the gleam of reflected half-light
in pools, trembling like a soul.
We went to see the fortress and the art
guarded therein, but I couldn't
bring myself to make room for those
in my mind. Instead, I let myself be
distracted by the luminescent green
grass around the fortress,
lining the moat like emerald felt.
The rain brought it forth, the rain
that soaked us, that pooled
in the corners of memory, seeped
into that deep aquifer so the grass,
when I go there, is eternally vivid.
We stood on the lawn, your son
hurling pinecones into the deep moat.
We stood side-by-side in the rain,
the green, the what is, the what ever is.
"la diritta via era smarrita"
Days, these days, are just
coffee breaks between
sleep and sleep -
daylight anemic compared
with the vivid wholeness
of dreams. I have been sorry
to open my eyes, to open
my windows and let in
the smell of wet leaves,
world misting away,
and of forgetting.
I don't want to forget
a long bridge,
a wide churning river,
faces rising up into its surface,
what we feel in dreams
that life gives no occasion for.
In my dreams, I am guilty
of a thousand crimes. For lying,
I am sentenced to walk
in a circle until I die. I plead
with my sister to buy back my body,
not to let them throw me away.
An adulterous thought made
flesh bends over me, a seduction
amid curtains, curtains blown
open and only then do I recall
that I am married. Only then
do I wake with the smell of hyacinth
still burning in my nose.
I wish I had a voice
big enough for this much feeling -
panic let down like a veil
over the reasoning mind,
and suddenly I am floating in space
where is my insulin?
what is my blood sugar?
why is the moon so close?
through a river full of monsters,
through exacted penance,
through a would-be lover's
protective embrace and back
into this world, shivering,
covers thrown off, aware
of skin laid bare, so much
I would never now unknow.
When the flute music arose from the back of the bus,
the man next to me fitfully slept,
thin snore drizzling from the corner of his mouth
to hang in air, shadow of a black bird, rocky caw
of lost hours and days, then gone.
He rode from Wenatchee to meet a sweetheart
in Seattle he'd emailed for months - a picture in his pocket,
crease right through her forehead
as if to announce everything divides into what was
and what could be. Earlier, the woman in front of us
juggled two babies in diapers,
and their beautiful energy wore her beautiful energy
to snappy exhaustion. I smiled at the oldest child's
white bloom of a tooth, played peak-a-boo
over the seat, and fell toward my own sleep
where dreams became a shudder awake
to lumbering bus noises
and that ever-present question, who am I?
No different from anyone: another pilgrim heading for home. And then
that first note rose
tingling in the air, catching crystals of frost on the windows,
hushing the hydraulic hiss of bus gears,
the shuffle of people
fidgeting in too-small seats,
salty smell of sweat
soaked into, through and beyond
the habit of fabric to take it all in: if I said
that these scraps of desire - the quiet torture of dreams
announced by the quiver of a slumping head, the faulty
twitch of shoulders clunking into another, the mouthy smack-smack
of jaws chewing some new hope for tomorrow - changed
into a misty shimmer the passengers wore
as they slowly rose to morning,
if I said that we awoke, some without eyes to see, some without ears
to hear, some without a single buck
or a clean change of clothes, no hope in the world
except to get off a cramped and musty bus,
would that be enough for you to hear the clear music of a flute?
I never saw the musician -
high school girl shuttling between parents, a young man
trying to remember a professor's lesson, shivering angel from Ellensberg only lonely for home -
but someone played those tender notes,
and the bus did what buses do,
climbed the pass, crested the pass, and descended, chased by dawn
into the mystical plunder of a new day.
Always the sunflowers open
toward light, smaller ones first,
and later, larger blossoms,
food that will feed sparrows
for weeks. In the back yard,
compost heats from the core,
banana peel, egg shells, and onion
skin mulched to mush. Rotten
tomatoes on the heap, shriveled
celery stalks. Coffee grounds
are fuel, a friend says. Some-
one else wonders about snakes
and rats. Raccoons. At night,
skunks pick through the pile.
Easy to scare away. Dutiful
steward with a shovel and rake,
sunburn on my neck and shoulders,
I hunch toward dirt and shadows
bind my body with birdsong
and bright yellow,
human bones only slowly
turning to meet the sun.
Swim in the lake,
seven hundred feet of glaciated cliffs
surrounding the shore.
Dry each other
slowly with pack towels
and slumber through the afternoon.
Stir first to catch cutthroat.
Skewer them with alder sticks,
rub oil and red pepper
in the gutted bellies
and roast the fish - even eat
crisp tails with sliced apples
and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Burn heads and bones in the coals,
glowing skeletons that summon stars
to sleep in the water
near smoke and pines,
replaced in the sky
by your sparks, new constellations
that rise and drift into night.
No birds have to lift from swaying palms,
sail through or touch down
in this poem.
Under the sky's
ripening pink sash, the city
doesn't need to be beautiful.
The night unfurls its cape
and the sweet music of cicadas
may or may not swell the silence.
When the moon, a polished ivory tusk
rises gently in our window
it need not ensnare our gaze -
with you, dear love
sipping tap water, opening our mail.
At the end of the show hundreds of lighters pierce the dark,
the crowd illuminates its self and I see someone I know -
his beard longer, his head blonder, waving a flicker of light
but I can't place him, only the image of lightning bugs swirling
when I was a kid in the car with my sister
and she tapped on the side of a jam jar full of them
to make them blink, and when they didn't blink
she unscrewed the top and shook them over my head.
This is how memory works sometimes, opening
at random all over you as you stare dizzy almost
at someone familiar and they stare back, and the tongue, frantic
hunts his name, not Mark, not Matt, and how
could I forget - our race up Mt. Cadillac to watch the sun
replace the moon, to watch it ease up from the Atlantic
waiting there at the top, in our soaked parkas, frozen
and finally, it comes, his name - out loud, I say it ... Ben?
After the toothbrush and the long johns -
the jammed zipper, a soft scarf
for the face, I blink out of a body
unwilling to move, The bathroom
is out behind the root tangle
and the chilled length of midnight;
the bucket, the other's answer
to inconvenience, is in the corner
behind curled book covers
and a bottle of soap called rain.
All day I drank water drawn
from the lake's insides. There were
four days under my nails
when I dug into the leather
of an orange peel. Remember
to order the glue and generic tea.
Remember Kate's letter, and
the ceiling drips in the pump house.
There are loons here, their sad pitch
skates on water and the moose
story - first thaw, Davis in a wet suit
lowered into a septic field
to rescue the animal half lodged
in ice. Look how my breath
flowers against the flashlight beam
and look at my small things:
pens, stained cups, a raincoat
on a hook What holds me to this bed
is made of gasoline, plastic food,
a checkbook that inspires
electricity - it's just a bucket. My sister
after thirty hours gave birth
to a quiet child named
Grace. I'll pray for her
to find a day emptied of clocks. A river.
Sticks to shape like boats. I'm going
to the bucket now, everywhere
dirt and needles I've loosened
from the ground. Under me
this thin rise of steam, this
little thunder. I am learning
again to be mortal.
There is just this.
Nancy K. Pearson
How he dragged himself across a two lane interstate,
through the tussle of marsh, past a coyote den littered
with fifty or so cat collars and laid himself under a gigantic clowning
hydrangea bush, how the wind unplugged the sand dunes, grain by grain
all day, how even the ponds lifted a little, un-anchoring
from the pink cords of lilies, the tacked down pods of rain, everything
rose up to meet him, I was crossing the street in a hurry late
for bussing tables, green bracts floated from a stem, I did not hear
his small mew darting up, a heart minnowing forward, how both hip bones closed
toward the center where a wheel crushed earlier that morning,
wings folded around a stomach, a song bird without hinges,
how he could not stand, how could he
and yet, later, how I found him on the bed curled beside the shivering dog.
That winter the wrapper leaves fell off every head of lettuce.
The cutters and packers worked all day, stooping
between the frozen rows, rising creaked and creased
in the gray sunlight, whole families bent at the waist,
broken midrib and pink-veined, the lettuce,
the slick lemon and orange trees smoking,
diesel smudge pots burning all night, steamed-up vans patrolling
the cities for homeless dogs or men, the benches
were empty, the blankets ran out, trains derailed
on Chickamauga lake, my brother drove his new Toyota in circles,
Holiday Bowl closed early, trees pulled open shingles, seeds scooted,
in the bathroom my mother stood over me squirting Nice n' Easy
in a line across my darkening part, her eyeliner wet, the yellow gone from everything now,
sons and daughters bent low in the crunchy loam,
flood lights rowing over the bald heads of lettuce,
over and over, together knife through root, the cold unlucky
miles of heavy lemons dropping elsewhere.
Tying leaves on a stick, all day
the fields rising yellow with sugar
the trees turning their unbound pages,
geese skimming wet chapters, crossing miles
over the midnight pixel, electric doo-dad highway
a son is driving, is saying, heavenly God, is saying,
heavenly God I cannot reach her from here, eight hundred miles away
his mother loses her eyebrows, her nose hair,
bobby pins un-open on a table, all night the unwieldy strings
of morphine vibrate, piano keys gather dust, crab grass dissects a bed
of roses, the moon orphans all the stars, somewhere
the red kilns glow, wet towels from the bedside exhale
on a hinge of sun, a namesake is lost, harvesters loop rough twine
around tobacco leaves, a life depends on gathering,
on pulling, one breath threading with another, can you hear it?
the assembly workers, a hand pushing a trowel, someone driving all night,
a cough, a gasp, all life's inhalations - miles away, the sea
weeding its million acres with only a sound.
What was it to him to remove his clothes,
To stand on a cold floor, lift one foot,
Ease himself into the water?
It has been said he was a poet -
Round shoulders, hands in the pockets,
The wrinkles of apology appearing in his face early on.
When he lowered himself into a standing bath,
He would have displaced a mere twenty gallons.
Did he bathe with consideration?
A dried cake of soap or the oils
Some woman had left on the porcelain's edge?
Pierre Bonnard spent a corresponding adulthood
Painting his wife, his nemesis,
The cruel, bird-like Marthe in her bath.
The images of bath and wife together
Remind some of the coffin, some of the womb.
But Bonnard's was an artistic brilliance, if that.
Surely the bath of the well-loved physicist
Should be seen in oppositional terms:
As a place where there is never rest,
Or a place from which there is no emergence,
Where life is indefinitely open, always fading.
Did the metaphors for space and time
Arrive as he passed a washcloth over his chest,
As humility gives way to brilliance,
Softening the channels?
And when did he consider himself dirty -
Daily? Weekly? After love?
Einstein's lovers are a complicated subject,
A tangle of questionable relevancy
Bearing an odd heaviness, as if in thinking of them
We must ourselves admit that occasionally
The notion of love itself might be irrelevant.
Perhaps it is no surprise that a man
Whose mind could not surpass color
Would become fixated on the mood
Of a woman's skin. The early, gay,
Yellow lover. The poor, pink Marthe
Villainized for hypertension -
Had she not made her husband so perfectly miserable,
Could he have dreamt of such soft, prismatic loveliness?
Mileva and Elsa seem inconsequential in comparison,
As if Einstein may very well have thought
Of everything physical and universal without them.
Yet when he was alone
Engaged in the act of cleaning,
It is tempting to imagine how in turning,
He might have floated for a moment,
How in coming to a stop
He might have run his hand idly through the bathwater,
How that hand might have been sometimes
Held and released, how we all somehow fail.
And so you persist,
Despite the balloons of fear, the wilting blooms
Of resistance. Here you come, up the walk,
How did you find your way here,
Your life not even in your hands?
Who can deny that a baby is a miracle
Especially in its presence, the awe of inhuman
Perfection, the magnificent need.
But who can see a miracle as keenly as it appears,
Welcome it as if it can be swallowed,
All star and bursting corners and confirmation?
Yet still you come, making your way
Through some fresh, muddy pond
As if awaking to such possibility
Is only a matter of the arrival
Of what we never thought
We could believe in and still be.
I find her before light,
before apples and Adam.
I haven't been there for long
before the weather begins to change
from black to gray, dry to wet.
It looks like she will dance.
I try to catch the rhythms,
though I can't make out the music,
She doesn't speak. I think it's before language.
My babies are sleeping in the next room,
their quick nostrils like gills.
Have I only imagined this privilege?
Babies will do that, make us feel omnipotent
after having them, though doing so
breaks us in two, like porcelain knocked,
the spiders in its side running along and flowering it.
Here we are, the first woman and one other.
Soon we will tire from this dream
and dancing. Soon we will sleep
and the winds will bring light.
An elephant's face emerged between his palms
its whimsical felt ears soon fell off
but driftwood bodied forth seven articulated vertebrae
whose limbs moved in ripples, until they were voiced with age
and careened towards oil in the rhythm of their soughing.
Wood-skin baked grey-dry after drowning:
burnished at four rolling haunches,
remembers the smoothing of his corrugated hands.
He must have sanded and sanded, alone in the summer dark
a line of bogong moths settling under the oil lamp,
the scrap of a cigarette forgotten at the side of his smile,
until each curve invited and repaid stroking;
Your wandering poet father
the teacher who came late and humble to love
from the wastelands of his philandering
from the continent of habitual pleasure
when your mother's fine cheekbones
and her flinching resolve
were softened by pain she could not hide,
when the long curls he had never woven through his fingers
clung to him, his fire flared and singed his netted fingers.
He made this one toy the way he made you
the son who survived it all
from nothing more than hope
from whatever, in the end, was to hand
when he looked to the receding coast
from the small conjugal vessel he had fashioned
and set afloat on these late gilded joists, his radial creation.
Night stitches black along the sky's burnt hem,
dissolve into a slow drip of morning birdsong
that picks at your veins, accelerates and is complex
as the fingers of a seamstress,
the intricate gestures of a conductor's wrists.
You close your eyes and trace
harmonies of point and counterpoint
into the gordian school of mourning
where you have enrolled; chosen
death as your special subject, your major
arcana: radial, bridal, electrifying.
Morphine's steady eye regards you
as you find and relinquish these last generosities:
the gold pocket watch of the dandy
to gild a grandson,
the wooden elephant your father crafted
for the unborn child, the evasive face
whose burgeoning you celebrate
though its prolepsis shows you
vitality's amnesia, its infidelity.
Still, now, you find in mobility
something that opens in your face like some mythical gate
a poise before your graduation, delighting
in the onward sewing, in what can be made
from a fabric in its afterlife.
As a young country teacher, your hobby was Latin.
Its symmetry dazzled you, its skeleton was loved:
lines of nouns like the bones in a hand radius, ulna, carpal
and verbs like lamps illuminating sentences.
You sat patiently with the poets, working through the Aeneid,
your annotations penciled into sharp relief.
Years later, a student of Latin, I scanned pages for anarchy:
craving an ancient voice, my translations of Catullus were approximate,
I heard the whisperthrill of conflict in the dark: odi et amo.
I opened myself to the multivalent, rereading what I loved.
Now, slow in my appreciation for order, I still prefer the ragged, the soft:
the dative: to, for.
you repeated a last phrase, approaching death, watching its steady advent.
Had you followed the crumbs of syllables back to the words of the Latin mass,
or accepted death's poor offering
of poetry's eucharistic paper
the wafer of someone else's words in your mouth?
I had a vision of you crying out with formal passion: confiteor
your fleshless hands open, stretching out to touch what fled.
One doctor at the hospice knew the language,
but he was not on shift, so what you said was lost.
The loneliness of death declaimed itself.
When I thought of you, reciting Latin, or deep in composition
abandonment, finality wrung itself into a knot
I could not untangle. The syntax of my feelings made no sense.
My hands writhed, alive - a tangle of nervous verbs,
untranslatable, escaping both catechism and parsing
until a hand stopped a hand, and they were still.
Late sown, they grow
thrifty; in this narrow
we set their two-pronged
hearts in jars of water
on the window sill.
We have little sun,
less earth, and yet
I want my sons to know
that what feeds them
grows from light.
October's glint is mordent, already long in the tooth. Ornamental kale
all that's left in the garden. Study is useless. For forty years
my father's fingers have stumbled over the same notes on the piano.
Wednesday nights we take up our instruments. Jew's harp,
lyre, pedal steel. The gourds that swelled all summer and dried up.
Ezra, awake past bedtime in his houndstooth suit,
strums his small guitar and sings. We play from memory.
At twelve I ran through the woods
in racing flats, memorizing momentum, how it took me
down the hills and then back up, mud-splattered grace notes
on my calves.
At twenty, I sat on a flat cement roof, the hill a sharp
mile above the sea, shelling peas. The parched earth, steep ravines,
clouds passing below us. Girl whetting a machete. Man knocking out a beat
on a Fanta bottle's ribs. And the bones visible through my skin,
elbow's tuning peg, clavicle's awkward ornament.
Memory practices on us: mortar, pestle, fire kindled
in the wrist's stone cup. Celestial storehouse, where the boxes
of yellowed photos pile up -
The years of lessons, practice sheets filled in, initialed.
My flute in its black case, banging against my knees.
I learned to mime the stops: sleeves of my white shirt raised,
close together, the way a moth lands, with its wings closed.
I was such a serious child.
Whatever hour the school bus left us at the corner, late fall,
dark falling, we found my mother on her knees,
spade in hand, turning the soil. The white fence posts
glowed. Spirit burial ground, where under leaf cover, the worms
move like silent tongues, compost's shadow notes,
I sit down on a wooden bench to nurse the baby
and the mosquitoes descend on their lithe legs.
His word for food is the same name
he calls me by: A-ma. A-ma.
The sharks circle in their small tank.
The blind drivers are guiding their Lexuses
down A1A and Spanish River.
My grandmother, who remembers little, recalls
telling the story of Passover to a preschool class.
Now we are free, she said, and one girl retorted,
No we are not. We are free and a half.
I can't sleep here, in this mutinous state, this brackish peninsula.
Dawn, dusk, the old people are out walking their small dogs
around the driveways of the complex. Beyond,
animals shelter in the mangal:
Peregrine falcon, American coot, rattlesnake.
Tangled footweb of the intertidal zone. The baby's need
a drift net, cast wide and indiscriminate: tug of hunger
that catches at my breast.
Sea star. Propagule.
Black bee on a mangrove blossom.
When my grandmother woke
from the twilight sleep of giving birth, she saw
the nurses trying on her nightgowns, giggling.
The mangroves lift a lacy hem
of sea foam, their roots impenetrable.
Not two, not three.
We are free and a half. And each
elliptical leaf illuminated.
You opened this door. Forced it back
on its hinges, drove in the thin wedge, saying
"I may need to enter at a moment's notice."
But don't you know that metal has memory, alive
the way rising dough resists a probing finger,
or trodden grass springs up against the foot's imprint.
Even flesh that retains the rare bloom of a bruise
soon lets it go. You keep these iron plates apart
so long they rust apart, flaking
into the slightest breeze, and still,
they remember what it means to rest
against each other, folded like wings.
Two fish - nearly washed up, in the warmer shallows,
tiger trout, mouths gaping, gills going, strung together
on a chain. I stroke the taut skin, mottled like a snake's,
stroke the firm length of their bodies, heavy
and real. The chain's hanging off a rowboat
plowed into the sand, half in half out, dragging
that beauty with it, those bodies shining out of the water,
out of meaning, shining -
Cold and clear: wading in,
I can see straight down to my white toes, and I'm wondering
about the bodies of fish, their flicker and slide, whether
they prefer warm currents or cold, and what their naugahyde
skins look like from under the water, those darting slashes
from above, those exclamation points -
It's another life, this place
where fishermen troll the lakes in rubber floats, flippered
feet as rudders, legs shrouded in neoprene, looping
their fishing lines left and right in lazy figure 8s
that are anything but lazy: graceful arcs like flight
paths of insects, translucent, white -
I say to see how it feels in my mouth, because I want to,
because I've hiked my skirt around my thighs as high
as I can get away with and I'm up past my knees
in the chill, wading in deep as I dare, sending out ripples
toward the center of the lake, such thin legs
but such wide ripples, and I begin to understand
the impact of small actions -
Light strikes the corner of my eye,
someone's caught a fish away across the lake, and I watch
the clumsy capture, what I can see of it: the fisherman
working furiously and the fish swinging madly
in what almost looks like joy, a wider arc that uses
the full weight of his body, the power in his tail -
An Encyclopedia of Unanswerables
Shuffling the Pack
Wipe the guilt from his face
When you've caught him hanging up
On a call he shouldn't have made
As easily as he has wiped
That smile from your lips?
Conduct a lunchtime conversation
With a table full of men
Without them finding out
They've each one of them been with you
All without waking up?
Laying Out The Death-Mat
Tell a man who can no longer hear
Through all the tubes and tapes
And beeping monitors
Whose eyes cannot even speak
Of the horrors behind his lids
With a straight face
That life is worth living?
Welcome a man back
with as much nonchalance
as he displayed
When he surfed on top
of the biggest wave the world has seen
and disembarked in the hotel lobby?
When she sees you with her one-time lover
Imagine it will be possible
To explain twice over
That it's not how it looks
When your one-time silence
Booted you into a camp
And war erupted around you.
Refrain from answering questions intelligently
From a position of strength and choice
Unwavering and consistent
When you've spent your life
Sitting firmly on the fence.
After twenty years even the colours are different here.
Time has saturated them and turned them into hard
vivid squares of light, that collide and cohere
around the faded indistinct pictures my mind had made.
How else can it be that I who have not seen you in so long
remember you so exactly, whose edges I had thought
would have been smudged with age - but that, along
some ancient paths two images merged and wrought
some alchemy of light so that two became one.
Somehow, it doesn't take us long to catch
up with the years - we hold them in our hands, a mystical orb.
Twenty years have simmered and become rich
with essences that we have all the time to taste and absorb.
And now we reach the moment when something new has begun.
Rhett Iseman Trull
will empty, thread by thread all hems
unstitch. Not even the twin oaks
will last, though their roots insist themselves,
buckling the limestone
drive. Tonight you fly,
above your head, our arthritic cat who has lived too long
to protest, who will probably be the next to go. I am trying
not to cling. I am trying
to remember the look
flooding your father's face that
morning he discovered tomatoes destroyed
despite his careful fencing. What could he do
but plant again in the furnace of a new day's heat, thinking
of your mother cooking, that very minute, corn
gleaned yesterday from his garden? Maybe
we'll bring into this world five children and ruin
every one, regardless of inoculations, safety belts, Tot-Finder
decals silver in their windows - that may serve no purpose
but to remind them to be afraid of fire, my own
childhood fear - flames raking the irreplaceable - with me still
but disappearing. Sometimes - even
as cell by cell we're breaking, even
as my mind, more sieve than cup, lets go of you, lets go - I
am overtaken by a moment's calm, relieved
not to know what's coming. Do I want us
to die at the same time and turn
into trees or start over
as ourselves: our first
encounter, kiss, our great mistakes
One of only two unpregnant women at the baby shower, I offer
my chair to a globe-bellied one, fetch water
for another who has just begun to show.
I'll be in charge of the trash , I volunteer, collecting pastel
wrappings and ribbons, keeping busy, keeping quiet
about the fact that Jeff and I, for the better
part of a year, have been trying to start
a life inside me, too. I quell an image
of my reproductive system as an engine refusing
to crank. Think positively, I remind myself, and listen
to the symptom talk, labor jitters, the word sonogram,
which sounds to me like a character in a science
fiction novel, an alien on its way
across the galaxy, earthbound, his ship another blip
among the static of the stars; an alien
whose home awaits him as he marvels
at how opposite of void space is,
even the light years between planets riddled
with small wonders; asteroid belts
and the occasional drifting debris
from ships that didn't make it. His eyes bounce back
from the stratosphere to the map of Earth
he's pinned to the oxygen tank. He's expectant,
like me, though my belly's as flat as the ancients misconceived
the world to be, not knowing that on one lucky morning
breeze one of their bravest
would meet the horizon and fail to drop
off. One of the shower moms gasps, surprised
by her baby's kick, his strongest yet, as if he's anxious
to get moving. And me, the not-yet-Mom
holding the garbage bag, I smile wider
than all the rest as I picture my Sonogram
practicing for the moment his vessel arrives, the kick
that will open its hatch.
At the end of the day he's someone to come home to, a voice
in the hallway, stopping the clocks. My mixed-up morning
doesn't matter anymore: smog, time cards, deadlines, ink,
Eloise crying again in her cubicle. I leave it all
behind: angry whir of the fax machine, requests for ergonomic chairs,
and the afternoon's robotic conversations: eligible for benefits
in thirty days; sign here, Ms. Montgomery; sign here, Mr.Grey.
Home at last, I empty the blues from my pockets,
I tell him I love him and think I mean it. And that's close enough
to happiness, his keys retired on the hook next to mine, scent
of cologne in my den. He pours the wine and I've got a reason
to wear that new red dress. The bed will be warm
on both sides tonight. The stars, like wolves,
will herd their light into packs that look less lonely.
On the day of your wedding, your mother found
a hummingbird's nest, fallen yet still attached
to a single branch with seven brittle leaves.
She placed it in the bathroom, beneath a mirror,
so that when we excused ourselves from the intoxicating grip
of Lady Day and Etta James, when we swayed pleasurably
from the showering jacaranda and whirling piñatas,
we might recognize this soft, sanguine effort
while checking our own reflection in the mirror.
We might recognize that the incidental
is rarely peripheral. And that the center of any story,
no matter how disastrous, might be so close,
so astonishingly gentle, we could hold it as a nest in our hands.
We are taken by beauty and repose. Mountains black
against an indigo sky leave us this shadow life.
In Japanese folklore the pine tree represents
the unchanging. And as my hand moves from your chest
to my face, I can still smell the scent of winter,
of pine smoke,
we must have carried with us from that other life.
Earth is the region of the fleeting moment.
It is also thus in the place where in some way one lives?
Acoyuan (Aztec poet, 1490)
All summer she held them in her mind: two shards
from broken vessels she'd seen in the antiquarian bookseller's window.
She didn't know what they meant, only that they mattered somehow,
maybe distantly like ice plant or the moss that collects
on the oak trees in Olema in the winter, and that they mattered together.
Look, she'd say, the fisherman's arm is an extension of the line he's cast,
the sea. A family of deer in sleep makes a circle
of its dreaming bodies. Then -
Are we always crossing over, passing
At Point Reyes she's made a bridge in the sand
out of a small perfectly formed stick. Waiting to see
what crosses over, she pops a lemon drop into her mouth.
He's begun his own game and scrolls vigorously
in the sand. As soon as he begins, his message
is washed away. She thinks of Cavafy dying,
drawing a circle and placing a period
in the center. Then, she thinks of a hummingbird,
of nectar. A plate of Bonnard's fruit near an open window.
The scent of cider. How lovingly these thoughts swarm together!
Here at the seashore, she begins collecting items, remnants -
Again, this corralling: exoskeleton of crab, dried seaweed, driftwood,
a white feather. She thinks of the Swedish artist Lenke Rothman,
how her mother had tied a red thread around her wrist (it must have been
before she was sent to Auschwitz). Then she imagines herself discovering
a nest constructed entirely of red thread. Imagines a white feather inside.
Everything at nightfall seems privileged: fuselage of dream.
Green shadows shift beneath as she crosses a wooden
board fashioned into a bridge over the creek bed.
On the other side, she's waist high in blackberry vines.
She laughs because of the hugeness of joy, the sudden
unnameable abundances. She remembers M.
running after seagulls, open armed (as all children do).
Running through joy toward -
And if he got too close and the birds didn't lift,
He'd stop, suddenly unsure of his wish.
It's been a difficult summer, twilight interfering
with reason. Yet the family of deer holds its circle deep
and the fisherman continues his part as the sea.
Our task is to say a holy yes
to the real things of our life as they exist.
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Praise be the compassed universe
and its cerulean north,
its charm bracelet of hymned planets
resolving like chords.
Enter the pathos of the black hole
greedily gathering matter unto itself,
ruching the fabric of time and space.
Cursed be the relativity
that would presume upon these Argentine songbirds
outside my door, the ones
that have rebuilt their nest three times.
O forgive those of little faith
who keep tearing it down.
O consider the manifold worlds that converge
within a single shattered egg.
For each thing lost, find something new
gleaming on your life's event horizon.
Accept the task of becoming infinite.
Let there be increasing degrees of freedom -
an escape velocity
greater than the speed of light.
Seek what is broken,
not brittle. Bless those objects
that can be remade.
Don't begrudge anything its singular orbit:
glory to the nest
of mud and glitter.
Holy the exquisite bones.
Power to the blue-black wings.
Even now, behold -
the amen of flight,
This son of mine was dead and has come to life again:
he was lost and has been found.
In reverse order: The father explains.
The eldest complains.
Celebration. Music and dancing. Dining on the fatted calf.
Bring out the best robe, a ring, sandals.
Repentance. A father runs, remarkably.
A Jewish father. Vigil.
A defeated son limps down a familiar road.
Starving. Longing for the pods he fed to pigs.
Lucre squandered. Extravagance.
A son escapes from home.
A son demands his inheritance:
Father, I wish you were dead.
Now a lifeless coyote rests by the roadside.
Pristine. As if sleeping.
I am startled as I run past.
Every day more: settling. Hollowing.
Nature forms a verdant oval
to swallow him back to herself.
A garden of weeds roots itself tenderly
in and around his body. Tendrils.
As if he had never left. As if saying,
bring your bruised body home.
As if the time that had passed
were only a paragraph in a book.
been waiting by the window all along
to welcome him back to life.
Promise me you will not forget Portofino...
And when the roofs darken, when the stars drift
until they shatter on the sea's finish,
you will know what I told you is true...
-Spencer Reece, "Portofino"
The yellow roses have blossomed widest -
lush, meline, hovering like canaries above the others.
White blooms, full moons in orbit.
Red throb, blossom-fisted hearts.
Oranges flare their flamenco skirts
out over the vase lip. I pour out the water,
grasp twelve thick stems by the thorns.
The scent transports me to Portofino,
its zest of salt and seawater, a bay ordered with boats,
the gone, gone, gone of the gulls
like the cry of mermaids drowning in azure.
Seventeen meters under, Christ of the abyss reaches skyward.
Yellows warm the soul
like bread left to rise in the Italian sun,
the light slanting soft against red tile roofs
and row houses, afternoon's hummingbird lull
and the limoncello tarty sweetness
of the two of us one and whole.
I run cold water, chop off the tough stem ends.
This continuum that spans a life:
the truth seasoned with thorns and grace,
or the not-quite truth
that's willing to pluck the fading petals
and turn the prettiest parts toward the light.
I cut to let more life in,
the most vivid life before death.
We kill things because they're beautiful.
We kill things because we want them to last.
If this marriage were a boat about to set sail,
what would I say, having sailed some?
No doubt you'll be riding full and by for the first
hundred leagues or so, at night the constellations
out and wheeling across the sky just for you
as the wind hauls the boat through the pellucid
water welling up on the bow like a heart overfull.
The days and way clear, open ocean before
the promised archipelago. And then, a squall,
reefs with jellyfish-like diapers, differing
senses of direction, the barnacles of health
insurance to scrape from the hull. All of which
you'll come to recognize as integral to the voyage.
I'd say, Wear durable clothes that unbutton
easily, dry quickly. Take provisions of wine,
bread, and each other's open, trusting eyes.
Know the ocean you enter as a palatial place
to test yourself and your knots of love,
which you will tie and untie, and tie again,
a thousand times for each other, practical little
knots of tea, of laundry, of clean sheets on the bed,
of touch and kiss as the vessel you enter today
finds its way clear across an ocean and back
over the ever changing tides of love.
Late at night, our feet rhyme
like buttons on a shirt.
First, the tops of mine
cupped in your arches, supine.
Then, your arches, prostrate,
over the tops of mine. Points
of contact change with position,
rhythm, but always the firm
metatarsi, the warm, taut
skin over the flex of the tendons,
and the delicate hairs on the toes,
brushed and brushing.
My eyes are opened by your animal poise
as you return from the barn, near nude, horses
fed, and you stop in your boots, alone, the noise
of birds feeding you. Fresh light, trees, the sources
of a dawn-white start, and your large eyes absent
while everything fills you as cold springs water
dark animals. Hand to belly - you meant
to feed the cat, but were lost in dream's fodder -
the elephant and her calf who swam so near
but obeyed your command. You stand, half in
shadow, half in sun, and sense the pulse of their
clean strokes churning through that dream lake, the calf
in time with its mother, whose trunk, with care,
gives you a white lotus, to hold, to bear.
Late rain over the mountains. I run the long road
Past the whitewashed church near my house, the grounds
An acre of man-high corn, a crop uncropped
All summer, gold paling to straw. A shriek of starlings
Curls above the field, the way water closes after
A stone. Hundreds. A thousand. From the ground
The starlings resemble the swallows that flew south months ago.
But the starlings are not swallows. They swarm empty trees
At night, leaves culled out of darkness, and their song
Fills the roads like the ring of guns in winter,
An angry report of metal in the cold which drops off, quiet.
Even crows fear them. A swallow's wings are velvet, not silk,
And catch the rough fingers that smooth them.
I shot a swallow once, when I was a boy, then cupped its body
In my hands. Now, while starlings wheel overhead,
Twilight soft sifts to the ground, curling around me
The way the shadowy starlings canopy the trees.
The crown of the swallow is blue. Not the blue
Of rain-capped mountains, nor of gunmetal in full light.
The swallow's crown is sapphire, deep as empty sky.
Quickening now, I pass an oak summer squalls tore down.
Its leaves have turned color with the other trees,
As if they didn't care about the storm, and covered the oak
In a quilt of red and brown, the color of dried blood,
Of rust, of the down of the swallow's throat. O child,
What did you think the shadows would say?
The rains will still fall. The starlings will still come
At night, and sing beneath your window.
Child, there are words written on the heart
Of things that never come to mastery, words indelible
As the call of birds in winter. And it is the heart
That stutters these words. The heart stutters to speak them.
The burned man dreams tears
Of lanolin run down the wind-
And fire-swept steppes of his face,
Purple gentian, puffed morel.
These tears swallow the tears
Of pus his body weeps for itself,
Staining sheets with memories
Of rafters snapping like matchsticks,
The molten roof pouring in,
Then the distant stars of hands
Hoisting him, from out a womb
Or burning coffin, he couldn't say.
The nurse assures him, regular
As a rosary, he saved the girl,
She's back with her mother, his wife
Or somebody's wife, he's beyond
That now, resting in a hammock
Strung between silvery aspens.
There's wind, and a dog guzzling
Water from a bowl, who salves his face
With the moist rose of her tongue.
Birds chime throughout the day: matins, lauds, nones, vespers.
The Greeks believed the hours were feathered. Secretly
We long to hear the owls, who will stay awake with us.
A universe waits in a bleached snail shell brimming with dew.
The wind that stirs rusty oak leaves from the grass
Blew in from the Alps, and after this place, will carry on.
The soul is shaped like an almond, the almond like an eye,
The eye like a tear. So the tree of death waits in the garden of life.
The almond's a fruit, though we don't eat its flesh, but its seed.
When the heron marks his slow path through the marsh,
I wonder how it will affect the price of gold in London.
When I hear the price of gold, I don't worry about the heron.
God is the streambed and the stream. We're what He carries,
The storm-felled tree that thinks too much of itself, drifting along.
We need only look at the beaver's dam to reclaim humility.
A teacup steaming by the windowsill is mercy. One hand
Passing it to another is charity. When I picture the word love,
I see a little girl throwing clouds of millet seed to mourning doves.
On the long hike down, coastal scrub,
English plantain, thoroughly unnative.
We took the shortcut through the monastery,
acolytes in tennis shoes tending cabbage,
and stopped to eat our trespassing lunch
beside a shrine: three buddhas, one barely
shaped from its rock, another with a look
of such serenity it made sense - peacefulness
of stone, and the third, angry, the buddha
who said: Back to work, prayers at 3 a.m.
One apple in the backpack brought to share
under a tree, the bark so polished it seemed
worked by hand, more like a gazelle's antler
than wood. If I describe the world exactly
that doesn't stop it from changing. Slightly lost,
I tried to bother a resident for directions,
he was cleaning out his car, where I expected
chants over meditation mats, running a vacuum,
trying to suck up all the dust and probably finding
you never get it all. I almost began to shout,
so he could hear me over all that modern noise.
- in memoriam, Evelyn Brooks
There's too much light.
The smell, less of pine, more of earth.
Dry in summer. Clear cut: most stumps
dug up - there's one, still buried,
the roots won't let go. Tree
reduced to statuary, all torso. Hauled off,
planed to board and pulp, a tradition
my family worked the grain of, years ago,
north of Indian Lake, New York. Adirondack
villages like Speculator and Skaneateles -
plank towns such as the one Evelyn Brooks
remembers, and when she thinks of it now,
she speaks of the novelty of ice cream.
On the shelf of shellacked oak, thick spines -
biographies, the face of Reagan, Family portraits:
seven Waldo brothers dressed like hanging judges,
Uncle Ernie, cigar in hand, a raffish slouch
who lost his life in the lake by drowning,
crossing to save a strand of burning trees,
where Evelyn said she'd never swim again,
Slack jaw, she's finally
dying, controlling her ceremony. She doesn't
want anyone to fuss. Still gossips - watches
the ladies vanpooling (haircuts, doctor's visits).
She retains a 19th century love of schism,
parades her skepticism and distaste - hearing
the rumor of the new Baptist minister at Hall,
a crossroads town she hasn't prayed in for years,
the little church, squat beside our family plots.
Always she newspapered straggling pansies
on summer trips to attend the dead.
- Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
There's a rhythm to late summer, days begin cloudless
and blue; then, when you're not looking,
storms assemble over the horizon, bringing rain somewhere,
if not here. I walk out, open to mirage and sweat,
open to sun. Despite the heat, still deadness of afternoon,
summer's show of thunder, October is coming,
the light slants and angles against the hills, more uncertain
than true summer's light. Mornings are forgiving,
cool winds benefit my cabin. It's only a slight chill,
bringing to mind the first reminder of fall.
Fewer tourists, kids in new schools, one year older, a boy
returns home to tell his mother they just aren't
making textbooks any easier. Mothers and fathers trying
not to think how long until the next vacation.
It's a good time for sagebrush to bloom. A good time
for lightning to stitch the earth, original fire
sparking the brush, burning down the end of summer.
After the fall of afternoon rain,
the sky unwrapped itself.
After the fall of sun-white limbs
into the grass, and after the fall
of his head to her lap, like a hairy fruit,
she went after the fall of sweet tree drops
with her tongue, and heard the parting of leaves
that comes after the fall of a fruit or a bird.
After the fall of that heart-shaped gift
to a patch of thistle, she fingered his ribs.
After the fall of her teeth in the fruit
and his teeth in the fruit, and after the fall
of his hands to her thighs, and then much later,
after the fall of their dewy eyelids
a cold wind slithered in, and there was the fall
of a star in broad day, like a flaming sword.
The pivotal moment slipped away
While I was talking, but that's alright.
I could always try again some day.
Or maybe it was in our smoke-dimmed café,
Or after that play, when I drank all night.
Like ash, or a word, the moment slipped away.
Spilled milk under the bridge, you used to say,
Laughing, with your head tilted to the right.
Better to try, try again some other day.
Should I blame your eyes? They never failed to take
My wits and breath; I suffered that delight
While the pivotal moment slipped further away
Each successive silent Saturday,
I would falter in moon or candle light,
But I would also try again some day
If you would let me, if you would stay
For half a second, I'd make things right.
The pivotal moment slipped away,
But I could always try again some day.
My love is much too cumbersome,
So take instead this triolet.
No matter how sweetly I strum
Your cheek, my love's too cumbersome.
You'll have your books; I'll have my rum.
A poem is easy to forget.
My love is much too cumbersome,
So take instead this triolet.
My mother spoke through threads,
stitched her voice into lines of colour
which ravelled out across her page.
Soothed by the low, familiar hum murmuring
through embroidery silks, the shirr and the shiver
as the wheel turned, I loved the glorious
pop as the needle broke the fabric, its tiny eye
finding the space between warp and weft,
little rows of teeth chattering in and out, in and out,
fast-forwarded into strings of words
as she guided the fabric over the metal heel
and the line was stitched.
The table was laid with trays of colour, beads
kept in honey pots, buttons mixed in one large jar
and she would smile as I touched
those precious things, knowing I was safe
knowing she was there, listening together
to the rhythm of her sewing machine -
as if it were a prayer.
In the monsoon heat that clings to our skin,
turns our hair brittle and dry,
fills our mouths and our throats with the sticky-sweet
fumes of the unfamiliar
that pour through Bangkok rain
your body craved can after can
of redbull and coke, energy drinks, hot tea
with its thick layer of sweetened milk
cloying to your cells. I'm dying for a drink, you'd say.
Thinking it would make you well
I brought them to you, each one taking you closer
to a no-man's land
where you lingered undecided.
You told me later you'd heard voices,
seen colours flash on the backs of your eyes,
said you remembered waking somewhere
until the face of an angel watching over you,
shining with the life she had just saved.
You pretend it isn't happening.
I am desperate to be positive -
platitudes falling from me like dead leaves
wrapping you in your loss
which you repeatedly, bitterly, name.
I do not know what it was to wake and see yourself
mirrored and blurred, drip to each wrist,
oxygen tubes in your nose,
to hear voices calling the ebb and flow of your life
to marry, settle, return - but darling
I watched as you slept, I carried you dying
over an angry, whelming sea
and I will not look at what you have lost
but name only this:
the life still yours to name.
Twilight brings a dream of water overflowing -
lyrics without music, blood.
Last night's stars are hidden
in the heavy, rain-swollen July sky
and the sun is poised below the horizon.
Willing pain I surrender
as you begin your slow journey towards
survival, this moment when your perfect head
crowns, knocking on heaven's door.
Sweet pagan heart, Diana of the hunt,
we keep you tethered close to us, slow of
foot, mortal, earthbound, golden girl who once,
a copper bolt, plucked a duck from the blue
sailcloth of sky to feel that emerald throat
pulsing within your own, at whose approach
tall grasses part, where in summer fields sleek
creatures lived and died according to your
quicker unblinking eye, though the bright blood
on your tongue these days is oftener your own
as you erase the trace of everywhere
you've been and bled throughout the house - such dull
quarry for a dog like you. Shaved and stitched
where once sunlight did fasten to your fur,
a sticky burr not even night pulled clean -
your coat of flame the chattering class of birds
embroiders into nests, entwining fur
as if the world were able to rescind
each hard-fought loss and make good use of us,
as if whatever's lost could be retrieved
again. It can't. Listen, if we are saved
at all it will only be by bird beak
and black wing, wren and starling, junk birds that
scavenge the yards at dawn while you watch on
in silence and suffer us our science
as well as our mild God, in whom you can't
believe as you already know how this
will end. Futile the blessing of the priest's
pale hands upon your muzzle when a bone
would be better and more honest at least
for such a wise, all-knowing augurer
of wind and architect of lesser fates
we do not mourn: ruffed grouse or groundhog's neck
in that unholy vise of your grey jaw -
so it comes to all, if not violent then
violated. Rolled over, your stomach's
a map of cancer, cutting, and metastasis.
Where you rest a dark stain seeps. High priestess
of brindled woods, where late you read the runes
of horn and hoof, leaf-litter and twig-snap,
where shadows spill, black hieroglyphics written
by the trees, that you alone were born to translate;
love and grief, two sides of the same green leaf.
Here, lace your step through rushes where geese roost,
past oak roots knuckled deep into the banks
of silver lakes returning now to us
as mirrors of their own making. At dusk,
the little lights that lick across the lake
come on whether we're here or not. For now
we are. Be glad. Travel until the day
pulls in her sail, sails on. Beautiful girl,
wherever you're going, I'm going there too.
In a bathtub in Hiko, West Virginia,
my figure inverts in the faucet's gleam,
fabricating the lie that the body is a thing
that's just as likely to show up here
as anywhere. Consciousness tempers a bit
with water like this plastic cup of bourbon
and ginger translucent with melted ice.
The trance of silence from the hotel hall
whirs in the ventilation fan.
I'd like to leave it all behind
in the unmade bed as though this happened
a long time ago and I'd have to look hard
to find it again. Instead I water myself down
with some new trick or other
and see the horizon as a brick heel of a house
where a lawnmower hums out back.
What can any of us know about ourselves
except that we're good for filling out
the sleeves of our shirts?
Still today at a pumpkin fair in southern Ohio
I saw a man lift a meanly glowing beauty
by his teeth.
I return to the drowned creek
of memory where two currents wash,
saline and fresh, the past and this year's.
When the hillside sparks a tinder
of electric filaments sheer to the Potomac,
I walk the deer paths in the roan-colored woods.
Gone now the undertow of creeper and sumac,
gone, too, the lost loves I thought would break
my heart in two. A hundred fires flame up golden
among the branches and wait
to be extinguished. Rain will come -
the small pine-cones unlock their careful cages
and unfold. Soon the thumbprint of ice
will quiet Black Pond, and I think
I might always be content
to name the beautiful things of this world
with the word loss.
Who else would be so foolish
to welcome her own undoing every year?
"Listen," the flickering leaves cackle and call
as they toss down their heavy burdens,
"Will you never be happy?
All summer, you have been loved
and it still was not enough."
Einstein did nothing in class but smile,
his mind already building cities
in grid, at sixteen. It seemed important
to learn the rules of logic and efficiency, all
those years I posed as a student engineer.
How Numbers were always clean,
like the boys who smelled of soap, who solved
my math problems, while I closed my eyes
in class for minutes or hours. Subservient circle,
the parallelogram, unhinged. At the end of lines
to infinity are towns lit with lost coins.
Daydreams, I remember, while professors
gave abstractions shape. The windows were always closed:
Manila smog tapping, the jitney's din. What a dusty
archipelago it was. The tropical heat was the greatest ally
of the Spanish friars, kept my ancestors half-asleep.
I only believe in stories , a friend says while
San Francisco gets rinsed by fog. It's almost dawn,
that time when you know that everything beautiful
about a place has nothing to do with you, and it okay.
Somewhere north, because they're not afraid to be thirsty
all the time, the redwoods are one breath farther from where
they began. My friend and I eat cold fries, in our mouths
the taste of salt and lard, the heat of drunkenness wearing off,
I tell him that in one story of belief, there's a planet
so small a child brooms it clean in seven steps.
After her last child, my mother's womb remained open,
innocent again as the last room in the ark when it opened.
When a star collapses while we sleep we feel a lightness
in our chest, by morning a window surprises us, left open.
The rain has been stubborn for weeks, the city catching
small hard fists on pavement, insisting, earth, open .
Your love like cinnamon on the tongue, like sweet smoke,
how the honeyed door of the bees, for the thief, opens.
The radio host demands the desert borders be closed
but the ocean this morning loses its walls, stays open.
My grandfather said an act nourishes or kills depending on
its speed: the bread and the bomb can both be broken open.
A black-out, a Christmas, our friend testing positive-the city,
from your eyes brimming with methamphetamine, opens.
A child says, This is what it looks like, where God lives , a church
empty of its parish, a space only what once was can open.
Where I grew up what scared us
was deep and female.
Violet lips, hair transparent
Her name means to remove
and she did, her spoonlike
tongue scraping wet wombs,
eyes of mongrels,
hearts of husbands simplified by desire.
In the hours she stalked,
the mosquitoes rose
and my mother's breathing
told me she forgot someone was still
watching while we lay
in a circle of salt.
"Look at the acacia tree,"
I said to no one-
a mute, bloodied angel there,
trying to grow wings.
Always in our house, there was one
room where sleep didn't visit.
It was where the spirits
and the mangoes were kept to ripen,
until their sweetness became myth.
O to be cradled by tasks: winnow
the rice grains from the pebbles,
unclip the shirts from the clothesline.
Where I grew up what fed us
was deep and female.
Garlic fried with rice,
pagan cloves of garlic
around our necks, amulets
against what we couldn't see.
No one drowned in the town's river,
infants thrown learned how to swim
immediately, and when they grew
their dreams became enormous teeth.
After the last house, the land extends like a hand
before the mouth of a horse. You come to it all year,
in high drifts of snow, in stands of new grass
and Joe Pye Weed.
You walk through five foot asters,
and understand momentary . You understand beauty .
You turn seven. Your family is a button and it unfastens.
In the world beyond, a war begins.
You pay attention,
recognize now some of the dimensions of loss.
You want to offer up something, but to whom, to what?
You move and move. Take on another hemisphere,
try to grasp what happens between one country
and another. End up married.
You understand become.
You understand compromise.
You turn quieter. A salty coastal wind carries pollen
from a cluster of asters into your open hand.
For a second, you are everywhere you have ever been.
A cream tide
combs over the feet,
two breasts tilt
in their uneven way:
a faceless body
made still life, geography -
as she showed shadefall
on jimsonweed, a pelvis
the desert swept
from the heavier bones,
and a calico rose
in the socket
of a cow's skull
remembering a brown eye.
She took a life stilled
and made it shifting.
Getsures of flesh
set aside -
except for these few nudes
one X at a time
against a far rise,
a certain distance, calling.
In certain valleys of Appalachia, a translucent blue-veined berry grows,
rumored to flood the body with a feeling like music. None of us
admit to having picked them, though the low-hanging clusters
disappear every summer from their trees - plucked clean,
between late evening and dawn.
When all together, at block parties
and bonfires, someone always makes a joke about the berries
and their heady fragrance becomes more difficult to ignore -
the strange blend of burnt sugar and slept-in sheets, of sweetness
and misdemeanors. Later, in the shadows of the trees,
we lick at our fingers.
A spear of light scratches
the dark clouds overhead and time stands
still - movement arrested
by a well of pain.
Sutures of a life re-stitched
memories have burst open
like a robin's egg smashing to ground.
Carnations bought for your bedside
will now decorate your new home -
dark and earthy.
ticks toward oblivion,
but I concentrate
on the carrots I will cook tonight:
they were your favorite.
Holy well and faerie tree
stand silent in the lengthening
The stones of this sacred place
suffered sinners knelt in penance
witnessed prayers of saints muffled
through the leafy grotto
or, at least, forgetfulness.
Worn course around the white-thorn
to generations of pilgrims grasping
through a cobweb of requests covering
with ribbon and cloth - knots of hope
Progress alienates this place -
ancient worshippers fostered
the faeries, assembled the stone.
Priests later blessed this tree,
this water with a saintly name.
Now even sanctuaries empty,
Sundays squandered sleeping -
a genocide of faith.
Holy well and faerie tree.
through white blossoms,
wrinkle the water's surface
as it gathers up the last
glimmer of day.
My dog bounds through the kitchen, dining room a blue rubber ball
in his mouth, he buckles, dives
as if to protect his prey from my advances.
Cars take the corner in their rust shawls.
The ball is a globe of the world; the dog is named Moon
the Aztecs could make something more of thisI flail
about half-heartedly, while the dog jumps. Today I am tired
of being American. I am done with advancing.
In the utilitarian insistence of the Midwest, beautiful maps show heat
and intensity of storms red and greengold blossoms cross prairies
on my television screen.
Along the interstates, wildflowers red and blue and purple and lilac and so on
planted by the former first lady
Was this to make-up for the Tet offensive?
My dog does not know fetch, does not share.
I get moody, new wood, Rachel tells me, in spring
new leaves push to the surface. So much harder this green
than the soughing
off of fall.
Tell that to the tree.
Planes rearrange a low ceiling of cloud; all over my neighborhood,
single-family bungalows fall to townhouses.
Great cycles of weather and community, storms of capital flight, slum clearance,
football stadiums bring Mexican construction workers to Dallas, New Orleans,
to raze and raze
remapping in subtle ways, a culture, querida, corridos
from the skeletons of condominiums-
a kind of serpent on the back of the altar piece.
My dog rolls his ball under his paw, bites at its side.
The peachtree on my neighbor's lawn is in fruit,
from blocks around people come, pick what they wish.
Laura Bush, what will you plant for us?
If I could stand on the roof of my duplex, I could map a circuit
of the peach tree's commerce
draw lines from my neighbor's birthplace in Zacatecas to those of friends
pulling fruit from her tree (Sinaloa, San Salvador, Lima).
Those lines might make their own flower.
In the evening storms blossom through the neighborhood
bruising fruit, leaving hail and the sockets where hail fell.
Car alarms cry down the street.
My dog whines out the window to his empty backyard
I could say he is answering car alarm, peach pollen, wildflower seed, demolition dust,
love songs from Zacatecas carried on a violent breeze
-but he probably just needs to pee.
I tell the wind. Hurry.
Ailanthus grows on the rim of a parking lot above the train tracks in a pile
of trash between concrete and chain-link fence.
From this train, you regard places you'll never reach,
storage containers, Quonset huts, bricks in fields,
warehouses the size of a cathedral,
web of wires, porcelain floaters.
"Detox the ghetto," a billboard reads.
We do not need to care for one another.
The years chainsaw, they gasoline first
windows wood roof
the face-even the beloved face-when wood pulls from wood,
a space between root and rotten leaf, tracks and trees,
so close so often I cannot see you.
Through a backyard: surveyors' equipment, cars stopped at a traffic light.
And the mind does not pause takes the most familiar exit.
Ghetto with an international airport, ghetto with a Roman Catholic basilica,
six tracks across
The years offer rot, openings, redevelopment,
a billboard above the abandoned factory,
sunlight where never before.
you mail the rent check,
watch jasmine blossoms fall from the bush
magnolias open like saucers from fine porcelain place settings.
How much longer will we decide to love one another?
An ex once told me if I ever fell in love with another man
he would wish us the best, then take everything
in our mother-fucking house
- and torch it.
Take this view of the rose of Sharon at the far end of the porch
Take this crumpled paper napkin, this cork.
How much can any of us carry?
And when I sift through the last few days
I think of the blue heron alighting on the cottonwood at the end of Jim's yard,
right near Boggy Creek, right in the middle of our memorial day barbecue.
And all of us-even the children-turned from the fire for a moment
to look at it.
The last stand of Japanese Maple trees
peppers the cemetery path in crimson.
In the distance, two retrievers dart
between the fence's thin pickets.
Their loose pelts glide as they themselves glide,
as leaves scurry by the lakeside, headlong
into a tremendous and certain future.
Last night, preparing hens, you lifted their skin,
rubbed curry and olive oil. We let the blind
eye of the television undress the room
as you undressed the hens.
Turbaned men and boys with rifles,
all in a veneer of sweat and linen,
sat in a circle, eating. You said,
I used my hands for the first time.
Outside, the neighbor hangs an American flag
next to a plastic skeleton.
Shelter must have waited for those retrievers.
When I stopped one, it was nameless,
as is the smell in the kitchen this morning.
I say dark, burnt nutmeg.
Nameless too, the scent
of turmeric sifting into night clothes,
haunting them as churches
haunt their cemeteries.
What is the loneliness of flags?
If you find yourself lost in the terrible
Mediterraneanness of exile, shall you sit
under the awning of an outdoor café,
somewhere not quite Naples yet adequately
midday, with a Jack Russell Terrier
named Damocles, and order the tart.
And shall you admire the rain's signature
on the pavement pocked with histories of travel,
like the rain outside Pienza after we stopped,
though broke, at the B&B to check the rooms.
And shall we stay there some time,
after the terrible Mediterraneanness of your exile,
though it must be built up by now (they do that,
carve out a pool, plop an outside pizza oven down
and, wham-o, everything's shiny). And shall you
wear the green blouse you bought in Perugia
in a street market, from a man with his van door
open and all those blouses (there must have been
hundreds), and his kid, or whoever's kid that was,
on top of it all like a little despot with the tire iron,
and we of very little money, starved, eating cheap pasta
(you the boar ragù,and I this sublime - I don't even know
what they called it - farmer's pasta , or some silly
bucolic thing like that), and it was the zucchini, we thought,
like nothing we could ever find here, nothing we were
used to, which left those little green smudges
we took turns with bread sopping up
(doing the little shoe, as they say in Italian).
And shall the wine be cheap and good
in the terrible Mediterraneanness of your exile.
And shall it be ruby and come in fat-bottomed
dark green bottles, the same ones
my mother bought lemon juice in.
And shall the waiter at the outdoor café
say you are beautiful, though you won't know
(you'll be conveniently amid sunflowers).
Beautiful , he'll say, in his starched, cultural distance,
and it's not like it will be a nice place or anything,
and the guy probably just wants the hell out, wants
to uncover some lover in a green blouse,
and here you stumble in hungry. And shall he not
actually say any of this or the equivalent in Italian,
but instead look at me off camera-yes, I'm there-
with the kind of look that says, Take care of her, yes .
I have taken care that you should not be exiled,
though you must help me with my irrational fears
of the terrible Mediterranean, or work,
as you are so damn good at doing, slowly,
to work my mind off the idea of such terrible
Mediterraneanness. And you'll have to be committed,
regular as sprinklers, or smudge pots in the lemon
groves near where I grew up, sit me down
with a glass of okay red wine, nothing too fancy,
and say, simply, let's watch bad TV .
And since I hate whodunits, the idea
of losing you may just fade into history,
like the Middle Ages and their fear of the fork,
which was, remember we read, invented for pasta.
How could something so Art Deco, so bone-
necessary, so cornerstone, so type O,
ever almost be wiped off the face
of this planet spinning so quickly
it all seems so still, so perfect and still
a leaf only jitters under the weight of a moth?
Millenia from their names, the Pleiades
reveal the quiet of sisters buried in the day,
and I was fifteen when Sandy Schatz betrayed
the better part of nights instructing me
on how to impose order on the cosmos.
Betelgeuse-rounding out Orion-
means "shoulder of the giant"
in Arabic, she said, and I imagined desert
stasis the night a few men, cloaked,
shivering, discovered a pinpoint
burning in the hunter's deltoid.
Or in her staunchly Catholic parents' closet,
away from the prosaic light of day,
we listened to her little sisters rumble
up the stairs, thrilled at last to catch
a glimpse of our naked bodies. We prayed
the feel of flesh on flesh grew from speaking of it.
When I talk about her now, long vanished,
I am told I do so with strained nostalgia.
I see her this way: in the aftermath
of sex, guilty for not feeling guilty,
the instant before we unlock, embarrassed
for no reason. The universe is expanding:
all the names we had for it, the old
misgivings and the new, as are we, wanting finally
to notice the unspeakable change in our blood
and planets, with those who have grown beyond us.
Lean your body
as I lean back
against the hills
You the hollow body,
me the bow
across your back.
Inside you, me,
sound, as a bell
at the pull
of a hand
or the fill
of the wind.
Arc in when I
bind my arms
inside my ear.
Let river in,
on air be over us,
snug to the hollows
of you, let me.
No longer one,
as three encircle
all ways one -
between, among -
let melody untwine,
let what was me
one under waves, one
held in chains, and one
who plies the glim
supine, the glinting
spine of you,
in tune, inrooted
wingless on the green
under and above
the leaves, bent back
on the hill
in the sway
of the words
in the lines
and the light
on your spine
till we're gone
in the song -
come back, love,
Which came first:
word, or ear?
If word, then all the world's
an ear. Into darkness
the poured word
What was (the body)
hollowed into form
word could ring.
(the limit of the seen's)
a star-pinned chord,
its low, low E,
spinning from when
our turning towards
If we begin
won't that be
the way we end?
Not stilled along
an infinite descent,
but the ear we are
breaking in the shape
- The Natural History Museum, NYC.
Spun steel apes the stars -
museum astray in metal.
Clare runs up the ramp,
laps the sun on the slant
rim of Saturn. She spirals
near the rail, animates the plan
that what seems, is - map of time,
God's atelier, he who strum-
tunes the spheres in the ether-
stream, unsettles the pall
when winter tints the sunlit panes
to pale. In our ears, the aria
of Mars, a trumpet, a minaret,
tears the seams of minutes,
stills the spheres. Clare tires.
Tears mar her star-rapt aura;
her steps sputter in the near-inert
measure of terrapins. Earth turns,
time inters us, simple materials all,
still reaping time-lent elements
for rare allures (palettes of pearl,
the sea's innate salts) as the sun
in raiments of mist serrates seen
with unseen. Let the mute umpire,
who nips our stint, relent -
snap the starlit tarp, unstun the air
in sleet. In lapis pleats, as she sleeps,
let Clare - who illuminates
rooms - assume the eternal.
Unnail the plane for the aerial.
Let elation be netless, elliptical.
Late in the afternoon, sunlight lands in window shapes
on the living room and kitchen walls. Shadow patterns of maple leaves
flicker on the white wall behind the sofa. The silhouette of a birch
appears in its block of light by the refrigerator. On windless days
you can trace them, tape heavy paper over the walls and
paint down the quivering shapes of leaves and branches
with a soft brush and watercolors.
Following the outlines, filling in the dark splotches,
you can pin the shadows of the trees to the walls for later.
As the summer progresses and the light changes, slowly
swinging southward, you can cover the walls
with a migration of tree shadows.
But why do this?
The canary in the coal mine
remembers the yellow kitchen and the bright window,
the white lace curtains that shivered on the breeze. She remembers the cat
who watched with one eye, one pricked ear, from the plump, blue chair in the corner.
She remembers the morning, the songs of the birds of the earth's surface.
She used to sing them too.
Now, she hangs in her cage in the dark
cavern, listens to the splitting and shattering of rock, the
grinding of metal on metal, and on stone. The only light
she sees is from the headlamps of the men who labor there,
all indecipherable night and day.
The canary doesn't sing anymore, exactly, but
ventures an occasional, inquisitive chirp. One of the men
speaks to her when he passes, says "Hey, Bird. Hey, Birdie-bird," or
whistles, himself, clucks and chirps as he walks by her cage,
then down one of the impossibly dark hallways.
Six weeks after the stroke, my father
still lies in the hospital in Boston,
tube down his throat, his whole body a wound.
While we wait for his brain to heal, his lungs,
heart, eyes, all try to give out one after the other.
Every day we wonder
if we should have let him die.
When I open the truck door
in the parking lot of the hospital,
the porcelain teacup decorated with green flowers
in which I've been carelessly toting coffee for a month
falls on the pavement and cracks, reminding me
that I haven't been to the dentist in three or four years.
It took me a long time to learn
to drive the truck, to work the clutch,
to let go and push at the same time,
give up control and count on regaining it with speed.
When we stop being children, we lose,
among other things, the ability
to run downhill, fast, with abandon.
But it's the sudden fear of death
that makes us appreciate the perfect things we usually
take for granted: the postal system, chemistry, birdsong...
I read to my father, the same chapters, the same essays,
over and over because he falls asleep sometimes. After
two or three readings, it all becomes poetry.
All my life, my father has talked
about a story he wrote while he was in college,
of an old man who kept homing pigeons
in a pen in his yard, came out on winter mornings
huddled deep in his coat and fed and
released them, then trudged back to the house.
My father, the omniscient narrator,
saw the birds swell into the sky and
circle above the old man's house, a storm
of unexpected beauty, but the pigeon keeper, safe
inside his thick coat, never looked up.
He knew they would return, and didn't need to.
The sign along the road that says Thickly Settled
means population, not soil,
but how many years ago did the horse
begin to cross the ice? I wade out,
the lake bottom hard-packed beneath an inch
of sediment inlaid with some globular weed,
the horse's spiked ribs still tethered somewhere
in the dark water like an ultrasound image -
my son's ribcage floating ghostly
in a black sphere, just large enough
to hold a tiny bird. Across the lake,
sun streams through bars of cirrus.
When my friend said the aftermath
of grief was solution, he meant science,
not remedy: the way grief drags us down
like a load of snow-covered logs,
then suddenly lightens, the way my feet
cloud the water - not gone, that layer,
but lifted, dispersed.
If a girl ever drives three hours alone to a bar where she's too young to buy beer,
if she stands in the back in red lipstick watching the black, hammer-struck moon of your thumb as you play guitar,
if she follows you home along a two-lane road over dead snakes and possum, past kudzu-covered trees rearing up through the fog,
if you pull over where the road splits and she pulls over behind you and you sit in her car drinking coffee from a thermos while Muddy Waters sings I'm a man, a full grown man,
if you thump the side of her car twice with the palm of your hand before you go, a band of bluish light already spreading in the sky behind you -
she loves you, I promise, though I know she hasn't said so.
I step off the trail for a pack-train to pass and everything
hums: electric wires strung overhead on androgynous
steel towers, flies sizzling on the droppings of horses.
Snakes of smoke rise from the parched basket of Hell's
Canyon, and the creek descends in a white rush that makes
its own wind, stalls in a dark pool where clots of algae
bloom, then pours through the dam in combed rows. A wall
goes up when I think too far into it, the way someone chased
in a movie runs into a blind alley, the way the earth spins
dizzily if you lie still and close your eyes. Lie still
and close your eyes, wherever you are, and I won't try
to imagine what it's like. Where the trail crosses a rockslide,
a sudden coolness rises between rocks. I pick one up,
hold my hand over the black draft, then put it back.
in another time, i would be your acolyte, would hold
your robes high over the singing cicadas or brush wet
dew from your arms before letting you rest. i would
be the one who breathed on your wrist to let you know
dawn had arrived, having poked myself awake with
sharpened ends of grasses, reeds, feathers, to ensure
i was there
when you first fluttered your eyes.
and i would be waiting then, as you washed:
my hands full with the sight
of you, my eyes and mind with the small cells
and insects that range undisturbed.
i would hold those small
animals and cherish them. i would be your acolyte,
would kiss your hems, would follow.
i would speak to you
only in the flight of the swallow.
you begin, again, your body unfurled
like a cicada, wings gentled into being.
this is how you know where you are: the sky
is pink as the inside of lips. you have identified
if you could imagine three, you would place it in balance
above all else. ready to topple.
running, first, then falling forward. you have decided
upon this course of action, because all else seems slowed and cold.
you spread your green wings, step off
into space. and then ---
in the small ways of peaches bottled in glass, the big chest freezer
filled with berries, chickens, fish caught and iced
but also in the scents of spanish broom, passiflora, sweat on a friend's shoulder
when least expected.
and in the colours, your skies wrapped in a pink lace shawl, your body warm
as yellow peach,
your senses humming with the buzz of hives, and then honey.
the chickens' pleasant muttering like wind soft on your neck.
you gather this harvest, hold it aside. whisper now,
abundance, your words round and sweet.
it's all for winter, when trees rise bereft
and the mouth
My darling M,
The alphabet is anorexic.
There's not enough flesh
to express what I mean
Suffice it to say
my heart is the verb
you conjugate perfectly.
M marks the spot dark and hot
where I'm under my one
love's letter's spell.
-at an organ concert
Underneath the swell, the great, the positive, one
Note sounds long and high. I look down.
Even from this low loft, music swells, I'm stunned,
Vertigo strikes, the organ sighs. The sounds
Open other pipes; I close my eyes.
It's your voice in these notes
Expressing something dark and disguised.
Crushed notes are caught in your throat
Eased only by certain stops. But now it's too
Late to stop, to compose, to choose. A voice,
Elusive somewhat off-key, one I never knew,
Speaks for you, through you, black keys, white noise.
Then I knew. Two voices, separate, are yet the same,
Emerging as a duet, still remain unnamed.
* une voix céleste is an organ stop that produces a gentle tremolo effect on the organ.
-for D. and M.
In that photograph you sent, the one with flowers behind,
I could tell you their color but not what they were,
I could count the times we've spoken on the phone,
the color of the Danish man's eyes.
It's him, you, in that photograph with the flowers.
But that was weeks ago-years.
I think that's what you said, 'It's in his eyes.'
When we spoke it was the day after your wedding and you and I were far away.
It's in your hands, like everything else.
I could tell you that Istanbul was built on seven hills,
that Copenhagen has four syllables,
that there will be happiness and more.
just look up.
The phone company's been here
three times and still my long
distance calls are not clear.
In straining to hear
every word - the static, garbled
hellos, the wires that stymie
the seasoned technician,
there's a poem. Even in the mangled
ant being carried by its brethren
across the sticky kitchen floor,
the load of its body
heading toward an entirely
in the corner of the room
where the few sweet crumbs
crushed to dust provide a feast
before another will succumb
to clumsy feet. When will they
grow big enough to retaliate
like the science
fiction movies promise?
Some day I'll write a poem
that will come true,
and another, or let them all go
into the surprisingly warm
wading pool of things
I can not do.
For now, trucks
compose road songs
outside my window
just as fast as they are blue
and before they unload the gravel
to pave our country roads,
the furniture to make comfortable
our insomniac bones,
the fruit whose juices drip down
the side of simple wooden crates
before being placed
uniformly, like an audience,
in rows at the supermarket
where no two pears
are the same.
and always on the move.
stocky in his winter parker,
stoops to collect
a brittle autumn leaf
and stuff it in his
plastic shopping bag.
On the footpath concrete
a bird's head
carelessly dead -
while its body
by some accident
lies in the suburban garden.
Harsh contrast of
its black feathers
wet, clinging to the
unmoved grey concrete,
there in its ruin
and reminds us of
things to come.
I lost you again that day
as I peered
ever closer at the fuzzy
pixilated image of
You and that girl
that you'd posted on
I'd laughed at first.
Having pondered for
a while the difficulty,
how I would go about
typed your name
into the search function
and you rose
like a bubble.
Well - not just you.
The page, I'd thought,
to be about you - but here
the two of you,
And I thought,
I've lost you again.
After years of wondering,
I've lost you again
in the instant that you appeared
Two friends drive me home and I complain
that a friend's younger sister
has got a poem in The New Yorker
that is unnecessarily convoluted
and contains an untranslated line in French.
My friend in the back seat
says she really liked it. It reminded her
of another friend-in-common, whose husband has suddenly died.
I get home. It's late.
I make blue cheese on walnut toast.
The toaster's antique chrome placard reads:
DEBRANCHER AVANT DE NETTOYER
LE PLATEAU A'MIETTES.
My husband sleeps,
dreaming his unnecessarily convoluted dreams.
and in the morning I will kiss him.
On the morning I have nothing to be happy about,
I am finally happy.
It is raining, so I've taken the train to work. I pass the gardener
working his blower,
making flaming piles of wet leaves and garbage.
I'm coming down with a cold.
I wave hello to the homeless Ghanaian historian, and to the man who sells me cheese
and who is on his way
to work in the opposite direction.
I am walking parallel
with the woman I sat next to on the train. She had been reading
quietly out-loud in Mandarin
as our shuddering bodies sped through the dampness.
Ambiguous despair mixed with the cold round our ankles.
But her words floated
on the warm inertia at shoulder level, like dandelion spores
like sparks of genius
igniting my sadness, burning it out, leaving a vacuum
where the world rushed in, taking up residence.
If not happiness, exactly, then necessary company.
Who can say truly that they are happy?
Who can believe they have no chance at it?
How else can one walk through the office door at eight fifty-six,
except like this: removing my coat, recalling my work, and getting to it.
Give me the strength
of the laminated ticket,
of the super-long-
of the blonde hair that sprouts - phoenix-like - from my chin
Give me the strength
of no-smudge newspaper ink
of the three-day-storm-
of the pork chop that arrives, glistening, audacious, on my plate
The strength of strawberry juice to stain,
of the latches on old bus windows -
Give me the strength
of the sky-dividing cranes
that pirouette pieces
of the new bridge
and of the bridge to sway and bend and bear such a thing as traffic
just to be beautiful
just to be useful
though it causes competing factions to hurl invectives, costing billions,
just to do what it does, so well,
It's as if the sky turned gray suddenly
and the moon shifted from its rightful position. As if I can't recall my grandmother's face,
only the smell of camphor and lilacs in the bathroom. Things left unattended:
last year's Yule log in its wrap.
Fire never found.
It's as if language overlooked its purpose, leaving us
to confusion and quiet longing.
Bless me in this sense of errancy, of lost cause.
Bless me for being in the center of my own dreaming. It is
as it is, and yet, I fight for what will be. Hard wood in lieu of linoleum, verb over place or thing.
Why choose ease when there is so much beauty?
Embrace me as if my coming was inevitable.
There is fallen tree and power from the windmill;
rushing water leading to wave.
And at the end of this sentence awaits a level field. I will play with you there.
I will bring everything by mouth and monument.
I will catalogue attributes and reason with the lesser gods about these passing days.
Bless me for being the adversary in the stories you tell yourself.
Bless me - for I may learn from my talk with the idols
that which I don't yet know: like the origins of the Swallow,
the Brown Thrasher,
the House Martin.
where time goes when she leaves us.
no interest in people who can't read,
no thirst for the drool of fornication,
of unrelenting tedium, If there is no
other world, I will die in this one, angry
about the trickery. I was told of the
monk, his vast library, his stunning
robes. If I've created my own division
I will see it through, take needle, sew
back up the parted seam. Every instance
of great information is dulled by the
automated drip of custom, of filtrated
bond. I will find God, if it means
living in the wide church on the hill,
3 square meals, disciples who scribe.
I will find God if it means blasphemy,
if it means faith, if it means bide.
I'd like to make love to her.
She has four names. Dances,
makes intricate designs, dreams
of fantastical napkin rings. I'd
like to make love to her. She has
4 faces - ranging from foreign
to familiar. She has 4 names.
I'd like to make love to her.
Does nothing but laugh.
Makes a sign that only I
know. One day, I'll make love
to her. She has four hearts,
Eight feet. She has one way.
I'd like to make love to her.
She has one name. I have 4
ways to make love to her.
I'd like to make. I'd like.
Valerie B. McKee
Ready to lay her eggs, the female catfish skims
the clay of the lake floor in search of a nest.
She weaves in and out of rocks, will finally decide
to build her own home for her fry. Her nose pushes
through mud like a pig sniffing for truffles, until she makes
a tunnel, surrounded by rocks, deep enough that no predator
can see in, and narrow enough that one could become stuck
in his search. She releases her fry and leaves. But the male stays
in the nest, guards the fry. Only at night does he move
to eat. Sometimes he doesn't have to. Lake life
attempt to find their own suppers in these caves,
but with his spines in perpendicular defense
and mouth wide enough to wrap around most trespassers,
the male catfish often finds his meals at home.
He protects the fry until they hatch, then will
stay with the young school to ensure their survival.
The dough's rising for biscuits and Daddy's fryin'
up catfish he got grapplin' this morning. Got us a blue cat.
I can't remember a birthday when he didn't wake
me at the crack of dawn to get my fish.
I'd pull on my bathing suit with sleepy arms
and shuffle out to the pick-up, Pop-Tart in hand.
When we got there, I'd sit on a rock, dangle
my feet in the cold water, and try to feel the minnows kiss
the tips of my toes, while Daddy waded out with his stick
in his steel mesh covered hand.
The year my mother left, he lost half a finger when he met
a turtle by mistake. Now he uses that stick to feel
for the fish♦tickle 'em out♦and gloves to protect
his skin and remaining digits from the cat's spines and teeth.
Today's my 30th, and I'm back in Tennessee for the first
time in nine years. This morning I sat on my rock, watched
him dunk under shallow water at the lake's edge, reach
into cavernous rocks, and felt my toes curl
as I looked for his body beneath the water's surface,
rings left by his descent gradually disappearing.
Suddenly, water thrashing like it's in a boiling kettle,
he popped up, half of his right arm deep
in the catfish's mouth, gripping
to my father, the predator, to protect his nest;
pulled from his home to feed my father's girl on her birthday.
At the house, I stand over the iron skillet, listen
to cornmeal and oil pop around his catch.
I'm soakin' up every bit of that good smell I can before I'm pulled
from the only place that ever knew me.
When I'm gone, sprinkle my ashes
like a seasoning on the ground-
but not just in one spot. I'd like
an arm in Portugal, my lips in Greece,
one toe dipped in each of the oceans
(put two in the Mediterranean Sea).
My eyes should be placed at the base
of Kilimanjaro, so that they might
stick to the boot sole of adventure,
carry me to the top, and I'll look
out over the world I never saw,
never once thinking of the height.
is not the moment when I looked down
at the blood puddled between my legs
after waking to a twinge of pain
deep inside my not yet swollen belly -
like the swift pinch my mother
would give me when I asked
too many questions-but so far inside,
I couldn't imagine the source.
It's not the memory of squeezing each
of your fingers between each of mine
when the doctor told us it finally worked.
Or the years of sitting in that room hoping
against our failure.
The one that stays is the boy
turned around in the pew so he could smile,
blow kisses at me, no matter how many times
his father turned him back around.
I whispered, I can't wait to have one, expecting
you to stay silent. Instead you lifted my hand,
kissed my knuckles and said Neither can I.
Acres of them, an undulating dawn;
golden waves against a sepia toned sky.
Heads blown heavenward,
then pulled to the earth,
with the weight of the next generation.
A kick, as though on cue, tells me
you're busy surfing amniotic waves,
waiting to shore up in my arms.
I already love you too much;
I was afraid this would happen.
Sitting here in different skin, but
somehow more familiar than before,
my stomach rises like bread,
and I am overcome
Not sure I'm ready to see the world
from a mother's eyes;
to become fluent in the mother tongue.
We enter this world amidst
blood, pain and joy;
Our memory, mammary -
from first contact.
I sing a lullaby for both of us,
watch sunflowers glow;
Cradling newborn faith
in their alchemy of light.
I didn't clear the landfill of my mind
by recycling thoughts;
I had to break them down.
Rake piling pain, raw regret;
Tossed in seeds unfit for planting:
Peelings of skin I've shed.
Ancient anger, brittle betrayals
crumbled in my fist;
disappointments blown free
on opening my palms to the wind.
The process is hastened by stirring,
turning it all over from time to time -
(although the smell can be off-putting.)
There are various techniques,
according to intent, how quickly
nutrients are needed
for healthy root development.
In wonder I watch pink-slick worms
transforming waste to rich, fertile soil.
Goes to show - you never can tell
where help might come from;
What form grace will take.
Often working behind the scenes,
eluding the naked eye,
doing dirty work unseen
as we strive toward a workable balance
of decay and growth, with plans
to create something healthy,
wholesome and clean.
I didn't know much
But I knew they shouldn't
be blue like an azure sky.
Do you still carry
those pictures with you,
as I carry them with me?
Or did you shed them, one by one
finding the collection too heavy?
I wish I'd known what to say,
straitjacketed behind the checkout
in my orange and navy apron,
clutching your pot roast like a charm
that could somehow protect me
from what had been offered -
something I had no language to name.
My tongue turned to stone with your
china doll smile, dark river eyes
as I watched you carefully return
them to your purse.
Isn't he beautiful?
I think I said
What a weekend. I behaved! I smiled,
kissed his neck, made love. We sat in a field
above an old New England mill,
mooned over our lives.
How lucky this, and that. The ripe fall falling
and falling all around us.
But the skin beneath my skin ached
from shaping days
into months into years. A timeline of accumulation
broods and bangs around like a revenant,
like the memory of some close past.
In church a long time ago we had a God
who didn't like short-haired women, though I kept mine
cropped all those years, slicing
my childhood into things that might have mattered:
God's screaming through the dogwoods, strangling evil
like a vine, gives me this flesh
to sculpt, to die with, my friend.
We sang a song in church:
God speaks to us, by his great power
we're led. Let not your hearts become disquieted.
What an unruly heart I have. I can't do anything
without it, cried in public today,
welled up until I was so full
I could taste its delicious, serrated edges.
Let my heart rave when words corrode.
Let it ridicule anger, confine sickness. Let my heart,
in a mantle of darkness, disquiet the light.
You are you and I am I, a flexing flame
skimmer, sinkhole cavorter.
Patience and cholera, my dear. Platitudes, pampas brooms.
When I was your age, I beat the Coleman stoves
piled high against cinderblock walls
and clacked Budweiser cans with my springbok jaw.
The Queen Anne love seat left here works
to kindling. Your macramé rug? Hanging
from a floss line with the bleached bones,
Lavoisier's mirror chimes: I am here. I am not.
Here. Not. Today's mirage is an eye that catches
barred windows, shutters plastered
with L.A Times from before the earth
could read. People tell me, here, wear a feathered
beret, be a kindly movie star. Wear a tapestry,
leather elbow patches, be the succulent Gobi
for a day and forget all this -
as though I am tired of naked fire.
They never say, be the cacti clustered
like incisors in mouthfuls of grass.
Tell me, are your boots an Alcatraz?
Do tongues of sand burrow your skin?
Then you have no excuse to fear this place.
An old woman holds these things close
to her arid, limestone heart.
I wrap my daughter's backpack
in aluminum foil
as it is Halloween
and she is to be an astronaut.
Beyond the amber fog of porch light
her space suit lifts
down the long street
towards a tin moon.
For me it's like this:
hunched over the control board
my fingers on ear phones.
I worry that I missed
some mechanical sign.
When I count backwards from ten
the engines will explode all wrong
and all I am living for
will be suspended
in stars of remorse -
but how foolish
to want this night to remain
punched out in darkness:
a constellation of small fists,
and foil sweets.
A body singing in the kitchen
that's what you need, a dance hall kitchen
garlands of flowers, platters of brioche,
stuffed red peppers, a quartet in the corner
tuning their violins and sipping espresso.
Either that or a body cracked open
down to your knees in the dark, midnight
that won't ease up, horizon of a hungry star
a singularity that sucks in furniture
lines of long-held perspective
and then morning
and your family
in such a small kitchen
the dishes piled up
laundry, bills, sunlight
and two cracked cups
of bitter coffee, a little cream, two daughters
squeezed into one creaking chair: a morning,
an afternoon, a whole day.
A moon: piss-colored,
indulged, obese, greasy.
Nor a moon. The moon,
The one moon, no other moon,
not an elected moon,
no surveys passed around
asking about the moon you want.
It follows you, has since
you were a back-seat kid;
your mother said, an angel
or a devil's spy glass eye.
Some feelings you don't outgrow -
regret, hunger, envy: round and white.
There it is after your suitcase is packed
your note tacked, when you've made
it clear - you've gone.
The moon remains - says
with its orb of mouth: you don't change.
But, oh, it can change. There is a chart
out into the years ahead, how it leaves,
splits, goes missing
and they call that new -
back, as from a bender
the sky's giant jaundiced eye
God's turncoat spy
the one who knows
you are not so lost, just loose
knows your promises
are shards of glass
moonlit, and, face it: beautiful.
In the evening it's all fireflies.
They give the dark
permission to rest.
I go outside and lie down
under their alternations;
the smallest self I have
It's unfashionable to be
this quiet, or sincere.
I find the ground with my body.
Or, find my body
with the ground.
A stubborn root
I taste the earth,
ask for more.
Last week I wrote, "On the coldest day of the year, women in orange
parkas & men in herringbone scarves fill the city sidewalks like protesters,
shoulders down, marching against ice and wind." But today on the Metro
war protestors leaving downtown, cylinders of paper rage wrapped under arm,
crowd into the car - cheery, jovial - as if coming home from a friend's party,
tired and pleased with themselves, stringing together their blurred accounts
and then he said, and then she said, and then. And how can I trust in that?
Last week I wrote, "Even oak trees shiver their centurion trunks, generous plumes
of cinder and chill escape people and cars, & bones inside my body become
icicles, suspended above the wide avenues of longing." But today,
the salt left to dissolve the snow dissolves in the late morning sun,
a swallow fallen below the eight panes of the luxury lofts hops on one good leg,
and protesters ride the subway through the city of my body, those narrow passages
of melt and freeze, melt and freeze, making extravagant plans for the night.
after psalm 92
It's good to want this: a bay window
& its inner ledge, you can watch
tides of evening, last blessings
of light, marsh grasses
wild like the wicked in their bright,
distant cities. In heather fields
of sky, ox clouds roam free, and the
wind hums a remembered line -
what we shall not perhaps get over,
we do get past
repeating like green palms or cedar
from Lebanon, multiplying, taking
over the space of mind kept clear,
like the empty order of sand,
a beachhead of quiet made full;
the ocean arrives, greets us
where we are, submerging this island's
coast, this waiting shore.
Last night, a car hit a dog,
and I kept going
back to the story about the boy
who sat on the railroad tracks
waiting for a train.
Someone once said, we are nothing
but vehicles in time. Our lives
toward a death. Maybe, we are
like children who run down a hill
screaming. Leg after leg, the pull
and release, the body
crashing down and lifting, almost
the way lightning builds
from sky and ground, meeting
somewhere in the middle.
There is a gulf
between happiness and despair.
And that space defines us,
just as holes create beauty in lace.
Tell me: does it matter now
which way the boy was facing?
Or that the sleepy-eyed driver
continued to stroke the black coat
of the warm dead dog?
Each day moves slower, an Amish buggy
traveling backward along the Susquehanna.
The father tips his hat, the children shift in
the sun. Yesterday, a cow dropped dead on the road.
At the farmer's market, a fat widow wore five
rings on each finger, enticed me toward
her pies. Yesterday, I circled the house where I once
lived. Everything enlarged, the pines footed by
mushrooms and rhododendrons
overtaking the front windows. Yesterday, rain again
in buckets, blank ants swarming the pavement.
Yesterday, the Bull Run Inn packed with ball
fans, nightly regulars. The opera house's one remaining
corner stone vandalized and pissed on. Yesterday,
a Siamese cat stretched on a porch,
the wood shutters left unhinged, the old owner's suspicious
face. Yesterday, the pink underbellies of clouds.
Yesterday, I was so still I could've been a tree,
dreaming about autumn. It's a slow death,
if you're a tree, you forget each day. That's how it is
with trees, with love. It starts with falling.
Once, I put broken glass in Wanda the Witch's mailbox
in revenge for yelling at me after our dog peed
in her yard. When a frozen snake turned up in a fresh pile
of leaves, Little Virginia's mother ended up in a wheelchair,
and deaf Rascal who chased cars up the street
didn't see the UPS truck that backed into him. At night,
deer staggered in from the highway. Scott and Helen
were bare-chested and dirty. Big Lou, their father, dozed
all day in a lazy-boy. Together, we found marbles
in the abandoned farmhouse. From a living-room window
Scott pointed to the tree where the farmer hung himself
after sticking the bodies of his wife and children in the ice box.
When they cut down the dead tree in Todd's backyard, a nest
of squirrels came down with it, dazed and bloody, I could see
each fine hair. The mother screeched from far away.
One winter, I walked home from the bus-stop in a blizzard.
I couldn't see our house at the end of the street. Snowflakes
whipped against my cheeks, then from the white-out, my mother
appeared, an angel with our angel dog who leapt chest-deep in the snow.