This month of your birth
has crept in upon me again,
slipped over the window sill
and into the corner of my room
where a perfect square of moonlight
seems to have up taken residence
and, outside, where the birds,
a whole choir of them, whose names
you never bothered to learn even when
mother recited them over and over again
as she pointed to the secret places
she thought they were hiding
under eaves or in the tangled branches,
are singing their hearts out
as she would always say then
and where now the boisterous cicadas
are joining in that twilight overture
This month of your birth
It is true. I hated my father’s
reptilian toenails, thick,
ridged, battered, as if remnants
Of an armor plating that had failed
To protect him from the world,
And below that barreled belly,
those thin measled shins,
Spotted with their mysterious
Purple bruises, and his deep snoring
As annoying as the buzzing of a large fly
trapped in a tight room
That was my childhood
Recurring nightmare. I still remember
The day I looked down at him
Seeing for the first time
A small man.
on the pinnacles
they take flight from high perches
and catch currents
scanning for carrion
One can never prepare enough
For such surprise visits as this
One that must have flown in
Through a window left open
By mother, or was it me
Or by both our common longing
To see the ones that we missed
At such a time so punctured
By distance and an unquiet kind of silence
Which weighs more than all the burdens
That keep us keeping our lives and loves
She’s tethered to me, I’m lashed to you,
you’re snapped onto him, and he’s
gone, all gone.
I suppose we’re all goners
in the Let’s-Make-An-Us game,
no longer able to start a match anew,
toting our baggage along—
or unreal ideals that we steal
from the stories we hear.
The need to pair starts at the atom.
We’re just adhering to nature—
free-radical reactions taking what we need
from what we next rub up against,
The day so far: still searching for that epic.
Seafaring? Great mystery of the shadowy deep?
Cataclysm? The earth opening beneath my feet?
No, just the measured stillness that slides
out of my pencil one word at a time.
The vision of my old friend, fresh from cataract surgery,
saying he can once again enjoy looking
at the stars, “connecting the dots.”
A modest return to wonder, the windows washed,
the old universe swimming into view,
a moment of darkness and silence and the awe
of retracing an old riddle, finding north,
I do not know how it is possible
not to pause, to stop, to listen
when a single bird’s first notes
suddenly rise above the subtle hum
of the city’s opening or to ignore
the wonder when one spring day
descends unexpectedly to revive
this town in the midst of winter.
I do not know how to sing praises
as wholeheartedly as the throng
of crows gathered at the crown
of a leaf-barren tree whose cants
seem like cacophony to me
but must be the joyful noises
that they were made to sing.
I do not know how.Read more "How"
It is not 1973
it is 2020 and all roads are
blocked but back in the summer
of my right thumb when the roads ran free
I was $120 and a clean knapsack westbound
on US 33 smack-dab in the middle of Ohio
thumb out on my 19th birthday oh I made time
up to northern Michigan the first night
a campfire an art student Moira
who had clouds of curls she said
All art is Eros I thought Oh till I drank
like a teenager so sulked north
into Canada and the scorched dust
of the prairies stuck stuck stuck
3 days just west of Winnipeg
then into the clear cool of the Canadian Rockies
Though he’s male
they call for a female officer
who pulls him from his car
seat then lays him
on a steel table
and opens his blanket
unzips his onesie
with the lions and giraffes
slips the undershirt over his head
tears open the Velcro straps
removes his diaper
lifts his body up
with gloved hands
holds him in the air
like a wet cat
while I search for signs of life
on all my devices
so many ways to stay silent
presumes you’re coming back
if only in dreams or memories
maybe that’s why I continue
to play these games
in reality they actually can
and he cannot
When I was young I used to drive
with no companion or destination in mind.
Cutting through heavy valley heat on the 101
then curving toward the coast through Topanga Canyon
1969, on an unmarked road by a no trespassing sign,
parked between the boulders, eucalyptus and
sage with four-track off and eyes closed
I’m seventeen and waiting for a
transformation—that wasn’t coming that
Or any time soon.
For every hasty engagement
there was a Benedict Canyon.
For every cleaving together
there was geography.
In a room
with no books,
on the walls,
with a click
you can look
over the shoulder
of Marc Chagall.
With his brush,
you can glide,
fly a blue horse
through a mackerel sky,
dance over the yard
in the garb of a bride,
or carry her
supine over Paris.
Let it go, Buddha
keeps saying, still so attached
to detachment that veins
I imagine at his temples
are throbbing like the chanting
of ancestors on a CD
I bought cheap for $7.97.
For once again I’ve had
the wrong idea, Calvitholicism
an indissoluble oil slick floating
on Buddha’s smooth sea
Once only I use this word –
as winter white cedes
its clutch on deepest cold
to end-of-day, sun down
low with bare trees
that hold up clouds.
I watch the full moon struggle up the redwood
branch by branch and sympathize. So changeable,
tonight a little mirror on the dark, next week
a sliver of lozenge disappearing in the stars.
A wounded being, not a self-starter,
as the astrophysicists might put it,
just a cold misshapen rock made alluring
by a dose of sunlight and the silent longing
of millions across history, wanting to be—
even three days a month––illumined,
silvering the silent forests, meditating
on the darkened lakes of the Italian Alps,
caressing the high slopes of the Rockies
You never know people
till they die
you gingerly page
through their privacy
Those fresh, fateful photos:
mothers in mauve miniskirts,
fathers frying hash browns, wearing floppy hats
After there is nothing at stake,
you find out all that you could have given
you are a small thing—
a slight appendage to the astonishments of the universe.
But to me
your slender, silent testimony,
your sheltered winter sap
sticky with promise, your fullness:
they seduce me.
I want to share
your slow, secluded breathing,
breath in my breath;
to search, to caress
your leaf scars,
your lenticels, your shy buds
That spring, I was ready to drop piano lessons. I wanted free school day afternoons. I wanted to be driven far out of town in beat-up jalopies at high speeds. Put on greasy lipstick dark as bitter chocolate so that some boy would think I was at least fifteen. I wanted to dangle a lit cigarette and drink gin and gingers in roadside dives, like in the movies. I wanted the boy behind the wheel to say, “Hey, you’re cool and sassy for a girl.”
My mother didn’t fancy my growing up so fast. She said, “Give it one more summer, honey.” Meaning the piano.
I crumbled. “Okay, but that’s it.”Read more "Piano Lessons"
and the casket cream white,
done off-white with pink
roses, and her face
in the casket
with pink lips.
one of those griefs
where the people are quiet,
except for her sister,
once, sobbed like a saw
through the service,
pulling lumber to pieces,
sending birds out of trees,
knocking down toilet seats
in all nearby houses.
Jesus lay between my breasts on my 18ct cross. My future husband fell in love with Jesus before he fell in love with me, but I married him, anyway.
I always wanted to marry a man like my father. Someone who would protect me when screen doors unhinged from their wooden frame and flew across our farm. A man who ran toward flames in January and February and returned home with singed hair and face covered in soot. A man who sat still, silent, letting my voice take center stage when I needed to be heard.Read more "Crosses"
I once positioned my outpost on earth –
at the time, within earshot of owls
and a lake’s short waves –
to be the center of all communication
beaming in from everywhere, out
to all the warped, rounded corners
of this universe. I was hoping
to fool that alien sense
I imagined as native to many,
that I was actually practically cut off
from the prime gist of being alive.
The woodchuck’s paw prints led to the hole under
our house in Maine. We saw him sometimes
in summer: a bowling ball of brown fur, rolling
across the backyard, grown fat on our flowers.
He ate the heads off the orange poppies,
then lay on his back as if having opium dreams.
At first, I hated him as I hated his cousins,
the fat squirrels who swung from the bird feeder,
gobbling seeds meant for the chickadees. Yet,
after a few years, I grew fond of our woodchuck,
imagined him as a character in a children’s book;
an elderly bachelor in a waistcoat.
The moon is a scrap of paper in a leftover sky.
Trees drip the dawn in a lachrymose morning.
Little winged seeds stagger, wind-driven,
as the last of love disappears.
Crisis lowers itself on its belly.
Vineyards are burning. Children
are dazed with hunger. Tragedy
waltzes in, turns into tango.
Clutching threadbare sweaters,
the populace huddles indoors.
They eat the last of the rice for dinner.
The sun never rose today,
and the voices of the crickets are stilled.
Fortitude and forgiveness are tested equally.
Skin, breath and heartbeat drop away
as the landlords arrive for the rent.
I’ve never dreamed of flying
Last night my husband
dreamt he was teaching me to fly
He instructed, “Not too high
like Icarus or too low”
Come float with me
We flew over a cornfield
I said, “I’ve always wanted to do this.”
We saw Selu rubbing her belly
planting her own heart so we
would be satisfied.
you will pay for your coffee
no hat is right for every occasion
when you hear a bird call, give it a name
cows kills more people each year than sharks do
few can name the sixty-some English names for pink
death does not rhyme with health, but wealth rhymes with stealth
many writers composed their best work during pandemics
when your read a poem, your audience may think bear foot when you say barefoot
one of the greatest poets wrote an ode to salt
the world’s largest salt mine is 1,800 feet under Lake Huron
tears evaporate unless you catch them
when praise is needed, do not hesitate
embrace yourself as both title and footnote
learn from the wind’s scansion of a noble fir in a squall
The world outside had turned into a forest. She had not been out in weeks and had not known, but she was running out of all food, so she tied a camo tank top over her face and stepped out. It was quiet. She walked down the stairs and outside and into it: tall trees stepping into the sky, moss beginning patchily on the street like an early beard, small red beetles, decaying logs, mud and unknown puddles of water. The supermarket was a hothouse, flowers lining the shelves. There was a purple flower that she thought had risen up from the inside of the earth, exposing the inner, shivery part of earth, the fullest and most muscled part. She held out a hand to pick it but pulled back. She went home again to open all the windows, in case the flowers would grow in themselves, perhaps winding around the radiators, up the walls, the curtain rods, nesting in the cool dank space under the sofa and behind the refrigerator. She locked the door behind her so that they would stay inside, maybe, so the secret would not overflow into other apartments, though it was all over the world. She put her keys in her jacket pocket and left.Read more "Green at the End"
In a small clay pot,
glimmer of leaf
light from my bed-
I twist-tie the mother
to a toothpick
the daughter at her foot,
a miniature version
of her miniature self,
the succulent I almost
had not noticed hiding
your diaphanous virgins
your horse and bull stories
your rites of spring
I can do
very well thank you
wishbone and your big
cigar your mighty Stetson and
guitar I know
how to please my
self how to saddle
my own steed.
a jumbled cluster of odd-shaped cells
and honey pots, all made from dark yellow
wax, like earwax or like extruded foam
insulation. All winter the disordered mess
of a half-finished construction project,
now ready to be retrofit into two cedar
raised beds—so I am cleaning
up back there, taking up the tarps
and throwing out shredded fiberglass,
and scraps of wood, a papery layer
of old leaves, screws and such,
and turning over the last
bits a buzzing: here are they
a small, primitive colony
Round fire in its tent of sticks shedding chalk and cold
on the edging of my pillow.
So sad. All I can recall is no one to hold me.
After all my skin-chafing labor with the adze, the struggle
to haul your coffin across the river—
cracking and lowing like a barge
in the deep, bleeding furrow
closing in on itself—
your severed arm gone ghostly limp,
flailing like a wave crest along the bank
beneath the claxons of a migrating goose flock
beneath blurrier migrating stars.
in late July
ready to tear
they cry out
as my wrist
It is an hour before sunrise on the western edge of the Salton Sea. The moon has set this early January morning and the stars are either falling in or away—depending on how long you look.
To the east the horizon seems two-dimensional, like black gauze draped over a thin line of light in pale yellow and salmon. In the foreground, silhouettes of long dead trees add the illusion of dimension and mark the drowning of a former shoreline. Where I stand, a foot of water covers two feet of soft, silty mud.
Silence, like a downdraft from the cosmic void above, creates an auditory setting that is equivalent to white noise. Then, from a mile away, a dog’s barking arrives with such clarity that I can tell which way he is facing. When silence resumes, my self-awareness comes into question as I am without sensory input—save the fantasy of vision.Read more "The Salton Sea"
Lace things in a hotel room, on a pier.
Your grainy bangs.
Neck, shoulders, pyre-light time of day.
Whisper of ocean in your mouth, the wish for a breathing horizon.
My old capacity
to trust: it was a gift. Speechlessly I waited.
Ideas were ovoid and hostile.
Where was she?
Even now, while you’re far off, I feel you touching me
as in the making.
Moth-like kisses on face and hands
as space opens
where the rapine of waves dispersed the grains.
Having fingers guarantees
nothing, I found out.
It was in a cave near
Sils im Engadin that
I learned this,
the unflagging dark
a rocky womb open
as a way of closing in.
I pinch at the tiny rocks
on the ground for hours,
until going backwards
I don’t know what to expect
because I never died before.
Maybe I will be greeted by
A pair of blue unicorns or
a rainbow and a waterfall
or colorful birds singing my
favorite tunes or I might see
a night sky filled with stars
I once saw on a summer night,
only now I will finally get to see
the man in the moon releasing
all those silvery shooting stars.
In deep troughs between
the dark hills of water passing,
at ‘Ehukai or Kahana,
and later along the smoothed beaches
of Waikiki, its accrued history covered still.
She rose at 3:15 from her plastic chair,
the wooden desk carved with curses.
Her bones began to sing.
She ran home to unwed shoes,
lost socks, and blue shadows,
chores to complete until dark,
criticism swallowed like bites of tough meat.
She focused on the bright stars,
the winter air, crisp as a white shirt,
Paintings with pale sky, wind-buffeted pines and loaded pack horses with wide rumps and blonde manes – ones just like these decorate ten thousand tavern walls. Or curl as calendars in filling stations in blow-away towns. Men in chaps slump over dollar-size belt buckles; their hats fold into conventions of cowboy. This artist painted a Navajo-red thunderbolt on one saddle blanket, an accent to trail-dust hues of boredom. What the armed horseback renegades who occupied the Malheur Refuge had in mind when riding out with an American flag for TV cameras.Read more "Cowboy Art in the University Library"
today come around to telling me
and I will believe
you say you’re better in email
but a word
is hollowed and lost
blazing through starry cyberfields in the night hours
constellations overflow, echoless
a dipped arrow lands nowhere, pierces no heart
the would-be elixir never encounters the throbbing soul
I was the woman going home
after a hard day.
I took the long way
across the soccer field,
no one was playing,
the clouds tasseled.
If there were still good things
in this world
I wanted to feel it in the ground
that holds me up,
catches me when I fall.Read more "Summer Ended Long Ago"
I live in the lavender gut of a horse, a beating heart just beyond the wall. And beyond that two old ladies sip tea on a white porch in the crabapple South, hoping for something that might squirrel up out of the ground, the age-old ground, the Southern ground, the ground at the top of a hill: a thin line of angels listening all boneless and hospitable from above, managing nothing with their tiny, modest, angel hands, hands that might just as well be days of the week. The long-gone Civil War is wearing a small red-and-gold cap once worn by an organ grinder’s monkey.Read more "A Clandesence of Angels"
I asked for four potatoes.
I got four bags of them.
I asked for a pound of chicken
and got a box of breaded dinosaur shapes.
I got bean sprouts and kiwi I didn’t order.
A man once did a perfect job.
He knew where to find the refrigerated pickles,
and that chicken broth with beef added
is not what I ordered.
Some personal shoppers, I gather,
have never shopped before.
They don’t know what turbinado sugar is
and give up without trying.
soon after we parted
but then against the General’s command
we drove the boy out beyond the salt flats
to the northern edge of the mountains
where he said for a thousand years
no one would wake him
you spoke you remembered
how he could not grow a mustache
not like the revolutionaries and caudillos
he could not clear his lungs
in the desert air
we stoned him for taunting the Chihuahua
stolen from Arango himself
but he loved his family name and honor
more than all men
Mother died. Father fled. Chaos ensued
as though I were swarmed by hornets
unloosed from a nest hidden high above.
His second marriage magnified the buzz
and stings, my hands tied behind my back.
After seventy years, there’s still a gallery full
of fierce memories. The debris of the natural
disaster that divided self-before from self-after.
I fold and refold the blanket of experience,
unable to make the whole lie flat again.
My son winding up to hit a ball off a tee,
I was crawling out of older motherhood
the way you back out of the tent or debark from a canoe,
careful not to disturb the sides or stand up too soon.
Adding distance between myself and the scattered contents
of a diaper bag, trailing Cheerios, wipes, fruit roll-ups,
as gingerly as my son charged ahead exuberant in a growing body,
I stepped into my office, where I’d relocated everything that was mine
and that couldn’t be lost or torn or shredded,
shut behind me the door of the room from which I’d once sought escape,
carrying the notebook downstairs to the chair, outside to the sun
The stubby screws
in the cerebellum
poke out, exposed
to the cold
air. I have to leave
these parts to nestle
in the temporal
It’s the best I can do
which means I can’t
put the brain
back on its base
As a single bird fixed in motion pins the sky to itself
remorse grows freely along the wetlands where compromised waters
breed few and far between flowers of great beauty and the human brain
spews soft gray clouds cloudy with truth
I am that river that cleanses—
the invention of a self set apart in ignorance of its own choosing
to be the not music and the not poison
a fluid dynamic of ceaseless production forsaking the concerned landscape
and a bitter endRead more "In Praise of Windmills"
Babies, ice cream cones, umbrellas, cell phones, walking sticks,
Groceries, the newspaper, a fresh pizza, flowers for the one you love,
Car keys, a purse, pen and paper, a snack, reading glasses,
A book, two books, a Bible, a pair of gloves, lip balm, a lipstick,
Bicycle helmet, a hairbrush, gum and breath mints, a hand mirror,
Earbuds and a pocket watch, a penknife, nail clippers,
Camera, screwdriver, hammer and pliers, a wrench,
Flip-flops and a towel, a folding chair, a handkerchief,
Which is a very strange word when you look at it,
A Leatherman, another strange word, but we got used to it
Barely standing, he pushes people over
with harsh words soaked in a menacing tone
that occasionally trembles when a bit of phlegm
catches in his throat.
You better believe in Jesus when he corners you,
or be ready to.
You better be ready to give him your full attention,
or his feeble voice will boom, and his face will redden
as it moves closer to yours.
A bowl of just picked tomatoes.
Deep green basil growing in a pot.
Yellow sun on yellow plates.
Showered body in a crisp shirt.
Pants other than sweats.
Window overlooking the sea.
Twelve devilled eggs waiting.
A friend request from Bob Dylan.
Pink vintage rose blooms all year.
No haircut needed.
Loved by everyone.
Peak of health.