After Forty Years

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.

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Thirty Things a Poet Should Know      

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

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Green at the End

he 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.

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Hens and Chicks

In a small clay pot,
glimmer of leaf
light from my bed-
room window,
I twist-tie the mother
to a toothpick
guidepost, noticing
the daughter at her foot,
a miniature version
of her miniature self,
the succulent I almost
had not noticed hiding

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You Can Keep

your diaphanous virgins
your horse and bull stories
your rites of spring
I can do
very well thank you
without swan
or unicorn.

Keep your
wishbone and your big
cigar your mighty Stetson and
your twelve-string
guitar I know
how to please my
self how to saddle
my own steed.

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The Hive

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

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Winter Undertow

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.

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The Salton Sea

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.

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Summer Lusters

I.
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.

II.
My old capacity
to trust: it was a gift. Speechlessly I waited.
Ideas were ovoid and hostile.

Where was she?

III.
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.

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On Losing It All

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

Read more "On Losing It All"

When the End is Near

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.

Read more "When the End is Near"

The Girl Who Wanted Soup

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,
and soup.

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Cowboy Art in the University Library

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.

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Say The Word

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

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Summer Ended Long Ago

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.

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A Clandesence of Angels

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.

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My Personal Shopper

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.

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Your Words Still in This Place

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

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Collateral Damage

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.

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The Poet at 45

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

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In Praise of Windmills

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 end

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Open Carry

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

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Bully

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.

Read more "Bully"

Self Portrait with No Wrinkles

A bowl of just picked tomatoes.
Deep green basil growing in a pot.
Yellow sun on yellow plates.
Showered body in a crisp shirt.
Shiny shoes.
Pants other than sweats.
Cello proficiency.
Window overlooking the sea.
Twelve devilled eggs waiting.
A friend request from Bob Dylan.
Pink vintage rose blooms all year.
No haircut needed.
No dust.
Loved by everyone.
Peak of health.
Rosy future.
No self-deception.

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Confluence

The cowboy entered on a gray horse. Wearing a white Stetson,
with tan hands, and tight jeans. He rode up to a Walmart
in Eagle Point, Oregon to buy dog food. He heard
a woman scream, pointing to a young man riding off
on her bike. The cowboy cantered after the bike thief,
threw his lasso, brought the kid down, tied him
to a tree and called a policeman who thought
the capture was totally slick.

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Breakfast Club

Orion’s slow tumble from winter’s black
announces our day’s sunup meal, the birds and me;
finches are first to pick-peck fall’s bounty.
Sagging branched apples offer their exposed flanks
to the songbirds’ mixed tape this December morn’.
Flap-flitting from appled branch to next sweet tidbit.
A furtive dance of
jab, glance, nibble, glimpse.

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God and the Wheel

The rainbow wheel spinning
I curse at waiting for the folder to open
looks exactly like it feels
when I’m trying to finish one quick thing
and my husband is calling me to dinner.

If you’re spinning the wheel God
I should not be cursing
at the revelation appearing on my screen
praising the colors throwing off light

a personal prayer wheel
chanting Om mane padme hum
every time it appears
heralding what’s in the machine

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Sanctus

I doubt your existence
not your suffering

In your tall houses I have seen you
the site of execution

your electric throne

and lofty stone arches exquisitely formed
echoing your screams

Walking this morning barefoot in the garden
I watched your handiwork

a green bottle fly

resting its metallic halo
on a leaf of my beloved apple tree

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Assault

I snap the book shut,
try to erase his grim words,
but I can’t escape.
Even a trip to the store
is horrifying. I watch

as a lady thumps
a melon, caresses it,
lowers an ear to
its veiny flesh, and heaves it
into her cart with a grunt.

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Pietà

I am lying, arms helpless at my side and sunk into the tiny gravity wells
Formed by ribs and hip bones, framed in this comfortable chair.
It’s only a nap, in a chair that is not my mother, its arms not my mother’s arms,
Yet I sense that I am upheld by love, and a poem runs through my sleepy thoughts.
I am aware of my hands cupped without care or purpose, at full useless repose,
And I think of marble, of a sculpted body eternally at rest, perhaps the Christ
Released from the agony of crucifixion, the artist carving his ahistorical palm
Wounds like lovers’ openings in a waiting corpse, tender lips traced through the Shadows of holy

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The Raven Roosts

With a flap and whoosh he alights
to rule from the clothesline pole,
his shield casting a shadow
of gloom on the bush branch that once
held the quick morning sun finch
whose seven-tone jazz riff played,
wee wee see wee dee wee dee.
Answered by unseen, trading sevens,
who who wee wee see wee dee.

Sweet memory of morning chirps,
the flash of red and yellow breasts
serving up my teacup of jazz.

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3 Degrees

Even the universe was young once
but though it was small
its events were immense
and shaped the course of all that followed
the matter inside us
the starlight around us

No memories remain of that formative time
but its afterglow is everywhere
faint but unmistakable —
three degrees in the background
pervading our world
whether we see it or not

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Before The Move

We are in the floorboards here
I kneel down and lay my hands
On the old barnwood planks
Our first house—big step
Baby steps, first steps, dance steps

The big picture window where
I always beat the sunrise to the sofa
Pink tumbling over a sleeping mountain
A nursing baby at my breast
Another sun another son

We carved our traditions here
The turkeys and the pumpkin pie
The Christmases the Fourths of July
Birthdays, holidays—all holy days
Our rituals rooted in the seasons

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Mutated World Sequence

My husband watches Ozark on Netflix.
I walk away to my laptop, tell him,
I don’t like any of the characters
and I don’t like the plot.

He can see how that could be true,
but he watches anyway.
The show’s been nominated.

Conventional COVID-19 wisdom says
the smart thing to do is stay home and avoid people.

We wait for a cure as hours of scripted
dramas flicker before our eyes.

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Regeneration

I saw you pluck a piece of sapling from the hills
A present, I don’t know,
A sun-scorched story,
A tale
A massive ambience of the liquid time.

But the manner you beheld it
Like you could see through its bare bones,
If you lick up the juice, now and then.

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Thrum

This morning I read about sex toys
a design student was creating for old people
(defined as those over fifty),
a market he felt was overlooked.
One concept was a steel ear trumpet
to listen to a lover’s heart.

You have been gone for many years
but I still feel the warmth of your soft sternum
pressed against my cheek, still hear
your drumbeat vibrating through my bones

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Banana Chain

Banana bunches
hanging down the length

of a frosted chain
outside a snow-swept market

curl with cozy ease
into each other,

as if still
on a tree somewhere tropical,

their yellowness
dawning from their green

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Talking Heads

It’s something to look forward to,
Mom says
of the talking heads
on the evening news,
her portal to the world.

When Dad was still here,
they’d watch together, and in twenty minutes
their own heads
would drop to their chests.

Now she nods off alone
under waves of silver hair,
the ocean at dawn

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Graduation Day

I remember the day you broke from me
A blue and viscous blood-soaked pearl
And though I’d grown you in myself
An alien from a secret world

The cord was thick and rough and red
A rhubarb stalk tying me to you
You wailed I cried they held you up
My universe bound by one sinew

Your father sawed the surgeon sliced
Surprisingly it didn’t hurt
I felt the pressure of my love
Shift from my belly to my heart

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Aftermath

the settling of ashes.
the loss between
house and souls 

windows left open
unwashed plates
front door half open
a pink ribbon
on the floor 

cloud shadows
paint the yard,
gliding over
chairs and toys
like still life
before sunset

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Rage is so Respectable

Rage is so respectable. Her top hat’s
made of smoking coals. She strides
the streets and kicks small sheep.
She knits up snarls on telephone poles.

She breathes in daisies, snorts
out ash. Her house is made of corners,
boned with whale. She turns on you
so quickly that she tops the sport Whiplash.

She combs her hair with matches
so the sparks light funeral pyres. Her invitation list
is stuffed with Holocaust deniers.
Her snack’s a cat. The dump’s her park.

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To a Construction Worker in the Hills of Portugal Near the Sea

You hack at your ancient red hills
like those creatures who eat parts of their own bodies
digging for the gold of overpopulation, pollution, and upward mobility
for 60 escudos a day
to deliver the Northerner’s rich dream
and at sunset sit in the old plaza deafened by swallows
and return to the crumbling tile-roofed box of earth beyond the hill
and at dawn once again set the long white caterpillar of villas
creeping toward you to devour you.

Read more "To a Construction Worker in the Hills of Portugal Near the Sea"

Tree Communion

I know a grave in the woods
tricked with running cedar, mulched
with hickory and storms, telling heaven
to dance cobble-rock and quail-feather,
tuning up the sprouts, and all the thaws,
so they smooth and wriggle, and they smooth
and bank up every skeleton against a ghost,
so they all sing, so they all remember names
that touch like the tallest willow’s shadow
cribbing across the face of an old woman
waiting to find me here at home and alive.

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Hummingbird Communion

We trace the rarest hummingbird
in our fossilized eyes. It’s the blurring field
slimmed from its wings. It’s the blue throat
captioning our brains, saying color, wow,
color, fire, no words, shake a million nerves
then scratch out every voice. It colors you
with no other world. It holds you. It moves.

Read more "Hummingbird Communion"