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Hamilton Stone Review #36 Spring 2017
Roger Mitchell, Poetry Editor
A Good Snowstorm
The way he says your mother
as if she had become a function,
a light switch he had flicked off,
a vase, but not the flowers in it,
the car battery that needs charging,
the exit he used to take to go home.
The way she asks about your father
as if he had belonged to her at one point,
as if she were tossing a pair of pants into the hamper,
potato peels down the garbage disposal,
as if he were the torn recliner in front of the television,
her asthma coming on again.
The way they refer to my divorce
as if it were something they had earned,
new cars and separate houses,
as if it were a carcass the vultures wouldn’t find,
or a good snowstorm, the town buried in an alien white,
one that makes you forget yesterday,
the sidewalks and the very ground you had walked on.
By the day Reagan was shot that March
our eighth grade teacher had branded us
and had us stand against the wall
if we were caught talking.
My classical guitar teacher
had declared my playing
The walls of his lesson room
were covered with black and white photos
of serious men holding instruments,
scrutinizing my fitful fingers against the strings.
On TV that night I watched with my parents
the video loop of gunshots and flurry.
Men the size of my father,
face down in their suits,
the fallen trees of their bodies.
In the days that followed I felt
a new room in my mind:
a space for teachers
to make sense of motives,
for the world’s insanity
to come and sit for a while.
It was a room filled with
adolescence and danger,
fists in every corner,
and a smell the way I imagine
rain trapped above a ceiling would smell,
or bullets after leaving the barrel –
their spent copper lives
scattered across a wet sidewalk.
Today your father and I loaded
your first twin mattress
into the back of his minivan,
hauled it upstairs to your room
and placed it in the bedframe
that once held his first mattress.
Your mother spread a new comforter
with toy planes while behind her
jets sliced paths in the blue sunlight
across the transom high in the foyer.
At the park your feet
dangled beneath the monkey bars –
twin birds propelling you into boyhood.
At the air museum with you on my shoulders,
wingspans wider than your eyes,
the Enola Gay hung, suspended
like a shiny bullet in a black and white memory
while a docent replied to questions adults asked –
the weight of bombs and exothermic reactions.
On the way home
I checked on you in your car seat,
a thumb in your mouth,
the other hand under your shirt,
your index finger pressed into your belly button
as if to relieve some pressure.
Someday I will explain life to you in terms of flying,
as a cycle of take-offs and landings,
of moving from one place to another.
I will say how we are the planes
and their intentions,
and how, after the rattle and hum of the day,
we shed our incidental cargo,
fold ourselves into bed
and dream of doves,
their silver, papery wings.
He dropped out of college to marry her.
She sacrificed her thread of spontaneity.
He would give her a son and a daughter.
She would give him a home and a mortgage.
The wolf of him –
his den and chair.
The wolf of her –
her kitchen and stove.
One day he came home from work
and ate another chicken she baked.
He couldn’t recall a thing before dinner
and recoiled at the tomorrow
she held in the corners of her mouth.
He was still speaking in code.
She had begun speaking in clouds.
The night after she left him he lost a thumbnail.
He planned to reattach it
so he picked it off his pillow
and placed it on his nightstand.
The next morning he lost the whole thumb.
Eventually his fingers were gone,
which made sense since he couldn’t recall
the last time he had touched her.
Next were his privates,
which he would have liked to keep
for someone else perhaps.
Then his arms, his legs,
everything except his head.
Odds were they would divorce.
They had said this to each other in passing.
He heard himself saying this now
to his coworkers and neighbors
who inquired about his body.
They had married their best intentions;
not the rugged edges of their words
or the burr of their resentment,
but the wolves under the house,
the danger they thought they could tame.
1900. The year you were born,
Grandma. You said you went
with the years, so I always
knew how old you were.
Visiting you in Florida. 1980.
My first plane ride. I was ten.
I gripped the armrest with
one hand and my glow-in-the-dark
Rosary in the other. My brother
was too excited about flying to pray.
Isn’t it ironic that I was closer to
Heaven, but scared to death of falling?
Summers. You came back north.
When I visited, you offered me
the cookies you baked. You said
you were tired of living. I didn’t
think someone holding a tray of
cookies could be so sad. You asked
if I was going to Mass and I told you
the truth. Don’t sin, honey, you said.
It will make God cry.
You had wanted me to become
a priest. Youngest grandson.
Last hope. At twenty-five, I moved
in with my girlfriend. She wasn’t
Catholic. God was Catholic.
You kept pictures of him
on your knitting table next to
the muffin foil with your pills.
1996. September. It rained at
your funeral. In October
my girlfriend and I married under
a stone gazebo on the beach.
It rained that day too. Now
this refrain of water. Raindrops
scattered across your casket.
God’s tears in an omniscient sea.
Just When You Thought Moody’s Wouldn’t Notice
If a machine were invented
that scrubbed carbon from the atmosphere,
turning it into food or construction materials,
while rebuilding topsoil, its inventor
would be a celebrity millionaire—
I’ve never seen a tree on the cover of wired
It’s therefore not surprising
that people are waking up to headlines
which economists have whispered forever:
Bats are worth at least 3 billion a year;
The absence of dung beetles would cost
58 million per annum in lost nitrogen
As Dolf de Groot’s alluded to,
every year we lose the equivalent worth
of trillions of dollars of natural capital—
making Nature Inc., hands down, the largest
market failure ever recorded
There’s never a FREE lunch, but there have been
lots of complimentary feasts—if that’s what you call
clean water—and imagine Mother Nature
sitting at a kiosk at the foot
of the Catskill Mountains, or a bee
presenting you with an invoice
for pollination services
In fact in China
farmers have been forced to carry pots of
pollen and paintbrushes around, and have
their children climb to the highest blossoms
That’s what happens when Gaia’s greatest assets
are economically invisible
TEEB’s global initiative
to securitize the biosphere
has thus been met with raucous applause
from policy makers and service users
Now we can finally suture
our improved ability to make
with the existence of unpriced
environmental goods—and hopefully
lessen anxiety in the long term
As I said previously, we need
such ecoinformatics to maximize
our portfolio effect—when you manage
one-seventh of the Dutch pension sector
deforestation can be
To understand the economic impacts
of ES on credit risk scenarios
the Natural Capital Declaration
has developed a range of analytic tools
to inform markets
In general the idea
is to scour attitudinal data
for aggregate trends or class-specific
Before concerned governments step in,
or expert knowledge (ECK) can design
an ecological infrastructure,
consumer choice behaviour will first
determine the Willingness to Pay
and explicitly portray interactions
between supply and demand
Will there be some fuzzy outcomes related to
a motivational pluralism
around passive use values?
Sure: there are those that like birdwatching—
but, for the most part, cost-benefit analysis
has proven optimal for targeting
the distinct corpus in robust
CBA can also help scale up
to manage temporal irregularities,
such as option valuing,
or spatial irregularities,
such as mitigation banks taking deposits
Mother Nature can be
a tricky negotiator,
always looking for the double counting
of both amenities and disamenities—
and so capital misallocation
is a constant threat
But we don’t want to be caught committing
statistical murder, which is why
this is not about a Green New Deal—
it’s about sitting down with Nature’s
best and brightest and talking shop:
opportunity costs, adjustments
on the margin, and who the hell anyway
ever welcomed their celebrity status
The Child Thus Relied Upon the Objectification of the Higher or Lower Number of his Opponent’s Cerebral Folds in Order to Achieve his Success
As the saying goes,
you can’t manage what you can’t measure—
which is why flaccid assessment methods
have the majority perilously happy
limiting their risk responsibility
to ticking check boxes
While we can trace its root back to the word
riscus or dangers to avoid at sea,
I don’t want my risk management practice
perpetually stuck between a rock
and an annual heat map
Is it any wonder then that
leaders in the field are gravitating
toward a holistic view of risk?
interaction matrices, bow-tie diagrams,
systems that allow users to roll up
and drill down for analysis and reporting
Creating a comfortable risk culture
where stakeholders participate
in open heart discussions can help
Workplace spirituality can also
energize action, connect coworkers
to each other and the accumulating
Otherwise propagation effects
throughout the project structure will likely
trouble the notion of risk ownership—
interfaces between actors within
risk clusters need to be highlighted
Who’s going to handle the components of
supply chain risk—atomistic sources
such as adverse selection, or else
the more universal threats of goal conflict
or a supplier’s moral hazard?
Who’s going to exercise
our constructive paranoia around FDI?
with high sunk costs and lowered mobility,
someone’s got to keep an eye, for instance,
on the risk of South Africa’s
soft resource nationalism, blustering
about an EU exit, or Russia
menacing its neighbours
Who’s going to massage the most perilous risk
facing organizations today—
ie. labour unrest?
by the time Fidelity Security Group
gets called in, we’re willing to lay bets on
some irreversible image distress
Can we fatigue of this?
to live Semper Paratus certainly
has its expenditures, which is why
an integrated team will have developed
a fatigue risk management system (FRMS)
Of course, we ought to view risk as being
domain specific—while September
is National Preparedness Month,
nobody wants the nanny state
to force helmets, airbags and smoke alarms
into the home
Think back to the earlier example
about crossing the road, or think about
the relationships you manage
on a daily basis—each of us
lives in a world that is not always safe,
secure nor predictable
And yet, let’s be honest: the whole
totalitarianism of hazard prevention
isn’t doing our boys any favours—
no one wants to see a child injured,
but they need to fall off stuff occasionally,
and so doing encounter their own budding
risk assessment practice
That was true when I tried to short the market
during heavy volatility, and when
I got involved in MLM marketing
without realizing how lousy I was with sales—
more lessons I’ve learned:
creating a risk portfolio
can help you capitalize on your strengths,
and achieve best-cost outcomes
It wasn’t until around the 16th C
that the concept of risk gained a more
positive sense as something presenting
not that we’re establishing
the conditions under which certain groups
can expose others to potential risks
in order to secure benefits
for yet other groups—
but where Pascal’s concerned
it’s worth wagering on the right side
of the uncertainty set
Is this to introduce the aleatory
distribution of bads into
the pre-event configuration?
then so be it!
That which resists risk management—
to quote from Zizek—
might be the only continuity
in getting us to think about how we
manage our risk
The House Mosquito
The Southern House Mosquito
enters through a broken
screen and caulking. One of them
killed my father.
Around the window in which an air
conditioner sits, it
nags and whines in a strident voice,
wet and metallic
A thousand eggs float in oval rafts
inside the ditch—like
chemical elements or an armory of
weapons, one of
them killed my father.
West Nile Virus is endemic to
Louisiana. And so are
dead birds, sick horses, sentinel
and standing water, which holds
the deadly mosquito
that killed my father.
And I have seen the larvae
swimming in the waste at the
abandoned city dump like little
murderers in the dark
Preparing to kill a father.
Curiously, mosquitoes prefer the
shade to quenching
their thirst with blood. Let us look
at the mosquito
which makes us weary. I wander
the rooms like him
And raise, from this, the theme of
disease and killing.
Why does restlessness stalk me? I
want to sleep, but it
will not allow it. It greedily
approaches. I wave it away
But, it comes back, more querulous
I defeat it. But already, another
more savagely than the first, with
its gospel singing and
its soul too full of lust
The Great Egret, a young southern
lady. I love her
as myself. Her
plumage and her lean disastrous-looking
All ideal, although she often tends
the shallows here
in Louisiana, where she hunts small
fish and frogs
searching, not without some effort,
Why I Will Not Sell the Undeveloped Parcel
I promised the skunks a place to freely stink. I promised certain fur-bearing citizens, i.e.,
a possum consortium, easements in perpetuity through the weedy boulevards to the creek,
and I did commit to long-term housing for the skeptics, the chattering class of the underbrush (skittish field mice, recalcitrant porcupines, sharp-tongued pheasant hens).
I promised wild turkeys a private event space for their meetings in the bushes—they have crucial business to discuss, clucking and fussing, feathers flying up to the trees.
To the proud, newly- antlered deer, I promised a dojo to practice the four dignities: contentment, joy, wisdom and outrageousness.
I promised myself I would operate my own Camp Lollygag, for me to tramp, to trip on knotted weeds, to sink in slick to my ankles, to get lost, embargo goal setting—
what needs to rot, I tell my husband, can rot. I promised the moon a pack of enamored, serenading coyotes.
I promised the sun a slice of insouciant soil on which to shine.
And I will send down the rains in their season – Ezekiel 34:26
I will send the rain of authority,
the Lord also said,
I will send rain to chase the devil back to hell—
the rain of snarling martens,
smeary goose-shit rain,
rain of mud and tar,
rain to incite the devil’s disgust,
rain of defiant lovers,
I will send the rain of emotive, yearning peepers,
rain of warrior-babies
(tiny swords, shiny new breastplates of righteousness),
the rain of spiritual warfare—
I will send rain in-it-for-the-long-haul,
rain biding its time,
sly, watchful crow rain,
strategic rain to bedevil the devil,
rain beyond his paygrade,
pattering, sneaky rain,
Mata Hari rain—
I will send slain-in-the-spirit rain,
speaking Holy Ghost rain,
sincere, un-ironic rain, rain of shouting,
soothing rain to pacify ancillary sub-demons,
rain of purification,
everlasting white birch rain,
god help me,
help me, rain;
I will summon
I will say,
beat it, I will say, be gone.
An addict, famished,
who, from the under-
petal of a flower,
front legs, waves
and invites, interrogates
the air without
jonesing for blood—
that mimics the true
joy of seduction.
Without you, little sticks,
dry, little bones of the forest,
forgotten under leaves,
nothing happens. I need you,
search for you, as I wander,
my afternoon saunters—you are
the tinder, the story-starter;
lit, you are all crackling
mischief, all go-for-
the kitchen match, find yourselves
reborn as trouble-making,
singing spirits—hear this,
unsung orphans: you are essential!
Lit, you’re unpredictable
prime movers; until you disrupt
the stove, until you flare up,
the news, until you ignite
complacent, stacked golden oaks
and release the winter’s tale,
our barrel-chested iron man,
god of combustible things,
will sit, inert and cold—
until you invite, through
the flue, approval of the moon.
Speak in normal tones so you “sound human.” What you say doesn’t matter, just speak.
Adirondack Explorer Fall/Winter Issue 2014
O gigantic, o slightly-slobbering, big-tongued Teddy sniffing the air: I hear sweet luscious bee hives cluster 20 miles yonder, east over Clement Mountain—why not, sir, point your nose to that honey? Why not go, go, sir, to the honey, and why not ponder this subtle koan as you journey: why did the bear go over the mountain? What did he hope to find? What chatty, generous spirit whispered wanderlust into his ear? Why not, Big Guy, pursue the “big story;” why not scratch your back against the sharp bark, against the hard questions? O most-impressive Baloo, through your heart pumps the blood of ancient giants who once loved the children of men—see me, not as tasty flesh, not as your snack, but as your Beatrice, lamplighter for your quest; see me as the trembling finger pointing to your moon; why not aspire to roll, bellowing, in the thing-in-itself, the ding an sich, as if in clover? Go, go now, O splendid, plus-size Paddington; go, turn your head to the sky; go forth—eastward ho, to the honey.
The Moth Farm
they are used in the manufacture
soft brown palpitations
of millions of wings in flight
and the subtle dust
that falls into eyelids
the agents from the city
in their sleek cars gather boxfuls
many lifetimes’ worth
of warm dreams
weighing little more
than a breath
he always tells you
what the weather was like
and how it affected
the moods of his characters
black towers of cloud
over interminable Russia
or the horticulturist’s
bustling summer garden
and that time
in which all things exist
is the true enemy
bringing sorrow and change
a journey on foot
of twelve or so miles
may include all knowledge
two men reeking of booze and dung
fitting a horse into its harness
at the side of the road
a holy man
addressing a corpse
in words its associates
are meant to overhear
beginnings of a modernity
that has no minor characters
only those for whom the body is a sanctuary
and those for whom it is a defeat
nor does he hate anyone
however much they rant against
one another or their lives’
there will always be another morning
when the dogs stir in the yard
and pad softly or pause
to stretch and flap their ears
the boy fetching water
whistles and is silenced by a glance
from the women tending embers
left brooding under ash
and it is day
and there is tea and honey
or bread and salt
or just water and a share of the fire
and in place of a mantra
nothing is ever better
or worse than it is
so be appeased
My Ex Has Travelled North
to be with her father during his surgery
which sounds serious—something to do with his spine.
I learn this from another
who keeps in touch with the past
through Facebook, e-mail, spying drone,
who told me recently how my ex’s dog fell ill,
might die. I didn’t choose to hear,
now must fight my instant urge
to call & say inane words.
Is there an etiquette for well-wishes
toward the excommunicated?
Card, perhaps? Never flowers
smelling like apricot brandy.
Already, I’m anxious,
grinding my teeth as if on a stone,
from weighing what’s right against what’s expected.
Here’s Humility, tickling my shoulders with a leaf, &
there’s Regret, sucker-punching as it always does.
I didn’t know my ex bought a dog
(cat-person before she was my ex) &
often thought unkindly of her dad,
depressive drunk who
liked to wave his gun around while crying.
I’m better off remaining mute
as though I have no ex who owns a dog &
whose father, a man she loves & despises,
face’s the scalpel like some headsman’s ax.
Life can be confusing & cringe-worthy.
How do so many live it for so long?
Dogwood Avenue 1986
Before my brother turned thirteen,
my father died
in the most ordinary way — car
accident on a familiar road. Though
their eyes brimmed,
I had no well to over-
flow; my eyes
swallowing the brown rug.
Let them wail and offer despair.
I watched: the world,
its indifferent spinning,
hugs and scalloped
sympathy cards (drab flowers
black backdrop) may do no good.
Keep it coming. She may
shut in her sadness
but it will seep through the threads
of our family forever.
And I turned six with a banana-seat bike
and prayers for the unforgiven,
the unrepentant. I sent the slinky
somersaulting down the stairs
tumbling myth, memory, unspoken
questions. Let them go
on drawing tears on the calendar,
a rude memorial
to grief. It would be years
before she could shrug
at the motorcycle passing, before
she’d tell his stories. Until then,
he came in dreams
wearing a baseball cap
he never wore.
It would be years before I thought
of him outside the gash
of his death, before I knew.
Fat-fingered children plunking piano keys in the dark
suddenly made meek.
A pleasant sound couples the cold shock down
your neck wrist cheek.
The blurred landscape, smudged tree-line, pastels thumbed hazy
by the mist.
Oversized droplets meander these weighted branches:
gravity’s tiny fists.
Leaves now made malleable, liable to droop detach splatter.
We dome our umbrellas, brief shelter from the sloppy clatter.
Valentine’s Day or There Is No Rain in the Forecast
I gain transaction into my our heart
of darkness. I look at devastating blue
skies which reveal the open secret of my
insignificance. File side effects under either
a)bad shit that happens or b)compensatory
pleasures. You are my pain management clinic,
as if the best I can hope for is to manage. Gaudy
paper hearts line the windows of stores, making me
forget that a real heart looks like a fist. I would
trade it for these cheap imitations, so tacky,
so beautiful, so fragile that the slightest bit of rain,
sleet, or snow will ruin them. So unlike my own
heart, hidden, persistent, and never on my sleeve.
It beats despite what anyone does to it, I wonder
why it feels like paper that tears at the slightest touch.
Nobody wants to hear this.
What luck! I don’t want to say it.
We stop at perfect days that shall
linger without form. There’s no
shaking this premonition that I’ve
been here before, the road travelled
by way too many. What can I say?
For my next trick, I’ll need a volunteer.
There will be no tears.
You will forget how
to cry. You never cry
but you always look
like you’re about to be hit.
You cringe at the sound
of your own voice, the way
it betrays you. People mistake
your silence for strength.
Of course, you stopped believing
there was something to admire
a long time ago. You didn’t ask
for this. You don’t ask for anything
at all. By you, I mean me. But you
knew that all along, didn’t you?
Three doors down, there’s a crack house
guarded by pit bulls. The poisons I prefer
are legal. You can’t pick who you love.
The streets talk to me, but nobody knows
my name. I read about the famous dead
while ignoring my own burial grounds.
It’s bad luck to build near a cemetery
so I carry mine with me. My purse
empties to feed my wants. Night
protects me from you but not myself.
I survey the discount hearts, already
dented from the hands of customers
who didn’t choose them, the flowers
adorned with signs announcing For
Someone Special stand at attention,
the bouquets wilting like understudies
whose big break isn’t going to happen.
I want to tell them, Don’t give up. I see
how beautiful you are! I rummage
through the bins, pick up a box of candy
with Be Mine in wedding cake font scrawled
across the front and put it in my basket,
avoiding the conversation hearts, ones
that say things like, U R Great. There’s only
so much I can take and after all, I know better.
My e-mail inbox fills with lame excuses:
Sorry, Prof, I can’t make class today;
grandpa died, I’ve got job interviews.
Paradise Lost drives half the class away
Students who read both of Homer’s epics
and Virgil’s dull Aeneid and discussed
primary vs. secondary classics
coated with two thousand years of dust;
students who cheered on Antigone’s
open opposition to a tyrant,
and students who preferred Penelope’s
sneaky tricks, like those they play on parents,
all united in their Milton boycott.
It might be Great, professor; Good it’s not.
To win “The Game of Life” you must hoard money
love, and fame. Fame costs you love, love
costs you money, money costs you love.
The easiest to pile up is the money.
So when you play, always go for money
at the expense of both fame and love.
The second easiest to get is love,
but getting love will cost you lots of money
You must suppress your greed to earn the love
of your lover/spouse by spending money
on jewelry and dinners out—money
that you could bank at the expense of love.
The hardest of the three to get is fame.
If it costs you all your love, you lose the game.
When quiet neighbors moved and got replaced
by kids last fall, I grit my teeth and braced
myself against the noise I knew was coming:
the thumping stereo, the practice drumming.
When I gazed out at autumn’s turning trees
I prayed, this year, send us an early freeze,
and kindly Nature granted me my wish.
October nights grew cold and north winds lashed
my patio, which overlooks their yard.
By mid-December, soggy ground froze hard,
and plastic lawn chairs wore a coat of snow.
The only noise next door came from the crows
who (I’m quoting Zimmer) cawed Fuck You
from bare branches of the trees. Fuck you too!
I re-cawed, ensconced in my warm study.
Then came the early thaw. The ground turned muddy,
and crocuses popped up in February.
Out came my neighbors, ready to make merry.
They hauled their folding beer pong table out,
their boom box speakers, and began to shout
at ten AM on Sunday. Party all day!
they yelled, and I, who’d had nothing to say
began to scribble these lines without a pause
except to ponder “what noun rhymes with caws?”
and “should I quote the frat boy rapper’s lyrics
that drove the girls to giggling hysterics:
you muthafuckin bitches ain’t worth shit
or leave the crudeness out and stick with wit?”
Then, once I’d come to my decision,
I smoothed the rhythm out in my revision,
inverting rappers’ trochees into iambs,
end-stopping lines I’d awkwardly enjambed,
and by the time the kids had gone inside
to barf, pass out, choke on their vomit and die,
I’d finished this box I made to hold my rage:
rough ink black lines on a smooth white page.
Trees appear as brides,
Their snow dance wounding
I am numb to you.
No one sees the snowdrops budding,
A bright field of knives.
If I turn away, they grow
In lines of white flame and,
As darkness falls,
A kingdom of black blossoms
Deep as a moaning mouth.
When she turns blue
Remember her as sky.
Grey, she is the sea
Dragging death by a string.
It already sounds distant as
The sharp gasp of ghost,
Punishing us, shy thing,
By turning into a light leaf
Or leaping from
The edge again
O so sweetly,
Blood effervescing and receding,
The promise of forever
At the end of every line.
My hands write, poised like a pianist,
And I wait.
Blue night is
An absent shade now,
A broken memory of sky,
Shadows moss-damp and
Pearled with honey.
There are corpses floating in the trees;
Things of grace,
Swimming over us in flight,
Fluent beings on bone-white wing.
They call to me
When the sky goes dark,
When the clouds are a wish
But no rain pours,
When the moon rolls past and
My eyes catch fire.
They curl over pools
In folds of white heat
Birds dive, colourless, soft-boned
Wither to water
Like Spring’s first buds
Skipping and falling,
Little souls lost.
The tide’s slow pull
Their star-shaped mouths,
Beloved waters: kissed.
At the graduation, people ask about you
Later, you say when I leave the house I forget
to kiss you.
Are you becoming invisible
I would rather forget
After I am sad and pondering the meaning,
reminding me of our losing each other
at the Dead Sea resort
you had an announcer summon me;
you were mad
and I was happy, knowing you would never
leave me behind.
Gone, seven years. Last night in sleep
I conjured my brother
back from the dead.
He wore a robe and was
speaking out against war
as he did in his lifetime.
We embraced so naturally,
he in his fullness
before the wasting.
I woke buoyant, so glad,
for my vision, the capacity
to imagine what is gone.
My brother John came back
on his best day his body easy,
his mind clear.
How much more you, husband,
whom I have known from the blackest of hair
to the white head I saw yesterday
from a distance, you with the walker,
crossing the portico and I thought, who is
that man with the beautiful hair?
You will come back to me.
I will take the shards of memory
and forge you in the furnace
of my awful desire that you live.
Things you’ve spray-painted white
and hung from trees in the woods:
coffee pot, harmonica, comb,
toothbrush, adjustable wrench,
and my old Pentax camera.
Finding these objects adrift
like ghosts of themselves startles
and even frightens me a little.
The cold sun effloresces orange
like something from a greenhouse.
Small animals sulk and skulk
and challenge me to spot them
in the corners of my eyes.
The woods seem alive except
for the specters you’ve dangled
here and there. Do you believe
that the forest is too ugly
to appreciate itself without
this post-aesthetic display?
The camera saddens me. Often
through prism and lens I saw
your smile polish to a shine
that dazzled and confused the world.
And that comb that daily traced
a path through your nest of hair,
the harmonica neither of us
could master. The white things
sway in the hard autumn wind,
beyond utility or regret,
too innocent to protest—
their slightly grainy texture
like Renaissance marble left
unfinished at the sculptor’s death
A Woman at Work
In my winter’s night
of dreams and visions,
you’re there. I find
myself in the interiors
of a museum. With love,
here are dahlias in my
hands. Do you accept it
or refuse it? When daylight falls
lonely I find I have a lost
ghost of a soul. All these
years I have lived a secret
life and inside the painted
blue you will find the hidden. The electric.
The mountain and the
field’s spark. There was
some sadness behind her
smile, her eyes. The speed
of darkness too. I know you.
I wanted to tell her. I’ve
been where you are. My
mother, my father’s wife.
When love speaks it brings
with it our dreams. Pure
and healthy as water. To us
it speaks about Paris. When
love speaks to me there’s a
story behind the poem. The
poetry experiment. It speaks
to me about the emptiness and grief
before it speaks to me about
a portrait of a child or the sun.
Older. Further. Beyond. The
discovery of it a thousand times
in a day. Bodies and limbs made
out of sunlight. This woman’s
work saves autumn. The ethereal
of the monster abundance
of that season’s change in
the air. The harshness. The
struggle-ish. The gratitude of
the narrator. Here comes the
remainder of the blemished sun craving
Noah’s ark and his animals.
More, more. The quiet sea says to
the coast. I want more of you.
‘Over Our Cities Grass Will Grow’
It was a Sunday, four days before Christmas. Choppers and drones were all over the sky. Tourists who had taken selfies at the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe posted them to Facebook. A gnome-like man with a greasy comb-over said, “Everything is art, everything is rubbish.” You made up your own myth, and when you did, hoodlum types were observed entering expensive autos. But was that necessarily a problem? I myself became distraught at being left stranded on a dark road, especially as the I Ching advises, “Wait in the meadow.”
Where Exploding Oil Trains Escape Notice
It may have been we were drawn out of uncertain uptown midnight into evolving consequences that spill over from generations of energy. We can be watching our own post-historic blusters striking a moth of methane thaws before offspring of anyone’s up-bespoken afternoon rains in the kingdom of genetic songbirds.
Searching for rooms on major arteries of forgetting have been plunges and breeches, granges and sprawls, where we can see the many eyes sleeping with their B-1s and F-22s cottoning to mouthfuls of Teutonic admission gone athwart when it never had far to go.
And now we have up-and-down hoary yearning for split-middle lays of egg as imperial floodlight knifes over the bronze doors behind which opposite energies rhawl in uncrooned breezes craving the end of suffering from behind the collective back where mascara-ringed pours of outworn appetite have groveled before genetic branches in the place of proprietary experiments running cold and hot with sea-leavings afloat on the slumber-shot prime peeling away in leopard layers beneath the sky’s glistening million billions.
When the mind decides to assume responsibility, rock-bottom hungers may clash.
Demands this desperate will try driving animal trucks unconsciously into one another’s headlights, intestinal muds redefining power from genetic undersea horns, filming the documentary from a raven’s perch through the eight coordinated eyes of jumping spiders, issuing manifestos on veils of tears.
While mindfulness establishes residence, grasshoppers with serious red veins can be swallowing pain, chewing on meadows, great inhaling swarms on skeletal wings voting yes or no, darkening the western sky before vanishing.
So the tips of billions of tongues lick the instant exhausted, as the next instant rolls undetectably in from behind, to where the next tips of tongues erupt, to taste what’s unferned.
From compass cores of becoming, vibratory forces push in fast forward, with mind parking its maneuvers in slow-motion root-hold pull of having a life.
In splashes of overflow light, autonomous breeding wheels. No matter exists but what’s already turned into historical antecedents.
Over time, zero plus zero approaches one, but who will be here to see it? Boot-black echoing in echoing lets stem-cell shadow fall flat and full through the unfilmed emergent communications of specialized cells.
Flagellum materialize where tiniest beings have been reaching for eons, conducting business, moving to stay alive.
The smallest breathing mobilizes over time into swoons blowering en mass. Evolving microorganisms prism the spectrum, while the documentary reveals infinitesimal choices in slow motion.
Once people have congregated, involuntary hunger runs the oil-hot carnival where normality pays admission.
River current continues in circulation of blood building complexity in the brain to field the complexity around us. Through distances and intimacies, the brain practices its arts that began long before birth.
Ancestors within us carry on their fondness for harpsicord and seasonal temperatures. In burning basement libraries, Freudian entanglements reinvent communion through the emergence of fundamental consciousness.
Where many have imprinted on what used to be, each moment of cosmic origin launches into what it will never again be.
The pin-drop dark blurs what it touches, then absorbs it into eclectic soup-pot horoscopes, the way it is, wanting to live, to continue within being, to be here where listening resonates with transcendence letting the world go.
Around the lion-clawed table of day and night sit the first humans and their legendary offspring. Given the number of sensibilities and ways they encoded the world, not many can agree about what’s to be eaten and how it must be served. Erstwhile, enclaves attempt to enslave escutcheony legions that qualify as the other to do the dirty work.
Ten thousand and more religions and cults undertake rituals, while a hundred thousand elevated orators, priests, kings, sales executives, jokers, and great mothers deliver life-changing addresses to the collective.
Drink, psychoactive fungal mash, joy and agony, curiosity and retrograde amnesia, on top of stone-serious harping and military-escorted sewing circles flaring up in choral renditions, sports enthusiasts roaring out lion prowess, adventurists snapping back the continuum, daughters with ox carts crossing the city limits—these and many continents more abound.
At the table are log-thumpers and transcendental Trappists, army experts in snare and stretched-skin comrade carriers, founding fathers of conga and great mothers of tabla Sanskrit, with stick-wielding unrestrained rhythmists, cymbalists, and triangle trainers bursting past colossal stone figures at the borders of longing. Who can tell where anything ends?
You can see kind presence and formidability, feuds and armored vests, lingering desire and visitations of suffering, with hunting and contemplating, everyone with a full face and refined head, including those who were ostracized flat, wearing scarlet bonnets or hair stubble shirts with those who’d never sit without standing, alongside those who couldn’t help but join or refuse. Whoever was born is there.
If something’s fishy in January, if fresh schools of perch and pickerel wash onto beaches where you swam as a kid, if big faces deny all knowledge of their acts straight into the camera eye of children, if fuming hourly caravans appear unable to stop revving up in downward polarizations of pretenders, forcing more extinction after mixing it up with transactions, if they pretend to reason, posing as appetites magnified by the Hubble in scenes of rollbacks brandishing public dollars and they’re in combat with questioners, if they’re laying into doctor reason with child-mind roundhouses from the side of infallible mystery and grandiose craving, then I’d agree you’ve got problems,
Whether you work, labor, catalytically convert, conceive, or diametrically compute, you’ve got problems, the educational kind disrupted by gangs of bad and good, whether unique individuals of stunning incapacity there tricked the election, anti-knowledge people have stood with contempt out of identity, or know-nothing forces of central intelligence parked gargantuan missiles in the plaza days before pacts were negotiated, if prayerful incursions have risen up to demand life sentences of forgiveness for the owners of blast furnaces who’re calling them flutes around the kids for the slow dance of biothermal digestion, you’ve got problems, if anti-knowledge forces are having their way around global scarcities, if in all arrogance greatness is so loaded with costume jewelry it requires pre-emptive mercenary forces just to keep moving.
Maybe the roar you can hear comes from steam shovels scooping perch and pickerel carcasses into the unknown, or the next decree coming down the pike stars founding fathers whose wartime rations were surely good enough for them. You might prepare for laws forced onto neighborhoods, and people of unreason calling large numbers the other, however much the climate careens into the deep end where no one has been and the halves in the culture are buying and selling heartbeat transaction, gunning black stretch limousines in commemorative displays, while the culture, in the face of journalists asking it to comment, declines.
Boat and Fish
To high Morro Rock, the Gibraltar
of the Pacific, an extinct volcano’s
limestone core standing in the small
bay, I went as a boy with my grandfather
and an older boy, grandchild of his friend,
to launch a simple boat, a piece of pine
with a paper sail. As the boy bent to the tide
pool and pushed his ship into the outgoing
current I saw the flicker of a four-inch
fish, yellow-silver, and pink. Gills to tail
it wore a flesh-colored sheath, thin skirt
with no scales, fluttering, a billowing
dress on a line. I knew the wounded perch
nearly bitten in half grew a new skin
more human than a fish’s, and the boat
sailed an ocean whose waters could kill
but would surely change us to something
stranger we’d have to become to live.
From the high brick steps
I spit a loquat pit that sprouted
a tall tree, by the big lizard’s
house and the horned toad’s
burrow. Near white Shasta
daisies strawberries I ate
grew in the fenced yard
with a thick hedge. At night
quail thrummed in their
sleep, safe from the dark
owl gliding from the blue
gum grove like a forest I
wandered in bad dreams.
Stormy days rain flowed
onto the window sills my
mother sopped with towels.
Mornings my father played
the radio on a glass shelf
in the breakfast nook I slept
in for a while. I listened to
ice hockey scores from back
East, always the Toronto Maple
Leaves like gold walnut leaves
in the slanting October light,
the bronze chrysanthemums’
dry blooms trying to bring
back summer before frost,
cold tule fog’s long century.
When we opened our family photo albums
after our parents had died, we were
confused: we didn’t recognize
anyone, not even ourselves. The houses
and vacation spots looked exactly as we
remembered, as did the pets and the cars
and the clothes the people in the pictures wore,
but the people themselves were strangers.
At the end of her life, my mother’s skin
was so thin she bruised when she spoke and even
when she was kissed, so we kissed the air
and blew it toward her the way they do
in old movies just as they’re leaving.
I can’t remember who you are, Michael,
she told me, though I know you are my son.
We held hands and looked at each other. Her hand
quivered its bones like a starving broken bird.
When I told her I loved her, I couldn’t meet her eyes.
...and I suddenly recall my childhood wish
to live invisibly, to close my eyes and not be seen.
When our coconut tree drops its fruit, the thud
startles us, whatever we’ve been doing, even
reading in the house with the windows closed,
even sleeping. So we go out to gather
the fallen coconuts; we marvel at their weight--
and we make sure we don’t stand directly beneath
the tree since it still holds a least a dozen
coconuts, too high to climb up and harvest--
and besides, to be honest, we really don’t know
how to crack them open, we haven’t the skill
with a machete. We also have a mango
and a cluster of bananas whose finger-length fruits
are most often eaten by squirrels or mystery
creatures before we even notice
they’re ripe. Sometimes, when it’s cool, we talk
of sleeping on the roof so we can smell the green life
growing around us while we dream, but we never do
though we keep the windows wide open when it’s cool
so the night noises will chatter inside us.
Once, in what seems another life now,
after sleeping outside on the porch of a cabin
in Maine, I found myself rowing across
the lake at dawn to a small beach that bordered
an abandoned apple orchard. Spider webs glistened
in the trees and tall grass, while the insects caught there
buzzed intermittently. The morning was cool
but I took off my clothes and waded into
the water, swam out a few strokes, stopped
and just hung there breathing; then I realized with a jolt
that felt like happiness: no one in the world
knew where I was, so I might as well have actually
disappeared. Did that thought draw the deer
that came as I floated there, that walked into the lake
as though I had called it
and swam out toward me,
panting loudly, moving quickly
for such a huge body? I could only hang there
naked and alone—
and then it swam right
by me, as though I were actually invisible,
close enough to touch. There were gnats in the corners
of its eyes. It swam off toward the other side
of the lake, where my family still slept. That’s when
I noticed the herd of deer amidst
the apple trees, standing in the tall grass, alert
and watching. We watched each other. Of course
they scattered as I swam in, so I climbed out and stood there
panting, naked and alone in the morning,
hungry for breakfast and yearning to live
for good in my animal body, realizing
from now on I’d always be a stranger in the world
of anything other than me--though of course
I’d known that forever, so to speak.
at the cabin my family was still sleeping,
so I sat there and listened to the day and their breathing
and wondered what they were dreaming. And then
I woke them one by one—the morning
was chattering with birds now and voices from the lake—
and we went out with our coffee and sat in the sun
and laughed with each other and felt grateful for our lives
and kept all our secrets alive inside
our bodies to roam in that wilderness silence
we’d never be able to enter ourselves--
furry, and hungry, and real.
...and then we saw a bear feasting on a carcass
on the far side of a field. I crouched to move closer
while you scowled are you crazy? But after all, how often
do you get to see a bear up close, and such a big one
rolling happily in the carcass of a moose, I imagined,
or a deer?
But then, as I turned to scowl back
at your scowling, the bear stood up, growling
as a man and then a woman, grunting clumsily, naked
and homely, and told us to leave them the fuck
alone. If I wanted to peep on lovers,
they said, go to the movies. But wait--
wasn’t that my colleague, the woman they’d just hired
to teach the Romantics, and wasn’t that the guy
from the Chemistry department? Well hey! Fancy meeting you
here! No harm done. Pretty soon they were dressed
and bushwhacking with us, talking of Wordsworth
and Blake, who would have taken his clothes off,
she said, and waded into the river
to commune with the trout. He loved rainbows she whispered
as the chemistry professor started quietly sobbing--
he’d felt great, he said,as a bear in those moments
we’d watched him, our fascination with his wildness
had made him feel wild and powerful, which
So I draped an arm around his shoulder
as we walked down the mountain; I admitted that I too
was a figment—on my best days--of my own wild
imagination. Then I asked if they’d want to
come to our cabin that evening to hoot
like owls and maybe practice flying, which we did
in a safe way, I assured them, by jumping up and down
until we felt dizzy. And they both said they’d love to,
thank you, but they couldn’t, maybe next time: They’d started
sensing prickles of coarse fur pushing
through their pores--a tingling they intended
to savor: they wanted to stroke each other
while they grew wild. They were bears, after all,
when they touched each other just right, when they let each other growl,
and they growled at us, laughing, as they walked off toward the trees...
On Neiffer Road, a well. Near the back woods
that led to the creek no one went but me, a child
on my way to sweep the dried leaves from paths
that circled around the tall trees. What water
did my mother drink as she became with child
once again, this time unexpected? What water
we pour, pour from. Each time my grandfather
dunked into the pit he sledged and siphoned
pebble, rock, grain. On a big rock, I witnessed
his leathery skin. I would say each day it grew
more taut but you wouldn’t believe the tightness
grew by the hour, the minute. Well, sweep
the kitchen floor once more, my mother does,
to keep him under wraps, his own mapped
and bandaged time. What crumbs we discovered
under the arching cabinet tops, as if someone
were living a life of waste. Waste not, want not.
Want not, taste. Taste the time we drove early
through the mist to do nothing but drink
the dew coming off the air’s open cup, the fog
at that place. My God. If I could ever go back,
I would be a little girl again and unable to change
anything. I realize that now. I realize that, well,
I could sweep the whole memory of it away
and late nights as I lay down to dream near double
the age I once had been it lives like a sinkhole
in my aging body, my body a vessel to well
in and sweep and well in and sweep and well.
Autodidact In A Wet Habitat
You needed more than one software system
Since major problems require global solutions
With image analysis tools. You turned your
Life over to algorithms and sold your shares
In the company before you decided to track
Rogue drones. Though irrigation controls
Ancón's drought, radar can't distinguish
Between birds and planes, but she said
What hurt the most so, when it was
Over, you married an heiress who had
Sensitive hearing and ran a blog—a
Source of fake news in a post-fact world.
It would shame you to send an app
To neighbors or friends while hotspots in the
River flood bogs on the mountain managed
By the tribal council. You wrote boredom
Poems in the absence of networks—
Programming foreign capital and
Fantasy games when she saw you in Volcán
Where you don't fit in since you make
Bad choices and hate the tropics, but there
Is no place in the New World you'd rather be.
So there you were, saying we’d go to hell
because my brother kissed his boyfriend on
the lips. You tried to cover your eyes. We’d
just stepped from what we call church, not your cup
of tea, I suppose, your red shriek stopping
movement on the sidewalk, your daughter’s small
furry muff and matching hat made not from
a rabbit but most likely a cat kept
in a cage all its life, bred to be skinned.
When I lie on my left side, I feel my heart beat
against the inside of my ribcage,
one lung smaller than the other to make room
for the heart—
as if there is too much of something in my system,
my blood thick with magnesium.
As a ribbon holds a page in a book, the feeling
of my core vibrating keeps me in my place—
It makes a sound
like a fist on a door,
my vision unreliable. People disappear when I close
and reopen my eyes—
I see you and then I don’t
and when I do again you have the cold white skin of your winter self,
like that photograph I have of you in the black-framed glasses,
the one with the train in the background where you have
blood in your
I am a child
I am incubating at 125°,
the heat growing and strengthening my limbs
hardly able to breathe in the humidity,
the sides and top of a tent bent inward with water
Our blankets wet with the condensation of hot plants
Paper bags scattered on the ground
outside the zippered door
Animal feet press into moist morning dirt like
smoke signals from the lake
There are mosquitoes and plastic bags
of blueberries and granola
Four people with aluminum foil over a hot fire
Heat turns to cold in the night
As my body grows in the warmth,
the animals scavenge for food
If I am born, the trees will take care of the rest
I pray to what I imagine is a face,
a kind of body like mine,
lips and skin that turn
blue without breath
My wings are soft, the orange-red color of foxtail
(and) I feel frail,
hollow as the sticks and glue that hold
the wings of birds together
As my home, I gather grass of many colors,
a crunch like lightbulbs underfoot
Sometimes I want to know—
Why is it so hard?
Why our anatomy?
Why study things that fail?
I pray to what I imagine is a chemist
If I die, I think my chest, the frame
that holds it all in, will become an artifact,
like the remains of animals deep in water,
the dust of bird feet,
hollow bones—frail oxygen
Requiem Mass in D minor: I. Introitus (Club Remix)
I am pouring this drink, and I am preempting
the commemoration of my death. The light
hits me. I’m going toward it. I’m not sorry.
I throw an apology in the offering plate anyway.
I heard men like women who pretend to give
all they have. The one I have in mind won’t answer
his phone. I up the ante: I’ve got a bottle of perfume
to waste. Give me your feet. I’ll blow your mind.
Now’s not the time to be discreet. My mom
would want even my disembodied soul to marry.
It won't have the heart to tell her that in hell,
all they do is fuck. This bar smells wet, and everyone
is half-unbuttoned. God collected all his failed
attempts at chest hair and cleavage and locked
us in here. I swallow whatever’s in my hand
too quickly to taste it. My thinning blood sets
the plagues in motion. I'm the firstborn. Lamb’s blood
on the doorframe of the guy I’m going home with
isn’t going to do much. Better enjoy what little time
I have before I sober up. Anyway every bed
is an open casket. This guy doesn't even know
what I look like alive. I pull out all the stops:
double-coat of mascara and minimal pubes.
I want to be topless for the viewing. My piercings
are immortal. Look at me. I get my way and still
want to die. Everyone in the church is grinding to
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
World without end. Amen. Amen. I’m propped up
next to this guy staying true to his promise to hold
a lighter to my blue lips. We hot box my coffin.
I’m so high everyone thinks they’ve prayed me
into heaven. Okay. God side-eyes to the camera.
God sips his tea. God pretends not to hear a thing.
Lord, have some fucking mercy.
Christ, don’t make me repeat myself.
I can’t catch a break. My life is so easy.
That’s how church works, right?
I pray for a new car, a boyfriend,
and Africa. I can’t find Moldova
on a map, but we’re sending
money to children there. My mom
says blessed because she bought
leather boots. Once, I made
a Facebook status about white
privilege. It saved the world.
I go braless, and I say bitch.
That’s how feminism works.
I’m reclaiming this shit.
I wear lipgloss for me. I wish
I had bigger tits. For me.
I fucked the patriarchy
before it could fuck me.
I have quite a few opinions.
I’m not wearing any panties.
My asshole is very correct.
I hang out at the country club.
I talk about how racist
all the other members are.
All my friends are white.
We go to brunch for the mimosas.
We’re all on antidepressants.
We store our doses in mason jars.
We go shopping when we’re stressed,
which is a lot. We say I’m broke.
I loudly dislike children, and daydreamed
about marrying my one-night stand.
I like to keep things casual.
There’s no such thing as a slut
unless we're fucking the same guy.
I’m not religious, but I meditate.
I say things like zen and nirvana.
I do yoga. I know nothing
about Buddhism. I know everything
that’s wrong with Christianity.
I know some Spanish
and listen to all Shakira’s albums.
I read Jane Austen novels, and I relate
to the female protagonists. I thumb
through a few beauty magazines.
I’m not as pretty as the women
in them, but they all look like me.
I don’t think anything of it.
I’m sinning, and it’s convenient.
I’m sinning in ways no one thinks are sins.
I’m sinning, but don't call me out.
I’m so fragile. Just have mercy on me.
I no longer write in pen.
My SAT scores were above average
but not perfect. I rooted
for George Bush (the first one)
in school. I’ve only voted in two elections
but I’m undefeated.
In soccer I was never undefeated.
I have excellent pen-
manship, but given the election
I’d choose to read. An average
day for me in school was one
I didn’t remember, rooting
for the football team, or rooting
to go home early. They were undefeated
too many. I owned a Zebra pen.
It was average.
My friend was elected
president of seven clubs. The elections
were rigged. I rooted
for him because the law of averages
predicted his inevitable defeat.
He wanted to be a dictator, and gave pens
to his supporters. I had one,
it said: “Max Power for President”—one
of his names for himself in the elections.
They were cheap—the pens—
but worked. I would have rooted
for someone else to defeat
him but the other candidates were average.
The entire town was average,
really. The one
good thing was pizza. The undefeated
football team a year later elected
to lose—or so it seemed. I rooted
for their collapse, and melted the pens
at a boring, average party after the elections,
one my friend hosted, on charred roots.
In his undefeated glory, he looked like William Penn.
During the time between wars,
my father took trumpet lessons
in a studio perched
above the Coca-Cola sign
in Times Square. He rode the train
from Huntington with his trumpet
secure in its fake alligator case.
Harry James was blasting the clubs
in Harlem. The Huntington boys
stood at the door, rocking on their heels.
Dad grew a pencil-thin moustache, wore
a blue jacket, a loosened tie. Every Friday
he soloed at the all-school assembly.
Once he sat in with the Long Island Symphony.
Even after Korea,
he blew smoky improvisations
alone in our basement. At length,
he passed his five-dollar horn
to his son for grade school band,
but I was embarrassed by the ratty case, the dents,
the lack of shine on its antique bell.
Surrounded by sparkling Conns and Reveres,
I learned to clear the spit valve,
bleated in the back row,
favored the mute.
Having woken from a night’s sleep,
that common expectation,
I am calmed, even cheered in this
November darkness as I read a while
among the enduring voices of poets passed.
An hour later it is my own time
and face in the mirror as I shave,
on one side of the sand-speckled basin
a ceramic mermaid--bare-breasted,
one arm elbowed out, hand behind her head--
a whimsical moment arranged by my wife
who still dreams.
Silence gives way
to the paper carrier’s stop and go,
headlights ghosting fog…in my mind’s eye
his arm extended…overhead, trees whispering
their wrinkled pages, writ and tossed…
the living room not yet troubled by human news.
A few days after the Fourth, scorched tubes
litter the road, their rockets spent across
thirty acres of six-foot stalks swollen with ears
sweetened by a good measure of sun
and rain. In previous years it was soybeans
hugging the ground, a ragged growth beset
by drought and insects, not as camera worthy
as this Sunday morning walk prolific with chicory,
corn, and Queen Anne’s lace. A developer’s
write-off, biding his time while the folks
of Stoutes Creek Road hold their collective breath,
expecting yet another addition where the church
of field and sky prevails. And may it remain so,
the pleasure of this parcel’s delayed future,
its deepening green stippled with dew,
tassels rich with pollen under a blue dome
thickening to cumulus, cars and trucks
crunching out of driveways, neighbors nodding
or waving to the old guy down on his knees,
aiming his camera, whatever it is he sees.
Not the poetic murder nor the common flock.
More like a legion, a skirl of crows
returning at dusk to roost silhouetted
in trees lit by the courthouse clock,
time conscious birds befouling the night,
a toss of feathers floating slo-mo into the mix.
8 a.m., the sidewalk a canvas of drip and splash.
Pollock, he mutters, cursing, tiptoeing
office bound while others take to the street,
preferring the risk of rush-hour traffic,
crows already up and out, gleaming
sun-oiled in the work of a twelve-hour day.
Gig at Sidewalk in New York
how to spot a musician: drunk, he loses his legs
before he loses his sublime musical dexterity.
i say to him, there's an extra level of energy
in the city, a living with wolves.
6000 basted band stickers intimidate
the ammonia barrel in the bathroom of the bar.
shots of vodka. pulls off blunts. adrenaline
kicks red bull in the balls.
sultry, vulpine chick bends guitar, breathes fire,
persuades hearts to hang out and order more.
i say to her, i dreamt of you alone
in a market weighing clementine oranges.
feedback delayed by reverb and herb, evan williams
bourbon turbochased by tums and bayer,
the mirror a little grayer, songs rip
layers of smog, fried pain and carbon dioxide,
exercising liberties in the context of cops,
listening to the mortality of the city
bulldozed, buried and built again.
Birth is an ugly thing.
The labor grinds like a stuck clock.
Pain immolates the person you love most
and you can’t do anything
except remind her to breathe
and she screams into your eyes
as if you caused it.
Masked faces gawk at intimate moments.
Instruments are smeared with numbers.
Poop snakes out, and the episiotomy gushes like red oil.
Birth is an ugly thing
until her tightest push
jellies the baby past the pelvis,
and that new creature appears
fresh as the day
that water first caught the sun’s flash.
Then you tuck that little joey under your chin—
its tiny fingers already grappling yours—
and hold that beating body,
suddenly you feel so strange—
as if you actually belong to this world.
There are already more humans on earth than seconds in a century
but enough children are born every day
to populate Miami or Belfast
The oceans fill up like forgotten bathtubs
and it won’t be long
before Siberian tigers live only inside rectangles
but those in love still make babies
There are cities you’ve never even heard of
with over a million people
and parents snug their newborns in soft folded cotton
Block after block
of apartment towers are smashed together
with no thought where all the glass and steel will end up
Goodnight mittens Goodnight moon
We treat this planet like teenage boys joyriding a stolen Chevy
and parents still lift their babies gently from their cribs and press
their cheeks to their cheeks
The New Warriors
arm themselves with prosthetics,
their old limbs long gone, blasted,
shattered or lopped off then stacked
in blanched & bleached hillocks
to rest & roast in the noonday heat
if not crushed in the beak of a carrion
bird or witnessed by a romantic,
latter-day Whitman. Now, bionic
limbs live on, limbs with death
grips, limbs ready to read
neurons & nerve impulses,
limbs able to scatter & scare
the living daylights out of kids in
cancer wards, limbs designed for hyper-
extension & nonstop lovemaking
in mind, limbs for the touching
& the touching up that gets closer
to the art of touching, limbs craving
with artful plasticity the long-
yearned-for revisit to the scene of a crime,
the just & righteous vengeance & yet
another chance to pull the hair trigger
that's been an itching phantom
for years without any relief in sight,
without any belief in a final, testing
ground of will power. Thus a new war
is nothing more than a remembrance
of all old wars ever waged as we end
up trading arms with those we once knew
as our dearest, our best of enemies.
The vase across the room,
The one before the window,
Is checking you out,
Giving you the old once over.
This one happens to be a bud vase,
Holding a single rose
With a slender neck and a curious face.
The rose is whispering to the vase.
It sounds like the sea
Sliding along an old wooden wharf
On a Mediterranean island.
Or the west side of Manhattan on a moonless night.
No matter how hard we try
We can still see the shepherd and shepherdess in the meadow,
And the sheep with their ironic half smiles,
Terrifying in their contentment.
Earlier a sudden shower.
They took shelter in a shed.
We watched through the window.
But none of this appears on the plate.
Which is blue and of a set.
The handle is something like wood.
But not quite. Something more elusive.
You take it in hand.
You look at yourself in the mirror.
This is the you
Who looks at himself in the mirror.
Who decided how a brush must be used?
For sure, it wasn’t you.
You aim the brush at the shower curtain
You got me you cry out,
And stretch your arms dramatically,
And fall to your knees
In the dusty street.
What does the loaf want?
It signals to its neighbor,
And its neighbor nods.
It sighs acceptance.
Of what, we can only surmise.
We feel uneasy carrying it home,
Its head peering over
The top of the shopping bag.
Dogs as dogs have been
Lycaons in unison behave like canine bands, those random insouciant packs of farm or kraal dogs or strays
Wild dog, hunting dog, painted hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, lycaon, licaon, once all over Africa south of the Sahara
Bizarre pelage of red, black, brown, white, yellow, big rounded ears, blotchy marbled coats, white tufted tails, black powerful muzzles, the adults over fifty pounds, long legged with four-toed feet
Prey located by sight, approached stealthily then chased for ten minutes or much longer at speeds of over fifty kph
Frequently disemboweling their prey while running
Bolting their kill, regurgitating to pups, deferring to old or injured members of the pack
But no aggression toward the others, amicable and helpful within the pack except when rival females occasionally fight for breeding rights
And wild dogs will attack hyenas trying to intrude on kills
“Some creatures pass by and don’t return” (John Kinsella)
An overwhelming sense of well-being driving slowly through the bush in Botswana snaking along on a sandy track in an open safari car with savvy people under fair-weather cumulus in clean air flushing in on high from South America across the whole South Atlantic and the dry Kalahari
Frequently the monumental profiles of an elephant herd feeding near the horizon, zebras in the middle distance, perhaps a jackal or a bat-eared fox or small antelopes in close, and raptors soaring in wide turns below the drifting cumuli
The most distant raptor low toward the horizon Spencer says is a martial eagle and the other two both African hawk eagles
Spencer reads profiles and probabilities as soundly as any university-educated natural scientists, knows everything about what we see, and seemingly he misses nothing
He is from Francistown far to the east on the Zimbabwe border, has been guiding for two decades without going stale
The old naturalist’s adage about observing the exceptional about every forty minutes is halved or quartered with Spencer
As days on safari accumulate, the wonders turn up more and more and sometimes are nearly matter-of-fact, but that would not be the case without guides like Spencer
Out at daybreak from Lagoon Camp and in the days before from Little Kwara, move slowly and soon sight either giraffes, elephants, impalas or reedbucks, and what at first was amazing becomes normal and predictable
Perhaps something vivid and unique that evokes gasps once or twice an hour, coming up on what’s left of a kill, a boomslang in the branches over a waterhole attempting to raid a southern masked weaver colony’s nests, a mother of any of dozens of species with her young, another huge eagle on perch, and the elephants, always the elephants
The lions, the cheetahs, crocodiles, sinister boomslangs, lofty giraffes, zebra herds, wonderfully delicate antelopes
And the constant presence of birds
The galvanic fascination with the fast-changing habitat across savanna high ground to swamp, to woodland, and then and always back through the bushveld again
A monoculture in sheltered mopane woodlands, mysteriously parklike with strangely quiet and narrower birdlife than in the forest plentitude of species in the Amazon’s várzea or the northeastern North American Piedmont and Appalachians
Mopane’s serene bareness in from the constant edginess of the bush, and it is the hardest wood in southern Africa, pit braces, railroad ties
Out of the shade back in the acacia savanna a pair of batteleurs on perch just twenty meters off, yet another kind of eagle, chestnut, gray, black plumage mildly evoking the calico-cat patchy pelage of the wild dogs
Generally traveling on sand, hardpan or swampy tracks except when Spenser drives the car into thickets or high grass to follow game or investigate what is or may be going on
Just in case, each safari car has, secured below the guide’s seat which is the driver’s seat, a high-caliber rifle
In tall grass on the way back into Lagoon Camp we slowly come up on mating leopards
Spenser had noticed jackals moving in, meaning probably the remains of a kill, meaning maybe lions or a leopard
In close the leopards broke from almost beside us and flashed into a thicket beside a kopje, they moved explosively
And coming back to Lagoon next evening in the dark just after sundown we saw a single leopard, Bate on his tracker’s perch off the left front fender spotlighting, as is done in New Hampshire for moose
Its eerie green eye shine, its jaguarlike rosette marked flanks, the deep black spots on its limbs vivid like pools of the night into which it eventually vanished as we followed it into heavy brush
With a lot of travel in the African bush twice before years ago had never glimpsed a leopard and both times here I could have reached down out of the car to almost touch one
Cheetahs are easier to run across, and more passive in human presence
A couple of times we watched two cheetah brothers who hunt and live together near Lagoon out in the open as they lounged on a hummock like two big dogs on the lawn
After minutes of staring at them and their own strange, high-fashionesque small-headed looking-into-the-far-distance gaze they would stalk off stiff-leggedly as if in disdain, one behind the other, brothers as brothers are
A half dozen elephants of various ages and sizes feeding through camp walking where they wanted to right across Lagoon Camp one afternoon in siesta, crunching away the way circus elephants do eating hay, and seemingly oblivious to us in our tents
Namibia’s Caprivi Strip thirty meters away across the limpid, green Kwando River
And the hippos, anywhere with enough water for them to hide themselves submerged, in the big vleis, in the rivers, in the arms of the delta itself, to come out only at night to roam for substantial distances foraging in the dark
Hippos in the hippo pool by Lake Nakuru in Kenya years ago at the exact late afternoon beginning of the seasonal rains
The red-pink inside their rounded huge coal-scuttle jaws even showed through the sheeting rain, their gappy plug teeth, and the bellowing, bellowing, bellowing, beseeching the elements in pure joy for more rain when a dozen or more of them began bellowing in unison as the deluge began
So many things African are impossible to know anywhere else
The snouted cobra in my work room on the mountain in Swaziland, in through the ground level broken window, that I moved out the same way with a long-handled shovel at wrapped-in-a-blanket arm’s length
The quizzical faces of the samango monkeys coming in at dawn out of the kloof up Sheba’s Breasts behind that Swaziland house to raid the feral pawpaw grove
The longer-than-a-meter, did not see it well, monitor lizard that took me down with a swing of its heavy tail, clipping me behind the knees while standing obliviously taking a leak in the grass off the Great North Road in Zambia
The snakes, the crocodiles, the multitude of geckos, the exotic insects and their marvelous sounds, the birds
Hammerkops landing dramatically on the bottom of the Swaziland house’s empty swimming pool to stab and gulp down clawed fogs (Xenopus) there for the water trickle on the blue-painted bottom
Pangolins rattling across the yard of the house in Tanzania at night as bushbabies (spectacled galagos) trundled across on a wire above, balancing like gray squirrels do on telephone and electric wires
That piercing strangeness of bushbabies grunt-yapping and yapping screeching in the Tanzanian silent Indian Ocean night
Magical, bizarre and magnificent
Now Botswana’s radiant birds
Brown snake eagles with their yellow eyes, creamy white legs that on perch stood out like elegant little pillars
Wahlberg’s eagles, the most common of the half dozen eagle species
The redbilled and the yellowbilled oxpeckers riding the big grazing animals frequently high up feeding on the shoulders and necks working toward their ears, and on down their legs and flanks if at rest
The profusion of birds background for the safari drama of hooves, tossing manes, bursting speed, blood, dust and large-scale carnivore pursuit
The diminutive passerines and even the doves, drongos and small raptors dwarfed in the brilliant and dramatic light and weather
Birds are the only live element that is unchanged and the only expansively wild creatures that we notice other than squirrels and rabbits, deer, in most of our metropolitan world
Birds in full variety in the African bush are omnipresent as a kind of minor key
Everywhere there the ambience of the birds
Almost that there is too much else in the African savanna with the huge animals and the others that trail them
Like the white rhino cow and calf trotting off over a ridge off the Zambezi on the Zambian side near Livingston on the way out of the Okavango
The mother with two oxpeckers bouncing along on her neck, the calf with the charmingly dopey and compliant look rhino calves have
Too much else, like the animal smell from the dust itself when the first big drops splatter at the start of a hard afternoon shower
Off to the west from where most of the heavy lightning storms come to the wide Okavango is the Kalahari, the great western desert of Africa’s south where the San have thrived for more than a hundred thousand years
All over southern Africa the San’s click-languages, the first people of all
And their serene diffidence is a quality of that part of Africa’s special case
San squint-eyed physiognomy is as ubiquitous there as blondness is in Scandinavia, small stature in South Asia, as obesity in the wealthy world
The San with their camp dogs, dogs as dogs, that have always been
Catafulques? Undecorated, it was the south, it came out the back kitchen door
The child hung back.
Jam Jars for winter stood on a sill
The sorcery of sunlight in a poor kitchen:
Everything about it poor, the cupboards, the splintered chairs
One cannot count on sympathy.
One of us wants to lie low
One to go to Starwars, mind you, at the university.
Dragging their cart of coals, fatigue, along the pony lumbers
The woman remembers
She buried her dead birds all in shoeboxes by the barn:
Little wren, and here was English robyn.
There on the to her sing was her first canary. They all came to grief, singing.
Swinging my body up by standing on tiptoes and pulling myself over a branch circled by muscular hands. Back down on earth
What is phosphorous
Is earth, the curb of one half so
Raising his childbody on one elbow
Giving in to hunger
He would cry
But not in the manner of David’s beautiful figures on the season
The dubious condition
Of childhood in need.
While meantime round the corner come Jeeze songs, hymns up the ladder & down. Soprano at top alto the lowest the child rung can reach.
Scribes, bent over, spine-aching scholars
Poems of air are slowly rising: in blowing diagonal snow inscribing us lie the ancient text, we so bookstores, rammed with many colors, a kaleidoscope of people we know & do not know turning page; one dog barks:
Night turns it all into an engraving.
In the dress shop, where we buy a black one, One black turtleneck dress, we always buy black,
& in the jewelers. Morganite takes your eye
Pears take mine & spill them round
A heavy snow fills valleys
And in the indelible dark comes train inches away from the house that bird.
All are mute.
Despite all the colorful and beige inscriptions none will speak a word, an integer of thought
No bird will since
Beside the house that is a hull
Save for the carcass of the dog no longer barking
All out of Brueghel
Or London’s Thames the historic winter it froze over
After a big loss, you’re drawn to things intuitively;
For her it was goshaws. Some considered them a feathered bullet.
Sky is the color of tea-stained paper.
Goshawks are born with blue eyes
And finally the color of chimney smoke.
So lurking beneath the love the wonder
Will this city come up like bubbles from a diver?
Like the Great Slave Lake Ukraine:
Branches of snow, how would they hold their lace under water
Lapping, curling, waving
Waves peaking to the height of a house?
Then they fall back down.
I turn the key I the lock to one door of a small circular city in Ukraine
A thousand years ago
Snow is blowing like white film, smoke, dust
I wait my turn, lyrics, balanced collected in my hand, my little grey cells
As sweets at the bottom of the jam
On the kitchen shelf. The final breakaway from finitude occurs only after the Second world war.
(Tomas transtromer” “Now , as I tell you/ of the Emperor”)
Cleared by the snow, ivory palaces
One can marry the moon
But the snow has a will of her own.
You can feel on top of it all
Even though you’re at the bottom:
Think of all wartime minerals: plus fuels: coal
Copper, tin, steel
Ride astride a creature of the mind
I walked the space of my hymn-shaped room sparrows, small sparks
Along the rim of a black rail outside the room
The rail I rode toward the Lord had been broken
Open to leave a clean space & shining.
And when the room
Should no more be
When, Lord, I come to die
All will be trim staked;
Soul to sever from body.
Not long like a row of concert goes to Schubert’s trout quintet.
Circling it hard orbs of cold
Containing echoes of all I had even spoke
The pipe held in vise.
Landscape circled it too
Thrilling water so chill
It contained a series of sorrows, tears.
Sky was Quaker brown.
Ozone sharpened. A freeze was coming
But now in between
Trusting my instrument I let it ice over
Like the heart in the body locked in
But still the silver sides mirror
All the grievances of a long lifetime blown up like a bird against glass.
after Mia Avramut
In this elbow of the world
everything seems to be as it should.
The stubborn daylight that still faintly clings
to the many rooftops attests to this clearly,
and the men and women of the city seem
to have satisfaction woven into their stylish clothes.
I look through the windows of a passing trolley
and can see my friends at work and play in America.
I’m tempted to cross the canal to the park,
pick up a fallen branch and scratch on the sky
‘I’ll be returning soon’ and not worry whether they’re
ready or not to welcome me back.
In the darkest part of the bar we gather
to plot to save the world.
If only our leaders listened and had
the conviction to implement our ideas,
brilliance born among an array of beers.
Hanging on the wall right above us
is the dim lit framed black and white photo
of JFK who appears more sad than pensive,
his spirit probably realizing his mistakes,
the Bay of Pigs on his lips no matter the times
he dreams of dancing in Camelot.
When one of us finally succumbs to the hours
of drinking we decide to call it a night.
En masse we tumble outside, our steps trudging
along on a sidewalk made silver by a big, bright
moon and a sentinel of streetlights.
“I love America,” one of us says—“Yes, yes, yes,
sleep on it, sleep on it,” says another as we make
our way holding on for dear life, strengthened
by the wisdom of how much the Republic needs us.
I Said That We Should Stay
Even after some animal instinct sent our dog running madly
into the woods on our first night there, leaving only slushy prints
for us to follow through the swamp, I said that we should stay.
He came back later, and I considered this the more important sign.
After dinner, Lewis came upstairs to tell us what he meant
when he said Church: a ragtag group of East Village urbanites
that came on weekends to the farm to lash together shelters under trees
and arrange the rocks in spiritually conducive patterns
before smoking themselves senseless with whatever
the latest shaman prescribed, which was all to say, I think,
he considered themselves to be a generally harmless group of individuals.
For the most part he was right, the closest we ever came to harm being
the time a burly tattooed vegan activist showed up at our house
when we were out and stood waiting by his Jeep for our return
having driven three plus hours to convince us not to eat
the pig we raised ourselves on local grain which had become
somehow the latest project of the local PETA chapter.
After weeks of paranoia there were no brawls, no abductions,
nothing we could point to and say, “this was the moment
at which our lives became unlivable.” Instead that came from me,
when I told you that you could leave without me and the mason
jar of our relationship cracked neatly at the base
and spilled out all that we had stored, which by then had turned
to mostly botulism, anyway. We filled our days with enough
tomatoes and garden weeds and cover crop to pretend
that we were moving forward but at night we feared the angry wasps
that crawled all summer through our walls to sting us in the dark.
Lewis and his followers often spoke of portals. They sat in circles
pounding drums and wailing in the room above us while we tried
to sleep. I think they knew how the wasps got in. I think they knew
how to point to something and say it did not exist, like the moon,
or the news, or maybe a whole year. When I finally fell asleep each night
I dreamed of dog tracks in the snow and woke up wondering
if you had followed them. If they would circle in the swamp forever.
When more than one person rises to speak
at my Grandpa’s funeral about how
he liked to read the book “Go, Dogs, Go!”
to us grandkids, and how often he would
quote it – “I do not like your hat!” – I know
what they mean is that he was a curmudgeon.
And though we all believed he was capable
of love, he really did not like our hats. Still,
he made us wooden toys when we were young.
Trains with creamy curves and linking cars, tight
wooden axle wheels, piggy banks
with moving parts and oak blocks in the old style:
Heavy, solid, massive enough to build
a fortress from. These last few years he’d
ask about my outdoor exploits and my
my marital status, always making sure
that I was catching fish and cooking them
for Mimi in the cast iron Dutch oven
he gave me one spring, complete with a
camp cook’s manual. This was his idea of love:
Boy Scout studies book. Boy Scout gets badge.
Boy Scout catches fish. Boy Scout woos woman.
Which is why my dad makes the joke at the
reception. The one about him never
having seen my Grandpa kiss his wife.
The one where saying “I do not like your hat,
I do not like your hat, I do not like
your hat,” means “I’m very glad to see you,”
and the one where he’d check Mimi’s hand
for a ring, with a wink, every time we’d visit.
Brief Remarks by the Deceased
I was not always so quiet,
As you may perhaps recall.
I used to be a fidgety man,
quick-tongued and sharp,
likely to appear anywhere,
the nearly carefree companion,
almost at ease in the raucous crowd.
But for years now, a stillness has been growing in me.
A legacy from my father, that silent man, bequeathed with a look,
Aided by the loss of youth, the losses of middle age.
More and more of my words were spoken in my head alone,
Or written in halting, broken lines like these.
So my silence, you see, like death itself,
Is simply a logical conclusion.
I will take no questions, for I have no answers.
If there is a new world beyond my eyelids,
I have yet to see it.
I believe that I will use my stillness, as I used to do,
To melt slowly into the landscape
And, once forgotten, to see if revelations,
Like birds, approach me through the trees.
What I Might Write to My Mother
Nineteen years is how
a lie gets disguised as over it.
Where did you go? After all
this cold river melt downstream
I miss you most when one daughter
flicks her wrist just so and her sister borrows
your pretty legs to kick beneath
her short black skirt.
I just got middle-aged—
tiny, intricate webs,
my smile’s sad afterimage.
And suddenly—the way you left—spring
starts up like that Sunday morning in April—
all ache and blossom, church bells,
your inconsolable daughters.
And what then, Mom, what?
Dazzled awake by 5 o’clock sunlight,
clear spirals of water clean him aware
in the shower. The mirror warps
and magnifies his daydream shaving.
Coffee steams in a paper cup
as he drives to the job, one arm out
the window, hot black cloud of smoke
rattling the muffler, words about patriotism
peeling off the bumper.
His life feels like the residue of bad economics
but it doesn’t slow him down at the yellow light.
There’s a girl in the Cadillac showroom office
whose sweet crooked smile yanks him from the margins
every single time he punches in.