Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vacation Reel

A hint of yellow around every edge
and white scratches like shooting stars
but my god, you, stepping out of our ’56 Ford
and onto the beach, you slipping out of your shoes,
the wind filling your hair and there
from behind your skirt a little girl with matching face,
just-walking, falling to the sand, brushing off
and running crying from the waves
and into your arms to be twirled high
in the air, your lips saying look, look
at daddy but mostly the way you looked at me,
then, as if to say, see what you’ve done, and what’s more
if you’re good we’ll do it again just maybe
and oh I was very very good.

And did you know at the time—does anyone
know?—that this would be your best time,
that your smile would never again be so true,
those legs, flashing in and out of sight,
never so inviting, so quick to dance, this 8-millimeter
life now swimming in amber would taste
the sweeter year after year even as and because
we would so soon stop believing in such summers,
flickers of doubt finding their way
into your eyes, captured by a single frame or two
but all the more painful to watch now
for all your trying then, your impossibly red lips
and bleached-out hands blowing kisses
willy-nilly into the wind?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


It’s not so much a heaviness,
the oppressive weight of wet wool;
instead, it’s as though my molecules
are moving outward from the center,
mimicking the universal flight
from the Big Bang—though I hear
how grandiose that sounds.

It’s just that the edges become indistinct
and you may begin to see the busy streetlife
right through me, in patches
of color and noise and volition.  And soon
I am mixing with the pollen of elms,
the billion billion motes of skin cells
catching fire in the afternoon.

So when I tell you it is almost painful
to see that precariously pregnant young woman
climb the steps to her brownstone, hear
the cans of olives and jars of ragu
clatter and shatter against the wrought iron
because some idiot failed to double-bag,
and that now here I am stooping to help,

here I am cursing bag boys the world round, insisting
that she (Antonia) sit; when I tell you I can actually feel
my joints re-knitting, cells lining up again
with their proper organelles, feel gravity
pulling on these coalescing and corporeal tissues—
you will understand, perhaps, that I am not altogether
happy to be back, but I am here.

(from New Ohio Review, 2009)

Monday, May 22, 2017


Everyone just calls me Tom.  It’s late afternoon
so the CNA pushes me into my spot
in the dayroom, facing away from the television,
and they tie dishtowels around our necks
because dinner will be here soon.  Not soon enough
for that guy with the wrinkled tattoos, in his spot
across the room, who always yells for his food
until the nurses say, like they always do,
they’ll bring it when they bring it. 

And not before this girl from hospice
with the big red heart on her badge asks
if she can visit with me, maybe read a book, do I like to read. 
The best I can do now is mumble “pilots,”
meaning I wouldn’t mind hearing about the days
and the planes I used to fly in—navy fighter, WWII,
San Francisco—but she only gets “pirates”
from my muttering and finds a battered Treasure Island
on the shelf somewhere and starts in, page after page
—doing all the voices, too— probably imagining
she’s all but allowed me to smell the sea air, feel
like a kid again.  But this half smile is only

me waiting for it to stop, wondering
if dinner will come soon and when
will they let me sleep and could I
lift my arms to strangle her?

(Pebble Lake Review, 2006)

Sunday, May 21, 2017


She said she had seen me in church
clear as day, dressed in my best suit,
and she was sure it was a sign
I would be coming back soon,
sitting next to her in the pew again.
So I said, “No, mom, that vision
is more about you than me,” and she,
after a quiet minute picking at her sleeve,
dispassionately, like this was a blind date
gone wrong, “Then I guess we have
nothing more to talk about.”

So there it is.  That’s the line
you always wonder about, the one
that begins to fray as soon as the DNA
has played itself out, the real crack
that ends up breaking her back. 
But what had we ever had to talk about,
really?  She didn’t get Narnia or Macbeth
or divorce, and I was mystified by Mormons
and Reader’s Digest and the little smile on her face
all the way through Cops.

For another ten years I would praise
her Christmas hams and cherry tortes
and she would try to set me up
with the nice receptionist at her doctor’s office,
and though we didn’t say it—would never speak
of it again—both of us knew
something had broken.  It would show up
in her eyes, occasionally, then more and more
until some Sunday visit, sitting next to her
by the dayroom window, it becomes clear that look
will never leave—the one that says you could be,
you are, any stranger off any street—and that now,
young man, one warm cup of Postum
and the TV Guide will entirely suffice.

(from Pebble Lake Review, 2006)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Schrodinger's Wife

The first time Galileo’s figures came out wrong—or right—
the morning after that first night when the truth
in planetary orbits he has tracked across the sky for months
dawns on him like the irresistible phases of the moon
so that walking out the door and into the bustling marketplace
the very earth shifts beneath his feet, he can no longer look his neighbors
in the eye, and there seems no place to hide
from the sun—something like that.  I know,

I know: wave-particle duality; the bending of space and time; uncertainty.
Still, I was not entirely naïve, having dealt in due course with both gravity
and God, so how did I not see it coming—more,
how did I not imagine, knowing my own perfidious, quantum soul
that you would have it in you, too?  And how futile my wish
to know your position and your speed—only a fool would ask
so much.  As it turns out, not only had others observed you leaving
your hypothetical box, but they will swear you were happy, and not alone.

(Green Mountains Review, 2005)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Raccoons in the Chimney

I noticed that the raccoons in the chimney
responded to Homer Simpson’s voice.
Before I could determine, though,
whether they were frightened or pleased to hear
predator or kin, or just annoyed by the sound—
and you know I would have, too; I was all set
to go Discovery Channel on them, to run elaborate experiments
involving a Skinner box, amplitude modulation,
t-test analyses, and maybe saliva—the phone rang

And it was my son.  Which was a little weird
because he hardly ever calls anymore.
The phone calls stopped about the same time
he announced he wouldn’t be able to come down much
anymore, at least not regularly like he had, every other weekend
for fifteen years.  It’s not like I didn’t understand—hell,
what did I think of my father, at his age?
He has a girlfriend, a job and a band, for chrissakes. 
Oh, it was to tell me about a new gig

That he phoned, a real gig, he called it, and sure
I’ll be there, I said, why wouldn’t I? you know I’m a rocker
from way back.  By the time I got back to the TV, however,
the raccoons had gone quiet, even though Homer had Bart
in a chokehold and was yelling at him like it was the end of the world. So perhaps there’s nothing to it.

(Green Mountains Review, 2005)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Razing

After all this time, it should not have been a surprise;
it was, after all, unlivable.
Parts of the roof had given up any pretense
of shelter, and the world before the house
was beginning to show through.  Still,
I could not have imagined that thirty years
of life would endure so poorly, that ghosts
would already stare from empty sockets
and every wall breathe with every wind
like some discarded Kenmore box, both ends broken through.

And now it was coming down.
When I’d heard, I expected the gothic, towering crane,
that it would take some apocalyptic wrecking ball
to make such an end, this vivisection and monocide.
Reality made do with one yellow bulldozer—
looking especially bright now that morning was here
and it could in earnest begin the few swipes
from front lawn to back, dismembering perennials
lying in riotous beds beneath each southern window—
and a rust-pocked truck to haul it off.

Before noon, the other men unpacked sandwiches by the truck
and stomped the dust from their boots; good enough men,
they spoke in quiet monotone—seeing me
picking through limp strands of re-bar, mock oak
paneling, porcelain shards—of the Dodgers, perhaps, or women
they had known, the sleeker condos that would start here
then snake along the wood’s edge as far as the river.
The elms seemed larger now with no house for comparison;
what sun came through played tricks with these open rooms
where shadows danced like half-remembered dreams.

Near the old fireplace site the glint of glass
was only a piece of photograph frame that cut my hand
neatly across the palm.  It would bleed until I sucked it clean.

(BYU Studies, 1993)