Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Mud Work


A wild tom watches us from the top
of the wooden fence, a ruff of hair around
his neck like James Dean with his leather
collar turned up, looking like he wants
to cut me but settling for the disrespect
of an extended yawn. It’s a sloppy
morning, early March, mud bubbling up
around the last patches of snow, and I
suspect the cat took to the fence line
to keep his feet dry. My granddaughter
and I, however, have work to do
in the mud, and cannot afford such
squeamishness. Bill Nye, the guinea pig,
after a fitful night during which we sat
vigil, gave up the ghost just before dawn,
lay in state, briefly, during breakfast,
in his sock-lined Crocs box, and now young
Clara looks for the perfect spot
in which to plant his remains. She hasn’t
discussed her views on heaven, with me,
and does not request that prayers
be prayed over his white-and-tan form,
nor over the final resting place she chooses
under the birch tree where we have often
watched brilliant goldfinches and nuthatches
hanging upside down from its branches,
and where now we root in the dark soil
at its base. My eye on the cat hunched
on the fencepost like a raven, I tell her
we will need to dig deeply if we hope
to keep good Bill from a premature
great gettin’ up morning, and she sets
to the work like a fervent acolyte, or
like a kid up to her elbows in mud.

(from MockingHeart Review, 2017)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Screw Your Courage

King: Indeed, I’m nothing if not brave.
Fool: In truth thou speaketh, nothing.
King: I am of two minds about that comma.
Fool: Pray, pay it, sirrah, as is your custom, no mind.
                                                            —The Fall of Fresno

It goes without saying that when we hear
the bomb blast, I will not be running towards
it with the heroes. Nor will I step in front
of you to take a bullet. Sorry. And in a thousand
smaller ways, I have long ago proven the true
measure of this man. As you well know,
I will leave one milliliter of milk in the carton,
so as not to be the one tasked with throwing it
out. I will snore a little louder when we both
hear the dog whining to be let out too early

in the morning. When we are watching
your favorite show about the bachelor who
test-drives a showroom full of well-equipped
women, you never hear the caustic dialogue
running through my head, only the occasional,
passive-aggressive, “I’ll bet she would go
to the kitchen and get him a beer.” It goes
without saying that the kids come to me
with their requests for later curfews and greater
allowances, knowing I will fold like a cheap suit.

So when I tell you I wish I could take your place
in that hospital bed, tubes snaking in and out
of you, wish it could be you telling me the lame
joke about Death going into a bar and the bartender
says, “what’ll you have?” and Death says, “the guy
on the third barstool”—we both know it has nothing
to do with self-sacrifice or a greater tolerance
for pain, and everything to do with going first,
with not being the one left holding the bag
of all the days to come, left to die a thousand times.

(from MockingHeart Review, 2017)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

As Observed from a Stationary Picnic Table


Julia asked me why I didn’t come there anymore
to eat my lunch on the picnic table beside the statue
of Albert Einstein, each wild hair on his head
a masterpiece in marble, though clearly I was there
now—or then. Was it, she asked, that I felt lesser
than, in his presence, me eating a tuna salad
sandwich before going back to my job delivering
boxed wine to high-rise shut-ins on my bicycle,
while Al had been captured in stone juggling
the solar system between his hands? No, I said,
I think he would’ve been happy to sit here with me
and share a sandwich and slip a straw into a box
of Californian rosé meant for Eunice Carver
of 94D Park Place, and I think we would have talked
about the violin which I also played when I
was young and the way the Yankees have tanked
again, and I would have gently explained to him
that whistling at the women walking by us
on the street isn’t done anymore. Fair enough,
he might have said, but I am still doing it in my head—
that’s still okay, I hope, imagining a universe in my head
where just one time Marilyn Monroe responds
to my catcall and comes over to run her fingers
through my hair? I said that I hoped so, too,
and told him how sometimes when I was weaving
my bike through traffic I imagined myself chasing
a beam of light while pedaling at the speed of light,
no longer content to stand on the platform or sit
at a picnic table (this to Julia, who said she had a straw,
if that’s what it took) but standing at the front of the train
with my head out the window where the light would strike first.

(first published in Poetry Northwest, 2017)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not That You Asked



No one is asking for another poem. When I walk
the neighborhood, no one stops me to ask
why I haven’t shared with them my latest thoughts
on death, or dogs, or the way a flatworm swordfights
with his penis. There are no petitions, no Kickstarter
fundraisers, not even a peaceful march with placards
and animated crowds asking in a shout, “When
do we want it?” Anyway, the answer would be,
I’m quite certain, “We’re good. No hurry, dude. Whatever
works for you.” It’s okay. I get it. Poets are like
that lady in your office who always wants to tell people
her dreams:  “There is no word in the world
to describe the color of the shirt Ryan Reynolds
took off before he kissed me. But then I realized
it was my father I was kissing! Don’t even get me
started on what that might mean.” And no one does
get her started, but that doesn’t stop her. Point taken.
I won’t be saddling any of you with how it felt
this afternoon to find, as I was boxing up my old books
from college, sandwiched between the pages
of Herbert’s “Bitter-sweet” and “Love,” between
“sour-sweet days” and “usurping lust,” a condom
wrapped in a square of red foil, as yet unope’d.

(from Pembroke Magazine, 2016)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mannequin

The mannequin in the window is reaching
dramatically skyward, where maybe a better life
or better pantsuit is out there somewhere
hanging in someone else’s closet. It reminds
him of the way his mother used to lift him up
as high as she could reach, and then he would run
a feather duster through the dead spiders until
she tired and took him outside for some fresh air
while she smoked a Kool menthol and told him
what all the neighbors were worth. And when she
gave him a sip of her RC Cola it was clear that nothing
beyond that porch was worth knowing about. Past
the store with the mannequin is a dog wash
and a juice bar and the place that does his shirts
with light starch and a hint of mint at the collar.

(from The Timberline Review, 2015)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Isfahan, ca. 1600

The weft and warp
are wool, wool and silk
form the foundation
and pile, steeped first
in indigo, buckthorn
berries, saffron and
madder, larkspur. See
where the weaver
has plaited into
the odd Persian knot—
among the three hundred
every hour, eight
hours a day for eight
hundred days—a strand
of her own ebony hair,
how it still reflects
the sun, these centuries
later, as she must
have known it would,
must have hoped
you would imagine
her here, today, combing
each new row into
place, her eyes lifting
for a brief, capricious
look above the loom.

(from Avatar Review, 2015)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fairy Tales

When you get them talking, you will hear
fantastical things, like how your mother’s
car-dealer boss forced her to sit on his lap,
or how your father spent two years of his life
breaking East German radio code. How
can you not have known this about them,
their lives before you that had nothing to do
with you, these bright Kandinsky spatters
of experience that jar against the placid washes
of their lives now, set in the gentle landscapes
you have peopled with them, the way you once
set plates around a miniature white tea table—
for Barbie, tarted-up to the nines, and GI Joe,
rakish beret tipped back, already three cups in.

(from Avatar Review, 2015)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Dead to the World



When the news comes the way
it sometimes does in a dream
in which you are eating your fingers,
smacking your lips at their deep-
fried goodness but all the while
knowing there is something
not quite right about this scenario,
but the wrongness is not enough yet
to overcome your feeding frenzy
until you get all the way to the third
finger on your second hand and begin
to notice a persistent tapping
in the background as though a tiny
metronome were keeping the beat
for a tiny mouse ballerina who lives
and practices her pas de chats
in the suburbs of Medulla, Oblongata—
but until then you are dead to the world,

not unlike yesterday, when your co-workers
emerged from their cubicles en masse
to huddle around the big screen
in the break room.  From your chair
you could see some of them lift
a hand to cover their mouths, others
shake their heads and slump into chairs,
and when you joined them for a closer
look, no one spoke to you except
in half-muffled sobs, their red eyes
looking right through you, so this,
you guessed, this had nothing to do
with another birthday party where
there would be cake and singing
to while away the rest of the work day,
no, this must be something new
they were finding out about the world—
at their ages, too!—something flashing
in their eyes, worming into their ears,
something that would briefly drown
out the sound of the dozen clocks
in the empty office, a ticking
which seems to you the only sound.

(from Writing Tomorrow, 2014)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Untouched

Actual touch—real contact—is not possible. 
           --Anthony Doerr

I tap his left fist
to reveal the black pawn.
He will best me again
at the game I taught him.

On our walks through the trees,
we learned to identify bracket
fungi, those brilliant polychrome
hints of heart rot.

In Yellowstone, once, we watched
ravens feinting between
distracted wolves, stealing pink
strands of elk viscera.

Now I loosen the four-point
restraints as he sighs
into sleep, smiling at something
he keeps to himself.

(from Right Hand Pointing, 2014)

Monday, June 5, 2017

It Kills Me

The day I saw Salinger at the general store
in Cornish, New Hampshire was also the day
before the night of the "super moon" when
the moon came closest to the earth and you
said you could feel it pulling on your womb,
not in a painful way, but more a kind of mutual
attraction, a personal galactic tide that you found
rather comforting and grand, really, because
here was this celestial orb reaching out to you
in a way that said, we're in this together, you and I--
and then you stopped and gave me that look
that meant you knew you had gone beyond
the pale with that phony moon and womb stuff
and had better just shut the hell up and pretend
to be interested in my story about J. D., Jerome
David, counting out apples into a sack and then
asking me, out of the blue, if I, too, was a goddamn
Hubbardtson Nonesuch man.

(from A Narrow Fellow, 2014)