Friday, August 18, 2017

Die-off


When I tell my future great-grandchild that I remember
a time when a lucky human might see a Sumatran rhinoceros
in the wild, she will look at me the same way my grandkids
look at me now when I tell them how we used to plagiarize
our school reports on the dodo bird from paper-and-ink
encyclopedias, and then she will google the rhino and tell me
she thinks they look a lot like a Styracosaurus and did I ever

see one of them? My own imminent personal demise aside,
I wish I could leave behind more world for her. I imagine
this sixth mass extinction will be old news, in her day,
and there will be a page in the newspaper (extinct, ca.
2027) next to the obituaries, where the daily losses are listed:
Arctic Sea Ice (“gone fishin’”); Blue-throated Macaw (“died
doing what they loved best”); Bali Tiger (“what a happy reunion

in heaven with cousins Snow Leopard and Caspian Tiger”);
Coral Reef (“after a lingering illness”). She and her friends
will adapt, of course. No one does adaptation like the humans:
virtual reality games with ninja sage-grouse fighting it out
on the lek; animatronic golden-cheeked warblers
greeting them from a simulated Ashe juniper in the yard.
And while I’m imagining and bemoaning, why not take

a hopeful turn here at the end of the poem in which my not-so-
distant great-grand will have a great-great down the line,
in some still-habitable corner of the planet, who picks through
the Anthropocene layer for  a living and comes across
the badly-postured bones of what they will believe to be
the last living poet to escape the 21st-century purge, found
curled atop the one comfortable chair at a coffee shop,

cradling his laptop, only fragments of his last poem
recoverable, the scholars not surprised to find the words
liminal and luminous among the detritus, though the line
her smile was toothy as a Brazilian merganser sends them
scrambling to the luminescent Google Cloud, leaves them
smiling and nodding to each other like a polite audience
(extinct, ca. 2019) at a poetry reading.

(previously published in New Madrid Journal, 2017)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Lifting Weights


Over the past year or so, I have lost the weight
of a grandchild or a microwave, five bowling
balls or housecats, or a large bag of sugar.
The sugar is perhaps most apt, given that
most of the extra weight I had been carrying
around all those years could be distilled
into a (large) powdered pile of sugar and a soupçon
(or so) of rendered bacon fat. I can see your eyes

going glassy already, so let me assure you
this will not be a poetic memoir about my
struggle—some might call it heroic—to pull
myself back from the brink, wrestle that obese
monkey from my back. Nor will it be my thirty-
point plan which I will then sanctimoniously
advise you to follow if you know what’s good
for you, no sestina version of Sweatin’ to the Oldies.

People like hearing about how you lost weight
the same way they want to hear how your dreams
have become more vivid since menopause. No,
this feels like part of a more general plan—
though entirely unplanned—to pare down, un-
load, hold an estate sale before the fact, reduce
my life to its lowest common denominator.

I’m letting the books go, the CDs, taking boxes
of XXLs to Goodwill, eBaying the Pez dispenser
collection; everything must go. I’m saying no,
I’m scrivening, “I would prefer not to” on RSVPs,
I’m truant, AWOL, gone missing. This is not,
though, as far as I know, that pre-demise sloughing-
off, putting post-it notes on my cherry wood
highboy so the relations won’t squabble over it.

This is me sitting in the woods beneath
a Douglas Fir, next to a stream so clear I can see
trout leaning into the current, on the other side
of which a doe comes leading her young fawn
into a clearing, sees the stream and the tree, and,
seeing me, sees nothing that shouldn’t be there.

(published in Frontier Poetry, 2017)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Come-bye


I feel compelled, as I leave the coffee shop,
to push chairs in to their tables and straighten
newspapers into neat stacks. Easy enough.
The leaves in the stand of oak trees
in my backyard are raked into a bag almost
as soon as they fall, leaving only clean earth

between trunks. As far as compulsions go,
it seems harmless enough. At night, I sit
on the edge of my bed and tick through each
of my children and grandchildren, holding them
one at a time in my thoughts, thoroughly
scanning each one, combing through their lives

the way I comb though the long hair along
the forearms of my Australian Shepherd
after our walks, looking for stickseed and burs
that need cutting out. The dog puts his nose
through the fences surrounding the pastures
and animal pens we pass as we walk,

and I can see it twitch, see his eyes dart back
and forth as he accounts for each animal,
his legs quivering as the pull of instinct tells him
those sheep should be formed up, those free-
range chickens enjoy entirely too much
freedom, and he looks up at me as if to say,

can’t you see it? just give the order and I’ll
have things ship-shape in no time. And of course
I can see it, understand his need to herd, but these
are not ours, I tell him, and we move on,
ignoring the free-range world flickering
on the periphery, unfollowing Facebook friends,

unsubscribing from newspapers, walking
quickly around human humps and their middens
downtown, working, instead, to organize
the spice rack alphabetically, moving at a good clip
through cast and bring and cross-drive, until cardamom
sheds safely in its place next to cinnamon. 

(originally published in Frontier Poetry, 2017)

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)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

In Re:

It’s true the cat shredded the hem of your silk skirt (jaune) while you were away.  And, optimally, the heart leaf philodendron would have been kept minimally moist. I freely admit to seeing the red Final Notice letter arrive for your Stairmaster 7000PT with bottle holder, accessory tray, and reading rack,
and yet, did nothing.  You may find it most grievous to learn, when you review the security tapes, that I spent an entire day naked, taking pains to sit most thoroughly on the Wassily chair with the (once) pristine white fabric.  Mea maxima culpa.

Perhaps you will find it in your heart to forgive me.  You may even text to tell me you understand my childish tantrums, that they appear as number four on Dr. Phil’s list of symptoms of a man’s seven-year itch, and that you are ready to foreground my return with some pre-negotiation problem-framing via Skype.  Sadly, it may be that I am unable to take your call—out of range, as it happens, ragtop down, needle buried, well south of my last known position.


(from Chicago Quarterly Review, 2014)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Saturdays


I’ll just go home now.  I have seen
the post-workout women in their tights
sweating together over green smoothies.
I have smiled at three young sisters
waiting for hairdos on a row of pink
plastic chairs.  So, it’s time.  Oh, and when
the gaggle of guys from the Mini Cooper
club stopped at Starbucks before mounting up
and hitting the road like horses and jockeys
in their silks—I knew I should be going.
I would almost like to be there when
the parallel lines of perspective near
nil and the whole lot lift off like a spinning
carousel into a blue summer sky as I
shout something true about how beautiful they
all are, and stand there wet-faced and waving.
But no.  Best to be gone before it comes to that.

(from drafthorse, 2014)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Do Over




Laugh like the demons
gone huffing into the sea.

Taste the final fig
before it withers, the second
wine at Cana.

And when Lazarus
comes out at last, by god,
you boys pick up Mary M.
and take it on the lam.

(from drafthorse, 2014

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lines

When there seemed no other choice we pulled off I-70 and along the frontage road until it dead-ended next to a field of winter wheat cut to stubble and straddled by transmission towers two hundred feet high striding through the land like something sci-fi searching for humans to enslave.  But it was just the two of us, not even putting up a fight, standing beside the old Volvo and listening to the wind blow through the power lines, the crackle of the humid afternoon air ionizing, charging, and beneath it all the steady coronal hiss like the rasp of grasshoppers in the cheat grass along the road.  The car ticked slowly as it cooled, and when dusk dropped down from the hills, at last you asked if I could feel the ground shiver through the soles of my shoes, feel the ambient electricity along my scalp, or the slightest goddamn arrhythmia in my heart—because if not, you said, leaving the thought unfinished, letting it be carried away with the high wires instead, all the long miles up and over the Rockies and into a million homes where other people who are not us stand in kitchen light and porch light waiting for what comes next, for the end of the line.

(from Clapboard House, 2013)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Envy


The stone wall gives up before it gets to the stile,
petering out into a moraine of rounded river rocks
spreading to either side.  A gate holds to a leaning
post by one rusted iron finger.  It seems to matter
little, though, with nothing to say what was once
held in or out.  In a shallow depression near one grey
stone, a killdeer mother frets and whistles like a wind-up
tin bird before settling on her speckled clutch of four,
her neck and head still bobbing, spy-hopping
aspirationally from stone to stone.

(from Clapboard House, 2013)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Beachcombers


With their little fat fingers
they sift the beach for gifts
of jeweled popweed, opalescent
mussels, a pirate’s haul
of gaudy sea glass in a pail.

Just beyond is the rime
of sallow foam pushed ashore,
a lacy arch of brine licking
harmlessly at their feet, trailing
a line of gleaming crumbs, saporous

as candy.  Here is a land whose
darlings still believe something
can be got for nothing, where
every fish that comes ashore
has coins or miracles in its mouth.

(from Clapboard House, 2013)