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)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Enough

I am coming along well enough.

I have cleared the brush
from the fence line as far

as the river, where I watched
a young hawk diving and coming up

empty on yet another morning
when the frost stayed ‘til noon.

I will set my sights on the rest
of the day, soon enough.

I expect habit will lead to a look
toward the kitchen window, down

the old rows of corn, or at the porch swing
hanging slack in the afternoon.

So I will see to it there is wood
to split and horses to shoe.

Later, when I have made my way
to the bar in town, no one

will say a word.  But someone 
will buy the first round, and others

see the glass stays full.

(from A Clean, Well-lighted Place, 2013)


Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Number



I have forgotten my PIN number, forgotten
which anecdotes I have told to whom
and, come to think of it, most of my best stories.
I have no longer read any of the books that lean
against each other now with their dog-ears
and grease stains.  I may have taken my various
once-daily doses several times or not at all. 
The bathtub has long since drained and still
I sit here, blinking, naked as the day I was born.

I remember the way to the trailhead
of the mountain I always said I would climb
when it came to this.  I told myself I would sit
on the peak and face into the sun until it was gone.
In the last light my mind would hold as tightly
as it could to Peter-boy . . . and Jamesie and . . .
the rest, urging them to live wildly happy lives
and not wait as long as I have to stop being afraid—
things I may have told them once or a hundred times before.

(from Oberon, 2013)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Askew



There’s something not quite right today.  Askew.

Not on-kilter.  It’s as if you, all of you,
are pod people now, and no one seems able to tell

but me.  As if one insignificant satellite fell,
so everyone’s GPS calmly sends them just 1.3

degrees off, north-northwest.  Have you jointly
agreed not to notice the vertigo

of this day, how even the mad concerto
of evening traffic is maybe half of one half

step flat?  Because what I see in your quaff
of coffee, your bus stop stare, the insouciance

of that bluetooth laugh, is an ignorance
born, I can only surmise, of a Stepford Wives-

like blind eye, when clearly nothing jives,
nothing about this day is copasetic, nothing

passes the smell test.  Can no one bring
back yesterday, that golden day when a person could

be counted on to tell you where you stood,
before she—or someone very like—would move the fulcrum,

nudge the lucid universe one bubble off plumb?


(from Subtropics, 2013)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Always Expect a Train

Newspapers in yellowed stacks lean
nearly to the floor.  Out the window,
afternoon settles like an old saddle.
Later, your sister and her greasy
husband will sit on the porch
well past their welcome and complain
again about your pot roast
even as they pick it from their teeth.

You phoned the children, Sunday,
only to find that all are quite well—
with health and money enough.
Our trip to Palm Springs is not only
confirmed now but imminent.  Yesterday,
I smiled to see the new buds of yellow
Dream Come Trues but with any luck,
caught myself in time.


(Western Humanities Review, 2012)

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

Here



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

Spots

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

Lines



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)