Wednesday, May 31, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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)