Thursday, February 28, 2019


The black birch was dying from the top down,
so many branches having already been removed
for safety that the goldfinches no longer came
in the fall to hang upside down and harvest seeds.
Still, the sparrows went to work on a hole in the tree,
gradually widening it to nest size, and I watched
several sets of hatchlings, all bald heads and gaping
beaks, at first, then perching for a week or two
like puffy dauphins on the fence, and then gone.
One year the chickadees were first to the hole,
defending it, making it more spacious still. Other
bird couples came and went, each doing a bit
of remodeling, as you do, upgrading to stainless
steel appliances, maybe, or marble tile. It was as if
they couldn’t help picking away at it, like your old
aunt who knits as obsessively as she once smoked,
filling whole rooms with afghans, slippers, hats.
Each tenant planed away at the walls, until one day
they punched clean through cambium laths
and drywall bark, leaving the home open to wind
now that would chill the eggs. The nest lay vacant
for years, the hole like a periscope eye in the stump,
until one summer when wasp masons began
bricking up the walls, mixing saliva into stucco,
subdividing, leasing studio apartments, a vibrant
compensatory hum for the slowing xylem and phloem.

Published in Broad Street, 2019

Monday, October 15, 2018

Take Heart

One of those days when you realize the best thing
about the day was the barista who made the espresso-
and-foam heart on top of your latte and said, this
is for you, which was enough to make you hurry out
the door before anyone could see what it had done to you.
Otherwise, the day was full of bigots and homophobes
and a royal flush of other –ists and –phobes, and a man
at the grocery who said something to the little girl
in the cart behind him in the checkout line singing
that Katy Perry song, and whatever it was he said,
it was enough to quiet her roar. What is wrong
with people? you say to your cat at the end of the day,
as you dump Grilled Liver & Chicken in Gravy Fancy
Feast into his bowl and scritch behind his ears
while you tell him about the barista and the heart
and the girl in the shopping cart, looking, I suppose,
for a little support, the lick of a rough pink tongue to say,
I don’t know about the others but this human is okay,
but who instead lifts one hind leg skyward and gets
to work, so that it comes down to the fleeting foam heart
skywritten across your coffee to stand between you
and the thousand swastikas, the Katy-haters, the night. 

(first published in The American Journal of Poetry, 2018)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Planned Obsolescence

Nature meant us to have just a few decades, time enough
for puberty and propagation and seeing the kids safely
onto a soccer team before we were eaten by a giant kangaroo,
saber-toothed cat, or fellow primate, or more slowly felled
by dengue fever or gingivitis. She could not have anticipated
sewer systems, antibiotics, sterile operating rooms, or
the many and varied uses we would put to the buried
remains of ancient life. Who could have guessed how many
of us would live long enough to die of natural causes,
to experience that closing cascade of systemic organ failure,
surrounded by loved ones and our collection of porcelain
corgis? Surely she must be appalled at the sight of our octo-
and nonagenarians dancing to Johnny Mathis, walker-to-walker
with the other residents of the Shangri-La Assisted Living
Senior Hospitality Center and Make-Your-Own froYo Bar.
Still, there goes my neighbor Norman, who made it on TV
for turning a hundred last year, and who, early in the morning
of every school day, dresses in his cargo shorts and high-vis
safety vest and walks down the street to the busiest crossing
in front of the elementary school, where he guides pods
of impatient human young across the street, telling them
to slow down, stop swearing, watch out for cars and zip up
their damn coats if they don’t want to catch their deaths.

(first published in Atticus Review, 2018)

Thursday, July 19, 2018


It starts small. First, maybe you fail to notice the blue
azalea bush that has been remarkable on the last corner
of your evening walk for thirteen years. And so it isn’t
there. Then it’s that stretch of new housing out 

by the airport that up and leaves the map as if a wash 
of bleach were bleeding in from the west. One day, 
when you’re not looking, one Indonesian island blinks out
and triggers a cascade through the other seventeen

thousand like a strand of Christmas tree lights going dark.
By the time you look around, continents are calving-off entire 
countries, which maybe join Atlantis in the Mariana
Trench and pick up where they left off or, more likely, turn

as barren and white as Great Barrier coral or the pods 
of belugas which, by the way, are no longer punting about 
in the Arctic, their melons having gone missing, along with 
the sea ice and, while we’re at it, the sea. What’s left,

at this point, is a solitary cistern of clear water, inexorably 
evaporating, leaving bathtub rings in the red desert rock, 
as it goes. Still, if you cup your hands around your eyes,
shutting out everything else, if you peer deeply into the dark 

water, refusing to avert your eyes, as if their lives depended
on it, or yours, you can see your grandchildren there, chasing 
a dog on a narrow islet of grass, oblivious to the truth that dawns 
on you at last, how they are all that is left of the world.
(first published in American Literary Review, 2018)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Taking Measures

 I wrap them like fine china in layers
of old newspapers and bubble wrap
and still I know that the moving man

will drop the box or hit a pothole
on that bad stretch of road heading
out of town and something will crack.

All spring I have watched song
sparrows readying their nest in the rotting
crotch of a birch tree, laying in twigs

and leaves and feathers, lacing it up
with string pulled from the canvas
deck chairs, only to have the arborist

take the tree down on a day I wasn’t there
to remove, first, the nest with its four
mottled brown-and-white eggs—

which needed to be done, he said,
to save our house from a windstorm
whose inevitable coming he foretold.

I still tiptoe past their empty rooms
at night, throw salt over my left
shoulder, batch the bad things

that pop up on my news feed into
groups of three, but leave my phone
in the other room at night, willfully

believing that bad news will wait,
that one can take one’s medicine
in the morning, that the sun will rise.

(first published in Bookends Review, 2017)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

There Ought to Be a Manual

It’s like the first time someone who is not your mother sees you
naked. Because you don’t know, do you, if all your parts
are in the right place, shaped and sized appropriately, according
to convention?—because your mother would never tell you,
which means there you are, pulling down your pants over
what might well be a preposterous ass. So, to my point,
you don’t know, likewise, what to do, how to be, at these grown-up
parties, so much depending on first impressions, decisions
about where to sit, what to drink, how long and loud to laugh
at pretty much everything, as far as you can tell, whether anyone
has noticed the fear-sweat creeping up the small of your large back
and pooling in environmentally catastrophic oil spills under
each arm. Or how, when you leave the party ten minutes
after arriving and return home, you confront, equally unprepared,
the task of “putting down” your dog—will it be like it is
for the Kentucky Derby winner who breaks his million-dollar
leg after crossing the line? or like the farmer who takes his shotgun
and the children’s 4-H pig out behind the barn?—this dog
who can only look up at you, these days, as you come in the door,
who doesn’t pant anymore so much as rattle, who has seen
your ass, listened to you laugh long and loud at Julia Child
pummeling the pastry dough, who has a thousand times taken you
outside for a little sun, and who has always given it to you
straight—like yesterday, when he told you that one of you needed
to grow a pair, and since you had taken his, it fell to you,
he said, to figure out how it was meant be done, how death
for one could be brought about, how going on, for the other.

(first published in Gloom Cupboard, 2016)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

You Know This One By Heart

It will start as the sort of love poem
you know by heart, with the young
couple waist-deep in the ocean, en-
twined, and then work its way around
to a day at the park, throwing
frisbees to their corgis and kids. Then,
not unexpectedly—you will have seen

it coming—the requisite scene of vitriol
and recrimination. All you will need
are a few details about who was found
in whose pickup truck doing what
with whom, and you could write
the lines yourself. Where the poem
takes a turn, however, is when we see

the man, years later, walking in a forest
as if he knows it like the back of his hand,
kneeling to see the tiny vines of blue-
eyed marys growing alongside the trail,
when all at once a great horned owl rises,
so close the man’s hoary heart nearly
breaks in his chest, beating like wings.

(first published in Black Fox Literary Magazine, 2017)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Coming Out

When I put a quarter in the table-top jukebox
for three songs by John Denver, Darrell calls me
a wuss and dares me to try a bite of the breakfast
special, calf brains and eggs. I tell him that, unlike
some people I know, I don’t need to order brains
from a diner—which I can get away with
because he long ago tired of pounding on me,
and anyway I’m paying for the food, and the cigarettes
from the machine, and for wherever we might
decide to go where there might be girls to see us
smoke. Last week when I told him I thought
I wanted to be a poet, he looked at me the way
my father did when I told him I was leaning
Democrat, or like my mother when I came out
atheist—just keep praying to lord Jesus, dear
I could see my words zipping through Darrel’s
head like a hummingbird had come in through a tear
in the screen door and really wanted out now,
but in the end  it was enough for him to blow smoke
in my face, make me swear to god I still liked girls.

First published in Pembroke Magazine

Monday, September 4, 2017

Anglerfish Love

I followed bioluminescent
deep-sea Google Maps to find
you flashing your tawny
midriff, on which I nibbled
playfully, read you bad poetry
about two becoming one,
before latching on. Best day ever
for a dude, right? freeloading,
hanging out in my underwear
night and day in the TV room,
letting you have your way
with me from time to time—
you know I could never resist
the sweet esca of your illicium—
feed from your fridge, watch
Adam Sandler movies until
my eyes and even limbs fell off.
But, baby, you don’t come around
much anymore, only to complain
about the beer bottles, the sheen
of salt and vinegar chips on my lips.
I see the way you walk the red
coral, now, holding up your light
like a siren to every passing sailor.

(first published in Hartskill Review, 2016)