Thursday, April 28, 2011

Without Sky

With nothing to look up to, we all lay down
in the dust and in the rocks and wondered
where we had gone wrong.  One of us stared
at the horizon’s wall for several hours, quietly
smashing his head against it until his skull
cracked and little brown rivulets of blood
and brain mingled with the thirsty earth.
And one of us forget her name and gave up
any sense of herself, and pretended she was
an unseen flower and drifted away, into
the darkness.  And one of us saw that sky
was once a thing that held the heavens,
where the sun and stars and eternal blackness
lived, and which, being gone now, meant
that all our dreams were rooted in the earth,
but were unrooted because without
sun no roots could grow.  And so we
sat around and pondered, eyeless, blank
as heart-attacks, the horror our dreamlessness,
of being entirely bound to the dust from
whence we came and the dust we will be.

At The Break Of Day

The vision that came with gradual steps departeth in an instant;
Hasten, let it be unbeheld of your eyes.

--“Aubade”, Adelaide Crapsey

Under all that starlight you took some
getting used to.  As usual I rushed my night
vision, tried to see you whole before
I could adjust.  But just as you were coming
into focus, I lost sight of you, the edges
of my vision going slight, like the hands
rocking through a tremor.  Something shot
across the expanse of space, and I knew
that you had seen it, felt the universe’s
pang: how all lovers under all stars are,
at once, blessed and are, at once, doomed,
just as the thrill of that long night was
doomed to be shattered by the sun’s
gradual rise.  I couldn’t even kiss you,
so blind was my mouth by the blinding
dark.  I couldn’t even find your lips.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


She took me by the hand once and led me
down a steep path into a meadow full
of hopeful wildflowers.  On the periphery
fawns pranced, trampling the lillies,
idyllic, unafraid.  She led me there to show
me how exacting the world was, sat me down
on a slab of granite washed over with black
lichen.  I watched her remove something
sharp, something honed from her bag.
The bag was made of not-quite-human skin.
She had trafficked in death for longer
than I had walked these hills and could
sense my apprehension.  One of the fawns
approached her, unafraid, but not unknowing.
The slitting was so fast, so clean, so merciful.
The fawn fell, just like that, and the flowers,
still hopeful, shifted into redness.  I started
to cry, but she put her fingers on my eyelids,
and said: “This is all there is.  Watch it.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Falling (A Villanelle)

I told the child: everything that falls
does not explode, despite what you have seen.
She sighs, the child sighs, aghast, appalled

at how the falling sky has ripped her dolls
apart, shredded kittens, made obscene
my telling her: everything that falls

does not destroy.  I think perhaps two walls
remain, a window pane, mosquito screen,
I lie.  The child sighs, at last appalled

not by my words but by the shallow lull
that falls into my breath, that intervenes
and tells the child: everything that falls

has risen once--a shout in a darkened hall,
the songs of children rising like a dream.
She’s eyes.  All’s eyes.  The ghosts, appalled,

cry out: it isn’t just our bodies mauled
but our bent souls crushed, cut brutal, clean.
I give the child everything that falls.
She sighs, the child sighs, aghast, appalled.


Also: I've got a poem up at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.  Check it out when you have a minute.


I asked the gods to hold back the waters,
but the waters came.  I asked the gods
to spare my sons and daughters, but the war
came.  I asked the gods for a bountiful harvest,
but a swarm of locusts burrowed from the ground
in high June.  I asked the gods to spare her
from cancer, but blastomas do not heed
the gods’ words.  So I asked the gods: “what
are you here for?”  And the gods replied,
through rain: “Who else have you to turn
to when the world calls you to its bidding?”
So I turned to the hardened earth and sang.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Poisoner’s Song

Quitting you was like chelating
my blood. Still, the residuals.

After all these years you’re under
my skin, crammed in those fatty

layers between the hard front I face
the world with and the slippery

guts I hide. Only once I laid
them out on the table. Surgical,

your honed thumbnail made
an augury, proclaimed no angels

would return to this barren land.
I was okay with that, so long

as you, too, stayed away. Winged
or not, I can’t fit you inside me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I have seen them: the squirrel in the center
of the road, locked in--killed by--indecision.

Left or right or left or right and the whole
horrible while an F150 bears down on its

little furry world, and it cannot help but tack
back and forth like a boat in crazed winds,

and its salvation rests in that unsplit decision;
which way won’t matter because either way

is out of the way.  I guess what I’m trying to say
is that I’ve been just like that squirrel in love.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Companion Anti/Love Poems


This is true.  That she rises in the morning
with your name in her breath, the memory

of your fingers in her hair.  That she kisses
the side of your face without reflection,

gasps to be caught in your search-light gaze.
Because you are the harbor in rough seas,

the space station for her crippled shuttle,
the little rescue buoy deftly hurled into

the flailing chop.  Because you made him
coffee, placed warm hands on his cold neck.


This is true.  That she rises in the morning
with something rank on her breath, and

the memory of your hands on her hips leaves
a burn, as if by acid.  She hates her reflection,

lingers in doorways, in closets to avoid your
eyes.  You are the sea that rocks her, and

the sickness that overcomes her, the faulty
tile that would destroy her on reentry.

You are not a buoy.  The buoy was stolen by
the teenage boy whose hands are on her thigh.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Like You Never Saw This Coming

Would you have done it differently, had you
seen it coming?  It like a freshman streaking

the quad.  It like a tornado rising from an Iowa
corn field.  It like a monkey hurling excrement.

Had you known it would hit you like this,
would you have said goodbye to him, kissed

his forehead lightly or placed your innocent
hand along the length of his thigh, your palm

listening to that inward groan?  Would you
have cut your toenails, worn deodorant?

Or would you have given yourself permission
to stay in bed all day, darn your stockings,

fashion a sail for your little toy boat from
old love letters, that sweater he always wore.

It like an epistle held close to your heart,
the paper shattering to pulp with each

ululation: the throb, the throb, the throb
rising from your chest as it comes like it comes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Self-Portrait, With Gaping Lies

He will tell you lies about himself,
not to make himself look tall or strong,
not so that you’ll think he’s nobler than
he really is--it’s not like he once ran
into a burning building, returned with two
children in each arm. It’s not like
he counsels rape victims or works long hours
uncovering cures for chordomas, sarcomas.
For instance: he will tell you that today
he rose with the sun, tended to plants,
made bread, which he later broke and then...
what difference does it make? You’re never here.
You, the one to whom his lies are flung
like chains into the sea. You, your glasses
perched like a suicide on your nose’s edge.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

These things are not my business

I am not in the business of buying or selling.
I do not traffic in Ukrainian women, in Russian

vodka or American futures, whatever those are.
I have never once been referred to as a mogul.

I own no private jet, nor have I ever hopped
a redeye to or from LAX. If the market is

a bear or a bull, I wouldn’t know, though I
have met both bears and bulls in the flesh.

I have never made a margin call, though I
used to draw pictures of naked women

in the margins of my notebooks in high school.
I have never once phoned in the payroll,

signed another’s paycheck or fired someone
with or without cause. I have never owned

a slave nor oppressed a factory full of
children. As far as venture capital goes,

I’m green as the moss on my front porch,
which grows steadily in this late afternoon

rain, which, it seems, it is my business
to note and measure, to channel and celebrate.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Without Me

Grass shakes on an open valley.  It is a century
until my birth, in that linoleum-clad hospital.

Raptors head south, towards the Gulf, aloft
on thermals, scanning the dark ridges for

clusters of smaller birds.  At the headwaters
of a river of rocks, a dozen hunters, their

shotguns poised, take down a hundred hawks
an hour, and the stones mottle from granite

grey to blood-brown stone.  Feathers and flesh
clump and aggregate, shimmer in an angry

wind.  Elsewhere a buffalo slumps, in a field
across the continent, another bullet finding

its straight course home, another hunter
hopeful for blood and meat and bread.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


the moving finger writes, and having writ moves on...
--Khalil Gibran

My mother quotes Gibran.  She sends her love
the only way she knows, the way a lark
trills, as if compelled to sing above
the brooding clouds, the cluttered, growling dark.

She throws some words against the wall, a cell
a dozen layers thick with paint and grief;
my words bounce back, become a copper bell
wringing in some new bright day’s relief.

Her love is absolute.  The universe
expands a little to contain the shock
it registers.  And continents reverse
their shame-ward course.  The moon sinks in its track.

This isn’t what I mean.  I meant to say
that I was glad she wrote to me today.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Maybe After All Of This

Maybe after you have closed the door
to his room for the last time, closed in

the motes, the lighters he stole at bars,
the stuffed bears of his infancy, maybe

after you have sealed the cherry box
and laid it peacefully atop a dresser,

and maybe after you have said his
name aloud three times to the singing

moon and mute river, maybe then,
after all of this, you can lie down amongst

the stars, and say your own name, aloud,
just for once, after all of this, to know

that you are not his death and that
his death is not alone in all of this.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A Study of Divergence

Once he crossed the river.  Once
across, the river swelled, forgetting

that he crossed.  He, too, like a river,
forgot about his crossing, the river’s

patient rise behind him.  Patient,
his chest rose; behind him a hundred

pale suns dangled over hills he, too,
had crossed.  Breezy, like the lift

under a lark’s wing, he waited, waited
for the river to remember that he, too,

had lived, had forded this and that
crossing, and had chosen to make

life--to take breath, to release it.
And it was this choice the river,

fathomless, could fathom: the eternal
“what if” of a man, his feet in a river,

crossing, that lark in the cottonwood
nearby, talons clenched, drawing breath.

Return From The Void

After a brief...two year hiatus...I'm going to restart posting on this blog.  Here you will find poems, musings about poetry, about writing, and about teaching.  If you want to read about some of my travels over the last few years, check out my travel blog.

This poem was written in response to a prompt I found over at Poetic Asides, a blog operated by my old friend (and college literary rival) Robert Lee Brewer.

The Silly and The Serious

As a child I ate ants on the school yard.
I remember them as lemony, a small

burst of not-quite-sweet as my teeth
tore through the carapace.  Molly

Stinson called me “bug-eater”.  Years
later, I kissed her behind the rectory,

with the same mouth in which perished
an uncounted, many-legged herd.

I never ate earth, though I knew a girl
who did, beneath her parents’ porch,

spoon upon spoon of brilliant red
clay.  Her name was also Molly.

My mother has a picture of me
chewing on a stick, but that was

in the pre-ant years, when I wore
that brown and white striped shirt,

and my father was still around,
before I became the sad monster,

devourer of insects, with a mind
of Molly and my hands in the earth.