Apr 282018
 

Thistle Wins

 

A book of poems

Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown] amazon.com/author/gregglory gregglory.com

Wild Places

Once all wilderness was innocence. Later, all wilderness was sin. What does it say about wilderness, that it could be both sin and innocence—a space of condemnation and reprieve—at once? What does it say about us, limber interpreters of vastness? Every day someone takes a snapshot of themselves with the Statue of Liberty on his shoulder, or the moon upheld in her palm, the violent grandeur of the universe turned by metaphor and pixel-flash into a beachball.

Now we find our wildness in suburban glimpses: long weekends away to a campsite, the unwonted sting of a bee. Yet we were made by wildness; we were wolves before we mellowed to dogs. When observation and observance sharpen beyond the roar of words we soothe ourselves with, the tickertape of conscience and prayer unspooled to silence, we can see the action of life plain. The constant taking, the inevitable greed, camouflage, and waste inherent in all things.

The sun knows nothing but to burn. The salmon little else than to breed and feast. Our arteries are red with burning, veins blue with hunger. A paranoid, irascible eye sees many raw things civilization has regretfully gilded; an eager ear—with its vestigial muscle for turning still intact—may yet attune itself to the strangeness of what is. Listen.

Parables are everywhere is our daily doings if we listen, the ear of consciousness arranging random notes and facts into pattern, the flare of consciousness illuminating new mosaics in the old catacombs. Life itself, in all its accident and happenstance, is transformational because our consciousness is partial.

We can’t see all sides of an object at once like a cubist artist. We cannot even experience ourselves consistently across the daily divide of sleep; at best we are strips of stuttering film. We bridge these gaps with memory and imagination. And reality is the perpetual testing grounds of that self-invention—and poetry, at its finest, with its honest looks at what is—is the checklist for that reality. Words are the net we use to draw reality into us. So use that net, anxious to add meaning to your ultimately unknowable life—the omnipresent wilderness.

Gregg Glory
April 1, 2018

 

Shy in their herding dwell the fallow deer ...spirits of wild sense... Printless as evelight, instant as dew. John Drinkwater

After Thin Winter

My tongue fell like a gravestone, flat 
Into silence, when I heard the darting lark, 
An amplitude of bees at the azaleas in spring 
And the mad abandon of frogs in their croakeries 
As the kiln sun outlined fingerling icicles, and snows 
Receded.  What was killed at Christmas was made ready, 
Made mud and substance for new life at Easter, 
Elegant as grass dancing from the fundament. 

What songs I had cribbed in my dab, crabbed hand 
All winter long in my grey oyster’s cloister 
Blandly abandoned their pearls in my mouth; 
What I had deemed gospel is proved uncouth. 
Only silence and stillness can I bring to what’s given, 
The badge of eager ears my only sign of office, 
A wideness of eyes my warrant for living, 
A narrow nose my keel, and sighs for my sails. 


River Dazzle

The sun hooks the eye— 
A fishingline of light
Teases daubs, gobs 
Of unready tears 
From the prone fisherman. 

The arc of history, the arc 
Of his lazy cast, are 
Identical to God’s, one 
More blind parabola among 
Many hits and misses. 

Still, he watches his bobber, 
Sun of its own solar system, 
A clownish bellybutton  
Pinned in its gravity well, 
Helpless as a marble. 

Something beneath bites; 
His wary, wired eye sees 
No more than Schrodinger 
Trapped outside the bottle 
He fishes to investigate. 

The bobber is an eye- 
Ball in a troubled socket 
Nippling the rubber sheet, 
Inflicting wrinkles, crowsfeet, 
And no nest to home in on. 


Salmon Run

Baby salmon are born simple fillips of thin light,
Thumb-smears of ectoplasm, long eggs 
Unfurling into elegant flags of tails 
That plump through long late spring luxuriously 
As any mat of pasta filigreed with fins. 
The racer spritz of underbelly speckles 
Makes her indivisible with the river, devotional, 
A sweptback speedboat divoting the current
Lambing the surface with sunny braids of wooly foam, 
Then, dive after dive, memorizing each shadow grotto, 
By lounge and lunge investing the homeplace with myth….
Sleepy or ecstatic she swims, until the day comes 
When salt first touches the innocent lip 
Alerting galvanic gizmos in the svelte groin 
And the salmon, in mass chorus, beg the river 
To lead them away, like following the grain of an etching. 
Away from childish eddies, from mild tideless nights, 
Away from reeds in their tactile millions, from oniony beds  
Of emptied fish eggs;  away, away and down 
To the silver-slippered whaleroad of the sea! 
Down to the breakers and badlands, borderless lagoons, 
Completing, with raw luck, a Pacific circuit  
As round as the world  Magellan imagined, 
Where each nimble slit face will bleaken into a claw, 
Each corvette exterior ripen to bitter red 
And only the sly survive. 


Constitutional

Bales of daybreak scatter broken hay—
Shreds of light the early parkground
Feeds the eager eye, waking ringing birds. 

Golden gears of day get going, annoying 
Drunkards and latecomers, laggards 
Too timid to escape their asylum of dreams. 

The foot crunches cinders on the cold park path 
As woods enclose the walker in dew-dim green, 
Ears and eyes awake for what brambles disclose: 

A syrupy dewlap repeating to its mate, 
The bitter gabble of a squirrel on high, 
How the referenceless blue of sky intrudes. 

At a stop where rubber joggers stretch 
He sits, a chalky bubble doming at his feet 
A moment’s irritated digging reveals 

To be the stark arched catacombs of a skull. 


Woodpecker

The woodpecker hammers in deafness,  
An arpeggio of ellipsis dots 
Turning the trunk into a thunderous drum 
Loud as a cloudburst, a wail of electric 
Lightning in the downpour of his beak, 
Itself a splinter of the woodpecker’s brain 
His single nail of intention drilling 

A rabble of insects from the desert wood, 
Fleets of them fleeing Egypt, half-grown wings folded 
Like packs on the refugees’ backs 
Seeking Sinai beyond the impassable banks— 

A place of sacred song, bonfires and worship, 
Their stump wings become angel feathers 
Themselves grown golden in face and limb 
Raising all their hallelujah voices in song together 
A circle of safety and praise “Hallelujah!” 
And only the tamed accompanying tumble of drums 
To remind them of the woodpecker. 


Two Pike Beneath the Rail Bridge

for Mat Spano

A snake of shadow doubles in the water— 
A grounded pike in his cold redoubt, his 
Troubled blur of darkness underneath him 

Rolls over motes of stones like a cut kite-tail, 
In a water-flight of greedy feeding, snap and 
Strike after strike into terrorized small fry 

That blaze his evilly thin needle teeth with blood, 
Curling broody clouds into lake-light and weeds 
And obscuring the dumbshow action of a life. 

II
The weight of the pike, black as a wrenched rail spur,
Meditates in his mysterious underworld, gleeless 
And deeply green as a Christmas bough— 

I am life! I am knife!  he seems to say, scissoring 
His blunt course beneath the taut causeway, 
A troll below the ebony river’s surface, shadow 

Inside shadow, his deathly inches glistening ink 
As he writes the page of life black as himself 
Or his shadow-self, the self that guides the knife. 


Moment of Silence

The little brown hen, beheaded 
Ran about the dusty clucking yard like an abortion 
Her spur of blood a race flag  
Stippling the yard with dark dots, beautymarks 
For a full minute.  The other hens stopped clucking 
And left their feed unattended to watch, 
To feel the dark sprinkler pass by batting them— 
Their eyes vaguely gathered, vaguely lit. 
All scratching hushed, and the sun stopped. 
For a full minute I think it was, yes. 


The Duck, Shotgunned

The duck, shotgunned 
Caught the full volley of pellets, 
Steel circles like pilled thimbles 
Spreading inner fire with a hundred matchsticks 
Struck in the smoking under-feathers, 
The trim wings wide, as in delight mid-flight  

But here is suffering and ripping, 
A million zippers stripping skin, 
All your fingernails blown off in a single twinge 
And nerve and blood left to baste in air, 
Bathe in pain 
Forever. 


Death of a Housefly

This is the basis. A faceted particle 
Bearing its pair of window-wings, a fractal 
Reflecting Nature’s majesty in grim miniature. 
A dot of the universe made blood and hair, 
The infinitesimal start of the Big Bang’s buzz. 
The nodule, the nada. 

This dead housefly 
Practiced spastic pratfalls through the rooms— 
A black note following what conductor’s wand? 
Among damaged fruit and unguarded ears 
It made its itchy way. 
Stumbling, staccato, on tiptoe. 

I watch the billion connections blossom 
From his rainbow bowl-of-gumballs eyes 
To my duller ones, practiced and lidded. 
Do you see, the fly whispers, how alike we are? 
Were you a gnat, I would swat you, fly says. 
As you are, I sip blood from your hairy walls. 

The dead housefly flitters from the counter 
To the floor in summer’s mangy breeze. 
Its universe is over, its finale played and applauded. 
I negotiate broom and dustpan in procession, 
Knock the little bugger into the too-full dustbin 
And ring shut the metal lid like a cymbal. 


Metal Detector

A flying saucer on a stick swings back and forth 
Over the dirty beach, the dribble of grime 
That marks the tide’s high assault, the clamor 
Of a slug’s cold unwanted kiss. 

The flying saucer swings, and swigs of sound 
Filter a staticky hash through my cupped earholes, 
The sound post-apocalyptic, waiting for the bright bing 
The inimitable click that signals a tossed coin, 
The fine wire of a hairpin, the lost Mayan gold 
Of a forgotten money clip. 


A Wheel of Hooks

Turns in the eagle’s flying eye, zeroes down 
To peg a live shadow in the grass,
Haul it sputtering to nest.

Two chains of hooks its feet
Dangle shaggy dragnets 
Over
Sumptuous innocuous indolent meadows.

A hundred hooks gather into feathers, 
Climb the frigidaire air barb by barb,
Clawing against gravity to flight.

A hook, too, is the prowlike 
Bastion of beak 
Battering ribs with its stick, incising 
Designs into totem, 

Curve after curve

In the bloodied broken side of its prey.


Slender in the Grass

Snakes are boneless trombones sliding slender in the grass. 
Their alphabets are all hisses, “Asss to Zsss.”

Their eyes, like birds’, are liquid wax droplets of black, 
Pools of dark rumor and wells of ancient observation.

They ride the damp ground like a whip writhing to stiffness, 
Thwacking desperate cracks in the dirt to attract a skinny mate. 

A snake’s razor mouth widens to a gulp when any beetle lands near, 
Its split rainbow back a Swiss Army knife of displayed wings. 

When rains come, churning and flooding the ripped field, they swim, 
Their lengths alert S’s suddenly alive as kitetails in the teeming wind. 

They know no road but hunger, and sleep their meals down for days, weeks, 
Giving back to the damp uncaring ground a mouse’s intricate skull, 

A spittle of skeleton, forever ivory and wideeyed. 



Setting

Where to begin?  A confusion of thorns 
Besets the setting sun with a hash of prison bars; 
Night’s limber elements are rising from the earth 
Reanimating darkness, giving limbs to missing light, 
Raising a black wave over our heads 
Cricked down for evening prayers, then a meal. 

But for now, all is still confusion— 
The old barn taut with disintegration, its hard 
Lean away from light;  the tempest of songbirds 
Arriving noisily to nests in the sun’s abatement; 
The raccoon’s paw awake to darkness and theft; 
Thrills of a million moths detaching themselves 
From the sloped sides of trees, their daily guards. 

The eagle, the snake, the hawk, the dog retire. 
In their place, night’s minion, the hidden thrust, 
The secret grasp—oh, death by any other name, 
Death by a thousand stratagems—all recorded 
In the reflective eye of the cat at the window. 




Cadaver in Vastness

Time the hammer and time the anvil 
Claws raw gobbets from the cadaver. 

A quiet of observation invades the hills, 
Wraps the sliver viewer in vapor. 

The child’s dog had run away down the road 
No farther than here; 

Here were no green ingots of gravehills, 
Just one dog rotted to a husk, 

A blackened comma stuck out beyond 
His tongue’s final saying. 

The cliffs, quilt-patched like coral, 
Still melt in immeasurable mists; 

Trees swing their long beards over the brook, 
Fish alive among their barky toes. 

But here at the dark roadside, a cavern 
Axes dead halves of a ribcage 

Into darker futures, a vastness 
Realer than stars. 




Lizard Evening

The lizard in the ditch, his brain a chip 
Turns his chipped eyes to the sun 

The lichened rock he spraddles is pocked 
With stars of greenish lesions 

A harshness of stars is in his twenty 
Fingerends roughed for gripping 

He is sure of nothing, not even gravity 
As he glares at the universe from his rock—

Along his spine a constellation gathers 
Like a trail of bulletholes in God….

The lizard in the ditch, impatient for flies 
Slowly splits his jaw, spits his split tongue 

As if to lap up the sun, its tunnel of cauldron 
One changeling flame at a time 

Until night comes, however ugly, and only his 
Spine of stars is shining 



Watching Wildlife

She’s surprised, her eyes foolish, owlishly large, 
Twin fishbowls slopped with infinity, her mouth 
Dropped doll-like open in a pinkish, pale gash 
A slash touch of drool spooling a corner. 

What is it that she’s watching?  A second moon 
Shouldering out from behind the first 
We know so well, like our own splotched hand 
Familiar and veined and always available? 

No, not that.  It’s something closer to home 
Like a threat, a chainsaw hiccupping off a nail, 
Its blade loud and wild, a deadly blurr, 
A blaze of steel thorns throbbing sparks! 

She watches so carefully, so pitilessly, a poised 
Tan animal about to pounce perhaps, 
Watchful of her victim’s teeth, array of claws,  
Hidden stings, woodpecker’s beak like a sewing machine, 

The power of muscles thumping a bone skull like a club. 
Yet she herself is still, fearless—
Alone, empyrean, detached, fatalistic, 
A girl standing at the edge of her own green yard, 

Ambivalent, balanced. 



Vultures

Flesh was never less alive 
Than in their claw-hammer mouths,

Gobbets and blobs dripping from beaks 
Wry as fishhooks.

The spurring rabbit the truck wheel had winged 
Left nailed to the asphalt

Now a grim etching by Durer, tendons aghast, 
Gashed open like a surgeon’s how-to

To the slow thoughtful desecration of the doctors 
Hunched around their diagnosis.




Thistle Wins

The icy field is stiff with thistles, 
Pencils jammed in a holder, grey bristles on a chin. 

Thousands of bareheaded golf balls rolled to a stop, 
Each beheaded head bedizened with pins. 

How long did it take for these roots to creep? 
These spiky knobs to rise like fists? 

Each hidden root connects to another root, root to root, 
A starchart under the earth’s dirt. 

I stand here alone as winter makes us alone: 
Banging my hands for warmth, stamping my feet. 

If I had a mirror big enough 
I could show this overrun world its face. 




River Waving and Waving

A stillness is in it.  Leaden.
Even though it is waving, waving continually 
It’s always with the same, tame, martinied 
Glassy indifference.  Green-eyed, squatting, squalid
As a toad, as lipless gelid. 

A fresh-water jellyfish or squid laid on a board 
Would look as lively, as livid, lurid. 
All day loping the gaping bank, its wound of water—
Summertime anglers, day-campers 
Never too far from stoves and faucets, 
The womb of home. 

I put my hand into river coldness.
I drop a baited hook into its goop. 
I stoop for smooth dull stones to throw at it.
Or reach into the silver house with a threaded wish
To catch flesh I de-shingle and eat— 

The red welt of fish-wealth 
                          held in the fire’s fingers 

As evening gains in the trees 
And darkness erases faces. 

Szzz—Too hot to touch!  This 
Frying sliver of river. 

But stabbed with a stick, I bring it up 
Greedily between my teeth. 




Bats in a Cavern

Here’s no light but an echo of light 

Light like a black ear flapping 

Small-boned bodies flapping in a known womb-cave 

The whole place the scraped inside of an eye, waiting 

And the sprawled dawn-cry comes, a thousand cries 
Skreaking and streaking like train cars— 

Twice a thousand ears eating dawn like an egg! 
A black egg, viscid and filling 

All is known, all is revealed, x-rayed by those cries 

The bugs the guano the catacomb litter

Their little fur chests line up like soldiers 
Glued to the gleaming ceiling of the cavern 

Clawing the raw stone 

One thousand faces split and dripping 



Gnats

Less than a thimbleful will make you lose the will to live. 
Gnats attack at the interstices
Where sweat lives under an eyelid, a slick
Lick of paint no one could mistake for tears.
A peppering of infinitesimal bodies
Intent on your discomfort, they fly into hinges
Of elbows and knees
Giving their gamey smell when crushed 
Of rotted olives.  Too small to wipe off
They remain, a grit of pulverized guts
Waiting for the laundromat’s absolution,
The shower’s cloudy powerwash.



Song Sparrow

The sparrow, wrestle-breasted arrow of song, 
Indignant arc lamp of day, sky’s-spy, deliverer of God’s notes 
To mute mortal ears, lug jug-handles on the wine pot— 
How like a spook you move in the thin limitless air. 
How beyond deftness your swiftness.  Sheer circles of light! 
And in an endless ring you are singing—phrases, prophecies, 
The moulting basketloads of insects yet uneaten! 
And the sun comes through your mouth, too;  the sun, 
And all the crying stars of yestereve, tearpricks in the blueness. 
Constellations align to your wingtips, grasses part at your 
Passing, nature and songster at one in the dewsweep. 

No more clotted gobblings of domestic turkeys, blind clucks 
Earthbound and beaten to repetitious hawkings of mere sound, 
Bruised wattles hanging diseased over all song, any singing. 
Here is a choir of velvets and visionings, long lusterful sighs 
That folds the sky in your pocket, all in one fluffed breast. 
It seems to have no nest, but when the nest is found, 
Tucked like an ear under a crest of rosebush, or suddenly 
There beneath a worsted whorl of fieldgrass, with old bandages 
Of eggs, cast off crepe from the birthday party, sharp discardings 
That gave rise to this, to you, gripping your perch, 
The striped bullet head bent back in laughter! 



Nesting Swallows

Stars turn blue in the untended bucket 
While belly sleeps and wing slopes. 
The day was yours, tin beak, 
The night I keep, says eyelid asleep. 

The nest rides quiet like a lip of wave, 
The evergreen ever-vigilant of its dark shade. 
There’s nothing to see between the sheaves 
Of branches, except the feathery skin 

Of the wind 
At last at rest. 



Rockface

A war-wind licks the tattered rocks 
Frosted with lichen stubble, spare faces  
Visible above green beards. 

The remains of a farm, of a home 
Washed, tumbled to a lumbar spine of fallen wall 
Spoiled by a seafoam stain. 

All the lives here are bone again, are green
Mouldy birthmarks, are mottled handprints flimsy 
As a kindergartener’s Thanksgiving turkey. 

Shamrock sigils of vigils past and failed—
Hail fellowships birthing only this mint rot, this 
Nothing of wind warring wind 

And lichens’ fading greying faces. 


 

Prickers

Prickers stick to rough jean cuffs covering scuffed work boots. 
Unshaven stubble shows the stiff imprint of age, 
Gaunt gristle of days lived and forgotten, an old sailor’s youth 
Sailed grey among cows and seas of grass. 

I pull at them at the stone churchyard doorstep, slap 
Stubborn stubble on worn and faded cuffs. 
My long heedless stride got me here, gathered green days 
To this scruff of stars washing round my ankles. 

Prickers gather thick as ticket stubs in a bottomless pocket, 
The washed-out dates distorted and mangled.  All my life 
I’ve come alone through these fields to this frigid steeple 
Like a compass needle that always comes round to North. 

And these with me, least eminences of the neglected field, 
These rustling pricker-weed seeds with small arms lifted astonished— 
Ferrying always with me on my open journey, sticking it out,
Until I cast them 

In miserable heaps to the doorstep.



Landscrape

He stood alone, wild in the merry-go-round junkyard.
Jagged stacks of tires creaked a rubbery babble,
Oily water caught rank in the empty rims.
Where had they driven, these rearing carnival-wheels?
What seen, these charcoal eye-holes outlined in bruise?
Miles they’ve revved and spun, millions of miles,
Miles going round and wearing out, like hearts.
And now: a bird pulls out a bit of wire,
The hasty scamper of a rat keeps dry in mysterious rain.
A weed reaches its thread through some wheel-hole,
Waiting for fate’s snip-snip in the afternoon sun....
Wheels ridden to strips against earth’s wheel,
Paired gears kissing and grinding in lifelong marriage,
The little gear worn through like a wound, dirty,
A wound too old now for even a bandage,
A wound no longer bleeding, really—
A wound where the sky leaks in,
And a swindling
Wind whistles
 
 



To hatch a crow, a black rainbow 
Bent in emptiness over emptiness 
But flying

Ted Hughes




You, Over There

Something happened to you, over there. 
A snowy owl invests your shoulders 
With hunches, black minnows drown 
Your eyes, between the transfixed cross
Attached at your brows—the stiff track
Of a crow’s kinked foot in night snows. 



Graveyard Ravens

Not to die.  Not to die. 
The small worm-eye of the raven is so black 
It is blue.  Blue-black, flattening its wings 
Against a nude sheet of snow, legs 
Of tree roots still dark, unconquered by the frost. 
The raven looks about, a small shirr of dust 
Drifting from his black forehead, his eye 
Of outerspace—without star, without moon. 

He hunches in his overcoat under a juniper bush. 
To be a raven is to never die, he thinks. 
How many coffins I have stood atop!   His wings 
Spread like an evil phoenix, a mourner’s umbrella. 
To him, a tomb’s as good as a barn.

To the far left, far from the bee-gatherings of cars, 
A pack of ravens scuttle in the margin of a ditch 
(With a sound, if it could be heard, of cards shuffling)
Eating some earthly remnant, some essence 
Of snake, a whipcord pulled to death 
Laying its blood-tar scar against new-fallen snow. 

They are in no hurry, as the snake is not.
They are seven judges at a trough unburying justice. 
They dig up old pasts into new light, new stabs 
Adorning an ancient halo’s glory radiant as irises— 
That arrangement of spears around a central nullity: 
A void, a hunger. 



All Is Calm

for Anna Moran

It was in winter that she left us, 
Her grey good voice gone still. 
Her laughter that caught us has kept us, 
Although her laughter has gone still. 
Her hands that held our own and patted, tutted 
And cajoled, upon her breast lie still. 
Snow like drumtaps on her coffin fell, 
And snow is falling on her calm grave still. 
Winter has entered, and she has left us. 
We gather remembering and grow still. 




In Memoriam

Twelve mourning doves walk abased in dust 
Soft as nuns at their small solemnities, 
Their tan wings folded back to balance 
The hiccupping strut that takes them back and forth, 
Nodding their sidelong eyes with white lids 
Disturbingly human, though no bigger than  
A pinky’s fingerprint, cooing docile as ghosts 
All together where the old dogwood dapples petals, 
Each claw-fingered step pawing the ashen earth. 

II
Twelve mourning doves are cooing in a ring,
Soft doxy voices that touch and soothe, such soft
Wood-night wood-dark wooing forgetfulness
Under dogwoods dropping pleasant last petals
Under a gun-metal morning
Under the weight of stars
Disappearing blue.



Winter Crows

A crush of snow and the house settles, mellows. 

A roofline of unshaved icicles greets a morning hangover 
Challenging the cold adjustment of dreams 
Their dark ache of song that passes the night hours. 
There’s something tremendous in a world erased overnight, 
Like listening to Wagner backwards or exploding dud ordinance. 
The afternoon funeral looks stark as the Donner party, 
A line of crows milling around the golden corncob. 
Afterwards, there’s an undeniable deaf amnesia— 
Something gracious has been mislaid, and then forgotten. 
You never knew so much weight of what is could be, 
That wings could be so heavy, could drag so low. 
Conversation stopped the day before last, afraid of more news: 
Cousins insane, grandmothers crippled and punctured, 
Divorce served with thin slices of the Christmas beast 
And a gravy of tears.  And now the power of snow 
Shows itself in our guarded, hunched, held-close looks. 
Our hands are unable to dig out and find each other. 
Something vestigial in us is waiting for spring 
But we do not remember what a sparrow sounds like 
Or the shaggy look of a new tulip, blood buds of a maple tree. 
The house creaks like a warning shot, and a step breaks 
While carrying out fresh trash;  the blender burns out, 
Innumerable bulbs are pinched and replaced, or left 
To add a new shadow like a shotgun blast;  a totemic  
Crow bestrides the balustrade like an inkblot.
Time dilates;  we live in the pupil;  we skate in circles 
Waiting for nothing, hands on our ears, eyes closed, 
Fingers no longer crossed in our nylon mittens. 

We had not lived here till the first loved thing had died here. 



April Fool

The years are burying our friends,
And the beastly bees coming back in Spring
Are buzzy again, the floods of flowers
Trying on new dresses for new caskets.
And the air, sweet as it is, is sour to me—
A lone survivor smelling my way 
                              Amid fresh wreckage.




Now I know what poetry is for the widower said

Now I know what poetry is for the widower 
Now I know what poetry is for 
Now I know what poetry is 
Now I know what 
Now I know 




Hitting Seventy

My spidery jalopy body 
Mad hair scuppered and scalped in patches 
Eyebrows of pig bristles, hands daft crabs 
Muscle stripped to bait, a gristle-brisket 
Hung from this skeleton of hooks 

All mornings hate my face, spitting 
Sunfire in my eyes to emasculate dreams 
To reason me awake like a razor dancing
In the splay hands of an anarchist ex-wife 
Pointblank as the ceiling 

Last night’s smoky martini longboat 
Rivers away through a hazard of stars—
Puffed to nothing, interstellar dragon-smoke—
The stolen opium of Chinese poets 
Drowned in their emerald slippers 

Worm-white, I face stacked racks of stairs 
The mute unbearable glaring of pets 
And reeking garbage-trucks of pitiless chores 
With the featherless soul of a beaten pillow 
Cored mauled punched ignored 




Black Dish, No Cut Peaches Fine as the Sun

Black leaves in black water in a black bowl. 
There is, in it, more than a stir of waters, 
More than black leaves going round, the brim 
Wetted by whatever the interfering finger does. 
Whoever had eaten here has left the bowl 
To weather.  Was it myself who sat and ate 
Fat-fingered peaches dripping with sun? 
Or was that some other, now that autumn’s come? 
Black leaves in black water in a black bowl 
Sit on the midnight veranda still as thieves. 



The Harp Player

Wounded, the flying chords work their salve 
Deeper into the ear canal, 
A mix of melody and grindstone—
The rhythmic pistons of a piano  
Upended, gutted, on silver display 
And stroked like an infarcted heart 
Until the pain leaves the strings 
And the audience cries at the beauty of rescue  
While the song whirls on….

And the harp player, proud and dark 
In his trim dinner jacket 
Turns away from your fraught tears 
And deeplier, and deeplier,
Hunches around the wing of his harp. 



Hurry, Hurry

Hurry, hurry  the grasses say.   
They point the easy way, 
Hands over their heads 
Like divers finding the pool. 

Swiftly, swiftly the meadowlark 
Lances from the grass 
Easy into skies, swaying 
His wingtips as he goes. 

Calmly, calmly the sunset 
Sets the field afire.   
If my days like grass must burn, 
Let night like larks aspire. 




Crooked Hickory

"To myself I told a lie, 
I gave it all my heart. 
And to that lie I’m loyal 
That lies within my heart. 

I cannot unwind the coil 
I wound with all my strength. 
She was young who bent it, 
And I am old at length. 

The lie that lies within me 
Has daily shaped my days. 
And to that lie I’m loyal, 
Although I would part ways."

 



                       I felt uplifted, 
Like champagne in a thin, bright glass 

Ted Hughes 



Cows’ Hooves

Cows’ hooves stand, planted apart, in earth
While flanks gild blank statues in the sun’s
Afternoon onset, rank spillage yolk and gold.
They jaw cud the way chain-smokers smoke,
The way old husbands snore while soupy brown eyes 
Loom and ruminate, beautifully lashed orbs 
Seeing all... or seeing nothing.... It’s hard to tell.





Horse Lessons

The dawn field was a single whistling white, 
Endless star-white grass 
As my feet held steady 

Against the gigantic pull of earth. 
I stood like a horse watching the sunrise 
Emblazon the land, picking out the stripes of grass 

One by one, and blessing them 
As dawn went on toward day, and the horses 
Paraded out led by children 

And the time for lessons pinched me into speech. 
Pommel and throatlatch;  cantle, stirrup;  bridle and bit. 
Giddup, giddup, 

And the whole line of us rose into motion like a wave, 
The grass it’s endless sirrahs intoning, 
And still cool, still sheltered 

By some shadow of night’s arrested rest, 
The rustling unhaltered rest of stalls—
Standing still in limb and spirit, eventide divine. 




Spider’s Lesson

The spider diagrams a sentence punctuated by death. 
Death to the fly that tries a new language. 
Death to the butterfly pining for thistles’ pins. 
Death to the moonblind moth tumbling moonward. 
Death to the ant marching astray. 
Death to the inchworm one inch at a time. 

When her sentence is finished, rolled up and eaten, 
She embarks on another before night comes vamping. 
Her spindle seems limitless, and glistens. 
She rides the lines that terrify with a swift spidery bliss. 
Her grammar is immaculate and intricate as the OED. 

She latches each line with her embroiderer’s glue,
Shaking her insides dry in the sun.

When her final web blows forth, 
Shining skull-white with it’s pirate’s sail, 
Even she is impressed.  Even she, seeing the benign design 
Big as a spread-fingered open-handed hello, 
Has second thoughts. 




Feral Cats

There’s a skunk skank you notice first, a burn 
Of urine marking a boundary like napalm—
Beneath a porch, at the disastered end 
Of an abandoned barn, or where a quiet alley 
Narrows its waterway and tiptoe weeds 
Grow leggy after sunlight, the sky a blue trickle. 

Next, a bomb of exploded songbirds, never ravens, 
Their notes gutted that had drawn feral eyes, 
Old souls broken open as rotted ashcans and left 
Pocking the concrete apron with shotgun blacks, 
While at their queasy leisure in a patch of sunlight
Stray rain-matted cats daintily lick their paws. 



Cleaning the Bones

for Linda Johnston Muhlhausen

Slumped at her typewriter as at a toothy skull
In an elephant graveyard where dry savanna cracks 
And a wrinkle of valley invites the eye to descend,
The writer examines her soul like a dentist
Poking the broken white keys til it hurts
And prying the hurt out for a good gory look,
The roots a bit bloody and the roof caved in.
She tastes the cracked enamel with her pointed tongue,
Sucks at the hole in the skull for blue eons
Where flesh is wet and tender as a jellyfish,
Translucent and useless as unset glue— 
The elephants’ ribs a risen house around her
Until thinking fails and her pink pain returns.
Stooping with loupe and a diamonddust drill
She makes a new tooth out of any old thing:
A pebble, a lost marble, a thumbnail, a screw.
Bent like a grandmother washing an infant 
She rolls it left-right, she watches she etches
She polishes the simulacrum with exquisite skill
And screws the new tooth in with tongs and a grimace
In the place in the skull where the old tooth smiled
Perfectly white and perfectly dead. 




In a Wood

Strip me of language that I might hear
The owlet’s cry climb limb to limb 
Uncursed by human questioning. 

In nakedness of hunger or plumed with joy 
Let the V-sharp beak declare, 
Unhelped by any too-human ears. 

Let every ghostly echo some human word 
Displace;  let the death of a mouse 
In the leaves be the mouse’s death. 

Banish my striving mind, invisible life! 
Let sap infuse my veins and a bark enclose 
This too-insistent skin. 

Slowly I leech into the buoyant night  
As the unknown owlet regains its perch, 
Open eyes diaphanous as moons. 

The forest, full-tenanted, surrounds us
With wooden moans, twangs and strange
Sighs I myself begin to imitate. 




Cycle of Force

Tadpole grew angry at the slimegreen pond
And legged it onto land.

Frog was wroth with his dry mudbank 
And humped into the water.

Maggot in the egg hatched mad at God 
And helicoptered off the great, dead face. 

Tongue abandoned its big-mouth chalice 
And leapfrogged after the fly.

Missus laid her suds-bag of eggs, 
Windy reeds bent to the ground….

“Our pond is mirror-fresh, is cool,” 
She sang, until 

Bullfrog sun beat it crucible.



The Raccoon’s Nose

The nocturnal raccoon’s a clown of course 
With his merry bandito black butterfly mask 
Working the comic implications of moonlight and trash 

As he rummages through compost buckets 
Like reading a daughter’s diary, yesterday’s dirty coffee 
Casting a grainy grit haze over all the spoiled goods. 

His magician’s hands ferret out wands of hot dogs, 
Madcaps of eggshells, the delicious simmering mess 
Still to be made of last night’s abandoned dinner! 

And that old thief the moon has vampire fangs tonight, 
Grinning at his mischief, the quick work of chaos 
Hands divorced from conscience can make 

As if, in the minute it takes to return from brushing one’s teeth 
A miniature twister had landed on the back porch 
And pried life’s pasteboard scenery apart at the seams.... 

He waddles to the hollow half-sun of a grapefruit 
And sips its pink innards delicately as high tea; so delicately 
You’d swear there was the ghost of a tophat between his ears.

The sweep of his ringed tail is spiffy as refrigerated minks, 
His bandit’s mask’s a mere costume for the evening’s masquerade—
Rayed starlight hung up in splendid chandeliers above us, 

The ornate parquet flooring swept dustless for the dance 
As I bow to you through the sliding glass door 
And you bow to me, too, detaching the purple aperitif 

Of a discarded grape from its wiry dead stem. 







Sixpenny Nails

The paling east belied the hurricane’s arrival
As if harrying shadows had long since lapsed
That were only coming up from behind in the west;
Already a cloudweight of clotted darkness
Owned the rest of the sky, and, in it, lightnings!
And water like a tidal wave, a wet apron held
Out before the belly full of aching waters.

Already a thin ringing ran through uneasy gutters,
A teetering high-pitched scree that made the dog look up—
A squealing like metal wheels was rolling through the whole house,
And the aluminum shutters wouldn’t latch for shit.
We hurried with nails and plywood where we could,
Beating out the light, keeping ourselves shut in
To live out the time where we’d creeped safe.

Our neighbor, a carpenter, helped drive the nails
As we held up our hands steadying the awkward wood
Until all that was left was to make coffee and wait
It out, wait it out, while the carpenter napped 
On the couch.  The wife petted the dog anxiously;
The dog tilted his ears at the ceaseless screed outside,
Myself quiet as a candle burning down when a long 
Gust suddenly had us all leaning east with the house, 
Counting ourselves and our luck when it finally passed
And the roof settled back like a windswept hat.

“Sixpenny nails,” was all the carpenter said, 
Turning back to sleep in the appalling weather, 
His shoes mud-knocked clean beneath a chair,
The house hanging on but just barely.




First Things

First, lemon lengths of light trim the gables.

The snow is easy still as if still first-fallen, 
All airy whiteness on eyelashes laid 
With the rods of trees black-wet beneath, a river 
Of wood roads, paths winter-asleep, though March is making 
The solid ground give out smoky wisps of new grass—
The cold is best, you decide, swallowing glass,
First gasp in a world of limitless ice, limitless slips 
As concrete steps stretch out and the day’s hunt calls.  
And all this as the dawn just gets going, the furious orange
Retching up like a swimmer finishing his lunge 
His lionhead shaggy above the pool’s clean edge 
Red knuckles hoisting the weighted shoulders
The dripping face averted as if too horribly strong. 

Dawn’s razorback breach has made its showing for today.





Barn Burning

A smash of fire ran mad fingers over the skeletal barn. 

Stiff-faced horses had raised stone heads how many years, 
Great-grieved Agamemnon masks, old wood masks of Troy, 
Hankered nosefirst in clunked buckets of morning oats 
How many years?  How many years had dark-cheeked 
Dignity strapped on a mummer’s gas-mask, 
Chewing handsful clouts of oats while slow eyes feast 
On dawn’s no-man’s land of rank grass pasturage, 
Dawn’s fist a misty cauldron in the bolt-hole valley 
Where sun wrestles roadflares all along one edge 
In daily ghostly flameless burning how many years 

Knuckling white the weedy line between sky and earth. 





Phalanx House

Damp shadows follow you through hairy woods 
Trailing—oh, a thousand things—as if a mist 
Bloodied, a mist made wine, made dark, made night. 

And through those shadows push spidery hands 
Making way for some lost face, crowning shoulders, 
As if walking here you were a stranger being born. 

In the middle of these trees arises a ghostly house 
Of grey timber, each plank knotted at its core, 
Its fieldstone chimney slipped like a old man’s back. 

Hampered daylight fills the tomblike home 
With strands of grey, and shows a battered mattress 
Where teenaged summer nights convene. 

Quiet heat, like a holstered gun, dots forehead 
And neck… and starts an itch of wonderment at all 
The echoed life that once raced these halls,

Or ran barefoot upon the hill, or rolled a hoop, 
Long before any long shadow of wood took root 
And raised up leafy tabernacles, and blotted all. 




People Beating the Fieldgrass

Everyone with a stick, or a cane, or an umbrella tightly rolled
Is walking methodically through the fields beating the grass;
Drowning in wild alfalfa, bullgrass, bluestem up to their armpits
Their voices carrying the lost name like a repeated wave

Susan Susan Susan Susan 

They tilt and straighten and walk and cry through the grass,
Swinging wildly at the unmanageable weeds, the everywhere
Interference of green and seed and tears twenty-four hours
Have thrown in their faces as they pace and peer for darkness

Susan Susan Susan Susan 

For some shadowy clot of curled being forgotten at the root,
Dressed in gingham and bedded down exhausted, or tripped
On a grey hidden risk bulking blind in omnipresent grass,
Some black current having carried her where no ten year old

Susan Susan Susan Susan 

 



The moth said: 
I am too shy,
 Too. 
In love to speak. 





Beach Dig

Look what wampum we have gathered! 
Here where we honeymooned all those moons 
Gone by... shells burning in the sunset.

Again this year we walk the wide surfline—
Shells scurry to our hooked inlet,
Pried by tide and intent into wet pockets.

I fish a nickel’s-worth of wisdom out 
And turn your smile into a hook of chuckles,
Digging after delight like digging oysters.

We trail the sound’s tideline on the lookout 
For what the year’s vastness has left draggled,
Glints of glass in the endless backwash.

Such a wealth of seawrack and stink! 
Backs bent like hooks to troll for treasure
We hold on, hands hooked together.




Love Undid

Sordid love undid
Its ribbons and buckles

Left its pants collapsed
In prairies of desire;

Where buttocks tussled
Love was sunburn

A red all-over slap
That cools like a sore tooth.

Love came roaring
With its juggler’s chainsaw

Its hissing hot kisses,
Its tongue of raw fire.

Love crashed 
Its charring stars

Into your chest and mine,
Our mire of human

Snicked alight 
Like matchsticks.




Wedblocked

two weeks before

By this point, I thought we’d be gasp-laughing, 
The marriage corvette hitting seventy without a hitch 
Our faces wasted with spring sunshine and wild smiles, 
The unrepeatable in-jokes that couples conspire: 
Memorizing lewd news to appall old Aunt Ida 
And zap Uncle Chuck into a champagne spit-take, 
Or doodling Acapulco details of our honeymoon
Drolly on napkins at midnight rendezvous.  But,

Winter snows buried our playful April to the roof! 
We, who’d thought to kindle time ’til our May bonfire 
A matchstick at a whack!  Frozen roads skid caterers
And budgets off track, timetables plowed under— 
Cold curses crash, chatter vile links in an icy chain 
That grapnels our nuptials with anvil force, winch- 
Ing us crippled toward some drooling giant’s 
Hinged maw, jaws-of-life prized 
Endless as a waterfall, awful as passed gas. 



Dimwelter

In the dimwelter of evening we met for a swim. 

The gawp of the lake aping the moon’s smooth light 
Took our floating bodies with a silver swallow
As we swept our smiles filling with pushed water 
Into easy depths, trailing wings behind us as we 
Paddled and lunged, our hair returned to womb-wet, 
Your elbows now and then vivid with drips as a gutter 
Overpoured in storm and wind, the cold clean of it 
Cutting me into pure halves like a new pear, 
A pool of oblong moving shadow now, circling 
Wordless when dim clouds came obscuring the moonbolt
That had been riveted so brightly above us— 

The stars coming singly clear when we stopped. 
 



For the Love of Buttercups

For the love of buttercups in a field of buttercups 

We take our watery walk slowly in good boots, 
Glimpse sparse splatterings of streams here and there 
Amid the blat of frogs.  Simmered mists lessen westward 
As day ignites those golden buttercups hard yellow, 
And hinting love makes way for plain statement— 
All sepal-soft affection turned ardent seed. 
Pale tender bulbs survive the flinch of winter here 
And bring their crayon yellow to another summer 
(Keeping blossoms true even in months of floods)
Lifting their buttercup’s branching crowns in air 
Like fleets of saffron monks on backs of elephants
As if no other season than their summer ever was, 
No colors worn but their summer’s burning brands,
Blond chalices lapping open around our moving knees
Where we dodge humped tussocks in old boots 
And hold old hands like two roots entwined until 
Some seeping inner mist arrives, veiling face and eyes 

For the love of buttercups in a field of buttercups. 




Sunflowers

We sat in the burning fields and shared a sunflower. 

Tall around us leaned the velveteen cornstalk shafts 
Of sunflowers by the mile. Jenny held the fallen god 
Like a pie plate in her open lap, the heedless seeds 
Black as tacks, teeming as ticks, getting picked 
One by one between index and thumb, eating their meat 
Like smashed bugs with staccato teeth and tongues. 
The sound of the fields was as a cat in a grocery bag, 
A papery bigness the dry leaves weaved into canopies 
That frittered the sun—the suns—nodding their lead heads
Into bearable shreds of threaded light and shadow. 
Some of the sunflowers were still descending comets, 
Their yellow petals coned into harmless arrows, 
Their grin of seeds still hidden and small as a fist; 
Others, though, gave us the full black lamp treatment: 
Intense and downturned as saints at prayer 
Watching the sacrifice of their fellow at our hands, 
Pinching eyots of flesh that dribbled to our lips, 
Our raw fingers busy as boll-weevils, our eyes 
Themselves going dark as the million feeding seeds 
We ate and wiped antsy on our long blue dungarees, 
Standing at last amid a devastated harvest 
Of shells and whispering stalks, 
Silent with germinating thought— 

Done for the day that was not done with us. 




The Fox’s Pelt

We woke to your skin on fire, feverous with dream. 
But day was docile, the sky a heating-duct grey 
As you shaved carrots skinless that odd afternoon 
A fox ran through the kitchen—on hard scrambling nails 
And subtle paws, his sharp mate-musk stink sticking 
Where spindle-legs, black-burnt matchsticks 
Had passed;  ears alert, nose an arrow, eyes begging-wild
As a starving child’s, his tail a lit roadflare. 
He shot, disoriented, past you: instantly loud, 
Perhaps rabies-mad, like BBs scattered on glass. 

All nerves, you said he’d run so near his pelt 
Airbrushed calves as you peeled—and your face 
Carried a strange look into evening after that. 
A preoccupation with the map of outside sounds, 
Hoots and windchimes, whinging dogs, paused you, rapt. 
Except for a pinch of laughter here and there,  
I’d’ve said you’d sent your lover an unanswered text 
You were so otherwhere and otherwise.   
                                       And when 
I settled your faux fox pelt around your shoulders 
To escape suburban boredom for the theater, 
You touched the clean fur like a child’s scraped cheek 
And bit your lip, and pouted in the car, watching 
For some red flash in headlights that never came. 




Stars, Tears

Stretched-out night taps at the tattling sash.

Night like a dog wants to go for a long stroll,
Tugging the cool coiled leash of me to get going—
And I go, myself restless and dreamless loping
Into my slip-on shoes, nabbing the worn
Walking stick as the door clicks shut behind me and
Night is everywhere at once like cold raindrops:
On my skin and in my hair I feel the instant ice
Of high stars;  their frost, their freedom.   And I
Look up as if asked by the minister done with prayer
And step onto friendly gravel, and beyond that,
Picking a worn path that crackles through the field
Like wild glazing on a shard of pottery.

Taking my first breath at last I taste this tear.




 

Postcoital Olive Grove

Here I lie on a shield of dust

Beneath a black-green dapple of olivetrees,
The sun in patches alive as fireants
Over my beloved as she snores, sotto voce,
The wine rolled emptily out of reach
As steep hills fall away to a scent of hidden seas
And my forgotten pipe burns, itching my fingers,
My teeth fresh and shivery as if smiling,

The white plate bare of all but a few grapes.

 



     A fire was lit, the wood spat.
Robert Macfarlane




Day’s Catch

Between tremendous white acts of clouds 
The sky cleared,
Bare planks of an emptied stage. 

The day is unwritten that would speak there, 
Act aloud 
Into the blue gape, the sky’s splendid gob of light

A blue umbrella opening over our knot of fishing boat,
Green-gunwaled, 
We’d untied into the broad morning stream:

Rainbows ran away from the deeply crooked prow, 
Uncatchably sailing ahead 
Of the painful pant of oars;  those bold, effortful strokes. 

To the enviously easy sound of the river we gave up 
All sound of words, 
Watching blobs of bobbers distort, listening only 

To the silent howls of fish we hauled wobblingly 
Over our knees 
To lie swollen beside our muddy wellingtons. 





River Otters

Play keeps the otter on track for survival, 
Sweeps her back on her back 
                       for the key routines 
Of diving for meals, basking for supper. 

She’s got the alert look 
                  of a janitor on the hunt for trash, 
her variable mustache never settled 
                              beneath her nose 

But forever twitching and twigging to some 
Undiscovered opportunity for fun—
Entering intimately the zippered water
Swat-wheels of paws fanning liquid sunlight
Riding the wide slide 
                 of a heavy wave 
Or pairing in play 
Fight midstream, two-eyed pirates 
Without a plank.   

An otter’s her own rodeo, 
               her laughing lariat 
Hilariously cast 
to capture 
    a tragic moon and cinch it into smiles. 

Always at wrestling rest with water, the otter 
Laps the stolid, waterlogged log 
                                  eared with fungus 
And slaps curls of surf 
                like a panjandrum 

As she comes round and round 
And goes around again, 
Easy as leaves in autumn wind. 

She’s never less than slick, 
                   a weight of laughter 
Oiling her pelt, keeping her 
                   slim and wealthy. 

She’ll eat a fresh-bitten fish like eating a mirror, 
Endlessly eager after silver and blood, the good new stink
That fattens her milk for pups when they come 
Mewling into the grassy holt under willows—

Blind naked and crawling longwise to find furred teats, 
They’ll ride their ready mama 
                               all night like a raft.




O Indigo!

Up from the bottom  
Of my belling boat, I saw 

Sky, only sky. A quick electric 
Cut pale as paper. 

Around me loured the sounds 
Of sky, white whispers 

Like smoke unrolling,  
The shifting sheets 

Of making a fresh bed. 
Such air! 

Unreeling invisibly over me— 
Nothing but indigo, 

One indigo cube, cut 
By my inward gunwales,  

My bolt-hole 
Unanchored as a cloud...

Swiffering west, west, west 
As the stream hisses

As my fresh eyes dream
Of only this one

Huge acre of blue.



 

Arrival by Water

The skiff put in with a harsh hush of gravel at the island’s edge. 

Nobody noticed the fog’s snug hoodie with the broken woods before us 
Opening on the campsite, the ashen eye of the old put-out fire 
Centering where we would raise the spider web tents and hunker down 
For a long week of stories, the tipped glint of eyes in a sleeping bag, 
Days spent loping about the island’s sandy pines and warped shrubbery 
Or reading in the drifting skiff among junkyards of stumps 
And the loud flap of herons fishing.   

                            Sparks sang in the campy air 
That first night, casting strange ensigns in the edge of sight 
As we gathered our civilization to a knot of masks hunched 
Grimly around the burning socket of earth, the terrible tribute 
Of twigs pulled and piled skyward, the orange ingot of log 
Sacrificed like a length of man clipped and thrown away 
Where the frightwig fire climbed, feeding 
Our meaningless stories with death’s spat light. 
Kathy heaved away into distressed shadow, and Dan 
Sheared off after her with a joke, their tent argument eventually 
Shivering with reconciliation as Manny chuckled ‘Life!’ 
That was the first day. 

                          The water wrinkled like a face 
In front of the prow, and that was the second day. 

                                         Third day in, 
We set out for food more than what the river would give 
Willingly to our lines and time out of its silver mouth and 
Into ours;  there were small deer and wild pigs scattered 
Shotgun throughout the tossed wreckage of woods, 
And we would tackle and prepare one or go hungry 
We swore, shaking on it after the tar of morning coffee. 
Dan, Manny, and myself, Samuel, headed east to start 
Our circuit of the island heading toward a swampy dip 
That attracted birds, since even a duck would serve, 
Plucked and picked clean, while Jen and Kathy stayed 
To clear the breakfast char away and order camp, 
Scoffing at our oaths and waving us away with laughter. 

Once beyond the distracted clatter of camp, we hushed 
Into a pack, Manny taking point as we arrowed into woods, 
Tuning booted steps to silence as precisely as monks: 
No confusion of intentions invests our steps. 



Kitchen Duty

Smoke discloses 
The campfire’s claws 
Roped close 
To our greasy offal. 

If life is light 
It grabs such cast-off 
Daintily, 
Chews clawsfuls. 




Grasslands

There’s less seen, although the seeking is ceaseless. 
The olivey fibrous tough stalks find needles of shadow 
Even when orange noon crouches in the valley licking. 

A flotilla of mice could be passing, washed in grasses, 
Invisible as whiskers, a rustle in the rough pampas. 
A fox, a squirrel, a snake here and there swaying S-like 

And still there’s no hissing insistence but endless grass. 
Like a paper screen behind which a dancer disrobes, 
The grass seems flat, yet folded, yet flat. 




Catfishing

Myself flat in the water-mirror, with the hanging jowls
And hooded eyes of time, am made rainbow-wavery, irised
By the river’s uneaseful striving, acres of stained glass 
Finned with strafing rain and clubbed morning light
Where hidden fish in seeming millions jump blind
After duplicitous raindrops instinct craves into insects
Until brawny brass clouds  are bundled off the map
And my baited line laces whippets 
                             in water’s renewed calm,
Begging for fish-morsels to bite and crimp
Fighting jaws on a bended hook joyed deep
Into a catfish’s prow of snout, barb and shaft deep,
Pulled mastered home by fisted reel, my miniature
Mill-wheel of undoing.

                     At length I clambered ashore,
At length felt the knife’s finesse deftly
Enter without flicker or spur the sudden
Blood guts spreading gushed for thumbs
Peeling the eatable fish to its depths.

Its heart-spigot spat incessantly, stressfully red
Until my steel puncture found its bubble, and red
Waters ran away from the wound with a dying flush
As flesh lapsed;  lungs and bladder;  intestine, crop and liver—
Food for flies on the cracked, caked-dirt bank,
The sudden blood a Y-river to trip-up cascaded ants 
Busily bulked at the stream of life falling stinky there,
A snarl of amber snakes dropped drowned from clouds,
My green waders holding me whole in eely skin.



Deadened River

Here among the dead
Sun’s  hard discards 
Lies an excrement 
Of mud unleavened

Where the river leaves 
Off lapping, leaping,
For August heaviness—
Lethargic shallows that trap

The trespasser’s shoe, 
Mark him mid-thigh 
With handprints of mud
As he labors for the grey shale 

Shore, the vivid crevasse 
Through which, slipshod, he entered 
This endless kingdom of mud
Glistening and viscid, 

Lacquered tomb of frogs 
And pizzicato flies attending 
The deathbed of glittering fish
Greenly gasping 

Slashed gills amid a tinder
Of leftover rainbows.




Underworld Turtles

The slow, snapping, fatal hook-faces 
Withdraw beneath peaty murk, guinness-dowdy stout; 
Stellae of stumps jut up their ancient wood turtlenecks, 
Interrupting radar ripples the ancient heads send out—
Long antediluvian thoughts, green only in sap, in blood 
As old water uncoils to flatness. 

Daisy-dainty mossflowers crown the right-hand stump, 
Deeply ambiguous as dew, yellow-white as sunnyside eggs. 

I sit stiff in the splinter canoe until turtles return 
Blipping the surface like rain beginning,  
                             eye drill-holes black as the underworld 
In ratty light that skirts the island’s belt of mulchy decay. 
They arrive bald as ambassadors, bold as monarchs
From their dipped-in-oil underkingdom, leaf plantation
Of soft coffee grit that finds the cracks in graves.
To what side of experience are they wet stepping stones? 

II
Cornea-bulbed backs rise darkly coated as frying pans,
Stub flippers studded with badger-cleats fanned out 
Wound-strike ready, forever extended as a garden tool
Beneath the camouflage of river—its mirror deceits
Part and parcel of the shadow-play turtles stage.

Poked heads are wizened critics’ barbs, brainlessly sharp.
Will they sort the worthy and unworthy, like Anubis?
When winter steps to the river, fetching its cape of ice, 
These creatures bury themselves hind-first
In muskrat burrows, settle-in in lump-mud debris;
They lodge naked beneath rotted eye-arches of logs,
Cozied dim in the underworld under summer’s business—
Occasionally guessably visible below thick mid-season ice, 
They roll out of hiding like heavy wheels of revelation churning,
Swimming slow and white as ghosts 
                           beneath the flying skaters’ feet.



Meeting a Deer

A scumbled scuttle, a tamped fusion of hooves 
Rattles my attention from a slouchy doze 
Aslant a twig-burst hawthorn were I’d found 
An old oblong of sunlight to coffin in an hour, 
While noon leans onward like a runner sketching  
Light-trails toward a dash of yellow ribbon: here
A deer, disconsolate, nuzzles sweetgum leaves, 
Eating green stars steadily unto Kingdom Come;
I see before me fine-grained flecks of  flank 
Like a hazy TV left on long past the last show…. 

Her head is shy and broadly-spaded as a snake’s, 
The leaflike ears alert, the one dark eye I can see 
Potent as an eclipse—umplummable, purplish  
Depthless blacks, while her lips work the sweetgum 
And I wait without motion, floating raftless
And buoyant in my Dead Sea nap—so close I inhabit 
The trembling huff of her nostrils, sour and warm, 
Her limber length trim as an unpulled scull
At rest for this waste minute tide-bereft,
Weaving and unweaving in the woods’ waves. 



Moon Owl

A snowy owl puts himself alone in a room with the moon.

He is silver as a Christmas basket, and the moon hangs silver too
High up in trees’ intricate netting, ribbing the night absences.
They present, from a certain oblique angle beneath them,
A pair of wary skulls absolute in their terrible whiteness:
Death and his hungry buddy divine retribution, perhaps.
Both of them fly at us in the engineered silence of ages
On wings of light like devouring angels, gowned and ornate.
Witness them, the feathered one and the bald one up there:
Both of them honeymooning or playing space chess or whatever

Alone in a room together that we call heaven.

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