Below you will find a selection of poems from Open Season (Center Press Books, 1999; IA Books, 2006), The Moment Forever (IA Books, 2006) and Sablier (IA Books, 2006).
From Open Season:
Opening the window to test the cold
with a breath,
I see a small boy at the day care across the road
who sees me and waves.
I wave back
and he waves again.
I wave back,
We could do this all morning, I figure,
and as I close the window
the boy continues
trying to squint past
the low-blowing clouds, the swaying trees
that now fill the glass,
past the day's reflection
to what surely must still be there:
the smile, the waving hand,
the stranger’s face.
I grew up in a house with seven TVs.
I liked it when the heroes got it in the end.
When my grandmother came to sit
she'd line up three sets in a row
and watch three different channels at once.
I'd kneel beside her
and slap the fat on her arms for fun.
Summers when the reruns couldn't hold us,
my brother and I would hunt each other down
in the woods behind our house,
armed with the latest toy weapons
or Dad's .45 without the clip.
If you got hit you were dead for 60 seconds.
One night I didn't get up.
My brother never returned to finish me off.
I lay there watching the darkness close down the view,
thinking of the release that always fell
over the unshaven faces of heroes
dying in the arms of some full-figured woman.
I lay there letting the mosquitoes fill with blood,
trying to slow my heart to starve them off.
I lay there in the swell of the locusts,
trying to make it real.
Love Letter from Michigan
and so what
it's pretty yes
but so's San Gimignano
this time of year
unlike the strip to Ypsi
or Fox Lake
which looks promising on the map
until the territory reveals
the auto plant on the shore
pinching off waste in the tax-deductible
sunset of fiscal irresponsibility
and me I'm just here
craving another hit of sense
lost in this evening's holding pattern
of love me don't leave me thinking
how lovely it would be
to feel your orificial blessings
and the fresh produce con brio of your utterances
in this cluttered and pathologically diverted
world of trumped-up loveless surfaces
hopeless as the knot of my necktie
uncertain as Little Jimmy Dickens' career—
O tale of two thousand sequins—
and just now a momentary dusting
of Florentine twilight
leaves me only the residue of this
my sleeveless errand
Thunderheads Thirty Miles East
anvils of discontent
(or is that giving too much away?)
Willfully obscure yourself
you envision beneath them
a ceaseless line of interstate traffic passing
the escaped convict who thumbs a ride
a mile past the sign that reads:
Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers
dry and leaning tall into the August wind
and the blue torn half-sponge
upright and hardening on the window sill
save the trace of last summer's Bergamasques
hovering to the east of Como
far from this glazed fugue of remembrance
So the banister is weak from years of leaning
So the smokebush turned yellow this year not red
So the sherry made locally burns going down
So the wind cleared the leaves from the balcony
So my cigarette butts buckle like bad ankles in the ashtray
So I wear only the clothes given to me as gifts
So the cupboards are indifferent
So I dreamed I tore your letters into strips of sentences
and tossed them exploding at your feet
So you didn't mean anything slipping your hand
in my pocket under the table
So the oil burned for eight days and nights
So life is open season on the living
So your birthmark burns a hole in my memory
So that brown slur of a river stole you after all
Today I became you
so I would not have to go on
reaching for you in the night.
"Leave me alone," I said,
hugging myself in the dark.
I was lying.
No new hair.
There in the muddy gutter:
the pink petals of a plastic geranium.
It’s the shredded blossom
of a real candy wrapper.
I Ask You
Shouldn't we be doing our laundry naked
if we really want to do
a thorough job?
The Banana on the Counter
has your name on it.
Connect the spots and you'll see.
Don't get too excited.
It might not be you.
has been there for days,
ripe as all get-out.
Its favorite all-purpose non sequitur could be:
"I hope the rain doesn't hurt the rhubarb."
The banana on the counter
does not miss this morning's donuts
more than I do.
The banana on the counter points north tonight
out of no particular sense of allegiance.
The banana on the counter
never laughed at the gag about its slippery peel.
The banana on the counter
does not theorize
the possibility of achieving
"a primordial intuition of another's lived experience."
The banana on the counter
does not feel
that pumpkins have it worse in October.
The banana on the counter
does not claim to know
why I scrub the saucers
The banana on the counter may indeed swear
the bread is breathing
in all that plastic.
The banana on the counter could be longing
for a hiss at the Cheshire cat moon.
The banana on the counter doesn't think
those five-dollar ties I bought
were such a good deal.
The banane on the counter
neither loves nor despises the French
for leaving off a syllable.
The banana on the counter
cannot tire of the relentless gaze,
nor can it know
the precise feel
of this late-hour appetite.
We were stopped
at a green light
waiting for a long funeral procession to finally pass
out of the silence
my old father said—
shaking his head in wonder—
"They sure go fast, don't they?"
You lie once more beneath the black anchor
that swings in place
of the cheap candelabra fixture
you swear was there
hanging so elegantly over your bed
as you drifted off
maybe years ago
The heart you forgot you had
as you fell (with no memory of falling)
off to sleep
echoes now off the walls of your pillow-cave
and the miracle of waking
is no small thing you think
no tin-whistle prize
no more than a notion now lost
on the slow wind rising in the late summer leaves
the same wind you insist is innocent
of all you shall forever hear in it
Of course you are not alone
But when has this ever calmed you
there on your back in the night
suspended in the sea of all
those stars you can and cannot see
adrift on that old coarse whisper of a dream:
a wish no more:
Acknowledgment is due to the editors of the following publications in whose pages these poems from Open Season first appeared.
Avatar Review: "No Solution"
City View: "Intersection"
The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review: "Love Letter from Michigan"
Hiram Poetry Review: "The Exchange"
Jeopardy: "Thunderheads Thirty Miles East"
Lucid Moon: "Poem," "Morning Inventory"
Poet & Critic: "Maneuvers"
Stand Alone: "So"
* * * *
From The Moment Forever:
The Poetry Writing Instructor
In a small office
at a large university,
she praised someone else’s tiny poem
as "transcendently exquisite."
My nose itched.
She insisted that I strive for weightier insights.
She gave me a list of models to read.
Just because I quoted a line from Byron
she pronounced me "well read."
"Why don’t you take the assignments seriously?"
"Something devastating must have happened
in your personal life this semester.
You can’t go on writing about the moment forever!"
By the stream,
reading a haiku by Basho—
Look! Small white butterflies!
you look like a smiling fish.
What a leap!
asleep on the river sandbar in the late September sun,
their long necks curved back
along their bodies,
heads tucked deep in their feathers—
told me that Keats
used to get all dressed up
to write poetry.
This is a pajamas and slippers poem.
Some in our tour group
slow down to look
at yesterday’s mayflies
littering the dock.
Some shuffle ashore
a little faster.
After the fireworks—
summer night sky full of stars:
the big "ooh, ah"
Cat sleeping on the church steps—
"Hello," I say.
Only an ear moves.
That crowing rooster
sounds like a dog
imitating a rooster.
Windy autumn night,
the elm tree emptied of its yellow leaves…
now filled with stars.
Tiny green leaf
caught in the spider’s web—
Today’s special: fly with salad.
disappearing into tall grass
to join the chirping crickets.
climbing all over the sign that says:
who hasn’t seen you?
Well, many of course.
and the many small lives who never made it
into the night?
"Cliché I suppose,
but one thing history’s great and horrible and
everyone in between
has gazed upon is that moon," she said,
as we drank beer on the rail trestle
one autumn night, years ago.
Here is my translation
of Li Po’s famous poem, "In the Quiet Night":
Such moonglow at the foot of my bed—
Could there be hoarfrost so soon?
I lift my head and gaze at the bright moon.
Lying back, I think of home.
"Why bother with another translation of Li Po?"
a former colleague asked me one day
when I ran into him out walking a local nature trail.
"Bother?" I replied. "If you want to know about bother,
I will tell you."
Grabbing sage from the garden—
grabbed a handful
of caterpillar guts.
Bruise of morning and I reach
for you in your sleep.
You smile, claim a deep breath, dream on.
I lie awhile in the graying segue of winter light
then rise to read at my desk,
idling a mind on mannered lines,
looking quietly for trouble.
I wait, remarking the day,
moving from page to world to page:
brooding birds clot the bare branches
swaying slightly in the etched air;
a few flurries now, ghosts of last summer’s moths
And all is nothing until I hear
your first rustlings in the far room
as you gather the sea-wash rush of linen about you,
astir in the spare glow—
waking to a name called
from the shadows of the shared world.
a robin lands, slips, skims back to flight
this spring morning.
on the magazine photo
of a fruit stand.
dead cicada blowing across the tennis court—
Acknowledgment is due to the editors of the following publications in whose pages the following poems first appeared.
Buddha’s Temple: [That crowing rooster]
Old Red Kimono: "Richard Tillinghast"
Sequel: [Canada geese], [Windy autumn night—]
Short Stuff: [By the stream,], [Cloud on the horizon—], [Blurry bird on the bough], [Cat sleeping on the church steps—], "Disembarkation"
were you ever more than badgered trace,
roughed in, roughed out,
See me on this.
Yet what ossuaries we are,
as the dark weighs in
awash in late autumn rain,
the sodden dead leaves plugging eaves
all over town,
where I keep seeing
the latest cattle-rancher rain ponchos
enshrouding most sadly the executives.
Eyes averted you go forth,
nosing around for the apish melody of love,
whistling away the miles,
wreathing the hazy length of some gorge.
One gives the wind room in yet another poem because
it is ever with us.
A small wave teeters
back of a big one
and you there,
tapping your foot to the exegesis
because you know better, don’t you,
than to lounge for long in the charmed fog of the enigmatic
(where I admit I stroked her calf beneath the broad quilt of daylight,
vying for a stake in these hours of mere attendance deemed being).
You’ve got to make it
through the world
if you can.
Damn if I don’t
accept all the absence,
all the lack,
for from certain veiled perspectives
less can be, to say the least, more
Self now as sharp-dressed wreckage
In your reduced understanding,
And whether or not it is all based upon
a belief in perception…
You were away and the snow wouldn’t budge from the black branch.
(O chalky iced-up town of my boyhood.)
I am like the morning:
No mere unanswered leap of wealth hung in the name of peace.
How I loved the doctor’s daughter…
"It’s just transference."
Who can argue?
"It takes a professional, let me assure you."
New York never sleeps, only New Yorkers.
To organize is to neglect certain organs.
Floating that afternoon in the clear shallows…
her nipples such rosy islands in the sun.
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.
We would gather in those days on the high bank of the creek,
deep in the woods, cutting classes, smoking, Camus-like, sifting:
"Let’s face it, the universe is far from benignly indifferent,
it’s just indifferent, though even that formulation is, well,
a formulation, though who can know, certainly the truth is
not just me."
"So settle down and listen to some good music," the radio advises.
As a squirrel curls, hunched on the limb, nautilus-like;
As you dream adrift gin rivers coursing down your father’s fairways:
Broad arrowhead shadow of a pine
tree pointing my way
slightly to my right (yes west)
and I watched
still as an eye could be
as the sun the tree
and everything else too numerous
to mention swung
that squat shadow point more precisely my way…
square as the bill that buys this loveless advance
hailed as the real
Captive beneath clouds—
dead nations wedged forth from their continents,
loosed to let all borders stream down through the air.
Peace of the sea heaving
at a distance…
with a trace.
New décor, old confines,
the primordial light, the essential buzz…Sing cuccu!
Summer is a-coming though who would know it in an auditorium
sprinkled with detractors.
and our best translation:
"Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine and our love."
Know some more?
…and besides we all could do worse than agree that in producing oppositions,
the immediate slide to symmetry, process and inauguration
risks a misuse of history…
I am chewed.
Chartered gristle, bouncing in ancient ardor,
one’s funky slung accruals spraying.
"Where does the truth lie?"
All over the place.
Vast gob, broad worlds.
A big yawn
of atomized nothingness.
restless sleep of clover.)
The age’s normative move eschews at least
the now more common tactic of pressing
a double measure of marginalia (critically deep)
a serviceable center, no less.
Glide path of past, present, future
paling beneath a shale sky.
The song, the tale, yea verily: mind’s bon voyage.
Caught ourselves remarking
how greatly, how authentically the best of us felt back then.
(You know, a legacy of feathered wishes
scattered wind-borne on the drafts of the straw heart’s imperium?)
The beast jolts from indolence.
A snare’s shudder, in the pocket,
beneath the parallel haven of the vague and the endless
(selected and with an introduction)…
She took his hand
in the young spare spring
that bade me watch them dance
down the library steps just as—
wouldn’t you know it—
the sun flared forth
then faded back a tad
(the clouds passing seemingly just shy
of time-lapse speed all that windy day),
yes on level ground
she took his hand
and it must have felt good, I thought,
it must have felt good.
Aplomb of late afternoon light— tea by the open window.
Later, a little Saumur with the evening news?
Secret life of cut-rate sovereignty.
She actually said to those assembled, "Dashes are my textual trademark."
Fine, but keep the fly
from the lip of the milk carton.
Tough to say where it’s all going
but chances are it will be tougher to celebrate when we get there.
Days in the Place Balzac—
I turn out the image once more.
Her dream: to wear white muslin and to live
on a cliff by the sea, somewhere, someday,
with me I remember hoping.
Morning fields dazed in a stupor of herbicide.
Earth hosting a history of guests who don’t know when to leave.
"It’s love not me rolling over in utter indifference."
A woman bends to kiss
the wooden cross that serves
as her husband’s grave marker
and where will the memory go
once she and I and everyone else
who leafed past the news photo today are gone?
A "detour of birth" you called it…
"Severed by what?"
Moist flare of final thought?
Fade out of distilling intuition and reasonable foci?
All that rigor married merely to inswept rumor,
dust of the earth rising?
How this ache the mind insists
How it returns once more
to the soul’s ideal weight—
Soul that remains all or nothing?
"Yours is," she laughed, "a predictably romantic desire."
"Yes, but the necessity that gives rise to the desire confirms
of such a value."
"What is the furthest
you have ever jumped?"
…Didacticism, yes, we nodded, but a didacticism conscious
of its own situatedness…
Tell it to the spirit of you-know-who,
cutting across the glacier in her flats and long white coat.
…as the glossy republic heaves on, semi-automatically,
bemused in its shimmering diet of light…
If you are tired
you may put your head down
and rest quietly at your desk.
And whose narrative gloms your faith for now, pilgrim?
No, one forefronts the contextual "nature" of the "Real"
not to reify the notion of the unattainable,
but to dissolve all the old irony…
It’s all in the tenor
of your self-reflexivity, sleepyhead.
Notes amiss in the melody of the wreck…
Work not to overbear your fine soul upon your neighbor.
For when the hunch comes true we suspect genius.
Or a galaxy of pearls falling from the heedless azure release of the sky.
Even as the masonry is hopefully prone to outlast the mason.
Enclosure turns, wed to anxiety.
Should your concentration flag, your attention drift and yaw...well, where are you now?
Holy Ish Kabibble.
What the business looks like around back
is apparently too costly for them to care about.
Your bored ghost, or just a gust of wind
riffling through the pages of the open book in the next room?
We all catch up with the dead.
No hair length but in humidity.
After dinner at The Teddy Roosevelt Café,
we walked the vacant streets of the mountain town,
past the closed shops,
past the mystic merchandise.
Cute as a stuffed buffalo
in the gift shop of the stern hearted.
Seasons trail back o’ the hand.
may have once meant survival.
God I just did not want to do it anymore so I did it
This does not make me a hero
even in America where I’m busy
trying to clear my ear,
pouring solutions down the canal
and it’s not easy to be sure what’s in
any bottle these days.
Products of fear, day before Christmas,
ear’s worse and what’s more,
some sweaters are simply too much:
Warmth, pattern, price, you name it.
But thanks anyway (just practicing), yes, thanks.
And remember that billboard?
The one with the trench-coated executive
waiting on a bench for his commuter train,
smiling over his laptop computer,
the line of copy beneath his image reading:
Now You Are Free!
You hear the old music now and you think it reminds you
of how wondrous it all was back then,
but no, it was not that way at all,
it was a lousy and lonely time
and the music was the thing,
the only thing that got you through it,
your only source of grace.
An earlier version of Part I of Sablier appeared in River Styx Magazine. Parts III and VI appeared in Caveat Lector.
Sablier: Copyright 2006 by IA Books