With the leaves gone
a pageantry departs
all pretense of grooming
as only the dead
are so transparent.
When I walk in them
a grove like bones
the sun makes clear lines.
I tend to think
They overlap, the patterns
only seen from above
when the summer woods
are full of noisy green
rooms. But through
these colder limbs
a circular truth
doesn’t need explaining,
warmed by the razor-blue
of shorter days.
Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb, you know better but I know him.
Like I told you, what I said, steal your face right off your head.
— Grateful Dead, “He’s Gone”
So, Jerry, since I delivered one of you grateful men’s babies
dead back of that shitty flatbed truck up on the Russian River
— preemie appeared so bad someone whispered it looked
like a rat which another’d eaten half of the face off — we’ve
gone our separate ways since Menlo Park Kesey days.
Hey, man — moi was just a duffus Stanford med student tryin’
my best as the band’s families and hangers-on worked hard
yearning to get everybody high stupidly including me, thusly
who the fuck’s minding its mom’s goddamn labor — now I hide
out in furnace rooms, catch rats size of brown bears for food.
I see it as a hotel.
Room service and the minibar
are great; I seldom leave
my suite except to walk, take in a show,
the show, try out new places.
I’ll have to leave eventually,
skip on the bill. At all times
I have the essentials on me. Meanwhile my office
is the endlessly-extending hallway.
The walls look like upscale Italian mirrors,
dark as obsidian. You’d have to focus
to notice the receding planes
within, and that the surface,
however often wiped, is always tacky.
As I walk, my fans collect in my wake.
They’re forever the same yet different:
new ones fuse with the old, creating
top-heavy, multi-limbed and multi-
empty-headed goons – Christ, are they ugly!
They keep their distance, eyes respectfully lowered,
“inward.” I press my forehead to the walls.
Just beyond my reflection hangs someone
in one sort of trouble, nearby another;
I reach in and pull
whoever’s handiest from the goo,
entrust them to the carpet, and voilà!
Remission. A liver is found. She wakes up.
The UN trucks get through and bring him rice.
The dog returns. He does rehab.
The lost one is returned with time left
for some childhood. And the ones in the hallway
gather new limbs and mouths and wave
their many arms and weep from many eyes and
praise me. Not noticing
the other bodies writhing in the walls,
trillions by my count, who add
as they die to chic darkness. Or seeing,
even when I bow to my reflection,
the more than family resemblance
between me and the sludge … Oh the grating
noise of hosannas, even secular!
If they ever wise up, I’m outta here.
When you pruned the burning bush,
dousing cut boughs in the snow,
you claim it suffered in French,
slurring or eliding its vowels.
You heard it say la douleur
de tout cela as plainly
as you heard the wind suffocate
the snow-scene in taint of blue.
I believe you, but dragging
the rubble to the frozen brush pile
I heard nothing but the creak
of pines getting brittle with cold.
As my boots punched through crust
I felt the distinction between
self and environment thicken
like an old photo going blind.
Today an even deeper cold
plumbs our distemper to prove
how clueless is the human retort
to weather at its most withering.
Brewing coffee to thaw my speech,
I empathize with the cut bush
tossing its stunted feelers
into clarity edged with disdain.
Have we ever felt the same way
twice about the frozen marsh,
its yellow tufts almost muffled
in layers of rumpled ice?
Have we ever agreed that tracks
of deer browsing our shrubs regress
like cuneiform into the gloom
of the cringing winter forest?
We don’t always see or live in
the same or similar worlds but
I believe you heard what you heard:
laisse-moi mourir en paix;
and believe the bush spoke out
of its own small imperative,
the wind blowing down from Canada
with a stark religion intact.
From overhead see
horses run across the newer ridge
where old houses strain under
strokes of raining.
Still this drone-view moves through
weather fleeting like the pain
of prior lives.
On the rise a girl sings
almost out of hearing, selective
as to notes and words selective
as to meaning allowed to carry
over wet air too slow to catch
in a sky-road too fast to hold
above this brief country.
But standing-back peels
an onion, probes the veil of those
small places, paints horizons with
a name that trades the nearness of you
for pointillism far removed
from iota, begging the question
of how far back to stand.
You do not have to be good.
– Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
Ain’t that a kick in the head!
After all the bunk about straights and narrows,
wrongs and rights, confessionals
where venial sins are laughable,
it’s come down to this: we’ve been duped.
Friday fish, forty fasting days, crownings
in the Mary month of May; rosaries,
callused knees, indulgences that smudge
our sins: they don’t add up to good.
Neither do tidy rooms, top grades in school,
nor mandatory modesty.
So let’s delete the snake behind the apple tree
and every bite of stale theology.
Let’s resurrect original wildness
and ramble through valleys scratched and scarred,
down unquiet streams, across raging fields
of blooms disguised as weeds.
Let’s celebrate every fleshy flaw,
each mistaken thought that turns out true.
Let’s race wild geese to the nearest star,
cheering on imperfect
nakedness with disheveled glee.
(Previously published in the Gyroscope Review)
Someone has brought flowers.
Flowers, moreover, that I like.
Those violet irises that look
like nothing else, whose strength is exposure;
Gerbera daisies with their lurid,
hippie spirit; the perfect breasts of peonies;
red mini-mountain plumed celosia.
The question Who, as I slept,
brought them doesn’t, however,
engage me as much as something part
reflection, part memory:
in childhood I expected presents,
which dulled the thrill of getting them, increased
the grief and rage of not.
Now I don’t expect them.
Somehow the flowers inspire me
to get up, leave, walk, however inappropriately
dressed. Somewhere to the right,
beyond trees lie the palaces
of president and parliament. They have,
despite their vivid barriers and snipers,
the stuffy look of places where
no tears may enter. This rule is ensured,
enforced, by the glass towers
surrounding them, which own the land. Within,
no doubt, some ungroomed ape
swings from a ceiling; food passes
from beak to beak; a fearful chittering little
mammal boasts till other animals
would laugh, if animals could laugh.
But today no sirens, demonstrations,
or gunfire mar
the quiet. Ruined, the palaces
look noble, the bare steel grids around them almost
poignant. Houses constructed
from other houses gaze out on fields;
farmers accustomed to madmen wave.
I wonder if, when exhaustion comes,
kindness will be man’s final tactic;
but instead of investigating, enter
the woods that have uprooted streets and walls.
And savor flickering forest light,
eyes of beasts that will not eat me,
and knots of wildflowers, loveliest unseen.
Has a red plow in the fields
with a grey farm house behind it
a silo beside and a number
of blue clouds etched in the sky
while in front are two bags
of Armour fertilizer that say
Make Every Acre Do Its Best
Behind the farmhouse is a row
of green trees and above it
that sky is yellow
Inside my memo pad I practiced
my numbers and wrote a letter
to my mother drew my house
the number seven the name Eddie
a turtle a penis a bagel
a man with a top hat
a bow and arrow and
a drawing of my cat Prissy
who one day would leap
into the ocean for keeps
my creative spirit
is a blue whale, I think
she swims in deep waters
but we breathe the same air
and, like other blue whales,
she has the loudest, strongest voice on earth
which is fortunate (thank the earth)
because if there is a second voice
she’s a howler monkey—
loud, too, and rather obnoxious
that’s perfection, the crank upstairs
I’ve tried to evict, but she just won’t leave
she runs a lighthouse
illuminating the goal but not the path
through dark, choppy waters
to where I aim but never land
always at sea
(thank the stars) my spirit is part whale and I can dwell among those who don’t reach
all the shining high lights
or the shores they seek
despite all that double-edged help from howler monkeys in lighthouses
(thank the sea)
I breathe just fine down here.
(“The Blue Whale” first appeared in Dear Damsels.)
My body is migrating for winter, following the cranberry trail
Of monarch butterflies, the crows eat baby rabbits, unable to resist.
Winter squirrels are building a nest of regurgitated mulberries, full-
Ripe acorns, spindly dandelion stems in the back corner of my deck.
Recent-born mice swim in the fermented mix, enter my soft bedroom.
My cat finds their tails, leads them to death by broken heart,
Their perfect half-formed bodies drowned in feline saliva.