Saturday, June 6, 2020

Under Glass

There’s a fly trapped under a wine glass.
I don’t think someone caught it as a trick, but who knows?
I’m just here at the party, while it whangs back
And forth like a pulse of fury. The roar isn’t
anger -- just the funny sound of the wings resonant
at a certain distance. Flies, I believe, lack
ears, and don’t, as we do, feel pain, make shows
of their frustration, or drink an indifferent Shiraz.

Canciones di mi padre.

The storm’s gray and busky head encroaches
On the crab apple trees still in bloom
And embroidered with the green of summer.
It’s a sight to strum and sing for. The storm,
Though, seems to want us worm food, though the worm,
Squeezing like an accordion under
Our feet, doesn’t care who crowds into its room.
It yawns, “One stretch is like another. Buenos noches.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Gideon's Daughter

On the table, my breath held, the CAT scan
Looks inside for the tiny stone that says "No."
No flow. No go. Like a baby that won't be born.
A reluctant birth, here at the start of my old age.
There's nothing to do but be a kind of drainage,
And hope that, though painful, nothing's torn.

I finally figured why my daughter stands off so:
(The stone can wait.) because I'm not a good man.

Another one about old age. The last, I hope.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I played,
with army men.
Bags of them.
Sniper on ground.
Sniper kneeling.
Hand grenade always pending.
Ksshew. Ksshew.
There were never battles.
Only sound effects.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On Greenwood Ave

In one of those yards, visible on Street View,
A girl sat on my chest and tickled me. I was two.
Such is my blurred, but hale, first memory.
We went to my great grandparent’s two story
Camelback house nearby. They lived in bed.
Past a caged windup canary, I was led
To kiss them and then left in some empty
Room. The bird songless and needing a key.

Just west of Dixie Highway in Louisville.
My parents would soon move to the far east end
where I could see a barn across the street.
Brief idyll.

Street View is a feature of Google Maps.
Visit Greenwood Ave just west off 23rd St. My first home.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Mirror Test

A mynah turns sideways to see his reflection.
One eye cocked, then a hop and pirouette.
Yes. That’s not a competitor. That’s me.
He opens his beak and displays his tongue:
I'm myself though I've mimicked every note I've sung.

So, when I pass the mirror on the way to pee
At night, with just the night light on, who will bet
That old man and the man I’ve never met are one?

A kind of "stout Cortez" error. Apparently for
years, I've confused mynah birds and magpies. Magpies
pass the mirror test. Mynahs are the ones in cartoons.
I like this one. It just slipped out.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Empty Bazaar

A shuttered stall, a man with a beard like ice,
And a question from The National Geographic
Which puzzles him. And so he stammers on
And on, relying on God to fill out his words.
He fidgets with some bread, and feeds his birds,
But really, he’s angry at the Question.
Words are trails of crumbs. Knowledge is a trick.
A bird tucks its gaudy head and gnaws on lice.

I sometimes wonder what makes poetry
poetry. For me that "And on" at the beginning of line 4
is the best bit of "poetry" in this.

Monday, February 11, 2013

White Smoke

I wish I could resign like Benedict.
Plead the obvious: age, infirmity.
Spend my days in warm piazza light,
Eat simple meals, and wear clean clothes.
At night, when the dutiful aide goes,
Tell a loving, forgiving God "good night,"
And sleep in a place called the Holy See
Where peace evades the dark, and tradition's strict.

Monday, February 4, 2013

On Top of the World

Starlings on the line by the parking garage
Sway in the cold and hunger to the point of rage:
Side by side, and sullen in the wind and gray.
They forage for flinty seeds by day,
And grab the telephone wire by the winter moon.
Spring, gooey and supple, can’t come too soon.
Hunger and cold are kin and each is like a fist.
Ask a bird: irony just does not exist.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Weir Trinkets

In one field, camel, llama, and bison roam
With a fence-high mournful array of cattle.
In mild, lingering, winter afternoons
We wish the steam of their breath made a ghost
That has broken free of the grave and most
Other claims of the earth, of suns and moons,
And in their lowing, mooing, bite and battle,
There were song, though not one of their heads are home.

After a phrase of Paul Celan's --
"wir trinken"::"we drink" -- from Death Fugue.
There's a field near Frankfort, Ky that owns this amazing array of animals.
And, of course, after paintings by Marc Chagall.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Time on His Hands

The octopus has a different eye and doesn’t resolve
The world to an internal map. We look and feel pity,
Fear, curiosity. He looks back and feels … cold.
Were we a moray, he’d be a lionfish. Otherwise,
He’s content to bide his time. Two eyes, eight thighs.
And a plan. He doesn’t see himself as getting old.
Doesn’t panic or regret or fear that past sixty
One night, he might blink and the world dissolve.

Some species of octopus can mimic the lionfish.
The presence of certain eels can prompt the octopus to hide.
And the octopus eye evolved differently than our own.

Don’t Rap on the Glass

I’m watching the octopus, with his ominous
Eye slit. Behind his tank is a gas cylinder,
Silvered so the octopus could see … an octopus!
While my phone flash winks back from the other side.
It’s like my childhood dream of God’s TV – He’d decide
If I was good or not by what He saw, mysterious,
Of me watching Him watching me. Forever!
I rap the glass and the ink makes me oblivious.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Left Behind

Even for 5, he was small, like a bomb,
And knew from the start people could be killed.
He could stand before you, fierce and rigid,
Smelling of sugared cereal, BO, powder,
And the sour tang God needs to find the poor.
4 teachers in succession listed the things he did
As if to break your heart was all he willed.
A little boy so recently sprung from Mom.

for Special Education teachers everywhere.
Frontline, trench warfare.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Buddha Mind

Three komodo dragons
ate a small deer:
one in the back, one in the belly,
one in the rear.

The shocked deer endured,
its black tongue taut,
half an hour: four hungry creatures
with just one thought.

I understand this really happened.
Three komodo dragons were seen slowly devouring a deer.
My wife ran from the room and left the poem unread.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

N.D. 1948-1982

Weeks of it, then, months of it.
Her weight fell, but the pain reached no limit.

She was just an ordinary woman--
worried, worn, and emptied again and again;

but not released. No, not released.


The coming of this death, it's empty
lack of dignity

is worse than any word
could say. My sister, my little bird....

I remember long ago.


I want to say our memories
are safe, beyond disease,

but I won't stir them up in you.
Our summer games are far away and few.

What past startles through her sleep?


My sister, like Beardsley, once drew
clever people. This passed too.

She raised a beautiful son.
Now hopes and all, one by one,

are part of our hard and sudden prayers.

I haven't prayed well.
For what heaven? From this hell?

Only for the transfiguration of pain.
May someone remain

to bless us, who knows.

June 1982
Such a beautiful woman.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Place de La Concorde

When we roll, the wooden wheels of the cart
Bow slightly so that we wiggle a bit
Like a butterfly in a breeze. The barest pause,
From the grit of the cobbles, mimes the burr
Of a military drum, and the crowd, in wonder,
Breathe together and gather, the way a crone draws
A rag around her neck, into a tight warm fit.
The place becomes us, no more a thing apart.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner

I would turn my skin, so fair and pale,
into something beautiful (not macabre
or historical) like papyrus
and write there the truth: I live in fear.
Tiring fear! that soon, or now, something near
will turn dark, with a minimum of fuss,
and no turning back or show of power.
With death so close, my skin should be a sail.

--after the movie by Werner Herzog
Steiner was a wood carver and a competitive ski "sailer".
The ski sailers of the 1970s flew far beyond the
artificially constrained limits of Olympic skiers.
He's currently a gardener in Sweden. The lucky stiff.
We've never met -- the voice in the poem is fictional.

The Right Stuff

Beyond a certain point, atmosphere fails --
as its own skin fails the salt burned child --
until the gasping jet chokes on nothing
but freedom pursued to a sacrificial end.

The siren sounds our hurry to descend:
a welcome home of skintight fire, distant bubbling,
and desert quiet intent on being mild.
When we are done, a single echo wails.

In the movie's penultimate scene, Chuck Yeager
crashes in the desert an experimental plane by flying higher
than a mere jet could go.
Another Icarus.

Q & A w/ Tiresias in Hades

-Which was worse? To change your sex or lose your sight?
-What’s Sex? Women have clung to dreadful men
From the start. And men only love to have their way.
As for sight, what’s worth seeing so many times?
What was worst was to know God’s crimes
Before He chose to wreak them, to wake each day
and have the long-seen future repeat again and again,
Swarming out of the sun and turning day to night.

October 11, 2011
Several months ago, I read one of those weird internet polls -- if you had to switch either your race or sex, which would you do? Nobody said they'd switch sex. Poor Tiresias did -- rather he had it changed for him -- and then had 2 kids as a woman. When the gods changed him back to a man, he screamed at the sky, "Pick a lane, you bastards!"

The Grouper and the Bat

The Bat, the grouper half-explained, could not look down.
-Look down? the other grouper asked, his mouth an O.
-For fear of falling, you see. The other didn't.
-In my dreams, he screams in terror. -Yes, I see.
-It's instinct, not desire, that makes him go Eeeee!
and open wide for the bugs. -Could you give me a hint
about the bugs? the other asked. -You ought to know
I can't shake the feeling I'm about to drown.

Love Poem

I believed you all & I still believe
& each belief begat a girl. Oh, yes!
Tonite there isn't time to lie to or seduce
the blonde upstairs, a California nurse
who smiled & listened & cued & worse:
all of it a dream, straight from Dr. Seuss,
as if she were an egg & and I was less
& there...I want to be young & never leave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lost in the Fun House


I remember when all I had to do was read
to you, pat your back as you slept, make a face,
silly noises...when my nonsense didn't need sense,
and the carnival of my love was all.

Now you're camped in your room down the hall,
and when we pass, it's like strangers across a fence,
and my sideshow of faults is empty space.
I should have known that love isn't all we'd need.

1. Storm from the Gulf

The wind flattens Nellie's fur as she herds,
her back to the land, the gulls above like kites.
She doesn't understand that birds won't pen,
and won't leave and don't complain. They sing
the storm closer -- caws and effect. Rising
tide waters bring the junk in -- sardine tin,
magazine cover, fishing line: delights
like the answered prayers of empty words.

2. Comedy and Tragedy

Rain blew up against the condo's shingles --
the storm a placid placer miner, clearing
us out for the gold of holding this place alone.
But we hunkered down and got a video:
The Thin Man, Charade, something we know
enough to love, something loved for being known,
the last summer before child rearing
became child losing, parents as lonely as singles.

3. Beauty

You dawdle like every teenager -- mirrors
and the world look back like you think you look.
One minute like a ballerina poised upon an egg,
next the egg, waiting for the crack to come.
You are, of course, beautiful, as winsome
as any woman a father ever loved, but you beg
me to say nothing, and so I don't, and write a book,
full of the words I've never said and all my fears.

4. Generation

Slugs beset the roses, leaf rot and root rot,
even the bees are dying -- a menacing aphid
undoes their wings. A social insect with no place
to go. My prayer for you, whenever I pray,
is that you'll live a little more each day.
This one day is all we get, one little race
we run, one plot in which our flowers are hid.
For you, my dear, here's one forget-me-not.

Teenage years. What would we do without them? Much better now.

Friday, October 14, 2011

News Reel: Raising All the Boats

The fresh dead along the shallow Irrawaddy
From the cholera in the wells. A flash of silk
Waving from the tied-up junks, and a buffalo caught
In mud, his rope lead taut as the foam churns.
Further down, we chase smoke where the peat still burns
And fly west with the tide where the battle is fought
Against a nemesis as old as mother's milk:
We must burn the past to feed this morning's body.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Peasant in the Woods

Li Po built a life away from Life.
Away in the deep and lonely secret places
Where his work was almost swallowed
As he passed. He stole a life and then a wife.

A dullard from a place she’d thought remote,
She soon shrugged and shared the hollowed
World he’d built, ate his food, raised new faces,
And one night, while he slept, she cut his throat.

12/20/2010 12:05:13 AM
Heavily influenced by the Robert Calasso book
"The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony."
The elemental foundation myths of Greece
are of rape and betrayal.
With AGW, we'll get a chance to check that out.