He mumbles in alleyways;
under her door like a cracked slat of light,
fingers the thighs of her room.
Moving moonwise, south of vertical
he will sabotage her blind window
with a howl of trees.
The gravel path forgets his name.
Wisteria slips a pale tendril
into the hollow column beside her door.
His hands imagine silence,
her bedside slippers, imprint of her toes;
stars lounging hidden in wisps of sky.
Night licks his face, wind tongues
his pallid ears; light lies underfoot
on each bent blade of grass.
What is night then but her lamp
dreaming behind this darkened glass?
Leaving the River Corrib
For all the world's rivers I will not see again
I spin a coin like Celtic gold; watch it skip,
lose it below mountain-shadowed ripples.
What else but surface tension
keeps us in this anxious air?
It settles deep where swans' reflections
glance knowingly upward, and trout exchange
a mythology of spraddle-legged danger.
I gather luggage and take my place
on the cheap plastic seat, a souvenir myself;
lean against thick glass, my shadow peering in,
in from the warped air, up from that green
river-spun land receding below.
The sharp air rings of danger; I grip the seat
and send my cheap coin out.
Always beside rivers there are walkers, runners
with foolish antennae on their heads,
teens cadging cigarettes; children with stones
to skip against ripples. There is the tension
of water, that mystery of surface,
the distortion of light, fear of separation,
the way one's legs dangling from the pier
look suddenly naked.
(for Hannelore Kohl)
Light eight minutes old on every surface
battered her windows.
She blinded them:
map pasted over map,
Her razor peeled the globe
left a pasty cardboard strip
of nothingness south of 60
north of Tierra del Fuego.
Yellow walls became continents.
Northern latitudes obscured her windows,
the temperate zone & tropics
cross-hatched, penciled out.
She covered every wall with polar ice,
rejected Belfast, Moscow, Reykjavik,
scorned Buenos Aires.
She accepted Ultima Thule,
the wind-rose at Ocean's edge.
Reading the Obituaries
I move some sound-length below the speed
of memory. A flash from jet-wings, a signal,
code I have forgotten or not yet learned.
Above Atlantic's waves, prone
at the cold edge, I clasp someone's hand
in the crash and spew of salt
and the high wind. Below me:
seagulls, their grey cry.
Down the carved cliff-face, one foot
dangerous on loose rock, unnerved by edges,
I reach for small clusters of brown eggs.
How to gather them before the arc
sun or rainbow slams me opposite?
At fifteen, in backyard shadows
I held hands with a dead man,
took my first kiss on ignorant lips,
though the rope required twenty years more
to uncoil from his garage dust,
reach its inevitable rafter.
Pissing in the mud beside the river,
I am of two opinions about my dual nature.
There may or may not be angels
choiring while I attend this necessity;
A small mist rises from the warm
yellow pool. Though only August,
earth attends its schedule,
cools as sun heads south.
Shall I commend this seasonal reminder,
memento mori, falling leaves
while my only prayer
is for privacy, here in this mud?
Yesterday I sold the car
we crossed the country in;
you dissolve in your satin wrap,
buried somewhere west.
Gulls quarrel over garbage;
beer cans and shivered Styrofoam
litter the shallows.
One of those sunbeams
you see in velvet Jesus-paintings
lights the grain elevators upstream;
my shoes are splattered;
mosquitoes surround me,
asking for blood.
Only geese maneuver
the restless skies.
A monarch returns
purple flowers; a cicada
splits its shell.
Nothing is more ordinary
than the cricket behind ivy,
or a spider on the wall.
I will not travel east today:
your footsteps filled with dew
press the yellow grass.
* "Kami are sacred beings whose physical world humans
share..." -- Liza
Dalby, The Tale of Murasaki.
Your face looks out every window. Light behind
casts you in silhouette. I circle the house
in a hollow of silence. It will get worse.
I will hide under the lilac. I will unwind
the skein of my footsteps like the slimed
trail of some insect. I will use
the subterfuge of owl's cry, the ruse
of ambush. What you seek, you will not find.
I have an amulet of hair from the sink,
your scraped-off whiskers, nails clipped
and curving whitely on the floor. For years
I collected these leavings. Now you blink
at the window, still searching. But I've slipped
beyond your gaze. It will get worse.
Originally published in Savoy
There's nothing odd about a tree outlasting its roots
or the leaves through which it lusted for sun.
Permanence and impermanence are equally mirrors.
And a cave doesn't miss its three-day temporary
resident, nor granite, the stream now meandering
some miles below. But myself, sawdusted
and sweating, yellow-rubber-gloved, bent
over this table the man and the blade,
the mind which envisioned all long dust;
that I should with such effort, scrape, sand,
wipe out dirtied layers down to the grain of it
that's some wonder to ache over. It's the particular
holds eternity's echo. As though screening silt
for old bones could fill desire's need
or reply to old questions: a handshake from God.
I need this old wood useful: a table neglected
for seasons, rained on and warped, not for its surface
or my dinner plate's ease or book-holding comfort.
I need the raw grain for its death that beauty outlasted.
Originally published in Potpourri
How We Argue
We come from slow flat places in Ohio,
places bumbling beside a river
or rising at a crossroads
after miles of corn.
The skies are flat.
Our arguments are quiet.
Tight lips, silence,
an angry shoulder at the kitchen sink,
stillness of wheat,
wind in a cornfield;
the stubborn small town
of Ada, Cary, Sandusky, Findlay;
the rivers: Ottawa, Maumee, Blanchard, Tiffin
shouldering through hot baked clay
to sullen Erie.
Men remember nitro in the wagons,
nestled like eggs
in rustling straw;
they hunched over reins,
patient, careful, eyes out for rocks,
a risky luxury,
they blasted roadways,
stumps of trees;
drained the swampland
down to shallow Erie.
In front of post offices, on benches,
they quarrel silently
My mother clenched clothespins
with her teeth,
hanging out the wash; moved
to the next task
out of cracked grey clay,
the reluctant beans, peas, berries:
mouthing around the wooden pins
her arguments with God.
The Maumee moves
through a stubborn land;
argues with limestone, tree stumps, bridges;
in a quarrel with gravity,
slips with muddy refusal
into cloudy Erie.
The lights go on in small towns
along Ohio's rivers:
the gas station lights,
the stop light,
the tavern's red wink,
and out among the cornfields
the old two-window, wide-front-porch
fist their lights
across the stubborn fields.
When we shout,
something really big is required:
God, a tornado,
the Depression. Our angers
tend to ruminate on porches
or lie wakeful
in the square of moonlight
on the blanket;
like the kicked dog
still running in his sleep
on the shadowed sill.
Originally published in Savoy; accepted for
University of Akron Press
Anthology of Poems about Ohio, due out this spring.