Before We Knew

 

Before We Knew

All thought of consequence
melted with that first touch
of tongue to skin, no respite
to be found in that heat,

no shade at all. I recall
hitching a ride later with a
German couple who lit up
and passed the joint without

asking, and after their
Cinquecento sputtered away,
I walked down to the bar at the
waterfront for an espresso and

to watch the lights spark along
the bay.  A few times a week
I’d see a boat putter in and tie up,
and the one-armed man would

display his catch or a carton
of bartered Lucky Strikes, but
not this night. The moon
weighed heavy on my shoulders

as I trudged home, remembering
the way you’d smiled and said,
from some place I’d never
witnessed before, come here,

now, as if I could have said no and
turned around, as if another urge
could have inserted itself
in that moment, in that life, ever.

* * *

“Before We Knew,” first appeared in Sleet Magazine in August 2018. I am grateful to editor Susan Solomon for taking this poem.

 

 

Genealogy Dream


 

Genealogy Dream

To recall but not recall: family, the swift curve
of evolution’s arc. One moment your knuckles
scrape the earth’s surface, and the next you’re
pinpointing mortar fire by satellite phone. Or,
having plowed the field by hand, you fertilize
with human dung (no swords in this hovel),
only to wake into a dream of high rises and
coffee served steaming by a blushing ingenue
who morphs into an uncle, killed in China
on the wrong side of the war, leaving his
sister still mired in grief six decades later
under the Texas sun. On this end of memory’s
ocean, we know poverty and its engendered
disrespect, neighbors’ children warned not
to play with you, for fear that the family’s
lack of nickels would rub off and contaminate,
that your belly’s empty shadow might spread
down the unpaved streets and envelop even
those who don’t need to share a single egg
for dinner. Years later the son will celebrate
his tenth year by suffering the indignity of
a bloody nose and a visit to the principal’s
office, a gift of the sixth grader who would
never again employ “Nip” to disparage
someone, at least not without looking over
his shoulder in fear of small fists and quiet
rage. Which half measures harder? In one
hand, steel. In the other, water. I pour green
tea on rice and recall days I’ve never lived.

 

“Genealogy Dream” was first published in August 2018  in Issue 4 of Lost River literary magazine. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for taking this piece.

 

Poems Live at The Big Windows Review

 

scarecrow and crow

 

My poems “Scarecrow’s Wealth” and “Cells” are live at The Big Windows ReviewThank you to editor Thomas Zimmerman for supporting my work, and to Charles Payne for sponsoring/inspiring the scarecrow poem. 

 

To That Dismal Train Somewhere Near Banff

 

To That Dismal Train Somewhere Near Banff

Forgotten, you settle into the earth,
naming stones for each destination missed –
Kamloops, Jasper, Lake Louise – which is worth
each open-mouthed coin laid on the rail, kissed

and reformed into altered currency
no longer capable of carrying
debt or a tourist’s sense of urgency,
only dying days and the wearying

plight of the unmoved. If vines caress your
body, who’s to blame for accepting their
advances? When green subsumes rust, deplore
that too, but enjoy the moments you share,

leaf on metal and glass, the raspy light
tonguing your throat through those long, whistling nights.

 

 

Send Your Poem to the Moon

Send Your Poem to the Moon

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That’s right, the moon! Brick Street Poetry Inc. will be publishing three volumes of an international anthology which will be launched aboard the Space X flight scheduled to depart for the South Pole of the Earth’s moon in 2023. The deadline (February 15!!!) is fast approaching, so please click on this link to check out submission details and the themes for the anthologies. The goal is to include a new poem from every country on Earth.

Apricot House (after Wang Wei)

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Apricot House (after Wang Wei)

We cut the finest apricot for roof beams
and braided fragrant grasses over them.

I wonder if clouds might form there
and rain upon this world?

 

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Fine apricot cut for roofbeam
Fragrant cogongrass tie for eaves
Not know ridgepole in cloud
Go make people among rain

Each adaptation poses its challenges, and this one was certainly no exception.
First I identified key words and determined how or whether to use them.
Apricot, roofbeam, cogongrass, eaves, ridgepole, cloud, people, rain.

Apricot was a given. It offered specificity, and feels lovely in the mouth. Roof beams, as well. Cogongrass didn’t make the cut. It is indeed used for thatched roofs in southeast Asia, but it felt clumsy; in this case, the specificity it lent detracted from my reading. And rather than use “thatched” I chose “braided” to imply the layered effect of thatching, and to imply movement, to mesh with and support the idea of clouds forming and drifting under the roof. “Not know” posed a question: did it mean ignorance or simply being unaware, or perhaps a state of wonderment? I first employed “unaware” but thought it took the poem in a different direction than Wang Wei intended (but who knows?). “Ridgepole” seemed unnecessary. So I chose to let the reader follow the unsaid – using “form there” to reinforce the impression already shaped by the roof beams and the grasses “over them.” I admit to some trepidation over the second couplet. It may still need work.

 

clouds

“Apricot House” first appeared here in December 2014.

 

Bowls, Emptied

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Bowls, Emptied

I picture them always separate, unfilled, never nested among the others.

In descending order: yellow, green, red. The missing blue.

Concave, hollow, hemispherical, freed of conscience.

Other images – the skies, denser with age.

You stirring with a wooden spoon, cigarette smoldering nearby.

Or the itinerant smell of new sod and wet soil.

My knee aches whenever I traverse stairs or turn quickly.

Which holds more grief, these vessels or memory’s lapse?

Inverted, their capacity remains constant as the heavens, dark or light.

The paling dome, a memory of freshly pulled onion.

Squatting, you would patiently pluck weeds.

I bite my tongue and kneel to place the flowers.

Near this stone, where the crickets chirr and dew worms burrow.

By this mound and these blades of near-silent grass.

Where I accept this moment’s offering. And you do not.

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Ghost

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Ghost 

You keep returning and I can’t say why.
I wake in the shrouded room and lie still for hours.

Sometimes you speak through the siding’s wind rattle,
in the rasping shingles or the gutter’s drain.

But who interprets these phrases?
No friend. No dictionary.

The dog barks at nothing and chases his tail
to exhaustion. Unlike sound,

light cannot penetrate these windows.
Perhaps the answer lies in the page’s hollow, between

words, or at the free end of a kite’s anchor,
wedged within clouds, echoing

like a cough in a decade’s breath
hammering down after a long illness.

I question afterlife, but dying continues.

* * *

This first appeared in Shadowtrain.

shingles

Snow with Moose

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Snow with Moose

Guide to the incremental, to the sifted mass. The Phoenician mem shifted
shapes, but always suggested water.

Moose likely derives from the Algonquian descriptor “he strips away.”

The Japanese character for water, mizu, evokes currents.

Moose are solitary creatures and do not form herds. A bilabial consonant,
M is a primary sound throughout the world.

The prehensile upper lip undresses branches and grabs shoots.

Wavering, I share the lack of definition, of clarity in design and choice.

The sound is prevalent in the words for mother in many unrelated tongues,
from Hindi to Mandarin, Hawaiian to Quechua, and of course English.

Eleven strokes compose the Japanese character for snow.

A smile would reveal no upper front teeth.

Long legs enable adults to manage snow up to three feet deep. Under water,
individual flakes striking the surface sound similar, despite size disparities.

It can also accurately be classified as a mineral.

Solitude to connection, dark on white. The lone traveler.

moose

“Snow with Moose” first appeared here in December 2015.

Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

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Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

Five White cat always made sure
no rats gnawed my books,
but this morning Five White died.

On the river I offered up rice and fish,
and buried you in its lazy currents,
chanting my lament. I could never neglect you.

One time you caught a rat
and carried it squealing around the yard
to frighten all the other rats
and keep my cottage clear of them.

We’ve shared space aboard this boat,
and although the food is meager
it’s free of rat piss and droppings
because you were so diligent,
more so than any chicken or pig.

Some people speak highly of horses,
saying nothing compares to them or donkeys.
But we’re done with that discussion!

My tears prove it so.

* * *

The transliteration from Chinese-poems.com:

Self have 5 white cat
Rat not invade my books
Today morning 5 white die
Sacrifice with rice and fish
See off it at middle river
Incantation you not you neglect
Before you bite one rat
Hold in mouth cry around yard remove
Want cause crowd rat frightened
Thought will clear my cottage
From board boat come
Boat in together room live
Dry grain although its thin
Evade eat drip steal from
This real you have industriousness
Have industriousness surpass chicken pig
Ordinary person stress spur horse drive
Say not like horse donkey
Already finish not again discuss
For you somewhat cry

A Song Dynasty poet, Mei Yao-ch’en (or Mei Yaochen) died in 1060. His great poems live on.

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