Countdown: #1, Letter to a Ghost

box2

My last five posts of 2016 are reruns of the five most viewed poems on this site during the year. This one, by far the most popular, also made its first appearance here in June, and received a large bump in views due to a Halloween link on Discover. Many thanks to editor Cheri Lucas Rowlands for her support.

 

Letter to a Ghost

Had I not dreamed your death, I would have praised this day.
Your name rests in a wooden box on a desk

in a room far away and twice as old as we were then.
My penance in this phase: to continue.

I gather words close and refrain from admissions.
The clock on the wall seldom chimes,

like one whose vows circumvent convenience, or
a shade allowing the barest sliver of light

through the window. That tock preceding
a long silence. Snow blanketing the mounded earth.

Your scent never lingers past sleep, where you remain.
At last I no longer covet those sheets you’ve shared.

Your name rests in a box. I gather words and refrain.

ghost

Countdown: #2, How to Write a Poem

chain saw

My last five posts of 2016 will be reruns of the five most viewed poems on this site during the year. Number two made its debut here in March.

 

How to Write a Poem

Learn to curse in three languages. When midday
yawns stack high and your eyelids flutter, fire up

the chain saw; there’s always something to dismember.
Make it new. Fear no bridges. Accelerate through

curves, and look twice before leaping over fires,
much less into them. Read bones, read leaves, read

the dust on shelves and commit to memory a thousand
discarded lines. Next, torch them. Take more than you

need, buy books, scratch notes in the dirt and watch
them scatter down nameless alleys at the evening’s first

gusts. Gather words and courtesies. Guard them carefully.
Play with others, observe birds, insects and neighbors,

but covet your minutes alone and handle with bare hands
only those snakes you know. Mourn the kindling you create

and toast each new moon as if it might be the last one
to tug your personal tides. When driving, sing with the radio.

Always. Turn around instead of right. Deny ambition.
Remember the freckles on your first love’s left breast.

There are no one-way streets. Appreciate the fragrance
of fresh dog shit while scraping it from the boot’s sole.

Steal, don’t borrow. Murder your darlings and don’t get
caught. Know nothing, but know it well. Speak softly

and thank the grocery store clerk for wishing you
a nice day even if she didn’t mean it. Then mow the grass,

grill vegetables, eat, laugh, wash dishes, talk, bathe,
kiss loved ones, sleep, dream, wake. Do it all again.

 

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Countdown: #3, Bread

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My last five posts of 2016 will be reruns of the five most viewed poems on this site during the year. Number three made its appearance here in early June.


Bread

That year we learned the true language of fear.
I baked boule and you haunted medical sites.

You said to arrive I must first depart
or be willing to suffer self-awareness. Let’s not

mention our pact just yet. My basic boule requires a
Dutch oven, 20 ounces of flour, water, yeast and salt.

At twenty I learned the finer points
of sausage-making, how to butcher chicken, and

that your hair smelled like dawn’s last flower.
Back then we owned the night. Now I harvest

wild yeast and sharpen pencils, make to-do lists,
pour Chianti, run numbers. I agreed

to your proposal. It would be a kindness, you said.
The pancreas produces hormones

and aids digestion. I chopped off my left thumbtip
and a year later the abscission point

still felt numb. After rolling the dough
into a ball, let it proof for an hour in an oiled bowl.

We shared a taste for sharp cheese
but never agreed on pillows. You loved

down comforters and found vultures fascinating.
Years together honed our lives

but we never considered what that meant. Score
the dough, bake it for 30 minutes with the lid on,

remove the lid and bake for another 15.
Kneading resembles breathing: in,

out. Rise, fall. Bright lights made your eyes water,
so I kept them dimmed. You swallowed

and said “Tell me how to knead bread.”
With the heel of your right hand, push down

and forward, applying steady pressure.
The dough should move under your hand.

Within minutes it will transform.

* * *

“Bread” was first published in Extract(s) in April 2015.

pillows

Countdown: #4, In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For


tulip

 

My last five posts of 2016 will be reruns of the five most viewed poems on this site during the year. Number four made its appearance here in July.

 

In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For

Balance. The ability to stand on one foot, on a tightrope, and juggle AR-15s,
ethics and dollar bills, while chanting the U.S. Constitution, in tongues.

Or good health.

Unweighted dreams.

A mechanism for disagreeing without needing to annihilate the opposition.

Doorways without doors, truth without fear.

A simple tulip.

One word to describe that instant between thought and pulled trigger,
intent and wish, the elevated pulse and sense of diminished space and time.

Sanctuary. Regret. Apology. Respect.

A tonic to the bitterness, a foil to the sweet.

Fitted sheets that fold. Uncommon sense.

Love in the abstract. More bacon. Smiles.

A closet that embraces everything you place in it. Everything.

The means of unfiring guns, of reversing wounds to undamaged flesh,
and rounds to their magazines, full and never used.

Self-organizing drawers. Due process.

Mothers who know only tears of joy.

One peaceful day.

Just one.

 

lights n sirens

 

 

Countdown: #5, In the Place of Cold Doors

cold doors


My last five posts of 2016 are reruns of the five most viewed poems on this site during the year. Number five made its appearance here in June.


In the Place of Cold Doors

We have a word for everything,
or seven for nothing. Soon

you’ll enter and I’ll talk
on the other side,

watch for signs in every
dropped crumb,

every nailhead and
embedded phrase remembered

in another’s voice. The light
will dim and I’ll look for rain and

go on speaking. My words will wander
unnoticed. You hear only yesterday.

 

“In the Place of Cold Doors” first appeared in Gossamer: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry, published by Kindle Magazine in Kolkata, India. I was thrilled to have several poems included in the anthology.

nailhead

Epiphanies

Don't Say That jar, collecting coins for bad words

Epiphanies

What greater doubt
than if

preceding only,
or hope cascading through the withheld
unspoken phrase?

Or the conditional, as it slows to place
an obstacle in its very own
path. If only I could

I would deny its existence,
but the conjunctive

bears blame as well,
though nothing’s put before

the preposition (which one
would certainly never end with).

* * *

“Epiphanies” first appeared here in April 2015.

CUE 8