My poems “Ramekin” and “Windows: A Theology” have been published in the online anthology Igxante: An Ontology. I am grateful to editor Kate Morgan for taking these two pieces.
This poem is dedicated to the memory of haiku master and good friend Ron Evans, who provided and sponsored the title for the Tupelo Press 30/30 fundraiser challenge I participated in during August 2015. Ron passed away in September. I miss our pun-filled exchanges, his zany sense of humor and our wide-ranging discussions. Life continues, but the light has dimmed…
Calvin Coolidge — Live or Memorex?
They say the wind in Alvarado bypasses closed doors, slips through
book-laden walls and plate glass and into your dreams where it circles
and accumulates, whirling, whirling, steadily gaining force, gathering
loose pages and errant thoughts and memories too combustible to
burn, ignoring time’s compression and the gravity of dying suns, forever
counting, talking, thinking, looking up and out between the long nights.
unable to sleep he opens a window daring the wind
The 30th President of the United States breathes and writes at the junction
of an invisible house and a wheat field in Alvarado, in the guise of a
74-year old haiku poet. No longer the solemn ass, Cal laughs and speaks
and observes his two birthdays, recalling Harding’s scandals and Dorothy
Parker’s “How can they tell?” with equal relish. Sometimes he dresses
in tails and top hat, and speaks in 17-syllable phrases. Sometimes.
spitting out sake in the shadow’s glare death forestalled
Alvarado’s laureate is leaving it all behind – the presidency, the books,
the kolaches – catching the next breeze out of town, a silver-tongued
dust devil riding the word, spewing puns all the way to Indiana. But
buried in a waterproof box near Oswald’s grave, 314 cassette tapes
capable of shattering crystal carry his voice further than their unwound
lengths, whirring incessantly, celebrating life, praising the long wind.
standing in the sun wisdom blows by no questions today
I’m honored that editor Brian Geiger of Vita Brevis has republished my poem “Bone Music” as an editor’s choice selection.
The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:
Spring sleep not wake dawn
Everywhere hear cry bird
Night come wind rain sound
Flower fall know how many
Hey, did she say what she couldn’t say? Read Stephanie L. Harper’s “Things I Cannot Say” to find out. And her stunning new book is available at a substantial discount during the pre-publication order period.
Things I Cannot Say
Even when you are a one-year-old jumping out of your crib
(you have no particular reason for jumping, but you do it,
& the thud you make that’s loud but doesn’t hurt,
wakes your father, the menacing resonance of whose
footsteps approaching your room overwhelms you with terror—
your own heartbeat surging in your head—which you catalogue
into your infant consciousness as a sense of mortal danger
you will run from for the rest of your life, though you have no
language to account for it yet), you already implicitly understand
that your fear is a thing you must never talk about out loud, for
the only way its malaise living in your veins could feel worse,
would be if the words you formulated & ascribed to its being
resulted in its summary negation.
___________________________________For the same, essential reason,
you still hardly believe the amazing…
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Not Blame Your Pleasure
Because vision limits options, I close my eyes.
Becoming urges patience.
The morning after I didn’t die, I took breakfast in bed.
Arrival stamps the difference between waiting and choice.
Expectation, too, extends its squeeze, rendering sleep impossible.
I ride the bike and go nowhere, or walk steadily, covering the same ground.
Which will claim me first? An occlusion, gravity or unchecked growth?
Anticipation replaces one sigh with another: I have three falls from two roofs.
A friend has named me executor of his estate, and now the race is on.
The path to the void seems straight only near its end.
My ashes will one day soil someone’s morning.
“Not Blame Your Pleasure” first appeared here in November 2015.
In my sliver of the world, poetry and cooking share many qualities. When I step into the kitchen, I often have only a vaporous notion of what’s for dinner. A hankering for roasted poblano peppers, the need to use a protein languishing in the refrigerator, the memory of an herbal breeze wafting down a terraced hill near Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, according to Virgil, or even a single intriguing word, may spark what comes next. But the success of what follows depends upon the ingredients at hand, on how we’ve stocked the pantry. Good products beget better results. Let’s take my desire for roasted poblanos. What to do with them? Poking around, I uncover an opened package of goat cheese, a bit of grated grana padano and some creme fraiche, and I immediately think pasta! Looking further I spot arugula, a lemon, a handful of pecans, some cherry tomatoes. Dinner: Pappardelle with a roasted poblano and goat cheese sauce, garnished with toasted pecans, served with an arugula and cherry tomato salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Simple, when you’ve stocked a solid base of quality components.
My writing employs a similar process. Anything – a vague sense of uneasiness, a particular word, the sunlight slanting through the unfortunate dove’s imprint on my window, articles or books I’ve read or perused on a myriad of subjects – may launch a poem. But what truly makes the poem, what bolsters, fills and completes, what ignites and catapults it arcing into the firmament? The pantry’s contents.
Everyone’s needs differ, and I wouldn’t presume to inflict my peculiar sensibilities on anyone, but if you cracked open my burgeoning poetry pantry’s door, you’d certainly unearth dictionaries and a thesaurus, fallen stars, books on etymology and language, curiosity, a guitar or mandolin, at least one window (sometimes partially open), conversations floating in the ether, various empty frames, wind, dog biscuits and dirty socks, a walking stick, sunlight and shadows, more books on such subjects as ancient navigation, the history of numbers, the periodic table, alchemy and olives. You might also spy reams of paper, unspoken words, coffee cups, a scorpion or two, scrawled notes on index cards, wandering musical notes, a pipe wrench, wood ear mushrooms and salvaged fragments of writing, failed ideas moldering in clumps on the floor, a few craft beers and empty wine bottles, a chain saw, and most important of all, a bucketful of patience.
(I cannot over-emphasize the bucket’s contents…)
This is just to say (no, I didn’t eat the plums) that the best equipped poets stock their pantries with the world and all its questions, with logic, with faith, persistence, emotion, science, art, romance and yes, patience. Line your kit with every tool you can grasp or imagine. Keep adding to it. Read deeply. Listen. Breathe. Listen again. Converse. Look outward. Further, past the trees, around the bend and beyond the horizon’s curve, where the unknown lurks. Look again. Don’t stop. Continue.
And if after all this you’re wondering what basks in my kitchen pantry:
This last appeared here in July 2017.
An editor said never start a poem at a window,
so instead I’m looking at the door,
which is made of glass. We are to avoid rain,
too, but it streaks the pane in such delicious
patterns that I can’t help but pretend to be someone else
in a foreign city, perhaps Helsinki, sipping black coffee
with a mysterious woman younger than my daughter
(who also does not exist), whose interests
in me are purely literary, although she straightens
my collar with lingering, scented fingers. Garden
memories and birds must never populate our lines,
but corpses are fine, as are tube tops and bananas
and any combination thereof. I finish my coffee
and wander alone through cobblestone streets,
stepping over clichés when possible, kicking them
aside when my hip joint argues, or simply accepting
their useful limitations when nothing else works.
Unknown and lacking credentials, I shrug, go on
past the closed doors behind which unseen bodies
perform the most bizarre and sensual solo dances,
or not, and shadows cook sausages over fire
and the grease spattering onto the tiled counters
issues a fragrance that awakens neighborhood dogs
and maybe a dozing stall-keeper at the market
where cloudberries are sometimes found.
I know little of Finland, and less of myself,
and then there’s poetry, which remains a blank
frame, a frosted pane I’ll never truly unlatch.
* * *
My poem “Helsinki” was first published at Panoply. It was inspired in part by a Facebook thread on which editors commented on what caused them to instantly reject poems. One said beginning a poem at a window was cause for rejection. Hence the first line.
While Looking Up at a Working Wasp, I Trip
How do these things I once barely acknowledged
now snare toes or twist ankles, causing me to stumble,
spill coffee and curse. Steps, rocks, pavement, curbs.
Door sills. No matter which, without provocation.
Solitary wasps mate not in flight but in the vicinity
of their nesting area. Three years ago a female
violated our unspoken agreement of mutual
existence; my arm purpled and ballooned
to twice its normal size, and I demolished her nest
for fear that attacks would become habit. Today,
another builds in the same spot. I stoop by,
beneath notice, as she labors to make room
for eggs fertilized with stored sperm from a single
drone. Such diligence should earn rewards.
I stroll to the mailbox and marvel at their ability
to manufacture wood pulp for nests, how
certain species avoid mating with siblings
on the basis of chemical signatures, and that
they voluntarily control the sex of their offspring.
Ah, the wonders of nature! Approaching the door,
I look up and observe the growing nest with
admiration, enter the house without stumbling,
and inhale the fragrance of the perfectly arranged
lilies. The books on the table entice me, so I
pour a glass of malbec and thumb through them
with great pleasure. Soon, after sunset, she will die.
* * *
“While Looking Up at a Working Wasp, I Trip” was published in MockingHeart Review in May 2018.