I’m delighted that four of my shakuhachi poems are up at As Above So Below, which also includes two poems by Stephanie L. Harper (one of which was written while under COVID-19’s breath-crushing grip) and pieces by Kate Garret, Sarah Law, Mark Tulin and others you might recognize. Many thanks to editor Bethany Rivers for taking these pieces.
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.
“Letter to a Ghost” last appeared herein 2017.
I Live in My Winter
Removed from the junipers’
fragrance, separated from
prickly pears gracing
the hill, limestone slabs
jutting from thin soil,
and smoke drifting from
a well laid fire on a cold
night. Old, today, I
call the clouds my
birthright, want only
to merge with them
and rain through
another black coffee
in this unfamiliar place,
this new home,
this welcome peace.
Awakened, He Turns to the Wall (Cento)
Then, everything slept.
Where were you before the day?
You see here the influence of inference,
whereby things might be seen in another light,
as if the trees were not indifferent, as if
a hand had suddenly erased a huge
blackboard, only, I thought there was
something even if I call it nothing,
like the river stretching out on its
deathbed. No one jumps off.
* * *
A cento is composed of lines from poems by other poets. This originated from pieces by: Larry Levis, Jacques Roubaud, Lorine Niedecker, Gustaf Sobin, Denise Levertov, Elizabeth Spires, William Bronk, Vicente Huidobro, Ingebord Bachmann
For further information and examples of the form, you might peruse the Academy of American Poets site: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poetic-form-cento
Sault Ste. Marie
Too often you see yourself and wonder
which bodies ancestors navigated
to gather such glorious scars and wrinkles
in one place, both noticeable and unseen,
little waves in a great lake of flesh.
The mirror is not unkind, you think,
with proper lighting — in candlelight
or late evening’s peppery glow,
after a few drinks. Then you recall
crossing the equator three decades
past, how the deck’s non-skid surface
scratched your knees as you scrubbed
the twists and currents that’d buffeted
you to that imagined line on the globe,
and later, the following points and clock
faces withering down the long queue
of jobs, the spilled beer and incomplete life
sentences. Even now, Superior washes
through its locks, filling, denying, allowing
one’s depths into another’s space with equal
regard, promoting passage, flooding past with
future, present with then, balancing tomorrow, now.
“Sault Ste. Marie” won LCk Publishing’s Spring Poetry Contest in April 2017.
no feature enhanced
but beauty of
the whole and
its container the
tree is not
deprived and grows
as it must
though slowly like
a wave which
gathers itself for
years there is
no completion only
process a lapse
which presumes the
most delicate design
Originally published in Aileron in 1988, “Bonsai” first appeared on the blog in December 2014.
What is a ghost if not misplaced energy,
an apprehension or the sum of invisible integers
and the properties they possess? I preside over
this sea of maize, tracking clouds, noting patterns
up high and among the flowing stalks, absorbing
minutiae, assigning connections, piecing together bits,
moment to thought, soil to trickle, flutter to gain.
Energy. Inertia. Waves, converted. If I had a bed
I would not neglect to look under it. The closet door
would remain open, a nightlight positioned nearby
with perhaps a mirror or two angled to offer clarity,
and the radio tuned always to jazz, providing little
purchase to any ill-intentioned spirit. The power of
beauty transfixes, even as it carries me far from my
station, from hilltop to plains to glowering moon.
If neither place nor reason, what consumes
our spiritual remnants, what directs our currents
to the next, and each successive, landing? Crows
have long been considered conduits to the afterlife,
but they exist here, in the now. I do not perspire but
fix my gaze on numbers and their tales, on zero and
the history of nothing, on unseen fingers walking up
my spine, shedding a residue of snow, of mercury
and latent images and dormant seeds in the world
underfoot, acknowledging the wonders of what
can’t be proven, what won’t be held or seen. Still, I
add and subtract, unclench my fingers and accept the
quiet, caught forever within the limits of the boundless,
under the sky, in space, within the improbable.
“Scarecrow Believes” was first published in May 2017 in GFT Presents: One in Four, a semiannual, print literary journal, and was subsequently published by Vox Populi.
If by night I move without aid,
what then? Precious flesh, precious
bone, never mine to lose – the difference
between nothingness and no thing. A
pity that my friends fly at the merest
movement, but when the air’s breath
stills, they sing and rattle among the
grain, scribing their days in song
and footprints, seeking the available
on the ground. And what scrolls lower
than the sound of sunflowers turning?
The laughing daughter runs around
my lattice spine, scattering joy like so
many seeds, and when my hollow
fingers clench, the earth quivers, or
so it seems. Then midnight returns
and I disengage and stalk about,
scaring rodents and their predators,
hooting in harmony with the owls
reveling in the night air, remembering
the holy shirt, a yellow glove, corn
silk’s gleam at noon and the warmth
of your fingers against my burlap skin.
I do not breathe, I say, but I exist. By
morning what joins me but the tune
of yet another bird, unseen, melodious,
the pulse of morning’s dew. Eternity.
How my straw tongue longs to sip it.
“Scarecrow Dreams” first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of Eclectica. Many thanks to poetry editor Jen Finstrom, for publishing several of my scarecrow poems.
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.