Ashes

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Ashes

To sweeten the dish, add salt. To bear the pain,
render the insoluble. She envied

the past its incursions, yet the past yields to all,
avoidance to acceptance, trees to smoke.

My mother brought to this country a token of her death to come.

Now it sits on my shelf bearing implements of music.
In her last days I played Sakura on the mandolin,

trusting that she might find comfort
in the blossoms fluttering through the failing notes,

a return to mornings
of tea and rice, of
warmth and paper walls and deep laughter.

Today the rain spells forgive

and every idea becomes form, every shadow a symptom,
each gesture a word, a naming in silence.

Scatter me in air I’ve never breathed.

* * *

“Ashes,” first appeared in Extract(s) in 2013, was reprinted on The Reverie Poetry Journal, and is included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

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Setting Fire to the Origami Crane

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Setting Fire to the Origami Crane (the one floating on Muscongus Bay) at Sunset

Who is to say which comes first, the flaming crane
or the sunset’s burst just over the horizon

and under the clouds? There are causes and causations,
an illness named bad air and another attributed to wolf

bites, neither accurate. There is the paraffin to melt,
and the folded paper resting comfortably nearby, with

a small, unopened tin of shoe polish and the sound of
tears striking newsprint. You know the myth of the

Viking burial — the burning ship laden with treasure
and the deceased clothed in all his finery. But pyres

are lighted to make ash of bodies, to ease the soul’s
transition to the heavens. Think of how disturbing

it would be to come upon the charred lumps of your
loved one washed ashore. And other myths — various

versions of the afterlife created to bend wills and
foster hope where little exists — to which have you

departed? There are no returns in your future, no more
givings, and your ashes have dispersed among the clouds

and in the water. They’ve been consumed by earth and
sky, inhaled and swallowed, digested, coughed out but

never considered for what they were. So I’ve printed
your name a thousand times on this sheet, and will

fold and launch it, aflame, watching the letters that
comprise you, once again, rise and float, mingle

and interact, forming acquaintances, new words,
other names, partnerships, loves, ascending to the end.

 

This was written for the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge. To read the story behind the poem’s title (which I was unaware of), you might visit Jilanne Hoffman’s blog.

Bone Music

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Bone Music

But how to reconcile the difference? Consider
drag force, velocity at impact, position,
surface tension. Gravity. I drink more wine
and drift, trying to recall that last conversation,
those few sentences revised in the moment,
exhaled and consumed in passing. It’s
likely that fractured ribs lacerated the heart and
lungs, or severed major arteries. Sometimes
words evaporate, leaving behind only the faintest
residue. Or they might absorb the ocean’s power,
the beauty, the blackness of the deepest
nocturnal canyon or the weight of a dying
high mass star’s core, crushing any deliberation,
any attribution, with remorse. Sky above,
the earth below, silvered leaves. A shared moon.
This fluttering from great heights. The outward
thrust. The shearing. A fluttering within. Each
morning I acknowledge pain and fear, refleshing
the night’s bones phrase by delicate phrase into
numinous forms greater than their divisible
parts, their intractable sums, into bodies and
shapes extracted through a moment’s glimpse,
brief afterthoughts groaned across the opening
blue, saying I was right, I admit inaction, I
confess it all, water, water, I knew too little.

“Bone Music” 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.

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Ikebana

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Ikebana (You without You)

Between frames, between presence and negation, authority.

If your body lies in the earth, why are you here?

Limits admired and sought: the way of the flower.

I pluck leaves from the lower half to achieve balance.

Shape and line detach, yet comprise the whole.

My father, awake in his chair, mourns quietly.

A naked twig forms one point of the scalene triangle.

Starkness implies silence, resonates depth.

Heaven, earth, man, sun and moon invoke your absence.

As you trickle through the interval’s night.

* * *

Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangement.

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Earth’s Damp Mound

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Earth’s Damp Mound
for P.M.

I. February 1998.

That week it rained white petals
and loss completed its

turn, the words finding themselves
alone, without measure,

without force, and no body to compare.
Though strangers spoke I could not.

Is this destiny, an unopened
mouth filled with

pebbles, a pear tree
deflowered by the wind? The earth’s

damp mound settles among your bones.

 

II. Count the Almonds

What bitterness
preserves your sleep,

reflects the eye’s
task along the inward thread?

Not the unspoken, but the unsayable.

Curious path, curious seed.
A shadow separates

to join another, and in the darker
frame carries the uncertain

further, past silence, past touch,
leaving its hunger alert and unfed,

allowing us our own protections.

 

III. The Bowl of Flowering Shadows

Reconciled, and of particular
grace, they lean, placing emphasis on balance,

on layer and focus, on depth of angle
absorbing the elegant darkness,

a lip, an upturned glance, the mirror.

What light caresses, it may destroy.
Even the frailest may alter intent.

So which, of all those you might recall,
if your matter could reform

and place you back into yourself,
would you choose? Forgive me

my selfishness, but I must know.

 

IV. Requiem

Then, you said, the art of nothingness
requires nothing more

than your greatest effort.
And how, seeing yours, could we,

the remaining, reclaim our
space without encroaching on what

you’ve left? One eye closes, then
the other. One mouth moves and another

speaks. One hears, one listens, the eternal
continuation. Rest, my friend. After.

 

Prentiss Moore influenced my reading and writing more than he ever realized. We spent many hours talking, eating, arguing, drinking, laughing. Always laughing – he had one of those all-encompassing laughs that invited the world to join in. And it frequently did. Through Prentiss I met in person one of my literary heroes, Gustaf Sobin, whose work Prentiss had of course introduced me to. Those few hours spent with the two of them driving around in my pickup truck, discussing poetry, the Texas landscape, horticulture and the vagaries of the publishing world, are hours I’ll always hold close.

Earth’s Damp Mound first appeared in the anthology Terra Firma, and is included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

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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.

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