Landscape

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Landscape

Utterance
within the parameters set
by form

expressionless
save motion

the lone branch
brought to the fore
and in the distance

stock ponds collecting rain

the word is
forget, as in the imperative
as in function, as in

you must have

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This first appeared here in December 2014.

Sault Ste. Marie

 

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.

Scarecrow Believes

Scarecrow Believes
 

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.

 

 

 

Scarecrow Dreams

 

Scarecrow Dreams

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.

Helsinki (with recording)

Helsinki

Helsinki

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.

Calvin Coolidge — Live or Memorex?

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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 2018. 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

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My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar (with recording)

My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar

Blue-tinted and red-mouthed, you light a cigarette
that glows green between your lips and smells of
menthol and old coffins, burnt fruit and days carved

into lonely minutes. I mumble hello, and because
you never speak, order a tulip of double IPA, which the
bartender sets in front of me. Longing to ask someone

in authority to explain the protocol in such matters,
I slide it over, but of course you don’t acknowledge
the act. The bartender shrugs and I munch on spiced

corn nuts. I wish I could speak Japanese, I say, or cook
with chopsticks the way you did. We all keep secrets, but
why didn’t you share your ability to juggle balls behind

your back sometime before I was thirty? And I still
can’t duplicate that pork chili, though my yaki soba
approaches yours. You stub out the cigarette and immediately

light another. Those things killed you, I say, but what the hell.
As always, you look in any direction but mine, your face
an empty corsage. What is the half-life of promise, I ask. Why

do my words swallow themselves? Who is the grandfather
of loneliness? Your outline flickers and fades until only a trace
of smoke remains. I think of tea leaves and a Texas noon,

of rice balls and the vacuum between what is and what
could have been, of compromise and stubbornness and love,
then look up at the muted tv, grab your beer, and drink.

* * *

“My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar” was first published in The Lake in December 2018.

Dispatches from the Pandemic: This Old Desk

Dispatches from the Pandemic: This Old Desk

This old desk whispers hints of lives lived in separate peripheries, of unseen treasures and thoughts and deeds. Whose fountain pen scrawled love notes on the inlaid leather pullout, which daughter broke a crystal finger bowl and wept for a lost pet? What books rested behind these glass doors? What curiosities? Old pocket knives, polished stones? Spent cartridges? And in these slots? Perhaps perfume bottles and note pads. Or unanswered letters and a worn deck of playing cards. A tin box of regrets, another of joy.

Haiku and Whitman
mingling behind beveled glass
Look: my mother’s ashtray

The desk and I are slowly making our acquaintance. I pledge that I will never take its untold history for granted, that I’ll respect its presence and do my utmost to fill it with purpose, with cherished objects and the satisfaction of good work. In turn it offers me solidity, an altar at which to sit and think, to rearrange words, create lists, read, conjure fantasies, breathe. I’ve only just realized that I’ve lacked such a base since abandoning my Texas shack fifteen months ago.

Another window
frames the distant crow
Home at last!

Untitled from the 80s

Another untitled poem from the 80s…

wood and water
the wave of
fragrance so perfect

we seek to
obtain it as
if we could

be windows open
to a light
the gentlest cloud

would obscure still
spreading like one’s
final exhalation which

travels only to
disperse and become
at last another’s

This first appeared here in June 2017.

 

Obsession: Books, or, Poetry Finds Me

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In another life books framed my days. I slept with them, dreamt about them, woke to their presence stacked by the bed and in various corners throughout the house, read them, handled them, discussed their merits with friends, co-workers, beer-drinking buddies, bartenders, customers, strangers, relatives, and even enemies. Traced my fingers slowly down their spines, identified some by odor alone, others by weight and feel. Bought, sold, cleaned, lent, skimmed, traded, gave, borrowed, collected, repaired, preserved, received. Traveled to acquire more, returned home to find still others languishing in never-opened, partially read or barely touched states. There were always too many. There were never enough.

The relationship began innocently. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of five, and over the years developed a knack for uncovering uncommon modern first editions. I’d walk into a thrift shop and spot a copy of William Kennedy’s first novel, The Ink Truck, snuggling up to Jane Fonda’s workout book, for a buck. Or at a small town antique store, something especially nice, perhaps a near-fine first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, would leer at me from a dark shelf – $1.50. John Berryman’s Poems (New Directions, 1942) found me at a garage sale, for a quarter. Good Will yielded Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. There were others, of course. Many others.

I partnered with a few like-minded friends and opened a store, and when that didn’t work out, started my own home-based book business, which eventually expanded into a small brick-and-mortar shop, a true labor of love. And I mean labor. The forlorn space we rented was cheap and had housed for years a low-end, illicit massage parlor. Cleaning it out was, oh, shall we say interesting? I’ll never forget the furry massage table, the naked lady lamp or the various implements left behind after the joint was finally forced to close. But we hauled out the filthy carpeting, stripped and refinished the hardwood floors, fixed, painted and patched what we could, and hid what we couldn’t. It was exhausting, but well worth the toil.

My work schedule ran from Monday through Sunday, a minimum of eighty hours a week – in a seven-year period, I took off only two long weekends. It consumed me, but in the end I emerged mostly intact, a little more aware of my proclivities, of an unhealthy tendency to immerse myself wholly into an enthusiasm, to the detriment of family and friends. When we sold our store’s wares, I embraced the change; some dreams simply deplete you. But the itch remained.

Just a few weeks ago I found myself perusing an accumulation of books in a storage facility across the street from a junk shop in Llano, Texas, a small county seat an hour’s drive west of my home on the outskirts of Austin. The shop’s owner had purchased an English professor’s estate, and judging by the collection, the professor had specialized in poetry. My first thought was “I want it all,” but reason set in (I could very well imagine my wife’s reaction were I to arrive home with a trailerful of books) so I glanced over the criticism, fiction, drama, essays and biographies, and concentrated on the poetry. In the end I walked away with thirty-one books, including H.D.’s Red Roses for Bronze (Chatto & Windus, 1931), Randall Jarrell’s Little Friend, Little Friend, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems and Questions of Travel, a brace of Berrymans – His Toy, His Dream, His Rest and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet – both the U.S. and U.K. first editions, which differ – and Love & Fame. A good haul, to say the least, but one that left me only partially satisfied and contemplating a return. But I remain resolute. So far.

As I said, the itch remains…

* * *

This first appeared here in April 2015, and yes, the itch is still there. The pandemic has prevented me from haunting used bookstores as I’d imagined I would. But someday…

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