ACQUAINTANCE WITH STRANGERS

Note: Poem Titles Marked with a Double Asterisk (**) Have Been Published or Accepted for Publication.

I. LANDSCAPE


FLORAL DESIGNERS
For Mary Fonseca

We might all be buried as floral designers,
Surrounded by our stock, and entering the earth
As promise rather than regret and emptiness.
What greenery surmounts a life, a florist's last
Gesture is about design, about belonging,
Is about a willingness to bind up the least
Shadows in creation, has at its folded heart
The close offering, the great inherent grace just
In the doing it, pummeling us out of our
Torpor, into the tidestream sky, is about lights,
Candles that never have been left, unattended.


IN A PARK

In a park, close by a levee
At the end of a a road I put
My head down on your firm
Lap and looked up at you,
Trusting that your brown eyes
Never would leave the park
Put close by the long river
Connected from the oceans up
Into the fingers of pure-water
Tasting mountains enduring.


GARDENIAS**

As gardenias shoot shafts fleshed
To terminate in pinnacles, so have I
Written to you, making effusions,
The stretch of spirals' outward giving
Somersault into another's spaces.
As gardenias burst flowers clenched
In eyelid-like buds, so have I
Opened my solitary places
To the ocean foam of your seeing,
To the wide soft cream of your gazing.
As gardenias grow ivory in ending,
Flinging their petals back, so do I
Send you still the breathing
Of cycles, far-off fragrance
Made delicate only by waiting.

**Poetalk, tba.


CAMELLIAS**

Far too much worry's wasted
Thinning camellias--these old houses
Are, from their loose foundation,
Proving it, shifting listless, letting
Each heart's fist open, freely,
Allowing them no longer to hide
Clutching themselves so selfishly--
You couldn't imagine much less effort.
You might as well pinch the eastward
Openings of morning in the springtime:
The light, scrubbed air, pink as the inside
Of your ears, like shells, though, it's true,
You must shift yourself close to the ground
To sense them.

**in the grove, April, 2002.


SEA-BARRIERS

I miss the eyes' light I can no longer
Start in you, though I know this distance lies
Really no farther now than when I found you:
Endless salt-water hollows of distance
Even then, curves of churning surfaces,
When we were enfolded, still immense
Festering wide floods, air, blood, the spiral
Stretch of tissue, muscle, nerve, shredded seas
Of our faces crashing on hard reefs, cracked,
Slipping along great charges of ice that
Is the having of something and the losing
Of it, all in the having of it long.


INSCAPE

Birdlike, sunlight infuses your eyes' out-
Of-doors, in winter you, I, pupils
To illumine that shared sight absorbing
Organ moisture, liquids that have bathed our
Faces, washed our throats, flooded our closely
Conjoined chests, entangled legs, as wet leaves
Adhere, after rainsqualls, to the last stair.


WATER

Reginald Kam-Ung Luke
Waist-deep in a dinghy,
Broke water and air, his oars
Slow white insect wings;
And, for a Saturday,
It was Sunday in quiet,
As Reginald Kam-Ung Luke
Did his drifting.


LIGHTENING

Burdens of loneliness loosen to song
To sequences of settled evenings,
Melody in which we tune our heartaches,
Ready to catch them from the afternoons--
Our low, pliant, slowing conversations,
Sibilants by which we ring the rims that
Are our faces, and save our eyes' shredding
Echoes in air less loathed in darkness.
When I can no longer see you gauging
Our helplessness, let us take the graceful
Weaving of fugues, shapes grown undiscerning
To small meetings, convened of a nightfall.
Whatever the deaf sun, we will have, love-moist,
Our shared burdens out beyond our voices.


MEADOWLARK**

The meadowlark
Feels no resentment
Though thoughtless urbanity
Pushes him
Further into the fields
And there are fewer
Meadowlarks.
Still he bears
His song's burden--
Love, dominance, desire,
Still in his throat
A hundred thousand years'
Aching in the prairie.
And we complain
There is no continuity--
Where there is once
There has been continuity:
How the mud itself
Aches to make
More meadowlarks,
How they ache
To love,
And how we ache
To hear them
Save us.

**Broadside No. 33 [Clamshell Press, Santa Rosa, California], 1991.


VERNAL EQUINOX**

I don't need her, always finding her near,
Because our love's most worldly-common--
Diurnal as the mail, and annual
As the end of rain. And when I think I
Think of her as stars in ordinary,
As uneventful china-lily skin
And mostly, of her body's viscous earth,
Seeing her bones slip in blue snake lights and
Hollows along her fleshly tender grass.
Yet I've felt ways found just in fable:
The Neckar flows to the Rhine flows to the sea,
This our charts make mention, these our maps know,
But you must cross the brick bridge (Heidelberg
Puts on postcards), and sleep near evolving
Patterns of small birds at springtime, to find
Words for her customary shadows.

**Midwest Poetry Review (November, 2001).


THE PROCESSION OF TREES

The procession of trees in young green smolder
And soft residual emblossomed smoke
May in its very democracy hide
My hat-waving entrance into your eyes
Awash in green as cross-section branches
running in sap-rivulets
Because of the spring.
Nevertheless I come out-of-doors to the season
Hoping in these times you may, as last night
you prenatally
Stirred under the thick brown of my overcoat's soil,
Bloom as ever you have,
Flush (again) in floating convolutions,
That for which my eyes were reconceived,
That of which my fingers are fulfilled,
That for which the alls of all of me are measured.


CHOKER SETTING

For Gary Snyder

There'd be no knowing what it was that came:
The choker glints, a hook caught through one
Link or the other, slippery, rusty,
The chain left lying cross-eyed uneven
On the bearmat, the winch, the diesel's shrug,
About to move a Doug Fir still breathing,
Raging through its length, resisting the smoke;
The squeal, chirp, ring in bantering whispers
Of parting, all I'd hear, her close giggle,
Splitting me, caresses, at my chin, throat,
My chest, my own insides, slipping out there
On the damp and graying sawdust.


TELEPHONE WIRES IN THE COUNTRY**

Green wires roving into retrograde,
Back to the land's inner thigh,
Dark and steep and subtle
In our own blurred remembering,
Our squamous beginnings,
This mud drawing green wires,
Turquoise as the end of morning,
Azure as the onset of the night,
Dropping, falling in great half
Low loops, the messages
Of which find some other way
To run meridians.

**Confrontation, Winter, 2003.


HABITATION**

As a sign it was to be abandoned,
A family of Latinos got the lease,
Tending the impossibly triangled
Two-twenty acres severed from the world
By a freeway to the south, and the rails.
They moved, and the next year someone else brought
A cultivator in, and following
That, no one did, and behind the vacant
Land pimp's post, the weeds worked, the out-buildings
Bloated and burst. After the boy and girl
And child, all three dark with the wide effort
Needed to prolong land spent in waiting,
As in mourning how slowly after their
Parting, did the windows lose their luster,
The staircase sink and board long disappear.

**Poetalk, tba.


CATCHMENT**

Not very far by anybody's measure
The farm grew itself back and away
From the sharp drop of the hill,
Its first surge a low, nubbed shack
Of adobe, noting in its stuffing
The earth itself, then a barn
Of slats, then a concrete-footed
Corrugated iron pump house.
Out from the shadow of the hill
And its oaks lapped the farmhouse,
Removed, leaving all the rest
To decay, serving now almost as
A stub, keeping the chickens if only
For a moment from each other.

**Poetry Motel, tba.


FARMHOUSES**

Note: The first farmers in California planted palm trees in their
front yards, in part because of the biblical associations, in
part because this was the first time in their lives that they could.

It is not a fair prospect: fields, already
Barred on one side and the other
By arbitrary suburbs, horizonless
In illogical concrete; but still
The fields ripen. Distant men in squat
Smoky tractors repeat the old, slow,
Beautiful and sad motions of love-making
The land. And next year there may be
Unnatural faces of scraped earth, more
Suburbs, fewer tractors, until the farm
Itself will disappear, save only its dark
And glorious palms attesting hope
That, human, flourishes forever.
**in the grove, April, 2002.


LANDSCAPE: THE SACRAMENTO VALLEY**

My love climbs and spreads
Outward like the evening, folding
Eastward valleys in gray
Woolen surges.
My love's smile cascades
Like twilight, moistening
The oaks in slow obscurity.
My love's eyes are dark
Like sparrows hiding in
Their branches, her lids
Their feathers, her lashes
The umber, final undulations
Of their song.

**Tucumcari Literary Review, 108 (February, 2001), 16.


II. THIS SERVICE OF RETRIEVAL

AGING

Sleeping together solely to keep warm,
Or, beyond that, wanting an edge
More coequal with the abyss' edge
Off the other side of the bed--
They, like Abishag supplied and David,
Kept comfortable watch over the ageless
Eyelessness of their waiting.


CONVALESCENCE

They do not dream of death before they die,
Though each pause in their lives grows longer,
More profound. In hallways single women cry,
Quietly, for times when they'll be stronger.
As maples, when they're dying, recreate
The graces of late summer, and allow
Death solely in autumn--to culminate
In amber, copper, madder, and yellow.
Roots dig as deep as branches are reaching,
Life takes living slow and slight, affliction
Distant: minds survive messages screeching.
Stubborness must be the main restriction:
Death, accepted, is a form of teaching,
But only in fine, light strokes of fiction.


CELLOS**

When I am dying rent my unused rooms
To cellists, to practice when I'm dying,
Let them play and play again their music,
Making over the errors endlessly.
What might be tedious now wouldn't be then,
Cellists grimly bearing on their cellos,
Let them curse all vagaries of time,
Line, groaning over harmonies; let them
Let their fingers wander where they've wanted
To go, naturally, against the straightened
Logic of inevitable measure--
Let the hallways lurch with interruption.
Let them stray--whatever is imperfect
Cannot disturb me while I am to die.

**The Galley Sail Review, Series 3, Issue 42 (Spring-Summer, 1993), 25.


THE LAST BREATH

The last breath is altogether sacred,
Like brushing a girl's shrouded, silken sleeve
Accidentally, as you walk together--
Her bare arm hissing and hidden
In so much promise, so is the last breath
Of living flesh sacred.


LOBES

For Colin

Note: Trilobites are the first organisms for which
there is evidence of bisexual reproduction.

All life defies sardonic death
Defines arhythmic gasps as breath;
Slipslyly life devolves desire
So two crustaceans should conspire
To feel so plated but be fond
Of fluid pleasure, just beyond.
Taught to scuttle, now we've got
To make our home in some strange pot.
The parent of the horseshoe crab
Constructs us in a deep-sea lab--
Condemns content, creates the face,
Spins whirlpools through the human race.


RUDDERLESS BOAT

They have transported us, my son and me,
Us two, in this coffin, as is fitting--
For once I understood how little was
The love they'd have afforded him, I knew
It would be better if we stayed, as now,
Together; and, than someday to have him
Become what it was they were, I took
Him with me.


MY FATHER'S ASHES**

My Father's ashes lie along wide
Pacific beaches, stretching south
Of San Gregorio; south and inland
As the ocean carries, lie
My Father's ashes slowly grinding
Into sand anonymous--what mollusks
Will make of him shell, what will
Remake of him bone, what will remake
My father? The pulsing Pacific
Swells, discharges its life, south
Toward the warmer waters where our
Blood-life might have started, high
Bluffs, lush with so much
Living, running brush, ready
For their flowers, along the long
Beaches, further south, toward
The Channel, San Miguel, Santa Rosa,
Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara,
Nicolas, Catalina, San Clemente.

**Arts Up!, The Yolo County Arts Council, April, 1994.


IN MEMORY OF GERRY MORHMAN

The only time we spoke, Gerry, you--flushed and wheezing
With what would kill you later--seized me in the hall,
And like Polonius drew me in, bidding me,
Grinningly, to write. Because you thought I could, I do,
Though not now in a way you had imagined,
Then. I praise your life so dedicate to words,
Words that drove your corpse to dictionaries, oracles
And altars where your notions flared and charred and rose up
On the ashes. You found those words
More fine than those minds had been, fathering them,
More quick than those times bearing them,
More full of life than either of us now can claim to be.
God, keep me from that that was his alcohol pathetic,
Making the heart's tissue raw, slow, vacant, thin,
Disintegrate. Keep me rather as he was, goaded into words,
And all their air-effusions
Of amazement.


BOB WIGGINS

The exit out from the elevators
Crossed a foyer inexplicably lined
With built-in, solid benches--as if there
Were reasons to pause and sit in that blunt
Conduit. Here he stayed, relegated
For his smoking, over time mutating
By stages back to mucus, grew yellow,
Pale and brown--spacious marks of pestilence,
Toward his chest, the all-too-ready hollows.
While the weaving of his body twitched, shed,
Subatomic motions joined, subducted,
Extruded continents hot, corrosive,
Until one blind sort of attraction quite
And altogether denied the other.


RICHARD FRANK

Richard,
In all these forty seasons since you had to die,
Clotted by lymphoma, however much you were
Decent and upright; I know how your distant twin
Could not reverse corruption with his marrow,
Nor could I reverse corruption, I couldn't stay
Except with boulders at my throat and helpless as you died.
Helpless as the incoherent understanding of your son,
Who lived not knowing how you were before you died.
That last call to Lynn, who made a bunk inside your room,
To hold you quite lost to all reality; those last days
They tried anything against your cancer, Richard.
But I can never live as full of life as you live,
Living and dying and finally finding death.
The room in which you wandered your last months,
That room is world for those I see around me,
That room is hedge against their death-invoking pride,
That room is universe in which to strain
And mumble in your madness, of hearts too impotent
To cry, and yet I cry, Richard, not for myself,
Richard, but for the never-can-be-back vision
That you are.


CONTRA COSTA COUNTY LINE**

For my sister Mary

Let us have the ocean come to meet us,
Let us have our hands, swollen with disease,
And voices sore with explanation fill
With shore-mud, let us wade until the water
Tells us it is time to end our struggle
And to breathe it in.
Let us glimpse the red
Sparks of ripe Toyon berries by the roads
And notice how the traffic in the wet
Night resembles them.
Someday let us meet
Together and mourn, mourn the endearing
Dead, let us tell each other in the air
How much we miss anyone who's died, let
Us come for reasons to weep, and cry then
Finally, letting them lose us as they ought.

**Poetalk (Winter 2000), 9.


LOUIS ST. MARIE, S.J.

Dum discit docet. The world you made us fear
And distrust was neither as overwhelming
Nor terrible as you would have us think--
Unless its pathos constitutes its terror. You said
Art was `Right reason in the making of things.'
It may be true. But where was feeling, wherein lay
The lurch of passion? I suppose I learned more
Than I'll know until I die as well. Those afternoons
In Chaucer were long and tedious--your gravel voice
Intoning Chaucer; but where is Chaucer, wherein lies
The stumble of poetry? Against the safety
Of imprisoned God, stone confines, the sober
Cycle of long seasons, could you teach us, could you
Teach us more than the tulips do, through the snow
Beneath your statue?


EMERSON AT GETTYSBURG**

Emerson-by-then-senile roamed the battleground at Gettysburg
Afterwards, and, on seeing a skull with perfect teeth,
Remarked on this: here he found one former human's skull
With perfect teeth. And will we too remark on this,
Mad Emerson, are we too not to notice
The mounded grave Confederates unmarked
Over there, but here they've killed a man
With perfect teeth? And how might there be cause
In all this killing, crazy Emerson,
What will keep us from wandering more battlefields,
Mad and senile, who will if you do not point out
Where the real skulls that we have all lost lie?

**Kumquat Merengue, tba.


MALICE

Malice, like cold, isn't--
Evil isn't, no more than
Facelessness is, who grips
My ankle at the whole
Ferry's capsizing, who
Is already meters
Under, refuses to re-
Lease heat that is, the form
That is, the life that is.


THE JEWISH CEMETERY IN GÖTTINGEN

Museums make amends by dedicating cases
To the dead, and carefully lettered facts
As they are known. Streets make amends
By naming themselves after the dead.
And here, the city museum stands
In Judenstrasse, and part of the third floor
Remembers faculty ridden away. But what
Do the graves say, what can be
The meaning of their faces, except
``We live, for all the magnanimity of hate,
And you have died.''


JUSTIFICATION

For every Catholic family saving a Jew,
There must have been fifty, betraying yet
Another with nods, smirks, understanding
Shrugs--sending them to dying, but themselves
To their own probable damning. I say
`Probable' because their ignorance had to be
A chasm, and there is no Jewish curse
Adequate for their stupidity. So,
It were better, Father, to forgive them,
For they did not know where they were going.


THE SEARCH FOR LOST RELATIONS, GERMANY**
July, 1986

Still the radio in the very early morning
Reverses history, raising the names
Of mothers lost, of fathers lost,
Of brothers and sisters lost, born
(When they know) in other days. Old
Maps appear, and once again create Pomerania,
East Prussia, and Silesia. And this though
The seekers die, and their children do not care
For unknown uncles and aunts, grandparents
Lost in time's erratic and haphazard fumbling.
I will not be the one to tell the Rotes Kreuz
Nothing has happened, for fear it must announce
To those of us who are not sought
A suspension in this service of retrieval.

**Catalyst Magazine, number 10 (Winter, 1992), 87.


VIETNAM

Phaeton
My Father's Apollonian descent
Into my mother determined
My special terrors; and I arose
According to paternity
Both stupid and lecherous. At age
My ultimatum to mount his mares
Ensued, inexorably for to banish
His tedious balances, extinguish
At once the he-has-made-me bastard.

Siegfried
I knew him for human; his blood,
Afterwards, still rusts my mouthed body.
They'll say, though, he was dragon,
And what I drank were mysteries
So to be hero, so to be wedded to woman;
But all I know, the eyes of the pools
Over his slippery body watch me.

Paul Klee in Italy
Unlike other Germans in Wanderjahr
I looked to nothing in the past,
The paintings, the prostitutes,
Found no vistas, bargained for nothing;
Instead, the Naples Aquarium,
The sheer, pure, symmetric geometries of fish,
Compelled me life,
Horrored me the deathmaking wreckage of all war.


MORTARS**

Out in the yard, one afternoon,
Suddenly he told his mother,
``The screen door sounds like mortars did
In Vietnam.'' Mortars clearing
Their throats. This was all he ever
Said by way of explanation,
For all the years he'd been away,
For his not returning, ever.
She hardly knew what mortars were,
Or whose he was referring to.
And she couldn't in mercy know
It altered sons who'd gone far less
Recognizable than hers had
Been, and this was done through grotesque
Misbegotten symmetry. By
Symmetry: that it can send out
Fine, fair, beautiful and so brave
Enfuséd shells to arch over
And apogee in bursts upon
Themselves and other lost mothers'
Sons.

**The Galley Sail Review, Series 3, Issue 42 (Spring-Summer, 1993), 24.


A MOVING WALL:
The Touring Vietnam Memorial

For Jack Tiscornia

It was much too easy finding it--slab
E29, line 78, each
Twenty lines' margins marked with a dot--what
Printers call a bullet. The World War we
Were born in was horror for our enemy
Alone, where wide flourishing fires and wild
Burst bodies roared right through our arteries,
And bore a single-minded, simple sheet
Of justice; in that shell we both put on
A longing to be killing, to found
Our honor in annihilation, so
Tightly enticing all that lying film.
You died there, Jack, choked in endless stupid
Others' foolishness, as I might have been;
And I stand on this side of these monuments
To patent unreason, in reparation
For which I beg the breathing, weeping God
To seat you--after the prerequisite
Commissions in the field--in courts martial
Inquiring of those dying now old men,
How they figured you were, they were casualties
Acceptable in the frigid, distant
Calculations of their impotence.


II. THE SHELL-AS-GATE-APPARENT SKY


CRETE, 1916

Mountains so quiet, sad I think,
Because of wartime and the men
Waiting in fog-gray iron ships
Slipping in the morning by close
Shore, under sheets of engine soot.
Because of wartime and the men
Mountains, I think, are sad and gray,
For all their faces mountains feel
A little disappointed in
A world of wartime and the men
Waiting in fog-gray iron ships
(Scars of white along the bows), who
Question little, mountains question
Less, but are, I think, sad, so gray,
For all their faces mountains feel.


AFTER PASSCHENDAELE, 1917

For Jane Kimball

Back from Passchendaele, the corporal took
The early train to Ely, and set out
Keeping a wire-entangled promise:
But tempting though the cry of plough-rigging,
The grunt of gravel, the serenity
Of so much life-impelling fenland, he
Could sense only the slow, rust corrosion
Of his hands' outside edges, the sight he
Might go hard, bony, and blue as a fish,
The rot he did not shake from his feet, so
At sunrise a part was back in Flanders,
The eastlight lending opportunity
To shoot their gray night-parties returning,
Sharp, stark against the cruelty of day,
And turning from the cursedness of death
And blessedness of life he stopped, and there
He stayed, citizen of all the silent
Somewhere elses he belonged.


ITALY

It was for you the heroes were assembled
To sail the Argo; for you a sea was cleared
To carry us to amber, clattering piles
Of it; for you, of course, the fleece was found.
All else is mythic: no goddesses tempting,
Only red laurels; no gods, only groves,
Only orchards near the Adriatic,
Up and beyond the Po. You may have heard
Stories, what wanderings we did, what wonders,
Those mere subversions of the truth: that there
Were times the Argo wasn't but the wind's
Or the tide's. Even so, there came gardens
At odd intervals, along the Adriatic,
Crusted with silver olive trees, trees
And twisted vines in rows that walked with us
As we passed, straightened and bent away,
Straightened and bent away, lush floes to which
Even the heroes would have me descend.
But I'd read the obligation, for you,
Bright gold and amber; for me, this much sea
And fire and people, that many places
And men, and all that there is now is pitch
Frozen for your reliquaries, the fleece
For what you choose as best. For me, perhaps
Some sailors will bring me up again, towards
The Adriatic, where hill-cities burn
Like far-away stars, like broken glass shards
In the roadway, carry me toward the Po,
And again I might decide whether to
Descend and be accepted in the peace
Among the golden apples of her hills.


MARCUS SMITH'S FRIEND GROWS OLD:
THE TUSCAN COUNTRYSIDE, 1975**

My hands are slow becoming soil--counter-
Assimilate in color, grain, the slight
Mutter and whisper of movement. I can
Imagine fruitful worms and patient decay
Beneath them both--how these folds run like sprung
Sequences of vines over my body--
The spots turn olive, my muscles resonate
With rabbit fear of destiny. And more
I live insignificant before these
Hills, before the pigs, before the single
Ox, cream of flank and hourly foreknowing
Its metamorphosis to omnipresent
Gods--if I can find a progress in this
Undulation, it must be in Marcus's
Revetment, over which he says he broke
His ass: perhaps in such buttressed, straightened
Terraces I lie imminent, darkly
Staining the earth, there with Shelley and Keats
Sharing at once the sod communicant
That lives and dies and dies and lives again.

**Poetalk, tba.


THE WINTER'S PALACE

For Margarita Yanson,
who brought orchids for my Mother

Have a bowl made appropriate
For catching orchids, singly as
They dry, droop, and might consider
Dropping. Tell your cousin, the sere
Empress, use her most prescient
Potter, instruct him to make it
Sense which flowers need their catching,
The elder, the younger, have it
Know when loss inevitable
Has visited the palace.


APPEARING ALONG THE ISIS
OXFORD, JUNE 15, 1964

Lifting herself statuesque as willow
Arches, back she fell into the water,
Surrounded by--it must have been--thirty
Satined-over schoolboys, each one begging,
Bleating, `Ma'amselle, Ma'amselle'--to which she'd smile
More graciously than could the cusped pinions
Of slight willow leaves stirring--and so she'd
Fashion them, for each, the most entirely long
Splendid moment in their lives. Her mallot
Held her faintly, she had the river slipping
Breathlessly over her shoulders, ogive
Arms, perfect breasts, easily as never
Being out of hope. If someone sent them
Down, thinking, bobbing teaches buoyancy,
They learned instead that dying has its own
Peculiar waveform, and in her eyes they'd
Shed all fair contrivance, giving themselves
Into the placid green and umber gates,
Willows dissipating in their fineness--
Her look promised to their bound enjambment:
Proof that this tight grip, that long profound blur
Is outside's beating over boundaries.


A FEMINIST LIBRARY
IN SYDNEY

Crisp Australian sunlight
Opulent in books, remembering
Consciousness backwards: the motes
Are swirls and whorls of sunlight,
Fluid planets, glowing and marking
Themselves in motion. These pages
Track the stretch of white scrub
Trail, the washes and sandy
Gullies, lines out into the open,
Back into the easy lope
Of wandering, down into
The hard horizon, where there's
Only the great earth, the lost
But discoverable imprinting
Of fertility, that and the shell-
As-gate-apparent sky.


MELODY

Neither so roundly nor so long
Curse old Dixie and old Dixie's ways--
My landlady hated niggers
And yet she was a Christian woman,
And hired one to cut her lawn.
She said, ``They'd as soon rape you
As look at you,'' and here she spoke the truth:
He couldn't look at her,
Pasty as a dead fish in the water,
But still he stood his ground, staring
Only at the greasy outstretched quarter
She offered him.
Old Dixie was a sweetly swinging scale:
Getting all that money took a mind.
The trick was harvesting by hand,
Using a sickle left for time
Deliberately to dull, cutting
To the height she might
In charity accept (weighing in, of course,
The trouble it would take
To find another nigger),
And leaving just the depth
To have him back there often.
The sun and flesh that friend was to the grass
Provided lubrication.
And so he prayed at each swing of the sickle
Pardon from the grass for what he had to do
To keep his job.
Now, since that old Dixie died,
The grass in paradise allows him down
To grind his silver sickle
In my landlady's skull,
To leave her gasping and agape,
Mowing her brains, but not so many nor so much
As not occasion having
To come back
Often.



III. SLATTERNS OF SHADOWS


WALKER PERCY AT LOYOLA
NEW ORLEANS, SUMMER, 1972

He's glide in through that summer, os-
Tensibly retrieving samples tendered
By applicants to his course on writing--
The steamy glare of matted weather made
Him seem, down the hallway, an open par-
Enthesis, too accepting of the weight
Of more submissions, massive manuscripts,
More ambitious than the chapters he had
Asked for. Among them was Confederacy
Of Dunces
, its author the best and least
To gain--but when I saw him it was earl-
Ier, and he could only be surprised
And I was not, telling him the South had
Proven its miasma, the vast, turgid
Bog, the bait that made them foodstuff had just
Sucked them in.


MAGPIE ANTI-TIME
MAGPIE MISSED COLLOQUIA

Identical airports define the same way
Of behaving: not strident, elastic,
Starting, jerking, eying each other's stare
Suspiciously; rather these travelers
Dump and sag and peer beyond lead windows,
Past their alternating checkers of hues,
Preferring rather determined slatterns
Of shadows.


PLUMMET**

At the conference no one'd hired me
The old man I propositioned had refused
In stark confusion, I went up to our room
And tumbled out the window--
The old men wait in rooms
And we like shit along the sewers
Rub ourselves headlong down the halls
Pouring out into an earth that mindless
Accepts us. I found no meaning
In my own descent.

**Children, Churches, and Daddies, April, 2002.


THE COMMERCIAL EXCHANGE IN PETROGRAD

The Marketplace in Petrograd continued, unaware,
Throughout the crazy lashings of October,
And when the blood had crusted, transfers
Still occurred; so Lenin, in a whim for which
He would be famous, sealed it off,
Sent it down to Moscow overnight, to stand
Off that square called Red because it's beautiful,
And let it run itself, messages of wealth
Becoming nutrients they needed and deserved.
While visitors from Samarkand, Aksu, and Kazan
Observed though special silvered windows,
They trafficked bright icons for a breathless wish,
As Lenin was himself to do. And tourists could
In time move easily from one grave image
To another, and not be quite above
Confusing them.


SLAUGHTERHOUSE

The ultimate hold-out in Indiana
Funneled its hogs in its off-wind end, pushed
Its packaging for distant digestions
Out its other, and faced
Its managements' windows toward the pigs, an
Indiana wry.
The process that they all acceded to
Meant strings of swine-sacrifice bolt-splintered
In the forehead in a box--a simple
Clubbing saving blood; but cold hygiene not
Withstanding, their hot vapors rose to plague
The junior office, so that in each deadfall
There was that much more impetus to leap
Higher, further from the business end of things.
They had no notion that the apex was
A narrow bloodless hook, from which to hand
Exhaling some new body, some else's
Pungent spirits.


KING'S GAMBIT DECLINED

They're arguing over offices, but
I have left, wishing else to burn my eyes
Searching the garbage-heap of other ages'
Cherishings. I have stuffed my sack with torn
Orgasms, lifted from the young, and sucked
My rent wife limp, sobbing for compassion.
Which offices are larger, which open
To the north, which are new, and which have been
Recently painted. And yet the gray plains
Reproach me, saying that the arid is
Not my preferring, what has drained the mist
Out of me is heart; it's an anvil, dark
Hard-set against my chest, cold flakes floating,
Where night pounds my constricted arteries
In its forge.


A PRINCETON MAN AT DAVIS

Colonial offices would have no complaint:
He fully dressed, dispensing culture,
Its encumbered style, squared and straightened.
But this gross barnyard's grown too far away
Even to conceive of taste; closer to Princeton
He knows he would be understood: correct, grave,
Precise eccentric from the civilized imperium
They might just guess at to regret their loss.
Here, however, rampant ignorance regards
Nothing as peculiar. Cow mystics, mulch beauties,
Witless juvenalia in wretched nudity,
They do not start to see stupidity;
Computers in the concrete stab at him
In self-preoccupation. Hasn't Princeton
Read his publications? His prose,
Exactly what an ivy league expects
(Printed as it has to be on pulp),
Pressed and tapered like his trousers?
Dispatches, wistfully polite, beg readjustment:
Only an office in oak, won't it overlook
The clear superiority of seasons in New Jersey?


THE CHURCH

The church its congregation out of spite
Refused to repair, its pastor burned in
Vengeance, claiming (from jail) the asses that
They were were asses that were meant to be:
Mammon himself, lumbering into flame,
Roaring from a pulpit made vacant just
In time. A little ordinary care
Might have saved it from its present hollow
Ground; all its souls, finding more faith in lies
Of plaster than in just provision, now
Are liable--it all confirms an end
Too much at hand, too quick a reckoning
In fire, and they who might have built a New
Jerusalem, have only propagated
At this other coming, more ashes to
Be borne.


A BUSINESSMAN'S LOVE POEM**
THREE VERSIONS

NOTE: Business participants at Stanford's summer program are
assigned to write a love poem

        I
Though I've been told to recreate my love,
Here among eucalyptus and evergreen olive
Conducive to eternity, I must
Confess I have no real love for any
Mortal entity, but aches for flashes
Of young, casually-arranged thighs on
Bicycles, for sparks of conversation,
For brilliant eyes and nearly empty hearts.
But no human lives that I can love, when
They all implode to pity, revulsion,
Simply by looking in a mirror. My
Accountant is not made to bear the costs
Associated with affection; I,
Instead, would rather whatever I'm to
Write about were less ambiguous: that
I had less desire, or life had fewer
Bright, useless ephemera to tempt me.

        II
Among bladelike eucalyptus leaves,
And olive leaves like bright openings
They've instructed me to write about
My love--but I confess that I have
None for any creature--I cannot
Perpetuate a cool alliance
Bargained with my wife, nor equally
Cool rapacities with women since;
Nor can I love flashes of young, clear,
Casually-arranged thighs on their bikes,
Sparkles of empty eyes and nearly
Toothless memories. Nor can I love
Lives that have imploded in pity
And revulsion, simply by looking
In mirrors. My portfolio has
Not the means for costs associate
With spent affection. Rather I would
Rather the love you've made me write of
Were less ambiguous: that I had
Less will, or life had more bright, secure,
Longlasting ephemera to offer.

        III
Though I've been ordered to animate my love,
Here among knifelike eucalyptus and dark, round
Olive leaves reminding me of endless dreaming,
I find my hand, otherwise obedient, betraying me.
I cannot recreate attachment for smooth,
Casually-arranged, soft thighs on bicycles, nor
For sparks in translucent eyes and energy to cast me
To oblivion. Long ago those who chose
Such bright ephemera to close the circle,
Fell on their swords, or caught a palsy
From some bottle. Nor can I any longer love the numbers
Welling on screens and hiding in bits of paper.
I can't perpetuate the frank alliance
Settled with my wife, nor celebrate
The strain of circumspection in my office.
Rather I would love to know the reason
Such abnegation of desire has so succeeded
And has not made me happy.

**The Sow's Ear Poetry Review Vol. IX, No. 3 (Fall, 2001), 20-21.


THE SCULLY DAYS AT PEPSI

The Scully Days at Pepsi set aside
A structure called the Morgue, where
Set-aside executives had open leave
To find--in six months--new venues
For their skills. Honor demanded
Just such compensation: a phone
And thus the lie of facelessness
Probing for purposes more and more
Obvious from the start; and, of course,
Staff reworking résumés and watching
The clock. Six times a day the coffee
Ran its course, and out the dead
Would come, from each receptacle,
To--parallel to each other at the urinal--
Murmur on the vagaries of fate,
Or else, more often, look away,
Afraid of seeing what they knew
They had, suddenly aware
In their eyes' shattering, what it was
They would soon be too.


MORTMAIN**

Caught lying to an unremittingly
Contemptible god, I decided to retire
By losing nothing--brokering my age
And luck as if I had achieved them:
My party trophies are the corpses
Of friends failing to stagger
Off the beaches, dangling from the bluffs,
Joined disjointedly in eye-flashes of fire
And serpentine, for-its-winding, ashes.
Going, I will not leave my first
Mistress' bed, my work--she must come,
Soured on envy; in my loft I'll foul it,
An exhausted will, one I will not will away.

**frissons.-disconcerting verse, 22 (Summer 2001).



IV. SHEETS OF SKIN



MY MOTHER'S BODY

I had not considered how lovely
My Mother's body still was as I
Washed her in the shower--sixty
Years after that body enticed my
Father to start my amassing,
That body is still lovely. Those
Of you who think this incest,
Consider your own mothers'
Bodies, tell me if there's no
Feeling far beyond what we have
As sex: a body perfect as a pear,
A body begging the question
Of bodies--what it is we really
Want, only slightly to be seen
In bodies.


MOTHER'S DAY, 1995

With steady fingers she makes her children
Ready for sleeping, thinking is this where
My life is going, is this where my life
Has gone--chicory remains at roadsides,
The haze waits on cities, they hardly have
Any more pale, any more vulnerable
Blue, than that which infuses the primal
Line between this my living and that mine
Impending sense of uselessness--yet this
Strange, ethereal sureness rises
In my tight hands on some thin, cosmic stalk
And swells inevitable as people's
Passage does in cities.


SKIN

This largest single barrier
First of all implies protection
Fixes enforcement beyond which
There is any other.

If gashes enabling presentment
Make my heart's shameful congregation
Clearly apparent, the curtain
Grades into a whiteness.

In time the fibers lengthen
And join, its manifestation
Close and embroidered
Porous equatorial.

So has my loving you cut me
So as oil is broken into
A thousand eyes, recombinant,
Incomplete, uncertain.


I-80**

I-80 stirs as does a reptile
By which my kitchen window,
Misted with tumultuous water,
Reckons me--but this time it sees
My belly hanging, not in weight
Presenting life, but in ogive
Inevitable, the draw of greedy earth.
I now compete with women,
The children I remember being. Now
My grandmother's hand slithers
From my sleeve. I want love.
I want my husband touching me
In public places--we can
No longer clench with animal
Offhandedness--but he still wants whatever
It is I was, and that is always
Too soon over. I want Chicago
As it never really is, the long lines
There curving in a sea-storm
Of spirals, the women, painters, the insane,
Fellow survivors of forbidden haunts of music.

**Caveat Lector, tba.


BEFORE DANCING**

Unconscious the dancer's torso resumes
Pose and station, languid as marsh-landing
Effortless birds. She gracefully looms,
Gathering ropes of her tendons, standing.
In such instants herons start their climbing,
Strain in tension, balance, anticipate
Strong later spirals; so she leans, timing
Her breast's pressure, lifting her chest's hard weight.
Egrets will still set, while their white wings load,
Before they warm, thaw, lift, lunge, spread, cry, and rise,
Their heart's reach. She must too touch, feel, explode
The stretch impending in her calves and thighs.
Motion is breaking, beginning is a wedge,
The dancer's dawning in the east's tight edge.

**Concho River Review, 6, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), 106.


BALLET**

In coffee shops next door to ballet rooms
They aggregate, not really reading, not
Buying any coffee, daughters next door
Identical in second wash-blue skins,
Redeeming themselves in their stretching legs,
Latent changes unimaginable.
They watch their sons confront long, sour numbers,
But daughters, they must bend from resources
To agility, balancing their bones
In contest that too soon must determine
Fit.

**The Storyteller, Apr/May/June, 2003.


IN A HOT TUB**

Two lithe lesbians and I, calm lovers,
Lay lesson to the way it once had been,
Floating in our common mother's waters
Before the age of owning had set in.
Adam patriarchal, limply evil,
By telling lies, cast sleek Lilith home-
Wrecker, enemy of Eve his angel-
Weaver, dividing so he still could roam.
Rather in paradise the love of kind
Someday will transcend simple greed and lust,
Providing parturition from the mind:
A generation clots, blood dampens dust,
Grows from fountains' exhalations, through far
Astigmatic fogs, to splotches of stars.

**Children, Churches, and Daddies, April, 2002.


WERE MY HEART**

Were my heart and lips prepared, as for great
Voyages and elaborated journeys,
I could not possibly encompass all
Your body's sweet topology, I could
Not traverse your hollows and supple, long,
Circular articulations, before
My light kisses and heedless hands wanted
Returning, remembering for themselves
Once and again the soft and strong liquid
Of your skin, visited but earlier
In that moment, missing the way the smooth
Sheets of your tissue unfold, voluted:
All landscapes blur as if my senses were
Eyesight in the evening, that needed
Fresher mornings to insure you would be
Still inseparably and endlessly
Familiar.

**In You and I: Verse of the Mirage (2001), 1.


SCRATCHES

``Since far back in prehistory, there have been people who tried to make sense
of human existence and control the environment by using altered states of
consciousness to go to spirit worlds.''
Carolyn Boyd, quoted in
Science News 150, no. 14

Scratches under the rim of my wedding
Ring, scratches running under my watch, each
Has a legend, somebody putting some-
Thing somewhere, wood, stone, metal, plastic, all
Leaving scratches--and this will be the way
Heaven and hell will seem--we'll learn at last
All the stories, all the creatures making
Scratches, scratches, they will come to tell us
Where we fell together, who their people
Were, how many incredible nights full
Of stars swept unnoticed, how each
Evening brought them no peace: the sunset's shut,
The daystream, the morning, the dawn's lengthened
Uncertainty, what their vanished spirits
Once had uttered.


DEGREES TO EASTWARD, DEGREES TO WESTWARD**

On my right hand, on my left hand, I have
Played Vivaldi over the sinews of
Your body, and now know the walnut unrav-
Eling crevices in all modulations, love;
Days the west light falls, warmly you rise
Towards evening, to draw your velvet skin's lute
To heart plumb harmonies heard otherwise
Only to whirl stars as siroccos flute
Candles. And if I cage your hand's smooth thrush,
If my arms' bones envelop your close fire
In baroque perfection, if my ribs rush
Reaching to hold you, it has struck me mere-
Ly, a harpsichord melt chamber to glove,
So I sort myself, chamber to my love.

**Midwest Poetry Review (November, 2001).


ANNIVERSARY

Half-dying stacks dissipate themselves
in the greasy fluid of air,
And lugging engines pause and choke
and fail the hill outside
And fail more and find more yet to fail.
And almost I cannot believe
Desert-birds find homes in yucca and cactus,
Joshua trees, ripe nests in the manzanita,
Young birds flourish in mesquite;
And almost I cannot remember
The new embroideries in the mountains,
New metals of lupine, poppy, shooting stars,
The grass interlaced over with granite and blue.
And almost I cannot imagine
Oceans disposing showers on eggs,
Fumbling up beaches ferments of life,
Timing the countlessness of sharp slithering backs;
And almost I cannot desire
These, almost there is no maroon and lilac,
Almost no gold in the Western Hesperia,
Except I comprehend your eyes' great hemispheres
And warm my longings in your homeful love.


TITHONIUS

The instant trains standing by each other
At a station slip, and motion draws those
Facing us to wonder at our faces--
Are we leaving, are they now about to
Go, are we all to change; at like shifts
In moments do I in lung-ache wonder
Am I still in the eyes of your thinking,
Am I now jarred and lost in the start
And snap of moving. And my lids long
For the curve over your heart's ochre, as
Could not be, such an age as never could
Be broken, such rounded grace as all my
Fingertips might not finish lifting, you,
My love, expectantly leaning at me,
And no great spheres to spirit you away.


QUI LEGITIS IN MENTIS HABITOTE

A synapse springs, snaps straight across the poles
And stops, and you stop, caught between the lost
And possible. From the quiver of your
Iris you lie, the ghosts expect their dumb-show
Not to, the synapse doesn't make our art
Out of our circumstance, neurons pop as
Indeterminate, night-time stray firings,
No dreaming trek at last: the brain keeps no
Surge through which the blood's course might come to have
It read.


PARABOLA

Sometimes your heart's distracted look
Enshades your eyes and sets your cheeks
Smooth as dancing, contracts your lips,
Leaving your head bent downward, so--
What worlds are in that seeing, I
Cannot know, except my liking
For you grows at watching--it is
The perfect trust that travellers have:
Letting go of moorings so that moorings
May let go of them. The mystery
Arises in return--laden with
Rich ripe opals for our friendship.


SPIRIT LEVEL

Depending on the way you grasp at it,
All things can be told they're even: turbid
In ebbs of random energy, the oil
Chooses to encapsulate horizons,
Parameters that match six symmetries,
Each that can be, is; bearing, fraught, revising
(By the heartsend), it leads it through drawn tossed
Channels, to an oval green and golden
Reconciliation.