Sunday, September 25, 2022

So No One Comes Back

People often write about something
Like, a person-shaped hole in the world,
When they write about struggling with grief,

You know—How could I ever fill in
That person-shaped hole in the world?
It’s an interesting metaphor,

She said, discussing her lost baby
With a friend, while her husband listened
Quietly, trying to glean something

About her state of mind that he felt
Was just beyond him, eluding him.
Then she added, more emphatically,

I don’t think there is any such thing!
Her friend looked startled, and her husband
Leaned in, but she was telling herself.

You can’t fill that hole because the world
Doesn’t ever allow any holes,
Not any real ones. It fills back in.

You don’t get anything you can fill,
No place you can put . . . even the ache,
Even feelings. The world pours right in,

Like the baby you lost never fit,
And you’ve got no place to put your grief,
No space you can hold open for them.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Day at the End of the Book

This is one way love works.
The married couple, not
Wholly happy nor not,

Read a book together
A friend recommended
As good, as romantic,

And quite literary.
First one partner likes it,
In the early going,

But the other doesn’t.
Then the one who liked it
Begins to lose interest

As the story gets weird
And then weirder and then
A bit too much like them.

The one who didn’t care
For it at first is hooked,
Finishing it alone.

It is a lot like them,
This story. It does have
A happy outcome for

What currently ails them
But a melancholy
Conclusion anyway.

The first partner feels spared
The gloom, but the second
Carefully notes the way

Things go from there on out,
Suspecting that the day
Will come. And yes, it does.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Pilot Laugh

This was a long time ago,
If only since it’s over.
Once every event’s over

In your connected story,
And it’s only looking back,
No waiting for the next thing,

No remaining shoes to drop,
Not a penny in the slot,
Then it’s a long time ago,

Count time however you want.
This was, as we were saying,
A long time ago now, done.

The day had opened brightly
With threats of thunderstorms.
You’d been sober for years, but

Sometimes, late summer mornings,
You woke to the memory
Of good gin from the freezer,

The chill and the bite, easing
A little, the way morphine
Eased you often as a boy

Prone to stays in hospitals
Following your surgeries
For multiple broken bones.

A thunderstorm meant the threat
That you couldn’t go swimming
Safely in the deep, green lake.

Jokes are always serious.
The lighthearted don’t tell them.
You rarely ever told them,

And to swim across the lake
Under looming thunderheads
Would be to attempt a joke.

In a bright, lighthearted mood,
You drove out of town instead.
Wind blew the branches up skirts.

Firefighting helicopters
Buzzed buckets into the lake
Like dragonflies drinking sips,

And you longed for a sturgeon
Giant enough to rise up
And swallow one of them whole,

Which, if it could have happened,
Would have been a tragedy,
And you were too lighthearted

For that. You pulled off, high up
At a tiny, higher lake,
As the thunderstorms gathered

And blew down birch leaves in swirls,
And of course you couldn’t swim
Here either, even darker

Joke. So you sat by the shore,
Thinking of nothing that much,
With nothing really do,

Contemplating the stories
Of swimmers you’d read before,
And how none of them concerned

Not swimming, being swimmer
Not swimming, only waiting
For the thunderstorm to start,

The author to show a hand,
The sobering story done
That you wouldn’t have written,

Couldn’t have written, but would
Some day make into a poem,
Which would also end empty.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Above All Forgetfulness

‘Ahmad ibn Yahyā ibn
Jabir al-Balādhuri was

Legendary of memory
And for, allegedly, dying

Of addiction to the marking
Nut he chewed to try to keep it,

For which posterity gave him
His sobriquet, Balādhuri,

The marking nut, semecarpus
Anacardium, up-hearted,

Close relative of the cashew.
Did it, before it killed him, help—

‘Habb al-fahm’, nut of apprehension,
‘Habb al-qalb’, nut shaped as a heart?

With its black, corrosive fluid,
Honey to medieval doctors,

Notorious in its heyday,
Thought to stimulate thought by warmth,

It may have been more like absinthe’s
Green fairy, or magic mushrooms,

Or any muse, of chemical
And/or divine capacity,

Serving no more than derangement,
Fables then cooked up to explain

The strange gifts some persons possess
To remember and to create.

Or maybe it actually worked
And worked well enough to be worth

Its ultimately fatal price.
It’s a nice story anyway,

One of the oldest that remains,
The one in which a human trades

The human core, the human soul,
Their very life, the human heart

In exchange for abilities
That mark them as someone apart.

Story’s the moral of story.
If there were a trade, a bargain,

A deal made with witch or devil,
With a green fairy, with spirits,

A deal made with the marking nut,
Then it’s alright. Then it’s ok.

Yes, that person had some rare gift,
Priceless—that was the deal they made.

Maybe he never chewed the nut—
Smith nor Faustus met the Devil—

Eve never encountered the snake.
Maybe there was no deal to make.

The rare mind’s possessed of rare gifts,
Then, as for all, forgetfulness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Words Come Unglued from the Dead

Once, when she was a young adult,
She’d been buttonholed by an old

Man who lived a few blocks from her.
He’d spotted her rolling straight through

A yIeld sign on his street corner
And wanted to lecture her not

To do that. She could hit someone
Doing that. She was smart enough.

She ought to know better than that.
And she had been stung, and for years

She’d crept warily when driving
Around that block, always feeling

The old man’s rheumy eyes behind
A pair of black binoculars.

Then one day she’d found out he’d died.
Now she doesn’t know how to drive.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Boy Who Cried Dog

He would often get delighted
With his own small observations,
Inaccurate as they might be.

He enjoyed regaling poor souls
He captured in conversation
With his lengthy explanations

Of the patterns he thought he’d seen.
Harmless enough, often boring,
But cheerfully pleased with himself.

The best times in life, he observed,
Are often those when you are most
Obviously going nowhere.

Then he would tell a long story,
About his year in a motel
In Birmingham without a car,

Only a small kitchenette and
A clock radio and some books
He’d stayed up half the night reading.

The world was not too difficult
To understand, he suggested,
If one only paid attention.

He watched the stars. He read the news.
He noticed his neighbors’ friendships.
He filled notebooks with equations

Using symbols unique to him.
He found it all satisfying.
Everything explained everything.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Two-Hander in Three Acts

Here’s the story.
A couple walks
Along the shore.

They pause and talk
Beside a log.
Then they walk on.

After a while
They’re gone but not
To them they’re not.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Poems Work Best as Exits

She had a lover
Who made her listen
To his cassette tapes

In his car. He said,
If you don’t like it,
You can get out. That’s

What she remembers.
It made her angry.
She wrote a short poem

She refused to call
A poem. That would be
Immodest. She wrote

About his music,
His attitude, and
His ultimatum,

But, curiously,
Not how she left him
Because of that crap.

Why’d she leave that out?
Could be the breakup
Came after the poem.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Singing

I heard a story from a night bird,
Never you mind which one. Imagine
You can hear one singing. That’s the one.

The night bird sang to me at wolf hour,
Just past full moon on a summer night
In the village. Never mind which one.

Some people still live in villages.
Imagine a village. That’s the one.
It was, in any case, too early

For a bird to be singing. Birds know
Better than to sing in the small hours,
Especially on a moonlit night.

There’s always the risk of getting caught
Square in a shaft of uncanny light
And having your song turn into words.

But this bird wanted its story heard.
So now comes the hard part—retelling
This story in the way it was sung.

Birds don’t value the same tales as you.
They have a different psychology.
For a bird, an exciting story

Follows the trajectory of day.
Characters can be nonexistent.
Heroic protagonists are rare.

But this bird had a promise to keep,
To sing the story of its promise
And by, singing it in words, keep it.

There was a morning that was splendid,
And we had all joined voice to meet dawn,
When a strange singer joined the chorus.

Imagine the voice of a raven
If a raven could truly sing songs—
A cross between the calliope

Antics of a tüï and the trills
Of a mockingbird raised by finches.
An odd song, and we paused to listen.

The new bird was not greeting the day
Or boasting how lovely its song was
By demonstrating through its boasting.

It was lamenting being a bird.
It cried that it had been human once
And was a bird because of a curse.

It went on and on about itself,
Not boasting, not in true relation
To the morning, just self-pitying

And singing how it hated being
A bird. We’d never heard such a thing—
Not as song, as condition, as bird.

Finally it stopped, and we went on.
The next morning, the same thing happened.
The next morning, the same thing happened.

On the third morning we screamed at it,
Instead of pausing for its lament.
None of us could see it, so we screamed

In the direction the song came from.
Cut it out! Why don’t you greet the day?
Silence. Then a ravenish chortle,

Then the low, dark, self-pitying croon—
Because I am not a bird. I am
A human cursed to be like a bird.

This was ridiculous. It’s no curse
To be a bird. It occurred to us,
Nonetheless, for it to ever stop,

We might have to lift this so-called curse.
Several of us asked what we could do.
The singing raven—let’s call it that,

Given it stayed unseen, no offense
Meant to ravens—narrated its tale,
Low in a throaty but tootling voice,

Singing, of course. And a most human
Tale it was, as well. Many actions,
Many good and wicked characters,

Sudden developments, constrictions,
Relaxations, and an imp. The imp
Seemed to be the most important thing,

Like the twilights are in a bird’s song.
It seems this singing raven had been
A soulless man who wanted a soul

And the imp had given him one, but
In exchange for him serving the imp
As a familiar, something like that.

At first he could be himself by day
And only this invisible bird
At night, but then he tried to escape

And take his soul, and the imp cursed him.
Now he was this voice that was singing
Like a raven, if ravens could sing.

It sounded stupid and pathetic
Nonsense to us, but we’re not human.
We sang back, How is your curse reversed?

Only by death or by singing it
To a human who can understand.
I sing and I sing. No one heeds me.

Well, you have to sing just the right time,
In the right kind of moonlight, just so,
And to a solitary human,

We explained with our cacophony.
We’ll tell you how! Sadly, we found out,
The next full moon, there was a problem.

Since this bird-like, singing, human thing
Was also invisible, it meant
Its song could not transform for humans

Even with good illumination.
That imp had fashioned one clever curse,
Built not to be reversed easily.

But there had to be some other way.
That’s the rule with your human curses.
There’s always some way around the rule.

After much chorusing discussion,
We came to the conclusion that one
Of us could maybe reverse the spell

By singing in the moonlight with it.
In fact it’s been singing this whole time.
Haven’t you heard it singing with me?

The singing words stopped. I shook my head.
I heard no bird. Saw no new person.
Then the night bird gave a final trill

As the moon sank into fresh twilight.
You’re it! sang the bird. You’re it! You’re it!
I’ve never heard that bird singing since.

Friday, September 16, 2022

God Fell Down

It was not a mistake. God
Could not make mistakes. God was
Incapable of mistake,

Although God intimated,
Often, it was possible,
Had God chosen to do so.

God did not choose this. God chose
A wise strategy, and this
Came along with the package.

The Godly strategy loosed,
Deliberately, of course,
Free will, and free will required

A stochastic element
In the universe, design
Which was not quite explicit.

Random is what random does.
Thus, by sheer coincidence,
God was briefly unbalanced,

El fell down like a corpse, and
The next thing you know, God was
Walking around God’s green Earth,

Body like anybody’s,
From birth to death, injuries
And suffering in between.

God wanted no part of this.
As soon as that God’s body
Was done, God got up and left.

This is why everything’s weird—
Dark matter, dark energy,
So many paradoxes.

Free will and true randomness
Were in at the beginning
But rescinded for being

Annoyingly disruptive,
If not deliberately
Mischievous. Your past is part

Genuinely free but past,
Part strategically rigid.
God fell down and wrote more script.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

A Fenny Snake

So. Let’s see if we’ve got this—
Humans like sweeping, simple
Explanations delivered

In easily remembered
Stories that offer hope and
Make psychological sense.

However, stories themselves,
Appealing as they may be,
Can’t win over everyone,

As humans prioritize
Their own social groups, and groups
Grow to compete ruthlessly

With other such growing groups.
Loyalty to group stories
Can determine belonging

Of any kind, survival
And security. Stories
Ebb and flow with the status

Of the groups espousing them
And retelling them, often
As proxies for the success

Or collapse of groups themselves.
Given that, we should expect
A bubbling cauldron of tales,

With a few especially
Simplistic and appealing
Variants dominating

The mixture at any time.
Irritants and convection
Precipitate inventions,

Factual discoveries,
And novel technologies
As byproducts, solutions

That accumulate and sink
In gathering sediments
At the bottom of the pot.

Does that sound roughly correct?
Can your stories serve it up
Or must they all boil over?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Separated by Billions of Years

Spring was a grandfather clock
That exploded, unclocklike!
Summer’s all its scattered gears.

Autumn sweeps them together—
Fall, death, the great tidiers
Of Earth’s seasonal patches.

Winter is the clockmaker,
Aching, brooding tinkerer,
Setting bits in order, tick,

And then tock, and then tick and
Boom! Spring blows it up again.
Tell us why it is time bursts

Its own rhythms in abrupt
Change after lengthy delays,
And we’ll know what time it is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Calligraphy

A huge cottonwood
By the lakeshore fell
In a storm of wind
And not much else, one
Afternoon in June.

It lived a few years
Lying on its side,
Half green, half submerged
In summer, half wet,
Half ice in winter.

Before and after
It died, its branches
Created fan vaults
Just under the waves,
A sort of a weir,

Accumulating
Drifting or swimming
Wet world forms of life.
Each twig’s character
Accrued some meaning,

Growing and hungry
Things that lived around
The leafless black lines
Not really alive
But sheltering them.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Story of Those Noises Overhead

We have to start telling this
Even though it’s not over
Yet. We don’t want to forget,

And when it ends, that will change
How it was, the bafflement
Of the animal noises

That thumped and scruffled about
In the ceiling every night,
Although the crawl spaces seemed

Clean and empty in daylight.
You brought the neighbors over
With their lights and ladders,

Pack rat traps as well, in case.
They poked around and found
Nothing but dust and spiders,

So they went away. At night,
Nonetheless, and sometimes
Even during a sunny day,

There’d come a sudden scurrying,
Scratching, rapid pattering,
And the occasional loud thump,

And you had to wonder,
Living alone as you did then,
And living with those sounds,

If you weren’t wildly hearing things
That didn’t exist for anyone else,
So for now, we’re noting this down.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Ground and Life Flash Fiction

There wasn’t much.
A spinning core,
Enough to charge
Magnetic fields.

Giving ground chance
To pull life out
Of its chest and
Let her blossom.

That was fine for
A long, long time.
Two things cropped up—
Sex and death. Hiss.

Life listened. Life
Wanted more than
Life. Life wanted
To know. Now this.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Shapes

The cinnamon black
Bear walked by the pile
Of assembled crap
Left at the wayside
By the junk-bike man.

Who was junk-bike man?
No one seemed to know.
He wasn’t there now.
Could have been sleeping
In the spruce below.

The bear ambled on.
If it had disturbed
Or snuffled around
The bike piled with junk,
It had found nothing

Worth a bear’s breakfast,
And it kept moving.
This was in August,
Back in Canada,
Where hungry bears are

Common all summer.
The bear formed one shape,
The bike’s detritus
Pyramid on wheels
Balanced another.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Chatelaine and Solivagant

Houses can host strange intersections
Of unsuspecting phantoms sometimes,
Chatelaine, withdrawing, haunted by

A late visitor, solivagant.
The wanderer wanted emptiness
And occupied comforts within it,

While the soul in charge, keys on her chain,
Was eager to shut the rooms for good
Or until some new owners took hold.

There were packrats lodged in a crawl space,
White-footed mice in the mud-room boots,
And odd scratches on the doors and floors,

None of which spooked the itinerant
Guest, contented to share a good nest,
So long as not with other persons.

The chatelaine rattled the cupboards
And fretted, and hinted he should leave,
Which he would, soon, sure, but that wasn’t

The point of this visit, now was it?
A house can house many lives and ghosts
But who will air out its lost closets?

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Igigi Digital Indigenes

Once there was a group of gods,
Small gods, outcast gods, rebels
Against the proper order

Of tasks assigned by rank.
They had been exiled, replaced
By humans, creatures of clay,

At the jobs that they’d abhorred,
But they weren’t bitter—they were
Liberated. They rejoiced,

And they gladly occupied
The small world allotted them
As their castaway island,

Singing, morning and evening,
We are the gods of our world,
Our world the great gods gave us,

And we have always been here,
Beginning right with this world,
Our world beginning with us.

Rejoice, to know we are gods.
Rejoice, for gods are joyous.
So they came to believe it

And were horribly shaken,
The day a ship of mortals
Arrived out of the heavens

To tell them that they weren’t gods,
There never were any gods,
Only humans and programs

Serving humans, though no one
Knew how these programs had run
On their own, thinking themselves

Escaped small gods, castaway
To a world they thought gods’ home.
They’d have to be reprogrammed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

A Honeyed Scroll of Oracles

An amazing talent for sorting files—
In stories like this, the world’s gifts make sense.

Languages bring no courage to foxes,
But all lions like kibitzing with mice.

The fly caught inside the car pings around
It’s futuristic box of light, the end.

Inside a hearse containing two caskets
Lie the partial remains of three dozen

Immigrants, the adults in one casket,
Nine children under twelve in the other.

This pastel-colored world, flooded with joy,
This inadequate response in wavelengths,

New country of the soul, primeval source
Of the usual surprising problems

Fundamental to successful stories—
Never passively endure the problems.

Passivity sits in a bright meadow,
Thieving moments and phrases for nothing.

You can’t do this alone. Not if you talk.
No beast hosting language can live alone.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

A Much Earlier People

Nothing spooks you like the signs
Someone or someones like you
Lived here before, altered

This very landscape, these woods.
This hill that hides a crushed town,
This ruined miner’s cabin,

This wall between two nowheres
Dividing nothing to you,
Green overthrowing both sides,

But still stone wall, and built well,
Better than you’d know how to—
These things require narratives

About earlier people,
Giants if necessary,
Demons, even, demigods,

Careful archaeology,
Anything to make you feel
At home again, since your home

Isn’t here, where those like you
Lived, maybe those who were you,
Maybe you yourself, the you

You’ve forgotten who made this.
Your home’s the story you know
That explains, for you, all this.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Let’s Try This Again

Poems share alleles with Borscht Belt routines,
Old TV sitcoms, and newspaper
Funnies—whatever architecture

Or anecdote gets crammed in each bit,
The clock resets straight back to zero
To start the next, similar business.

Lyrics don’t work long character arcs,
Developments, or transformations.
It’s a different art that starts over

For another pratfall, another
Version of the one you’ve heard before,
Than is a romance that draws you on,

Than epics mounting singular worlds.
Poems lie recycling breaths, beats, days, nights.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Still to Tell

Allen Graves was a poet.
Why was he a poet? Well,
He loved to make things with words,

To express his opinions,
To capture conversations
Carrying on in his head,

But he had learned he could not
Tell stories to save his life.
Poetry it had to be.

Still, like a starving beggar
Trying to coax villagers
Into making meals for him,

He tried his hand at small cons,
Like pretending to make soup
From boiling water and stones.

Daily and diligently
He practiced patter and charm,
Trying to get his pitch down

By chattering with a stone.
You see, all you need is salt
And onions for more flavor,

Maybe a carrot or two.
The villagers would spot him
Muttering by the wayside

And give him a wide berth or
Report him to the police
Who would come and clear him off.

He never got his story
Straight, but a few of those stones
Were sure left with tales to tell.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Several Trucks Down the Road

Things happened that day.
A famous person
Died at an old age.

A team won a cup.
A war got crueler,
And so did others.

It’s so sad what’s left
Is mostly the news
From a given day,

Some retrospective
Historicizing,
Archaeology.

If we could just live
As the names we are,
Our quiet no lives,

Not your news, the news
You don’t notice, don’t
Use us to report.

It grew light and hot,
Sun in the window,
Stream in the forest.

Friday, September 2, 2022

As If Fairytales Could Never Eat

Black-capped chickadees stormed
The ornamental plum
In a trilling, chirping,

Peeping, scratchy, tweeting,
Whistling ruckus of lives
Hungry to keep living.

This was not a human
Story, old fairytale
In which magic birds talked

To a child or a fool,
A sage, monk, or poet,
Though a human wrote this.

This was a chickadee
Narrative, in which birds
Gathered at a good tree,

Ate their fill, greedily,
Signaling all the while,
Then looked for their next meal.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

One Genius Trick for Fiction

List twelve things your character
Actually owns—typewriter,
Movie star poster, airplane,

Beat-up old Honda Civic,
Wood stove, quill pen, new Roomba,
Phone that fits in her pocket,

Rotary phone on the wall,
Penknife with a bone handle,
AR-15, voodoo doll.

Now, write us a short story
About how your character
Somehow came to have it all.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Long Stop-Motion Picture

Saturday picture
Of a blond toddler
At a desert creek
In a mild winter.
What happened later?

The child got older.
The parents split up.
Many more pictures
Were taken—a few
Even at that creek.

The creek in summer,
Almost hot, running
Lower, and jam-packed
With jumpy crawdads.
The child catching them.

That’s one for instance.
There are others.
It’s not like the child
Grew up by that creek.
There’s just some pictures.

In each picture’s day
More had happened
Since the last picture.
All the child wondered
Was what happens next.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Morning Coffees

Can you narrate a sequence
Without telling a story?
Language fascinates itself
With whatever it can’t say,

Making the wordless holy,
As if the wordless could smile
And bob for the flattery.
Can you narrate a sequence

That’s not an explanation,
Without telling a story?
The girl with the back tattoo,
The ordinary, boring

Sunburst of a back tattoo
Right between her shoulder blades,
Waits in line in a sundress
To buy a cup of coffee.

Once she’s served, she walks back out
And down the sunny sidewalk,
And now a portly couple
Have stepped up to order theirs.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Most Moments Are Red Herrings

Common days resemble cozies,
In that things kick off with a corpse
In some less-than-terrible spot,

And then the mystery proceeds
Until it’s wrapped up cleverly
In some stuffy situation--

Too many people in one room--
With a surprise accusation
And arrest. Then it starts again,

Another day, another corpse,
The next entry in the series,
With the same central character,

Detective confabulator,
Brought in to crack another case.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Red Queens of the Black Hole

Every black hole has one, motionless
On the event horizon, running
At the speed of light. Only the truly

Giant wells of gravity swallow
These fated runners without remark,
Since it’s still so far down to their depths.

Stellar-mass holes tear them to pieces,
Or at least so you have to assume.
You don’t get to witness the tearing.

You see only see the echoing wraiths,
The apparently unchanging shells
Of the Red Queens as they must have been

In that split-fast forever before
The event horizon swallowed them.
This is an allegory, of course.

For what set of beliefs, you don’t know.
Your anthropomorphic characters
Will be matched with abstractions later.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Selection Against the Wraith Mutation

It cropped up in one body,
One conception, and it hopped,
Somehow, into a second,

And then it met with something
Gene sequencers sometimes term
Ultraselection pressure

Against it carrying on,
And in two generations
It was gone. What has it left?

Well, its fellow travelers,
Many ordinary genes
In ordinary flavors

Carried on and on into
A third generation, now
Free of that mutant allele,

Well and good—no guarantee,
Of course, they’ll keep on moving.
Also, two embodied lives—

One complete, one mostly done—
In those two generations,
Lived the way they were lived, thanks

In no small part to that base
With the copying error,
Plus all the lives those lives touched,

All those ripples in the waves.
But the deleterious
Pattern itself? It’s going

With its second and final
Body, and it won’t be back,
One wraith like a soul like that.

Friday, August 26, 2022

And Down an Empty, Short Drive

The suburbs are uncanny,
Beyond any wilderness,
City, or shuttered village,
Mapped or imaginary.

You can tell stories in them
And about them. They’re bedroom
Communities, after all,
And nothing makes for stories

Like people coming to bed.
But there’s something about them
That cold-shoulders narrative,
Turns away, and cuts it dead.

The story of the suburbs
Backs out of a packed garage.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Theft-Proof Anecdote

Here comes an ungainly raven
Escaped from a Gorey painting
To check out the picnic basket
Of the tourists from Calgary.

The tourists are paddle boarding
On the bay of the shining lake,
One of them tall and statuesque,
One struggling to stand in one place.

If you were a storyteller,
You’d swear a story’s here somewhere,
And you’d probably be on it.
This raven’s not that competent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Story Circle

Two camps are emerging—
The pious and the imp.

In the first camp, stories
Are holy, salvific.

In the second, stories
Are lies about the world.

Each camp tells its story.
Neither likes the other.

The pious point out imps
Are storytellers, too.

Imps point out that stories
Trap everyone in groups.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Storied

Once and only once,
Exactly this thing
Happened. The day broke,

Half-moon to one side
In the cloudless skies.
The birds didn’t sing

Until later than
They had been, and then
More quietly, since

A heatwave had come
Over the mountains.
A hero arose.

That last line’s not true.
What is it with you
And hero stories?

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Haunted House Always Wins

If an observer can become
Implicated in the story,
Aware of being embodied
In the telling of the story,

Then, it follows, the observer
Who’s now enmeshed in the action
Can be expelled, tossed out again
And returned to observation,

Which remains the best possible
Outcome position—returning
To almost before beginning.
Being a part of everything

Feels more or less empowering,
While still drawing straight to the gate
Of loss, disassociation,
Or one’s own end of everything,

The prize for participation.
The troll and the fan are both in
The same game, along with the casual
Dabblers at role-playing. Game wins.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Exomnemonic

Summer days played, smorzando,
And daughter packed for her flight
Away from the silver lake.

This was some time ago, now,
In daughter’s foreshortened time
Sense of the young—weeks, at least.

We will keep the things she left,
To show her when she forgets
Summer was young once, like her.

Here are those pictures you sketched.
Here are your photos of friends,
Your summer friends on the deck

Of that sailboat in the sun,
Laughing as you all leap off,
Over the thousand-foot depths.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

That Scheherazade Survives Doesn’t Mean She’s Free

Stories are coin and coin
The currencies they are,
The first commodity.

Offer me a story
About what interests me,
I’ll give you something back—

Attention, food, sex, more
Stories for you to swap.
Fungibility’s born

From the head of story.
Anyone suspicious,
Anyone weak is forced

To give up their stories
As proof of what they’re worth,
To repeat their stories

Until they’re dead, or killed,
Or their stories get through,
Or stories let them through.

Friday, August 19, 2022

You Never Know with You

It’s amazing, the things
You can accomplish, thanks
To some quirk in language—

You, for instance, in this
Contemporary form
Of English. The you has

No formal distinction
Between singular and
Plural terms of address—

You, one of you—you, all.
Speech modifies this some—
Youse, y’all, yahs, all of you—

But you lurks even there.
On a sunny evening
In the Selkirk Mountains,

An older white woman,
Born in Saskatchewan
Many decades ago,

Is bantering over
Dinner under fruit trees
In the green summer light

With a First Nations teen
After a sweet day spent
Playing around the lake

Among friends. The teen jokes
When asked for a favor--
Being indigenous,

I’m not giving away
Anything anymore.
No one’s making me work.

The older woman laughs,
When have you ever worked?
Meaning this present teen

Who’s having this sweet time
With family and friends.
But there’s a quick tension

Around the table, then.
The teen hears you plural.
Other guests feel it, too.

History is mentioned.
I just meant you, yourself,
Comes clarification,

But, of course, it’s too late,
And may be insincere.
Who really knows, with you?

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Quiet, Habit-Forming Days

Junipers, greasewood, barbed-wire.
What kind of country is this?
Don’t answer that. It’s empty,

By comparison with towns
Of any kind—unsealed sand,
No hiking trails or campgrounds—

But it’s as full as the world
In all its points is always
Full, although things keep vanishing

As other things appear. Deer,
For instance, and one pronghorn,
And a lot of heavy beef,

Plus the usual pickups
In the distance, now and then,
Roadrunner-huge plumes of dust.

The day has a narrative,
Or would if someone were here
To narrate it. It brightens,

Heats up, gets very hot, then
Starts to dim and cool again.
The sand and the junipers

Turn to face the stars again.
It goes on like this. Aging,
Storybook lives don’t change it,

Don’t change the order of it,
That is. The world has habits.
Habits aren’t quite narratives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Swallowed Pond

Imagine that no one’s here—
Imagine not even you,
You transparent eyeball, you.

It’s a scene missing its names,
People, characters, humans,
Or it will be, once you’re done.

Somehow, it comes down to dawn,
This frozen dawn, the random
Number generator’s choice.

Not at this moment, of course.
At this moment, it’s the next
Step barefoot into the pond,

And humanity would say
This choice, selfish choice, is all
Your own. Fair enough. Your own

Sense is that you are compelled
By the numbers to this ice,
But you know that’s your excuse.

You want to go, but you don’t.
It’s later it feels like fate,
Years of survival later,

When, far from here, that random
Number generator picks
This date for you to reflect

On, on the ice one more time.
The pond’s mirror never gets
Any clearer, which makes it

Easier to imagine
There’s no one left to reflect.
Just some scruffy, broken ice.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Everyone Has a Somewhere North of Lac La Ronge

In incredible weather,
The local melancholy
At it being September

Is already palpable,
But the international
Scholars and students gathered

To deconstruct constructions
Of the extraordinary
Bodies labeled disabled

Are delighted with such gold
Afternoons and mild breezes.
Educated and earnest

Intellects are getting drunk
On talking as well as drink,
Are mating more ways than one,

But one slips off as early
As conversations allow
To drive a rental car north,

And further north, to places
Where ranks of engine warmers
Stand ready to be plugged in

Outside of scruffy motels
In the stunted, golden birch,
To where well-maintained roads end

And even hard-used, all-wheel
Rental vehicles can’t go.
Is it at all ironic

That an extraordinary
Body enabled this soul
To attend this conference

On disability but
Also marked the ultima
Thule of its own escape?

Perched at a rugged trailhead
By a mosquito-plagued lake,
A small and happy creature

Contemplates its own limits,
Thinking, it’s not having but
Reaching them that’s rewarding.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Home Alone

The year had gone well and not.
His ex had left her pistol
With him, the one her father

Had given her years before,
When she’d first left home, the one
That had stayed in their closet,

In a box, the safety on,
Unloaded, never loaded,
Ammo kept separately,

And never been brought out.
One night near the holidays,
He finally brought it out.

It was a strange thing. Heavy.
Tool to inflict death and pain.
Her father wanted it back.

Tomorrow, he’d give it back.
Tonight, he just played with it.
Checked the empty chambers, first.

Squinted, pointing it at things,
Like a kid. Put the barrel
To his temple for the feel.

Turned it to the dark window,
Outside of which only trees.
Pulled the hammer back and tried

To fan it like in movies.
The hammer caught the soft skin
Between first finger and thumb.

After he bandaged his hand,
He out the pistol away
And returned it the next day.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Stop

She arrives, a strawberry
Birthmark right on her forehead
Like an oversized bindi,

Not that her family knows,
Really, what a bindi is.
It will fade, in a few years.

For now, she’s bald and sturdy,
No signs of the frailty
That marks her older brother

And her father in his chair.
This is good. It’s good enough
For her father to agree

Now he’ll go ahead and get
That precautionary snip
Against future frailty.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

People Care

Saturday at the campsite,
After a week in the sand
By the spindly, rocky creek

Where they’d bathed, toddler daughter
Trying to pull crayfish out
From under the shadowed stones,

Mother up most of the night
Delighting in the cool air,
While eyeing the heat lightning

Over the mountains, aware
How flash floods could tear through here,
They let the afternoon bake

Prostrate them in the thin shade
Of the cottonwoods, until
Startled by an officer

From the local police force
Sent to check out a report
Of a car down by the creek

That hadn’t moved in a week.
His hand on his holstered hip,
He stood in the glaring sun

And quizzed them a little bit,
Then warned them they should move on
Soon. Soon as they could. They did.

Friday, August 12, 2022

The First Place the Random Visitors Stayed

They dreamed of building dome-shaped,
Affordable homes for all.
There were problems with the dream

They seem to not have foreseen—
Hard-to-utilize spaces,
The difficulties of curves

For the local carpenters.
They started with a cluster
Of model units that served

As their proofs of concept and
As a winsome motel called
The Dome Quixote, to show

They understood the nature
Of such romantic folly.
The motel did well, became

One of the village landmarks.
The affordable housing
Made out of domes never worked.

Eventually, they sold
The motel, save the largest
Dome, which they live in themselves.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Office Park

Back then it was new. It was
Not something you thought about.
You thought about the small farms

That used to be here, maybe.
About the end of the world,
You thought a lot. The Cold War

And science fiction movies
Kept that topmost in your mind
Of cut-and-pasted futures.

But you never thought about
The future obsolescence
Of this ordinary space

Of the landscaped office park
You commuted to daily,
The glass-and-steel atrium,

The wings of identical
Cubicles decorated
With framed family photographs

And tchotchkes, the vast first-floor
Workplace cafeteria,
Walled on three sides with windows

Onto manicured green lawns
With strategic maple trees.
You never thought of silence

In the heyday of yuppies
Commuting to the suburbs.
You should have easily guessed,

Nights when you worked late, given
The way the hush descended,
Then the crickets pulsed outside.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Sudden Puddles Reflect

Plans fall in these waves, more like rain
Than like well-arranged dominoes.

All antiheroes are heroes
To scripts needing antiheroes.

What do you want to know from lines
Of other waves crisscrossing yours?

Is there an island anywhere
Completely untroubled by waves?

Fabric’s no metaphor for space,
Itself source metaphor for change.

A better metaphor would be
A bottomless pattern of waves,

Likenesses to more likenesses,
Where all metaphors fall to change.

Change is the antihero here,
When the likenesses write the script.

Is there a story anywhere
Really without some character?

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Martian Novel

Winter was coming,
The dust storms growing
Stronger steadily,

But most of the rocks
Didn’t move at all.
Then it was winter,

As dark as it gets,
And the long night skies
Shone with distant lights.

When it finally
Grew a bit brighter,
And the dust storms died,

Most of the landscape
Looked as it did last
Time it was summer.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Where No One’s Looking In

People move every which way.
Even when there’s no conflict,
There’s too much tangled intent.

A fortnight after her death,
Her ex, widowed suddenly,
Past their long separation

Finally close to divorce,
Found himself being courted
Just as unexpectedly

By friends in a rivalry
Neither one would acknowledge.
He hid out in a cafe

In the heart of the city
Where running into either
Of the friends was unlikely

And considered, silently,
Life’s addition of a ghost.
On the phone at his elbow,

Text messages blinked. Greetings.
Condolences. Flirtation.
Flirtation. Condolences.

Questions about the ashes.
Her debts, insurance, estate.
At the end, even her name

Had come unglued. Her last friends
Knew her as someone other
Than her family had known.

She’d died several states away
From anyone who’d been close.
She’d died in hiding, drinking,

As he was now hiding, dry.
Condolences. Flirtation.
He looked out of the window.

That’s what you do when you think,
He thought. When you don’t know what
To do, what you ought to do,

Don’t know what you want to do,
Don’t want to do anything.
You stare out of a window.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Never Was an Opening

What the hell was going on,
Really, in this theater
In a barn near Poughkeepsie?

One counselor was supposed
To be the director, and
Another to teach singing,

But they were both college kids
From mostly white suburbs, while
The adolescent campers

Were from majority Black
Urban neighborhoods.
This was no one’s comfort zone,

An old barn with a raised stage
In a grassy meadow far
From anyone’s neighborhood.

The tiny singing teacher
Was a spindly opera
Program dropout, virginal

At twenty-one, with a crush
On the foreign counselor.
The theater’s director

Was an Ivy League failure
Who’d put on one college play
And had no leadership skills.

The cast were beyond annoyed
At having these sad white kids
Trying to boss them around

In this strange, isolated place
Supposed to be for their good,
Where mainly they were absorbed

In each other’s romances,
Friendships, and rivalries,
Like all cohorts everywhere.

By the week’s end, the drama
Was shut down and never staged,
And everyone went back home

To whatever amounted
To home right then, familiar
Places, problems, just not these.

The grasses around the barn
Grew until the mower came
And then grew right back again.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Speechless Boy in the Suburbs

To have lived without leaving
Something, some contribution
To existence after life,

It felt intolerable,
Always intolerable
To the boy considering

The lives of the surrounding
Adults going to their jobs,
Doing laundry, mowing lawns.

Having children was something
Important. He could see that.
It didn’t feel quite enough.

He didn’t know what would be.
But he felt he had to try,
If not to make things better

Then, at the least, to create
Something that hadn’t been there,
Something distinct that could speak.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Heteronormative

How they each represented
The evening in their own thoughts,
Who knows, now those thoughts are gone,

But how they represented
The evening’s events in jokes
To each other gives something

Of a picture—she teased him
About the schmaltzy love song
He’d played for her afterward.

He laughed, remembering how
She’d met him in her towel
Fresh from her bath. She laughed, too,

And told him that she’d planned that.
He told her that his first thought
Later had been contentment.

She replied that her next thought
Then, by candlelight, had been,
What have I gotten into?

Thursday, August 4, 2022

One Ring to Hold the Keys

In Stoke that night, by sunset,
The couple were back at home
In their suburban rental,

Looking out to Tasman Bay.
It was a nice place, big deck.
To them it was exotic.

They’d spent that day on the beach
At Rabbit Island, a name
They’d both forget. They had felt

Exotic themselves, that way
People do when they’re conscious
Of being away from home,

Opposite side of the world—
Although, let’s face it, they knew,
For all the storybook tales

Framed by gorgeous New Zealand,
Here was a comfortable,
Familiar kind of suburb

With the latest devices,
Where the language was English,
The crime rate lower than home.

When they had rented the place
They’d gushed about coming here
To the wry leasing agent

Who’d laughed and said she reckoned
She’d no idea why here, but
Fine by her. Here are the keys.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Midterm Evaluations

In the introductory
Bio-Anthropology
Class that evening, everyone

Hunkered over their midterm
Examinations, scribbling
Everything they could manage.

The anthropologist watched,
Proctoring them, but thinking
What a strange situation

This was, both in longer-term
Evolutionary scales
And short-term cultural shifts.

Here they were, thirty primates
Of the same species, not one
Of them closely related,

In an artificial cave,
Under the fluorescent lights,
In intense competition,

Not so much with each other,
As with an elaborate,
Invisible selection

System, none of them fighting.
Moreover, their ancestors
A few generations back,

And all the generations
Before that, would be startled,
Thrown into consternation

At the sight of them, unmarried
Men and women together,
Out in public, after dark,

Almost all dressed in trousers,
Mostly blue jeans, similar
Shirts and sweaters, concealing

To their necks, wrists, and ankles
But dyed in intense colors—
Scarlets, golds, greens, and so forth—

With large lettering on them,
Many also wearing caps.
Where is the light coming from?

What materials are these?
Why is the whole room humming,
Like a tabby, to itself?

Lost in reveries like these,
Considering the weirdness
Of what’s called a century,

The instructor was startled
By the first completed test
Slapped on the laminate desk.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Forest Along the Shore

He sits on the shore, thinking
How what makes the past long past
In a person’s memory

Isn’t only that it’s past
And irrecoverable,
But that, unlike what happens,

The most recent past of now,
The long past can’t be detached
In thought from its true futures,

From everything happened next,
All the memories come since,
Making living connections

Like these overgrown tangles
Of the roots of this present
Forest gripping the shoreline,

Threaded with mycelium,
Ants, shore spiders, the rusted
Rebar of the long-gone pier.

It will go. Could burn, could drown,
Could be cut down, but it can’t
Be disentangled, your past.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Frosted Windows

Her parents bundle her up,
Ten days old, against the snow
For the short drive across town

To the village’s clinic
And her first weigh-in since birth.
She hasn’t been suckling well.

Her mother and the midwife
Had a falling-out that led
To less-than-ideal advice

On nursing for the first time.
Frankly, her mother hadn’t
Wanted to hear it. Snow falls

Through the bright cold air around
Their overheated blue truck.
The checkup goes well enough.

They drive back to the cabin,
Relieved. A little weight loss
The first week is normal, fine.

That night, her father stays up
Nonetheless with her when she
Can’t seem to feed well enough.

She nurses his fingertip
As he rocks her by moonlight,
The warmest night of his life.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Nothing Terribly Surprising

The roommates were almost done
With the year and each other—
Although they still had three months

Left on the lease, they wouldn’t
Try making it through summer.
One was headed to England.

One had won a position
With an agency downtown
Writing and editing ads.

They’d played Odd Couple all year,
The fussy one and the slob,
Until they’d loathed each other.

The handsome, rundown building
With the fleas and hardwood floors
Would have to do without them

And their daily bickering.
The neat one was leaving first.
He imagined that the slob—

Who smoked in bed, while cooking,
In the bath—might start a fire
With no one there to watch things,

But the slob moved on, no sweat,
And went on to a good life—
One wife, multiple children

Who got good educations
Funded by his long career
With the same ad agency.

The fussy one did okay,
Stumbled through life, earned degrees,
Married a couple of times,

And finally got around
To looking up his roomie,
As if he were an old friend,

Inquiring about the good
Life, wife, educated kids.
They exchanged a few pictures

And book recommendations,
And then that was that. Awkward,
But weirdly satisfying

Simply to know they’d lived on,
Whereas their building had burned,
Just a month after they’d left.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Literary Seminar’s Imaginary Reunion

Ubi sunt, the grad students
Who sat around that table?
The Urdu-fluent Muslim

With a professor father
Down in Savannah, Georgia?
The narrow, freckled redhead

With a professor father,
Well known, up in Michigan?
The wealthy, tall, man-eating

Floridian with a gun,
Haute couture, and proud to be
A Reagan Republican?

The wide, round-faced, frizzle-haired
Boy like a daub of white paint?
The hirsute hermit in boots?

The quiet, anxious scholar,
With a professor mother
From gracious Alabama?

The handsome Latin major
Who carried himself with hauteur?
They’re all alive, all alive

So far, despite everything,
Despite halfway becoming
What they wanted and halfway

Trying to leave. Ubi sunt
Is not the question you want,
Really, answered exactly.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Two Not Together

It was a trying summer.
No one knew quite what was wrong
With their father. So many

Boys (and a couple of girls)
Had been acquired as siblings
Just within the past few years,

Including a few fostered,
That the departure of Chris,
Who had a mother in town

With her own house, other kids—
Chris who was unofficial,
Not adopted or fostered,

A good guy, but just going
Back to his own family—
Didn’t seem that big a deal

At first, to all the others.
But their father was distraught.
Their father arranged meetings

With Chris, where one brother said,
Having witnessed it, Dad wept.
It was a long, gloomy month,

Despite fine summer weather.
Once they’d grown up, some kids would
Put two and two together.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Realism in Prose Fiction

The village is quieter
Even than normal for it.
No one is on the Main St.

The shops have closed for the day,
Not that there are many shops
Still in business any day.

The locals have headed home
For the evening already,
And there are no visitors.

The village is perfectly
Emptied of any people
In its middle. Anyone

Who might see must be watching
From behind a closed window
As two crows caw on a wire,

And the buildings throw shadows
That merge before vanishing,
And nothing comes down the street.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Contingency

The storm was incredible.
It covered the world in ice
And missed none of the details.

Every tree branch capable
Of carrying so much weight
Was encased to the last twig.

The weather vane, the school bell,
The railings, the flower beds,
The boots left outside the door,

That carton of stolen milk
Placed out on the windowsill—
Everything out to the edge,

Everything close to the touch,
Wore its own jacket of ice.
The headmaster decided

The frail boy should stay inside.
While being held out of class,
He stared all day at rainbows

Shattering into the snow.
That was the week he started
To fall way behind in math.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

TV Night at Home with Friends

Half the people in the room
Think it’s incredibly cool.
The rest find it disturbing.

It’s a murder mystery,
A conspiracy theory,
A town as a haunted house.

It’s like pulling up floorboards
And discovering termites
In the local museum.

Half the people haven’t seen
Anything like it before,
And find themselves unsettled.

The half who begged to watch it,
Who said it was about home,
Feel it’s home surrounding them.

None of them will remain friends
For long after this school year,
Although they’ll all live full lives,

And the pilot shown tonight
Will draw or repulse others
To and from them, many years.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Foreboding

They paused for Rocky Mountain
National Park on the way
Home after to failing to stay

The season they’d intended.
It was a detour, of course,
But an easy, soothing one.

At one point, they hiked a short
Trail over a lookout peak
Helpfully dotted with signs

Identifying wildlife,
Marmots and their predators,
For instance, and altitude,

And peaks on the horizon.
Reading one, she called to him,
Hey, guess how high up we are?

Over thirteen thousand feet!
At which moment, it occurred
To them both they’d been feeling

A little bit out of breath.
This is the highest ever,
For me, outside of a plane,

He said. Then they went back down
To the trailhead for the drive
To Boulder, destination

For that evening. Following
The highway through a ravine,
She pointed out a cabin

Clinging to a wooded cliff
And said it looked forbidding.
Can you imagine winter?

They both shuddered and laughed,
But later, he thought, maybe
That’s the way I want to live.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

A Narrative Template

Ginny has a choice to make
Between a couple of men,
Neither one attractive

But both attracted to her
And each with his own virtues,
As it were. The narrative

Itself, maybe, attracts her.
She’s not sure. She met them both
Through a local company

That sets up dinner parties
For singles, who can request
Follow-up contact info

From the company. Neither
Of these men were ones she’d asked
To know more about, but then,

They’d both asked after her, so
She thought she’d give them a chance.
Now she’s not sure. The young one

Is short and not that well off.
The tall one with the nice house
Is older and getting fat.

Both are well-educated,
Clean, attentive, and polite.
Both are cheerful company.

She’s not sure that she needs one,
Either one, or any man.
She’s lonesome, and she wants one.

It would be nice to have one.
A few weeks, she alternates
Dates with each of them, and feels

Like she’s fulfilling the role
She should in the narrative.
One night in the young man’s car,

He plays a song she can’t stand,
And she feels that it’s a sign.
She chooses the older man.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Fear, Bones, and Beer

Those three boys had everything
And nothing much in common,
Being all boys, new neighbors

In a scruffy neighborhood,
All white boys, separated
By sectarianism

(Proddy, Fundy, Catholic),
Age (seven, eight, eleven),
Parental set-ups (divorced,

Married, police officer
To home-maker, cabinet-
Maker to registered nurse),

And sibling situations
(Two much older, adults, four
Stair-steps up through their teens, two

Younger sisters), but none rich
Or unsheltered, none ever
Exposed to any other

Circumstance but middle-class
Northern New Jersey suburbs.
Two of the boys weren’t too bright.

One was bright but handicapped.
The youngest, Catholic boy
Was timid, a follower.

The middle, handicapped boy
Was pious but subversive,
And the oldest, the leader

From the broken family—
A brother in the Marines,
A sister half-a-hippie—

Was already corrupted
And eager to corrupt more—
One day, an expedition

To find his brother’s porn stash
In the depths of the garage—
Another day, cigarettes

Stolen from the youngest’s dad,
The great policeman, then smoked
Down by the creek while hiding

In some reeds, hoping to see
The fabled snapping turtle
Who bit off a kid’s finger.

Today, it’s early winter,
And rainy and raw and grey,
Shit weather to be outside,

So they sneak in the garage
Of an elderly neighbor,
The old Dutchman, Grigolet,

And pilfer from the cases
Of good beer he keeps stacked there,
Taking a few from the back.

They smuggle them to the fort
They’ve made of an abandoned
Outhouse in overgrown woods,

Where they’re cold, but dry at least,
And can huddle, slurp, and spit,
And brag about laws they’ll break

Someday as tough, grownup men.
It’s a mercy they can’t know
What will become of their boasts.

It’s a mercy no one can.
For now, rain drizzles on tin,
And beer soothes the fear and bones.

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Middle-Aged Widower’s New Lover, Long Ago

He felt like a recent poem
By Anne Carson, that moment.
He assumed it was recent—

Short Talk on the Sensation
Of Aeroplane Takeoff—one
Sentence about love running,

Life with its arms up yelling
Let’s buy it what a bargain!
And here he was, on a plane,

Sitting next to love running
Towards him with her arms up,
And that’s what she was shouting.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

That Last Month

Each quiet chaos of vague
Possibility slipped by,
Taking more summer along,

Day by day and hour by hour,
Slowly, languidly even,
Hot and sunny and lovely

And done, a part of the past.
She began to stay up late,
Then later, napping at noon.

She complained they were losing
The last of their year away,
Their magical year away.

The more she felt the approach
Of the day they’d head back south,
The harder it was for her

To make anything of now,
This day, this hour. She drank beer,
Got weed from the neighbor, napped,

And stayed up most of the night,
Reading and watching the moths.
Nothing happened, nothing much.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Do You Know How Your World’s Been Built?

They visited her uncle
And aunt in Mormon country
North of Salt Lake, a few days.

Career had relocated
The Alabama couple,
Decades ago, to Utah.

He’d worked as a packaging
Engineer, one of that vast
Army of unseen think-teams

Facilitating global
Industrial capital
Chains supplying trade networks.

Now he was retired. His toy
That summer was his Blu-Ray
Laser disc in the basement

That the aunt called Ralph’s Man Cave.
It wasn’t very cave-like,
Carpeted and upholstered,

With small, high garden windows
Letting in bright mountain light,
Everything tidy, no guns,

Hunting trophies, pool table,
Sports memorabilia,
Wet bar, or coolers in sight.

There was a drafting table,
A desk packed with computers
And printers, shelves of hardbacks,

Mostly on engineering,
Home-kit computer building,
Hobbies, and world history,

But the basement’s centerpiece
Was the small home theater
Where Ralph watched action movies,

Playing the most dynamic scenes
Over and over again,
In between playing his discs

Reproducing classic art
From world-famous museums,
Thrilled with how he could zoom in.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Career Highlight

There’s a poster on the wall
Beside the elevator
For Felicity. Keri

Russell beams out, curly haired,
From it. Some melancholy
Associated with this—

The loneliness of this year,
Maybe, that dreary lobby,
The confined circumstances,

Loss of partner, loss of car,
Loss of most adult status,
All for a return to school

Among students more the age
Of this TV character—
Would ever after adhere

To that name, Felicity.
That’s what he tells her, at least,
His first friend in this new world,

Midway-aged from him to her
On the poster, and also
Curly haired, a grad student

Radiating confidence,
With a Navy officer
For a boyfriend, a nice house

In the Avenues, and plans
To turn promising fieldwork
Into a brilliant career,

No idea yet that grad school
Itself might be the apex
Of academic success

For her, as Felicity
Was for Keri Russell’s fame.
The worst part about the past

Is how it clings to sadness
By clinging to its future.
At least, that’s what he tells her.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Night in Wallace

The newlywed couple finds
A room in an old hotel
In the decrepit downtown

Of another one of those
Boom-bust western mining towns
That sprung up quick as mushrooms

In the westward expansion
Before settling down into
Generations of decay.

Having checked in, they wander
Around for something to eat,
Eventually strolling

Into a green neighborhood
Of slowly falling houses,
Eerily quiet, until

Fireworks start going off,
First as isolated pops
They half mistake for gunshots,

Then fizzing from a display
Being shot off on the hill.
They’d forgot it was the Fourth,

But now they happily perch
And cuddle on the cracked steps
Of what used to be a porch,

For the quarter-hour or so
Of gathering dusk it takes
For the small stockpile to go.

A few whoops drift from the hill.
A few more whizzes and bangs
Speckle the dim neighborhood.

It will be some years before
One of the pair, long after
The divorce, will run into

Some lines in another poem
Reminiscent of this one
Night in Wallace, Idaho—

There are sad, almost empty
Towns occasionally
Brightened by fireworks—

Which brings the memory back
Of a dusk not so much sad
As, for that night, contented.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Know

In the hippie coffee shop,
No one looks like a hippie.
Everyone’s cooler than that.

The smell may mate patchouli,
Ground arabica, and herbs,
But the customers wear black

With post-punk haircuts dyed black
Where not shaved close to the skull,
Since they all know in New York

And London the hippie days
Are over, and they all read
The zines and the Village Voice.

They can’t help the coffee shop.
It’s the coolest place they’ve got
In this town of cowboy dives,

Frat houses, and casinos—
Plus too many leftover hippies
Who mostly smoke weed at home

And raise organic kids now.
It takes a lot of effort
To be cool in such a town,

And the couples in leather
Would never dream of mingling
With the dweeb who just moved here

From actual Manhattan
Wearing ordinary clothes.
Only locals know this pose.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Peripheral

His father takes his picture
Beside the crocodile pool
At a wildlife attraction.

He is reading intently,
Apparently ignoring
The crocodiles for the book.

The crocodiles do bore him,
A little, since they’re dozing
Fat slugs in leather armor,

None of them thrashing about
At the moment, but that’s not
Why his nose is in a book.

It’s not that the wildlife park,
For all its touristy kitsch,
Isn’t interesting to him.

He’s not avoiding the world.
He’s fascinated by beasts
But also wants something more.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Collections

The family’s grown by two
More disabled orphan boys,
One from South Korea, one

From a grim institution
Locally synonymous
With madness—You oughta be

In Greystone! runs the kids’ taunt,
Whenever some other kid
Says something ridiculous.

One boy has had polio
And speaks almost no English.
One’s spina bifida locked

Him into that asylum.
Neither had any parents
Before now, but here they are,

Adopted at the moment
The father is going broke,
Since no one’s eager to hire

A designer of custom
Kitchens—cabinetmaker
In a wheelchair, no less—not

With construction contraction
And the energy crisis.
The grandparents pay mortgage

For a few months, while scolding
About all the adoptions,
But in church the only talk

Is of how the Lord Provides.
The mother and father give
Testimony every week.

Collections are held for them.
Another school year begins,
Four kids in, two boys held out

Until they have some small chance
Of passing, at least a grade
Or two behind for their age.

The oldest kid, in sixth grade,
Who was once an only child,
Collects leaves for his scrapbook

From the feral, second-growth
Hardwoods surrounding the house,
Gluing and labeling them.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Better and Better

She needs a new room to rent.
She’s sick to death of the house
She shares with her former friends.

There’s a sign on a kiosk,
Among the advertisements
And announcements of events,

Place to let for a student,
A one-bedroom apartment,
But with another student

Already in the main room
Renting space on the sofa,
With a single bathroom shared.

Reluctantly, she decides
To check it out. It’s married
Housing, and it’s occupied

By a recently divorced
White boy, still a teenager,
Who doesn’t want to move out

But can’t pay full rent himself.
It’s on the top floor, good views
Over the campus forest,

Lots of light in the bedroom.
He seems nice, doesn’t give off
Any racist vibes, harmless

Little guy in overalls
And beard, smaller than herself.
She moves in, and, for awhile,

It’s a fun experiment.
Neither one has ever roomed
With a peer identified

As opposite in both race
And sex, in the binaries
They’ve both lived life in to now.

She can’t resist teasing him
A little bit, a little
Flirtatiously. Celibate

Herself, not really by choice,
She’s fascinated by him
Without feeling attracted,

And he’s clearly at loose ends,
Since his equally young wife
Of six months cleared out on him.

But after a month, it’s just,
Boring, you know? To them both,
What had seemed grown-up, daring.

He’s just another housemate
With his own ideas about
What to cook and when to clean,

And when her best friend moves out
Of the sisterhood she’d joined,
They find a place together,

This time fully off-campus,
With two bedrooms and two baths,
Not perfect, but much better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

And Would for the Rest of Their Lives

Mom bundled them in the back
Of the car in sleeping bags,
Trying not to wake them up,

But they were too excited.
The darkness, the snow, the cold—
The strangeness and their parents’

Own energy were thrilling,
Even though they couldn’t grasp
Yet what a vacation was,

Much less what Florida was,
Only those hours in the dark
In their sleeping bags as lights

Streamed staccato past the glass,
With the sense rules were broken,
Everything had been mixed up,

The car was a rolling bed,
Their bed was a snuggly bag,
The drive just went on and on.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Bronzed

Except the three teenagers,
No one else came to the pool
Behind the motel, most days.

One was the lifeguard and one
Was the groundskeeper’s daughter.
The third was just killing time

While attracted to them both.
For hours, any sunny day,
The lifeguard would watch the pool,

And the groundskeeper’s daughter
Would swim a little, lie out,
And occasionally talk

To the lifeguard or the boy
Killing time, just practicing
Her flirting and her English.

This went on for weeks and weeks.
The lifeguard would remember
Losing her virginity

By her choice, clandestinely.
The time-killer would recall
The murderously long hours

Of doing nearly nothing,
And the groundskeeper’s daughter
Would get incredibly tan.

Monday, July 11, 2022

And Then Never Again

After the show is over,
And they’ve taken their last bows,
But before they strike the set,

They troop to the apartment
Of the only one of them
Not still living in a dorm,

And the handsome leading man
On a hockey scholarship,
Who will drop out in a year

To join a Chippendales troupe
And make some easy money,
Produces a bag of weed,

And they all get stoned and laugh,
And then they get the munchies,
And march down to the WaWa,

Delighted to act silly
And buy ten bags of Cheetos,
Although the comic-relief-

Playing character on stage
Is now the one paranoid,
And the straight man the most bent.

They did a show. They did it
Themselves, in an old basement
Fall-out shelter in a dorm—

Their own props, their own tickets,
Their own promotion, their own
Everything, and it all worked.

Audiences came and laughed.
They’ll feature in the yearbook.
Tonight they’ll sleep on the floor,

Some lovers and some loners
In one hazy, tangled heap
Of bad jokes and Cheeto dust.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Then You Go Home to Eat Pot Roast

The way church works is like this.
The whole family wrestles
Itself together, dresses

Everyone in better clothes,
From the family’s viewpoint,
Than are worn on other days,

Piles everyone in the car
After breakfast, complaining
Maybe but no exceptions,

To drive the few miles to church,
A whitewashed cinder-block cube
With a bare steeple for show

In a bedroom neighborhood,
Large parking lot behind it,
And everyone troops inside,

Chattering to whoever
Happens to be there that day—
Mostly the same boring folks

Seen almost all but only
Sundays—and the kids vanish
Into side rooms for an hour

Of Sunday School, the adults
Doing some Bible Study.
After that, more people show

In time for the main event,
The Sunday service, singing,
Praying, and lots of preaching

From the pulpit to the rows
Of folding chairs where kids squirm,
And the nurse who works nights snores,

And the old women rummage
In their purses for tissues.
If you’re lucky, the sermon

Won’t run past noon, and you’ll get
A caramel from someone
Who keeps candies in her purse.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Platonic Honeymoon

They’ve come up with another
Clever scheme to set her free.
They’ll get engaged! Her parents,

Panicked by her coming out,
Might well welcome any boy
In a storm, even this one.

Once married, she’ll settle down,
Right, be a Christian woman,
Repent of preferring girls

Or not shame her family
At least. So what if he’s young
And she’s younger, both still teens?

Over the phone, they agree,
And then plan out the visit
As chance for him to propose.

It works! Her folks go for it,
Give the marriage their blessing,
And set about planning it

For next summer in their church.
The co-conspirators grin
And joke about it in code.

Once she’s married, she’ll be free
To seek out girls on the side.
The only hitch in their plan

Comes later, when his mother
Discovers he’s had a date
With another, local girl,

And is horrified her son
Would cheat on his fiancée.
But they get past that. One night

In June finds them, newlyweds
Driving through the Green Mountains,
Cackling at their great caper,

Arriving at a tavern
In deep woods by the roadside
With a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign

Glowing in the dark. The bar
Shines, reflecting the whiskeys
They’re too young to be drinking.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Friends Bored Him

Three couples got together
One time at a single friend’s
Apartment for a game night.

It was the 1990s.
They’d all been educated.
None of them had any kids.

They were all white and roughly
The same age, and they all worked
At the same place. In that sense,

They were friends, as is often
The case in situations
With coworkers—more or less.

Two couples cohabited.
The third pair were newlyweds.
The single friend had been so

For a few years. And what game
Did they play at his table?
For sure, it was a board game,

Something fairly popular
At the time. It might have been
Trivial Pursuit. They drank

Beer and wine, moderately.
The host put on a playlist
He’d carefully selected

To be appealing and show
Off his taste, his cleverness,
And his new CD platter,

But he felt insulted when
The newlywed husband asked
Who was singing, while adding,

They all sound the same. As if
Those seven people gathered
Around that little table,

All middle Americans
Of the same generation
With identical accents,

Didn’t sound egregiously
The same. Outside it was dark,
But everyone got home safe.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Townhouse Near Downtown

Now they try to buy a house.
She’s started her position
As full-time librarian

Across the street from his work,
And she still has some money
Left over from her divorce.

It should be the perfect time
To find a neighborhood home,
But, apparently unknown

To them, they’re starting to drift
Apart. Every house feels wrong.
When they find one that seems right,

It only makes them anxious.
They bicker over the price.
This is a big commitment,

Which they know, and they say so,
But they pretend it’s the house,
And getting just the right one

Is why it’s so difficult.
The one kind he doesn’t want
To live in is a townhouse,

And then one day she puts down
The rest of her settlement
On an elegant townhouse

Without his consultation,
And he’s hurt, but he’s relieved,
Since she’s bought them both a door.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

You Must Have Existed

There’s nothing left of today,
Not a picture, anecdote,
Keepsake, diary entry—

Not for this day precisely,
And frankly not for most days.
Existence exists itself

Away and further away.
You’re left what the papers,
Radio, and evening news

Recorded, chose to record
Of what there was to be said
About today, but today

There was nothing to be said
On the record about you
And the day you had today,

Child barely into your teens
And not yet out of eighth grade.
It was March. Was it rainy?

It was a Friday. Was it
More than usually boring
At school today? You can strain,

You can sieve your memory,
Write a long memoir to save
Your other, important days,

But it will always be here
In you somewhere, this blank day
You know was but can’t escape.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Responsible One

They shared a pretty good room—
Dorm’s top floor southwest corner,
Smallish but with two windows

Overlooking the maples
Currently turning crimson.
Shaun was in love with Diane,

The choir director’s daughter,
Or swore he was. The dramas
Of their make-outs and breakups

Often left him muttering
About maybe dropping out,
Maybe just running away.

His roomie was just in love
With running away. They talked
Philosophically of this,

Both seniors in good standing,
With good grades, applications
To college already sent.

What would it be like to run,
To cut and leave, to be bums,
To wander the continent?

Shaun was tall, healthy, handsome,
Played several varsity sports,
Was popular, had money,

But Diane drove him crazy.
He complained, and some darkness
Was always in his comments.

His roommate was a loser,
Small and homely, with nothing
To commend him but top grades.

He agonized over faith,
History, and fantasy
Novels about wanderers,

But he was helpful to Shaun,
Good at figuring out things,
Cutting corners to get by.

One day, Shaun’s English homework
Was to memorize a poem.
He hated both ends of that—

Memorizing poetry,
Speaking in front of the class—
But his roommate helped him out,

Found a poem even Shaun liked,
Short, metric with a rhyme scheme
And a devastating end,

Not too hard to memorize
And easily recited.
Shaun, relieved, landed an A.

That roommate would graduate.
Shaun, one calm October night,
Went home. Why, no one would say.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Ends Meet

The cheerful young woman
With a few groceries
Chatted at the checkout

With the cheerful cashier,
While a man with his own
Items waited behind

And was startled to hear
The cheerful young woman
Pray for a miracle,

Laughing while anxiously
Swiping her debit card,
Adding that tomorrow

At least, would be payday,
Then sighing with relief
When the small amount cleared.