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Apples to Apples

From Earth School

It’s 1942 and I’m minus seven years old.

I can already feel the world convulsing. 

Part of me wants to wait for the worst 

to pass, to hunker down, as in a deep woods 

debris hut during a blizzard.  I can hear 

the first hiss of gas piped in at Treblinka, 

trucks in Bataan crunching over bodies 

of prisoners too weak to march, Stalingrad’s 

orphaned children sneaking through cellars 

and sewers scrabbling for food. But I am

also enticed by the tumult, muffled cries

to be rescued, or at least for relief, 

a human universe in need of mending. 

The tear is a rending and an opening. 


In Chicago they have split the atom

with seeds too small to see, like cleaving

an apple that smashes in an instant

into two adjacent, then four, eight, 

an entire orchard caroming into countless

neighboring orchards, apple shrapnel

startling a murder of crows into stillness.


Across the ocean a bird becomes a hero.

Hit by enemy fire, a British bomber spirals 

down, but before crashing into North Sea’s

freezing chop, the crew, unable to radio 

their position, releases into a flak-streaked night 

their only hope—a blue-flecked pigeon. 

Winkie wings its way 120 miles back to its loft 

at the base, exhausted, oil-smeared, message-less, 

but proof that the ditched aircraft 

might have jettisoned survivors. The RAF 

calculates flight path, wind direction, 

pigeon’s speed, then launches a rescue mission. 

Within an hour, they haul in four shivering men, 

bobbing in the dark waters like apples.

Bad Math

From The Irresistible In-Between

They say the handwork teacher died
of cancer because she was a hoarder—
shelves clotted with tangled skeins,
shadows of puppets, driftwood dowels,
piles of jaundiced newspapers, bird bones,
jars of beads and regret.
Who doesn’t understand
the unappeasable urge to amass,
her addiction to textures, to graspability,
reminding us of what we are not?
She finally figured it out after hearing
the words “a mass,” clearcut a swath
through her life, not only the closet clutter—
her husband, the house, three sons.

Iscador injections, potentized, they say,
turn rogue cells docile
for a time.  She rebloomed,
traveled to Japan, resisted the urge
to buy jade and pearls, even as
the math in her went wild.

They say things are only things,
as if their calling out to us
could be muzzled, as if all the bodies
we desire to hold and hold
onto didn’t change in our grasp,
as if it were a cinch to divide
this world into the living
and the even more alive.

Attic Fan

Irresistible In-Between

Three young men, shirtless
in the attic. Two snap chalk
lines, one cuts boards to size.
Their hands are almost musical:
Crescendo, de-crescendo
of the skill saw, compressed,
rhythmic retort of the nail gun,
contrapuntal hammering,
trombone sliding of their banter.

They are aware of their beauty.
Sawdust sticks to their glistening;
their bodies move like water
rippling over stones. They pose
and push one another. One
grabs a water bottle, takes
a long swig, sprays the others.
They kick blocks of waste wood
towards his nimble feet. I

do what I can to be near
the commotion, the danger,
I bring them more water,
but I’m in the way, avoid
one plank headed for a corner
cut, trip over a tangle
of cords, nearly upset
the floor fan. I pretend
it was intentional. The father

with mute hands, I grab
the fan’s throat, dip low
as if we are dancing
a tango. At least they laugh,
appreciate the angle
I can still make, crooked bowing
before all that straightness,
the casual exactitude of lines
measured out like music.

(First appeared in The Northern New England Review, Vol. 32, 2010)

A Rising

From A Rising and Other Poems

Rocks may be inert elsewhere;

not here. From Cadillac, a pod

of stone whales cruises into sunrise. 


The very ledge we stand on,

stippled pink and orange,

flickers and hums.


At Little Hunter's Beach, baritone breakers

shrug question after question. A tenor chorus

of polished pebbles sizzle back,


and close by the fortress, Otter Cliff,

a once-desert miracle now recurs  daily

at the shoreline—fog, then fire in the sky,


then boulders into loaves.

(Originally appeared in Down East Magazine, March 2017)

Little Egypt, Illinois

A Rising


Like most plagues, it hardly registers at first—

a low-country road at night, deep summer;

corn fields crackle and simmer.

Amid marsh elders, cicadas rehearse.


A single illuminated hopper squats

along the shoulder; we don’t even need 

to swerve to miss.  Past some reeds,

the air turns gelatinous, headlights


pick up several tiny leaping arcs,

webbed blurs water-glossy and wild

to cross a pitted road to some undefiled

pond.  They must be scouts in the dark;


suddenly we head into a maelstrom,

surrounded by legions of frog clans

leaping as if to escape bedlam

or a tsunami of fire, an exodus so grim


that nothing stems the onslaught,

not the thudding against metal

like horizontal hail, nor their terrible

pop-eyes nor their bloodless corpses caught


in soundless thwumps beneath tires. Swerving

now is useless.  Black crosshatches mark

their last landings.  We drive breakneck,

try the radio to muffle the racket, settle nerves,


but every report’s about ISIS, in myth,

goddess who revivified the sundered body

of her brother-mate, made him the haughty,

deathless lord over the desert realm of death.

(Originally appeared in Confrontation, Fall, 2019)


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