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.
Three young men, shirtless
in the attic. Two snap chalk
lines, one cuts boards to size.
Their hands are almost musical:
of the skill saw, compressed,
rhythmic retort of the nail gun,
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)
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
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)