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Poem-a-Day
 
(or, to support my work with a small monetary contribution, see the Substack link on the left)
 

The Astronaut

The Astronaut

 

On the morning

of the day

they are going

to shoot him

to the moon

the astronaut

wakes up yawns

and stretches

then remembers

he must leave

his children

his wife who

awake now

yawns and then

remembers too

his penis especially

doesn't want to go

into all that

cold black space

it wants to stay

right here

where it's warm

but if

he's going

to have to

go it sure as hell

is going too

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When Writing Poems Could Get You Killed

When Writing Poems Could Get You Killed

 

I used to like to pound the typewriter

keys and pretend

I was hearing gunshots in an almond orchard,

the bullets neatly unbuttoning

the poet's white dress

shirt, this back when

I used to spend a lot of time wishing

we lived in a time when writing

poems could get you killed

instead of getting you a tenure-track job.

But when I think of Lorca

leaning on the shovel the fascists gave him

to dig his own grave, out

of breath from digging his own grave,

when I think of Lorca I think

what was I thinking?

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Golden Eye

Golden Eye

 

Real woods were filling up
with real snow while I sat inside

listening to Kid A on repeat,

playing Golden Eye.


The only level I remember
there was snow everywhere,
satellite towers I suppose
I was supposed to blow up,


enemy combatants

wearing winter suits,

or were they
for nuclear radiation?


I don't remember anything
really but the snow and how
I always found my way

to the edge of the game


where the details were
all a little blurred. 

Some designer got lazy, 

tired of playing God.

 

Whoever it was I was 

waiting for under

those pixalated pines,

I thought I gave up

 

waiting for years ago, 

but here I am again.

You who've come this far too,

take my cold hand.

 

Tell me it was you.

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Supper

Supper

 

On the walls of your house
there were hung

antique tools
of woodcutting and agriculture.

 

Where is the wheat 

the scythe reaped now?
I asked. Where the pine
the crosscut saw cut down?

 

Vanished, you said,
into other forms,
as well they should have.

Such as? Such as

 

the bread on the table,
or the table under the bread.

But all I see, I said,
is the scythe and the saw.

 

You're in the wrong
room, you said.
And we sat down at the table
and broke the bread.

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[Shortest day of the year.]

Shortest day of the year.

Disappearing against my flesh,

the last sliver of soap.

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Electric Christmas Candles

Electric Christmas Candles

 

At some point there must have been one
too many housefires around Christmastime


maybe the tree went up in flames or maybe
they left a candle burning on the windowsill


then there were sirens seething through

the carols and ashes blowing over the snow

 

so someone invented the electric candle

marketing it as safer around children 


safer around eggnog but they were made

to resemble real candles down to the flame

 

-shaped bulbs that curved as if upon a wick

in a draft while the candlesticks were made

 

to look as if they were made of actual wax

right down to the dripping drops so that

 

it was as if they were always burning

even in summer when they were shut

 

away in a drawer that smelled of pinesap

wrapped up in their cords and the little glass

 

bulbs like a memory of flames like flames

you could have sworn you blew out

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First Word

First Word
 
My mother tells me
my first word was key.
I was trying to say
kitty but instead
said a word that
unlocked the language,
turning in the soft
lock of my mouth,
opening the door through which
every word since
has come pouring out
on the heels of the first.
And the room will never
be empty, nor
the door locked again,
it being the kind of key
that only turns one way.

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Cattle Guards

Cattle Guards
 
In our lives also there will sometimes be
Something like a cattle guard between us
And what it is we want – the lush pasture
Across the dirt road, or the road itself,
Emptily winding through the green mountains.
 
It may be nothing more than a gate laid
Flush with the earth, but when we come to it
We shy away. We know it shouldn't be
Enough to stop us but it always has
Before, which is why it works, every time.

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Kegger

Kegger

 

Kids in seed company

hoodies kept closed

with safety pins 

since the zipper broke

are burning stanchions

their grandfathers milked in

taking turns jumping

over the bonfire screaming

whenever they catch

somebody's steel toe

boots clip the flames

Doesn't even count bro

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The Door of the Season

 

The Door of the Season

 

That time of year when deer confer

In rings around the coldest springs,

Their antlers woven into chandeliers

Lit with eyes. The door of the season

Is about to open, a door that is flush

With the earth, its jambs brimming

With light that pours up from the secret

Room in which dead fathers embrace

Their solemn sons, who pull away

To climb the rungs, pushing the door

Up with the butts of their guns.

The hinges creak and the door falls

With a heavy thud to the forest floor.

The deer hear it and begin to sway,

Unlocking their antlers, then back away

Gallantly into deaths all their own.

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Overheard at the Funeral Bar

Kid had an awful big heart

Even if he kept it pretty much

Covered up in blaze

Orange and camo

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For Jean Follain

For Jean Follain
 
Some evenings a poet will turn

Down a ride and decide to walk home
After the banquet where he was honored
By members of a boat club


Still feeling the roughness of their hands
In his soft hand as he walks
In his coat the medallion they gave him
Already forgivably forgotten
 
It will be that hour when women change
For dinner before bathroom mirrors
Pins pressed between their lips
Listening over their shoulders


To what their husbands

Aren't saying from the bedroom

Where they stand wiping their glasses

On their untucked white dress shirts
 
They don't yet know that

They'll never make it to dinner
Because they're fated to

Hit a poet on the way


Though even as his body lies

Bleeding in the street
He will go on walking

Invisibly along the Seine


While in the restaurant where

They had reservations
The silverware is entering the dark
Of others' mouths
 

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Artifice

Artifice

 
Poorly shot perhaps by a shy boy taken
Hunting for the first and last time, I find
What remains of the deer years later where
It finally fell, dead in the door of another season.
These bones, staves in winter's anti-still,
Bequeath to the aging air their calcium…
 
Stop the poem a minute. If I'm being honest
(I try to be honest), there is no poetry
In these woods. That's why I left a house
Full of books of it and drove here.
 
Let's start over.
 
On a whim I went off trail and almost tripped
Over a rib cage. The cage holds nothing captive
Because it isn't a cage. And the woodpeckers
Aren't carpenters with hangover headaches
In the scaffolding of the canopy,
They're woodpeckers and they're hungry.
 
But all this aside, I think it can be said
With some degree of certainty that somewhere

In time a boy is closing his eyes precisely
When they should be open.
 
Also, that it's fucking cold.

 

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The Signs

The Signs

 

This man! No,

this man! This

man! No, this man!

the sign shouts

at the sign across the street.

 

Each name five letters long,

beginning and ending

in consonants,

b, n, t, p;

some vowels,

i, e, u,

sandwiched in between;

the same colors,

red, white, blue,

for the background.

 

The men the signs stand for 

stand elsewhere,

talking at each other

like these signs do,

while

in the space between them

very heavy things

rush so fast

they're just one bright blur.

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These Days

These Days
 
are like when, at the height of autumn,
the trees have by lonesome paths all reached
the apotheosis of color,
but then one night
a big banshee wind blows through
and one wakes to a world that appears
to be burning beneath bare black branches.
 
 
 
 
 

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Just to Clarify

Just to Clarify

 

They said I'd die in fire

 

Or did they say

 

I'd die in flowers

 

 

Pretty big difference

 

So I called them

 

Been on hold an hour

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People Can

People Can
 
People can have a beer or two.
People can have a glass of wine.
People can go into the shop, have a look around.
People can meet up for coffee.
People can finish a draft.
People can take this call.
People can feel the inner body.
People can hold space.
People can put down their phone.
People can swing by around six.
People can probably make that date.
People can circle back soon.
People can leave it for tomorrow.
People can offer a little feedback.
People can use their airline miles.
People can put down the deposit.
People can forward that email.

People can pick up where they left off.
People can tell you what you missed.

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Your Watershed

Your Watershed
 
One day the watershed
Nearest to where you were born
Decided to stand up
Out of the valleys it had carved
And become a tree.
 
It had grown tired
Of being given so much.
It had never wanted
To be given anything,
It had only ever wanted to give.
 
It was like a tree of glass
Still flowing, full of fish
And waving green weeds,
A few stunned fishermen
Standing on its branches.
 
But it was a tree so someone
Came along and chopped it down.
Two people, actually.
A father and son.
They used an old crosscut saw,


Pulling the quivering blade
Through those rings of water,

Dampening their boots dark,
Then bucked it up
And sold it off in cords.
 
All winter people burned
It in their stoves.
It burned beautifully.
Even the fire was deceived,
Believing the water


To be wood, but its smoke,
Its smoke was like
The smoke of veils
When all the bride wants
Is to be invisible.

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The Garden

The Garden

 

 

For the first time in weeks

I walk out to the garden.

 

It surprises me to find there 

are still things growing here,

 

rooted in the earth but forsaken, 

like people on a road somewhere.

 

They don't know this road. 

They've never walked it before.

 

I was the one set them upon it

and now I've abandoned them.

 

When I drive past they wave 

vaguely, having given up hope

 

someone will stop and take them

wherever they're going.

 

But then, in a sudden reversal,

I realize I'm the one walking,

 

wishing I could go

wherever they're going. 

 

 

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Stunt

Stunt

 

The last light tried to pull off

A straightjacketed underwater escape stunt

But couldn't get out of either

The jacket or the water in time.

 

Later, its lifeless body was found

Floating facedown in the river

But no one thought to drag it out

Having mistaken it for the moon.

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Shortage

Shortage

 

When in doubt as to

What to use in the loo

In lieu of bathroom tissue,

The newest issue

Of Poets & Writers

Ought to do.

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Rally

Rally

 

Our fürher,

Who farts in sevens,

Shallowed he lie vain;

Thigh dingdong dumb,

Thy kill for fun,

On earth as it is in weapons.

Sieve us this day our daily dread

And poor live us our yes masses

As we poor give rose to

Yes pass against us;

And bleed us rot into damnation,

But baa shiver us numb evil;

For thine is the wring crumb

And the cower

And the gory

For bow and for sever,

Ah men.

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Invite

Invite

 

Child, I know we've destroyed
Your culture but would you still
Be my Facebook friend?

 

All day long and deep into dark
We can write all over our friends'
Walls while clicking on their faces.

 

My favorite place to click is right
On their eyes. They don't even blink!
Like flies on the eyes of the dead.

 

Isn't it so elegant a technology?
Try it and soon I think you'll 
Understand what a wonderful tool.

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Edict

Edict

 

Build the special jails

Of witch hazel boughs!

 

Millions shall disappear

Without a trace.

 

But on the evening air,  

One will sometimes hear

The faintest singing.

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Story

Story

 

The lake said yes
The canoe said yes
The oars yes yes
The girl

 

But the moon
The moon said no
Said no
Said
No
No
No

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The double-barreled

The double-barreled

farm lane, loaded with leaves, is

aimed right at my heart.

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The Impersonator

The Impersonator 
 
Winter afternoons, bored in math,
I'd ask to go downstairs to talk with you,
As if I knew exactly who you were.
 
You had a corner office off the library
And a job I never exactly understood,
And a desk that was too small for you.
 
The chin beard suggested
There'd been a reenactment that weekend
In one of those little towns
You must have known so well –
Quincy, Ottawa, Joliet, Alton, Galesburg.
Their courthouse squares.
Their schools.
 
You were still coming back from
What you'd gone away to become.
 
We would have spoken of Lincoln.
This was our connection, inevitable
As the fact that you, born in Illinois
And growing to his height,
Would grow up to impersonate him.
 
That he had once stood in the square
Where families ate ice cream now,
Their tongues flashing
Pink and blue,
Debating Douglass,
Made that town mean something
To me, even if all it meant was that
That had happened there.
 
It seemed to me that to you
It must have meant even more.
I thought you wanted to drag all that
History out of books and bear it
Into our world, to set it walking about
In your actual bones, to confront us
With the fact that he had actually lived,
Had stood exactly that tall,
Had said those words in that order.
 
In doing so, you were making us
Make a decision – we had to
Either pretend with you
That you were him,
Or live on in our fallen world
Where no one was that tall,
That eloquent, that honest.
 
Long before I learned that
You were grooming boys like me
For sex, I felt groomed by you
For some other reason, some need
That wouldn't have gotten you arrested,
But that I have a harder time
Forgiving you for.
 
Why was I sitting in your office
Those long afternoons of senior year,
When even the bullies had become becalmed
And the school stood around us
Like a dream done up in brick?
Did you really care about my future,
Which would mean, naturally,
Leaving you and that town behind,
Or did you just pretend to care
The way you pretended to be him?

I already felt the pull of the great world.
I wanted to go out in space,
You wanted to go back in time.
We sat across from one another,
Restless to leave ourselves behind.
It was easier for you.
The suit was hanging in your closet
At home, the hat perched on the shelf.
For me, the transformation
Was invisible, internal.
 
In college, I invited you to drive down
To Bloomington to visit a seminar
I was taking on Lincoln.
I'd arranged it with the professor
That he and I wouldn't acknowledge you
When you walked in
In order to see if we could make
A dozen football players and sorority girls
Believe that all our talk of Lincoln
Had conjured him, as if that
Seminar was a séance
And here he was, risen in the flesh,
To tell us what we were
Getting wrong.
 
I can still see you, not him, walking in,
Taking your hat off as if preparing to say
Something solemn, then taking your seat
At the seminar table and gazing
With great interest through your pince-nez
At the professor, who hadn't ceased
Talking about him. Him. Not you.
 
But the football players who'd fallen asleep
Over the pages of Herndon's Life of Lincoln
They hadn't read, and the sorority girls
Who said nothing all year
Only to rouse themselves in the final weeks
Of the semester in fear for their GPAs,
Which was really the fear that
Their fathers in Schaumburg and Barrington
Would cancel their credit cards,
Stared like children.
 
No. Not children. Children
Still believe. Stared
Like undergrads who've given up
Believing in anything,
But have no choice
But to believe their eyes.

Only Colin McCoy and I knew
It was you. You never once
Deceived me, George.
How could you have?
 
When I wrote, predictably, an elegy
For Lincoln, I dedicated and sent it
To you, as if you might use it 
To better imitate him, as if your goal
All along had been to disappear totally
Into what you could never really be,
Could only approximate, the way
They say two parallel lines will near
And near one another forever
But never touch.
 
Had I known how much
That poem would mean to you,
I never would have written it.
 
For years it yoked us together.
It was the sole reason, when all other reasons
Disintegrated, for you to write to me.
You needed permission to republish it
Somewhere, or you'd just gotten it framed.
It meant to you what it could never
Mean to me. I'd given it to you,
It was yours, but you kept giving it
Back, as if there was something
Wrong with it that needed fixing.
 
At the sesquicentennial of the debate,
You invited me to read the poem.
I hated how, having given it to you once,
I had to give it back to you again,
Even after I'd ceased believing in what it said.
 
The older I got, the less impressed
I was with your fidelity to him
As it became clear to me
That you never needed
Those glasses that folded
So neatly at the bridge
To see.
 
It makes me tired thinking of the care
You must have taken with the suits,
The way you must have leaned
Over the sink to shape the beard
To match that harrowing photograph
Taken in 1864, even the plate glass
Negative cracked.
 
The other day my brother called,
Asked me was I sitting down.
It was your last masquerade.
I worried about family, only
To be told that 
You'd been arrested
For child pornography.

While my brother and I were still talking,
I pulled up the link he'd sent me,
Touched your face.
In your mugshot you're disheveled,
Wearing a white t-shirt.
No pince-nez, no top hat, no overcoat.
Just the beard, bright white,
The white of the t-shirt.
 
The police report tells me
You're sixty-three,
Which means you've outlived him
By seven years.
You couldn't quit, could you?
Having spent you're life becoming him,
Becoming him has become who you are.
 
Perhaps you thought of yourself
As the Lincoln who survived,
Or, better yet, as the Lincoln
Who had nothing to survive,
Booth slinking back down the stairs
To stand in the back of the dark theater,
Watching the play.
 
I scrolled down to the bottom
Of the article, found
The predictable comments:
"Dishonest Abe."
"Four Score and Seven Years in Prison."
"Good luck with that whole emancipation thing."
 
Seeing the headline,
They take heart in knowing
There is at least one person on earth
They're better than.
 
Me? I see you in your house
In the middle of the night,
Your wife lying in the sweet
Stupidity of sleep.
You're wearing your glasses.
Yours. 
In the lenses, the same boy doubled
As if he wasn't enough.
 

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The Republican National Convention

The Republican National Convention

 

I tell you this

makes about as much sense

to me as a Christian 

who holds his breath

waiting for Christ

to come back when

I just saw him

the other day

at that diner out on 80

drinking burnt coffee

with the grain farmers

talking wheat.

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Epitaph

Epitaph

 

No, you said, the light
Hasn't died — it's just fled
Into these flowers.

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The Anvil and the Lamb

The Anvil and the Lamb

Came a day when a man came carrying
What he claimed was a lamb, though anyone
Could see that it was an anvil.

 

What are you carrying that anvil for?

Those that passed him along the road asked him.

 

But this man knew that he held in his arms
A newborn lamb. He could feel its heart
Beating, smell the lanolin in its wool.


He'd heard it bleating one evening, he said,
And found it orphaned in a meadow.

 

He asked everyone he met if the lamb
Was theirs, and for years carried what
He believed he carried up and down that road

Frequented by farmers and thieves.

 

When he asked one day did the lamb belong
To me, I didn't have the heart to tell him that
It was an anvil, and so told him
No, which only deepened his belief that
It was a lamb.

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Unemployment Hotline Hold Music

Unemployment Hotline Hold Music

 

America is these three major chords

Strummed over and over again.

An upbeat tune interrupted

By a woman talking cheerily

About unemployment and the pandemic.

The grin flashing in the indignity

Of it all is worse than the indignity

Itself. No money without this melody.

I'll carry it with me all day, 

Holding onto this hold music,

The first and possibly only

Notes I'll be given.

 

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