glean: 1. to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit. 2. to gather (grain or the like) after the reapers or regular gatherers. 3. to learn, discover, or find out, usually little by little or slowly. 4. to gather what is left by reapers.
December 26, 2016
Somewhere they are making Easter grass.
There must be an Easter grass factory.
I imagine huge sheets of transparent green
Plastic cut by blades into blades that roughly
Approximate the color and width and length
Of grass in a spring pasture in which
There were cows once but arenít any longer.
No one working in the factory is deceived
By the grass but the grass believes itself
To be real, seems to dimly remember
The pasture where it grew until the day
A man and his son came swinging scythes.
It doesnít know it was made in a factory
To fill the baskets of suburban children
Who live far from the nearest place where
Actual grass is allowed to grow as long
As it is. But the grass cannot be blamed
For believing that the cold, dyed eggs
Set down gently in the basket it beds
Might still hatch. And even after Easter,
When stray strands have collected
Like the hair of the dead in the vacuum
Cleaner bag, the grass will go on believing
It is real, and try to cheer up the landfill.
December 26, 2016
You: standing in a mirror, holding
A dress up to your neck, the mirror
Itself for sale. But when you asked
The woman who was moving
To Oakland how much it was
She was asking too much,
So you hung it back up and turned
Your attention to a music box,
Which you balanced on the flat
Of your palm, turning the crank
Like it was a fishing reel
So that as we browsed we listened
To some song that had been locked
In that box for years and that only
You had the key to, and when
It was over you said,
ďJust listening,Ē gave the woman
A dollar, and walked away.
Me: Typing this letter to you
On this old typewriter
With keys that stick
And a fading ribbon
That needs replacing
But that I would buy
If I didnít want to leave
This note curled in it
Covered with the tentative
Words people pecked
In order to try it
In case you come back
Having changed your mind
About the dress
Or because you wanted
To hear the song again.
December 25, 2016
Christmas Eves our dad would bring
home from the farm real hay
for the reindeer that didn't exist
and after we were asleep
would go out and take
the slabs up in his arms
and carry them back to the bed
of the pickup making sure
to litter the snow with chaff
so he could show us
come morning the place
under our windows where
they had stamped their hooves
and shaken their bells
to make us dream them
December 23, 2016
Climbing the steps to the hotel room you've taken
in New Orleans to kill yourself, you're aware
of your shadow climbing beside you. How you wish
it would unhook itself from your body and remain,
a stain on the Victorian wallpaper, but it insists
on climbing with you, like a friend you wish
would just let you go home alone when you're drunk.
In your pocket, a bottle, the pills kept chalk-dry
by cotton balls. You know their strength, know
what it will mean to swallow them all. You open
the door, enter the room, see that you left
the window open. The curtains are swollen
with wind. You lie down on the bed and remember
radioing Tibbets, telling him the weather was clear.
That was all you did. Stated that fact the way
a farmwife would. But you knew what it meant
to say that, and now you think you know
what it means to twist the cap off that bottle
and throw thirty perfect white pills down the hatch.
December 23, 2016
its gun of slick black leaves
on the man who takes care
of the graves and the boys
who like to make fun
of him tiptoe up to the gate
and yell "Fucking faggot!"
and run away as the man
resumes his raking,
the tines skittering
over my grave.
December 23, 2016
The line is long, so long
it bends at the corner like light
in a telescope. It's quiet.
If anyone has anything to say
they whisper it to the ones
they came here with.
The wind is cold. People pull
coats out of their bags
by the sleeves, bags they kick
forward every time
the line moves. Every now
and then people give up
and leave. No one tries to
stop them. The couple ahead
of me, I watch them turn
to one another and agree
to come back some other day
when the line is shorter.
They'll find a cafť. I stay.
I shuffle forward into the space
they've left me, thinking
of all the lines we form
on earth, and what for.
December 22, 2016
Some days even nature seems sinister.
Walking around the farm with a beer,
Seeking some solace after the evening news,
You meet the cat you love coming back
From the windbreak, a rare songbird
In his mouth. In the mulberry branches
The silkworms writhe in nests that, backlit
By twilight, look like X-rays of lungs.
In the pasture the cow kicks at her calf
And wonít let her nurse, while in a seam
Of gleaming honey in the oak lightning
Cleaved the queen daintily eats her offspring.
In the rafters of the barn the starlings are
Pushing the owlsí eggs out of the nest,
While the owl herself is out hunting.
Going in, you nearly step on a swarm
Of ants ravishing a butterfly like people
Tearing a capsized ship down, its wings
Like torn sails, and the first thing you hear
When you enter the kitchen is the snap
Of the mousetrap you set this morning,
Tired of being kept awake all night
By their scratching in the walls. And so
You are met with your own small act
Of cruelty, your contribution to the whole.
With a pair of pliers that are themselves
Always biting something, you take
The broke-necked mouse by the tail
And throw it into the darkening yard,
Never knowing that in favor of it the cat
Let go of the bird, who was only stunned,
And whose song you woke to in the morning.
December 20, 2016
The lab asleep by the fire
Pheasant blood in his whiskers
Like watercolor on brushes
Leaning in a coffee can
In a cold shed
The artist has given up painting
In because he canít see
The canvas through his breath
December 20, 2016
Birds that had sung all morning
Fell quiet in the branches
Like ampersands in a sentence
A boy doesnít know how to say.
Candles were lit midday
To see the Bible by. Fathers
Had their sons take turns
Their generation was blessed
To see come to pass.
Even the rebellious daughter
Who mouthed all her prayers
Felt afraid when she parted
The curtain and saw stars.
But in the graveyards
The tongues of the coffin
Bells hung still, and the doors
Of the mausoleums were mum,
White as the lips of witnesses.
The dark meant nothing but that
The flowers closed early,
Leaving the drunken bees knocking,
While all the dark day the taverns
Were full of men without families
Who wove their fingers into baskets
Into which they placed gently
The quail eggs of their eyes.
December 20, 2016
Sorry but I don't
I don't have any
money on me
on me I don't
have any money
don't have any
on me no money
sorry but don't I
December 16, 2016
You think of yourself as having been a sweet boy,
The kind of kid who wouldnít hurt a fly,
But let us not forget that in summer
You kept a swatter nearby.
You liked the feel of the looped wire handle
In your hand, how easy it was
To wield, light and nimble
As a riding crop.
The business end was a square of blue
Plastic mesh, perforated to let
The air pass through
So that in the act of wrath
You wouldnít fan the fly to safety.
Most days the killing you did was passive.
Sometimes you even swatted your own bare calf,
Leaving a red welt you felt vanish
Like the ring of water
Evaporating off the armrest of the chair
In which you sat reading LORD OF THE FLIES.
But donít you remember those afternoons
Some fury the catalyst of which
You only dimly understood
Incited you to slaughter?
Then you would have no mercy
For those who wrung their hands
Among the breadcrumbs,
Pleading for you to take pity on them,
Or the ones you found making love
On the windowsills in the upstairs
Bedrooms where they had believed
They would be safe.
All that stopped you was when
The blue square grew
So clogged with the dead
The living felt a breath of air
That made them take flight
Like men whoíve just sat down to eat
When the phone rings, someone calling
To tell them to flee the house,
Leaving their plates of steaming food
To the flies to enjoy in the time
They have left before the blast.
December 16, 2016
I carry a cauldron of blood on each wing.
My ancestors have collected it
Drop by drop
From the dragging hems
Of the dresses Dawn and Dusk wear,
Those difficult sisters who refuse to marry
Their suitors, Midnight and Noon.
If I were to spill even a thimble-full
They would turn and see
All we have stolen.
And you wonder why I scold you
Whenever you come near.
December 15, 2016
Learning today via mass email
That you died Monday and here
I am clear across the country cursing
This man blowing leaves, a sign
In December that I must live
In California. I remember,
In Virginia, mornings we'd meet
At the cafť to talk about the novel
I was writing, your comments
In the margins in green ink,
Arrows suggesting where
A paragraph might go,
Brackets embracing a sentence
You thought I could cut.
All those marks you made
Were like the invisible
Patterns these leaves are carving
In the air, all that time you spent
Helping me, time that feels finite
Now that youíre dead, futile.
I abandoned that book.
What I remember is the way
We would drift away
From my story and end
Up just talking, our coffee long
Gone cold, marbly with cream.
Iím tempted now to read
Our last emails but Iím afraid
To find that instead of writing
From California to ask you
How things were in Virginia
I was writing to ask you for a letter
Of recommendation, a letter
You wrote as if to me, a letter
I never answered.
December 14, 2016
It was months ago now. This morning the sea
Is calm, but everyone on this beach is keeping
One eye on the water the way you watch a dog
That has snapped at a child. These fishermen
Out in their boats, they must have been on shore
That day, mending nets, or hawking baskets
In the market. The fish theyíre catching are kin
To the fish that died gasping for water far inland,
Having helped compose the weight of the wave.
They say that when the water sucked out
It uncovered a temple no one knew was there,
As if the sea was returning something it had stolen,
Only to change its mind and take it back again.
I wonder if the fishermen think of it now
That they know itís down there, or whether
They ignore it the way they ignored
The young men who ran past them that day
Screaming for them to come and see.
December 13, 2016
(for those kids in Chattanooga)
I loved the bus ride home from school,
That wordless half hour nothing was
Demanded of me, nor of my brother
Sitting in the seat across from me.
Turned away from one another,
We gazed out the window, our breath
Making the glass blush, watching town
Surrender to country. I loved how
What was near rushed past while
What was far seemed to hover and stare
Like deer who halfway across the meadow
Turn and accuse you of scaring them.
We trusted the driver absolutely,
His forehead reflected in the long mirror
Into which his eyes floated from time
To time. When his gaze met mine
I recognized the responsibility he felt
To deliver us safe to the mouth of the lane,
The sons of strangers he nonetheless loved
If only because we were so helpless.
It seemed to me he took comfort in knowing
Life would at least allow him this triumph.
I wonder now if at the moment of death
He remembered us, dry-mouthing
To himself the words: "Whatever else
I have or havenít done in life, Lord,
I delivered a farmer's sons home safe
And that must mean something."
December 6, 2016
I was feeling down and wanted to praise
Something harmless, something we donít
Necessarily need, but that Iím glad
We have, and I lit just now upon flour.
I suppose flour could be harmful if
You donít eat wheat, but letís assume
You do. Think: where did your mother
Keep the flour when you were a child,
Or your father? Perhaps it was your father
Who did the baking. Maybe neither
Your mother nor your father baked
But they still kept some flour around,
Leftover from Christmas, or because
A neighbor had brought some over,
Though why a neighbor would bring
Flour over and then leave without it,
I donít know. Anyway you can tell
I want there to have been flour
In your childhood kitchen, in a paper bag
That gave off a little gasp of powder
Every time it was opened, which wasnít often.
On the side of the bag, a girl in a dress
Tiptoeing amongst hens, a wicker basket
On her arm and it was understood
She was bringing bread to the sick
And poor. Or maybe your family stored
The flour in a glass jar with a wire lid
That latched, or in a stoneware canister
With the word FLOUR painted in blue
Cursive on the side. Wherever it was,
Maybe you reached your hand inside
Every now and then to wonder
At how something so dry could feel
So cool that it felt damp. Or maybe
This is the wrong poem for you.
Maybe you loved salt.
December 1, 2016
Just when the ground had begun
To believe it would stay closed forever
Like a coffin must, dad would drag
The plow out of the shed into the dull light
Allowed us that early in the year,
Its coulters like cymbals in a parade,
The fanglike tines poised to sink
Into the preylike sod, and the field,
Elderly with snow,
Would be made young again.