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.

Cat Moving Kittens

January 31, 2017

CAT MOVING KITTENS

We must have known,
Even as we reached
Down to touch them
Where we'd found them
Shut-eyed and trembling
Under a straw bale
In the haymow, that
She would move them
By cover of darkness,
One by one, by the skin
Of their necks, that
By finding them
We were making certain
We wouldn't see them again
Until the day
We reached for them
Where they sat like
Sullen teens on the tires
Of the pickup, springing
Effortlessly away to glare
Back at us, having gone
As wild by then
As they'd gone
Still in her mouth
That night, that night
She made a decision
Any human mother
Might make upon guessing
The intentions of the state,
The decision to go and to
Go now, taking everything
You love between your teeth.

The Man Without Oxen Trembles

January 29, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THE MAN WITHOUT OXEN TREMBLES

"Take good note when you first hear the cranes flying over, coming each year without fail and crying high in the heavens. They will give you the sign for ploughing and tell when the winter's rains are at hand: at their call the man without oxen trembles. Then give your oxen plenty of fodder - if you have oxen. It is easy to say: 'Please lend me your oxen and wagon,' easy also to answer, 'I'm sorry, I've work for my own oxen.'"

- Hesiod, from WORKS AND DAYS

Last fall it was your neighbor who stood trembling,
Oxenless. You could have lent him one, having two,
But it was the year 642 BC, centuries before Christ
Would utter that pretty piece of wisdom about the coats.
He stood at the stonewall you built together to clarify
Where his land ends and yours begins, coveting
The furrows your stumbling team made like the wake
Of Odysseus's ship on the Mediterranean. Not wanting
To finish fieldwork early and feel an obligation to
Let him borrow them, you opened more ground than
You intended to sow, driving them to exhaustion.
Now you're the man without oxen, looking up
At the first cranes flying over, crying out it's time
To plough. The harness you might have taken hold of
Last fall to still this trembling in your hands
Hangs in the barn, smelling faintly of lather.
And being a farmer, you know you didn't sow them
Deep enough, and that it won't be long now until
Winter rains bring their bones out of the hill.

The Bow

January 27, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THE BOW

At the beginning of every summer
We boys were given a common gift
To share, to live the long summer
Through with because we lived
Far from everywhere and thus
Had learned how even a small thing
Could shovel a hundred empty hours
Full of fun. One summer the gift
Was a bow and its flock of lithe arrows.
Even before we held it we knew
What it looked like when drawn
From the paintings of Frederic
Remington. And because he was
Our father it fell to him to demon-
Strate how to shoot an arrow straight,
Though I doubt now he had ever
Drawn a bow before. The problem
Was he was stronger than the boy
Whoever designed the bow had
Imagined nocking the arrows.
We winced as the ends neared one
Another as if the point was to restore
The bow to the full circle it had been
Before. It broke, sending slivers
Of fiberglass delving into his skin.
I'll never be able to unremember how
They rayed through his poor palm,
Resembling the quills of the feathers
The pheasants left us like calling
Cards when we startled them up
From the pasture. Had he tried to
Close his hand into a fist in anger
At the pain, he couldn't have. It was
As if it had instantly ossified. Our only
Consolation was knowing his strength
Had shattered it, not any weakness
In the bow. When he ran in to run
Hot water over his hand to begin
Easing the slivers out, I plucked
The arrow from where it had sprung
Sapling-like out of the grass
Not five feet from where he'd stood,
Having hoped he would sink it
For our sake into heartwood.

Two Stations

January 26, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

TWO STATIONS

The trains themselves have changed
But the reason their bells toll so mournfully
When they roll into the station is the same:
Their purpose is forever to be bearing strangers
From one place to another, down twinned rails
Laid down like laws everyone has forgotten
The reason for, running behind the same houses
That have always, as if in modesty, turned away
From the tracks, blowing a whistle that,
In every season, and in every kind of weather,
Has cried out Oh! Oh! like an old woman
Surprised by pain felt in the midst of a procedure
She was told would be painless. One could spend
One's life being borne back and forth between
Two stations, and on one's deathbed not remember
A beloved face, but that blur the world assumes
When we pass through it too fast, the only stillness
The blacked-out mountains, forever at their most
Beautiful after the sun has slipped behind them.

Ducks' Misery

January 25, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

DUCKS' MISERY

When I was younger I wasted so much time
Poised over a notebook of childhood poetry
Wondering where to place the apostrophe
In this name long-dead hunters had bequeathed
To the bottomlands of the Pecatonica River.

Was it the misery of one duck, or of many?
And if it was the misery of many, how many?
And a larger question: since the apostrophe
Is possessive, are we meant to believe that
They possessed their misery? And if so, can we

Assume they carried this misery into death,
The way the black labs the hunters loved
More than they loved their guns carried
The bleeding ducks in their mouths so gently
So as not to crush them? Then there was

Another possibility to consider. Perhaps
There was no apostrophe at all. Perhaps
Ducks and misery were parallel phenomena,
Related to one another the way the birds
In air and their reflections in water were.

It's little wonder that I usually chose to go
With the singular possessive, letting one duck
Become a martyr and carry the flock's misery
All by itself, until it grew so weary with the
Carrying it it dropped out of the sky. Now that

I'm older, I would rather dole the misery out,
Let the flock as a whole bear it, to each duck
An equal measure. And finding the plural possessive
On an old plat map, I know now it's likely that
This is what those dead hunters intended.

Into the Corn

January 24, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

INTO THE CORN

In summer we were warned not to enter it
If the tassels were head-high or higher
Lest we get lost like the boy who went in
After a ball called foul and never came out
Whose parents must have been decades dead
But who himself had not aged a day
Who runs bases wherever farm boys say
Ghost man oh ghost man we need you!
Out of longing to enter it we reached in
The leaves slicing our arms like the knife
My mother used to slash the risen dough
Wrenching the ears off the stalks
Like twisting doorknobs in the dark
We held them to our own ears grinning
Before turning serious and regretful
For through them we had heard the boy laughing
And as we brusquely shucked the husks
Like village grandmothers sitting in doorways
Down to the slick light green inner leaves
We longed for the moist dark that seemed to be
One of the privileges of being born as corn
But not knowing this longing was common
We held the silk under our bare armpits instead
And laughed at the long joke of adolescence
We were soon to be the punch lines of
While really recalling the pubic hair
Of women we’d seen in porn magazines
We found in the trash in the roadside ditch
When the kernels hybridized for cattle
Were exposed in their wavy pews
We gnawed them like they were sweet
Corn picked up at the roadside stand for supper
Boiled in sugar-water buttered and salted
To be spun on the lathes of our hands
And when we’d bitten off more than we could chew
We snapped the cobs clean in half
So as to see the marrow and believe
We had gone at least as deep into the corn
As that boy who’d disappeared had

Father and Son: Barcelona

January 23, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

FATHER AND SON: BARCELONA

To be carried by your father through the city streets
To be carried by your father
To be carried
To have been born
Only to be borne...

One day years from now
After your father has failed
To remember your name
You will only faintly remember
This night he carried you home
Through the streets of the Gothic Quarter
Your ash-colored lashes closing
And fluttering open
Closing and fluttering open
And the faint scent of lather on his neck

Unfair that I a stranger
Will remember him carrying you
That he will die and not remember
That you will live and only faintly remember
But the fact is to be alive is to be carried
By your father through your city
And laid in your bed without waking
Then opening your eyes in the morning

Grief and History Console One Another

January 21, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section















GRIEF AND HISTORY CONSOLE ONE ANOTHER

Usually it's Grief, the one covering her face
With her hand and weeping, who needs
To be consoled by History, who holds
A stylus and a tablet, having perpetually
Just written the words: "They died that
Their country might live." But today
History too is inconsolable, which is why
Grief has, with difficulty, raised her marble
Arm to comfort her, so that they look like
Two women pepper sprayed for protesting
Peacefully, and who, though they've never met
Before, will have to walk home together.

Eve of the Inauguration

January 19, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

EVE OF THE INAUGURATION

Eve herself, the First Woman of Old
Testament fame, not the First Lady,
Will pace the marble balustrade, invisible
To the billionaires and pop stars
And Victoria Secret models and Secret
Service agents. The news cameras
Will fail to capture her. Only women
Chanting outside the barricades will
Feel her flicker through them.
She split from Adam. He'll be sitting
In some bar downtown, clutching
At a pain in his side, still believing
The old lie that she sprang from him.
His strength is waning. The bartenders
Will whisper, pitying him. Hours later,
They'll have to cut him off and he'll stumble
Drunk into day. Back at the inauguration,
Men will begin to feel her power, shivering
In their thin black tuxes as she passes
In a summer dress, her skin smooth.
And even the man being sworn in,
His small hand on that book that got
Her story all wrong, will feel her eyes
On him and fear Eve so much even
The fibers in his toupee will stand on end.

Classroom Nosebleed

January 19, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

CLASSROOM NOSEBLEED

It begins with a flagrant red arc
The approximate size and shape
Of your eyebrow appearing
On the back of your hand
Which you drew carelessly
Under your nose

The teacher is still waiting
For someone to raise their hand
And define the word he has written
In large capital letters on the board
Everyone calls "the blackboard"
But which is actually dark green

"PYRRHIC VICTORY"

You're leaning back in your chair now
Your head tilted as if you're falling
Asleep and you can feel the tickle
Of it dribbling down your throat
Now it's in your mouth
The penny taste of it

Because of something happening
At home the teacher is in the mood
To make you sit there all day
Clear through the ringing of bells
You know the answer
But you can't risk him drawing

The class's attention to you
When Nick Garrity the smart aleck
Who sits in the back row
Raises his hand and calls out
"The battle General Pyrrhic won?"
You sneeze blood all over

Two textbook pages that cover
A few hundred years of Greek history
And the teacher who may
Have lost custody but still possesses
A sense of humor looks at you
And says "Good answer"

The Tribe of Those Who Regard the Suffering of Worms on the Sidewalk After Rain

January 19, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THE TRIBE OF THOSE WHO REGARD THE SUFFERING OF WORMS ON THE SIDEWALK AFTER RAIN

Tiptoeing through the hieroglyphics
Scrawled pinkly on the walk
On your morning walk to work
Is to you the worst thing about the rain
That has passed on in the night
Giving leave to the sun to come out
And roast them in these shapes
They’ve assumed and which always
Seem intentional like marks
Of punctuation in some lost lexicon
That would be meaningful to us
Had we the key to understand it
Some are laid out as if with a ruler
Others have spiraled inward as if
One end sought what the other knew
You know yourself to be yourself
By the way you look down and wince
And you know the people you are
Walking with are other people
By the way they stare straight ahead
Mashing this exquisite language
Into pink pulp but it isn’t as simple
As that you tiptoers are benevolent
While the stare-straight-aheaders are cruel
Rather you are the metaphorical ones
For whom this carnage means more
Than what it could possibly mean
To these brainless who
Sensing a change was coming
Fled their long homes
To solemnize the break in the weather

The Stillness of Your Coat

January 18, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THE STILLNESS OF YOUR COAT

The stillness of your coat
The green wool one
The one with the hood
Hanging on the back
Of the chair in the kitchen
Spooked me when I came in
Breathless from my run
How without you it was
How empty how absent
Of you while it hung
There as still as a coat
In a painting so still
You would have sworn
The sleeve swayed

We Defy Augury

January 18, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

WE DEFY AUGURY

Reading the word "inauguration" for the hundredth time
In the news, I caught it carrying the word "augur" inside it.
"Augur," as in the priest in ancient Rome who was asked
To interpret the behavior of birds as an indication
Of divine approval or disapproval of some action
Being considered by the state. I see him on a hillside
Of olive trees, straining to hear whether they were
Calling in the branches where they had gathered
Or were silent. And if they took wing, squinting
To count their number and determine what sort
Of birds they were. Then observing which direction
They were flying. Whatever the answers, we know now
The birds were only looking to their own survival,
Obeying their hunger and their need to mate,
Migrating if they sensed the seasons were turning
Against them. We know too that the augur was
Interpreting the birds’ behavior based upon what
He thought the emperor wanted to do in his heart
Of hearts, or because he’d been bribed to say that
What the birds were doing meant this or that.
We know now it was all a sham. The words the favored
Daughter whispered in her father’s ear where he sat
On his throne were the very words he’d told her
He would like to hear, words that bode well for her,
And for the birds who every autumn settled
In that olive orchard and were spared,
And for the augur walking back through the dark
Towards the glittering city, under his lucky stars.

The Ascent

January 14, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THE ASCENT

Aside from the slides and swings and jungle gym
On our elementary school playground there was
A kind of ramp slanted at a forty-five degree angle,
Reaching nearly to the branches, so that if any of us
Had ever reached the top we might have regretted it.
The idea was to run up it so fast you didn’t have a chance
To slide back down, but I never saw anyone make it
All the way up without clinging to the sides and even then
It was only a tentative ascent and didn’t seem to count.
It was neither glass nor metal but something in between,
Reflective but in a warped way, like the back of a spoon.
When I think of it standing on the edge of the playground,
So far from the school we couldn’t hear the teachers
Call us, I wonder if we were meant to be climbing it at all.
I always felt threatened by it, even when I was playing
Elsewhere. It was unwaveringly honest, reflecting
The trees whether they were bare or leaved, reflecting
The sky whether it was clear or gray, still and falling
Stars at night, the moon in all its phases, planes, satellites,
All the while remembering nothing. It stood there
Through days nothing happened, and through days
Something did: the day Rebecca was killed crossing
The road, the day we let the balloon go for peace
In Bosnia, the day a bus backed over a boy and Mr.
Ludewig, who those of us who’d had him could attest
Was not in any way remarkable, found within himself
A strength he hadn’t known he had and lifted it
Off the boy’s torso. Through all of this that thing,
Which must have a name, reflected whatever passed
Over it, including our faces. I wonder now whether
It waited for us to remember it at recess and gather
At its base to take turns clambering up its steepness,
Providing us no purchase so as to feel youth itself
Struggle and fail and slide down the long slope of it,
Its only memory the fog of our breath on its face.

Hammers and Nails

January 12, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

HAMMERS AND NAILS

The head of the hammer sleeps
In a vein of ore in the heart
Of the mountain.
The hammer’s handle stands
In the trunk of a tree that grows
On the mountainside.
What joins them is the need
To join two pieces of wood,
Which are here also, standing
In the trunks of trees growing
On the other side of the mountain,
With a nail, which is also here,
Sleeping in a vein of ore
In the mountain's heart,
The mountain that will be
Stripped naked, then beheaded,
All because I love you
And we'll be needing shelter.

Things We Don't Often Think Of

January 11, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THINGS WE DON'T OFTEN THINK OF

The gentleness
of beekeepers.
The graves
of dead dogs.
The joints
of bakers.
The deer
with one antler.
The fathers
of murderers.
The birth
pains of cats.
The dreams
of the mail carrier.
The deaf
watching lightning.
The obituaries
of distant towns.
The taxi driver
driving home.
The barber
sweeping up hair.
The flour
jar at night.
The basement
in the house in the painting.
The backs
of hand mirrors.
The bridles
of dead horses.
The love
of foxes.
The hands
that grew this food.
The hands
that sewed this shirt.
The pens
of old love letters.
The fossils
in bulk gravel.
The ferns
in the gas tank.
The music
boxes in sunken ships.
The mountains
beneath the sea.
The darkness
in the accordion.
The night-reading
of fishermen.
The skeletons
of astronauts.
The joy
of caribou.
The other side
of the coffin pillow.
The grave
of the undertaker.

Primary Campaign Footage: Wisconsin, 1960

January 10, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

PRIMARY CAMPAIGN FOOTAGE: WISCONSIN, 1960

I.
The young prince making his way
through the crowd to give his speech
is already dead. Therefore nothing
can hurt him. He will not remember
the sensation of their hands reaching
out to touch him, the way we do not
remember the rain falling as we slept.
Nor will the princess his wife remember
how they loved her husband here,
only their hatred. His smiling brother,
dead already also, already suffers
a subtle fear of kitchens. Their wounds
are well hidden in their boyish hair.
The young prince touches his from time
to time as he makes his way through
this crowd of Poles crammed into a banquet
hall in a hotel on Milwaukee's east side,
moving slowly towards his wife and brother
while wincing and shaking hands.

II.
Meanwhile on the other side of the state,
far from the glitz the city turns to the lake
as if to a mirror, homely Humphrey stands
in a church, trying to conjure a feeling
he had once while reading a biography
of Jefferson. Something made him
put the book down that night and go
walking out under the moon, over
the frozen Minnesota heartscape,
its lakes closed wounds time has healed.
And when his wife demanded to know
what it was he was thinking going out
in weather like that without a coat
he said, “I've been thinking about agrarianism”
and she covered her face with her hands
and said, “Hubert I'm very tired”
and went to bed. He read a while longer,
then climbed the stairs heavily
and did not wake her to make love,
but lay on his back, thinking about
the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party.
Now he is standing in this church,
the pews filled with farmers waiting
for him to speak so they can get home
and finish milking, but for what is
beginning to seem like an hour
Humphrey has been standing there
with his head down like a priest praying
for the dead or dying. And then he hears it,
as when you wake to the insane cry
of the loon, and he lifts his face
no one has ever called beautiful
and begins softly to speak.

III.
The prince has been speaking
for an hour now and though he is
growing tired he knows he must go on
because he can feel the crowd leaning
towards him the better to hear him say:
“...I cannot believe that in these difficult
and changing times when we are surrounded
by revolution and hazard, that the American
people are going to choose to sit still,
that they are going to give their confidence
to a political party, the Republicans,
who have opposed every measure of progress
in the last 25 years, led by a candidate who
for the last 14 years has opposed progress.
[Applause.] Can you tell me one piece
of legislation of benefit to the people?
Housing? Civil rights? Aid for the farmer?
Aid for the retired? Rights for labor?
Can you tell me one program that either
Mr. Nixon or the Republicans
have supported. [Response from the audience.]
I said in Cleveland about 3 weeks ago
that I could not think of one program,
and the Cleveland paper said I had forgotten
what President Taft did about child labor.
All right. What have they done since then?
What have they done in the last 50 years?
[Response from the audience and applause.]
This fight is important, because unless
this country is moving ahead, this country
will not lead a world which is moving ahead.
The same political party, the Republicans,
who could vote against social security
in the thirties could vote unanimously
against medical care for the aged
in the sixties. The same political party
that could vote against the minimum wage
of 25 cents an hour in 1935 could vote
against $1.25 an hour in 1960, and this
goes to the heart of the issue, a party
which fights progress, a party which is not
prepared to associate with it, a party
which has stood athwart the great social,
international, and national movements
of this century, sponsored by Wilson
and Roosevelt and Truman - how can they
lead in the dangerous sixties? How can they
lead and move this country forward? How can they
demonstrate to a watching world that we
are a strong and vital society? In outer space,
in the world around us, in Latin America,
in Africa, in Asia, in Wisconsin, we are
associated with a forward motion
and they have stood still, and I believe
on November 8, the people of this country
are going to choose to move again.
[Applause.] I don't believe that
this generation of Americans wants it said
about us what T. S. Eliot in his poem
“The Rock” said: 'And the wind shall say:
“These were decent people, their only monument
the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls. ”'
I don't believe that is what the people want.
I think they want to move forward... ”

IV.
And as Humphrey talks the farmers stare
down at the plat maps of their hands,
their eyes dark under seed company caps.
The straps of their overalls are like
the straps of a sky diver's parachute
the moment before it fails to open.
They sit as if fallen into the pews,
the same pews they sat in as boys
and in which a few of their boys sit now,
wondering who this man is their fathers
made them come along and listen to.
He is saying, in the third-person,
as if observing himself from a distance,
that Humphrey will fight for them,
that no one in Washington gives a damn
about a farmer way out here in Wisconsin
but that Humphrey does and that Humphrey
will fight for them. But rather than rousing
them into cheers they seem to sadden,
as if all Humphrey is is a messenger come
to tell them how little their lives matter.
And in this boy's restless folding and
unfolding of the campaign literature is
the suppressed hatred he feels for this man,
this Humphrey, for having come all this
way to hurt his father, who sits
with his head bowed, as if praying
for him to shut up. And Humphrey,
recognizing he is losing them, takes
a step back and says, “Now, folks, folks,
lemme tell you why agriculture matters.
Jefferson said...”

V.
After the young prince has given his speech
like a gift to each of them, the reception
line passes through him. At first he tries
to stare into each face but in time they flicker
past so fast he can see the skulls under their skin.
They become ghosts to him. After, in the car
flexing his hand he wants to ask her
did she see it too but by the weight of
her head on his shoulder he knows
she's asleep. He wonders if she is
having that dream she has told him
about. It is a simple dream. He simply turns
around, to fill a glass of water at the sink,
or to walk to the edge of the garden,
and she sees the back half of his skull
is missing. At the hotel he carries her
up the great stairs to their suite to the delight
of the well-wishers in the lobby. They applaud
as if it's a campaign ploy, something that
was planned, but it's nothing but a man
carrying his tired wife up to bed.

VI.
The day Kennedy is shot Humphrey
disappears. He is gone so long she goes
out driving beneath the flags at half-mast
but she can't find him and goes back home
to wait. Deep in the night she hears
the doorknob turn, feels the familiar weight
of his body in the house, on the stairs,
but heavier somehow, as if in walking
he has taken into himself all the grief
of the city. Years later he will die
in a Minnesota hospital, but not before
calling friends to invite them to his funeral
as if to a party, even Nixon. And once
everyone has been invited he will begin
going from room to room telling jokes,
trying to cheer the last days of the dying.

VII.
You died and no one sweeps the snow
off your grave, Hubert Humphrey,
no flame burns for you forever, no soldiers
stand guard at your tomb. May you
rest in peace. You were no prince
but you had a good heart to stand
there in that cold church in Wisconsin
that April day in 1960, talking to those farmers
who, made nervous by your attention,
rifled through the hymnals out of habit
as you spoke to them about their lives,
you who knew enough to afterwards
descend amongst them to tousle
their boys' hair as if they were your sons.

The Blind

January 8, 2017

THE BLIND

The hunters who obtained permission
From our father to fire at the flocks
That passed southward over our land
Every autumn concealed themselves
Behind a blind of chicken wire stuffed
With cornhusks. Thermoses twisted
Tight on columns of black coffee,
They watched the gray sky while
We watched them from the burn pile
We were forbidden from passing beyond,
As if we were the ones in danger.
To draw the living down to where
The guns might touch them, they set
A flock of decoys to grazing in the field.
Each had a long spike for driving it
Into the ground, along which was
Written in raised plastic: Made in China.
When the hunters went home we walked
Amongst them, frozen in their poses
Of grazing, doomed to perpetually peck
At the kernels the combine had missed.
Their eyes were red beads. They were
The blind, their purpose to be seen,
To reassure the living that their kind
Had deemed our farm a peaceful place,
Where spilled corn was abundant
And they would come to no harm.

Recurring Nightmare Restrained (For Now) In a Sonnet

January 6, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

RECURRING NIGHTMARE RESTRAINED (FOR NOW) IN A SONNET

I dream I am sitting in the backseat
Of an empty bus, holding a keyboard
In my lap upon which I am playing
A hundred different tones of silence.
The keys are delicious to depress.
No one is driving. And then I am
A lepidopterist in a meadow where
I’ve been told I can find a butterfly
I’ve been looking for all my life.
The keyboard has become a net in which
My hand is snagged, my own hand
Looking at me through the mesh
In the terror in which captive things
Look at what has caught them.

The Names of Civil War Generals

January 5, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THE NAMES OF CIVIL WAR GENERALS

I used to love them. It didn’t matter what side
They fought for, or for what. What mattered was
The music of the name in my mouth when I said it
Under my breath on the porch in summer.
There was Sheridan, who took a flag at Five Forks
And led a charge that turned the tide of battle.
His name was tied up with that flickering banner,
Adorned with the county name and state
Of whatever regiment he had happened upon,
Turned cowardly in the hail of bullets and ripe
For rousing. On the other side there was Longstreet,
His name conjuring epic marches and the dust
Raised by all soldiers of all wars. Jackson was action,
Brilliant strategizing by lantern-light with Lee,
Whose name I could say just by touching
My tongue to the roof of my mouth, and who thus
Seemed gentler than he must have been.
In contrast, Grant was always cruel, his name
Appearing in the last pages of the gold-leafed book
That is the Civil War like shards of flint
Scattered in topsoil. McClellan was a skittish horse,
Done up in so much finery he trips himself.
Burnside was his sideburns, his only legacy,
But also the dead at Fredericksburg on the slope
Under Marye’s Heights. Hood was his eyes,
Cavernous where he lay under the shadow
Of the knife at Gettysburg, the sleeve of the arm
They had to amputate knotted daintily
At his shoulder. Meade was a mean day-drunk,
His eyes beady and bloodshot. And Pickett
Was his charge, as well as those fences his men
Died draped over. It has been so long since
I cared to read about those men, their acts
Of bravery and cruelty. But sometimes, driving
West through Indian country, I encounter
Their names again where they have become
Counties and creeks, and am reminded that
That war I loved was only training ground
For the slaughtering they would do out there,
In that land that, along with everything else
It must bear, must bear their names forever.

WAYS OF SEEING Girl With a Pearl Earring

January 5, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

WAYS OF SEEING Girl With a Pearl Earring

for John Berger


And to think a grain of sand
has made you famous

*

Before piercing your ear
did you pierce the flame?

*

You were you before I was born
but I am older than you will ever be

*

I bought a ticket online to see you
even after seeing you online

*

I saw you in San Francisco
You saw me

*

They’ve restored you
but not to life

*

Where on earth
is your hair?

Tot Finder

January 4, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

TOT FINDER

In the lower left pane of my boyhood
bedroom window was stuck a silver sticker
of a fireman carrying a barefoot boy,
unconscious but alive, out of a burning house.
The house was ours and the boy was me.
Even as I lay in bed I was being saved
on some night soon to come.
I hated that sticker because I knew that
thanks to it I would be the sole survivor,
doomed to live on in fear of fire,
touching the doorknob with the back
of my hand before turning it to enter
my first-floor apartment, where I would sleep
with a fire extinguisher at my feet and test
the smoke alarm above my bed obsessively.
Some nights, unable to fall sleep in its glare,
I tried peeling the sticker off the cold glass
with my fingernail but it was like trying
to peel off a mirror to spite your scarred face.

The Frog

January 3, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

THE FROG

Of all possible hours, Biology fell
just before lunch. The formaldehyde smell
hung on our hands in a cloud roughly
the size and shape of winter mittens
as we stood in line in the cafeteria,
waiting to receive whatever meal
the school district had determined
should be served us. I had no appetite,
even before a kid whose face and name
I can’t conjure made a joke involving
the interchangeability in taste and texture
of frog legs and chicken wings.
Above us, in that lab on the third floor
with its Formica tables and Bunsen burners
and graduated cylinders and chipped vials,
our frogs lay splayed with their thighs open
in a way we knew even then to be lewd,
their delicate hands and feet pinned,
their entrails spilled in the mess we’d made
trying to match the moist sacs
with the color-coded organs in the book.
But their white throats were uncut,
and their exquisite faces, fashioned
over millennia, were composed and solemn,
their square chins like the chin of an old man
who, one day, for no apparent reason,
shaves the beard he has worn for years
and frightens his grandson. It was not the frog
that made me put the first forkful of food down,
but the smell of the formaldehyde on my hand,
and the knowledge, just dawning, that
it takes something horrible to preserve us.

Others' Fields

January 3, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

OTHERS’ FIELDS

Some evenings a longing to see
how other men’s crops were faring
rose up in you and we were called
down from whichever trees
we were ascending to watch others'
fields flicker past fields
that never looked as good as ours
even if the corn was taller
the hay greener and nearly ready
to make again already and sometimes
the men who owned the fields
would be adrift in them
the tractors like ships in a sound
and I would be grateful for the fact
evenings rarely found you in ours
which we had left behind in order
that we might regard the fields
of others I know now the desire
to leave my poems and travel
through the shelves to study
what others have brought to harvest
have recognized the goodness
of their ground versus this patch
of dirt I’ve been scratching in
have stood reading the way
we would sit staring at a field of rye
and imagined what it might have been
like to write a poem by Merwin
then slipped the volume back
and returned to the land
I’ve inherited the only land
I have a chance of making matter