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Poem-a-Day

Heat Lightning

Heat Lightning
 
Comes loping across the land sans thunder
And you're the boy it's coming towards
Sitting in the porch swing the chains groaning
In the eyehooks twisted deep into the boards
By your grandfather years before even your
Father was born your grandmother saying
"I'm worried they won't hold Bob" and your
Grandfather joking "They'll hold Bob
And Mary too" and she sighing and sitting
Down beside him wincing at their weight
Then beginning to trust it beginning to
Swing her pale smooth legs and he saying
"See?" and she looking up and smiling

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Cow Magnet

Cow Magnet
 
When a cow wouldn't eat
They'd make her
 
Swallow this big magnet
Shaped like a vitamin capsule
 
Checking first to see whether
She already had one inside her
 
By passing a compass
Under her belly
 
We picked them off the side
Of the metal filing cabinet
 
They were stuck to in order
To hold something cold and heavy
 
They were brand new
But they seemed corrupted
 
By where they were going
To be going soon
 
But they were proven
To save lives
 
The length of rusted wire
Or the roofing nail
 
That would have pierced
The wall of her heart
 
Would be drawn to
The magnet instead
 
That would happen
In the dark
 
Of an actual body
But we only really believed it
 
When the vet let us
Hold the compass

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Social Distancing in Retrospect

Social Distancing in Retrospect
 
It has been determined it isn't enough
To isolate oneself now 
And in the foreseeable future
But is becoming increasingly necessary 
To isolate oneself in the past as well.
 
Therefore, all citizens are hereby asked 
To close their eyes and remember 
All crowds of ten or more people 
One has ever found oneself in
And by an act of pure imagination 
 
Push those around you away 
To a distance of at least six feet
(Think of a grave's depth turned 
On its side and balanced between
Your shoulders and the shoulders 
 
Of those who surround you). 
All citizens are encouraged to please
Cooperate and follow best practices
When it comes to how
You used to live. In short, it is
 
Vitally important to never have been 
As close to one another as we were. 
Examples of social distancing
In retrospect include: Sitting alone
In the basketball bleachers.
 
Dancing by yourself at your brother's wedding.
Finding the emptiest car in that train
You took that summer from Venice
To Trieste. Refraining from reaching
For the stained-glass-stained hand
 
Your grandfather offered you that
Sunday morning at Mass. Give him instead
The sign of peace. It goes without saying
That, in the past, as now, try not to
Touch your face.

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Elegy for a Small-Town Waitress

She lived from cigarette

To cigarette. They looped
Bluely through her lungs
On break. She knew
The menu by heart
Like some she served
Knew the Gospel.
There weren't any specials.
If you asked if there were
You weren't from around there,
But then she knew that already.
She couldn't be rushed.
She suffered bad tips
Like a horse suffers flies.
She couldn't care less
What you left her.
She lived back of the diner
In a trailer a long-dead cook
Had pulled back under the pines.
It hadn't moved in so long

Everyone had forgotten it

Could. The years had taken
Aim at the tires,
Closed one eye,
Shot them out.
No one knew whether
She'd ever loved a man
Or been loved by one,
But she had a thing
For drunks and farmers.
She kept the dark
Little hearts
Of their coffees warm.
When she died
They named their first
Special after her
To give men a reason
To keep saying Carolyn.

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Relics

Relics

 

He chose to keep his baseball mitt.
He hung it from a nail in the garage
Where he knew he wouldn't see it
Often. An anaphylactic hand, it was
Hideous, but it comforted him.

 

She chose to keep his favorite shirt.
It had runs in it like old shirts get.
She kept it folded in a bottom drawer.
Once a season she washed it
And hung it on the line with theirs.

 

Sometimes he would see the shirt.
Sometimes she would see the mitt.
But neither said anything
To the other about it.

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The Tree

A tree like one of those

Old cane wheelchairs

With a wind in it like a man

Crippled by polio as a boy

Dreaming of walking.

 

What am I saying? 

There was no wheelchair, 

No crippled man, no polio,

No dreamt boy walking,

Just a tree and the wind.

 

 

 

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The Reenactor

Over a breakfast of salt

Pork and hard tack

She asks him is he going

To die today 


He tells her yeah but not 

Until the very end because 

He gets to carry the flag

In the final charge


At the door she asks him

Does he have everything

He needs - ramrod bayonet

Capbox canteen -


He checks himself

As if checking

For a wound

Some days he leaves

 

Doesn't die comes home

Other days he leaves

Dies comes home

Like any war

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From His Online Dating Profile I've Learned That Death

Wears a wristwatch that's missing its hands.
Wears a white suit stained ochre at the cuffs.
Collects wheat-back pennies in thin blue books.
Loves the shadows of the blossoms more than the blossoms themselves.
Practices tossing softballs through a noose.
Never sleeps just blinks once or twice a day.
Owns an old motorcycle he'd like to tune up sometime.
Stuffs his ears with milkweed when he wants some damn quiet.
Reads the Bhagavad Gita on the toilet.
Writes at a school desk too small for him on which are scrawled cocks and names.
Climbs a bell rope for exercise.
Dreams of retiring to Italy to grow tomatoes and write opera reviews.
Is a virgin.
Reads poetry.
Has been known to steal a car and return it gleaming clean.
Wears shades that make him look like a real dick.
Buys the winning lottery ticket it so no one can win, never turns it in.
Sings hymns while splitting kindling, woefully off-key.
Picks up the phone sometimes and dials ten numbers just to hear someone say hello.
Enjoys long walks through cemeteries.
Had a dog once but then patted him on the head.
Smokes Lucky Strikes hence the ochre cuffs.
Keeps his checkbook balanced.
Took a cooking class once but started a grease fire.
Likes to go dancing but is a total klutz.
Drinks way too much.
Interested in a long-term relationship.

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Strange

How losses accrue

In a lifetime like snow

 

In a woodlot like shoes

Under the bed

 

And books

Friends write

 

When you haven't been

Thinking of them

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Holocaust Museum

A roomful.

A room
Full of shoes.

 

Soles and
Loose laces.
Flung tongues.

 

Most pairs
Split up,
The right

 

Right here,
The left
Somewhere.

 

Waves of shoes
Like a photograph
Of the sea

 

Taken in a storm.
Crests and troughs.
Dark water.

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Tracery

The ice traces the trees
Like a boy on his knees

Tracing a picture in a book.
When he asks his father to look

His father sighs and puts on his glasses.
When his enthusiasm passes

He returns to his bouncing checks.
Father and son bend their necks.

Winters and winters hence
A man leaves the house he rents

And walks across the yard.
Life has grown too hard.

 

His death shakes the ice from the tree,
Revealing the real beneath the tracery.

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Timber

The poet should be

The blazed tree

That guides the old

Couple to the waterfall

On their anniversary

 

And not so much

As shiver when

The World comes

Dragging its ax

Through the leaves

 

And even when the World

Heaves its first swing

Into the outermost ring

The poet has spent all

Year putting on

 

The poet should stand

Still as they stood

The day they were blazed

By the young couple

Who wanted to be sure

 

They could find it again

Yes even as they

Begin to sway

And the World

Gets out of the way

 

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Better Off in Harness

Laved in lather,

Mouths frothing green

Around the gnawed bits,

The horses are better

Off in harness

Than their master,

Who hasn't been paying

Attention to where

They're going.

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Pompeii

 

After years of suffering

Their gaze, the volcano

Photographed their faces.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cassady

 

 

Wendell was hit too

But the car knocked him

Clear of harm

While you went under

The truck as if for shade

 

You who had come to him

When he called you

The way my dog

Comes to me

Came to rest finally

 

Under the limestone slab

Dad laid and that I grew up to

Have to mow around

Covered in grass clippings

The edges nicked white

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Peaches

I dreamt there was a graveyard

Under the graveyard, 

Where the dead are

 

Completely naked,

Laid in a single layer,

Their warm flesh just touching.

 

In the dream I knew their bodies

Would never rot, packed careful

As peaches nestled in tissue paper

 

For overnight shipment by rail,

Arriving by morning

Barely bruised.

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Pantoum the River Was Overheard Chanting As It Was Rising

Started drinking at six this morning.

I'm getting shitfaced down here.
Consider this your warning.

Go ahead and ignore me, see if I care.

 

I'm getting shitfaced down here.
Fuck your trucks full of sand.
Go ahead and ignore me, see if I care.
Always have had a crush on your land.

 

Fuck your trucks full of sand.
Bag that shit up and form a chain.
Always have had a crush on your land
And I binge on rain.

 

Bag that shit up and form a chain.
I'm on some Bible-shit now: I curse thee.
I binge on rain
And drinking only makes me more thirsty.

 

I'm on some Bible-shit now: I curse thee.
Don't tell me to go back to bed.
Drinking only makes me more thirsty

And I'm off my meds.

 

Don't tell me to go back to bed.
I've got records to break
And I'm off my meds.
Always did wanna be a lake.

 

I've got records to break.
Consider this your warning. 
Always did wanna be a lake.
Started drinking at six this morning.

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The Gun of Autumn

One day you'll be walking along

When all of a sudden the year will turn

And pull the gun of autumn on you,

Composed of leaves slick with rot.

 

Don't run. Reach out and slowly

Peel the leaves off layer by layer,

Revealing that there was no gun,

Just cold air in the shape of one.

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Tools

I dreamt I was sharpening tools
With a man I didn't know
In a quonset hut in Missouri.

 

He was a big man in bib overalls.
I was someone he knew's friend.
They weren't our tools.

 

It was so hot I was worried
I'd faint and cut my head
On some edge I'd just sharpened.

 

But what was harder to take than the heat
Was his silence. I asked him
His name, where he was from,

 

Whose tools we were
Sharpening, but he just kept
Spitting in their faces

 

Like Jesus to make them see,
Then setting them to the grinder
So they threw orange sparks

 

That dimmed in the dust
Like stars at dawn.
Only one of us stepped foot

 

Out of that shed to feel
The grasshoppers lurch
Against his legs as he swung

 

The scythe through the grass
Like a man looking for gold
Fillings at crash sites.

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Blocked

 

I climbed the hill of the Underwood

To the green vowels that grow

Under the dead elms of the numbers 

But, finding nothing, came kicking back 

Down through the underbrush of consonants 

To the sandbar of the spacebar

Where the river used to run.

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Multiplication

Multiplication

 


We couldn't start until every student had a test, 

But while Mrs. Bach finished passing them out 

We stared down through the paper at the questions,

So that, when she said, tiredly, as if she had little faith 

In us, "Begin," we were already ready to answer

The first few, rattling them off the way we were made

To recite an aunt's phone number we were made

To remember. It grew harder the farther we got, 

The numbers growing larger, while Mrs. Bach paced, 

She with the composer's name, who had allowed 

The rumor that he was an ancestor to fester. 

She was stricter than our beloved Mrs. Bicker,

Left behind with the simple math of third grade.

We were in fourth now. The night before, 

We had practiced our multiplication tables 

At our kitchen tables, the tablecloth folded back.

Had we taken rubbings of the wood, old figures

Would have floated up through the paper,

Just the sums. Jesus was a multiplier, too. 

The multitudes came to hear him speak of the Kingdom 

Of Heaven but around noon found themselves 

Growing hungry. Impatient with their weakness, 

He took five loaves and two fish and multiplying 

Them by themselves made them infinite. 

Thus were the multitudes fed. Pencils down, 

Mrs. Bach said. Turn your tests over. And as 

She came around collecting them we stared 

Down through the paper again at our answers, 

The wrong ones glaring back at us

Like the Pharisees who took 

The infinite into their bodies 

But still did not believe. 

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School Crush

SCHOOL CRUSH

I could’ve sworn once
Upon a time we lived
As if upon a conviction
We were golden beings
The blossoms never
Littered the lawn
They were tissues
You got to take home
The last day of fourth grade
The first day of summer
The pretty teacher saying
Give them back
To your mother
Tell her thank you but
We didn’t need them
There hadn’t been enough
Blood or snot or tears
In truth there was
No pretty teacher
No brick school
And so no pencil
Leaning in my hand
Going dull like love
No cursive no crush
On the pretty teacher
Or on the girl
In the desk
Ahead of me because
No desk
For her to sit in
There was no fourth grade
No summer
May was twelve
Months long
But somehow there were boxes
Of unused tissues
And that day you had
Something in your hair
We laughed
Left it there
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I Could Swear

I COULD SWEAR

This morning I found the calico I fed
Last night dead on the county road.
I dragged her by the tail because
That seemed kindest into the ditch
And walked home to get a shovel
Only to find the calico on the back porch,
Clinging spreadeagled to the screen door.
I gave her some milk. This morning
I found her dead on the road. Now
I could swear I had a shovel
Around here someplace.
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The Plane

THE PLANE

At recess certain of us walked by
The seesaw and the slide,
The swing set and balance beam,
To the far side
Of the playground where
A sheer, mirror-like plane
Of buffed steel rose
At a precipitous angle,
Its face smudged
With the fingerprints of
The innumerable boys who’d tried
And failed to ascend it.

Along the edges ran rails,
But to go up that way
Was unremarkable, like a route
Climbers have conquered time
And time before.

I remember
The heat and glare of the steel
In the warm months, the cold
Of its face in the cold.

Whoever designed the thing
Must have been acquainted
With disappointment.
I wonder if it gave them pleasure,
Deciding the precise angle
To set the thing at so as to make it
Impossible to conquer.

Older now, I think I know
Why we kept trying. For all that
It reflected (our faces, the sky)
The plane couldn’t remember us.
Our fingerprints were nothing
To it, just the pattern by which
It knew itself to be itself,
Fissures of a brain thinking
About the fissures of a brain.

And all of this was why
There was no shame in crying
Out halfway up, then sliding
Back down laughing.
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A Visit from Vladimir

A VISIT FROM VLADIMIR

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the White House
Not a leecher was stirring, not even a louse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with hair,
In hopes that Hope Hicks soon would be there;
The Trump kids were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of rubles danced in their heads;
And Melania in her ‘kerchief, and Donald in his cap,
Had just shut off their phones for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the East Lawn there arose such a clatter,
Donald rolled out of his bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window he crept like a rash,
Tore open the slats and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of porn stars to objects below,
When, what to his reptilian eyes should appear,
But a miniature troika, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so bald and so sere,
He knew in a moment it must be Vladimir.
More rapid than Novichok his colluders they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Van Der Zwann! now, Papdoupolus! now, Manafort and Flynn!
On, Sessions! on, Gates! on, Butina and Cohen!
To the top of the North Portico! to the top of Trump’s wall!
Now hash away! hash away! hash away all!”
As toupees that before the whirring chopper blades fly,
When they meet with a gust, blow off the head of the guy;
So up to the house-top the colluders they flew,
With the troika full of Toys, and Vladimir too.
And then, in a golden tinkling, Donald heard on the roof
The prancing and guffawing of each little goof.
As he drew in his head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Vladimir Putin came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a hacker just opening his Mac.
His eyes – how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a shell Co.
And the hair on his chest was as deep as the Vo;
The stump of a Trump he held tight in his teeth,
And the paunch it encircled his head like a sheath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl of John Kelly.
Trump was chubby and plump, an alt-right old elf,
And Vladimir laughed when he saw him, in spite of himself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave Donald to know he had a fuck-ton to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Invaded the Ukraine, then turned to the jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his troika, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the head of a missile,
But Donald heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
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Doors

DOORS

Some with porcelain knobs cold
As eggs in the hand and veined blue.

Others kept shut with a length of wire
Wound round a big-headed nail.

Some with locks impregnable as the locks
On the diaries of nosey mothers’ daughters.

Others locked by nothing more than
A cinder block or a leaned two-by-four.

Some opening into living rooms hung
With bad paintings of rustic scenes.

Others opening into cellars where
Bags of seed and blocks of salt are stored.

Some swinging open on oiled hinges
Of intricate ironwork at the faintest touch.

Others hanging on one last hinge,
The screws rusted right out of the others.

Though all these doors are different,
Their thresholds are the same.

Someone is always just about to violate them.
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Instructions for Bedding the Garden Down for Winter

INSTRUCTIONS FOR BEDDING THE GARDEN DOWN FOR WINTER

When you realize you have begun
To neglect the garden, go down
To the garden you’ve neglected.

Bring a bowl for the bloated peas,
The woody carrots, the radishes
Split at the root. Twist the last

Shriveled tomatoes off the vines,
Then tear the vines off the trellises,
Then yank the trellises out, but don’t

Look up. Pick whatever green
Herbs remain and stuff
Your pockets full. Run the tools

That in your exhaustion you left
To rust up to the shed and fill
A five-gallon pail with motor oil.

Let them soak like teenage athletes,
But carry the hoe back down
To the garden. Don’t bother

Avoiding stepping on the beds.
You’ll make them again
Come spring. But don’t

Look up. Ball the white string
The sugar snaps climbed up
Up and toss it into the trees

For the birds to use in their nests.
Whatever anger you harbor
Against the president, take it

Out hoeing, then take your revenge
By sowing winter wheat
Liberally, suppressing all impulse

Towards reason. Find the rain
Gauge you stabbed into
The vampiric ground, then,

No matter how discolored the water,
Drink your measure, but close
Your eyes as you tip your head back.

Now. Only now you may look up
At the scarecrow. The burlap bag
Of his head. The tangled twine

Of his hair. The blue buttons you sewed
Onto round whites of cloth.
The two-dimensional, upside-down

Triangle of his nose. The thick red yarn
Of his lecherous mouth.
Remember how you considered

Whether to make him
Joyful or sorrowful and settled
On some state in between. Now,

With the scissors you found
In a kitchen drawer for this purpose,
You may proceed to snip

The zip ties that kept his straw hat
From blowing off his head.
Unbutton his flannel shirt.

Bare his garbage bag chest.
Undo his belt, cinched as tight
As it would go. Pull down his pants,

Exposing the pale PVC pipes
Of his legs, slipped over posts
You grunted to pound

Into wet ground, in April rain.
Pull off his boots. Now
Embrace him, hugging his body

In half, pulling the garbage bag
Of straw out of the pail
Of his torso. Tear his chest apart

As if searching for his heart, as if
He has one, then scatter
His body over the beds.

Put his shirt and jeans and hat
And boots in the pail and carry
The pail up to the house.

Wash the scarecrow’s clothes
And hang them in the closet.
Sit down and begin the poem.
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The Greenhouse

THE GREENHOUSE

So this is paradise, I would think
When, in late winter, we stepped out
Of winter and into spring.

The greenhouse was glorious,
But it was a rushed, undeserved glory.
To go in was to be catapulted

A month ahead and to leave
The overwintering land behind.
Through the fogged windows

The earth seemed cursed
So that I felt guilty, the same quality
Of guilt I felt after glimpsing

Our Christmas presents
Through the gap
Between sliding doors.

I wanted her to hurry up
And choose her herbs and geraniums
Already, her lily and tulip bulbs,

My guilt turning to longing
For the moment when
We stepped out of spring

And into winter
And I would think,
So this is the world.
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Dehorning Steers

DEHORNING STEERS

The vet would be at them for hours
With that cruel tool that gouged
The horns out of their skulls
So they wouldn’t gore one another
In the cold confinement shed.

Afterwards, tossing their heads
Over the feed bunk, each bore
Two ragged wounds dusted white
With lime, like they’d all been shot
Twice at close range and survived.
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Trespassing Along the Apple River in November

TRESPASSING ALONG THE APPLE RIVER IN NOVEMBER

I walk along the Apple River.
The dog runs ahead.
I come upon him lapping up
Frozen deer blood.
I imagine the boy in the stand,
His finger curled around the trigger,
The voice of his grandfather in his ear
From which he’s rolled the blaze
Orange stocking hat back
The better to hear him.
NOW.

The flood has altered the river’s banks.
I cannot cross where I always have
To crouch under the overhang
Fanged with icicles.
Stymied, I feel like a thief who has found
All the cards in the stolen purse
Have been canceled.
Deep pools have opened
Like new accounts.
Bass I caught in summer
Have grown huge and sullen.

I stand a long time on the bank
Watching the deposits and withdrawals
Of whitewater and leaves.
Had I thought to bring a wine glass
I could raise a measure of this river into the air
And see clear through it,
Thus, in a sense, crossing it after all,
But who on earth brings a wine glass to a river?
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Breaking News

BREAKING NEWS

That phrase implies
That at one time
The news was whole,
Like three robin’s eggs
In a nest so high up
In a tree you have to
Use your phone to see them.
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