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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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My Grandfather's Level


My grandfather’s level
Tells me we live
In a crooked world.
I set it on the kitchen table
And the bubble bobs
To one end of its glass tube.
I set it on the windowsill
And it floats to the other
Like someone in the throes
Of a hard decision. I hold it
Up to the horizon: not even
The prairie is flat these days.
Finally, I balance it on my palm
Until the bubble is centered
Between the hashmarks.
Through this old tool
My grandfather is telling me that
The straightening-out
Of this crooked world
Is in our hands.
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The kids of the man who owns the salvage yard
Like to crawl into wrecks and pretend
To be husband and wife driving into town
On a Friday night. Some they can’t get into,
Even through the flanged hole the Jaws of Life
Tore in the roof, but they aren’t interested
In the cars that no longer resemble cars.
They’re drawn towards the ones that might
Conceivably still run, though this isn’t to say
There won’t be comets of blood on the dash
And shatter-stars in the windshield where
Their heads hit before they settled back
Like newlyweds watching television.
The boy always drives. The wheel doesn’t turn
As much as he wishes it would, but it serves
To keep them headed straight. The girl seems
Always to manage to find a tube of lipstick
In the glovebox. She flips the sun visor down
To apply it in the mirror, her face floating
Above the hairline crack. And when she smacks
Her lips like she’s seen girls do in sitcoms,
He takes his eyes off the road.
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New Poems

(By which I mean old poems that I'm polishing up)


Doc Poling, John Harpster and F.O. Keene
Went to Pearl City this morning
After prairie chickens.

A dray followed them
To the field of slaughter
To bring back the game.



Sometimes a man gets to picking
Some guitar in the evening
And before he knows it
His fingers have become weary
Sharecroppers picking peas.
His index finger is the father,
His back bent by the work
Like a divining rod by water.
His middle finger is the son,
Full of fire, desirous of horizons.
His ring finger is the daughter-in-law.
She doesn’t often help in the fields
But, sensing trouble, has come out today.
The pinky finger is her son.
He eats every third pea he picks.
And the thumb, big and slow,
Is the man whose peas these are.
Seeing him coming towards them,
The fingers get to picking faster.



Men aging
Need something
To tend to.

A horse, say, or a garden.

They tend to
Need tending.



Your walls are scrawled all over
With cocks and numbers
To call for a good time.
The cocks are rocketlike,
Their balls shaped like plumes
Of launch-smoke.
The numbers are obsolete.
The gum-smacking girls
Who might have answered once
Are exhausted mothers by now.
The men who filed in and out
Of your doors for the better
Part of a century
Have come back as their grandsons
To deface you with desire.
Be glad of it.
You’ve been tagged
Like the boy crippled
By polio, surrounded
In his wicker wheelchair
By a half dozen
Lithe cousins,
Who laughs to be touched
By so many hands.



Dinner done (the dead man was not invited),
They sit silently as the maid takes away
The picked carcasses of Cornish hens.
When the table is cleared she returns
With a book of matches. It takes four
To light the two tall tallow candles.
Reluctantly, wishing she could stay,
For she loved him, too, the maid leaves
The women alone with this man
They’ve hired to bring him back
From sea. They hold hands: the man’s
Are cool and dry, while theirs are warm
And damp. One of her daughters believes
It will work. The other does not. She does
Not know what she thinks. Part of her
Wants him to walk in and sit down
At the head of the table, while another
Part of her, perhaps the greater part,
Wants to have to wait to see him
In the afterlife, as has been promised.
The medium whispers and from somewhere
Deep in the house comes a loud bang. The flames
Genuflect on their wicks as if out of respect.
But it was only the maid. Carelessly,
She kicked the pantry door closed, distracted
By the memory of her master.



In that hard quiet between paintings,
Walk into the orchard in need
Of pruning. Smoke under the apple trees
And take comfort in the fact that
They seem to understand you,
What with their windfall art,
Keening over their canvases
Of grass, having given all they have
To give. And please, take some time,
Before you come in, to consider
The bees, how they thrum
Over the cidery mash
Like those art critics at The Times.



Pray pretend you don’t hear me
Lingering in the dark hall
To hear you play
One of your haunting melodies.

Weird sister (if I may -
after all, your brother’s name
was Austin), I promise not to
Watch you, only listen.



In the painting three brothers are walking
On water. It’s no miracle, it’s just very cold.
A minute ago they spooked a pheasant who’s flown
Just outside the frame and their hearts are still
Pounding. They’ve balled their fists up
In their gloves. Under the ice the stream purls,
White in places where air is trapped. Deeper,
In mud the consistency of freezer-burned ice cream,
Toads hibernate, their hearts beating once a day.
The boys know they won’t drown if they fall through.
There will be shock, a cold so cold it burns,
The mysterious shame of transgression.
In solidarity, the others will break through, too,
Knowing that at home they’ll find fire, lamplight,
Clothes staticky and warm from the drier.
But for the time being they’re being as careful
As if they were walking on the weak roof of hell.



At the end of the auction all that was left
Was the anvil, a paperweight keeping
The last page from turning, the story of the place
From ending. None of the neighbors
Eating pie to keep the man company
Through what had always been the milking hour
Had the heart to lift it. Only later, after
The cherry-stained paper plates had been discarded
And the dust in the lane had settled
Did the farmer’s son come walking out
Of the machine shed carrying the anvil
In his arms like an iron lamb, a lamb
That hasn’t strayed from the flock
But that the flock has strayed from.



Friends, we have survived
Another summer, but we are
In even graver danger now.

Lovers, lock the doors
Of your homes if both
Of you are already inside.

As for you lovers who find
Yourselves in different states,
Breathing shallowly, what

With the long sword of the road
Balanced between your throats,
Trust that the blade will rust one day,

But know that not before
Leaves and snows fall
Will you hold one another again.
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In the weather. In the pane
Of glass the tired inspector spots,
Stopping the belt that brings
The windows of unbuilt houses
To her with a childish earnestness,
For hours. In her shift.
In the voice of her mother
In the break room on the phone.
In the bone. In the morning,
After a solid night of driving,
In the rest stop parking lot.
In the mountains, where men
Decades dead put the road through.
In her father’s hip where he fell
In the shower. In the curtain
Surrounding his hospital bed.
In the eye contact she has tried
To make with him ever since
Those nights in her room,
In her bed, her teddy bear watching.
In that same hip that ground
Hard against hers. In the X-ray
In the doctor’s hand. In all
That light, the darkness of it.
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The Perseids


Picked up out of our beds we were
Carried to the bed of the pickup
That was so rusted out it couldn’t be
Trusted off the farm without anyone
Explaining to us where we were
Going at that hour. There were sleeping
Bags in the bed that suggested care
But their heads through the window
Of the cab seemed strange like faces covered
Completely in hair. Where were they
Taking us and why? When we reached
The top of the hill where the shade trees
Stood spooking the deer that slept
In the long grass there he stopped
And they got out and climbed
Into the bed with us where we lay
With the spare tire and the bale
Of straw sprouting green hair
And the red cans of gas and oil.
We stared up at the stars that looked
Like the heads of nails hammered
Into a wall with excessive force
The brass blurred and still they wouldn’t
Say what we were doing up there
At that hour in the wrong bed
And then the first star fell.
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Farm Boy Fame


"And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns…”

Dylan Thomas

I was famous on the farm, known
Among the calves as the boy
Who brought bottles of milk,
Replenished their stale water,
Gave them an extra scoop of grain.
Evenings I would walk out
Onto the stage of the haymow
And speak soliloquies
To the admiring pigeons.
The barn cats found me
Backstage. When I disappeared
Into the milk house, I could hear them
On the step, begging like groupies
Outside a tour bus. I came back out
With a pail of milk, poured.
Wild already, they’d go wild again.
I was adored. I was adored
By the dogs who trotted behind me,
Seeking my autograph. I ignored
Them before finally turning around,
My hand in their fur. At dusk,
Walking around the yard,
The paparazzi of fireflies flashed.
The corn was all ears.

I was famous among men, too.
The veterinarians and hired hands
And seed salesmen all knew me.
They’d stop talking to my father
When they saw me, take my hat off,
Mess up my hair, set the hat back askew.
But no one told me it was
Only farm boy fame.
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The earth sings through singers

Dances through dancers

Flies through birds

Whispers to itself as ocean

Finds solitude in mountains

Knows the body through lovers,
Is both one and the other

But the dictator it doesn’t know
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The Organ Harvest


"It is said that Saint Romuald of Ravenna heard during a visit to France that he was in mortal peril because of the value of his bones - he fled homeward, pretending to be mad."

A friend of mine, his family's friends
Lost their son in Tijuana.
They wanted to know how he died.
The authorities told them

They didn't want to know.
They insisted they did.
They didn't. They did.
The authorities sighed.

He was killed for his organs.
They harvested him like a field
Gleaners pick over futilely,
Finding nothing, for every last

Ear was taken. The cavities
Of his body were empty,
Scooped out like those
Of the great pharaohs

Mummified in sarcophagi.
Somewhere in the darkness
Of the body of a stranger
His heart is beating.

Somewhere his kidneys.
Somewhere his liver.
Somewhere his eyes
Brighten in recognition.

They've seen this before.
It's the old world, the world
They loved. Then they dim,
For they were mistaken.
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I remember their ugliness
Like girls in class
Who were kind to me
The tree held them
Out to us like beggars
Outside a church
Selling portraits of saints
Torn out of books
Smiling we shook
Our heads and went on past
Into the cool kitchen
To eat sweet store-bought apples
Granny Smiths and Honeycrisps
That had been picked green
And gassed red in the trucks
But some days we'd stop
And take a crabapple
Shaped like a cramp
In our hands
Wary of worms
We turned and turned them
Like Adam and Eve
Resisting temptation
Before taking the bite
That exiled us all
Sour and mealy
They dried out our mouths
So that we spat cotton
In a pantomime of autumn
We dropped them
Down through the bee-hum
Into the cidery mash
The lawnmower had made
The shape of our mouths
Browning in the grass
The color of regret
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