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The Sycamore


Sycamore stricken white
in the black woods,
what spooked you?

Something the river said?

A new seriousness
in the owl’s question?

You went white all at once,
an aneurism of snow.

The boy who visits you
visits you no more.
He has a new picture
in his mind of what
death is.
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On a boat on the Seine
on Bastille Day I heard
a well-known American
poet say to a friend
that when they went
to Normandy they were going
to skip the war beaches
because, you know,
the children.
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Children wading
through fountains
looking for pennies
we threw when
we were children
do you remember
what we wished for
I know
I don't
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We are losing the last
who remember
punching new holes
in their belts those
years there was nothing
in the cupboard but
bread that never
molded and potatoes
the eyes of which
never went looking
through the dark
for one another
unlike a family
caught out in it
in broad day

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Playing Dominos With Josiah at the Shelter


I ask him to show me how to play. Together we start lining them up, each with its number on its chest, each with all its eyes bright and open, staring into the back of the one before it. "Who are these guys?" I ask, remembering that sculpture I saw in DC of a line of men standing outside a soup kitchen during the Depression. He points out the domino that is me and the domino that is him. "Where are we going?" I ask him. "Nowhere!" he says with glee. "What are we waiting for then?" "We're waiting...we're waiting for this!" he says, flicking the last one with his nail. They fall like an arpeggio. "How about we build a house?" I suggest. The house Josiah builds is missing several necessary walls and a roof. I pick up a domino to add to it but before I can he knocks the house down with the back of his hand. "What was that? A tornado?" "No." "An earthquake?" He shakes his head. "A banker? A dragon?" His eyes light up, he nods. He's already building it back up again. "Another house?" I ask. "No," he says in the breathless voice of focused boys, "A tower." He builds it higher and higher. When I tell him I think he's built it as high as it can be built he builds it one level higher, then flies his hand into it and the whole thing comes crashing down. "What was that? A plane?" "No, a dragon!" "Oh," I say, "Well what should we do now?" "Let's make the men fall again," he says. I tell him I like that one and start lining them up but he stops me he says "Let's make them face the other way."
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Reading James Salter


To finish LIGHT YEARS I had to set aside an afternoon in the garden of a cafe, where I knew I could linger for two hours over one expensive glass of wine and the final pages without being interrupted. Around me, the talk of people working in tech, the new rich, speaking in earnest whispers about inventions that will make life easier, so that we may pass more swiftly and with less obstruction to the end, as I was passing to the end of the novel. Only I didn't want to finish it and be bereft of Viri and Nedra and their daughters, so that, the closer I came to the end, the slower I read, putting the novel down every paragraph or so. Time ground to a halt, and everything happening around me seemed to be connected to the book, so that there was no distinction between literature and life. A giant raven alit on the adjacent table to pick at the salads two women had abandoned, and this seemed significant, as did the light passing through what was left of my wine, hovering like a planchette on the bricks of the patio. Even the talk around me, which I would have ordinarily abhorred, seemed fraught with consequence. I knew anew the joy of reading as a child, sitting on the farmhouse porch, when I would raise my eyes from the Civil War novel and know the fields to be battlefields. The absorption of it, and the thrill of being deceived into believing in the reality of a parallel life, which has its dangers, as well, the way a window full of leaves and sky endangers birds. And then there were no more words, and I looked up, and the raven and I were the only ones left in the garden.
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Summer is the attic.
Dead boxelder bugs
litter the sills.
Chests hold breaths
of yellowing letters.
You cannot stay
up here long,
soon you must
descend the stairs,
come down from
the height and heat

into the kitchen
which is autumn,
where the light is
the color of broth
and pheasant feathers
in brown bottles
are the only bouquets.
In the wood stove,
ashes and nails.
The kettle is cold,
the cupboard empty.

Descend the steep
cellar stairs into winter
where the preserves
of dead gardens are
kept and pale spiders
try their wares.
A dead steer
in the freezer,
and a cairn of coal.
Now that you've been
to the nadir of the year,

you may ascend
to the bedroom where
spring survives
in the wallpaper
and the headboard
gouged with a pattern
of flowering foliage.
Lie back in bed,
read her letter
again, the bluest ink
on the whitest paper.
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The moon lifts
the sea's face
up to its
and scans it
for signs of betrayal,
but the sea is honest,
honest, honest.
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The Fawn


A friend found a wounded fawn
on the road back of where he lives.

Unleashed, his Jack Russell terrier
lit into it, its broken forelegs

folding wrong in the loose gravel.
It cried out, he told me, in a human voice.

His girlfriend dragged the dog away,
leaving Lee alone with the fawn.

It couldn't stand but in its eyes,
he said, he saw the peace of all

pardoned things. "He was so beautiful,
Austin. His eyelashes were this long."

My friend has big hands, he plays bass.
He spread his thumb and index finger

wide apart. I nodded and said I could
just see them. We shook our heads

and drank to beauty so beyond us.
I wanted that to be the end of the story,

Lee sitting there in the road, holding
the fawn in his lap. It got quiet

in the bar. The story had to go on.
"I couldn't shoot him," he said.

"He was too beautiful to shoot.
I picked him up and carried him

down to the pond." "And then?"
"And then we walked into the water."
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The Big Bang


Some summer nights a storm would come
knock the TV’s teeth out. Alone with them,
all their mother had wanted was to fall asleep
on the couch before going up to bed.
Restless, they moved from living room
to kitchen. Craving something cold,
they tried eating the freezer-burned ice cream
too soon. The cheap spoons craned their necks
like cows down with milk fever. They suffered
brain freezes and straightened their spoons,
waiting for the power to come back on.
If she’d known that the static on the screen
was the background noise of the Big Bang,
she might have sat them down before
the erratic field of their origin and told them
something they would never forget.
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After hours –
one barber
giving the other a trim.

Alone in the evening,
the flower arranger
tenderizes meat.

One cork pushed in
deeper than the other –
summer night.

Toy soldier –
something wrong
about his face.

Barely restraining themselves
while we entertain guests –
the mousetraps.

Comparing scars,
they lean against each other –
old cutting boards.

Taking the tent down –
while we slept,
the milkweed opened.

Inside the chest
she writes letters on –
the sewing machine.

Home from the hospital,
the farmer eats
at an odd hour.

Alone with his father,
the boy fishes
with a bare hook.

Call from the hospital –
the tea water
boils itself away.

Watchmaker’s shop –
how do you know
which to believe?

Domestic troubles –
he goes out to fix the roof
of the doghouse.

Halloween –
a mother
cutting tinfoil.

Even deep in the wall
it is ornate –
the sliding door.

Too small to hold any face –
the mirror
in her dollhouse.

Christmas Eve –
humming carols,
the night janitor.

Winter moonlight –
passing my hand
into the scythe.

Young couple –
a sleeping bag in the bed
of their truck.

Bankrupt tavern –
all the darts
crammed in the bull’s eye.

Knee-high wheat
and the boy has lost
his first boomerang.

Late night diner –
a lot of silverware
for one mouth.

Big snow –
in the cemetery, only
the tallest graves.

Family coming,
they take down
a few photographs.
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If you have them,
you won’t be starving –
napkin rings.

Finally got him right,
but now the crow looks
like he’s nodding.

Growing in the night,
the eyes of old

Summer night –
doors that can be locked,
doors that can’t.

Drafty farmhouse -
all the wicks
curve the same way.

Holding hands,
spooked a pheasant,
broke us apart.

Summer in winter –
a hawk feather
in the hay.

Late winter –
the ventriloquist
loses his voice.

Feels foolish
his son’s rattle.

One day too late –
the kittens have gone

the father pretends
to know Orion.

In the window
the farmwife moves
to a different pane.

No one left
to count on
the abacus.

Distracted by love
the mailman
delivers his own mail.

Funeral - brothers
handing back
and forth a flask.

Halloween -
even the scarecrow
gets to be real
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At Proust's Grave


From your grave
a man takes
a photograph and leaves
you nothing
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The Spider


It is loneliness that makes me
tie little bows of silk to leaf,
branch, blade and blossom.
I build my web for the company,
not the blood. O I love
the blood, of course: a vintage
in which you taste a year
your ancestors knew.
But it isn't blood
that sustains me: it is
the shiver through the web
like a doorbell ringing
through an abandoned manse.
I hurry over as if to help them,
but before they can beg
for mercy I am turning them
like a spindle on a lathe,
their cries growing
quieter with each orbit,
until I can hardly
hear them hum.
And then I am lonely again,
a poet between poems.
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On the fifth day of our exile
one of the fathers saw a sign

a significant number of crows
said one of us was sure to die

the sun stepped out of her hoopskirt
put her crows in the oaks

like an old woman putting
mugs away that aren’t quite dry

we fell asleep wondering
who it would be come morning

the boy who had taken
his shoes off the day before

and had been carrying them
by their laces like hair

was dead of fever we buried him
like travelers shoveling dirt

onto embers and now
we have this pair of shoes

no one knows what to do with
the fathers say we should

tie them to a branch as a warning
to those who come after us

to let them know the trials
we have suffered but Hell

he came all this way in them
I’ll carry them if no one else will
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Poem for Ryan


Bless him in the dark woods
of nerves, in the vaulted temple
of the skull, on the moonlit roads
of the bones, on the twilit rivers
of the blood, in the strange lands
of the organs, in whatever it is
the heart is. Bless my brother,
a student of medicine.
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We were told whatever you do
don't eat the nightshade berries.
Of course, we ate a few
nightshade berries, not enough
to make us sick, much less
kill us, just enough to never
eat them again. Maybe Adam
and Eve should've been forgiven
for tasting what was forbidden.
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What the Willows Said


Have we ever torn our roots out of the clay
and lumbered into your city to hang
our boughs on your arms? No. We weep

where we stand. When we heard you coming
from a distance we thought you had finally
come to ask us why, but all this time

you've been weeping in our shade
you've never once wondered what it is we are
weeping for, and when you do look up

you look through our leaves to something
beyond us. It's a shame. We could offer you
more than a place to hang your harps.

We could offer you consolation.
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Country Cemetery


Here you'll find the original
grasses the settlers plowed
under and the oldest oaks.
The headstones are thick
books, a thousand pages
long. No one is buried here
anymore. None who knew
those who lie here are still
alive, so no one visits.
Some days a farmer will
leave his tractor idling
and come under the shade
of these trees to eat lunch,
resting against a headstone
so weathered he can't
read the name and so,
he assumes, can't be blamed
or haunted, thinking
what a shame it is
no one mows the grass.
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Off the rooms in which
they hung
branched other rooms,
rooms in which
our ghost-selves paced
a moment behind us.
But it was not that
other boy
but the mirrors themselves
that fascinated me,
thin as the page upon which
I write this.
Practicing kissing,
it was they that blushed,
taken aback by my advances.
And when, wrestling
my brother,
one shattered,
it fell in lucid selves
that went on doing
what they’d always done
like a crowd turning
away from a hanging.
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Dead Dogs


Where are they now?
I would say that
dead they are more alive
than they were in life.

In life they were as close
as my shadow, as attached,
as taken for granted,
loping a little ahead or behind.

They became what
they longed for:
bones. I see them now,
Nova and Zia and Red.

Where did that moment go
when, noticing them,
I knelt down and, shivering
with a love for what they were

just a symbol of, embraced
them wildly, their eyes
rolling whitely
over my shoulder

in the ecstasy of being
so suddenly regarded?
This poem seems proof
that that moment sank

into me, leaving them
in the fast-fading afterglow
of knowing themselves
beloved of boys.
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In McClintock’s Meadow

alone there
are more blades
of grass than

all the swords ever made.

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