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The Politician


Look says the politician now
what we're look to do here is
look you've got to understand
a look in my position is look
when you've been in look
for as many look as I have
you look how to look put it
that way and yes but look
yourself in my shoes and look
it ultimately look down to is
look we have got to look what
you're saying is neither look
look there look what I mean?
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Larry's Boots


They were black snakeskin, the scales peeling,
the toes curved up, the soles scuffed. I waited
until the room was empty, then touched them
like I have seen a friend touch her mother’s feet
hidden in the blue and gold folds of her sari
and saw him standing against the brick wall
of some Richmond bar, watching a bad band
play beautifully, whispering a poem he never wrote
down, a poem about a rattlesnake asleep in the shade
of a rock in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The fetishization of the dead embarrasses the living.
But someone had decided to put Larry Levis’s
cowboy boots on display, and there was no way
I was going to leave before touching them.
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The Capacity of Speech


It is easy to be decent to speechless things.
To hang houses for the purple martins
To nest in. To bed down the horses under
The great white wing of the year's first snow.
To ensure the dog and cat are comfortable.
To set out suet for the backyard birds.
To put the poorly-shot, wounded deer down.
To nurse its orphaned fawn until its spots
Are gone. To sweep the spider into the glass
And tap it out into the grass. To blow out
The candle and save the moth from flame.
To trap the black bear and set it free.
To throw the thrashing brook trout back.
How easy it is to be decent
To things that lack the capacity of speech,
To feed and shelter whatever will never
Beg us or thank us or make us ashamed.
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Of blood, of course. But also of this
Penny minted the year Kennedy was killed,
Passing from hand to hand like an assassin
In a crowd. Of air through lungs and leaves.
Of mercury from factory into spillway
Through gills into fish flesh through breast
Milk into newborn. Of the lie the president
Tells that sells the war to the populace.
Of the awful truths all lies become once
They’ve taken root. Of the water the sun
Raises Lazarus-like from the lake and which
Falls on the red umbrella of the woman
At the funeral. Of books checked out once
Every ten years by graduate students.
Of beer and urine. Of the wasting disease
That makes the starved deer stagger down
From the hills, killed crossing the highway.
Of the carrion the vultures carry in talons
Into the trees. Of the dead and the daisies.
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Finding a Four-Leaf Clover in Cocteau and Maritain's ART AND FAITH


Pressed, its leaves could be the cardinal
Directions of a compass rose, save that
One leaf is askew. Then again, perhaps
It points the way to the meadow where
What is rare is to find a three-leaf clover.
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Two Sounds


Two sounds arrested me while writing
Prose. They appeared at either ear
Like officers at the front and back door.
One was the sound of the wind
In the corn, the rustling of leaves
Like nervous people rubbing palm
Against palm. The other was the sound
Of a jet, high and unknowable,
Its nervous passengers an abstraction,
Its pilots and attendants no more
Corporeal than this wind that takes
Leaves and makes them make music
That makes me stop trying to write
About the world, and listen to the earth.
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Valentine's Day in the City


Like a flautist preparing to perform,
the flower seller places her fingers
on the stops between the thorns.

Around her, the symphony of sirens
and horns. She cuts the stem and hands
the flower to this young man who stands

in the shadow of her skyscraper,
looking up towards the high windows,
gazing down now into the rose.
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The Mechanic's Children


Two children barefoot in a spring,
their feet white and cold as turnips,
her dress pulled up, his pants rolled
past his knees. Each holds a jelly jar.
Imagine a tiny pair of glass lungs
hovering in the green woods, in-
haling murky water that was crystal
clear this morning when they lay
sleeping in the bed they share.
They're after the creatures that toil
in the sand, tireless as pacemakers.
The cracked crankcases of the cars
their father abandoned back here
bleed oil. When they find the rainbows
they catch them too. And long after
all the creatures they caught have died
the rainbows will abide.
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Things We Don't Often Think Of


The nightmares
of beekeepers.

The wrists
of bakers.

The fathers
of murderers.

The birth
pains of cats.

The addresses
of mailmen.

The laughter
of deaf boys.

The obituaries
of faraway towns.

The taxi driver
driving home.

The barber
sweeping up hair.

The basement
of the house in the painting.

The backs
of hand mirrors.

The bridles
of dead horses.

The doors
of slaughterhouses.

The pens of old
love letters.

The fossils
in bulk gravel.

The music
boxes in shipwrecks.

The mountains
under the sea.

The darkness
in the accordion.

The night
reading of fishermen.

The skeletons
of astronauts.

The other side
of the coffin pillow.

The grave
of the undertaker.
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Folk Medicine


Ten feet off this porch are plants
that would kill me if I ate them.

Ten feet from any plant that would kill me
is a plant that would save my life.

The antidote must resemble the poison.
How could it work otherwise?

The plants that kill
and the plants that save

look almost exactly like, like identical
twins asleep in a baby carriage.
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Color of Thunder


Thunder is
the green of
the iris in the glass
eye a grandfather
pops out to beat
his grandson
in marbles
and teach him
a lesson
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Thin Skin


What sin did I commit in a past life
to deserve being so sensitive in this one?
Why does this man whose livelihood
is ferrying me from O’Hare to Madison
make me so sad, taking money for tickets
with fingers barren of rings? Why, when
I was little, did the plow abandoned
in the field seem to me a child holding
a tray of empty plates in the cafeteria
of a new school? A stalk of asparagus
bent necklike in the contour of the pan
and I’m mourning the life of a woman
in a novel I’ll never write, reading on a train.
At the protest, when everyone was screaming
at the line of police, one of the cop’s yawned
and I saw, instantly, his whole boyhood.
I wished everyone would just go home
so he could sleep. I once cursed a kid
for pouring gin in a tide pool to see
the anemones closing themselves up,
so sorry did I feel for the anemones,
but I wound up feeling sorrier for the kid.
I used to wake at the snap of the mousetrap
and think all the poor thing wanted
was some peanut butter. Death will be
the only relief for someone sensitive as me.
And death. My God. What a pity…
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The dough lifts the white cotton
rag thrown over it like family
at the coroner's. Sighing, they cry
out it isn't him. Dough breathes in
absolutely like the lungs of the man
who drowned, like how a horse
whose saddle is being cinched tight
for a night journey breathes out.
We arrived like a letter sent to one
who is dead and tomorrow we will
be sent back trodden in stamps
of blue ink, tossed down on a table
cloth littered with breadcrumbs
to be read by the master who wrote it.
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