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What the Tornado Said


I want you, wives of Kansas, to leave your beds
in which you lie sleepless beside your husbands
and spend the night with me instead.

Leave behind the tissues, novels and meds,
and throw the curtains and windows open.
I want you, wives of Kansas, to leave your beds

where your husbands sleep sound as the dead.
Leap from the windows like spring-born wrens
and come spend the night with me instead.

We'll rattle down the road like newlyweds.
I'm turning towards you now. Just say when.
I want you, wives of Kansas, to leave your beds
and spend the night with me instead.
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The axe that heats
the home one day
kills the chicken the next.
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After Pound


These pink blossoms on black branches;
Children we bombed posing on crutches.
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In some online search they find
the town his father's father's father
lived in before the Gold Rush made him
pull up stakes and go West to stare
into the stingy mirror of a pan, to try
being poor out there for a change.

And so they set out for Arkansas.
When they pull up in front of a house
not old enough to have been his
ancestor's, drowned in kudzu, it's not
the root of his family tree he finds,
but the dead branches of another's.
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Premature Will


The trees are turning
like an old man turning
finally to the heavy evening

work of drafting his will.
As he writes, hairline cracks
appear in the porcelain

of his life. The chair he sits in,
deeded to his son the writer,
almost refuses to hold him,

while the kitchen table
he writes on, deeded
to his daughter,

who seems destined
to have a large family,
aches to walk down

the road on its frail,
foal-like legs into her kitchen.
Every object he writes down

the name of is anxious
to begin its new life
with his children.

He is writing his will
as if he will die any day
now, but he will live

another twenty years,
confounded that things
he loves seem

to disobey him,
as if mad he is holding
on to them so long.
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Lucid in Harness


Worked to white lather,
their mouths frothing green
around the gnawed bits,
their nostrils velvet bells,
their lungs bellows blowing
on their hearts' smoldering
fires, still they are more
lucid in harness than
the man with snowflakes
in his lashes and reins gone
slack in his hands.
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Small-Town Law Office, Central Illinois


This town's sole lawyer dreams of being
allowed to prosecute and defend
the same man, pacing back and forth
before the rapt courtroom hanging
on his every word. Then dreams of being
the judge and all nine members of the jury.
Then dreams the jury hung, then dreams
the whole thing over again. This on afternoons
when all his cases are closed like flowers
before a killing frost and from the other room
comes the sound of his secretary typing,
her fingers ringless and furious. She dreams
of walking across America to deliver the letter
she is typing to the handsome and lonesome
lighthouse keeper. The letter says,
"You can come down now and marry
a woman far inland. For from now on
every ship is a ghost ship." At the end
of the day, leaving, the lawyer tells her
not to stay too late. She promises him
she won't.
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Kneeling Bus


A sign by the door
says this bus
is a "Kneeling Bus."
This bus kneels
at the filthy curbs
and gutters of the world,
kneels to me,
to you, to us.

I was feeling hopeless
walking to the stop
and now I'm not because
of how the bus kneeled,
like a girl late for Mass
who settles into the pew,
crosses herself quickly,
and kisses her fist.
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Writers Retreat


Why do writers retreat
from the world as if the world
were coming for them
in the night with pitchforks
and torches?

It is the world that retreats
from the writer.
Writers should go out
in broad daylight
shouting verses, stories.

Then, when the world
comes for them
with pitchforks and torches,
they can hide until the world
forgets what it's looking for.
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Drunk Late at Night In a Cabin in the Redwoods


The forest floor is thick with dirty needles.
I decide instead to take a walk up the hill
of the typewriter. When I come back in
I'm reminded I never had the heart
to carve the pumpkin. Its face is blank
as these six melatonin pills a friend
gave me to help me sleep out here
in the deep woods. I take three
in the hopes that I dream a poem,
a poem about a blind girl feeling,
then naming, the newborn foal, or one
about a deaf boy signing to the aurora,
a poem so absurdly poetic
the workshop would hate it.
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Three Dying Dog Dreams


After I deleted your name
from my phone, I began having dreams
about dogs dying. The first two
were about our family golden retriever.
Somehow in the teleportation of dreams
we were in Paris. I kneeled down
to let her off her leash and she ran off.
I called and called her name but knew
when I rounded the corner I'd find her
dead in the street. And I did. She died
in my arms as passers-by whispered
sympathies in French. I could feel her
body, the blood in her matted fur,
her weight I know from picking her
forelegs up to slow-dance with her
around the kitchen. A few nights later
I dreamt of her dying again. This time
it was some flower she'd eaten
she wasn't supposed to. I forced her
to swallow strange pills of damp,
compressed herbs just in time
to revive her. In relief I embraced her,
her living body warm, her fur bloodless.
But she seemed far away, as if
she hadn't come back from where
she'd gone when her eyes rolled like magic
eight balls in her skull. And then,
just last night, I dreamt of a different dog,
a huge dog I knew somehow
was named Holcomb. He and I,
we were walking along a dark gorge
in the mountains when a storm came up.
The lightning broke its arms trying
to carry the sky. I was afraid. Holcomb,
drenched, dog-smelling, pressed
against me as we walked. I was afraid
he'd push me into the gorge.
Then out of the dark a dozen hounds
came, mouths like bear-traps,
snarling and drooling. I could feel
my heels hanging over the lip of rock.
Holcomb hove into them, but they
were too much for him. I watched them
drag him off bleeding into the dark
and woke wondering what it meant,
three dying dog dreams in three months.
I looked up an interpretation that said
one may dream of dogs when one has lost
a friend. Before we ceased speaking,
I dreamt of you almost every night.
Now, I never do. I dream of dogs dying.
And if you were to call me now,
I wouldn't recognize the number,
and wouldn't answer.
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Poem for Roscoe Holcomb


Floodlit you look nervous
shy as a boy at a dance
they found you down
in Hazard brought you up
like a trilobite into the light
of the north in Manhattan
your nerves must be shot
to hell and now onstage
they’re rolling film of where
you live Seeger saying “Not much
of a house four walls a roof
the walls papered with the daily
news to keep the wind out
are most houses like that?”
and you say switching the banjo
out for the guitar “Some are”
and Seeger says “Now Roscoe
you make a living working
construction is that right?”
and you say “Yes but I can
hardly work anymore I broke
my back” and Seeger says “But
your fingers they sure still work”
and you say “I can’t hardly see
how what with lifting so many
cinder blocks as I have” and
Seeger says “Well will you play
one for us?” and you say
“I call this one
The Rocky Mountain”
as you play they’re rolling
footage of you hoeing corn
on another day of your life
self-conscious knowing
you’re being filmed
you stop playing
and Seeger says “Oh you
saw your...take your eye off
that monitor and keep on singin’
hold that Rocky Mountain” and you try
but how can they ask you to
play today in New York City
while you’re watching yourself
hoeing corn in Hazard
Kentucky last spring?
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What Scrapper Kevin Said to Me at Apple Jack's Tavern in La Honda, CA


They call me Scrapper Kevin,
you know why?
It’s how I make a living.
Scrap metal.
Can’t fault a guy for making a living
any way a guy can.
But people around here,
a lot of ‘em hate me.
That guy over there, for instance.
Jesus Christ don’t look at him
God damn it.
That guy’s here to kill me.
There’s a hit out on me see.
See there’s this lake back in the woods
over there, you don’t know it,
don’t nobody know it
until you go in there.
It's a bad curve, a lot of folks
miss it and go right clear
through the brush.
There’s gotta be ten,
a dozen cars in there,
some with bodies in ‘em,
bodies still in ‘em.
Everybody knows that.
You don’t gotta be a genius.
This guy I knew, he lost his daughter
in there. She was texting him.
Well somehow the rumor got started
I’ve been dragging cars up
out of there for metal
and now this guy's been talking
about killing me,
throwing me in there.
See how I like it.
That's what that guy there's
here to do.
Don't think I don't know.
This here’s a small town,
La Honda’s a small town.
I swear to God I’ve never been
down there in that water.
I don’t care how broke I get,
I’ll never go in there.
Can you imagine?
Those bodies in there,
years some of them
bodies been in there.
I know what they must look like.
I’m from Michigan.
Every winter some idiot
kids’d get drunk and drive
out on the ice and it'd break.
Of course it would.
They'd go right in, it wasn’t uncommon.
Trust me I’d never touch that
water. But I’m not gonna lie.
Sometimes driving by I think
man all that metal.
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Sonnet for a Man Seen Carrying Roses


This man is carrying roses
home, I assume, I assume
to his wife, but how do I
know where he is going,
who the flowers are for?
Maybe he bought them for
himself to allay loneliness
with beauty. Maybe
he will give them away
before he reaches his door.
Who can say what this man
carrying roses will do
with them. Certainly not
me, a man carrying bread.
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Rain Becoming Hail


When rain hardens
into hail, one feels that
an inner resolution
on the part of water
has finally been
acted upon, as when,
after years of deliberation,
one finally makes a decision
one lacked the strength
to make before. When
I hear the rain turning
to hail on the roof I know
that again I am being
challenged to do that
which up to now I have
failed to do, and feel
at once something
within me withering
(that is cowardice)
and something hardening
(that is conviction)
before the hailstones
vanish into grass.
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