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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


Waves of shoes
Like a photograph
Of the sea


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

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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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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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After years of suffering

Their gaze, the volcano

Photographed their faces.






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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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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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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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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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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


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


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


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


‘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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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


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


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


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


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.

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


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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