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The Illegal Campfire Bemoans the Waywardness of Her Son


You were sired by fire
But man made me. He blew
Breath into my nostrils,
Nourished me when I was little,
Gave me sweet things to eat.
I was a good daughter.
I warmed him,
Cooked his food,
Gave him light
To read his map by.
Then, in the darkness
Just before dawn,
He turned against me.
Tried to drown me.
Kicked dirt in my many twinkling eyes.
He half-buried me
But I played dead,
Holding my breath of ashes,
And when he turned
His back on me I grew.
After three days I finally
Had strength enough
To throw a spark on dead needles.
Together, with a little wind,
We engendered you.
I watched you grow beside me.
You were a happy child,
Always laughing,
Catching ants.
I thought you'd stay by my side
Forever, that you'd hear me
Draw my last breath.
But you began to wander,
Venturing farther and farther
From this charred meadow
That is your homeland.
At first you sent sparks
Back to me, but since
You've gone over the hill
You never write.
Do you ever pause
To think of your dear mother
Who raised you from duff,
Or have you, in your fame
Of flames, forgotten
Your humble origins
Here, beside this ring of stones?
I've read by the light
Of your face the trouble you're causing
Out there, in the world.
You've become insatiable,
Licking the ribs of deer bare,
Swallowing houses whole,
Chewing up trees and using
Their bones for toothpicks.
Man, who made me
And tried to kill me
Is trying to kill you too,
Digging trenches around you
To strangle you,
Dropping retardant on you
To smother you,
Turning hoses on you
To drown you.
It pains me to think
Of their hatred for you.
I know now what the mothers
Of mass murderers must feel,
Torn between love and horror
At what their sons have done.
By the light of your face I know
They've cornered you.
It won't be long now
Before they pronounce you dead.
But they don't know what I do -
That you're the one making the rings
Of the felled pines glow.
That the rocks hold memories of you
In their hearts like schoolgirls.
And that, come winter, you'll
Come back to me as smoke
Growing out of holes in the snow
Like the hair of the dead.
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Tobacco Country


Driving past I didn’t know what they were
at first, then I remembered where I was.
Kentucky. The patch was small, the rows
neatly hoed, as if some one man loved them.
But then there were more, and more, and
I knew some company owned them.
What I want to tell you is how innocent they looked,
unaware of what their leaves contained.
They were like every other growing thing
I had seen that day, the sycamores, the oaks.
Carefully cultivated, of course, part of a vast system
of economics and politics, responsibility and denial,
but there, in that patch, they were alive, and thus
somehow blameless. Like cattle being driven
towards slaughter, they seemed naïve as to where
they were headed: to the factory to be cut
and rolled and packed and shipped and stocked
and finally bought by a young woman
who steps out into the dusk and lights up,
breathing all these fields in, then exhales
and decides to finally leave him.
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Night Janitor


In the dark the hastily-erased
chalk looks like snow
seen from the cabin
window of a plane
floating over Nova Scotia.
Were they words? Equations?
Were they names? I can turn
the lights on by merely walking in
and by them try to discern
what's written there, but I prefer
the pearly blur of the board, which draws me
into dreams of travel. So I leave it
for the morning janitor
to erase, and mop the floor.
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The Fallen


There were holes in the haymow floor
that would smile and swallow you whole.
Below, cows on the verge of labor
were chewing their cud like old women
I would see years later in New Delhi
chewing betel leaf. In one bay in particular
the floor was like pond ice thawing,
but we tried it anyway, shuffling
through the strewn straw, trusting
the cows' bellies would break our fall.
But what saved us were the pigeon eggs
that had fallen before we could.
Their weight in our hands was strange
as if they were three-fourths full of blue sand
and, distracted, we backed away, our carrying them
the closest they came to flying.
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In Plath's Cambridge


Before ARIEL you rode your bicycle
furiously over these cobblestones
that have not turned
over in their beds
since the long-dead
bricklayers laid them here

Now, long after you
set glasses of cold milk
and plates of buttered bread
by their beds
I walk in your Cambridge
and hear how they wobbled
beneath your tires
and your bell chiming
clear and silver
like that doorbell that
years later
you wouldn't rise to answer
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Meteor Shower


We stripped the beds of blankets and made up the bed of the truck,
Then drove up the field path, under the fixed but threatened stars.
Not understanding, I feared for them all, imagined them thumbtacks
Stuck in drywall that might stick to your skin and come backing out.
I didn’t know that what was falling had been falling for light years
Only not to reach us after having traveled so far, like a soldier who,
Wounded overseas, dies on the train home.
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Dream of Blaze


Dog I haven’t seen much
Less thought of in years
Was in my dream last night

Though I never paid him
Much attention in life
At his sudden appearance

I wept and cried out
Tried to explain to my girlfriend
Who was in the dream too

Holly this is Blaze
Who ran away years
Ago from that farm

That is gone now also
Come back covered
In ticks and burrs

Named Blaze though his fur
Is white and black and gray
And a better name

Might have been
Smoke or Soot
Indeed he smells

Faintly of fire
And as I pet him
Whispering Blaze

Blaze I notice there
Is something wrong
About his eyes
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Oklahoma Poem


Somewhere east of Texahoma I start falling
out of touch with the world. The radio scans
like an ax in the hand, making one full loop
before landing square on the Christian station,
oak that won't split. The red clay begins,
coming through the grass like a voice
through static. I see how the dust could’ve risen,
nothing to pin it down but the paperweights
of thunderheads. A boy, maybe twelve,
diminutive in the huge glassy cab, is opening
the earth again. It took his fathers a hundred times
as long as it will take him. I’m going eighty but
I think I see him wave. I wave, wish for him
he has a horse to brush back home.
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Tennessee, 103 Degrees


Between showers and it’s so still
The leaves are like breaths
Soldiers hold

The rain has bequeathed
Its baubles to the woods
Old jewels the only granddaughter
Didn’t even want but so much
As touch one
And it disappears

The only moving thing
Amidst all these things
That move me
Are the butterflies

They’re the afterlives
Of spring flowers
Boys beheaded

If beauty is this fragile
Give me death
At least
I don’t have to worry about death

I think of the exiled novelist
Who lusted after them
Netting and gassing them
Pushing bright pins
Into their black bodies

Under glass now
They’re obsolete
Like those old maps that say
Beyond a cartoonish mountain range
“Here Be Dragons”
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Graffiti Scrawled By Choirboys, St. Mary's Church, Oxford


In the presence of reverence,
boredom. Even this
beautiful obligation
they will remember years later,
their voices gone
hoarse, merits mockery.
And so the choirboys
of a hundred generations
have scrawled their initials
and shapes only they knew
to be lewd in the wood
with penknives concealed
in their white robes
and with furtive glances
towards men who were once
choirboys themselves, and
whose initials are scrawled here
also and thus
must understand the impulse,
amidst all this
carved stone and stained glass,
to cut one’s name
in the blank grain
before sloughing off the self
and soaring into song.
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These three college girls laugh loudly
as they walk by, but here too
are three women who laughed in spring
and knew for certain they’d never die.

These three college boys, a little drunk
already, feign punching one another
on their walk between pubs. But here
too are three men who drank at The Bear,
and punched one another, and knew
for certain they’d never die.

This father walks a few paces behind
his wife and young daughters, gazing
now and then at the sky, but here
too is a father who followed his family,
wondering at the weather and their life together,
and knew for certain he’d never die.

Only his younger daughter turns and sees
the graves through the wrought-iron gate
and weeds, and waves.
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The Coffin Road


These flat stones were where
the pallbearers, on their way
from Ambleside to Grasmere,
set the coffin down, a hand
or two still touching it
just in case. They breathed
as if they were taking breath
for the dead, too.
Maybe a little girl
they remembered hearing
sing only a few days before
while bringing the cow in.
But more likely a woman,
who weighed nothing in life
but in death felt like a few
sacks of black river stones.
Maybe a flask was passed
but more likely not.
Only a moment’s rest
so the old man
she was always kind to
and the son who insisted
he come along
could catch their breath
until the man whose hand
had never left the coffin
nodded and they carried on.
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The Rose Garden


I sat in the rose garden
Waiting for you
But you never showed.

Restless, I began
To regard the roses,
Their slow rondeau,

The blossoms dresses,
The thorns the swords
Of officers eyeing rivals,

Waiting to swoop in.
If you had appeared then
I might not have known you,

So hypnotized was I
By the dancers swirling
Around me, I who

Was still as an eye
In the wood grain
Of the parquet floor.

And then it was over.
The music ended.
The pairs parted

And walked home
On cool gravel paths,
Talking softly of the duel

To be fought
In the rose garden
In the morning,

Whether the coward
Who'd been challenged
Would show.
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The Bombing of Hospitals


There was a time, in a world at once
more and less brutal than ours, when
they were far from the front: in a grove
of full-leaved oaks outside Fairfax,
or in a meadow of lowing cattle
and cawing crows in Normandy.
Calmly the nurses moved through
the wards carrying trays of shrapnel
stewed in blood. Letters came. Elsewhere,
babies were being born, taking first steps,
saying first words. Some of the letters
contained news from the front, far enough
away to have to be borne in the form
of language, not as light and noise,
and as the news of the latest battle
was read out loud, the war seemed
like a nightmare they had had in common,
and had woken from together, all at once.

There was time for flirtations to flare
between nurses and patients, a few affairs.
Smoking between amputations, the surgeons
laughed under the trees like butchers,
their bloody shirtsleeves rolled up, while
in the garden, convalescents hobbled
about on crutches, played croquet, fell
asleep in wheelchairs, apple blossoms
fallen into their hair. Their only fear
was that gangrene would set in,
that they would be the next to turn
quiet and toward the wall. They feared
flies and bedsores, bad news from home,
the appearance from the front of a friend,
gravely-wounded. But the hospital itself,
built of brick or wood, or just a few rows
of linen tents pitched in a field in a rush,
was understood to be protected,
not by any god, but by the presence
of the wounded themselves, who knew
no new harm would be done to them,
only the old harm find a firmer hold,
and pull them under.
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The Sandbox


I thought the sand had been brought in from the sea.
It was fine as gold dust, and always cool,
even in summer. We moved it with toys fashioned
in vague approximation of the real backhoes
and dump trucks that had quarried and carried it
from the limestone pit near Lena to the farm,
painted the same canary-yellow but beginning to rust
from the rain we left them out in. I didn’t know
then the central role Caterpillar Company has played
in making tanks and submarines for the US military,
nor could I know that even as I kneeled in a sandbox
in Illinois, up in Olympia, Washington there lived
a girl named Rachel Corrie who’d grow up to be
crushed by a bulldozer while defending the home
of a Palestinian pharmacist. I was just playing
in a sandbox. But in my mind I too was removing
mountaintops, dredging lakes, building dams while
the birds touched down like choppers and rose
veering through the air, and the cats dug, burying
their waste, and the dog, lying down to cool her body,
cleared a whole hillside with her tail. And after all
my damages had been wrought, I too abandoned
the land my father had framed with two-by-fours
like a settlement. Wind blew topsoil over the sand,
sowed seed in it, and the box began to resemble
those stretches of grassy beach you see when
you’re nearing the sea, and everyone you’re with
in the car grows quiet.
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Suddenly, Bees


Bees have been appearing in places strange
for bees to be. Yesterday I saw a shadow moving
across our cotton curtains and parted them to see
a swarm swarming one of the columnar evergreens
the family who used to live in this house, cleaved
now into apartments, must have planted for privacy.
And just today, coming down Montgomery
from North Beach, swerving a little on the sidewalk
because I was reading THE DARKENING TRAPEZE,
the posthumously published poems of Larry Levis,
I looked up from my book to look at what
everyone was looking at, another swarm, this time
in downtown San Francisco, like a funnel cloud
that doesn’t believe in itself enough to become
a tornado, agitated in the heightened light
of early evening in late March. Lyft and Uber
drivers stopped at lights, business bros on their phones
talking closings and mergers, a man in rags screaming,
security guards standing outside the Wells Fargo,
everyone stopped what they were doing to watch
these bees, which seemed to have less to do
with earth than with light, as if
the sun was their hive,
their honey safe, far
from where we are.
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1 This is the book of the generation of money. 2 JP Morgan begat Goldman Sachs, and Goldman Sachs begat Wells Fargo, and Wells Fargo begat Honeywell International; 3 Honeywell International begat Boeing, and Boeing begat General Electric, and General Electric begat Dow Chemical; 4 Dow Chemical begat Monsanto, and Monsanto begat Caterpillar Company, and Caterpillar Company begat Chevron; 5 Chevron begat Coca-Cola, and Coca-Cola begat Lockheed Martin, and Lockheed Martin begat Nestle USA; 6 Nestle USA begat Phillip Morris, and Phillip Morris begat Pfizer, and Pfizer begat Suez-Lyonnaise Des Eaux; 7 Suez-Lyonnaise Des Eaux begat Wal-mart, and Wal-mart begat Kellogg, Brown and Root, and Kellog, Brown and Root begat Ford Motor Company; 8 Ford Motor Company begat DynCorp, and DynCorp begat ExxonMobil, and ExxonMobil begat Koch Industries; 9 Koch Industries begat Halliburton, and Halliburton begat DuPont, and DuPont begat Barrick Gold Corporation; 10 Barrick Gold Corporation begat Fannie Mae, and Fannie Mae begat Freddie Mack, and Freddie Mack begat Bear Stearns; 11 Bear Stearns begat Lehman Brothers, and Lehman Brothers begat Merrill Lynch, and Merrill Lynch begat Comcast; 12 Comcast begat Blackwater, and Blackwater begat Bank of America, and Bank of America begat the poor.
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Mowing Lawn


Growing up, I mowed lawn. Lord knows there was plenty of it
to mow. Two farmsteads, each with yards big as county parks,
as if the people who settled that place had wanted to keep
the fields back so they could sit on the porch without feeling
the crops creeping up close in the evening. It was impossible
to keep the grass down. By the time you reached the end
of the yard it had already grown back back where you began,
like a diaspora of cancer returning to the organ of its origin,
or a fire the crew thinks it put out, growing behind them.
And so we mowed perpetually, my brothers and I,
while dad did the fieldwork. Shirtless, in mesh athletic shorts
that rode halfway up my thigh, in shoes I played ball in,
I sat high in the Farm-all C tractor modified for mowing,
the deck swinging underneath on chains. Whole days,
no, whole years of my life were lost this way, keeping an eye
on the margin between the cut and uncut swaths, practicing
a futile perfection that, days later, would not matter
if it ever had, as when, deep in the privacy of a notebook,
you work over the same lines again and again, knowing
no one will ever read them. But at least the poem achieves
a form that feels final. Lying on my back in bed at night
after a day spent mowing, I could feel the grasses growing,
in that staggered, unkempt way blades of grass grow.
I knew the pride dad took in keeping the farmyards neat,
his frustration with farmers who didn’t seem to care for theirs,
literally. His compliment, whispered as an aside you had to catch
like a ball falling, was, “Yep, got this place mowed up pretty
good.” It was through mowing that I knew early the exhaustion
of tenancy, the way that keeping a place yours keeps you its,
so that you begin to wonder who or what is the possessor
and who or what is the possessed. My dad keeps a smaller yard
now that he keeps mowed up pretty good. His sons live in cities
where grass is given no quarter save for in the cemeteries
and those empty parks like patches of blindness where the poor
nod off on benches and empty swings sway on chains
and there is a budget to pay grown men to keep the grass down.
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The Wire


My father strung wire, miles of it,
off a singing spool mounted
on the bed of a red ATV.
The old barbwire my grandfather
strung decades before
stood by, the rotted posts
looking on incredulously, old men
watching a young man dig
a grave. In its claws still, the fur
of cattle thirty years dead.
The oaks that grew along it
were swallowing the wire
in a perpetual circus trick
performed for crows and sparrows.
The barbs were buried rings
deep like dud landmines.
The wire my father strung
was a single wire, electrified,
toothed with dew at dawn.
From a distance
it looked like nothing
was keeping the herd
from drifting across the highway,
fleshing out the cloud shadows.
To them the wire was not a wire
but a border where pain was
the toll for crossing.
We too knew not to touch it.
The only way to take part in
its power was to hold a blade
of grass to it and feel throbbing
through it the wire’s desire to be
channeled through flesh.
But every now and then,
ducking under it too hastily,
I heard a snap then felt it
pinch my spine
through the thin summer
t-shirts I wore.
Turning back, I would wonder
again at how the birds
could clutch it in their naked,
lightning-colored feet
as if it were a thin metal branch.
And somehow I knew the reason
they were able to was because
I stood grounded on earth
and they did not,
and to be on earth is a blessing
we pay for in pain.
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Midsummer, I remember them
bolting against my bare legs,
a green, sexual strength.
August found them strewn
in the dust like busted springs.
I touched them with my shoe
to make sure
they were dead
before picking them up.
Packed tight on my dresser,
the jars looked like
those homemade bombs
packed with nails and screws
that no one
but the terrorist knows
never went off.
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On the train I hesitate to then touch
The tired man sitting beside me
To point out the big moon rising
Over Mt. Diablo and the forgotten
Graffitied factories of South San Francisco
And he who like me was nodding
Over his phone, drawing his finger
With its whorled prints unique to him
Down the smudged screen
To refresh the feed gone stale
And learn of horrors missed
While working, thanks me and calls
His wife to tell her to tell his sons
To go out on some balcony in Bernal
Heights and see the moon before
It atrophies and pales into bone.
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Why did they never show themselves
to me these ghosts the woman who lives
there now tells my mother about saying
"Yes I’ve seen them passing through the bedroom
before dawn an old couple in worn clothing
he in denim she in a long housedress" on their way
downstairs to start in on chores their spirits
still waking at the milking hour a warning
to farmers that even when you’re dead
you won’t be able to sleep in "Yes they’re here
but they’re completely harmless I don’t even flinch
anymore when I see them did you ever see them?"
to which my mother says "No but I’m not surprised"
nor am I who always felt sudden chills
heard strange sounds watched doors creak
open then close found things on my desk I had
not taken out of drawers "Completely harmless"
the woman says turning towards that house
that is hers now that I will never step foot in
again unless I come back to haunt it
saying "The only thing I wish is I wish
they would tell me their names"
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Bare of Laurel They Live


…pity these have not
Trac’d upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
The shadows of melodious utterance.
But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die…

- John Keats, "The Fall of Hyperion – A Dream"

Bare of laurel they live,
The deer bedded down
In the meadow about to be
Mown, the cattle grazing,
The sound like nurses
Tearing cloth into bandages
In wartime, the flock of
Geese that never fails to
Forget this field, the mare
The boys give a crabapple to
Before the vet puts her down
And the worm secreted
In its sweet flesh, the fox
The farmer sees while fixing
The fence the deer ran through,
Assisted by the dog, burs
In her red fur, just beginning
To gray, the barn cats
In their generations, carrying
Stunned kittens by the skin
Of the neck because the boys
Found where she hid them,
Or crouched in honeysuckle
Hunting, or waiting outside
The milk house for alms,
The black ones crossing
The hired hand with bad luck,
The hired hand, whose bald
Head is bare of laurel
And who lives in the double-
Wide back of the house,
Dreaming a day will come
When the farmer's sons
Will die and he alone stand
To inherit all this. No
Creature or character in all
Of Pearl County wears
A crown of laurel.
Not the men who spend
Their mornings drinking
Coffee at the counter
Of The Oasis, ogling
The waitresses and waiting
For warmups. Not the man
Who picks up dead animals
Or the veterinarian
Or the milk hauler
Or the mailman
Or the breeder who
Every spring brings
The ring-nosed bull.
Bare of laurel they all live.
The closest this county
Comes to a laureate
Is summer evenings
The boys walk into the meadow
From which the deer
Have been scared to make
Crowns of clover and pretend
They are princes
And this their kingdom.
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Thomas Merton's Last Words


So I will disappear
from view and we
can all have a coke
or something.
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With Some, Death Grows Suddenly


With some, death grows suddenly
impatient, after being made
to wait so long, like a groom
who bursts into the room
to find his bride still pinning
up her hair, and takes her
before she's been given.
Later, the guests will whisper
of the cold draft they felt
when the two came up the aisle,
saying, "She smiles now but when
all this is over, the bottles
taken to recycling, the dress
hung in darkness, the bouquet
wilting in the room of the young
girl who caught it, it will hit her
like an open hand,
the mistake she's made."
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Cow Bell In a Pasture


Standing upright, the tongue hangs still,
yearning for the sides like a young woman
yearning for horizons. The way it landed,
a little askew, there is room under one corner
for beings of a certain size to slip through.
Sometimes a cricket will enter, feel solemn,
question whether to, then play a note that echoes
so strangely he packs up his fiddle and leaves
the strange cathedral. In summer fireflies come
illuminate the walls like archeologists
looking for petroglyphs in a cave. And always
there is a faint light that falls through the place
where the brass was broken to make the ring.
The bell keeps a square of this pasture snowless
and grassless through the year, and has ever
since the days cows wore bells. It is only a matter
of time until a boy finds it and it will have
joyous days again, a second youth, like a widower
who remarries late in life. But more likely
it will sing again in the belly of a backhoe's claw
and be buried dumb, packed as full of dirt
as the handles of a coffin. Only when it is
taken from or buried under this pasture
will one be able to say that all it stands for
has finally vanished: the one who wore this
one last, and the man who stood at the gate
so many mornings, listening, until the day
it fell off, and she came unheralded behind
the others, appearing silent out of the mist,
so that seeing her he felt strange, alive again
to the mystery, then said, "Well, where's your bell?"
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B Side


Something’s wrong
with his mother again.

She’s put on that lipstick
and a Christmas record

in June. When she falls
asleep with the flyswatter

in her hand, it falls to him
to turn it over.

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Stung By a Dead Bee


I’d seen it before,
curled up on the floor
like a sleeping child,
but thought
nothing of it.
I was so lonely
in that city even
the minuscule dead
kept me company.

Later, searching
for socks,
I felt that dawning
pain that seems
to be perpetually
about to be.
Wild that something
dead can still
make the living suffer.

But I didn’t feel
any anger.
It hadn't meant to
sting me.
Nor did I feel
the guilt of knowing
the bee must die now,
its abdomen
and digestive tract
and muscles
and nerves
pulled out
with the stinger.
The bee was dead.
It couldn’t have been
any deader.

And I’m glad now,
now that the pain's
gone, that I gave
the bee the chance
to use what
it never had a chance
to in life.
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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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Adam and Eve
-ning fell.

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The axe that heats
the home one day
kills the chicken the next.
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