Poetry Archive

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Jewel-colored jars collect
On our cellar shelves,
Cool as May spins
Toward the furnace of July,
Warm as October gathers
Frost, bright examples of
All we wish to savor
From good days past:
Golden dandelions pressed
Into sweet wine,
Tomatoes, pickles, violet plums,
Apricot sunsets captured
Beside dried chamomile, mint,
faintly summer scented.
January always comes,
Count on it,
Trees empty of all but snow.
Then we must light a fire,
Speak of each brilliant berry,
Spoons clinking
Against boiled glass.

Graves that Overlook the Ice Fall

The mountain smiles,
terrifying, high, and cold,
behind the darkest places in your eyes.
Your face is a window
through which the mountain laughs
while the Jet Stream cries thinly,
scrabbling among white pebbles and gleaming snow,
sweeping frost and crystal into a long scarf.
Raw stone has become
the stick against which you test yourself.
The mountain defines you,
burns your cheeks, your lips, steals your breath,
and causes all things to be small
except those graves that overlook the Ice Fall,
and the consequent nearness
of your own death.




Dreams in Tandem

We leap and dance and sleep
In tandem, you and I,
Dreamer within dreamer within dream.
You stretch my rib
And think it is the Earth,
Regard the race and rush of blood
And think it is the sea
Or your own cradle song,
While I perceive the spinning stars
As lanterns hung on velvet
Or the souls of fireflies.
We think in tandem, you and I,
"They rise for me, they wait for me."
Dreamer within dreamer within dream.

The Desert Keeps

I have known places
where even the light seems liquid,
known them like the inside of my mouth,
each damp pocket, each moist and slippery edge.
They are not sufficient.
I thought my past evaporated,
turned from brittle flower to powdered stone
when I left the desert and the desert keeps.
"Stay here!" I said.
"Die if you must, but I...
I am going for water."
Now it is you who draw me back,
when I have drunk and drunk
and still am thirsty.
"There is water here," you say.
"The kind you have always known."
Warm and salty.
They may be black, these lakes,
and caked with small white bones.
But they,
and only they
are wet enough.




The Attendant

He spoke only to the woman child.

He knew

she was the one who'd seen him
steal out of the jungle,
shaking water from his claws.

He chose her

because she loved the yellow of his eyes,
the roughness of his tongue.
She admired his blackness, his swiftness
when he dispatched snakes for her.
She called him Nothing.
The bigness of the name pleased him.

So be it.

He would let her follow him

until, lean and hard with age,
he fell prey to death.

It suited him.

Caliban in Ferragamos

The print of my foot has changed--
The soft-edged signature my body leaves
As evidence of its passage
Across moist sand or a bath mat
Or the smelly concrete
Beside a swimming pool.
Looking down I wonder
What kind of creature could produce
Such a picture of itself.
Some of the toes are missing,
Others splayed at monstrous angles,
The ball sharply divided
Like a goat's hoof.
My Caliban has awakened,
And is feasting on my bones
Secretly while I smile and chat
At cocktail parties.
Nobody knows this except me.
I keep my shoes on.




Bell Voices

The smith who forged the first bell
must have needed a voice,
must have fallen mute
when the rain bore down like stones
on planks beneath which he attempted sleep,
squeezed between sorrows without names,
pain inexpressible beyond tears;
must have stood dumb
when the clouds pulled apart,
gauzy as a beautiful woman's dress
and light dripped from a source still invisible,
slow and sweet as peach sap.
The bath of ashes, the moonlit dance,
these require a song beyond the human--
a voice whose power pulls
the acolytes toward heaven.

The Hillwoods Stranger

She met him in the hillwoods
Where he stood in star-warmed night.
He had been fishing
By the forest brook
Among the stones in the white water.
She shivered in the darkness,
For he offered up a massive paw,
Softly, softly,
Not to strike--
But to caress in clumsy fashion
Her glowing cheek.
He nodded then his heavy head
As if to tell her he approved
Of what it was that he had found.
Some strange magic filled his black eyes
With the stars.
And one constellation
Shone out brighter than the rest--
A blazing dipper.
She knew this was
No simple woodland creature
Who, thick-furred, watched her in the dark.
--I have come far, he seemed to say.
--I have come far for you.
And, huge against the summer night,
He took her to the leaves.




Empty Places

City boy, you make me weary.
Brick and asphalt encase your spine.
Fear's the only thing
That's ever made you shiver,
Your eyes forever open because,
Sharp as broken windows,
Your face might bleed if you closed them.
I drag you out here hoping you'll awaken
To the smell of water,
The true number of stars,
The patience of red rocks
Four hundred men high,
Old when the dads of the pyramids
Still slept in caves,
And you say, "Honey,
How many quarters you got?
'Cause I'm about out,
And the night is young."
Dancing naked in the dark, dry wind
As right as a porpoise in the sea,
It is part of the mystery
That I sleep deep,
And my bones hum, happy,
Knowing I'm less than a fly streak
On a windshield the size of space.

From a Michigan Bedroom

Cocooned in white sheets
or moon silk, the sleeper
dreams of a window
wide with yearning
through which curls:
caress of moist night
and silver light,
whisper of insects
in ripe grass,
scent of animals,
musky and desirous.
In the dream, from the dream
like warp and weft
the sleeper weaves fields
rugged with berries,
red and milky at once,
miraculous, where buck rabbits
leap more slowly than possible,
suspended between
what is real and
what is not.




The Vision

--They must look like birds
if only we could see them--
a woman said of the souls freed
from their bodies all at once,
her face a beacon, aglow
with that happy madness
that enshrouds the lucky.
Birds. Fat doves, no doubt,
or miraculously golden swallows,
swooping upward on their mission,
firey crosses in the western sky,
mysterious, and therefore jubilant.
I have to climb for hours,
my back bare and stinging
from the whip in my own hands
to reach the peace of this delusion.
They are not birds.
They are small red screams.
Hearts made of angry carmine paper,
carried in rising circles
on the wind from the bomb,
black ash long before they reach home.

If I Spoke the Language of Horses

Ah, beautiful horse,
Circling on this hillside,
You don't know the grass
Though it's meant for you,
The undulating land,
Sleek and sweet
As your own flank,
Far past the blue horizon.
You're like the moon
In your frenzied sphere.
Half of you stays hidden,
The side with the secret hurts.
What a sorrow,
Dark as the shadows of oaks,
To have raised this fence
Of twisted wire,
So you cut yourself
And learned fear
Even though your master's gone,
Bad ideas branded so deep
They've burned your heart.
Listen to me, horse.
You are many hands high,
You could jump this fence,
You could run forever.
Horse, listen to me.
You are many hands high,
You could jump this fence,
You could run forever.
Do you think I am lying,
Or just being kind?
Horse, listen to me!




Mary's Little Secret

I guess Mary knew
what every mother knows.
Let's be practical.
There she lay in a pile of straw
that must have stunk by then
of beasts and blood,
while outside Joseph
hoisted a few with the boys,
proud of himself,
having dragged her big as a balloon
across the countryside for days,
on a donkey for heaven's sake.
Now he's crowing about how
the kid is destined for great things,
a chip off the old block,
only he doesn't know which block.
That's Mama's secret,
is now and ever shall be.

Mary probably huddled up
to the back of a cow
and cradled the child
in arms too weary to be strong.
She probably thought, as she
sank into exhausted dreams,
--I'm glad that's overwith,
and he's got all his toes and fingers,
and doesn't look like anyone
in particular.
Halos? Well, we all
see things when we're tired.
What every mother knows
is the small heartbeat,
the small warmth,
the profundity of this moment.
It dwarfs the future,
not quite, but almost, makes her laugh
at the way men think.

True Form

Among depictions of God's wounds,
the parish women drift,
in their bright woolens,
royal grape, the green of limes,
warm concentrates of cherry, orange, berry,
and pressed to every bosom
like a quivering badge,
a Jell-O salad.
Each woman a creator
within the limits of her station
has made choices:
carrots, pears, or citrus,
marshmallows large or small,
carefully suspended
in artifice fantastic.
Some choose the classic ring,
some a ridged or perfect bowl,
even cake pans have been made to do.
One, daring buckles on her shoes,
has found a fish with curving tail;
I have seen this in a catalog.
I wonder, from the haze
beyond my father's death,
what happens to a woman when he's gone,
the one who molded her;
which of these wives,
portly, gray, devoted,
remembers her true form?




Sugar Night

We gaze into the sky,
A cup so deep and ebon
Balance abandons us
And we must lie longitudinally,
Supported by Earth at every point
Or risk freefall
Side-by-side in the desert sand
My young son and I.
Child of the city,
Stars puzzle him.
--What is it? That white place?--
And he points toward the zenith.
I could say it is the scar
Where god's heart broke open
When he unfolded time and saw
The unthinkable mistakes he'd made;
See how it's healed now
Into a band of gentle light,
Evidence that a man,
And you in his image,
Can forgive himself for anything.
Instead I dig in gritty pockets,
Find a nickel, hold it up.
--See? One way a circle, one way a line.
There hangs our galaxy, edge on.--
He laughs, warm gold in the dark.
--No, that sky looks like sugar.
Can we go for ice cream?--

Dead Line

Alive with the dark,
Rain whirls in scarves
On wind that sounds like pain,
I walk the cotton edge of dreams
When the telephone rings.
The sleeping air, cold against my skin,
The plastic, cold against my ear,
Listen, listen:
500 miles of wire
Running through a storm,
Carry no voice, just this jingle
Of your silver bracelets,
Unique as the print of lips
On a bourbon glass.
Heat behind my eyes,
Where have my questions gone now,
All those long howls shot into desert
Since we scattered you over the lake?
Do the dead write poems, seated whitely
Around tables in cold cafes?
Can you find good cigarettes where you've gone?
And what should I do with my life?




Dance of Our Promise Kept

Lovely, the long dance,
Bright, dark, slow, fast,
Spun like sugar,
Or a web,
Leaves on a whirlwind,
Or the branch,
Our breaths against our skins.
Shall we dance together?
We shall dance together,
In the cold rain,
In the sun,
Weep, rend, stamp, crouch,
Sing, bend, clap, touch.
Lovely, the long dance
Of our promise kept.

Make It Last Forever

Father says:
--Just look. The sun is setting.

I feel like a fish, landed,
clubbed in the head.
I thought if I were tolerant enough,
grateful enough, if I loved enough,
this day would last forever.
I stare westward, at risk of further blindness.
Surely it isn't true.
But now that I look I see
though I wish not to with all my heart
a certain loss of light, traces of frost.
At once, it all makes sense,
the birds half mute, my weariness,
this powerful warmth
relentlessly insistent on its own path,
imperturbable, fast, fast,
receding, true at last
to itself and only itself.

I say:
--I'll stay awhile longer, it's beautiful.
Because I can't bear to leave.
I have to be sure.
Father hugs my shoulders
so I know he'll come for me later,
gather me up and carry me home
to sleep in my grief.
I say:
--Tell me a story, sun, make it last forever,
as the red deepens,
as the first stars appear.




Passion's Heart

He knows he will die.
There is the core of the thing,
molten, incandescent with pressure.
Some night in autumn is his guess,
not those two weeks of brilliance
when the canyons shiver,
fiery with farewell gold and orange.
But after. When the leaves lie sodden
and the trees make hen marks
against cold twilight,
begging for snow to hide them.
All he knows will die.
But there lives the heart of passion.


Today's headlines:

Nature Is Dead
Extinction of Species Rampant
Humanity to Blame.

Over tea of mango, orange,

the fruit of autumn roses
and hawthorne trees
I wiggle into this tight-fitting image,
myself as Genocidal Despot of Oak Court,
armed with alien seeds,
intent on the mass murder of snails,
mildew, privets, and those invasive woody things
that strangle fuschias.

Seven grains fly fiery from my tongue,

cashews, almonds, walnuts,
hens' eggs, the milk of lowing cattle.

Moments from now I will commit atrocities

unknown in true nature,
pull tender grasses out by roots,
cut back ivy to make room for dreadful flowers,
blood-red salvia, celosia wicked as cats,
a clump of deadly daisies.

I am a horror greater by far

than an asteroid the size of Texas,
violent volcanoes, exploding stars.
Terrible with trowels and compost,
dreams of the garden in July,
my knees killing me,
I am bad, bad, bad
in the lightless, unnatural heart of me.

Why, exactly, do I doubt what I read?





This story,
poured layer by thin, mirror layer
from a pail of cold water,
steaming in the colder air,
is how we try to soothe the sorrow away
by making it beautiful,
when we find what we found
in the ice cave, and are afraid
it is our fault somehow.
She looks so perfect, white on white,
her hands just so,
the drape of her thin gown just so,
a small line above her eyes,
closed as if in a perplexing dream,
often the case in those who die by freezing.
She is the queen of Antarctica,
who traveled here from Argentina's near tip
last summer on a broken glacier floe,
driven by loss, as if the strong bird
that lived once in the house of her heart
by choice had chosen to fly.
She landed on this shore at the solstice
and penguins greeted her like funny friends,
and she played in the snow with seals
and thought they begged her to stay forever.
For a time it was never night--
just day, day, day, the sky desert blue,
the land blinding, water melting in rivulets
for her to drink, fish leaping into her hands.
Still she could not smile.
Later, the sun dipped down,
testing the water, little by little,
and the seals and penguins swam away, knowingly.
She thought of following them,
but the sadness lay on her like snow.
Everywhere she turned rose north,
the nights grew longer and longer,
until there was only dark,
and the anesthesia of cold wind.
What is it to be queen of such a land,
she must have thought, as she laid her down
in the white ice cave and let the frost
draw up her blanket.

Wild Child's House

Starboard lies the island
known only as Strife.
Take my glass and you may spy,
wedged among fierce rocks
a misshapen structure
fashioned from the sea's gifts:
driftwood, nets,
bits of broken ships,
a roof of conch and abalone shells,
magical in sunlight,
useless in rain,
a danger in storms.
This is the house of a wild child,
left to survive unschooled
as is the custom in this strange land
where people make war on themselves,
learn nothing and die
craftless as at birth.
When last we dared that shore,
I left a hammer, a saw, a box of nails
out of compassion or guilt,
having passed by many times before.
Today, look, a window,
shining eyes,
and the child hails us
amid the foam.




Separate Journeys

Here in my house,
friend of times past,
babbling while I cook,
the kitchen fragrant of tomatoes, salt,
familiar phrases on the steamy air,
minus everything--
pure joy? The happy illusion
of knowing each other soul-deep?
It is hard to see myself mistaken
in the bright glass of your eyes,
so fierce with certainty
where before lay always questions,
the last one dangerous, the answer hard:
love is slippery as a fish.
Was it pain that made you put to sea
in a bad boat, the captain mad?
Here in the storm of my kitchen,
we speak to each other as if through wind,
sipping bourbon, deaf and screaming
while we drift apart.

Smile on the Edge

Don't tell me not to smile
when I contemplate the edge.
You don't know my mind,
the flavor of the wind
on this rocky plateau,
how the horse between my thighs,
povrecito, wants only to be free,
how it strains in its rage and sorrow
toward this darkness
where I must surely follow,
my hands so raw,
its mouth so bloody
I have let go the reins.
The smile makes a small pool,
a memory of how water tastes,
of sky colors,
the scent of virgin grass,
things the darkness cannot offer,
and the horse feels this.
Don't tell me
the smile costs too much,
that it is a bad bargain.
You do not know.




Road to Rouen

We who line the roads
Outside our wretched houses,
Who have never conceived of choice
Where masters are concerned,
Gape as you pass by,
Not because your armor shines.
Because it shines not.
Because we see the marks of axes and fury,
Because mud coats it, blood encrusts it,
Your enemies' and your own,
Because you are small
And a woman
And were born with no more power than we,
Yet power roars forth from you like heat
And today victory is yours.
Why these tears? you might ask
If divinity did not blind you so.
Because, dear sister,
Masters are all the same, even yours,
Their strategies mysterious.
We see your future and it scorches us all,
Tied to the stake, screaming
Jesus! Jesus!
Because you are more useful

Cat Beyond Illusion

A sound of feathers beaten against glass
Awakens me. I open eyes hot
From fever dreams, lie still around
Burning bones, and wonder.
Again, gentle thunder of a sad, soft effort.
Beyond the window, the sky,
This first day of spring
Diffuse with sun and thin clouds,
A high wind wailing,
Free and cold, oh, if I could join it.
I imagine what the robin
Sees--a deep reflection of mountains,
Its own enticing breast,
Illusion compelling as a scent.
Be happy, robin, woman, I want to say.
If you had your heart's desire,
the cat would eat you.