Saturday, December 11, 2010

Response to a Graduate Seminar Presentation

He drones like so many bees
in and out of my hive of a head,

and I wait for him to sting us
with thought, challenge, or obscenity,

but nothing comes, and so we wait.

We pray that a heavy bear will come
and, seeking honey, bat us out of
this captive audience that he drains
like a machine.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

There it was
in the middle of
the sidewalk-

a broken jar,
once full of

a beaded necklace

a camera commercial,
a comedy routine,
a thousand little points of light,

still in this
November sun,

and I was there alone,
like Paris, like San Francisco,
like Rome, like New York,
working up the courage to say
it was beautiful.

A Thanksgiving Poem 2010

I came to the beach for Thanksgiving.
My family, a small band of nomads,
brought popcorn and pop-tarts and
homemade gravy and we sat, as we always do,

and watched the youngest children rise and spin
and tremble through adolescence.

I came to the beach for Thanksgiving
because in the quiet hours I could
sneak down to the sandy shore and
scribble these half-written words,

pulling small pieces of bread out of my pockets
and hoping the small bird of a poem would come.

I cam to the beach for Thanksgiving
because it is immeasurable, and I,
artificially large, needed to remember
that I am thankful.
I am, once again, drawn into its vastness,
how its rolling waves are a watery canopy,
how beneath, there sleeps a still unconquered dragon.

I do not think we are nervous about the
ocean's great depths or wide stretch.
I don't think we are deceived into believing
its myths will wake and overcome us.

I think we are afraid, rightfully afraid,
at how something can still be so un-owned.

Brushy Creek Ranch

It is a breakable November,
and the sun is a stage light
or an ornament, both hung on
the eastern wall of this
cloudless Texas sky.

The birds that are all sewn
together in a small book to my
left are as much an
orchestra as they are
the soundtrack to this
camera-less film.

And there are men filling
the beds and floors and couches
of this ranch style labyrinth,
but they are asleep and
not aware of the jittery butterflies
or the heavy dragonfly.

And I am a prince here,
my castle filled with
mossy chandeliers,

as we are all princes
in these open air banquet halls
of Our Most Benevolent King.

Friday, October 8, 2010


for Dr. Kimberly Brown

I doubt it will
feel different at first.

Your car will sound the same
as you turn its silver key.

Your cat will crawl upon
your lap and stretch and sleep.

I don’t know that the
grocery clerks will recognize
you as you sack your milk and bread,

and surely, the neighbors will
think nothing of you collecting mail
or watering the hanging plants.

But the next time you slide
into a bookstore or library
and parade their heavy aisles,

the next time you thumb through
prose, poetry, or criticism,

you will know that you are among them—
a creator, constructor, conspirator, conductor.

You will know that
you are allowed into their secret meetings,
able to knock their secret knock.

And sure, the Toms and Alices of this
one-wheeled world won’t see,

but what have they ever suspected of the
greatness that wells within you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not Quite Right

It was casual,
a side of macaroni,
an orange wedge.

We did not
plan it like a
or an Angolan expedition.

There is no fall-out,
no breakdowns,
no failedattemptsto

We were already

But I counted on you,
and when I needed you,
you werenotthere.

there was only wind
and wake
and stars
and cummings’s
cornerless sky.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New York, 1910

The view from this old Dutch port
is not the postcard I will send to my mother
or the glossy photo from my 8th grade history textbook.

The warm New York sun reflects off the bay
and a light fog leaves only a dark silhoutte before me.

It is a woman, arm raised, looking
out on the open waters.

I imagine that without telephoto lens of perscription eyewear
this is what she must have looked like to my great-grandparents
as they rocked like driftwood towards her narrow feet.

Some hovering giantess with glowing torch,
her stern face unreadable.

My great-grandparents standing in many layers,
their silver and good jewelry tucked in waistbands.

This shadowy shape must have been the
first thing they remembered,
their knuckles white around heavy black luggage handles,

coughing up yesses,
thank you's, and pleases
from dry Polish throats.

New York, 2010

The city is fianlly asleep,
its sinners and street
vendors tucked away,
its prostitutes and priests
both in their small apartments.
Little swarms of street lights
are the only things that still buzz.

And I, of course, still
scribbling away in this
make-shift memoir
am full of awake.

But soon, I will
pumpkin too and wake up
hours later, inches into the sun,
dancing with the day and all
its carnival citizens.

But for now, I open the bedroom window
and reach out a hand into the heavy night.

I grip it like bolts
of dark wool
and pull it around my naked body.

I spin until I
am wild with it.

I sink to the light oak
floor, pull my knees up
and rock myself to this
metropolitain metronome.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Magda, whose full name
is Magdelena,
is not here.

Across the valley from
La Meige on this
cool summer evening,

she is sitting
at the edge of
a grassy cliff.

The only thing between
her and the air beneath
is a small, unlined
notebook she is filling
with consonant-heavy

She will not tell me
what she is writing,
so I guess.

A poem?

Something about the chapel I can see in the distance?

Your thoughts?
Yes, kind of.

And I can imagine
she is writing something similar
to what we all write,
similar to what I am writing now:

that we are all human,
beautifully so…
terribly so…

That we are all
a great story of many books,
one that I see now,
brown hair, purple scarf,
her twin sister, Paulina, now beside her.

Two slim volumes in Polish
On the wide shelf of the earth.

Learning Polish

It slides off my tongue
like wet ice, and
my grandfather who
spoke English to my
father and nothing
to me, opens his
heavy immigrant hands
and calls me moja pociecho
which means “my consolation,”
and it is and it isn’t.

I say “Kocham cię, dæiadku,”
as I place white flowers
at his twenty-year-old grave.


A young Polish girl
in my poetry workshop
both arrived and left
our first meeting, bewildered.

Only later I learned
she thought that poetry
was pottery and became
concerned when she found no clay.

I gave her the option of
changing to watercolor
or photography but out of
embarrassment of manners
she stayed.

Her first poem was a
short reflective piece in English.
The whole poem turned like a wheel
around the word “schemas.”

Though unable to carry water
or display red róże,
surely her muddy hands
have created something worth keeping.

Visiting Poland

I have not been there
but I imagine the
streets and skies are
filled with large
black birds.

And the storefronts
are dressed with
links of sausage and
thick-crusted bread.

I imagine that the
buildings and statues
are gray and cracked
and taste like gun powder.

And the old women wear
heavy coats and
brightly colored scarves.

And the old men walk slowly.

I have not been there
but I imagine that
the thin threads
of my blood are
still sewn with
a green-eyed needle,

and my family fills
the streets and skies
like large black birds

that wear heavy coats,
that walk slowly,
that do not think of me
or this poem they’ll never read.

Bible Study

And God said,” Let there be light,” and there was light.
- Genesis 1:3

And let there be heavy
And great weight
And stones
That will sit in the
Small chambers of our
Labyrinth hearts

And let there be mornings
Where our sand-filled
Arms are difficult
To lift

And let there be nights
When the weight of our
Skulls is too much to bear

When the marrow of our bones
Is metal meat
When our blood is slow-moving

And in these heavy moments
We will be able
(Finally and without eyes)
To see the light

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A poet's best words
are not
the ones that send
amateur readers
running to dictionaries
to quarry a quick definition.
They are not
the long stings of letters
the literati wear like boas.
They are not
the anachronistic vestiges
of an even-then obscure language.

Our best words are our
first words.
"momma" "ball" "hungry,"
those that have taken our
first steps with us,
those whose meaning is not
learned, but

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I am dancing
but without legs,
without music,
without a floor,

and you criticize
my fourth position.

But did you see
the shape of my arms
during my tour de promenade?

Did you see how
I was both holding
and letting go

at once?

To the Children

I would give them balloons,
large red balloons that would
pull them, their brothers, their
sisters to teh mountains that
they cannot reach by foot.

There, without machetes to
chop or bundles of firewood
to carry home, we would
sleep beneath the heavy
canopy, drink water
from the hanging gordes.

There in the soft underbrush
there would be quiet laughter,
the strange singing of the
jungle birds, and the heavy
creak of the mile high trees.

But first, we must find balloons,
large red ones, thousands of them
that can carry us all at once,
far from this place with no air.
Mornings here are
a cut canteloupe.

The dogs and roosters
are silent.

The sun is hung
like a picture.

The metal rooves
sparkle like the waves

of an ocean

in which
these people will surely drown.

Wingless- On visiting a Honduran orphanage

The children, with their
sweaty hands, run to the
Americans like geese.

They beg to be held, to
be thrown, to be anywhere
but on the abyssmal ground.

They hold on tightly about
our necks and our ears,
sure that suspended here,

eventually, they'll fly.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras--March 2010

It is dry here
and the forests
are a thirsty
yellow sea.

And the sun
is a sweater
that no one
can remove.

And they say
the mountains
are on fire, but
there is no water.

THe dogs are in heat,
barking like trumpets,
and the cock crows
just after 10 o'clock.

Here, no one remembers morning.
I am a lover
like I am a clown
an astronaut, a
cold-eyed killer.

And I will love
you with this
starry rebellion,
this painted face,
and these hands
taht will strangle
you in your sleep.
I thought of you today
while sipping steamy tea
on the cupboard of my back porch.

I thought about how like a
wind you are and how like
so many fallen leaves I am,
all fiery and tragic,
rustling like a hymn.

Scoop me up in your
zephyrous arms, I pray.
I will continue to spin
in this penny ballet--

a brittle thing that only
lives when held.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For Gary Miller-Wyatt

His hand shakes now
so that he cannot
hold his coffee.

His wife, elegant
and swift, has a thin
neck and holds

his coffee for him.
His students fail
to notice.

His students, queens
and priests, memorize
their lines like prayers

and worship, religious
fanatics that they are,
each night for hours.

He is not their god,
but he is their Platonic
shadow on the cave wall.

He is flawless and moves
the students like furniture,
like lions.

He has seen this before.
And in each young man
he sees a young Tybalt.

In each girl, a Juliet.
And in me, he saw Miller
and Shakespeare and

a promise that my best
was still in the wings.
And it has been years

since I last took the stage.
Both the lights and the
mechanics of the curtains

are strangers. But when
I hear the applause of my
typewriter keys, when I

see an ovation at the end
of every class, I always
look to the audience.

He is there, as he has
always been. A intensely
focused brow above

a widening smile. His wife,
with the thin neck, still holding
his trembling hands.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Born Again

It is late,
and there is no
black bird to
sing me to sleep.

So I will stay
awake and glass-
eyed in this
great stone church

where the saints have
no heads and the
angels do not
look down.

I will stay here
with no lamps
and open the
gospels in the dark.

I will whisper
the words that I
can read.

I will eat the
bread and not swallow.

I will twist myself
into a prayer.

They will build churches
in my name.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Beneath the Water Heater

There is a cat.

From her soft voice,
she must be a kitten.

From her persistance,
she must be strong.

We cannot get to her,
not without ripping
the floor of this
cavernous house.

We cannot save her,
or we will not.

Either way, her voice
getting weaker, her

mew that rolls like marbles
in the back of my brain.

And when she is dead or escaped,
I am sure, her soft wails
will haunt my dreams,

I will die there,
you know.

Trapped in an empty wood,
everywhere I look,
cat tails

Psalm 103:12

But what of where they meet?
In that directional hurricane
on the other side of the globe,
where east meets west, where
they are the same, is it here
I wear my sins like skins?
Is it here our forgiving God,
still has me by the throat?

Damn this infinite sphere.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Day the Wall Came Down

I say go there at night. Go there when the wind is pulling on the galloping flags like so many small hands. I say go there when the lights are holding the statue, ten feet from the earth. Because it is then, in the calmest of moments , you see the horses for what they are—small beginnings of a storm.

When I was a freshman, the horses were new. The old people would come in droves holding their grandchildren like spaghetti, and offer them to the bronze gods. The old people knew the wall before it fell. The old people knew the horses.

Years later, I still go to the statue. A man now in a world of children, I sometimes take them with me. I hold them up to the steady eyes of the stallion, the steady eyes of the mares. I watch the wall fall in their reflective eyes.

I say. Go there at night. Go there when the wind is the only sound. Go there when you can softly hear the Berliners—their maddening cries of victory, defeat.

The Graduate

Let me walk on the
thin ribbon of your
Möbius mind, and I,
a dangerous kind of
new, will defy the
tired cords of gravity
and stay suspended


in the airy jungle
of the unknown—
this lamp, my only

A twisted head,
just the beginning.

Tomorrow, I will
twist your yesterdays
until you find

upside-down and awake,
the only un-eaten apple
in a sea of falling ants.

Open Letter to James Earl Rudder

And what of the wind
that snakes and spins
across this open field?

Do you hear it?

And what of the trees
that bend and gnarl
beneath the singing sun?

Do you see them?

And what of the buildings,
stone comrades,
standing ever ready?

Do you salute them?

And the students
that flood by you
like a slow brook,

and the faculty
that hurry past
in shoes of things to do,

and the other men
and women, just as still,
reflecting the same light,

do you know them?

And are their names,
just as ours, written
on the heavy pages

of the book you always hold?


In German, the word
for horse is pferd,
the word for wave
is welle.

Were we all
drowned in this
mighty pferdwelle?

If so, it must have been
a beautiful death.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


how is it that we,
the air, the wind,
the ones destined for hell,

are saved?

if we temper
the fire within
if we cool it
if we cover it
if we strangle it

will it not
on the day of our baptism
ignite and boil us alive?

No, we, the air, the wind,
the heat, the light,
the ones destined for hell.

we are the still magma
bubbling beneath the earth
we are the blue flame
coiled like a snake
we are the unloved

and hell rides us like a chariot.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Roc

I've been sitting
in my overstuffed chair,
a dictionary on my lap,
waiting for a roc to come.

I want to see that
mythical bird fly
down, a great pet of
the gods, perhaps
a god herself.

They say she can
carry away an adult
elephant with one
snatch of her claws.

I want to be here
in this chair when
she comes, when the
shadow of her wings
colls the sun,

and we sit in
silent anticipation
for that terrifying and wonderful
first feeling of flight.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Silver Taps Revisited

The soldier
tight like wire
on my right

has metal bones
that rattle
in this thin air.

He is brilliant
in the moon,
a quiet, unsettling

These moments
are meant
for the darker
cupboards of
our kitchen

where we
are not fragments

but a whole,
faceless and wide.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Prayer Tonight

My prayer tonight,
as our little square
of earth passes
lazily in the lampless night,

is that tomorrow,
when we wake, the globe
will be smaller,

and the next day,
smaller still
both nights and
days are just seconds
on a spinning top,

and we would not be able
to put the sun to sleep
without it rising at our backs,

and we, the romantic
would collect evenings by the wagon
and build small castles
out of their hesitant dangers,

and we, the guilty
would collect mornings by the bushel
and finally sleep soundly
in their promised mercies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19, 2010

The clouds of this
dreary hill country afternoon
are not the cartoonish
cottonballs of children's books
and bulletin boards.
They are not the stylish
manes of zephyrous horses
smeared like Monet across the
bending sky. They are not the
pinkish mountains or a
heavy sheet of grey.

They are, instead, a slow
reaching, the shadow of roots,
the extending fingers
of a dark and melancholy
god whose lightening face
is atmospheres above us.

January 18, 2010

The large basin
just south of the main house
grows trees like broccoli,
great maternal things
full of braided bark.

ion the summers the
cattle lay and low
beneath its cool branches
and gnaw at its surfacing roots.

The tree, still green
in this heavy blanket of winter
is patient and holds
the sun, the shade,
and a thousand ghosts,

whose bodies and stories
all lay still within
te reach of her river-like roots.

January 17, 2010

is this Love? Envy? Regret?
is this the three-headed Ceberus
patient at Pluto's gate?

Shall I let it eat me?


If I go on, and I
best this snake-maned dog,
all that waits for me is
Charon's ferry, a lonely voyage.

Even impeccable solitude
is solitude.

January 16, 2010

There are some things,
try as we might, we
cannot shake off our
dusty boots of progress.

The weights I carried
as an eager child
still slow my gait
as a bearded man,

and the poisoned apple
I peeled with my teeth
still sits, unbruised and
glowing in my passive fruitbowl.

I wonder if the greater
danger of sharing this fruit is
that I might poison the world
or realize after so many hungry years
that the fruit was never poisoned.

January 15, 2010

In the basements
of the Midwest
there are sewing
machines and ping
pong tables, hot water
heaters and over-stuffed
couches, boxes of
receipts and the good
wedding china. in
the basements of
the Midwest there
are globes and
Christmas decorations,
poker chips and fishing
rods, winter coats and
the grandchildren's toys.

In the basements
of the Midwest, there
are high windows
that look out on the
floor of the world.

that the Midwesterners
will peek out of if the
tornados come.

that will leave only
Midwesterners, their
basements, and the secret
places where they are most human.

January 14, 2010

Wind Farms

the arable land
the agrarian hands
planting small seeds
of tornados and

zephyrs to be
tended carefully
by some rosy
cheeked norse god

a harvest too beautiful
for human eyes to conceive

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13, 2010

Bob, a platinum blond
transsexual, works the
breakfast shift at an
Arby’s just off I-70.

After roast beef and
curly fries, my friends
and I, on a cross-Kansas
roadtrip, followed her out.

She eased, tight knees
into a white Sunfire
and flipped her long
hair as she checked
for oncoming traffic.

Her braceleted arm
jingled as she pressed
the gas and took
a sharp left onto
the icy highway,

And as we poured
back into our packed SUV,
I couldn’t help but
think how she was

both brave and defiant,
both dangerous and disruptive
both a hero and pariah to
our still-forming culture.

Bob, a strange little cup
of America, speeding down
the interstate, Stevie Nix
turned all the way up.

Matching her note for note.

January 12, 2010

Driving east from
the rocky mountains
the earth is smoothed
out like a sheet cake,

some uncrumpled portion
of a tectonic plate
still floating lazily
on a sea of fire,

and the wings of
Kansas are those of
the hawk, spread wide
and flat in both directions,

and the pioneering mothers
who wrung their aprons
centuries ago still wring
their aprons now,

wives of thin-lipped
farmers whose snow-
covered fields, they say,
feed the world.

January 11, 2010

I will adjust your eyes
such that the thick lines blur
and your astigmatic heart sees
me and we are rent free from
this colonial cloth that fails
to warm and no longer matches
the patches we’ve sewn and sown.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010

Several years ago I went to Colorado with friends. While lounging in the cabin, I wrote a short poem that has now been lost or published in an unread journal. In the poem, I thoughtfully remarked that i had never seen an apple in the snow.

Along my walk today
Just off the concrete path,
I spied an apple in the snow.

It was not shiny or red.
In fact, it was bruised
and half-eaten.

Perched just feet away
were hungry crows whose
black eyes were counting

the ghosts that surely
swarmed around me.
But I, engaged

by the fallen fruit,
looked away from the birds,
curtailed my conversation with

Stevens and thought
about how what has not been
is not at all similar
to what never will be.

January 9, 2010

I have much to say
and such little time
in which to say it.

Perhaps it will be best
to toss off the modesty
my parents and priests

have wrapped me in,
stand naked at the door
and knock and knock and knock,

and when they see me,
unclothed and brilliant,
they can ask me in or not,

knowing, of course, that
whether their guest or their gall,
I am here, naked in their world.

January 8, 2010

In these dark Denver nights
where the hawks turn like wheels,

I walk barefoot in the sharp snow
and bend my neck to the sky

that falls around me in dust from
a great God who is sawing the world in two.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

January 7, 2010

My Annual Ski Trip

The young men
who like lion cubs
still dance and fall
upon one another
in imaginary wars

are now galloping
towards the fresh snow,
swaddled in enough
clothes to remind
them they are not

meant for this world.
They hold their skis
and poles in a bushel.
They are by all accounts,
looking to feel heroic,

and I, either an
old lion, or weathered
lioness will prowl
this artificial savannah,
lazily chasing down books

and elusive poems,
crouching in the thick
brush of my king size bed,
eyeing a plump sestina
which has wandered from the herd.

January 6, 2010

Today the sun set
just beneath a snow swept
mountain peak. The
wall of clouds became
the pinkish-orange
we only see at dusk and
in mixed drinks.

I quickly fell in love
like children or celebrities,
quick and without thought,
but inevitably the gold shook out
and was replaced by a rather
serious purple that did not
understand me.

I spent the rest of evening
mourning my short tryst
and wondering how any
relationship works
with all of us
rising and

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 5, 2010

The herds of men
are gone like bison,
like the great forests.

The ground, still
wet with their blood,
is fertile,

and the seeds are deep and mutinous
and the flower is a sickle.

January 4, 2010

Waiting on a Straight Draw

I've kept my hand hidden
and checked on the promising flop.

The wheel has fallen
without significance.

Now, I am waiting on the river
to either drown me or finally
take me home.

January 3, 2010

I woke up red
with helium in
my veins.

Untying myself
from the bedpost,
I drifted up,

and finding a window,
poured out into
the early blue sky.

One red dot
against a caecious

Some forgotten Rothko
That has wrapped around the world.

January 2, 2010

First Words

My niece has not chosen
the word with which she
will begin her life-long oration.

Tongue-tied in bubble gun
mumbles, she crawls on her
chubby knees through a smattering

of traditional choices, hearing
"mama" and "dada" like
an oscillating fan.

I'm sure that she will choose
"baby" or "brother" an homage
to her older siblings,

but a secret part of me
is holding out for "Hwaet,"
a traditional prologic fanfare
of Old English.

I whisper it in her ear
as she coos and cuddles
in my arms.

When she does say it,
her parents may not
register it as remarkable,

but 11th century warriors
will bid Heorot be silent
as my darling begins
to weave her tale.

January 1, 2010

Last Year

I have folded the days
of last year like small
paper cranes.

I have thrown them
by handfuls into
the windy night

and watched them
make starry circles
in the frozen sky.

Since they left, I have
searched bare branches
and open fields

but have found no
paper wing or still-
flapping day.

They must have joined
their brothers and sisters,
perched high

in an eternal tree
whose leafless branches
are white with our history.