“I killed my son,” he said, fielding the catch in his voice,
words plain, unwreathed with plea or pardon.
“They say it was an accident, but I swerved the sled
that hit the tree that slammed the skull
that bruised his brain and knocked the life
right out of him. I heard it slip away. Twice.
I couldn’t get a handle on something so fluttery,
went right past me real slow, but too quick
just the same. Air, they told me, is what it was,
escapes from the lungs when the brain is only matter.
“Ten years old, curled up, a question mark on an envelope of snow.
Death arrived and I, to him no more than a mitten or a cap,
barely breathed as any creature does when danger seems close,
a lunge or swipe away. He stood, his face beneath a mask
or so I thought, although I’d seen neither.
“And then one night he came again, I knew, for me.
Hours I waited in horror, to see what look he had
or what he buried. The hardest work I’ve ever done,
to will my eyelids up, to see not night, not death,
but light and love and morning.”
Under the Drawer
It fell like a leaf from a tree at year’s end,
faded and crisp, a photo drifting to the floor.
She was there, thirty years before, wheat jeans,
chambray shirt, straw colored hair spun to gold.
Who sees me now? Invisible to the eyes of the glorious young,
a nimbus of white wreathing an old man’s face, desire
untrammelled by age. She threaded my heart, embroidered me,
sewed patchwork into a life. Cradling children snuggled between,
we rocked ourselves to sleep each night, dreaming a wish
to throttle time.
Bodhi and I
We walk, Bodhi and I.
He plows the past up with nose,
paws loosing scents of other beings
and waves his muzzle to the wind.
Perfect companion, my Tibetan,
turning the smell of was into is.
We stroll through Birch, Cedar, Linden,
Cherry, Oak and Maple.
He marks trees along our way
as I leave these marks to you.
- Angels Then and Now, 1953-2016
When I was a boy and walked and biked
by backyards and ball fields with grass brown
and dormant in the summer heat vibrating
with the jump and whirrs of grasshoppers
before leaf blowers blew them to oblivion,
I watched on our black and white TV
every Saturday morning my cowboy heroes,
The Range Rider and his All-American
companion, Dick West, The Lone Ranger,
Hopalong Cassidy, and others strong, righteous,
uncomplaining, I would lie in bed at night
in reverie, my shoulder wrapped with bandages
from a gunshot wound, and teeth gritted received
tender care from the women who entered my room
and left before I passed on to the next world of sleep.
Years passed and standing on the beach I saw
a band riding, hair and beards flowing,
across the night sky from south to north,
as the full moon lit each wave that swelled
and fell depositing their glittering beauty
upon the sand. They disguised themselves then,
revealed when I was able to see, none with rainbow wings
or trumpets, but a dog or friend, child or wife,
or sometimes a poem or phrase or paint.
Now, one visits as Francois, who worked in the morgue
of a hospital to match bodies to official paper,
and transformed by the common odor
of death, speaks each time he lifts me, “My brother.”
- 23rd Psalm
My Dog is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to play in green pastures: he prefers to stay out of the waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me among the paths
of righteousness for squirrels’ sake.
Yea, though I wheel through the valley of the shadow of illness, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy bark and thy wag they comfort me.
Thou awaits me to prepare a dish for you before me in the presence of my friends and family: thou anointest my hand with licks; the cup of my heart runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Dog forever.
- On Youth Sports
Why did they take their calling,
the kid run, free form, back and forth
vocation of play? Who robbed them—
of error and chance, made passion subject to rule?
Where have they gone—one, two—no—
three fingers bucking up, pleasure and terror
of sides picking,
first buds of compassion for losers,
making from nothing bases, plate and mound.
When did they stop using their own minds
and changing them—mid game,
mid inning, mid batter, mid play, mid pitch?
How did they lose the right
to “That’s fair,” “That’s foul,” to arguments,
fights, making up, and the joy—time to eat,
do something else, I’m bored—of quitting?
Who now decides who’s out, who’s safe,
manages words and emotions, requires civility?
I fashioned my own bat in seventh grade shop,
calipers measuring the barrel by the inch,
several homers over the short right field tennis court fence.
It splintered, a handle too narrowly lathed.
I trust aluminum does not shatter after it is cast from the mold.
At risk—anarchy of the young.
Too soon—imagination sent down.
The horror—to defend against exuberance.
- Painting You, Naked
In the black coffee of night the moon pours cream
through the open window above our bed
and lightens the umber shadow
stretching across the pale linen wall.
I want to paint you, your skin canvas smooth.
Your breath teases my touch as the hands and lips of new lovers do.
I dip my brushes into the liquid cups of your palms,
load them with color–madder rose,
carmine deep, cerulean,
ebony, titanium white–
to mix and match memories.
I trace the whorls of your ears.
One brush fine enough to limn each lash,
another of sturdy bristle to scumble
in the nooks of belly and ribs. I use flats and ovals
to define the arcs of your curves and wipe them clean
with rags torn from sheets where we strayed.
Carefully, I frame you in my arms and dry you with whispers.
Pushing the body up the incline of age,
who dares complain? Do you hear nearby sobbing,
old men in bibs, women afraid? Do we not see those
who really work with hands or body, for whom
the next morning comes and the next after that
and no rest? Dayenu, it is sufficient, no complaint
We do not have dreams. More truly, they have us.
The trees stenciled in frail morning light.
Kindling stacked on an antique grate crackles under the lash of flame.
Ash sifts through soot stained bars.
Suddenly, a coal black bird swoops from the flue to my nest
of books, sofa, lamps, seizes the mantle,
and captures me with his iron hot eye.
Taking flight his wing nicks a cut glass fixture.
A bulb breaks.
Only then do I recall last night’s images, too disturbing to touch,
tossed homeless out of mind by daybreak’s seduction,
come back to take their toll.
- Against the Machine
Soulful voices do not sing sweetly,
but sound like what they mean.
Melody and noise, harsh gutturals,
soothing hums, birth cries, moans of ache and pleasure.
All song, loose in the world.
Troubadours and minstrels!
Rag tag bands of toot, plunk, whistle, boom!
God drunk Bacchae!
Priests, politicians, pomp and power
attempt to shut up quaking shaking portals of imagination.
Burn the chanting heretic!
Hunt down erotic balladeers!
Jail rock and roll gypsy.
Circus, carnival, caravan suspect!
Toll the bell!
Wake the dead!
Let no one sleep!
Answer with a shout!
Or else no one to hear the silence
“The boy’s a fool!” they say. Perhaps, but
who else brews poetry, smuggles laughter,
dreams of pipes stuffed with wit.
He sees the emperor’s bottom,
admits his burps, belches, farts,
knows the off-throne paramour squirts too early,
elbows without intent his lover’s eye.
A motley self, tinkling bells,
tattered patchwork, ass-eared cap, his flaws—
swollen bladder on a stick,
hard-ons and hot lips,
things that swell and poke,
seltzer bottles, custard pies, the moist, the messy—are felicities.
Joker, drinker, flirt, chair puller.
Forget the fool and merrily we sail along
in great ships laden with futures.
Below rocks wait to cash in.
The way to handle death is
with an old slat, spiked, to hammer sleeked skull rodents
that rob and clatter beneath beds and bite;
with earth—a box and spade;
with water—wrapped in a flag, inclined to sink;
with air—swaddled on a board, kept from winter starved beasts;
with the hopeful balm of mother’s love;
with complaint, history, diagnosis, prognosis,
protocols, treatment, radiation, chemotherapy, prayer,
homeopathy, conventional treatment, exercise, nutrition, cutting,
replacing, attitudinal shifts, support, coping;
with flowers, flattery, funerals, face or fist open or closed;
with wails, lamentations, whispers, rage, embrace;
with regret, relief, laughter and utter, utter despair;
with grief complicated and uncomplicated as defined
in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American
Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV);
with Kaddish, rosaries, a curse, Islam, Buddha, Shiva,
atheism, a goddess;
with pain, bliss, unconsciousness, no-self;
with an apple tart, newly fallen from Autumn bough;
with books that raise words against what’s known;
with all kinds of music, painting, poetry, pottery,
arts and crafts;
with cowboys on bareback at rodeos
and girls satisfying sweet legged embrace;
with elegies, donations, good works, memorials; with a joint, a beer, a game;
with meals, conversation, shopping;
with a soul to sell, impostures, tactics, trusts, fear, appointments,
pleas, acceptances, delays;
with lover, friend, family, nurse;
with lips and touches, your eyes, change of moods,
looks, caresses, murmurs, promises, your penis hard
and soft, your thighs, all of your fingers and toes;
with the scent of your honey as bonding as milk
that flowed from the nipples that fit into your babies’
mouths as perfectly as our tongues entwine
and lick and taste each other;
with your mind, your warmth, your giving,
your you, my me.
With living and living and living and living
and living and living and living
and living and living
and living and
and still it comes.
- Backyard Hamlet
Every fall, Korean dogwood charms
the squirrel with scarlet berries
wrapped in textured polygon skin.
He scoops the sweet flesh to the nut
and with this taste
breaks the spell of summer.
He vaults from limb to ground,
buries a hoard for winter rations,
scarfs a few bites,
nibbles wantonly on others,
wastes the rest.
Back and forth between tenses,
unable to choose now or later.
On the sidewalk
it’s what finally kills him.
- Too Old for Dying
I’m too old for dying,
not that I’d wish it on the young.
It’s not the letting go, of memories
and things, I’ve had plenty
of them both. Rather
it’s the breaking down,
of energy and body and time
that makes living and its end
so hard. But, when the scarlet
flash of the cardinal’s flight
from the splendor of greens
dressing the hemlocks in
the early spring light seizes
my eye with attention undivided
by cell phone or screen, I know
that age scrubbed me clean
and leaves me reason for being.
Autumn fell on a renegade sun.
Sienna skies burned through the lowering horizon,
light thinned by winter’s press
when Wolf limped down village lanes last week,
kill-sleeked fur hung with shards,
hot, hungry breath clouds condensed into metal filings
that fall upon protein sheaths protecting the frail swarms
of electricity shuttling between cortex and sole.
A change for the worse.
I’ll admit it. I was scared, dragged back
to the early days when humbled by illness,
I envied the doings of the careless, confident striders
among the well, the healthy Houdinis unshackled by time
who swiveled on bikes with a kid’s ease counting circles
of knee and wheel to race home. Hedged in, lame
I found respite spinning thought to wrap up motion,
keep want contained, and with iron words–
lick wisdom from wounds, we are but moths
dancing innocence on fatal cords of light, caught in the crossfire–
took my invalid stance to steel against the tremendous velocity
of sadness, how it sped and spread from heart to chest, throat,
eye-ponds rippling as swan wings dip to dark
below the surface seal.
I wished to be a caterpillar, vulnerable, but able
to hide in thick larval armor and digest myself
until altered, ready to emerge, imago body covered
in hollow scales reflecting (my god, the color, the form, the light!)
the instinctive jouissance in September of rowdy crowds
of young royals, monarchs and viceroys, mandarin cloaks
splattered with ink, who flock to large bosomed Joe Pye weed,
waft among blossoms as drunks hang at bars,
drink great drafts of pollen, wheel insousciantly
among the bees and tip wings in ritual salute
to the migrations so close at hand.
I must find my own route of departure and return,
a personal imaginable bud—cellular ark of creation
in the liquefying pupal universe, a metamorphosis
different from the transfigurations I already undergo,
neurons scarred with sclera, without the dignity
of centaur, minotaur, satyr, sphinx—monsters
with multiple natures not unlike my own.
Yet, butterflies also cast shadows
and I say to Wolf, “Come.”