People keep asking me “what did you do with all that literature education & poem stuff” … well, I wrote a bunch of poems. I still write them now and then, but haven’t been terribly focused on it for a good while. I used to have some of the ones I’ve published up on the blog, and in the move from one blog host to the next, they ended up lost in the shuffle. Here are a few of them, again, for posterity’s sake.
By now I should know everything but everything
is the cat outside my kitchen window scratching
at the metal screen, something about how I ought
to come outside & learn the names of night-
blooming flowers, paw the bark of a tree;
but I don’t know, I’m given to the safety
of the floors & ceilings in my wooden house.
Sure it creaks, everything creaks; sure it has
mold & dust, but I like the smell. My grandmother’s
house had a smell, a loamy & peculiar
scent, but it’s hard to remember. At my kitchen door,
I take a deep breath–was this the smell? Unsure,
I shuffle away in my socks; my grandmother
had a particular shuffle when she walked across her floor,
but I don’t remember that sound, don’t recall her smell,
her face, her hugged weight. I can’t tell
you the last words I ever heard her say; behind
my head they hover, then beyond
my reach like a deep itch. She taught me how
to whistle, to hold my mouth in a tight little “o” & blow
as if over an empty bottle’s top, a song I don’t remember.
Her garden grew vegetables whose names I never learned,
just corn or squash. Were those her words?
Something about okra, something about gourds,
about the dogs scratching her screen door?
Her dogs kept her safe to shuffle along the wood
of her little house, dogs with names gone now
with the other names — O what one loses & how
it is lost; unremembered, it all slips out,
the vision in back as weak as in front.
Do we all wind down as Grandmother did? As did her
words coming vaguely now: I can’t see clear,
I lost my glasses & something like they laughed, & o
they laughed–from her wide smile in the nursing home.
But she didn’t know me, didn’t know my name,
her gentle mind in a final spin.
I will suck each scrap of memory like candy; tomorrow
it will dwindle to a film on my tongue. I grow older, I know
less & less, my edges are nibbled the way the mice
in my cabinets gnaw at my bread, my spices, my bag of rice.
I need a trap, a predator; I open up my back door & hum,
I coo & whistle, I pour milk. Everything comes.
previously published in Quarterly West
Have you an arm like God
and can you thunder with a voice
like his? –Job 40:9
The sky bleeds light to dark as if
twilight has shifted its great
cloudy bulk on top of you,
day to the left, night to the right
east and west compressed to one
sullen corpus, impatient with
summer’s lethargy, and ready
to burst. The TV weatherman
tells of a storm mowing its way through
the Ohio valley, and you go to huddle
in the basement of the apartment building
with people you hardly know:
a tang of cheap cologne, nervous wonder
in the air; a couple in their pajamas,
a young mother holding a clambering
child still in her arms, the smell
of that boy’s grape juice. Another
woman goes on and on about the storm,
about how she knew a guy whose trailer
blew apart like a deck of cards.
He was a good man, she says,
a good man; sure ain’t nothing personal
about the weather. You bite
your tongue: you know she’s wrong,
how Job looked into the face
of the whirlwind, chose not to speak
but to listen to it snort its dreadful
song: Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke,
in his neck abides strength, and terror
dances before him. Job would understand
this swarm of gods that blow like mammoth
locusts along the length of the river, how
you can talk about the weather, but there is no
talking to it, no polite nod or obligatory chatter.
There is only the walking out into the open,
the looking up into the spiral mouth
of a storm that speaks only thunder.
So inevitable, what can you do but believe
it speaks to you? What else but to swallow
your senses and let it take you up and rock you
in its terrible arms; to pray it never lets you go.
previously published in Southern Humanities Review
A Letter to Himself After Moving to the New City
I saw you, a waxy shadow adrift
in the bedroom window, just as I drove the van
away. You wouldn’t look right at me,
but over the street at the neon
lights of the pizza joint, through the leaves
of the broken oak. Remember
the lightning that severed its limb
in the downpour? Even with that piece gone
the tree keeps living. Does it feel the ache
of that phantom arm when it rains?
I’ve left you there, with the old oak
in the old apartment to stub your toes,
bump into door frames, scald yourself
in the shower. You won’t be doing any of that
here–you of the awkward step, the stiff joint,
the boyhood lust gone deep
as a stone. You who so hate
being young. How could I
have ever loved you?
And what will you do now
that I am gone? Will you hide, quiet
until the new tenants arrive, then stumble
along the creaking floor, rattle the toilet handle
to startle their sleep? Will you call me
on their phone, your breath on the line
murmuring a quiet recitation
of all I left behind?
I’m glad I left you there, glad
when it rains that my knee
and my head ache, because they are
my knee, my head. That’s how I know
it’s not you making the fruit go soft
overnight, leaving the oven to burn, or tripping
me halfway up the stairs.
And I know it’s not you
staring back at me pale from behind
the bathroom mirror; it’s not you
rubbed raw with the knock
of desire. I know it’s not you
I write to, asking you to come, please,
previously published in Southern Poetry Review
Early summer, the beetles advance in a slow sparse phalanx,
a few more every night having found their way
through a tear in the rusted window screen
toward the expanse of light they sense on the other side.
Blocked by the unseen glass, their tintoy bodies advance
as far as they can, then keep going up the glass, slip
and topple and try again or lie helpless on their backs,
legs still moving steady in the air, slower and slower,
winding down in the long day’s heat.
I wish I could find wisdom in this, some lesson
of heroes running headlong into the breach,
dying as members of heaven’s avant-garde
who show how faith is the will to walk into mystery; or of fools
who in urgent hubris and greed for light assume the invisible
simply isn’t, and clash like an army, ignorant, into the glass.
But what lesson is there, what story besides that of the determined
animal lunge into something wished for? No matter how close
I look, here is all I see: the least of creatures, darkness, light.
previously published in The Greensboro Review