Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Once Upon a Time

I recently read two books of poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. She has a beautiful style that paints personalities in just a few words. She writes about the beauty of life and the difficulties of human relationships. She speaks for her subjects with optimism and sentimentality, using free verse.

I also employ quite a bit of free verse in my poetry, and I've noticed that when you take out the line breaks it becomes difficult to distinguish a free verse poem from regular old prose. Jack, the poet in Love That Dog, read a famous poem and said,

     If that is a poem . . .
     then any words
     can be a poem.
     You've just got to

It turns out, Jack was wrong. But why? What makes Nye's poems poetic? It's not just the great metaphors, though I love her imagery. It's not the introspection--prose can do that. It is, I think, in the efficiency of her words: they fit a huge amount of story into a minimum of plot.

If you are confused by that sentence, you aren't alone. Until a month ago I'd never considered that story and plot are not the synonyms we so often mistake them for. Consider, for example, this plot synopsis of a well-known play:

"After his father's ghost instructs him to kill his uncle (who committed regicide and married the queen), a young prince thinks aloud a lot and verbally abuses his girlfriend. Both of them and their families die."

Although trite, that actually does sum up Hamlet quite well. Even if I extended the synopsis to explain all of the events and characters, you would still only have the plot of Shakespeare's most famous work. What happens is important, but much less important than how those happenings influence Hamlet and company. The story is not about what occurs but about the people involved. Hamlet is amazing because of the people in it, not because of the sword fighting or the suspense or the ghost. Story contains the character arcs and their interactions, the elements of humanity that have nothing to do with Denmark and everything to do with being and not being.
(For more trite plot summaries, see this blog post by Shannon Hale).

There are these two elements, then, that go into a work. Assuming that both are good quality, the balance determines the genre of writing. More story than plot? It's a poem. About equal? It's a good book. More plot than story? Good fun escapism. (My obviously oversimplistic definition doesn't apply to all poetry, of course. Some of it is still about the sound of words and the richness of images.)

Plot can be exciting, but story is what ignites our imaginations, story is what powers our personalities, and story is, in the end, what we love.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Here we go!

Well, that's it, folks! I've successfully posted everything worth posting from my writings in the Curiously Poetic Altoids from the last two years, along with some older poems. I have a few additional old writings that may get interspersed, but the bulk of posts from now on will be current.

That said, I'm still deciding what to post. Everything so far has been poetry, or a little bit of prose, in various stages of completion. That is, they've been compositions, explorations of thought. And they were written already, about as finished as they were going to get. I don't think this is the place for rough drafts of my essays or just brainstorming rhymes, since that be pretty unreadable. So I will try to post things that are at least fully formed, if very rough. Additionally, I plan to post with updates about me, and other less-poetic material. We'll see how it goes.


The city lay below me in
   a curl of waterfalls,
with beauty near utopian
   a-spilling o'er its walls.
The splendor of this happy scene
   lit fireflies 'fore my eyes
and set my thoughts to questing how
   it had become this prize.

What were the land and city like
   in their presplendent days?
Before the polish of the years
   had captured sunshine's rays
what work and sweat and tears were sown
   to cultivate this mood?
What weeds were pulled, what furrows plowed,
   which unsprung seeds exhumed?

I could imagine but in part,
   and so I turned away
to travel back instead of on,
   retrace my steps that day.
I'd follow through the fallow fields
   to nascent sprouting shoots.
I'd find out how to grow such trees
   that yield such glorious fruits.
I'd tend the roots and learn to keep
   them strong through storm and sun;
I'd tend the flocks, protect from wolves,
   and learn how wool is spun.
Perhaps someday I'd know enough
   to build a place as blest,
where gates resplendent opened wide
   for travelers to rest.
My paradise appeared that day,
   premade to enter in,
but heav'n for me is lost until
   remade and found again.

May 20, 2010


A crane announces, East to West,
a thousand years of happiness--
 wise men know.

*   *   *

Geese on the river, summer waning soon;
  Doves in the garden, beauty to my home.
Geese flying nightly, autumn coming fast;
  Doves on the rooftop, fortune to my friends.

Spring, 2009


breathing rhythmically
safe in a metal cocoon
called an iron lung
   *   *   *
ten brave pioneers
march, then shuffle, totter, crawl:
the placebo group

Jun, 2010, after reading The Giant Slayer


I'm just going to go out tonight
  for some fun.
You simply haven't the slightest right
  To demand more of me.
No, I refuse to listen to you
If I catch you around, you know what I'll do?
  Use your imagination.
What's that to me? It's his affair--
  lack of preparation.
I tell you it's her fault and I don't care
  I'll do what I want.
Give that back, It's mine you know.
  Don't mock me with taunts.
I hate you.
   *   *   *  
Yes, I know this city, this country is wrong,
  going down the tubes.
It's all these people--they don't belong.
  They're dragging us down.
Of course I can't fix it! What could I do?
  It's their town.
You say that I could, I can find goodness and truth?
  Where do I start?
With myself? But it's not me! I'm just fine.
  Examine my heart?
What good will that do when the fault isn't mine?
  You promise me?
You've done it yourself. You found the light.
  Now you can see.
Well, I suppose it might work, you could maybe be right.
  What must I do?
   *   *   *  
I'll tell all I meet. It's more
  than I wished.
Thank God for Jonahs
  and great fish.

Fall, 2009

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ocean IV

Under a yellow umbrella he sits in the shade with his face to the sea.
Castles of sand resting out on the shore start to melt in the rush of the tide.
Pebbles in windows and seashells for doors, and a pennant of seaweed and twigs
proudly defiant of waves overflowing the fortress defenses so thin,
not even noticing how all the waves have been washing the walls 'til they're smooth.

Scattering droplets of ocean behind him and sand in his wake as he runs,
chasing a shadow that chases a ball who is heedless of castles and waves,
a dog leaves behind foot-shaped prints in the sand, tiny tide-pools that glint in the sun.
Seagulls swoop low watching closely for crumbs, or for crackers, or cautionless crabs.

Ocean III

Sextant in hand, I walk the coasts:
 one foot in tide the other in waves of sand,
and above me wheel and call the white-winged stars,
 swooping in a slower dance than daytime's gulls.

How long have I walked here, mesmerized by sand
 and shifting latitudes? Half forgetting
the longing in my shoulders for a wind-taut sail,
 for a close-hauled tack with you against the harbor,
pulled in and sheltered by the arms of home--
 a point, a promontory, promising calm
and even keeling, and the chance to brave the rough
 another day.

How casting deep the sound may be,
 how high the sinking reef, the chart my feet have drawn
does not disclose. Horizons flee as fast as following,
 and the tide beneath my feet is shifting. And so I trust
to swirling stars, lights on that unseen shore, to guide me safe
 across the black sky, through the hush of waves.

Ocean II

Hemmed in by the surge and spray,
Breakers crashing on the quay,
While wrung-out bells in buoys sway,
I huddle 'gainst the pounding sea.

The jetty muffles to a roar
The sound of waves that strike the shore,
Harbingers of what's in store--
Their salty mist rains down on me.

Ocean I

Lying on a towel with sand all through my hair,
I hear children making castles they imagined once before.
The surf calls to the gulls up catching droplets in the air,
and flotsam drifting through my thoughts and cluttering the shore
floats my thoughts into the distant summer afternoon.
Sunlight warms my fingertips into an easy soar
that matches with the clouds above me in the blue of June.
I watch the lazy swoops and swirls of two low-flying kites
dancing 'round each other like the sun about the moon.
Crabs below with friends in tow chase shadows in delight.
Through it all dashes a dog, yellow, bright, and brave,
Barking at my wand'ring thoughts to wake and sit upright,
to see his gift: a cheerful flip-flop floating in the waves.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dentistry Limerick

A dentist removing a tooth
From Ruth's mouth was a little uncouth
He cursed and he swore,
Then he yanked and he tore,
And, ruthless, left her toothless forsooth!

Oct 15, 2009

To a friend

When you are lost,
   the hardest part is knowing when
   to walk and when to wait where you are.
   wherever that is.
Because someone might be looking for you,
   and if you are gone when they come,
   how will you ever be found?

But when you are lost
   from God, and He knows right where you are,
   but isn't looking,
   Do you turn your back on Him?
When you decide He's never coming,
   how will you ever find yourself?
Walking out on the universe
   to a life full of very little,
   you wont be able to hear His voice
   When he comes calling for you.
Your pain and loss will drown it out
   with the sound of fingernails scraping
   against . . . nothing

Oct 15, 2009

Christmas Haiku

Moonlight on the snow
Glistening and bright it casts
One shadow too few

Gloves laid on the hearth
We sit by the fire tonight
Hand in hand again

Oct 15, 2009


Poetry is noticing the little things
that help you see the bigger poems -
poems describing big things.

Oct 15, 2009


earth in a bottle:
glass sky,
fluid sights,
corked thoughts.
shake before opening.

Oct 15, 2009

Monday, September 13, 2010

Banjo Pig

I drew this picture for the dueling banjo pigs blog by Guy Francis and Stacy Curtis.

Babe the Banjo Pig
Baa Ram Ewe Bluegrass

29 July, 2010


Do you listen to the words,
Or just read them off the page?
Are they more than merely words
written in another age?

Do You Listen to His voice
When He says, "Come, Follow Me?"
Or do you make the choice
To ignore his gentle plea

Do you listen to the Holy Ghost
When he whispers to your hurt
Or don't you know what matters most
Is to have clean
hands and a pure heart?

Aug 31, 2001


When they tell the blind to look,
"See the mercies of the Lord,"
And they urge the deaf to listen,
"Come, hear the word of God,"
The eyes of my understanding
are opened; my ears are unstopped.
Then shouts my soul,
"Hosanna" to my King.
And, though my voice is dumb,
I know that he can hear
All the songs my spirit longs to sing.
Leaning for support
On the arm of the Lord,
I'll take a step
Through mists and through dark.
And clinging to the rod
I'll emerge into light.
I'll See and I'll Hear,
And Sing praises to my God.

Aug 31, 2001

A Promise

Mine Elect Shall Mount Up With Wings As Eagles Do, Flying High.
Above The Cloudy Mists Of Darkness They Shall Soar, Flying Far.
Their Cry Shall Be A Call To Others, Urging Them To Fly, Flying Long.
From The Stone Of The High Mountains They'll Survey The Valley Floor, Flying On.
They Shall Course Among The Stars And None Shall Hold Them Down, Flying High.
My Footrest Shall Be Their Stepping Stone, My Word Their Climbing Path, Mounting Up, Soaring On.

Aug 31, 2001

A moonlit night

Looking up the moon is bright above me in the sky
            right above me in the sky
                        in the starry empty sky.

Reaching out

Feeling down

Breathing in

Nov 24, 2008

Without Clouds

Without clouds, who would glow pink at sunrise
   or orange at dusk?
Who would dawn touch
   with her rosy fingers?

Without clouds, who would tuck us in
   on cold winter nights
   under the soft white
   of a thick blanket of snow?

Without clouds, who would soften the horizon
   on days sharp with heat
   when the blue sky
   into the land?
Who would keep the desert
   from bleeding red stone
   into the sand?

Without clouds, who would hide us
   from the lonely spaces
   between the stars,
   gently shrouding
   the emptiness?

Without clouds, who would breathe in,
   feeling the deep breeze
   above the sea
   or massage the mountain’s worn shoulders?
Who would caress the birds
   when they are too tired,
   too tired
   to fly?

Without clouds, who would shade the sun
   from our grief
   on sad and rainy days,
   wrapping his smile in close
   so none of the gray
   can seep through?

Without clouds, who would catch the moonlight
   before it falls
   and shatters
   into stardust?
Who would weave together
   the unraveling wisps of summer
   when the season’s stitching starts
   to come undone?

Without clouds, who would we watch,
   looking for shapes,
   and finding ourselves
   in the sky?

Jan 9, 2009


When the clouds are hanging low
and the stars are hanging high
and I’m sandwiched in the middle
’tween the mountains and the sky,

When the city down below
says ‘good evening’ to the night
and a gentle twilit breeze
begins blowing out the lights,

When the birds and bats are dancing
through the changing of the guard
and the grass begins to soften
while the sky is growing hard,

When the smell of autumn colors
washing up into the air
sends a trickling stream of stardust
to cascade upon my hair,

Nov 24, 2008
I think I did finish this at one point, but I only have the old version right now.


A thought, a lightbulb coming on upstairs,
Acutely edisonian in form
That, incandescent, shines inside my mind
And, brightly filamentous, keeps me warm.

It may have turned on early in the day,
When all was brightly sunlit, bathed in light.
But now in bed, the day fading to black,
This glowing nightlight soothes my inner sight.

Apr 23, 2009

The Morning After

One thing I don’t miss
When I go to the desert,
Is the morning after rain.

The ground is wet and soaked
So you walk on the high parts
Avoiding the puddles

That’s where the worms are.
Waterlogged, bloated,
They throw themselves down

And you wonder why
Despite early birds and april showers
That there are still worms

How can there possibly be
So many places to crawl
In the two inches underfoot?

But you watch your step,
Hoping that a wriggler
Escapes the great flood.

Apr 23, 2009


        tip-toe, tip-toe
little hole there in the baseboard
        tip-toe, tip-toe
pipes and wires in the wall
        tip-toe, tip-toe
sugar in the kitchen cupboard
        tip-toe, tip-toe
frosting on the bottom shelf
        tip-toe, tip-toe
poison hidden in the pantry
        tip-toe, tip-toe
garbage underneath the sink
        tip-toe, tip-toe
honey sitting by . . .
                                sneak, sneak
. . what was that?
                                sneak, sneak
oh no!
                                sneak, sneak
        tip-toe, tip-toe
                                sneak, sneak
ok, now it’s time to go!
                                sneak, sneak
        tip-toe, tip-toe
running quickly ‘cross the counter
        tip-toe, tip-toe
heading for the window sill
                                sneak, sneak
hurry now, it’s right behind you!
                                sneak, sneak
through the crack beneath the tile
. . . . . .
        tip-toe, tip-toe
flowers blooming in the garden
        tip-toe, tip-toe
birdseed spilled beside the lawn
        tip-toe, tip-toe
gravel out behind the tool shed
        tip-toe, tip-toe
home beneath a hill of sand.
        tip-toe, tip-toe
spread the word to all the others
        tip-toe, tip-toe
pass the message to the queen
        tip-toe, tip-toe
find another place for dinner¬–
        tip-toe, tip-toe
blue-tail lizard lives next door

Nov 18, 2008

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I know why they are called bats

I know why.
I do. It's because of
their wings,
flitting, tucking, twisting, tumbling,
brushing the sky with furry fingers
while the soft mats of trees
stretch below
to catch them when they land.

It's because of their feet
to the ceiling
with their heads below them swinging.
They hold,
then drop
and go winging away
singing to the sky.

It's because they fly and twirl and fall and cartwheel past the moon.
Watch them.
Then you will know why.
They are acrobats.

Aug, 2008


Through half-open blinds I see
another wall

and windows. On the fourth floor,
just below me,
two silhouettes eat dinner against cloth drapes.

Past a dark window above
them, the sixth floor is lit. They have blue
wall paper.
No-one is there.

To the right a woman leans out looking
at the stars.

My eyes half closed, I’m almost

Summer, 2008

Haiku for Elder Bodily


Soft flower petals
Still, forever, beautiful
E'en in memory

Apr 27, 2009
written for Sister Bodily on the occasion of her husband's funeral

An Important Wish

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight

Star two, right on cue
I trust this wish also to you.
I hope you can, I hope you do
Help the wish I wish come true.

All around, without a sound,
Stars that in the sky abound,
All so constant, so profound,
May my hopes and dreams be found.

Last I pray to stars of day
Who drift unseen along your way
Be it light or dark or gray
Will you please join this display?

With light and bright, stars one and two,
In surrounding night, o'er morning dew,
All stars that shine in heaven's view,
My heart's own hope I trust to you,

This is my wish . . .

Sep 25, 2008

She, Too, Beside Me

It took me longer than it should have
to propose to you,
because there were two decisions
wrapped together in that ring,
tighter than twisting.
The first one I made long ago:
I always wanted to marry you,
the you I know so well.
But to trust, honor, and obey,
to “I do” in every way,
I knew I’d need to love
the you I don’t know.

you will be different, someone new,
and I promise you,
I will love her in health and sickness.
And the woman she becomes,
I will protect her in joy and sorrow.
And I will cherish the mother who comes after her,
through better and worse.
I give myself to all of them,

all of you.

Each morning the eyes I see
are new.
They have laughed more.
Each evening the hands I hold
are new.
They have sung more.
And each day the heart I love
is new.
It has danced more.

I want you beside me today,
and I swear to love
all of you

Nov 14, 2008


Red light blinking behind my hands,
Finally drawing my attention.
No wonder the vague feeling of dischord,
No wonder the frustration and grumbling
No wonder the finicky, sluggish response.
I reach around by my knee, feeling for the catch
but it is not there.
My right hand by my hip feels nothing,
And a glance confirms there is no lever there.
Left foot fumbles, and finally catches on the release.
Everything sighs in relief.
Just the parking brake.

Mar 26, 2009


Why does nothing rhyme with orange?
It’s not as though we’d singled it out on purpose, saying,
“That piece of citrus fruit is so unique, its color so unrivaled,
that nothing else should be allowed to sound the way it does.”
No defect in the fruit, or in the color, is repulsive enough
to keep it all alone, without company.
There are rhymes for everything about an orange,
from the tree you see to the peel you feel.
We rhyme its taste and waste, its juice and use, the seeds it needs,
even its place in the rainbow.
Taken all together, then,
what is so very un-poetic about an orange?


Blinds on the windows. Are they keeping lights in

or sights out? Eyes inside are watching, but they

must be looking inward, because the view out is

blocked. Eyes outside are looking too, but they

must be watching the exterior, hardly penetrating

past the paint. Who is lonelier? They say that

those who look only inward are blind to the world.

Don’t they also say that the eyes are the windows

of the soul? Can’t you see? Those same blinds that

shutter us in also prevent outside eyes from smiling

in on us through the glass.

Nov 13, 2008

Magic Chair

Sunlight through the window, lighting on my hair,
I am basking in the magic of the comfy magic chair.
This is where the sounds of stress relax and I can rest,
Sinking into naptime in the comfort of this nest;
Where music floats into my mind and hums into my ear,
Where all the theres can fade away and I am glad I’m here.
Time may stop, or maybe not, I only smile and sleep,
With dreams a-flowing ‘fore my eyes refreshing, cool, and deep.
This is where I drift along and wash away my cares,
Basking in the magic of the comfy magic chair.

Nov 13, 2008


New cars have a new-car smell.
Does a couch have a new-couch smell?
Or maybe a new-couch sound?
How about new dishes? A new-dish smell?

When a car is no longer new
where does the smell go?
It must go somewhere,
because it doesn’t just change:
there is no old-car smell.

Maybe it just gets mixed in
with the cheerios and shin-guards
and backpacks and keys and dates
and friends and groceries.
New-car smell is the smell of life
before it happens.

Going home after a long trip,
you leave behind the smell of used-car,
the smell of life in transit,
for the smell of life being lived,
the smell of home.

Nov 13, 2008

Extended Metaphor

Life is a box of chocolates:
You open it and never know what you're gonna get.

There is some sort of code in the swirls and stripes of drizzled chocolate, that ought to tell you what each piece is before you bite it. But you are so eager to taste it that you pop it into your mouth without taking time to remember the shape, the pattern, the texture. So then it's delicious - or sometimes not - and hardly ever what you expected.
The next is the same.

Sometimes you have a bad experience with mocha or burnt toffee, so you spit it out and grimace at the flavor stuck to your teeth, and you try to remember for next time. But when next time comes and you know you want to avoid the icky ones, you stare at them for a while trying to puzzle out the meaning behind the swirls and stripes. You struggle to recall the last mistake, wondering what it was you did wrong last time.

Usually you're lucky enough to get truffle or orange, mint or vanilla cream. But even when they taste good you sit there and puzzle about the center, wondering what on earth nougat is made of.

Spring, 2009

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


heads hidden, feet frozen,
pigeons huddle 'gainst the gray
hugging to the ashy ground like
rooftops on a smoggy day

Jan 29, 2009


What was it like then--back before
primeval man had found decor?
Nothing on your cavern wall,
no art however big or small;
no curtains hung o'er sliding doors,
no Persian rugs to hide the floors.
They had no calendars at all
with pictures of the spring or fall;
no ottomans no chests of drawers,
no furniture. And, what is more,
they had no way with which to scrawl
the meanest artwork you might draw.
No crayons, paints, pastels, nor chalk,
no galleries through which to walk.
Such artless life could not but gall
those poor, deprived Neandertal.

How To Chew

candy with the canines,
broccoli with the bicuspids.
meat with the molars,
italian with the incisors.

but use wisdom teeth for the watermelon.

May 14, 2009

Provo: a dog's-eye view

Kneecaps and socklets and flip-flops a flapping,
Nylons and high heels and freshmen out napping,
Sneakers and dress shoes and laces undone,
These are the things that say, "I'm having fun!"
Lime green galoshes for jumping in water,
fuzzy lined boots so her feet will feel hotter,
Nike, Adidas, and Vans on the run,
These are the things that say, "I'm having fun!"
When the snow falls,
When that boy calls,
When the sky is blue,
They all run around with their feet on the ground
Outside in their fun-filled shoes.

Fall, 2008

Looking Down

The roof beside me is tile: square, overlying one another
with careful, exact regularity. Susan lives there, beneath the red
and brown, shielded from the wind.
Beyond is another pitched roof with wooden shingles, split
in the sun, holding their nails in place.
My own roof undulates with waving sworls
of tile, nearly bucking me off of my perch
where I am clinging to the peak of grey and blue.

Behind is the Martinez' roof, flat,
They invite me to eat with them sometimes, out on that roof.
On those days their horizons rise above me, cut off
by my own second story, far above reaching. But the skies are beautiful.

Wooden slats, metal sheeting; the buildings around me wear
hard hats, top hats, stylish caps, and tarred raincoat hoods.
Looking down, I see the tops of their heads, all covered, mixing
aimlessly, determinedly.
These homes do not know that the pigeons can see through their hats
and into their hearts, like skylights into so many souls.

With the cooler fixed, I slide, carefully, into toe-reach
of the ladder. I place foot
and foot
before pausing for one more look. I look out at the city, up at the sky,
and down again, descending below my grey rippling roof.

May 28, 2009

Cubic Zirconium

Because I am strong, forged in
  the pressures of struggle and birth,
  of needing to fight for
  personal worth.
Because I am pure, unblemished
  by color, fault, vice, hurt,
  jealousy, pride. . .
  because I sparkle.
Because I will last this way forever.
Because I will scatter light wherever
  I go, bringing reflection, refraction,
  and brilliance.
Because I like to think I am a diamond.

May 28, 2009


I have shoes upon my feet
and they have tongues, and rocks to eat.
When shoes are gorged on pebbly stones
my feet protest with loudest groans.
Why should my shoes' diet mistake
give my feet the stomachache?

May 14, 2009


There are fourteen different families
of yellow.
We usually think of primary yellow,
the poster child, the yellow who fills in
smiley faces, but that is only one.
They are not all the same:

The deep overripe-banana yellow and
his cousin, the yellow of headlights-in-fog.
The bright yellow of lemons and
her best friend, the sharp sunlight-after-
rain-in-midmorning. In fact, it takes
a whole slew of aunts and uncles
just to get the sun
across the sky,
not to mention all of the grandchildren who
take care of the glancing sunbeams.

There's the yellow of egg yolks,
who moonlights in traffic lights
for some extra cash.
The melancholy yellow of jaundiced skin, and
the pale yellow in faded laundry stains,
that may once have been punch or chocolate,
but are now tired blotches of left-over.
Other yellows petal the countless flowers of spring,
and flesh out the full ears of fall corn.

Yellows warm us in our nightlights,
cheer us in our birthday candles, and smile at us
from gold-rimmed spectacles.
Yellows paint our walls and ceilings with the patterns
of home
when the roof leaks.
Yes, there are fourteen families of yellow.
And we need them all.

May 14, 2009

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Several Haiku

picture in a frame,
perfect snapshot on the wall;
so much it can't see

an empty doorframe,
no shadows on the lintel,
but an open home

softly scratching pens
catching words in quiet lines.
silent poetry

Do you remember?

Do you remember
how you waited for me in the rain
and your socks squelched
all night?

I think about the walk we took in the trees
when you talked of your plans
for somewhere else,
and I wondered if I could ever travel there.

Do you wonder, sometimes,
at the distance that can be at once
too far to see
and too close to touch?

I only ask because
I'm still wearing these wet socks,
squelching in the rain.

End of Summer

This is the end of summer, I think
 like dandelion seeds blown by,
 as you descend the waterslide
 all too quickly.
The calendar says that summer will stay
 until mid-September, when the equinox
tips the balance of days down the autumnal hill,
  rolling in leaves on the way down,
    and finally landing in a snowbank.
My mind insists that summertime must last
 at least these final weeks before school bells
  ring an end to morning naps in the sun
 and afternoon swimming pools, and evenings with friends.

But I cannot help feeling that here
 the year is flying past, already wheeling south,
 an early harbinger of changing winds,
 nearly unnoticed
 beneath the soft breeze
 breathing in my window.

Thank you

Thank you to the fan in my window
  that I left running
 all day
 to keep the house cool
for when I come home.


Lines of color interleaving
Back and forth as fast as blinking,
Images to set you thinking
Or to give your mind a rest.

Background sounds of newsroom patter,
Dinner guests' low volume chatter,
Audiences spilling laughter
At some almost-funny jest--

Sounds resounded with precision
And sights lit in crisp definition.
I still am glad that television
Lacks the senses I love best,

For I throw wide the screen and sash
To feel the spring wind dancing past
And smell the fragrances that waft
Into my room at her behest.

And, thankful to be drawn away
From the screens where programs play
Their sights and sounds throughout the day,
I bask in smells and feel I'm blest.

May 20, 2010


He and she met me and you
  when you and I were we.
I danced with you, and he with her,
  beneath the branching tree.
We four sat speaking, two and two,
  until, “Pardon,” said she,
“I have to go, and come again.”
  and so we now were three.
Said he to you, “Will you with me?”
  when dancing had begun.
Said you to him, “I thank you—please.”
  and I was only one.
When you and he, then she as well,
  made us all four again,
“Farewell, you two,” said they to us.
  “Adieu,” said we to them.
Now years have passed, and you and I
  no longer call us we,
for he who dances ’neath the tree
  with you is him, not me.
And she who went away that night,
  and came again to him
has come and gone away, the way
  that others have since then.
And so I think of twos and fours
  and threes and ones and trust
That someday I will find her who
  will help me make an us.

before borneo

Bootstraps, backpacks, billfolds and all,
Bruce bore burdens in the boring Behring Strait:
Bear cubs, beer steins, bubblegum, balls,
Bracingly and by himself as brazen beetle bait.

Blundering, he bumped the bell that Beatrice had bought,
And balanced on her bureau by the baby bunting box.
Out beyond his beck'ning grasp, the bell would not be caught,
And bouncing off the burro's back it shattered on the rocks.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Are you a well-rounded person?
With the type of personality someone could use
to play basketball?
Turning, fading jump-shot . . . Swish!
Three Points!
Or the type to bump-set-SPIKE! Dig!
Or slug a fastball over the fence.
Edges smoothed, a round ball,
you can play America's favorite pastime.

Though, I always thought baseball was a bit boring.

Why is it that today, more people here
watch the superbowl
than any other event in the country?
Why is the traditional American sport
little more than an image,
while America's passion is the one with a ball
that bulges and peaks
and takes odd bounces?
A ball affectionately called "the old pig skin"?
What do you think of round?

Someone's Fez

This was inspired by The Love-Hat Relationship by Aaron Belz.

I think you can tell a lot about a person
  by looking at their fez.
Some have a trustworthy fez,
  while other people's fez will lie to you.
Some are brim-full of happiness,
  and that is the sort of fez you should look for
  if you are ever arriving after dark
  in an unknown country.
Avoid someone whose fez looks like it might conceal
  a weapon,
  a sinister motive,
  or unwashed hair.
Some people wear a poker fez in which
  they hide aces and straight flushes.
  Learn to spot the cards hidden in the brim.
But do not be too quick to judge
  if their fez is dirty or a bit misshapen,
  the tassel out of place or the felt balding.
You can learn a lot about someone from their fez,
  but it is really only for first impressions.
  To truly know someone, you must look beneath their fez.
  Find out who they really are,
  not just the sort of hat they wear.


We delude ourselves
when we measure life in years, in days,
diluting our experience into volumes of time.
We speak of attaining an age
that is "old" and "ripe"
as though one were a piece of fruit that,
by virtue of its patient sitting
on the kitchen counter, perhaps arranged
aesthetically for friends to look at
or for an artist to preserve on her canvas
in a "still life,"
could earn tastefulness, sweetness, maturity.
In the same breath with this callous appraisal
we imply that time, in excess,
can cause decay, overripening.
It is not the white space
on the edge of a clock face
that makes one old or young.
Life is not sitting in a fruit bowl;
life is action--battle, even--contending
through the moments and challenges
that present themselves with not
the methodical directness
of clockwork,
but frenzied, unpredictable spurts of growth and change.
Life is fighting fires,
is facing illness, fording rivers, ferreting out weakness,
falling in love.
Life is discovering fallacies, respecting friendships,
. . .

We cheat our friends when we say that memories
are things of the past,
that immortal influence is something that must endure
through ages of forgetfulness
before we call it meaningful.
. . .


Shoots of spring poke out
  of the mountain ridges hoed in the land
  by a giant gardner's hands,
  and birds bloom across the sky.

Apr 30, 2010


Because I have lonely teeth
Because my eyes have too much to see
 and too much time to see it in
Because I live in a concrete jungle,
 but can't reach the branches
 of the money trees
Because the brown shoes
 that I carry
 like a flag without a country
 are furled and tied
 looser than my coat buttons
Because I have lonely teeth
Dawn arrives too soon.

Apr 30, 2010

Message -or- The Hermit

The package says
  "Hermetically Sealed"
Does that mean solemnized by ascetic monks
  living in the desert with only sand and vows
  and three words a year,
  praying for the souls of mankind?
There is a small gasp of sound,
  a cry of hope? relief?
  sorrow? sympathy? joy?
  as the wrapper opens,
echoing, perhaps, the half-spoken,
  unthought longings
  of the hermit and his order,
  sealed away in the hinterland
  of elsewhere,
  breathing a language
  I can't hope to fully understand.


Poetry flows from fountain pens,
Verses roll off the tips of bic ballpoints,
and stanzas feel their way from felt-tips.
Sonnets curl from quill nubs,
haiku paint themselves out of brushes,
and high school love notes are scratched away
with a number 2 pencil.

So why do my words run dry,
and I am left scribbling circles
with my tongue,
hoping some mark will appear
on my all-too-blank mind?

What Turned Out to Be a Ray of Sunlight Through the Window

There is a patch of white
 as tall as I am, nearly,
   standing aslant on the wall.
    It is impossible to tell
     whether it is a swatch of new paint
      covering a wound in the original,
       or a vestige of underpaint,
        peeking out through a gap
         in a coat fourteen inches too short
          to hide it.
           Or perhaps a protected chink
            that took shelter behind family photos
             and thus escaped the stains and fades
              of years.
               Whatever it is, that patch is alone.
                So I watch the wall trying
                 to come to know itself.

Telling Time

Waiting for the clock to wind down,
the sand to run out of the glass,
the shadow to advance on the sundial,
the kitchen timer to ding.

Some lives end timefully, expected,
like the end of a test on mathematics.
Some who know the answers finish triumphantly,
others struggle out the agonizing minutes,
effort to the last, or let them slip by
unused, at least, for answering questions.

But some tests have no prestated due date,
and we find that we've watched the wrong hand,
broken the hourglass,
seen night fall across a darkened dial, heedless of shadows,
and let the cookies burn.

Apr 9, 2010


Why do all poems begin with a question?

Does description die in the demonstrative?
Is interest inevitably interred without the interrogative?
The beauty, the wonder, is lost somehow
when everything is past tense, definitive.
Even when the punctuation pretends
to anchor meaning firm in every clause,
there are question marks coiling in the commas,
underscoring the similes, even surfacing in the spaces.

Perhaps such questions are too dignified, too elegant,
to bow to answers.
But what I mean to say is that I am ready:
Please, read. Ask your poem.

Nov 2009

Life line

I keep it with me, a safety net for when things get out of hand.
If the social tides are shifting and I'm buffeted by the spray of icebreakers,
If the rocks are exposed and I find myself stranded among the tidepools,
keeping company with anemones and sleepy sea stars,
If the wind falls from my sails, or my boat capsizes on the reef,
If a sneaker wave comes in and drags me down, so that
I'm over my head in questions and left drifting out at sea,
I know I can pull it out and breathe the salty air above the undulating surface:
My social snorkel, my orange flotation vest, my phone call to you.

July, 2010