Poetry

THE GREAT HORNED OWL’S MONOLOGUE

Daylight scarred the water. Scalded in afternoon’s
fiery cauldron, I retreated into the timber, spurs

stropped on the thin air. Now I trawl the shadows, eternity’s insomniac,
implacable executioner to the blundering vole, the inconsequential mice.

In the light of jagged moons I pluck the meek and the foolish,
asking my insoluble questions, claws poised for a wrong answer.

My spoils bleed. Bones lowered from the beak’s meat hook
improve my midden. Neck swiveling, obdurate sockets

sweeping the horizon, every twitch snugged
in the eye’s yellow noose. When the naked hare blinks,

I gather the small ghost of its heart into my talons.
The snow is just killing time. My mask is calm.

In my icy hood I hear everything.
The red star bruises my shoulder.

(Published in Steam Ticket, 2011)


MUMMIES

— Milwaukee Public Museum

When children ask if it’s frightening
when they come alive, I tell them yes,
of course it is, it’s absolutely terrifying,
and believe me, you don’t want to be around

when it happens, especially at night.
When they ask if the mummies walk
with their arms outstretched like mummies
in the movies, I tell them no, it’s nothing

like that. You see, I explain, the muscles
of their arms have atrophied from thousands
of years of disuse; they just can’t walk
around the way mummies do in movies.

In fact, I explain, their feet have been so
lovingly and carefully bound by strips
of linen, that it’s difficult for them
to walk at all which explains the halting

gait, the fear that at any moment they will stumble
and pitch forward, landing in a heap of rags.
Can they talk? No, they can’t talk, not after
all those years in tombs choked with the dust

of centuries and the weight of eternity
upon them. Can they see, they want to know.
Not any more, I say, for their eyes
were replaced with onions or stones,

stones as white as the sun. Finally, I explain,
they long only to wander forth as they used to,
so long ago and once again admire their reflections
in the shimmering Nile of the gallery floor.

(Published in Rattle, 2015)


AVOCADO

An avocado rests
on the kitchen windowsill,

a luxurious carriage of green light,
globe and oblong moon of spring.

Indecipherable runes ripple the dark skin
as though it had passed through fire,

and set in the jade of its pale flesh,
the dark brown nut like rubbed mahogany.

Take a long knife and cut the avocado
in two. Cradle it in your two hands.

The odor is slightly musty, like an old well
where the five senses have come to drink and drowse.


READING YOURSELF TO SLEEP

Eyelids flutter over the blank verse
of sleep. You brush the crow’s wings

from your face. The book, perhaps a collection
of Chekhov’s short stories, spills

from your hands and tumbles into the dark
as through still water, sinking

under the weight of words. You follow,
flumed like a spent swimmer,

happy for the long, quiet slide
into the book’s depths

and down into the dark’s feathery river.
The full moon, like the Pequod’s coin

weights your eyelids. Regret streams away
through the countless estuaries

of sentences until you finally let go.
Go ahead. The page numbers

will mark the way. The chapters
will toll the fathoms.

(Published in Front Range Review, 2015)


A DRIFTWOOD FIRE IN WINTER

— For Robin

This is what I promised you: a driftwood fire in winter.
So when dusk plunged the cove into shadow,
and the tides dragged evening ashore,

I cobbled bundles of sea-strewn wreckage
from the stony beach and lugged them back:
the salt-bleached bones of spruce and oak,

shards of lobster trap, the broken ribs of ketch
and trawler, splinters of spar and yawl,
stem, sprit and keel – the wrack

of a continent sundered and driven shoreward
in the Atlantic’s mythic pound. What the seas
tossed up, I gathered for us and hauled home.

So, we travel far tonight, my dear mariner,
on this raft of sea-smoke, before this driftwood
fire of our making, the one I built for you.

Then let me stroke your hair as we moor
in love’s familiar harbor watching together
as the smoke of our blaze unfurls.


TELEVISION I

Late at night, when the channels finally go off the air, bogwater fills the circuits and the angered technicians are out on country roads checking the lines for trouble. In your living room, the panicked cables have stopped coming in and the screen is clogged once again with the dust of the sea. Once more, the television is just a stone blinking into heavy rain. Suddenly the whole room flares in the drizzle. The television snares whatever animals haven’t yet climbed trees, apologizes to whoever is still hiding under the bed, and calmly nails your nightmares like a coin to the mast of a ship in an electrical storm. The Arctic and sub-Arctic continents are ablaze. I could go on but it’s raining on the TV now, the static raining like a plague. Try now to switch off the tube and jump into bed before the snow starts falling.

(Published in The Midwest Quarterly, 2014)


BEOWULF APPROACHING THE DANISH COAST

At first light, land emerged.
A shade deeper than the sea
and aching with the silence
of a plundered church.

When the crew hailed land
I came to the rail and saw him,
one of Hrothgar’s men,
posted on the shore and forgotten.

Straddling a shaggy horse, he waited
on the immaculate neck of beach.
He was like any sentry: nervous,
swathed in hides, grimed fingers on the reins.
A ghost the wind had changed to stone.

He knew nothing of us,
nothing of cordage or tides
or navigating the ice-mists
of the whale-road.

My men, their lashes snowed with salt,
were suddenly hushed in the off-shore smell
of wood smoke and bogs.

I waited for him to speak.

I stood alone
in the listening prow
too brave for weapons
and my eyes blue as a hurricane.

(Published in Skald (Wales), 2001)


LINES SCRAWLED IN THE DARK

A broken wristwatch hangs from a bent nail.
I press on a book and it disappears.
The night is a windy crossroads.
The trees are rustling
as if trying to speak. The leaves
enter their towers. I can hear chalk
on a blackboard somewhere
in a dark schoolroom
with a broken window.


WINTER CROWS

They are impatient, pacing
in their silken topcoats,
and eyeing the snow field
picked clean as a martyr’s skull.

They’ve spent the brief winter day
discussing Lizzie Borden’s funeral
arrangements, and now it is darkening.
But in July, the green corn

will be endless, and there will be only one
mad painter, with only one ear left,
to hear their wings
scythe the air.

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