New Poetry

I judge each of you first
not by your cover
but your spine; that
sliver of design decides
your future with me. Names matter,
sad to say, and Marie, Eleanor,
Janine will more likely get
a ride home than Ed, James,

I touch you all indiscriminately, hot fingers
on cool new plastic jackets. It
is your slenderness I love best,
dime-thin bodies
with such lovely eyes.

photograph by flickr user mslibrarian


For anyone who will be in the Portland, Oregon area next weekend: Ernst & Ernst Collectors Gallery in Cannon Beach is hosting a three-day show of Cassandra Barney's new paintings, several of which are accompanied by my new poetry. Cass and I will be there--stop in, see the Pacific Ocean, say hi. We'd love to see you.

For more details click here.


April 21, 1918: Kaputt (Finished)

after Manfried von Richthofen, The Red Baron

It is my love for the earth
That lifts these wings, it is
Your faces so far below
Like scallop shells
On the ocean floor
That buoy me.

It is the bright bead
Of a city in the night
That draws me in, the stored warmth
Of your stone walls that guides my hand.
Miles away my elderly housekeeper
Has finished sweeping the front steps
And she sinks, one hand
On her cooling brow.

The cradle of this sky
Is alive now, with silver reports
From below, tiny messages from the fires
Of night-blind, squinting men.

And now I do as my heart
Commands me, give in
To this pull: of man,
Of earth, of eternity.

The current thinking among historians is that the reason the Red Baron (1892-1918) flew so erratically and irresponsibly during his final battle was brain damage from a recent blow to the head. The brain damage is presumed to have caused his lack of judgment and target fixation. The last word he spoke before he died was kaputt, or "finished."


I am glad for
Your clay-smooth walls,
That square corners make solid
Grounds for your love.

I am touched to
Stand here in your village,
Where the fine tree line shades
A pale park.

I am weighed for
The stands of three nests now,
And one head and one heart
And four fingers.

I am wading
Hip-deep in this tide now;
There are truths
Where my fingers can find them.

I am leaving
This yellow-sky city,
And by now you should know
What for.

{inspired by the above} painting by the lovely Emily McPhie


Unrequited Poetry, Episode 2

for Susan Orlean

I saw it, you know,
On a shelf in the quiet movie-man’s home—
Did you? I
Touched it, let my fingers fall
Into the magnetic pull
Of its heartbreaking white ribbons.

I looked for you
Where you said you would be,
In the gold light at the bees’ dance,
But all behind them
Was blurred and pollinated,
And you did not emerge.

I have crept toward
The shape of you: subconscious selections
In afternoons, hair dye,
Potted plants, all
Give me away, my embarrassing thirst
For that cool slenderness,

I touched the ghost
In the quiet movie-man’s house, and knew
In that instant
It wasn’t real. And
Did you, in all
Your fruitlessness, freeze
To see a glass house full of them,
Blue in the electric light?

I wonder if you stayed
To the end, if you touched them
Not breathing (like I did), if you
Read my letter, if you saw
My ghost.


Let the Sun Shine In

Mike Doughty is a terrific songwriter, a great musician and despite all that an amazing guy. His song "Fort Hood" was part of the inspiration for my "Valentines" poems. Take a look. (And keep your eyes peeled for a goofy redhead in a red shirt.)

The skinny: Politically minded post-punk rocker Mike Doughty took to an alleyway in his current hometown of Brooklyn, along with some friends for his new video for the song 'Fort Hood.' Although the video showcases a dance party, the song itself carries a heavier meaning. "Fort Hood is the base in Texas that's lost the most people in Iraq and Afghanistan," Doughty explained to Spinner. "I went to Walter Reed last year, met some guys who had lost limbs, and came out scared and grateful. I grew up an Army brat in the '70s, when many of the adult males around me were in Vietnam, and there was lots of strange behavior that I now recognize as PTSD."


Unrequited Poetry, Episode 1

Glück, Gone
You are
Gone, but can it be
So called if really
You never were there? The proximity
I felt I knew
At the time was papery,
But still I called your name softly
Up the stone wall of the library.

Howled low like a wolf pup
Alone in the den, unsure
If the footpads beyond the dark brought
Love or the end.
Louise. The breeze pushed me
Into the street. Again
I rounded my mouth.

In a Rare Moment of Exposition, Kate Explains Her Poem: Last month I discovered that Louise Glück was an adjunct at Yale. I became determined to speak with her, that she might cast her laureate eyes my way and possibly offer some advice. I wrote her a letter and heard back nothing. I was at Yale for a concert earlier this week and experienced a fleeting thrill of nearness to her, like a tremor in the Force. I should have known better--she wasn't even there.

Yesterday I called the department to check her office hours and was told she isn't teaching there this semester. My letter has surely been lost or tipped into an office trash bin. My chances of ever contacting her again are slim to none.


UMass Library photograph by flickr user Pickety P


Valentines, After

(read "Valentines" first.)

I finished the whole thing
in one sitting, leaning forward
against the comforter, one knee
to my dreaming husband. There were

barns, little barns, and picture after picture
of the same spotted dog. I was not
enchanted. I did not see the art
of an empty heart-
shaped box.

And then it was done, a few
pages of acknowledgments and things,
and the back cover. The red foil
heart on the front had lost
its shine in the night.
The book was smaller, suddenly,
and my hands felt gritty with sand
and bandages
that were neither here
nor in Valentine,

I wept.

photograph by DeviantArt user Sinse.



The library did not have the book I needed.
“I’d better mark it missing,” said the limping man,
returning with me
to the reference desk. “It hasn’t been seen
in seven years.”

The radio news is noise in the car. I wonder
where my book is living, on whose
dusty shelf, if the thief even knows she has
what should be mine.

I park across the street from my house, still
muttering about the wasted trip.
The man on the radio strikes a sudden somber tone.
“The Air Force says now that all four men aboard
a bomber that exploded
over Qatar today”
—he pauses—
“are safely on the ground.” I exhale,
having held my breath for these
invisible soldiers,
the men I did not know existed.

On my way out of the library
I passed a Poetry Month table, the volumes
tipped on one end to showcase their slenderness.
The pages flipped fast
and my answers were not inside.
Lying flat on one end of the display,
an afterthought, a push
of a bored finger, Ted Kooser’s Valentines.
I bring it home.

In front of my neighbor’s house I pull
the Kooser from the car and slam the door.
The street is silent and I realize
the imaginary bomber passengers landed safely—
landed safely, only to return
to the incessant emergency
of war.
I realize that even as the NPR man informed me
of my own relief
they rose from their stretchers
and prepared to die all over again.

The library book, glassy in its plastic jacket,
Slips from my fingers
and lands on the wet road.
In that deafened moment my eyes know only
Black street, white book,
red heart.


The Language of Flowers: A Collaboration in Process

Calumny, scandal, treatment for madness and paralysis, highly poisonous

I will love you like loving you
Will cure me. I have seen
The others cast you into fires,
Hissing your name as your legs curled
And glowed; I have heard
What you did to Alexander, who slept
Like any other man, wrapped in your arms,
Great no more.

I have seen your children ground into dust,
Tipped into bottles, pulled in droplets to clapping mouths;
I have seen eyes go black with the force of you.
And when I am yours, and yours alone,
They say your face will open, like a shield of angels’ wings
To bear me hence.

painting by Cassandra Barney



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painting by Stephen Mackey

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