I've Tried Flint and Steel and Sulphur and Sunlight and Lenses and Gunpowder and Dry Wood and Straw and Concentrating Really Hard

But still nothing. No spark; no words come. With no other real option open to me, I'm going to take some time off from poetry, just until the words return. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know your favorite poem; I'm always glad to read new things, and there's no balm for the blocked pen quite like a good poem.

Stay well, friends. I'll be back.


First Night By the Baby Monitor

for Zippy--she'll be fine.

Daughter, in pitch black, two shapes:
the thick, blurry line of night
doing what it does, coldsucking
tender flesh from your every fingertip;
but beside it, the warm gray triangle,
furred, melting, that somewhere
contains you, sleeping.

photograph by Vanna


Interlude: Other People's Poetry

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,

but with stars in their black feathers,

they spring from the telephone wire

and instantly

they are acrobats

in the freezing wind.

And now, in the theater of air,

they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;

they float like one stippled star

that opens,

becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;

and you watch
and you try

but you simply can't imagine

how they do it

with no articulated instruction, no pause,

only the silent confirmation

that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin

over and over again,

full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,

even in the ashy city.

I am thinking now

of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots

trying to leave the ground,

I feel my heart

pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.

I want to be light and frolicsome.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,

as though I had wings.

-Mary Oliver

photograph by Jipps


My Mother Encounters Celebrities and I Misunderstand


One winter before I was born
my mother stepped into an elevator.
The silent brass doors slid
together too quickly and she toppled,
landing face-first

in Baryshnikov's striped mink coat.
She told me this when I was six
and leaping, a blizzard of tulle
and breathlessness around
her rocking chair. As I remember it,

I say now, He was rude to you.
Did Baryshnikov really push you?

Short, she says, looking over
the Sunday Style section. I didn't say rude.
I said short.

photograph by Chuck Domitrovich


An Appeal to Hestia, on the Eve of My Son's First Semester

I make a fire in my hands and look skyward,
and then look down again; the goddess of what matters
doesn't dally in the clouds. Set the fire
in front of me. This small flame,
this first sacrifice, I offer,
where I can't draw in salt
or burn sweet herbs. Keep him warm.
Keep him safe. May his new home
be a new home and not
just a cold room, a room
too far away.

photograph by Tom


The First Year We Picked Ev's Apples

for Sarah

November fruit falls on its own. The dogs are in the orchard now,
Carrying off the Blushing Goldens that wouldn't fit in the baskets.
Their eyes follow the dirt-dyed crates
As apples tumble into the press. We throw bruised fruit
At the setting sun. My father's hands are branches,
His back a twisted trunk. Cider is hard work.

My hands blister and burn. We stop and wipe our faces
With the backs of sticky hands. The acre beside ours is silent.
When we finish our gallons it is almost dark. My father crosses the lawn,
Rings the widow's doorbell. I can't read yes or no in her face.
My mother calls us for dinner. My father takes his baskets and dogs,
Heads into the widow's yard.

photograph by Eddie McHugh



I. Flame Shoulder

Summer has rolled over
to the damp sheets of August.
The girl with the flame shoulder
starts over, as she must.

II. Heart and Dart

Then one right after another,
he dropped them in the stream:
the flame girl's heart, his broken dart,
and two swift-sinking dreams.

III. True Lover's Knot

In winter, water all is dark
And dreams sleep, muddy, caught;
her bed is cold, his fingers numb
in stiff true lover's knots.

photograph by André Felipe de Medeiros


For Keeps

"You want me to hurt you. You're
asking me to hurt you. To cut you so deep
it leaves a mark?"
The sunlight is clear but far away.
"A gash," he says, and clutches his ribs.
The trees blow kisses. He stops walking.
She is five paces ahead
before she notices.

She kicks a chunk of broken sidewalk.
Dried maple leaves scrape
across the tops of her shoes. Light
through her ring makes rubies
on the pavement.

photograph by Rob Hodnett


The Sundays

Sometimes he'd wake mid-morning and know;
some weeks it wouldn't set in til the sun did.
But weekly, every
the needles found him,
pinched, poked, pulled
his drylip corners
down, down toward the Earth.

She kept to herself
on Sundays, and read
like a prayer the letter
he wrote on every
This isn't me. I love you.

photograph by flickr user Tanya


Pallas Athene

Here where the marble toes
Crumble, a temple. Can you see it?
Hundreds and hundreds of years ago,
Before these streets had stones.

She was a great beauty,
This Pallas Athene, not unlike your grandmother
In her own way.
When first they brought Athene here
She was a perfect picture of war;
Seabirds did not dare land on her.

Look at her now. See that white tear?
This is the rain of ages appearing.
But look, my daughter,
At the wind-worn face:
Time has smoothed the chiseled cheeks;
Her eyes are soft as Aphrodite's.

photo courtesy of P at What Possessed Me.


Interlude: Other People's Poetry

Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly ----

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 - February 11, 1963)
photograph by flickr user scheithelapeyre


When the Witch Ball Breaks

When the ball breaks a fox
finds your best layer and the baby cries
with shining splinters you can't find.

When the ball breaks your shoes
are dusted with powdered glass.
Every step is a challenge
to the feet you have toughened all summer.

When the ball breaks
the window has broken with it.
One wall is gone.
You sleep at the neighbors'.

photograph by Ian Mackenzie
more about witch balls here


With a Glance at the Equator

If I am a world then the climate
is rapidly changing.

Gone now is the dodo,
gone druids, unicorns.
My coats tire of warning away
the full fire of the cosmos.

Through patches and holes
I am singed and boiled.
One of these days I will face
the sinking sun himself.

Continents drift without my permission.
There are tracks in the sea;
the great plates ride
on sandy rails
of unknown origin.
Who is he, this engineer who charts
where my heart will settle?

Icebergs bob like battleships
atop the warming ocean. Their sheer
hulls melt : cool water swells
to wash my white-hot belly.

photograph by Farley Vaughan


The First Man to See Jupiter

"Tall as the sky, with a beard
mountains could get lost in. Blue,"

the first man stammered, "Did I mention
he's blue? And for one second the whole
ocean stopped to listen, and he looked my way
and he winked. I can't believe

you missed it."

photograph by flickr user miuvincent


Lady Suo's Clavicle: A Corollary

after Lady Suo (11th-12th cent.)

That early fall night
When I woke to find
Your sleeping cheek (warm weight
On my shoulder) may never
Have happened,
But the dream is nearly enough.

photograph by Ani Eleuterio

Interlude: Other People's Poetry, Inappropriately Timed Haiku Edition

That spring night I spent
Pillowed on your arm
Never really happened
Except in a dream.
Unfortunately I am
Talked about anyway.

-Lady Suo (11th-12th cent.), tr. Kenneth Rexroth.
One of my favorite poems in every season.


To the Girl I Was When I Bought This Book

The easy thing would be
to hate you: the smear
of your dull pencil is enough
to sigh my breathing.
You printed your name,

careful and proud, believing
you'd want it forever. I know
this book is brittle
from an avalanche of tissues. I know
you wanted blackberries

but planted only thorns.
These pages are stretched, bowed and tired,
this spine is nearly surrendered.
The hard part--and this
you even know--is arriving

at the endpapers, where (you
know) I will forgive you.

photograph by Signora Oriente


To Aristotle

Philosopher, you cannot know
the lengths that we have gone to.
From your home in our lungs,
our lashes, the clouds, the spiders,
the ever-bleeding maples,
it all must seem easy,
like breathing.

photograph by norisons


Homo Ridens

"When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about...and that was the beginning of fairies." J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy

And what was there to laugh about,
in this prehistoric night? Would the sound echo,
or would the black's nap suck it up
like so much spilled champagne?
And who was it that came along next,
and lifted the star-clad child?
Some vast nurse, who waltzing, swaying,
lullaby muttering, said,

Baby, it's not that funny.

photograph by Tamera


(Not) Gone...

...Just checking in. I hope everyone is well out there in the ether. I've been completely devoid of any creative spark lately. Am I the only one? Is it astrological? Astronomical? Barometric pressure? Your guess is as good as mine.

In any case, I've joined a writing exchange and with luck that will prod me into my old, incessantly spewing self.

Can you believe summer is gone? It seems like a year has gone by these past three months.

photograph by Cari Ann Wayman


To the Wizard of Menlo Park

You should know it doesn’t count
If you cheated, and you should know
We know you did. Who but a time traveler
Would sweat until the filament formed;
Who but the one who has known silver dawn
Would bother to burgle one trip
To the moon? There is no sport
To this brilliance. Your fizzing chariot
Awaits in the alley:
Be gone, and leave us our fire.

more on alleged intellectual poacher Thomas Alva Edison here
watch "Le Voyage dans la Lune" here


The Last Time I Saw My Sister

There were so many things I wanted
to know. What it means, exactly,
to breathe another in. How it feels
to drown. We all

Had questions for her, admonitions,
pleas. We came with salvation,
the crooked blade
our father sent. We had traversed

The shadows of slow whales
to reach her, but like all lovers,
she misunderstood.

painting: The Sea Maidens by Evelyn de Morgan



The Volvo stops a few feet shy
of the crosswalk, the stop line,
the cracked door in the pavement.

Perpendicular to this drive, from the lawn
of the still-dark People's Bank, the ducks
head off to the marsh.

A young female stretches. She yawns, practically
pajama-clad in the entirety of her waking.

Her sister sits on all the good grass,
and she will not be moved.

A nip from somebody's mother
just as the light turns green,
and the brown birds pack up their night.

photograph by John Hanam


The Widower Speaks

Appoint not the silence
as thy messenger:

One cannot predict
how much it will say.

photograph by Piotr Zgodziński


Interlude: Other People's Poetry

Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus' lodging; such a wagoner
As Phaeton would whip you to the west
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaways' eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties: or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night.--Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:
Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night;--come, Romeo;--come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than snow upon a raven's back.
Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine,
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Wm. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 2
Photograph by Elia Cherici


My Father Dropped Me

When I was ten, we were dancing; I dipped
and he let go. That short fall broke three of my toes:
cold crutches in the winter, a cast across
icy steps. As these things do

the bones grew in
crooked, each node an accusation,
each weakness a knowing nod. Last year
the x-rays showed exactly what

needed to be done. In an ice storm
this March I clenched my teeth, watched
as my own hands rebroke those bones.

photograph ©Laura Kicey


Ode Upon the Poem I Can't Remember

Horse. There was a horse,
and a tall girl also. I want to say one blue eye,
one green, but maybe that was the horse?
He broke her heart--the poet, that is,
broke the girl's heart,
not the horse's. I think.
It all comes in sepia flashes,
as though I'm the one writing it.

A rusted car is parked and stuck
armpit-high in the meadow; abandoned
or occupied I can't tell.
Blonde grass; a sheepish kiss
in porchlight before
she creeps in after curfew.

photograph by Rico Moran.
Does anyone have any idea what this poem is? I'm starting to believe I dreamt it, but my dreams are never this well-composed or meaningful.


The Axis

White moths have crept through the cracks
in the window screens and now they trace
dizzy spirals over my snowdrift comforter. Up
to the lights in the high ceiling, down again,
dazed, disoriented, more in love than ever
with what they believe is the moon.

photograph by Paul Tyler


The Young Poetess Is Misunderstood

"It's such a shame," she thinks, "that in
Their long lives and studies They
Have not known great art."

But, her villanelles remind her,
nobody who is truly great
Is ever understood in her time.

Better to wait,
muse the elegies, until
The hundred-year anniversary
Of your death: see what They think then.

By then, Mistress, you will be so fine, so carved
Of stars and draped in ribbons that even They
Will smile.


Early Fireworks

We named an entire forest of treetops,
Their heads bursting into life, then
Fading out fast like the faces
Of movie stars. Layered, stacked, three
Skies’ worth of foliage, painted
In the disappearing ink of gunpowder and flame.
We saw a shower of dogwoods, petals
Popping into bloom.
You pointed at the branches
Of the heavenly apple tree.

And every so often,
Like a fast-repeating New Year’s Eve
Or the rebirth of the Buddha--
The trailing golden arms
Of the God-sized weeping willow,
The same revelation every time.

photograph by Rob and Briony


Where the Burberry Went

There are some things you just can’t hold on to:
The keys to the shed, the keys to the car,
The king of clubs in the Bicycle deck.

The cold clouds of Spokane traveled
Cross-country to find you, but an umbrella? No.
There are some things you can’t hold on to.

Your birth certificate is gone again;
You ask her where you left it. It’s just
One of those things you can’t hold on to.

And when she does not answer, and shrugs
Into your best raincoat and leaves
The screen door open, it is to you to realize:
There are things you can’t hold on to.

photograph by Suzanne


Atop the Upright

A lucite carousel of photos, always flipped
To my grandfather laughing on his birthday.

In the smallest corner, the fat white star
Of a toddler's reaching hand. The edge

Of my mother's brown shoe. And, like comets,
The eyes of all, drawn to my grandfather laughing.

On the edge near the table, one wooden elephant,
One half of a set, one yellowed tusk gone.

photograph by Trey Lominack
What was on top of your family's piano?


The House of Spirits

after Sarah Winchester, 1839-1922

When I was born this town was young;
The street lamps had yet to be hung,
The infant dust lay in the street
And slept upon work-hardened feet
In coarse boots in the sun.

Great rooms will not bring back my son
Or husband; living has become
One endless staircase, incomplete.
(When I was born this town was young.)

I sought domestic refuge from
The spirits, every single one
A victim of my husband's heat,
His enterprise, his greatest feat,
the way the West was won--
When I was born, this town was young.

Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, believed that her family was cursed after she lost both her husband and her son. She sought the guidance of a medium, who told her to move west and build a house for all the spirits--the ghosts of all those poor souls killed with Winchester rifles--and that should Mrs. Winchester ever cease construction on the house, she would surely die. Mrs. Winchester did as she was told, and moved to San Jose, California, where she began building what came to be known as the Winchester Mystery House. Construction did not stop until the heiress died at the age of 83; years of useless additions turned the house into a labyrinth of doors that led nowhere, staircases to the ceiling, and everywhere windows, steps, ladder rungs, in multiples of thirteen. You can learn more about the Winchester Mystery House here.

photograph by Shawn McClung


Nothing from Me, But a Timely Cartoon

"Please read---
If you did not purchase plums
for the icebox, they are not
yours. This means you, William.
Some of us
cannot eat poems
when we are hungry.

Married to the Sea


This is Just to Say

after William Carlos Williams

Yes, I've seen the plums,
and yes, I ate them,
and yes, I knew.

But what else
would make you
come looking for me?
The flecks of juice on my neck
are so sweet.

photograph by Frenchie Allen


The Clock of Birds

"The Kaluli people use birds as a clock and a calendar. Bird calls wake them in the morning, and afternoon calls tell the people when it is time to gather for a meal. Planting and harvesting are started when particular birds are heard singing in the forest."

-from Rain Forests of the World

Then why shouldn't I
do the same? They have
their forest of souls, their songs
to lift the spirit, but I
have a field guide, and screens
in all the windows. It will
take time to learn the hours:
the mourning dove at seven,
and I don't know what that is
just after sunset. But should
I succeed, I will know my own home
better than any. I will sleep
when the owls instruct me.
But swallows and orioles can't
keep me here. In this old world
I am too young, and my lease
is nearly up. In three months,
new windows, new birdsong,
new hours.

more on the Kaluli relationship with birds here.
photograph by Sandra.


After Three Days of Rain

The white irises
are rumpled, look like
your sheets in the morning.

iris photograph by Mike VanDerWalker


May in Coventry

after Leofric, Earl of Mercia, husband to Lady Godiva

When your armored ears know only
the clash of spear and shield, when
you are unaccustomed to the sight
of verdant fields, when success
is measured in remaining limbs and eyes,
her voice sounds far away, and you cannot
be bothered to listen.

A battlefield wager, a joke tossed away
over a fur-trimmed shoulder. You will not
hear her leave the room, best dress trailing
in a wake like a twig on the water.

But clear as day now, the clop
of your best stallion on the cobbles
of the town square. Birdsong is stilled,
the market shuttered. With one cheek
to the window you can nearly discern
the wind lifting her hair.

more about Lady Godiva here.
painting by John Collier

Interlude: Other People's Poetry

from "Song of Myself"

This is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of

This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.
Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have, and the mica
on the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering
through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

by Walt Whitman
photograph by hui hui


Anna in the Brambles

She had hidden the dark, oily seeds,
buried them deep in the dry side of the garden.
Winter saw rock-hard ground, silence between rooms,
white skies. And then spring, and with the rise
of string beans, peppers, foxglove,
the garden gave an army
of thorny, hungry spines.
She was uprooting them, swearing, bleeding,
when I found her in the dirt.

photograph by wordsforsnow


Barnard's Star

after Ann Druyan

I send for you my heartbeat,
the rhythms of my latest dream.
You are just now finding the frozen clicks
of muscles, cooling like just-parked cars.
Through endless fields of fire and dust,
we send whale song, one noisy kiss.

Every other romance
is nothingness now, every whale
a great cage of bone and blue air.
But fast to you, bright Ophiuchus,
one whispered love is dancing.

More about the Voyager Golden Record here.
Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow, tells her love story here.


The Letter She Left on the Table

after Bonnie Parker (1910-1934)

"You think I'm still good-looking, honey?
But no, I am faded and spent,
Even Helen of Troy would look seedy,
If she followed the pace that I went."

-from "The Street Girl"

So Mama, I'm going, I'm sorry;
We won't be returning this year.
I'll try and send you more money
With someone who passes through here.

He's not a bad man at all, Mama
but life shaped him wild and lean.
He says that someday we'll be married--
I think we both know what that means.

So Mama, I'm going, I'm sorry;
but tonight the stars all say yes.
Don't forget my love in a hurry;
Love alone will survive this mess.

Another Rainy Weekend

I stay just ahead of the flat purple cloud
that clings to the rearview mirror.

Along Route 25 the maple trees
have flipped their summer skirts

and now tremble in the sudden wind,
arms wide to catch the rain.

photograph by flickr user Bold&Blond


I Am Hearing Now

I am hearing now a new bird,
or perhaps an old bird's new song.
It is like small bells. The woods go silent.
From somewhere another bird answers.

photograph by Mariell Amélie


May 20th: There is One Moth

There is one moth in plain brown robes
who beats against the window.
From the darkness where it flutters,
my home must look like heaven.
And will I close the shades
and learn to ignore this small sorrow;
or shall my eyes stay, pious too,
fast on the heartless pane?

photograph by Nikki Fowers


Carwash in Allergy Season

You feel like a young elephant,
or an actor inside a great puppet.
Perfect bubbles slide like ice
as the grimy man waves
with the sprayer. "Neutral, sweetheart.

"Foot off the brake." Today
everything is like the first time.
You are still, in a body of water.
You are in a body, still in a body
of water, and still your eyes
are dry. You let go the wheel.

Pollen, insects, the ghosts
of the winter, all go melting
to the drain and you glide over.

photograph by Kevin Dooley

The Death of Pan

A divine voice hailed him across the salt water, "Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead."

This is, of course,
ridiculous. Show me a grave.
Show me a meadow
in the damp nights of June
that does not flatten
under the backs of laughing lovers.
Look you here, in the whorls
of my beard, and tell me
I am dead. Lift your head.
Breathe in deep.
The grass you smell
has not been trampled
by Christians, sir:
that music is not
of the chapel.

painting: Pan and Psyche by Sir Edward Burne-Jones


As the Last Mass Ended

after St. Dymphna of Gheel

I saw him by the tallest column,
knife in his belt, sword in his hand.
The broad dome of the ceiling seemed
to slide to the church floor. Light moved
like ice in a muddy river. And then
there were voices: shouts and supplications,
commands for me to run, and run
I must have done. Now the sun
rolls below the earth
and all the saints who saved me
are dead. It will be a cold, cold night
without the hard hands
of a priest to wake me at day.


The Birds of Hyde Park

Chicago's winter is nine months long.
Wind fit to hollow
the cheeks of sweet children spins,
screaming, down each vacated street.
And screaming, too, from the dips
of the satellite dishes,
the birds of Hyde Park come home to roost.
Each nest is a mess of yesterday's vines,
each bird uncanny in a jungle
of cold wire. Argentina
is thirty worlds away.
From the topmost floor
of the busiest building you
can just see them landing,
great feathered limes in a bowl
of smoke and slate.

photograph by flickr user Justabird (Angie)
more about the Chicago's feral parakeets here


Help Wanted

Poetry Camp will be here before too long now, and I need to bring a little manuscript with me of pieces I want to workshop. I figure there's no point bringing anything but my best. Unfortunately, I have no idea what my best is.

So: Any favorites?

photograph by Kelsey Landsgaard

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