One Candle

Three classmates. One would-have-been
mentor. Someone's mother, someone's husband.
The protagonist of the novel you've been reading
for months. All this, since Monday.

Tell her, tell her everything. Tell her now,
before the next gray
and inevitable week begins.
Saturday will be here
before you know it.

photograph by Fabio Gassarino



I could be blind on this gold day,
not know the honest sun
save for its tender warmth.

I could be deaf as a desert stone,
not know the drowsing murmurs
of one lamb to another.

I could be mute and never tell
another soul the size and shape
of all these breathing beauties.

But I couldn't be here,in this sweet meadow,
and not know your love
by its scent. There is no life
without this bounty, there is
no day without fruit.

painting by Cassandra Barney


The First Night of Open Windows: A Census

One lazy-looking spider, possibly
the same one I tossed out the back door
this morning. Two ladybugs.
The fist-sized moth with wings
like the Constitution. He was confounded
when I shut off the kitchen lights.
The refrigerator
would like to be counted.

And then there is me, outlined in light
at the mouth of the closet, hand
to my face in the search
for the right nightshirt
for a night such as this.

Somewhere outside,
a frog calls his children.

photograph by Joanna Blusiewicz


After a Long Winter

There are trees near your house
that you did not know were cherry
until the blossoms came.

photograph by Toshihiro Oshima


Interlude: Other People's Poetry

Her people loved her--not all her people, for the revolutionary, the impatient, hated her heartily and she hated them. But the peasants and the small-town people revered her. Decades after she was dead I came upon villages in the inlands of China where the people thought she still lived and were frightened when they heard she was dead. "Who will care for us now?" they cried.

This, perhaps, is the final judgment of a ruler.

Pearl S. Buck on Empress Dowager Cixi

photograph by Tanya


The Second Half of the Lesson

And then, she says,
I will be free? Oh,
no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
When you stagger out
from that mess you made
you'll be black with smoke
inside and out, and just you try
to leave those burns behind. Oh,
no, no, no, no, no, dear one.
You won't find water
for miles.

photograph by Susan Sabo

Sit Her Down, Make Her Understand.

The house was coming down anyway,
sure. But without that single match?
It would have taken years, and you weren't
willing to wait. You torched that thing
from the inside--what did you think
would happen?

And now the walls are papered with fire
and the floor is blackened books,
and you will stand here, little firebug,
until the doors are embers. It was
your match, your sweaty fingers.
Now it will be your sooty skin.
You can do nothing for now
but wait, and in the meantime
pray for rain.

Volvox Minuet

In one old studio my round instructor
is warming up her knees. Always the knees,
she said. You don't know what you've got
til it's gone. And then the music:
plaintive songs from long-
forgotten instruments.
My hair has slipped
from its braid. My teacher
counts, a hypnotist's trope,
and I am five hundred years ago.
The braid there has slipped too,
but there someone has bent
to mend it.

There is a pond on the way home,
a rich green plate of single-celled forms.
And in there two algae awaken.
A shy current pushes their arms
to preparation. The music begins.

Like new stars we all have been,
so blind to the cosmos and any orbit
but our own.

more about the Volvox algae here.


For Zoe. From Zoe. Zoe.

I am a woman built of twigs, I am
a pulsing ruby heart. I am the bottom of the ocean
and the great monsters who sleep there. There are trees
inside my lungs. I am making
my own air. I have expanded
and condensed, and in these ears
four galaxies collide.

please, please, please, go listen to Zoe Keating right now.
illustration by Audrey Kawasaki
you might also be interested in lung trees
or sea monsters
or colliding galaxies.
I know I am.


Pygmalion at Dusk

Woman, you are built of bone
and you will never leave me.
Some sunsets I see
a shine in your eye, but I
will carve it from you.

photograph: "Galatea" by Iian Neill
sculpture: "Pygmalion and Galatea" by Falconet

The Language of Flowers: Lily of the Valley

sweetness, humility, healing, spring, a return to happiness

I sleep late. The lawnmowers
do not wake me, nor the landlord's
angry wife. The light
finds my eyes gently,
as the rain begins. The house
is empty. The bright street,
deserted. The comforter
has been rejected, a cool white dog
at the foot of the bed.

All the clocks are wrong or gone,
I guess he took his with him. I force open
a window. It is time to start the day.

painting by Cassandra Barney
another season of floriography begins.


Variations on The Last Battle: Dawn on the Field

The thing you were, the things you had
have died, this blush is their blood,
and aren't you beautiful. Everything
has ended.

illustration by James Jean

The First Beautiful Day

Spring slides over the last patch of gray;
somewhere a river is thawing.
My tongue is heavy with flowers.

photograph by Rachel K


What to Do When a Poet Dies

1. Reprint an obscure poem,
something pastoral, with shades
of the scythe.

2. Make yourself an expert.
Nobody knew her work like you; why,
you even met her once.

3. Invoke dear sainted Sylvia
as though your life depends on it.
As though that explains everything.

4. Don't call your sister,
don't call the man you love.
Don't say, please: stay alive with me.
It is simply not done.

Deborah Digges, 1950-2009

Darwin's Finches
by Deborah Digges

My mother always called it a nest,
the multi-colored mass harvested

from her six daughters' brushes,
and handed it to one of us

after she had shaped it, as we sat in front
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand
of spider's web, or horse's mane,

the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses
near a fold

where every summer of her girlhood
hundreds nested.

Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius—
how they transform the useless.

I've seen plastics stripped and whittled
into a brilliant straw,

and newspapers—the dates, the years—
supporting the underweavings.

As tonight in our bed by the window
you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean

the brush as my mother did, offering
the nest to the updraft.

I'd like to think it will be lifted as far
as the river, and catch in some white sycamore,

or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets,
the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects

lay their eggs.
Would this constitute an afterlife?

The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks
off islands they called paradise,

stood in the early sunlight
cutting their hair. And the rare

birds there, nameless, almost extinct,
came down around them

and cleaned the decks
and disappeared into the trees above the sea.

Ms. Digges was scheduled to teach the first week of my master class this summer. I can only hope she has found her peace.


Half-Haiku: The Firebird Again

Without belief the phoenix
is just a bird on fire.

photograph by Zoolien

April Showers

Something is falling. It isn't
rain. It can't be snow.
I saw three specks just large enough
to get me off the couch. Something is falling.
The cat tilts one ear at the window.
I press my cheek to the glass.
There is nothing, no promise
from the outside, only my breath
and her purr and the hint
of day retreating.

photograph by Vicki Ashton


Ganymede's Petition to Hera

My lady, I swear to you,
I am not worth these eagles.
This is no cup that I have known,
My small hands cannot lift it.

My lady, I swear to you,
My flock has lost their eyes.
The wool has all been wasted.
My father died a thin man.

My lady, I swear to you,
My feet long for the dry earth.
My lord's most endless Titan thighs
are no home to my heart.

illustration by Lovis Corinth
more about Ganymede here

The Young Marine's Wife, Day 44

Every day, one realization. Today's
was a blanket, a closed-fist wave that nearly
pulled her under. "It will be months, years,"
she said, "before I am kissed again."

photograph by flickr user Kine.


Watson and the Shark

after John Singleton Copley

This is a magical year.
I am Creation's Adam: the beast
is a shark because I call it thusly.

A god takes on the bosun's duties,
and in the well-behaved water
our Grecian hero swoons, short one leg
and gentle as a lamb.

His polite blood stays where we cannot see it.
Men have become much older men.
I have given up hiding my forefathers.

Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley

Also, The Woodpecker Is Not Too Bright

for Mr. Apron

O assailant of the phone pole,
you serve a most ambitious goal;
But you might want to stop
before reaching the top
Because that's where you'll get electrocuted.

photograph by Emily Hoyer


The Firebird Does Not Learn

She is an egg and every shadowed glance,
every silent forest destroys her.
She is newborn and the shark-tooth grit
of the earth clings to her wet eyes.
She is in flames, the jeweled fire
that everyone remembers,
and then, what she had not foreseen,
She is burned and not consumed.
Burned. She feels her feathers
knit together. Burned. It hurts her
to heal. She is still.
She dreams of the next dawn,
a darkness, a nest of ash.

The Firebird, illustration by Edmund Dulac


On the Exit Ramp

"Every time we round a curve," he'd said,
"I see you applying the brakes.
Hit the gas. Speed
into the turn."

And so she let up
on the brakes of ten years,
her driving instructor,
her mother, (this
is what we do for love),
the red flags in her feet.
She sped into the turn.

And it was indeed flight, the resolution
of girl and road, and she thought,
when they find my keys,
hot in the ashes of the crash,
Maybe, he will say, maybe,
Maybe I could have been wrong.

photograph by Eric Larson

Ondine in Mourning

In my grief I wash the river stones;
in my youth I fell as rain.

Now, rapids; a vision.
Waist-deep in the sea,
a man with a strong earthen jug.
He will know me when I reach him;
I will be a long time coming.

illustration by Arthur Rackham

Driving Home, Dayenu

The red-tailed hawk in the parking lot,
tracking me as I found my car.

The black bulk of the vulture
by the dry side of the highway.

The robin picking rock salt
from the deepest driveway cracks.

(A heart will swell until it bumps a rib
when the eyes report such wonders.)

If it had been these three,
it would have been enough.


The Waltz of the Houseguest

You cannot know what the room
was like that night. You were not in it.
The night air mothered new rain at the window.
Drops played soft on the pillow. Your pillow.

Nine months later I am driving,
two hundred miles away. Still your music
fills my ears. Today's air swells
with a silver belly of rain, and each
kissing breeze draws from me
fresh tears. This such beautiful air.
This my skin so damp, so blessed. This
no small miracle.

The road runs along a muddy creek bed.
The sad guitar tapers. A new song's beginning:
a choir of hidden frogs. I am water.
I am joy. I am lost.

photograph by flickr user riot jane


My House is Falling Apart

Somewhere the sun has risen.
The kitchen sky sags with rain
and the things she is not saying.
She steps into the living room
just as the ceiling collapses.

photograph by Laurence Philomene

 photo copyright.jpg
envye template.