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


Trespass at the Reservoir

On frozen shores the
only sound was you, punching
holes in cracking ice.


Glass: A Love Story

We used to think, in our high-chair years,
in hand-worked gowns and miters,
that windows slid like rain because
their very souls were water.

Now we use the cosmic word,
shapeless itself: amorphous.
If you were in that eleven a.m. classroom
and the test said to define it, you,
sixteen, would know with rock-solid
certainty that amor-phous means "full of love."

Tomorrow we will tip the cup
that holds this estate's mirrors,
and silver and gold and perfect curls
will mingle in the goblet,
the ever-unchanging vessel.

Man-made glass has been around since the at least Bronze Age, and yet chemists and physicists are still at odds over whether it's a liquid or a solid. Some have settled on "amorphous solid." I just love this, this not knowing in the face of millennia of familiarity.

photograph of a shattered Saint Cecilia by Michael Krueger


Last Month on Angel Island

after Quok Shee

My mother in Nom Moon knows nothing of this.
She said, "He is your husband."

In the dark hold of a ship far too small
I close my eyes and see bamboo.

Every hour is danger here, when no one hears
the metal moonlight sounds of the cellblock.

He left me with these tall blind men,
never told me of his childhood.

"You will go," they say, "I won't," say I,
I say, "He is my husband."



The heaviest clouds are memories now,
and each thorn gives up its rain.
I dreamt I saw your shadow,
a flicker at the edge of the meadow.
Every step took me hours and hours,
and when I reached you you had gone.
In the trampled grass where the doe makes her bed,
a damp and budding armful: peony, lavender,
strawberry, thistle.
These are the flowers of my heart,
and in new sun they will bloom.

painting by Cassandra Barney


In the Vestibule of the Coffee Shop

The gray-haired woman
is inflamed. Someone has taken
her umbrella. Her daughter fumes.
"What kind of a place is this,
where someone would steal
an umbrella?"

The rain fizzled out
a good half-hour ago, just around the time
you said you'd be here.
The women stalk past, sleek black trenches
with billowing capes.
From under my veil of hasty morning hair
I try a crooked smile,
and wonder if you're coming.

photograph by Ana Kras


Interlude: Other People's Poetry

The May Queen

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

There’s many a black, black eye, they say, but none so bright as
There’s Margaret and Mary, there’s Kate and Caroline;
But none so fair as little Alice in all the land they say,
So I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

I sleep so sound all night, mother, that I shall never wake,
If you do not call me loud when the day begins to break;
But I must gather knots of flowers, and buds and garlands gay,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

As I came up the valley whom think ye should I see
But Robin leaning on the bridge beneath the hazel-tree?
He thought of that sharp look, mother, I gave him yesterday,
But I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

He thought I was a ghost, mother, for I was all in white,
And I ran by him without speaking, like a flash of light.
They call me cruel-hearted, but I care not what they say,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

They say he’s dying all for love, but that can never be;
They say his heart is breaking, mother–what is that to me?
There’s many a bolder lad ’ill woo me any summer day,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

Little Effie shall go with me to-morrow to the green,
And you’ll be there, too, mother, to see me made the Queen;
For the shepherd lads on every side ’ill come from far away,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

The honeysuckle round the porch has woven its wavy bowers,
And by the meadow-trenches blow the faint sweet cuckoo-flowers;
And the wild marsh-marigold shines like fire in swamps and
hollows gray,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

The night-winds come and go, mother, upon the meadow-grass,
And the happy stars above them seem to brighten as they pass;
There will not be a drop of rain the whole of the livelong day,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

All the valley, mother, ’ill be fresh and green and still,
And the cowslip and the crowfoot are over all the hill,
And the rivulet in the flowery dale ’ill merrily glance and play,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

So you must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear,
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
To-morrow ’ill be of all the year the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

photograph by Bethanie De Veau

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