The face is a jug of water
drawn from a well.
Smooth, soft, the eyes arched handles.
I look, and look hard to hold her.
She smiles—how I am that smile—
and the water

Permanent installation: Davis Sq., Somerville, Mass., MBTA subway station

The bald man waves his arms, chanting
sacred curses he makes up himself,
while the chorus of his hair attempts Mahler
—thick and thin in surprising spots that fascinate—
here misdirecting the truth of what needs saying.
Red tie, red Christmas trees, red pockets laden,
but at a particularly vigorous gesture, the heavy gold belt
his girth requires falls away to reveal the old script,
once tucked out of sight, that gives cues and bells
to deputize ignorantly brutal devils. We’ve seen it before.
He isn’t embarrassed, so I am embarrassed for him.
One wing sprouts from his side, but aerodynamics
(he was too impatient to learn) state he cannot lift off.
His whirligig shouts and satellite dishes focus and
refract back his own words, his own spectacular
crucifixion impending. Again the curses, but they
are smoke and mirrors, his art the broken embers that
burn the palace down around him.

From Visual Verse, Vol. 06, Chapter 02
This poem appeared in Visual Verse: An Anthology of Art and Words, Vol. 06, Chapter 02. This ekphrastic journal sends out an image on the first of the month. “One image, one hour, 50-500 words. The picture is the starting point, the text is up to you.” December’s image, by Dong Chensheng, of a figure in red allowed me to channel some of my obsession with the terrible bombast directed at our democracy.

Click here for the archive.
I’ve changed the title to post here; formerly “It Could Also Be Laughter.” The wild gestures of the image and words I could not understand brought to mind for me….

Visual Verse archive

When I was a child I did not
think that I would have so much food
I would throw some of it away.

So much water pours in a clear stream
from the faucet, I let it run
for ten minutes, twenty minutes

when I take a bath. I do not know
the place the water comes from
and I do not see where it is going.

I just say, Water, for me.
How did it come to this?
Clothes hang in the closet

and I do not wear them, but spring
and fall I clean them and put them
away in large boxes and

bring out the others I also do not wear.
It takes work, all this wasting.
It takes up my time. As a child

I never thought I would grow
to possess waste
with such an implacable need,

to define home as a place
where the unused and unneeded
are stored, where water and food

go down the drain, into the garbage.
I polish the faucets as if cleaning
were an atonement, but atonement for a sin

I do not feel the terror of. It is my duty
to get the sink clean. Meanwhile the moths
eat holes in the saved woolen jacket,

the cotton dresses smell faintly
of last summer's sweat, and that
innocent girl and her childhood,

in which she believed adults always
had enough, are lost amid storage boxes
and sewers. Maybe all along

the point is to lose her, her trust no salvation
to the compulsions of a wasting life,
her broken heart what I am wasting away.


Published in Blue Sofa Review

So it’s April again. The trees
all hue and shape of green—green light, dark green

leaves, blue green, yellow green, feathery,
pointillist, budded and bud broken open.

Each tree has, wants its green. And although
my sister has been dead three years, it’s

a good thing trees turn green each April,
relentless, unstoppable. It is as if even the great hole

in the earth could green up, the one that swallows
everything—terror, abiding love.

So a tree turns green,
green and green and green. Then there’s the shade.

I will not let go of that, the shadow under the tree,
dark, deep, forgiving in all that green.

Forgiven. That’s what I meant, forgiven.

My mother and sister
wave from the window of the train.
They smile, almost laughing,
and nod at one another. They look out
at me on the platform
and wave again.

The train goes, sounding just like a train.
The clacking begins, the chrome lines blur,
and this picture of happiness
moving stays with me,
like some treasure of the first time,
the first time I knew,

the first time I knew I was really alive
among people and birds and flowers,
the white lilies and white chrysanthemums.

Sometimes you choose a road that’s near
the road you’re on, a road off to the left,
or maybe the right, not even a turning,
a crossroad, that’s it, a crossroad.

If you’re walking, you don’t stand there
wondering. If you’re driving, you don’t
check a map and idle the car, fumes graying
the air. You just take that other road.
You don’t even have time to work out
the obscure joke about meeting yourself
two days later at the same crossroads.
There are no crows telling you secrets,
no warning gallows—that time is past—
not even the customary crossroads table
spread with fruit and bread to celebrate
the harvest, should it be that time of year.
All those things come later. You will look
back at the road and say, It was a crossroad . . .
and, Wasn’t there a bird calling? Was I hungry
then? Did I know the way? But now you
don’t say any of those things. You just go.
It’s a road, you take it, as you would
brush your hair before stepping out, or
eat an apple for breakfast. There go
your feet, the wheels of the car,
taking you where you are going to go.

Keep going. Don’t worry. When from
farther down the road you look back, you
will see the hieroglyphs you missed
the first time, the petroglyphs of those
who have come before. You will see
there is an alphabet, and you will learn
that new language, the one in which
you will ask the questions. You are
learning the language of your past.
It's a table spread with fruit and bread.
You eat. Now you can say, My feet
moved under the bird's song. I
was hungry, and I knew the way.

Published in Poiesis, A Journal of the Arts & Communication

His glance raised my lips
to his. I felt his reflection
on the inside of my bones.

But there were schedules, planes.
I forgot the permeable stars,
the night listening and the spin

of the Great Bear, until just now walking
the road covered in pink feldspar
split from the broken mica hills

and above, the sandhill cranes hooting.
I never saw him again.
Here the washouts, old water patterns

in sand. The years lost.
For shame! How did I let slip
the grace that made a wing

from that one glance.
I apologize to the cranes,
their determined flight

across miles of monofields.
I apologize to the swollen cataracts
sunk to a drip across granite

in the dry summer. I apologize
to the blade cutting oats,
the log cut for shelter,

the food half-eaten on the table,
the stars that follow regardless
of the engines thrown down in the dirt,

the illusions that obscured
the long-gone heat, the beat
of its pulse ringing in my hands

that touched the lips that touched
my bones that brought grief
and betrayal, time—

a measurement unlimited,
specified, repeated, destroyed,
and the migrating, the wandering.


Published in Poiesis, A Journal of the Arts & Communication

There is no God. Hey ho, hey ho.
Brilliant dawns over and over.
The living create cacophony,
build and war, build and war.

Farm for food, monofields of doubt and drought.
The occasional tornado tears
the baby from the mother.

Seasons rally. Snow bouquets
slicken sidewalks, followed by flowers
we pick, dying
to please us. Hey ho.

The tarmac continues its acrid march
past living rooms lighted by flat screens
with painted, prosthetic, blown apart skulls,
crime scenes, followed by dance and song,
contests and contestants. Hey ho, hey ho.

Death takes your neighbor.
And you go on.

Hey ho. The tombstones prate
of the land beyond. Paris is built
on bones. You can see them,
millions of femurs stacked, ends out,
broken by lines of eyeless, eyed skulls.

The birds have come and
    taken the love for you
        I carried like a stolen treasure.

         They flew just over my head
    as I walked on the dawn beach
and so softly I almost
    did not notice them. Two sparrows,
        was it? or perhaps two
             finches, their red polls
        the badge of the heart. I had

    only a moment to think.
I had been watching herons,
    those long-legged fishers,
        stalk the incoming tide.
            Longing with its load

         of incessant possibility
    had entered my heart. Sunrise had made
a prism of the sky. Then,
    shadows, phrases, sibilants

        of words above my head.
            Startled, I looked up
        and heard, echoing in
    the draft of their wings,

We have taken
    your burden from you.
            You are free.

        I walked on, bereft and blessed,
    light-headed, my heart
beating and only that.

Published in The Blue Sofa Review

You are unable
to go to sleep.

You life becomes
a stable of dreams.

The horses of time
Run through the hours.

In the morning dusk you look back
to what you have been through.

In the evening, a falling
down of fire.

The horses rise and
scream in the flaming barn.

Published in The Worcester Review

There are two ways down and back.
              In one, Persephone,
torn from her mother’s side, eats
the red seeds Hades offers, marries him,
dallies underground. A frantic Demeter
bestows the reawakening only
when Persephone rises, and Queen Above
and Queen Below unite.

              In the other story, the mother
pitches forward, dragging her desires behind her.
Seduced by shadows, she sings her own
seed song in the green-carpeted living room. “I
like it here among the dust and dinners,
see how I like it,” she laughs, seated
on the yellow sofa, listening
to Brahms and jazz, nuzzling a cold beer,
cigarette by cigarette.
My sisters and I dance her rituals.
We take her empty bottles
to the cellar and bring up full ones.

She never tells us what we are doing.
We discover ourselves in the slow
falling off, the cold house we grow into.
We serve but cannot save her
from her descent into dissolution.
I grow angry and dark, my sisters press themselves
deeper into the rock. And when she turns inside
to wait, then give up waiting, then to fear
the coming of death,
she is crowned.

At 16, I wander hell alone.
The plague is everywhere, misplaced passion,
exile. I only feel at home
in strange countries, where I listen to the radio
chanting in languages I cannot understand.

So much I forget.
So much is my flesh and bone.

Years pass.
              Still each spring
surprises. Not yet!
I offer homage,
bent into the darkness
pressed against mirror
of the dirt.

              But there is no more waiting.
From misshapen bulbs, leaves push
through, and seeds, tiny black grit,
put forth green, green.
My childhood ends in an abyss,
and I am called up by a song
that rings of blasphemy to my grief:
The year turned.
The year turns.
She dies. I live.

Published in Cumberland Poetry Review

The wounded heart cannot be
healed. Nailed through, it becomes

an icon others worship, kneeling in
awe at the quivering, the heart’s

blood, the real nails. Who keeps
driving the nails? Behind all the

adoration, aren’t we afraid that
one night our hands will forget

the smooth forgiveness of water
and reach for the hammer? One night

the blows will fall on you, on me,
on everyone. The heart will die.

Sometimes reaching for
a hand is like fingering

the stigmata of a dead god.
You hurt. You hope. You hurt.


Published in Harvard Review

Vermeer is like water, like tears.
For instance, either she is
looking right at you, or she is
by the window, intent on the scales,
pouring white milk. She is looking
at you (Vermeer has seen to that),
or she is reading the letter, she is
weighing the jewels, playing music.
Either she has been disturbed, or
she has not been disturbed at all.

Because the windows are high, and she
stands facing the windows, Vermeer
has been obliged to dress her lips,
her arms, her eyes in white,
a blessing of white. The rest
of her is plum and silk, the rest
of her is cream, the rest
of her is pearl. Vermeer
is oyster and tears.

You begin to feel that you
would like to read her letter
(she is not interrupted)
or perhaps, that you belong in it.
She knows what you feel. She is
pleased that this painting continues.

She does not become vain.
Though the more you see her,
the more you fall in love with her,
vanity is not what you have
to give. That, too, is in her letter.

Her eyes will not forget you.

Vermeer has seen to that,
in the white. He has put it there,
though it is not his to decipher.
He has painted interiors,
not the world. To him these rooms
matter most of all. The room
is in the canvas, and light
falls on it as you enter.


Published in Cumberland Poetry Review, winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award (under the title “Vermeer”)

Monet goes out to the field in the morning. The wind blows the broken straw about his feet and tousles the mat of the grain stacks. Behind the hills, the early sunlight pours out, so bright, he sets up his easel in shade. Later, the sun rises from behind the grain stack, burns his eyes into a squint; waves edges until the tangle of the wheat becomes a ragged harlequin cloth hung above the line of hill and sky. The reflection of the sky, the shadows of sight bursting open: in the field he sees flat planes, two houses, their roofs, and curved spots, two figures working, their backs bent, flooded under light; until the round of the stack draws its edges dancing flame, draws its fire through the field, a kaleidoscope in his eyes, as the straws scatter, bathed in a coral sun. And below the last grain stack he signs his name in that red, and walks home, and shadows wash his brushes clean again.

going with Tristan to the wild wood

A long time now I have watched
the horizon. Are you aware that
the line which is land in sky
is also sky in land. And the white glow
just at the edge, that line of meeting
is ripe, as a pear is ripe.
At times—dawn, certainly,
noon sometimes, an afternoon,
or at dusk often—some
quality of light will gather
into ripeness and burst as the pear
devoured dissolves into sweet juice
on the tongue. How is it
that sky and earth do not melt
together, I wonder. How is it
that so perfectly they stand, edge
to edge, and that the path I take
with its edges teased by fronds
of bracken and tall grass
is still a path and not some
endless beckoning into
the dripping dark woods. They do
melt together at night, the land
and the sky; the pear is eaten;
the darkening path beckons.

Published in West

My father does not know he is
going into a nursing home.
Perplexed by Alzheimer's,
but today, uncomplaining, he sits
at the kitchen table, Annie-love,
it's good to see your smiling face.
He's been a drunk for so many years,
it is hard not to think of those words
as a bribe for forgiveness.
But I remember now that for a long time
I have forgiven him, and I hear
his happiness and start to cry,
because he understands, sober
and aged, even less than he did
when he was drunk and middle-aged.

My husband stands near the sink.
We're visiting in the house for the last time.
Next week my father will go
to the nursing home, a cinderblock
and linoleum building where within two weeks
he will charm the staff, insisting everyone
call him Reed, have a heart attack, and die.
Now my father raises his hand,
looks past us and nods toward the dining room,
and, smiling, waves.
When my husband and I turn our heads
to look, we see an empty doorway,
sunlight and shadows stippling the green carpet
and the warm brown of the wooden chairs.
Hello, hello, my father says, waving to the threshold.
Hello, hello, he nods to the brightness, smiling.


Published in The Sun


They are fish. They live in the cold ocean,
breathe water, eat other fish.
They in turn are eaten. What do they know?
They know they are salmon and where
they were born. They live in the cold ocean,
but when it is their turn to die, when it is their turn
to return, they know what to do.
They remember where they were born,
exactly where they need to go.
And they go. The female salmon stop
roaming the ocean, eating other fish.
They leave the endless deep and turn
toward land to find the river mouth
that spit them forth. They enter the mouth, 
go upriver. The female salmon travel together.
The male salmon leave the cold ocean,
the eating of other fish. They seek
the mouth that spit them forth
from the land’s constriction, and enter.
They go back guided by the memory.
They go to make the memory
continue in their way. They go to make
the salmon continue in the old way.
They swim upriver, leap the falls.
The river narrows. Swimming is harder.
The salmon push between rocks, against water
to the shallows where they were born.
They go to the heart of the land. There they meet
and agree. The female waves her body
and lays her eggs and moves off. And the male
waves his body, sprays his seeds and moves off.
Then the female and male salmon die.
In the shallows, having given birth
to eggs and seeds, a promise to their memories,
they die. The salmon go all the way upstream.
The salmon go all the way to death.


Published in Wild Earth

After my mother's funeral, I begin
looking into her death. I go home.
Is it still home? It feels so,
the carpet green and worn,
the doors hollow and light. I go
into the kitchen. I am sixteen
and thirsty. Is it all right to be
thirsty? It must be. I open the kitchen
cupboard. The glasses, stacked neatly,
become luminous on the shelves.
By opening the door, I shed light
on their curves, their brittleness.
They are so clear I can see the dust
caught on their transparent sides.
Standing there, I realize they are waiting.
The glasses do not know my mother
is dead, so they wait for her hands
to take them down, fill them with
beer or juice or milk. Then
her hands will wash them,
her hands will put them away.
She is dead, I say softly, she is dead.
Outside a bird calls. Her hands are gone.
Suddenly I am afraid that the glasses
will slip off the shelves and shatter,
and I close the cupboard door quickly,
then, after a moment, open it again.
I want them to slide toward me.
Perhaps I'll catch them, perhaps
I'll let them smash. Nothing
moves. The glasses are out of reach.
I close the door, I open it,
I close it, I open it.

Published in Phoebe

You wonder what you will
say and then the words
come as water, flow

across an object,
shape a feeling, define
darken and cover over.

You wonder, having spoken, if
all the words voiced in the world
fill your ears with the roaring

you hear in your heartbeat
from birth, a pulse
seeking understanding.

You have seen the earth
suspended in a universe so large,
light illuminates only the spheres,

not the dark of space around them.
You understand why the heart
weakens like any muscle and dies.

It is possible that all those
radio antennae pointed outward
to find some other language

reach into a mirror
and the static is our own words
coming back to us.

Round and blue, a planet
hangs before your gaze, the earth
gauzed in airwaves.

You wonder
what you will say and then
your ears begin to hear

Published in The Mind’s Eye

How subtly we age
each morning into day
in this house of raddled timber.

You stand in the doorway,
the sun yellow and green
and brown through the trees.

Though we have bruised
our thighs into an arch
of white light, we cannot

reconcile our desires. We change
our open hearts into salmon
and send them downstream.

We cannot wish on ourselves,
and we have no children.
What is left? The words

we share we touch
to our mouths, the ritual
that becomes our food.

We leave like hunters
going out one morning
with no guns.

Published in The Blue Sofa Review

Quietly the white crystals
fall from the sky. White.

Sorrow does not leave me.

It changes into
something I know.

Published in The Blue Sofa Review

Your new life will look just like the old,
at first. You won't be able to tell
the difference. The old despairs will be back,
and you will think, I've been here before.
You will drive, heart sore, through
a winter day, another winter day, raw, cloudy.
You will follow a river that flows this day
between icebound banks. A metaphor?
You will wonder, then let it go. The river
is itself, a testament to the weather, the freeze
and thaw, the flow of water over a rocky
riverbed. This is not a sign of your life.
Your life is its own. You see sunset in
the rear view mirror and check the side mirrors.
The images form a cross around you, the real
sunset filling the back window. You'd like
to rest awhile in that soft salmon dusk, but
your life, your life. I wish I could tell you what
the new life looks like. You might see signs
that say, Pilgrim Springs, or The Mainstay
Motor Lodge. Quaint, but again, no real clue.
You might see a hawk circling high and notice
how the small birds roost quietly among
the tree branches. You could see the hawk stoop,
a sudden disappearance down behind the trees
of the near horizon. For a moment you are thankful
for the sight, the stoop, even the disappearing.
Carry that, not as a clue, but as
the hawk disappearing into its own life, 
into whatever happens beyond the trees.

Published in The Madison Review