He feels for the roots
pushing cracked, lined hands through the soft dirt.
He removes the intruding hedge’s dark knots
to spare the thin struggle of a tree.
He wants assurance
that his new lady is the right choice.
He rolls a stone into place while
the earth turns on its axis.
I think of the farm my partner and I didn’t buy,
how we came to this house with no curtains instead.
The landscaper wants to know
if he will be a good parent.
The air smells of dislodged spearmint
and crushed lavender.
The blood blister on his palm swings skyward
as he cups a drooping branch and clips it off.
He does it over and over, the swinging and cupping.
What would mean “I don’t know” in my hands
is a pruning ballet in his,
the tall tree an answer.
I think of the child we didn’t adopt,
of her photo in the book: Kristy.
She had so many letters: ADHD, ODD, PTSD.
My lover couldn’t see the girl
in the forest of letters.
Next spring’s seed catalog lies on the seat
of the landscaper’s truck in the driveway;
a diagram of next year’s garden takes shape in his mind.
He hurries to lay gravel and sand
but loses to the rotation of the earth.
“Want to save this nest for your daughter?” he asks,
laying it carefully on the porch steps.
The daughter we did adopt.
The one to whom I am a good parent
most of the time,
alone in this house.
“Yes,” I say. Yes to the lady, the good
parenthood, the nest. Yes to the removal of roots
that held nothing so strongly that a mistake
couldn’t make it all fall down.
THE WOMAN WHO GAVE UP SPEAKING
has heard enough.
The enterprise is not loyalty.
Daggers. Blood. Mermaids.
She has seen
fall like the snapped bodies
The enterprise is stolen words.
Death Before Dishonor.
Jesus. Mother. Semper Fi.
She has tried to pull the no-trick
ponies from their sunken
The enterprise is cold so
bitter the tears
before they’ve left your eyes.
She is not
Along twisted pathways
leaves reach for
the back of something
that ran by
a staring ape.
How nice it would be if both one’s internal and external dialogues could be peaceful…
REHEARSAL FOR AN ARGUMENT
I am a square-shouldered
decision, a kite
snagged long ago,
my tedious semaphore
It’s snowing, but
I cut the sound:
everyone’s already heard
the scrape of claws
on tree bark.
Let them imagine
of each crystal flake
shattering on impact.
Placing my ear
to a rock,
I wait patiently
for the translation.
A thousand frosts later
the answer is
mine in a
of sturdy flour.
a lunge of knuckles
and there’s bread
While the meaning of words can and often does shift over time, there is often an echo of the original meaning that lingers.
The Good Girl sleeps quietly
with other women’s husbands.
Dimples cast in concrete,
she cleaves a breast of white meat;
a potato bursts in the oven.
At first, the word ‘win’ meant merely to struggle.
Homeostasis: maintaining a couch,
a fire, a coffee table behind your ribs,
fine art on your turbulent heart.
At first, ‘attack’ meant to stick a tack into.
The Good Girl has forgiven music
for the pain it has caused her.
Bathing herself in vanilla and almonds,
she gets a job and keeps it,
collecting her pay like rainwater
in clean pools and pockets.
Here are the morning, the noon, and the night,
her silent partners, investors
in waiting, their solar and lunar coins
strung out like a dazzling bracelet
shimmering a dance of lust.
Fishing the Coast
The spatulate surf heaves
against the arc of rocks, exploding to opalescence.
Boulders the size of house trailers stack and sway
as the surf recedes,
pulls away, returns.
Four men cast about for meaning and find it
in remaining upright in the roar, in slipping
a silvery bite of food out sideways, in failing to see
the faces of loved ones in the clouds overhead
or the foam below.
They fish. They merely fish.
To catch is to eat is to live long enough
for their bones to barnacle up with salt,
their dreams to crab against what they know:
that you need strong arms,
good line, patience,
time, and sadness you swallow
like a shard of mirror,
hunger you feel like the pleats in a man’s pants
bravely failing to accomplish anything.
The men cast and wait, cast and wait.
Cast again and wait, not planning
to forgive anyone.
This poem was published in the journal Tyuonyi in 1992. “Tyuonyi” is a Keresan word (and Keresan is a family of American Indian languages) meaning “the meeting place” as well as the name of a major prehistoric ruin in northern New Mexico.
let the shape
be the sound
of two violins which
as we know
or at least
I can tell you
both are played
with equal intensity
point three times
the sound of one or more
likely the shape
ten sounding oh come
let us let
a point on a line be
side a parallel
line escape its
poverty sink without
guilt to a comma or rise
beelike to more
glorious intersections why not
be a riddle
and you be
like an edible
pawn or let
twilight of ash
black birds demoted
acrobats standing low
rather let the shape
be the triangular beauty
of acknowledgment and daily
for the ratio of mass
let the horizon
into the horizon
This poem was published in Writ, 20th Anniversary Issue (Number 21, 1989).
The slightest tug on the left rein will do.
And you must look left.
suspended like a speedboat under you
skimming over the fence
will land on the correct hoof
allowing all the other hooves
the legs and their great body
to follow the head like a plant trailing a tossed pot.
For your part
to look like the spider
blameless in the flying ficus
perfect in landing, speedy in beginning anew
you must let all your many hinges
–ankle, knee, hip, elbow, finger, eyelid–
close and open like the doors of heaven
wholly unconscious of anyone’s effort.