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.
Bird and Tree
There, again. See? A small darting thing
with sharp edges and a wide brim
went into the dark arms of the tall one that whispers
constantly, its mouths dangling from tiny handles.
The small one calls out, bragging—or
its brim tucked away,
dagger mouth waving in the air.
It builds a little jail and stabs at it, then
goes in search of a prisoner.
The tall one waits. Where are its eyes?
Poems often are about
exactly what they are not about.
This poem, for instance,
is not about the person
all those other poems were about.
Good writing habits forbid my telling
what this poem is about, but I
it is not about
what it is not about. Here
you see no mention of smooth hands,
no sly references to sex disguised
as descriptions of long train trips,
rivers slamming into bridge pilings,
or autumn trees bursting into flame,
no metaphor comparing that person’s eyes
to whatever the next best thing was.
Not even anything like a simile.
Not in this poem that is not about that.
After the Death of His Twin
—for John Fuller, age 80
The solo creak of his Naugahyde chair.
The excess of fruit broadcasting its ripeness.
In the closet, twice the needed pants and shirts, twice the needed gaping shoes, worn at the heel.
The nervous voice of his landlord, trying to remember which one passed.
The sniff and yip of the dog, double-checking under the table.
The mockery of the swollen garden.
The sports section left folded with the classifieds.
His unspoken opinion of the news story about welfare mothers.
The uselessness of the second bookmark pressed into the novel.
In front of the TV, half the snoring noise to waken him to his started insistence, “I wasn’t…”
The other narrow bed, tightly tucked.
The hearing aid left on the end table for the first time.
In the bathroom mirror, only two hips, two nipples, one penis.
The surprising regularity of his heartbeat.
This poem was published in Writ (20th Anniversary Issue, no. 21, 1989).
Body Parts: Love Poem for Sarah
today he found a bag of human
hears in his back
yard weather the two-year-old
ate insects and sucked
wet leaves for five
days alone in the forest analysis when
translated to notes
the genetic codes in mouse
ribonucleic acid play
Chopin’s Nocturne opus 55
no. 1 correction he glued baby
shoes on the deformed goose
so it could walk viewpoints
the peregrine falcons kept the imitation
eggs warm sports rule 8: keep
one container of water
and two sponges in the pit
for rinsing dogs’ mouths during
scratches and switch
sponges with every scratch in
brief he placed the head section
in a heated tank with high-
quality earth nation the assemblyman
called the state mollusk
a bisexual pervert arts the chicken
grew rounder when it
listened to Vivaldi world the winner
of Moscow’s first beauty pageant
wore a tiny bathing suit
and praised perestroika leisure because
alligators have no lips
things go into their mouths
easily at home I love the soft part
between your toes where you
let me keep my fingers
This poem was published in the Black Warrior Review 20th Anniversary Volume.
“The art of the whirligig is to install some kind of figure up
above the tail and propeller and then use the wind to animate
the figure. Of course, it’s best if it depicts something that has a
constant motion back and forth. Convicts with sledge-
hammers–that sort of thing.”
(The New Yorker, June 25, 1990)
I’m counting what I have one of.
A swan, sipping from the ocean, weeping salt from my nostrils,
I drip solutions distilled from their problems,
and oh, honey, I seven wonders of the world you.
Like the man’s ashes that attended the Super Bowl in his son’s pocket,
I’m for an underground existence if it means being earthquaked by you.
I’m colonizing inner space before someone else does.
Harmony, order, perfection; robots for the cooking and cleaning.
Come floods, locusts, fire, we’ll have insect orchestras
serenade our spontaneous combustion for oh, honey,
I theory of the universe you.
I’m on a binary search for truth and beauty
somewhere after L but before Z.
A computer searching records,
I keep going until there’s a match cause oh,
honey, I queen for a day three-part harmony
winner of the spelling bee red sky at night sailor’s delight you.