Pearly everlasting

(Anaphalis margaritacea)

Are you really? Underneath the snows
of winter, do you blossom on and on?
Do the pocket gophers crave you,
tunneling beneath that blanket,
pray to enter your secret chambers,
rest inside your open gates?

I see your flowering, fruiting
clusters, hanging on into October,
leaning into the open path,
making way, ushering whatever is holy
into the presence of things that stay.

—Ross Lake National Recreation Area


I often arrive at a boundary
   that leaves me at the gate
   at a time to fish or cut bait
   or just wait
   at the border of this or that
   for better or worse
   perform or rehearse
   begin again or end—
   on my mark to there,
   at the finish from where.

And that’s when I need
   some now-or-never word, as when
   Jesus sat with the woman at the well
   waiting for a snarl of men to stone her,
   and reach out to her
   writing something in the sand
   for her for them and wrote again,
   then spoke his boundary-breaking words
   piercing to the bone
   that would kill their will
   and let them all go home.

There was silence in heaven for half an hour

—at a writing retreat

The full inhalation
before the coming of the kingdom.

Pencils scuttling over legal pads,
hands whispering in beards.

Friend, I know the sound
of your water bottle flipping open.

Brother, I’ve memorized
your bare feet on wooden floors.

One of you runs a bath upstairs,
a year of sorrows draining down.

One of you spreads out a manuscript,
pages setting sail in your fingers.

The lake sobs on the shore.
Rain perpendiculars the panes,

Beloved, and you stretch
your knuckles to the ceiling.

The golden censer of thunder
shudders just above the shingles.

We pass around a bowl of candy,
holding each other’s breath.

What do poems do?

I was, no kidding, a visiting writer in a kindergarten recently,
And the children asked me many wry and hilarious questions,
Among them is that your real nose? and can you write a book
About a ruffed grouse, please? But the one that pops back into
My mind this morning was what do poems do? Answers: swirl
Leaves along sidewalks suddenly when there is no wind. Open
Recalcitrant jars of honey. Be huckleberries in earliest January,
When berries are only a shivering idea on a bush. Be your dad
For a moment again, tall and amused and smelling like Sunday.
Be the awful wheeze of a kid with the flu. Remind you of what
You didn’t ever forget but only mislaid or misfiled. Be badgers,
Meteor showers, falcons, prayers, sneers, mayors, confessionals.
They are built to slide into you sideways. You have poetry slots
Where your gills used to be, when you lived inside your mother.
If you hold a poem right you can go back there. Find the handle.
Take a skitter of words and speak gently to them, and you’ll see.

Harrowing & exhilarating

—for John

Your encouraging words of description feel just right
as I struggle to be heard, and work to remember
and depict this long summer month, which approached
like a soot-stained messenger fueling his miner’s light
with pain and grief and fear. And yet what dynamite
remains here for me, defiant in a laughing gas chamber,
determined to retain a personal trainer, a shortened-life coach.