Song to hum while opening mail from a friend

O the very fact that there are friends who write with their hands
Even if just the forefingers hammering away on keyboards, and
Also then print out the resulting muddle and scrawl and scribble
And pop it in the postbox! The lickable areas on the envelopes!
The Return Address Just in Case! The choice of stamps, and we
All blessedly have friends who carefully choose their stamps, &
Stand in line at the post office asking for the ones with Authors,
Or members of the Simpson family, or stamps with Polar Bears!
And the fact that there are fifty addresses in your memory, some
Of them no longer inhabited by the people you loved to write to;
Much like your mind retains past phone numbers and exchanges,
Like Mayfair and Ludlow and Allegheny and Cypress and Tulip!
And the fact that you can draw all morning on an envelope or by
God paint it flagrantly with horses and angels, and your postman
Will deliver it anyway! Probably grinning at the nut who mailed
It to you! And you can put a few grains of sand inside your note,
From the beach we went to as children, or a feather from a hawk
Who glared in the window like an insurance adjuster with talons,
Or a painting by a child, or a photograph of four of the names of
That which we call God for lack of a better label. Even the folds
Of the paper, and the paperness of the paper, and the fact that it’s
All about miracles and affection, which is to say, of course, love!
Sure it is. All the good parts are about love, in all its many masks.

The station band

      RAF Binbrook—1953

We practiced at “The Decontam”—
clumsy name for an ugly place—bare concrete rooms
buried beneath a protective pyramid mound of soil, turf,
and God knows what, designated sanctuary nonetheless
for any unlucky enough “in the event of nuclear attack” to survive
the initial blast and burn to reach this subterranean space of hollow refuge.
The Station Decontamination Centre—to rhyme the place in full,
an—as yet—unfrequented location (praises be . . .) where, Tuesday nights,
an ill-assorted crew of horns and woodwinds—sackbuts, cornets,
clarinets, even the occasional bassoon—would fumble-stumble
along through “Colonel Bogey,” “The RAF March Past,”
old favorites from Gilbert and Sullivan, “Chu Chin Chow,” and Noel Coward,
rehearsing for the CO’s garden party, full-dress dinner evenings at the Mess.
They echoed so, those naked rooms and sounding corridors, as if our music
might drown out—yes, decontaminate—the cold, blind fury
cradled tight beneath the wings of our sleek avenging bombers;
full squadrons perched above in laden readiness,
paying no heed to our hapless melodies and marches.

At dusk

There’s a black cloud over the hill.
There’s a black cloud over the school.

The grass shoves the shed to the fence
at property’s edge. Rumor says under the shed

there’s a copperhead or two. Rightly, crawl space
is what these burnished snakes are banished to,

but the nettled grass, the chain link fence
fail to bar them from the dappled yard.

There are grackles under the trees.
Under the trees at dusk there are grackles

that peck and crack pecans near the hedge.
A squirrel skitters and scats up a scaly bole

in fear of these dark birds with squatters’ rights,
while the sky . . . ? It folds and is quietly stored away.

The poem about what it’s about

Here’s my question. What if there was a poem
That didn’t know what it was about until it got
To the end of itself? So that the poet’s job isn’t
To play with imagery and cadence and metrical
Toys in order to make a point, but rather to just
Keep going in order to find out that the poem is
About how hard it is to watch your kids get hurt
By things they can’t manage and you cannot fix.
If I had been the boss of this poem I would have
Made it so they can manage things, or I could be
The quiet fixer I always wanted to be as a father;
But that’s not what the poem wanted to be about,
It turns out. This poem is just like your daughter:
No one knows what’s going to happen, and there
Will be pain, and you can’t fix everything, and it
Hurts to watch, and you are terrified even as you
Try to stay calm and cool and pretend to manage.
Some poems you can leave when they thrash too
Much but kids are not those sorts of poems. They
Have to keep writing themselves, and it turns out
You are not allowed to edit. You’re not in charge
At all—a major bummer. I guess there’s a lesson
Here about literature, about how you have to sing
Without knowing the score . . . something like that.
All you can do is sing wildly and hope it’ll finish
So joyous and refreshing that you gape with awe.


where’s alfreddy who cuts
your grass or lifts your rake
when you’re not looking and
where’s the reliable gunfire
from the deuce-eights’
section eight doorways down
on twenty-eighth on
this last day of August lavender
all rotted at the bottom
splayed across the concrete
walk as you sit
barefoot on the porch steps
and watch without a thought
honeybees and bumblebees
ascend and drop in praise
of higher fragrances
and offer thanks there’s no
parade today for trayvon
on your street named
mlk jr way
because you’re that weary

so for this moment with
this breath you God
bless the bees