It was an overcast late autumn day
With a boisterous wind ripping away last leaves
From already wintering trees to play
A rackety childhood game we called Bank-n-Thieves.

All along our street, the wind was grabbing whole arms-full
Of my banked leaves, and sailing away too far to be seen
By these old eyes of one who already feels the awful pull
Of nature that leaves nothing young and green.

Oh yes, the trees will leaf out again, or keep their odds—
Some die—but seasons now revive the ancient myth
Of something clearly awry among the gods
In Paradise, as we must deal with

Out-of-season subzero ice and snow
So that instead of sweaters we wear insulated coats;
And if it be my fate that I should go
Where they still separate sheep from goats

I’ll hope to be a woolly one who will remain
In a gentle zone of temperate cool
Regardless of the weather, until we perhaps regain
Some hope that seasonal sanity is again the rule.

For now in my own winter, the dark whisper seems
Often at my ear, insisting that I should keep
Preparing for the journey I mostly sense in dreams,
While I remain the weary child fighting sleep.


At the end of time
everything trembles and topples—
the sun dresses in sackcloth,
plagues run amok, vaccines sour;
threadbare bones like oakum unravel
and children frieze into sandstone;
patriots fall like falling stars,
and the tower of winds decays in stillness;
a flood of faces bloats the river
and suicides surface like bubbling sores.
Then holy men and women scatter
sainted salts to ward off
fiends trying to steal family voices
pleading for sanctuary; none left
but a remnant of martyrs
to scribble with blood and sickles
in bitter books about the end of time
until the kingdom of eternity reigns
salving the wounds of memory.

Evening with long books

                                  Each man is a half-open door
                                  leading to a room for everyone.
                                                 —Tomas Tranströmer

My friends say Tolstoy really got into the heads of his female characters.
They give him credit. They talk dreamily of the books they love,
books so long only two will make a whole course. This seems to me
like making twelve gallons of chili and eating nothing else till it’s gone,
but I smile and listen. My friends are smarter than me and more patient,
surely. I’m the only guy in the house tonight so I get my own room
with a good foam mattress, a bad desk, windows that open on other rooms.
I make up the bed and lie down with Tranströmer’s poems, ten or twenty
lines on a page, fewer words in fifty years than Tolstoy or George Eliot
put down in a decent work week. Every man is a half-open door.

The door to my room is cracked open, lights blaze outside. My friends
are all upstairs. If I don’t shut the light off, no one will. The wind
will settle toward morning, the waves begin again to spell their single
complicated word. Waiting for the ferry we watched a hawk
try to lift a four-foot snake from the shallows, drop it, circle, swoop
and grab again and lose its grip and veer away. Oh, how sweet would
that meat have been, how grand a feast, how we would have cracked
and sucked the bones, how long we could have made that story last.

Terce: February

There must be a sutra that fits
this mess: lumps of melting snow
—markers of impermanence.
Once the unspoiled beauty
of fields of cotton, ski slope,
starlit sky—now shoveled and
ploughed, siphoned inward
by sun and gravity. Old snow
with all the elegance of gun-metal
helicopter blades churning overhead.
Soot-smudge tattoos on berms of it,
foot-stomped reminders
of imperfection, dirty laundry.

Only listen for hymn-licks
in the slap of slush from tires,
birdsong layered in like a gospel round.
Then join in, scanning twigs
of gray-barked trees for bud sprits—
that first portent of spring.

Come again?

“I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”
                                   —Luke 10:18

So John the Revelator got it wrong?
It wasn’t Michael and his angel throng

who threw the mighty Lucifer from his throne?
You’re telling me that seventy raw-boned

peasants passing barefoot from town to town,
carrying no money, no change of gown,

and sparing no time for chat with chance
encounters on the way—these sons who dance

among snakes and scorpions, whose quick steps
raise dust from heels to head—you mean these schleps

drew down from heaven upon unmapped squares
apocalyptic judgments no one dares

compare with those that wasted Sodom?
These day laborers harvested a kingdom?

These were the lambs who blacked the dragon’s eye,
who rumbled him down from his realm in the sky?