The philosopher and the poet talk on the last warm day in fall

—for Steve Broidy

My neighbor scrapes old paint
from the fence around his pasture,
an annual chore he attends to,
for he knows the white he applies
revives each slat.
            I think of his recent essay,
peeling back the layers, as he said,
of online education, revealing a barren base
devoid of the body’s subtle
               how a screen cannot replicate
confusion written on a brow,
engagement flashing in the eyes,
or a hand touching a shoulder.
How a cursor cannot translate
the voice’s inflections, nuanced
as the nod of his head, greeting me,
while he lays
                 down his tool to rub my dog’s ears,
while he motions toward the remaining wood,
tells how he’ll finish the job before winter.


The feel of awl and augur in his hardened hands,
the rough hull rimed with salt, a whittled plug
he made himself, so tight he set his teeth!
His handiwork behind him, Norway a miniature
carved in the distance, he watched the gray Atlantic
like a ravenous whale devour everything between.

The story ends, and yet begins again. Here
in a foreign port, his touch begins to read
each sign, the curves and swellings, splintered
keel and patchwork. How his heart quickens
when he finds his father’s fishing boat, familiar
as his name, the family build, their house
nailed fast above the rocky harbor.

And yet begins again. How the found word both
fits and startles, an oracle recovered just in time,
just when it’s needed, just before faith slips
away like my great-grandfather’s wedding coat,
ruined in a flooded basement with old books
and portraits, speckled sepia like a gull’s egg,
water-marked and too far gone to keep.

Praise the one that breaks the darkness

Revelation 21:9–23

I praise the necklace so long
it drapes, loops, and circles
the neck of a grieving dowager
back to her girlhood play.

Yet, I praise the darkening
urine of amber beads and the fears
engendered by bloodstone;

I praise red coral—millions of gifts
piled by sea creatures’ lives.
the hard western sky, I praise
grimy hands, fashioning turquoise
squash blossoms for the necks
of tourists.
             I praise the poor woman’s
subterfuge, Zircon, and the queen’s
throngs of golden chains.

I praise Nancy Pelosi’s pearls,

the sound-taste of chrysoprase,
citrine’s juiciness, opal’s sparks,
amethyst’s rumored temperance.

I praise the jeweler’s loupe,
peeking down from its glass copula
into jasper’s chocolate smear
purloined from Heaven’s walls.

Whatta ya say?

If God is that small space
  left at the table, then go ahead
  and sit there if you like.
Even if you weren’t invited,
  that doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome.
Perhaps you were just overlooked,
  missed, as in
  they would have missed you  
  and wished you were here
  if you hadn’t come . . .
  not forgotten
  only misplaced when places were set.
Yes, there,
  wedge into that spot where John leans away
  to rest his head on Jesus . . . right next to Judas,
  where perhaps you’ll have time
  to whisper in his ear, or even chat a moment,
  just small talk you understand
  until supper starts.

A necessary slaughter


I must admit at first it threw me,
competing with a portent. (What fools
would treasure light instead of might?)
Such naïveté: Scholars trekking here
smitten with a star or some convergence
of the cosmos. Yet another fire to put out.

I sent them on their way, their caravan rife
with herbs I could have used myself. Camels
balking and desert horses restless
in the night. Meanwhile that star hummed
like a lute, vibrating on a frequency I coveted
but couldn’t always hear. I slammed the door,
closed the shutters. No way would it make
a shadow out of me. My wife said,

“No worries. They’ll be back.
Anyway, what child can match your currency,
your death squads? The bricks of that
new temple? And Rome behind you? Get real.”

I pulled her close, forgetting which wife
she was (nine? ten?) and glad to have her.
Weeks later, when those wanderers failed
to return, I glanced into my looking glass.
The eyes staring back at me were nothing
but blank gold coins.