Poetry - November, 2010



The leaves have at last slipped from the trees
And capped the snail trails along the concrete steps,
With winter tasks completed, windows caulked
Beside the smooth inebriations of chimney smoke.
We feel a portent wafting on cold breeze:
An omen marked by frost upon the panes.
The wind snatches the notes that we once spoke,
And in the silence children huddle like refrains.
The fires are stoked, the quilts folded with ease
Around the margins like an envelope,
And every hearth that opens its mouth to sing
Emits a fear not greater than its hope.


Evening rhapsody between Madison and Whitewater

Too much of anything is better than Milwaukee's Best
when the first snow hits in November and I'm already sick

of winter, when it's stone dark by five, when the country roads
are lettered and empty and I should have obeyed the instructions,

should have turned around, should have done it all right,
every road swerves and twists and with each little town

I have to stop and squint at the atlas, astonished when somehow
I find them all on the map, somehow each turn brings me closer

to the pretty clerk in the low-cut blouse who will hand me
the key card with a smile like the deluxe continental breakfast,

somehow not a single deer pops sudden and solid into my headlights,
and the aching ball joint holds through each and every curve,

and there's room in the ditches for a lot more empties—not that
I'm drinking—and I keep glimpsing water along the road,

glints and shivers of light and the roads curving among them
as I sweep through darkness, and I am never truly lost,

not after the late moon rises in the east like God's thumbnail,
like a medallion of embossed paper torn carefully in half.


This morning

In the glow of a nightlight:
a baby's finger tucked in her mouth,
wadded socks, a barrette cobwebbed
with fine strands.

In a house near ours
six children burned to death.

My daughter's heel curves
like an apple in my palm.
I can wrap my fingers around her foot,
feeling her bones, her breath
bright birds against the winter dawn.
When she wakes
frost veins the pane.
Smoke curls from a chimney.

I touch eyebrows, nose, feel mouth
tug my breast, the burn of milk.
You, small acorn,
in the creases of God's palm.
God folds his fingers over you.
That is all.


What if the mightiest word is love?

After the President's address, it was still cold,
and I left with the others ten lines into the poem.
Still, I thought of the woman up there,
Elizabeth Something, releasing her words

like little doves that tried to land
on the backs of our shoulders.

We shrugged them off, but they hovered
and flapped in that sharp sparkle,

that winter air, something made,
something not quite begun.


Why else

It may be that we are the mockingbirds
of the universe.
                     No bee studies to imitate
the bower bird and build
postmodern hives of sticks and debris,

no bear hibernates in a tree
on a platform of bent branches,
exploring the experience of gorillas,
                                                            no walking
or crawling creature spends its life desperate
to build wings;
                       no other creature here sees
a meteor streak across space and thinks—
I could do that.
                       Or watches army ants destroy
everything in their path and forms ranks.

Or maybe we are this small locus of the universe
watching itself,
                        thinking itself through.

Why else would some of us study
ancient stone
                    bones our whole lives,
arguing passionately
                               over how they ran,
what kind of mothers they were,
how anything that size had sex,

much less the frozen moons
of far distant planets
                               where nothing
will ever buy or sell us anything;

why else the Sistine Chapel,
or Guernica, why else poems, why else prayers,
why else words at all?



Here in the prison yard there is a thrush which sings
beautifully in the morning, and now in the evening too.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saws are grinding in the morning sunlight—
a compact tractor in Paradise's green.

Noise rushes inside the ear's small shell, and out
again. The bees swim in it. The petals on

the neighbor's tree drop into its vibrant flow
and are pulled away. The sunlight stays.

I write to you such things because they are
and because, in a car with a broken radio,

you hear something. Like a mountaintop and like
the sea, your silent car—but better than each,

less traveling. A marked absence of song.
Gone the ringing saws, the meanness of mind.

Time for the cantata you would like to sing.