Poetry - November, 2013



Hands can catch
water from a stream

for drinking or the gathering
of stones, or the feel of something

cold, pure, elemental.
Grasping the dark is harder.

Winter’s rough air
slips through outstretched fingers.

Unembraceable night
fills with wisps of wanting,

thoughts of old lovers, the dead
and dying, falling through space.

Our open palms hold only
lamentations. We await

the promise of fire, receive only

and bow under it, bow to it,
the unseen star.


We cannot take anything out of this world

One of the few ways I can speak to you
is sliding nylon hairs over wound aluminum,

praying low arpeggios under the choir’s hymn,
or reeling in the kitchen as the soup overflows.

Today I lamented by the window as autumn’s
gray mushrooms beaded the foot of the maple tree.

Triple-stopped strings, slightly flattened,
my only real cry. You seemed to build heaven

for the air-spun singer who can bundle all the cords
of her body in a breath. But I need the language

of arm and bow, callus and vibrato, clouds
of rosin rising. Oh, let me keep it, Lord,

even when I rise from the grave,
this quavering voice, this scuffed hourglass of wood.


In the vineyard

Lineage matters, but thirst makes greatness
possible. Carried across oceans, these vines
have rooted on this shore, to live always
on the edge of death. The vinedresser prunes
tendrils and branches lifted in supplication,
rationing water so that the vines bear their fruit
in deserts of constraint. Now the globed
sweetness is crushed for you, the burst skin
returned to the earth, feeding tomorrow.
The wine in the dark oak waiting, rises at last
in the cup now lifted to meet this human thirst.
It sings this moment in the mouth of the living.


May the word run swiftly

2 Thessalonians 3:1

Like the invisible coyotes that streak through the woods
to the fringes of our town, a bawling wind of voices.
They’ve come too close, the village complains.
Perhaps. I’ve heard the squeals of chipmunks
caught in the fur-fire. People plug their ears,
follow their dogs out at night. But still, I open
my window to their shrill, persistent haunting,
fall asleep to the blessed assurance
of a pulsing, moon-ticked pack
loping over the fallen leaves in the darkness,
working together for some kind of good.


Waiting for the volcano

for R. H.

Our high-speed hydrofoil is late.
We wait in the island’s worst places,
Aeolian churches. Bartholomew,
the aging patron saint, drapes
his flayed skin over one arm,
a sommelier or thespian.
Harrowing renders us raw,
unclods soil and frees a captive field.
The boatman hectors lesbians,
insists on learning where they swim.
I’m glad you don’t understand
the Italian that I barely can.
There’s nowhere on this island
that doesn’t turn us more
against ourselves or one another—
too many days in paradise
for minds like ours.


Foot washing

The congregation of pilled sweaters gathers.
The least of them my brethren, their terrible feet unpeel
from comfortable shoes. They come to be healed by my father
through my father who kneels before them with a bowl a monk threw
on a potter’s wheel near the rocks of the Dry Salvages.
Among the fusty velvet pews, timelessness collides
with time incarnate in human weakness, raw skin, yellow corns.
Here, among us, there are so few strong among us,
so many reeking needs, such fervent despair,
I long to bare my baby teeth, to lunge at the wretched.
God save us from those who wish to be saved in this suburban church,
its reenactment intended to puncture time
while the hollow chime of tennis balls from the next door courts
rings with the sacrilege of a Sunday plough.