white table man

white table
stretched reaching
as far
as the eye
can see
grain fields
at the other end
or is it
the head
an hour glass
table man’s
hand upon
up end
end up
black earth
wheat to sand
in his putrefied
hand upon
ever emptying

American zone, 1947–49

Particularly drawn to a patch of trees,
steady company, barbed wire closing in,
Grandpa Tzvi and I, a toddler, wandered
Germany’s Wetzlar DP camp, his hand
holding mine in reassurance as we explored
the paths of my lost childhood.

I hugged those trees and left a soft kiss,
gratitude for their consenting murmuring
and sweet aroma.  In that German garden
of Eden with Grandpa, I became one
of those trees while biting a ubiquitous apple.
A photo proves it.

Sitting beside a fire, the poet pleads for a sign

Bumbling out of the night,
something veers near the fire,
wings seared swiftly away;
it squirms in the suburbs of the blaze.

Oh, deathwish beetle,
clutzy buzz of immolation,
hard-backed, inadequate Shadrach . . .

When it stills, I place the shell
on the pyre. Another dives, dies,
smashing into a surrounding stone,
writhes and writhes.

Flame-kissed Phyllophaga,
acorn-armored Icarus,
my faithful antiangel . . .


What’s the use, little one?
You daily peck the mulch
of summer’s torpor, then
carry a dead blade of grass
up to the birdhouse, where you
disappear into a black hole
the size of my thumb.

A minute later, you do it
all over again, beaking the pile
of bark and old vegetation below
to find just the perfect fragment
of ribbon, sun-dried
in the sparseness of drought.

Our Lord saith

Our Lord saith we do better
    To light one lamp than curse
The darkness to the letter.
    We say we could do worse.

Our Lord saith that tomorrow
    Will be provided for,
So leave off from your sorrow.
    Instead, we hoard the more.

Our Lord saith, be as they
    Who small and innocent
Know only how to play.
    We unlearn what he meant.


after William Edouard Scott’s Rainy Night, Étaples

Why, on this night of shiver and hunch, are so many 
                  trudging these river-y streets of small cafés

and darkened shops, all of us hugging ourselves
                  for warmth, watching our feet crush neon sheets


The crush of bodies, bow ties, suits,
sleek smiling women dressed in silk,
the din of small talk drowning thought,
and all I yearn for is escape but where
to flee when all around the high-walled
room glass-fronted cases hold me trapped.
Or so I think until I look, and there beneath
the glass I find Thomas Merton, sacred
friend, who writes, I read, to Rachel Carson
who, there beside him, then replies, and
Annie Dillard, I find her, the final draft of
Tinker Creek, the typed page inked, words

Santa Barbara chiaroscuro

Morning fog—such a blessing in this town of too much sun.
My wife doesn’t think so, being from the Sierra foothills,

but the gray quiet in the oaks is the closest thing we have,
most days, to the moiling clouds of Oregon, where I grew up.

Now that I’m about to retire, we’re looking for a new home
with equal parts light and shade—impossible to find, of course.

Milton’s celestial radiance with only a slight diminution
during an artificial night would suit her just fine,