Winter Light

Even in winter

the ivy rampages

over the garden wall;

shadow below—

an old clay jug

appears through mist

ancient: abandoned Buddha.

In the window lights,

you are rapt in your housework;

I stammer out here

neglecting everything

except the tones

of vanshing winter light.

Twister (for February 21)

By the authority vested in me,

I transmit these strings of sounds

with their identifiable

patterns of starts and stops.

Your communication

with the outside world

will be temporarily interrupted.

Look away from windows

and turn off all light.

Hide behind heavy objects.

Do not attempt to reunite

with loved ones.

Tuck your head under your chest.

Touch your chin to your heart.

Measure your pulse in the

clattering of your teeth.

Raise your right hand.

Refuse to listen to unauthorized

rumors or broadcasts. Place

one foot on a yellow circle

and the other on blue.

This message is too complicated

to transmit in its entirety.

Remain calm. Don’t lose

your head. Right hand, red.

The Night of my Grandmother’s Death

The ladies asked us to leave

the room while they prepared her body;

the kitchen floor was a network

of congruent polygon perimeters:

hexagons and squares, or octagons?

When she had choked on her last breath

a comet lept out of her lips

into a shadow that opened

in the corner of the ceiling.

No one realized the morticians

would have to reverse into

the driveway. For moments, no one

noticed the hearse’s louspeaker

and its hymns for the whole neighborhood.

The Secrets of Earth and Moon, after Edward Steichen, 1904

Creatures like us are not meant

to know the secrets of earth

and moon at twilight. Quiet!

and look: the shroud of fog

recedes from the looking-glass lake.

Pine and poplar stand

sentinel, more alert and steady

in their reflection than on their mossy

banks. They’re waiting for the moon

and her glance above the shoulder

of the forest. Higher still,

she regards herself one long

last time before her lonesome

overhead obligations commence.


Two hands are too many

to hold the family trinkets.

I sometimes wear my father’s ring.

I say it is forgiveness,

I say it is for a man who didn’t drink,

who didn’t smash plates on walls;

I say it is for a father who was proud

of my music and proud of his touchdowns;

I say it is for a faithful man,

a man whose backhand never hurt.

No, it’s not for crying in the night,

not for striking door frames and headboards.

It’s always just a dream, those things never happened:

His ring is my wish-ring.

I’ve made myself an old body,

too heavy to stand on bitter bones

or get this fat off of my spine,

let go of hunger, addiction, spite.

My wish-ring wants me to go for a walk

before dark, wash the dishes, dust the house,

clean the carpets, wash the drapes, play nice,

get in charge of my spending, ride my bicycle more.

My wish-ring says I am not old enough for these poems,

you can’t even own those! They are like chickdees that spiral

and alight on a fence, noticing me noticing them.

You can’t even reach out – they’ll fly away!

Sunset, after Mark Rothko

A boy is trapped

in a patch of thorny bramble.

Downfield, the feeble pines

blaze and give away

their violet gases.

The father approaches with a step

like a war drum, wearing the devil’s disgust

underneath his eyes. The light

is evaporating above the trees.

In the woods, the animals wait for dark

by the stream.


With this poem,

I spit a tankard of anger

and another of greed,

hack the fizzing residues

from my ribs.

I take such faulty measures:

set a wood bead in each thumbprint and eye,

tally the dashes cut into tablet and wall:

These do not equal the sadness

my own judgment causes me.

Go out and measure the sea:

footfall upon dune,

borderline of reed and foam,

breakers, horizon.

Pour out the tidefuls

before the next moon.


My clever geographical me

needs to find the creek bed

where fallen branches and bramble flourish,

burrow into holes

forgotten by the trunks of washed away trees

fold my limbs under my body

and press the face of my forehead

into the suctioning clay.

My I needs to

discharge all this chatter underground

until membrane dissolves,

the creek floods into my tear ducts,

the I secreting the tincture of this telepathy

downriver leach it into lakes

that glint and warm by daylight and

surrender their surface to air and wind.

Until this I

chokes up the planet in continuous clouds

that rain and storm and fill all the listening mouths

with this parenthetical poetry.

Sound Mother

Before we ever spoke,

my mother and I

were a universe

of electric song:

We dreamt the frequency

of tsunami and supernova,

the rumble of a distant star,

a steady, repeating, familiar howl,

continuing before the page

of white noise was printed.

She telephones at work, midday –

Her voiceprint emerges

amid sheets of static.

I do not understand

what she is saying;

I cannot make sense

of the sounds. We

keep the line open

for four minutes.

There is too much interference now.

I hear the conversations

of all the other sons with their mothers;

A double-note of music,

a siren, a newsflash,

a call from a well, from deep wood,

from the back of a van,

shattering glass on the bathroom floor.

Scientists recline

on the hoods of their cars

in the desert and listen

to the sky through headphones,

their heartbeats join

the din of the universe,

the songs they sang

with their mothers.

Kid Love: A Collection of Preschool Valentine’s Messages

—Dictated by the children of the Giraffe Class, ages four and five

—Collected and edited by Hannah Dixon and me

You like to play with him and him. You’re my friend because you like to work in Construction with me. You’re good at watercolors. You work in Light and Shadow and you like to work at the Big Table. I’m glad that you’re in the Giraffe Class because you’re very nice to me.


You play with me at the light table. You’re nice to me. You’re nice to me and I help you. I let you look at the stuff I bring here from home. You’re my friend because we play together on the playground. I am glad that you’re in my class.


I like you because you play with me all the time. Every day you find me and just start playing. You’re really good at the monkey bars. You also really like swinging on the tire swing too. I couldn’t live if you weren’t born. You’re pretty silly like my grandpa.


I play jaguars with you a lot. You sit beside me. You’re a good friend to me because you’re very good to me and very nice to me too. You like to play in Construction and roll around in the meeting area. You’re good at football and like to talk to me a lot.


You love hearts. You’re really nice and you play with me a lot. You like the color red—and pink.


You’re good at running and you like to slide. You’re a good friend to me because you play with me and I like to play with you. You dance really funny. I’m glad you’re in the Giraffe Class because you sit beside me in Meeting Time. We like to build in Construction together.


You play with me at the light table and sort jewels. You work with me at the Big Table. You eat snack with me and you’re my friend. You work in Construction with me and have cool shoes. I’m glad you’re in my class because you’re nice.


You always make me laugh. When you got my building knocked over, we just fixed it. You always have snack with me. You always like to build in Construction. You always like to work at the Big Table too. I’m glad that you’re my friend in the Giraffe Class.


You’re good at the monkey bars. You’re my friend. You like sharing stuff. I like to play with you on the monkey bars, but I can’t now because I have a blister. You’re good at finding nature and you’re very nice. I love you because we shared birthday parties.


You’re good at the monkey bars, and you’re good at drawing. You’re my friend and you’re nice. I’m glad that you’re in the Giraffe Class. We work together.


You do such beautiful work, like, you draw it so pretty, like one time you made a big butterfly on a big piece of paper and you let me help. You always have a tray out because . . . I don’t really know why—maybe you just like making beautiful things for people.

The Welcome

Today I bought

a goldfish

to replace the one

we buried sweetly

last week

in a small wood

near the school.

He’s a big little fish,

though, about

twice the size

of the two survivors

in the tank. He could

eat them. He could

starve them.

He butted

and rammed

the walls

of the bag

as I set it afloat.

When I returned

to release him,

he dove right down

to a dip in the gravel

and stayed there

for minutes.

I pressed

my fingertip

to the glass

and he flew!

The old fish

noticed his cut

through the water,

they knew

his distress

and waited

for him to slow.

Flight, after Matisse

Tonight I know why Matisse hung those

black stars in the same sky with his pulsing sun:

Sometimes the mind travels faster than

the speed of light:

violet radiation of the pavement below,

neon wildflowers buzzing above,

a rank of fiery swiveling characters:

Outsiders dare not—

But Matisse cut out a tunnel,

a column of blue oxygen

receding toward the surface.

In this place the body collects

and multiplies the singular light overhead.

The Day the Mountain Came, for a child’s watercolor painting

The waters had adjusted well

to their new geographical condition,

begun to accept their gathered-up-ness,

and settled in their surface-flat surface.

They flowed to the heavens, cooing Blue!

Blue! Blue!

But the day the mountain came,

a pillar of sulfur rose

from the base of his spine and filled

up the sky. The waters

lashed their white arms

against his violent breast.

The waters they sang a circle of

steam round the nose of the mountain.

While the earth held its breath,

The waters reached into the sky

crying out Rain! Rain!


The Red Oak in Suburbia

We see the tree company trucks frequently these days

in our leafy suburban neighborhood.

it seems they’re doing everything they can

to keep our frontlines intact,

buzzing up and down our little avenues braking

suddenly, hopping out,

and giving first aid like medics on a battlefield.

Here, from my accommodating deck chair, I

see how the neighbor’s red oak is holding out.

It still towers above our perky little roofs

but bears garlands of scars along its surviving limbs.

The stumps along the trunk and remaining limbs

are hardening. These injuries are confusing;

they didn’t come from objects hurled by man or machine

from behind enemy lines. The injuries

came from inside our own lines, from our own medics,

from our own fight against inevitability,

our own disobedience to

the tree’s own natural death.


This morning, two male cardinals

squabble and wrestle in a gap of holly.

I have no idea about the content

of their conflict, but my, it’s early.

They finish and are away

as swiftly as they appeared.

Later, her orange beak appears,

then, the grey, quivering body,

tucked in an adjacent alcove.

She’s been studying me for minutes,

if not for the whole time.

Today I couldn't write this poem

Sorry, but today I couldn’t write a poem

because today I had to do the life,

do the clock and do the clothes,

the drive, the work,

the stairs, the rooms,

do the food, do the phone.

Today I couldn’t write my poem

because I had to get out back

and throw a stick for my lab once,

twice, three-hundred and fifty times,

I had to throw that slobbery branch

until it disintegrated into a scatter of mulch.

And today I couldn’t write that poem

because of my conference with a bunch

of unexpected sunshine,

because I sat on that top step, on mute,

not getting into words

what a glorious show that star was giving.

Today I couldn’t write any poem

because I lingered too long

on the deck of a glass bridge

trying to discern what plaintive tune

the wind was humming below my feet.

Sorry, again – today I couldn’t write this poem

because last night I sat up late reading

that in order to write a poem

you have to make sure to show up

to appointments with your own psyche.

I haven’t kept any unnecessary appointments

with myself for quite some time now.