Video Link to Reading at Aeronaut Brewing, May 17, 2017

Thanks to my friend John Harrison for the video. This poem is called “The Book of Apology.” I composed most of it at Marie Howe’s workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Marie’s assignment was to write an “embodied poem” for the next day, that is, a poem composed in the mouth and not written down, to be recited the next day in class. Everyone “wrote” powerful and moving poems that day.

Aeronaut Brewing

is a pretty cool place to read, a giant warehouse buried in the labyrinth of Somerville streets. You can just make out the big steel vats of beer in back. Great beer on tap. Hospital-type wrist bracelets have something to do with drinking. Friends came, which made the reading lots of fun. We’re now calling ourselves the Iris Sisters, coined by Holly (far right), because we share the same publisher, Iris Press. With Susan Donnelly in the middle.

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“I’m Reading Darwin”

I’ve finally finished reading Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and wanted to post this poem from my new book, Before There Was Before. I was fascinated to learn that Darwin had planned to become a preacher when he returned from his travels, and like most of his countrymen, believed in the literal words of the bible. He was also appalled at some of the local medical treatments.


I’m Reading Darwin



On a tiny rocky island in the Atlantic,

a few months out on the Beagle, Darwin found

only two kinds of birds, the booby and the noddy,


both . . . of a tame and stupid disposition,

easily distracted and deceived—the males

couldn’t stop crabs from snatching


the flying fish they’d left near the nests

for their females. They even let

those crabs steal their chicks.


And on that island, not one plant,

not one lichen, no royal palms succeeded

by majestic plumage, succeeded


by Adam and Eve’s descendants.

Instead, just two dumb birds,

on whose feathers and skin and shit


the life of the island hinged; and a species

of fly that lived on the booby; and a tick

burrowed in noddy flesh; and a small brown moth


that fed on the feathers; and a beetle

and a woodlouse that fed on dung;

and a host of spiders, who fed on them all.



In Santa Fé, Argentina, a man splits a bean,

places the moistened bean on his sore head,

and his headache goes away.


A broken leg? Kill and cut open

two puppies, tie them on either side of the leg.

Replace doubt with a plaster!


Did Darwin despair? Or still believe

in a God who would break our chains?

On a dark night, south of the Plata,


he comforted himself with the sea’s

most beautiful spectacle . . . every part

of the surface . . . glowed with a pale light . . .


two billows of liquid phosphorus

before the ship’s bows, and in her wake . . .

a milky train.