Poems from Journals and Websites

“Forbearance” from Salamander

“Light R48 on the Storrow Drive Underpass” from Portside.org

Earth ” from Verse Daily

“Still Life with Glasses and Tobacco ” in Umbrella

“The Sanatorium at St. Paul de-Mausole ” in The Big Ugly Review

“The Twentieth Century ” and “Sleeping Beauty ” in ThePedestalMagazine.com

Poems from Before There Was Before

Before There Was Before


Before there was before, there was still before, 
no verb to carry the abyss. 

Light from dark, this from that, an easing 
of boundaries, a slit making a run for it, 

blue at the edge of that pose.

The Big Bang hurled all the star stuff 
ever to be made—brazen tumult, 
lashed by the muscle of spume,

hydrogen and helium waiting 
for their rings to close, 

dark tonnage, billions and billions 
of mewling seed stars, 

all burning and burning 
themselves out, the universe 
braced to decay.


The shoulder of one boulder settling 
against the shoulder of another.

Canyons cleaving, granite 
wrenched free.

The apple asleep 
inside the sleeping tree.


The tide slinks in.
Shelves of blue-green algae.



Shaggy-maned mushrooms 
sink and dissolve. Beneath, 
beetles frill. 

Pea vines, holdfast clovers. 
Bees shiver the white throats—
Whales slip through the slot. 
Baleen and blue milk spilled
through all the rooms of the ocean. 

Long lives call and click
the grievous migrations. 

Sharp-shinned hawks seize
their trophies, clamping down
the whole lid of air.

When trees come, they are meant to 
be climbed.

Stay away, or come, or come
just this far—you and I are 
here, the compound of us,
a colossal conjunction. 

And the calendulas in the field
who are riddled 
with life-spark and flaws.

Let’s take a stab at the dark, let’s
time our tea,

if we have tea 
if we have time.

If There’s Nothing

Did Monet love light more  
       than he loved Rouen Cathedral, or did he
need to stand  
         long enough in the same place to see
                    that nothing stays, even 
evening is eroding, the saints  
                         in the portal of the cathedral 
        softening in each other’s gaze.
Even the dead refuse 
       to stay dead: and so Cerberus needed three heads 
           to keep the dead 
                   from leaving the shadow kingdom.
Yesterday, the pond was dazzled by the turquoise wings 
         of dragonflies mating midair, 
                  the water lilies helixing—
everywhere I look is a pool of sensation.
And in the morning, my brain begins 
        to savor the coffee  
                 before my hand reaches the cup.
Let’s touch it all. Call it home.


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, Darwin said, 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.


Adam and Eve

He came down to the sea.
She came up from the sea,
their bodies not yet credible,
not yet dry. They are still
just clay, silica, sea
and sea bed, weathered rock. 

Words are broth 
and their tongues ladles—
How will they ford 
the blue-green world,
bear the heaviness of hips,
their busy breath?
Sand will be scratching 
their skin, the scorching
sun easing into dusk. 
Under their hot tent of stars,
date nuts, sweetmeats, pearls of fire. 
Artichokes with wings.
Hard things: eight winds 
and sixteen quarter-winds.
Slow things: ennui, eternity.
Fast things: pillars of salt,
quakes, hunger setting 
a torch to the world.


The Book of Apology

Some things I don’t profess to understand.
 —Stanley Kunitz

The last time I saw my mother I was reading  
         on the patio, when she came out, 

cinching her bathrobe around her,  
        her wrists thin as a wren’s,  

her arms, slack saplings. Her belly, swollen. 
        Blue veins trawled her pale face.      

She asked me if she could sit beside me.  
        Yes, I told her. And she said to me,
Wendy, I want you to know I’ve had a good life. 
          I think it was the first naked thing she’d ever said.  
I didn’t really want to understand  
         that she had just opened the door
the dying must pass through to leave us. 
         And what did I do or say to her then?  

I might have muttered something, or nothing.  
        Or did I bow my head, and return
to my book to find my lost place?  


 She took the long bus ride. 
         Traveled all day and all 

night to get there. No ticket, nothing  
         to place in the overhead bin. 

When the bus pulled up to the station,  
         she had nothing to declare.
Shadows unfurled. She stood there  
         in the glaze and sipped the light.
Her dying was slow. I didn’t hold her. 
         We weren’t like that.


At Dunkin’ Donuts

A man and a woman are talking close. 
He crumbles a muffin, takes a bite,
bows his head over the Styrofoam cup 
he’s cradling in both hands, palms it
side to side, gouges the lip 
with his thumbnail. Her red sweater
glows like sunrise as she leans her head 
on his shoulder, smooths his forearm
with the tips of her fingers, combs a crumb 
from his sleeve with the side of her hand,
brushing away each undone, every undeliverable. 
And I want to pour them a pitcher
of blue sky, plant an apple tree between their arms, 
save his cup for my Museum-of-What-
Makes-Us-Human, the wear and tear of it, 
the coffee-stained too-muchness of it,
that brush of touch that caresses an arm, 
a shoulder. That grace, that brace, that balm.


Shelter in Place

—April 19, 2013

And Boston is a dark harbor, 
hardened, the streets furrowed 
with chase, with grief, and a marathon 
of turns—hairpin, wrong—
and dead ends, a desert 
of dead ends without provision 
or cure. Tanks and sirens stampede 
all day, all of us at home 
behind locked doors mining 
the TV screen for every last look,
the price everyone will have to pay,
and a man climbs out of a tarp-covered boat 
in someone’s backyard, a rifle’s 
red laser dot locked on his head, 
a blood skew crazing his face 
as he raises his bloody hand, 
his bloody shirt, to show he is unarmed,
while just a few blocks away 
from that very yard, two shelves 
nailed to a tree, paperbacks on top, 
hardbacks below, and a sign—
Take a Book, Leave a Book—
and as the city raged that day, all day, 
the Little Free Library stayed open.


Love Poem for My Husband

We’re celebrating our new patio 
furniture, the striped cushions

that pick up the warm tones 
of the acacia-wood table and chairs,
the new umbrella, a Special Order 
from Bed Bath & Beyond—more
than enough shade! We pour 
two glasses of wine, drink
the late-afternoon slant light, savor 

the clouds as soft as lambskin,
the table oiled to a sheen. You say 

we should plant a lilac tree at the bend
in the road so we won’t see the traffic. 

I tell you that the fox
urine I bought at the hardware store 

and sprinkled on the flower bed
hasn’t stopped the rabbits 

from snapping off the daisies.
I get up to rip out some swallow-wort 

before it strangles the forsythia, and think
of the dead who have nothing to do, 

while we fret in the garden,
take another sip of Malbec, 

nibble goat cheese on a cracker, letting
the good enough be.



His black-shellacked body 
lay belly up on the basement floor, 
everything in him already
decided, the huge husk of him— 
three sections knuckle-coupled 
like train cars: the thorax scribed
with scarabs, compact as a flower bulb, 
the abdomen hinged to his tiny head,
and inside that, the minuscule brain
that mounted his little music, 
day and night issued meek and fierce 
instructions to himself in his dark city.
And refused what? And raced where? 
Sought what solace scuttling? 
And did he notice or not the tepid light
squinting through smeared windows?
Did he brace his legs against the spin
of the washer’s thrum? Nothing more
for him but this one hard look—to memorize 
the six matched dancers of his legs, 
each curving toward its partner in a series
of jointed etceteras all the way out 
to the hooks, barbed, and beyond, 
the ardent tips that almost touch.



Poems from Western Motel

Salmon Run

It is always life or death—Chinook, Coho, Sockeye 
inching, first stair-step up the ladder, and the woman sits 
	and clicks each one past the underwater glass window— 
		salmon thrum, salmon clobber, singular, 

desperate by ones, by twos, salmon sling themselves, fling 
	themselves, fall back by fives, by tens. In this way, they meter out 
		life’s dry measure—ghosts lost in the spillway, 
			sucked into the turbines, shredded by the intake

 grates by twenty, by one hundred, roiled downriver in the tailrace 
	by one thousand, diminished, three thousand and five, three thousand 
		and four, diminishing, three thousand and three 
			savaged mad with singing.

Town Diner

Refuge of the Dream—Gulden’s
spicy brown on Hebrew National,
honey bear, bottle of Tabasco,

cartel of napkins, dispensed white
from steely towers, and the grill:
the short-order cook in his blue baseball cap

is humming hard work’s Anthem.
One practical flick of the wrist
flips a pancake wide as a prairie.

Waitresses clatter plentiful platters—
black angus, tabouli and tofu, tongol tuna,
polyglot Reubens and Rachels, Cobb salad,

democratic potpies. All day
breakfast rides, like a good poem,
Robert Frost says, on its own melting,

and all the yolks are sunny side. Deep in our duct-
taped booth, we are sated, flutter
greenbacks from our wallets, plenty of change. 


And dead fish eyes set in silver 
bezels, ringed and pouched and crumpled. 
And the sun that made those eyes glisten, 

or lit them from within. Smaller 
than my thumb, knife-thin and rubbery. 
No, not rubbery, exactly, but not yet stiff, 

either, and still sweet-smelling. The skin, 
immaculately foiled with cross-hatched 
lines that scrolled all up and down. 

And the mouth, two bronze shutters, 
that tail, a gossamer, a ghost, a ship, 
though all day I had been trying to renounce 

metaphor. And wondered if Death 
will make me beautiful, and hated 
Death more for that irony—not to see 

anything at all! And so my consolation 
was less than I’d hoped for—beauty 
and death held together in my palm.


Excerpt from Gas Stations, Drive-Ins, the Bright Motels

Daffodils that sang of yellow, 
saw only yellow, awoke 

from the yellow other side. 
Clouds clattered downward, 

upward into vanished air. 
I was a child, wobbling 

the wet cement on my bike. 
Already good 

at cutting corners, how could I
not ride out this far?

Nothing has happened yet—
so I scratch a piece 

of linoleum kitchen counter 
with a paper clip to see 

whether or not I’m sorry. Daddy 
comes home. Mommy tells him 

to spank me. He has never 
spanked me. His voice rises, 

then dies. Maybe he won’t. 
My life is a yellow box 

too short for pencils. When 
I play, I play alone: separate 

into families my trading cards—
horses from flowers from birds.

I let my yo-yo sleep 
on the end of the string, cut out

a new pink dress with sparkles 
for my Wendy doll, take off 

the plain paper dress she wears 
around the house, press onto her 

the tabs of her gown, wind up
the ballerina in the music box, 

make her spin on one thin toe. 

What Distance Brings

Who knows why desire grows 
		in its own shadow? We see

a distant lighthouse punctuating 
			that sandy spit, 

the sky swollen, rinsed in haze, swarming 
	like a herd of stallions— 

		we like to say that—
			a herd of stallions—

and when we get there, the lighthouse
	is a stack of white-chipped brick. 

Don’t all clouds obscure something
		we thought we wanted? It’s distance 

creates desire, and the lighthouse 
	better far away. We want the singing—

gleam and shine, gleam and shine,
		which leaps from our hands, or is

too terrible. We want a frame 
			to contain the vastness. 

		We want a Hopper postcard 
	to hang on a wall. We want 

to hold the sun but not
	its burning, or we want to burn.

Western Motel

Have I been sitting here for hours,

straight-backed on the bolstered bed,
alone among the molten elements,

sand ground down to its hardest part?

Hours jut and leer like a car’s
chrome mouth. One last flare

of gold, and the hills gather into loaves.

To be the one. To be the only one,
my wrist shapely and disconsolate.

My fingers grip the bedrail hard.

I console myself with light detached
from the empty wall. If I let my hair

go wild, will shadows spill

their liquid spines, and break?
Everything is right

beyond my vision—prologue,

denouement, the ringing of the bells
after the bells have rung.

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