World Enough Writers (Tillamook, OR) publishes themed poetry anthologies, including Last Call, and single-or multiple-author poetry collections. War Effort is based on a story my mother told.
The burnt umber bar
though nicked and scarred
is burnished to a gloss
almost viscous, as if something dark
had been spilled across its grain.
She’s just off the day shift at Republic
inspecting the wings of p-47 Thunderbolts
with the usual Friday
gang, Doris, Helene, first rounds
served on Rheingold coasters when
soldiers from Camp Upton, after checking
through the tavern window, join them.
They’re new recruits, marooned
in the Pine Barrens a few weeks
before being shipped off, some distant
fort or field no one knows
who have found this oasis
somewhere between Patchogue and Port Jeff
just as the Wurlitzer begins to play
Bésame Mucho: Each time I cling to your kiss
I hear music divine. One of them
sweeps her off the barstool; she hesitates, thinks
no, her cousin Evvie could, who wins
jitterbug contests at the Paramount; even so
it’s all in fun, everyone laughing
as they dip and swirl, and he’s
not serious, though the song
could tear a heart out with longing
as it throbs.
And he’s good, so for an instant
they both are
lifted above the world
This anthology was created by the Project Leadership UCC Class of 2018. All proceeds from its sale go to a textbook scholarship fund. This is one of four of my poems selected for publication.
Earth stands still
under his feet like some
enormous beach ball a moment, just
part of his act: dancing in traffic, making us
look at him
legs splayed, a garden faun
posed on the single yellow line. Flapping rusty elbows
he lurches toward the lane in which
a driver is astonished only
she saw the boy at all—
who laughs back at his smaller brother
stalled on the curb, cocooning his arms
in his t-shirt hem. Their idea was
something like candy
on the bench outside the 7-11
where, patrolling the pavement, a Brewer’s blackbird
checks scraps, nods
each pale eye, measuring
himself to the world
as the boy dissolves in rearview.
But from now on, whatever he might dodge:
how the shocked tree struck
by his reckless swerve
wilts so soon
even when he meant it
no harm, how he tears through lives
for the rush, how
eyes die open:
will rest on his brother’s shoulders.
This poem, patterned after the Petrarchan sonnet form, was published in the Spring 1987 issue of the Indiana Review.
Light stained by leaded glass saints spreads across
the rafters like words half-written, half-dreamed,
that once meant hide here and never be harmed
and now, there is no refuge. Altar stone,
room where love is said to live: no place is
home against laws or time. Enter knowing
even the full light obeys, and fails: live
in the face of that. In the sacristy
the ordinary is kept: cups, bread, stoles,
that only broken or used have of the gift
of saving. I want to believe, not in
lives saved, but in those spent with joy. Like one
playing here’s the church, here is the steeple,
you open your hands to me, sacristy.
Rain City Review,whose managing editor was Brian Christopher Hamilton, was a Portland-based literary magazine.
Room after room, on smooth
museum walls, the same two flank the third.
In a shadow box, the hanged son says behold:
but mother and follower
are only darker stains upon the panels.
Cathedral damp, the blue of her robe,
his despair, neatly
worm-eaten, a missing downcast
head all hopeful
here: the broken inscription
that leads us
up an unguarded stairway to an attic treasury
where splinters of true cross
are held under glass
with reliquaries of blameless fingers
that indicate skyward, like the spiral
folly we climb breathless,
my nails scrabbling the merciless
inner tower walls toward a view
Even in the dark calm of a cave
where ash and stone
are simply line, form,
if the markings are story,
this kohl fin swam
along some mind like a blade,
and if belief,
we trespass. Only along an icy black path
above these mountains, a star moves
like a small child running—not a star,
a satellite that sends messages
but to this balcony, where we watch
no arrival: here,
our desire, that is its message.
My work–a number of poems and two reviews–appeared in Fireweed between 1995 and 2004. In November 2017, I had the pleasure of meeting Erik Muller, who along with Ann Staley, edited the journal until 1999. He was in the audience at the River Road Reading at which I was a featured writer. The journal was later edited by Sydney J. Thompson, who also responded generously to my work.
Oregon Donation Claim
On detours and lost roads
the clear-cut domes become
more visible. A few sheared stumps
overlook the two-lanes
like headstones in a tended graveyard—
misleading us to imagine
the pioneer cemetery we’ll seek later
hallows a trim field, is
some oiled road’s terminus,
that we can know
what goes on beneath
these difficult hills. Here
in this last-settled territory
some one of the unknown
ancestry you dig toward will
have the eyes
whose brand you feel,
have drawn freehand
a way in or out or have been
famous for sorrow
and will unseal that part
of your past. I am useless here,
useless and eager as the names recur
in the county museum files: O’Hara
and Harris, born Sligo, born Cork: I
copy them out without knowing
who was the patriarch, who the dead son.
You have in order who married for love
And who to increase a claim, whose daughter fell
from a Lower East Side tenement window,
built the schoolhouse from cedar driftwood
and whose old age
brooded peacefully over the wild water
at Netarts Bay.
When Sheriff Frank Harris
died at thirty-five, his wife, forced to sell
the oyster beds for nothing, yet
made certain he would lie
beneath a granite marker in the pioneer
cemetery that would not be except
the miller’s daughter drowned, and her father
set land for grief
aside. Because his placid
millstone flanks the museum sidewalk
it seems the finding will be easy: Everything
points to it, the road
straight out of town, then curving
toward a hill.
We pass the burnt foundation
of a house; in its center stands a locked
steamer trunk that must have
survived the fire, that might
have rounded the Horn, that
we may be capable of rescue—
The road ends
in a cul-de-sac. Whoever once cared
for the graveyard let it go. Yet a girl
points from her driveway
for us to force open
a splintered gate, duck through
brambles tearing at us to
markers kneeling in snares
of sun-cured grass. I think
where she would have chosen, with this
all she had to choose from, find
his grave, the carved
hand pointing toward clear
blue, and do not ask
you feel here.
Three Love Poems
The girl who watches her crush go past
the house where, simmering in rooms behind her, is life
she’s allowed, a stack of problems to solve, supper on the stove
has never questioned the detour he takes, deliberate
mockery, letting her see him surely
as he must see her moony face peer
through the curtains. Like a jay working his tail
to balance on one grey twig high in a maple, he
claims the expectant air even as
he abandons it to the cold.
Maybe it was time to go.
I got up to go.
We were both a little drunk. ‘Hey,
wait a minute, this is heading in this direction
which is not where I’m going.’
Why? I don’t know
When I think of everything that was going on
I think ‘Why not just go make it?’
It just wasn’t where my body was going.
Like why not?
But it was not.
With nerve enough
and such a blizzard shops have closed, classes canceled
the city’s slowed, time to go, three of us, anywhere
by subway and on plastic, fueled
first by noon brandy. We want
everyone to want
as we want, while snow falls
cleanly, echoing itself. Though we settle
for dining with ghosts
at the Algonquin, our table in the empty salon
a sinking ship laden with silver and pretense
time remains to shape night
before it resists our grasp.
The real snow-studded sky has been reworked
into the Terminal’s vault of heaven.
No trains running; two men trapped
among others in the subterranean
Oyster Bar, neither down to his last dime, have us
join them in good gin. Is that
what sings along the spine, wits
never sharper, I think
this is it, why
the place could burn down tomorrow, become
a roaring drum for the untracked homeless.
One lives famously
at One Fifth, he tells me, near
the square, NYU, the dean
of something, dull red
the way clouds take the city’s lights
his hair. He shifts truths, hand to hand;
he can go home, so I
see the shimmering moment falter.
Whatever could happen
was not what I deserved.
Several of my poems appeared in this issue of Rain, the literary magazine of Clatsop Community College, Astoria, Oregon. Karin Temple, a fine poet, was at the time editor of this publication.
Rowing the Air
Though I learn
the dust-green trees bear
Seckel pears, what do I call
the stalks of purple
that overrun the gully? Even if I knew
wild phlox, there is still a whole garden
I can’t name, while the two of them
plant and name.
With the confidence of a surveyor, a crow
hem-stitches the edge of my parents’ lawn. Another
picks through the rutted graze across the road
where a farmer separates the half-grown calves
from his herd.
When that bird—they tell me
great blue heron—flies low over their roof,
I think she rows the air
home, because they’ve made the light
we sit just beyond
their home. I see them now,
but less clearly as the sky darkens; they are
shades of grey diffusing,
until I become her face, and his.
I follow their voices. Memory does this:
The soonest is easily forgotten
but what was loved, and
what is still to be understood, remain.
At night the moon
is a hoop bare of knotted flowers.
Across the way cows call,
call for what they’ve lost,
all the night long.
He spread the map out on a picnic table.
The roadside grass shivered
as the wind
lifted the map from his hands
to the stream whose current carried off
the way to
Addis Ababa, where he might have tasted
the sweet air, spoonful after spoonful,
the sun like needles on the blinding
white houses, or
to Luray Caverns, or
the North Pole—
if he could hold that map again
he’d remember. Each time he looks back
he needs to run his hand along
some red arterial or city’s grid, just as
when an infant turns his head
his arm extends reflexively, an archer
trying to mend the distance.
Every morning he fills the feeders
with millet and unhulled sunflower seeds
for the black-capped chickadees and myrtle warblers.
From his yard above Lake Seneca
he can see across his neighbors’ ropy pastures
to the white church where on Sunday
he pulls the bellcord
and the summoning bell returns him
to his downstate boyhood, his
mother’s side, her place
in the last pew. Pastor is burying coins
in the garden, secrets
like Pop’s homemade gin hidden in the basement.
Were the coins supposed to grow?
All those parables—
the good son, the one who didn’t
sleep among swine,
never even got a decent answer, while lilies
received praise. In my father’s house
every Sunday, Pop carved the roast
in too-thick slabs, in shreds,
and Mom criticized each slice.
Something tells his life now, these
niggling stories that arrive
like the woman
who stepped from the latticework shadows
beneath the Third Avenue el
in front of his van
or the man he saw
driving in the dark air
outside the car
he’d driven without stopping for fourteen hours.
The man, his own fatigue, had
stared down the highway
the woman had not seen his van
yet he’d stopped in time.
At dusk jet trails mark his blue
uncluttered sky. They are routes anywhere. Not knowing
where they could go
makes him watch them as they fade.
The Bellingham Review published two of my poems, Walking Through the Heart and Partial Knowledge. Composer Lynn Steele set the first poem to her magnificent music as a song cycle.
Walking Through the Heart
At the children’s museum, I’d lose myself
in the model of the heart.
Up the narrow stairs into the right ventricle,
I was blood
pumped by the great slow bear
beating somewhere ahead.
The latex walls were candled by light
as if the heart were its own source
or had its own source
I would find at some turning
before the stairs
that brought me down into the museum again.
Under the microscope, two heart cells
watch them touch, and without knowing,
synchronize, and beat together.
I can think of you and never know
what you are thinking,
hold you, sweetly breathing, without expecting
my breath to catch
like yours. I followed you
walking bareheaded in the rain
through the dangerous park,
each of us imagining the other’s anger
wrongly. Yet at the sound of my voice
turn, speak, no code to be broken; touch
that leaves us unchanged
but touched; nothing,
everything, out of the ordinary.
Looking at something so ordinary
I don’t know how to see it:
the heaped sleeve of a woman writing,
her words like a tapestry appearing
alongside her figure on the painted screen.
With the sound of the koto
the wind in the pines of the mountain peak
seems to communicate—one sound opening into
the other. With which note shall I begin,
she asks, and asking, chooses
neither windblown note
but a third sound, out of time,
like a door thrown open
between this light and her own.
The two of us at the prow; the bored guide
poling our boat down the underground river.
In this limestone cave, lucent, flesh-like rock
is tamed, renamed the Hanging Gardens,
Satan’s Beard. Plant spores from tourists’ jackets
grow under the spotlights on the cave walls;
we are the cave’s only other life.
At water’s edge, we’re stopped. Beyond, a fall
of rocks, the hum of a generator.
The guide turns off every light. All darkness:
I am alone in it (tell myself we)
the slow eye of darkness unbearable,
and to be borne, alone. And a part of us
as surely as the sudden return of light.
Two days aboard, you drag the train
with you, that heaviness at your ankles,
each time you stagger down the aisle.
your attempt to go between cars
and breathe the keen, passing air.
And the train drags
its scenery along. Still Nebraska.
Just what you thought, less
than you imagined, snow
cancelling every field, every porch
you fool yourself you’re visiting.
After sunset, you wait in the observation lounge
for the stars, that migration,
and in the curved glass dome see
only the room’s lights, your upturned face.
There’s no more ice at the bar.
You listen to your fellow passengers trade
lies across small tables: how much they love
seeing the country.
You hope no one will talk to you.
After your second beer, you feel a terrifying
fondness for everyone. You want none of them
to change, you want this voyage
to mean nothing to any of them.
They are all the country
you can stand.
Daylight, the coach window shows you one town,
then another, like a teacher with flashcards.
The same problem comes up again and again,
because you can’t solve it: where is this,
where are you going,
until you are lulled into thinking
you can answer.
Outside some town, a boy stands by the tracks:
his laces are untied, nobody told him
to wear socks. His jacket billows:
how the wind fills him, humpback,
an angel budding wings.
He can add the long
numbers on the cars as a train rushes by,
and he knows the low sun means
a train will pass soon, its numbers
flashing for him.
Impatiently waiting, he even paces
Yards away, sparrows pecking at gravel
feel your train’s approach.
The boy watches as they fly off
just before the train rounds
into sight, toward reason.
Washout Review was the first journal to accept my work. I discovered the publication in the library at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, which I was attending as a contributor. At the top of this issue’s cover is a nearly imperceptible image of two figures, one of them the poet Alice Fulton.
We move down streets
and through rooms
as dizzying and clear
off in mid-sentence
across the table.
I tell my regrets
bead by bead;
you pour wine for us,
bloodstone at your wrist
like a new moon.
Our words won’t keep
still: you are leaving
as we talk.
Iris: A Journal About Women is a publication of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Virginia. The poem is somehow a work of fiction in which all the parts are true.
You are here, says the map
on the cinderblock wall.
In and out of the stalls, a troop of green
girls trying every chrome
flush, whoosh of dry air, before
they march back into their bus—
all but one, who’s wandered out
behind the antiseptic comfort station.
Her mates smack the windows, unseeing,
call out, You’ll be sorry. She’s marked
already: Latrine Queen, the one who’ll
have to wash every scalding
mess kit during sing-along.
Still she stands
with her nose into the wind,
scenting no danger, nothing but real
pine, pointing unerringly
away. You’re watching, who should warn her
back. You were warned: first flight
over the ocean, how that island seemed to rise
up out of the water to meet
the plane, itself a kind of sea monster,
with a map of the world on its tail.
Fingering woolens in the duty-free
shop while your flight was called
in every outlandish tongue,
you thought of living by that iron sea,
your house the color
of stale candy, learning a new language for
canned goods, thread, the occasional sun,
your old words useful
only for imagining.
But it’s the others who are left behind—like the friend
who dropped out of school
to draw beers at the freshman pub.
He’s leaning into his rag,
rubbing his reflection
into the bar: in your mind, he’ll always
be young, carelessly
young, like the child invisibly among
a stand of trees.
You have somewhere to go.
Your jacket rocks back and forth
on the clothes hook over the back seat
as you pull away, it wire shoulders
rapping against the glass.
Your tie is draped around the neck
of the hanger the way your old friend
would put his arm around you
who loved you
when you woke up the neighborhood together,
drunk and happy.
Your last route is one you hate,
passing close to an ornery
northern poverty. The sun’s out,
so you can’t miss seeing
her: a woman swinging on her front porch
swing, her grey hair undone, floating behind her.
Her farm’s barely holding on,
yet her head’s thrown back, as if she’s calling
to someone to join her.
Maybe she’s left off cleaning—
there’s a green rag in her hand
that the dog or time has worried shapeless.
Or she singing; no one comes
from the barn, so she’s singing
to herself, and you wonder
how she every found her way
here, settled on this careless
way to live.
Beef cattle do not crave
touch, yet when exchange students visiting their field
see those white sides, reach, stroke, the five
lower their polled heads
to it. Only the sudden hillside
thunder of trucks makes them
break from the fence, quivering.
Ombra mai fu
a phrase that descends
over some perfect interval
in the aria melody
given the phrase twice
the pull of descent feels inevitable
yet what fool sings a love song
to a sycamore?
After the field, the hill
hidden behind a scrim of brush
fills strangely with light
per voi risplenda il fato
When the veil
the initial note, sol
poised above the tonic
for more than a full measure
before it begins to descend
is rent, v’oltraggino
reveals the barren flank, red earth,
fretted remains dragged uphill to the logging road
imagine each tree
fighting against the inevitable pull
wanting to keep itself
in the air
as long as possible
Transits appeared in a section of FM 9 edited by Rose Terranova Cirigliano and containing work honoring the memory of Brigitte Kowaltschuk, with whom we worked at the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Bookstore.
Closing the bookstore
every evening, Head of Security would predict
tomorrow, God willing and the creek don’t rise.
But we were already eddying
elsewhere, like ash that rises
from the briefest fire; whatever tide
makes a traveler
brought each of us to the city
to clerk in one of its landmarks, those peculiar
monarchies of misrule, for a time
and never ceased its urging.
Until we found our reason
we stocked curved shelves more suited
to boutique scents than books.
Like Sid, dressed in linen and knit kufi, hunched
over his guitar solo within St. Peter’s
light-filled sanctuary, we each
sheltered our young, we feared imperfect
gift, a kind of hope.
Hers was love, then; Brigitte could tell
in others it was happening
as it had, there, for her. Calmly
awaiting twins, she stood
with her back to the counter, poised
figure on a prow, protector
of newborns and poets, not yet sensing
any current drawing her away.
I was an adjunct instructor and Writing Center tutor at LaGuardia Community College at the time of this publication.
In the late sun, high cirrus quicken
with panes of color. Two figures in a clearing
burn brush: ashes eddy up from their drum
fire. The fresh branching peaking the shake
roof of their new cabin means enter, welcome.
But I drive on, leaving them to their woods.
This way, past groves of redwoods,
other hearths, above an ocean where quick
gulls glint and veer, leads to no welcome.
It is simply escape, to try to clear
the miles of memory. Yet I can’t shake
what, once seen, lingers like smoke from a drum.
An antelope racing across the desert’s drum:
and still he bounds toward the road. I would
not swerve or brake in time; my horn couldn’t shake
the buck. Nothing was beyond his quickness:
if I doubted, he was certain he’d clear
the grille of my car. How he seemed to welcome
even the sheer desert heat, as a pilgrim welcomes
every test on his way, loving this drumming
earth less than what is to come. Clearly
I was part of his journey; I would
be judged with the buck. And if his quick
dodge turned him aside in time, I am shaken
still by his dangerous, unshakable
faith. Yet could the buck have run to welcome
pain or cause it? That pure animal quickness
was as heedless as rain, and the drum
of his hooves like a fire in the woods:
he’d been no surer than I of clearing
our meeting. At night in a clearing
after darkness stops me, I hear trees, shaken
and sighing. I lie on the ground, the woods’
pine needle floor as soft as a welcoming
body. But the one heart I hear drumming
against the earth is mine. My memory quickens
with all the miles I’ve cleared, that fade as quickly.
Still, hearth smoke cures the shake walls’ wood
and, a drumming heart, the buck races in welcome.
A storm tore her once leaf-shadowed
windows bare, and now the sounds
of leaving reach her. Midnight
tracks click change, then the train’s
plangent pitch; the highway
insists, ships on the Bay
or why did you
go. He said you don’t know
what you are doing, meaning
when a thief came to her window, shattering
his way in
when a freak snow fell
and their daughter, taking disaster all
too naturally, slogged for hours
through the deadened city home
none of this
would have happened if
He thinks he knows exactly
where she has gone; he still sees her
sometimes. Because at an evening rally
their daughter can circle the hand-held
cut him from the crowd
and shepherd the two of them together
on the damp grass
stutters and goes out
because some desire
has gathered them here
he thinks she has not gone far.
Here is a link to a review of The Zeppelin Reader in the Michigan Quarterly:
Here is a link to the Oregon Poetic Voices site, where a couple of my poems are archived:
I took part in a Friends of William Stafford Birthday Reading that Vince and Patty Wixon helped organize in Ashland, OR. The poem I read, “Salvage,” was later selected by the Wixons to appear in the Jefferson Monthly.
Salvage (Long Island, 1950)
Dutifully, Miss Clark
boards the Babylon branch each weekday
types and files each impeccable contract
sends her mother’s sole support; Sundays
she brings the New York Times
to her brother’s locked mind at Pilgrim State
where he completes the puzzle.
When one morning a mongrel puppy
strays onto Home Street, a small knot
trembling by her gate, Miss Clark
is saved by a first thought
determined as a child’s wish, released
from all that rules her day
save him. Her train
rackets toward the city along neglected track
her seat by the bleared window empty
while she serves the dog
scrambled eggs on a gold-rimmed plate.
Her back garden is a green kingdom
of rhododendron and tall firs even in November.
The dog follows her
reedy Season of mists…, memorizing
as she has Keats, by heart.
Early darkness. Returning from
the city, her fellow commuters
in the usual third and fourth cars
pull down ad placards to use as pinochle tables.
After dinner, she’ll build a fire
to sit by, the dog resting at her feet
until a breathless neighbor
arrives with the news—
a switch not thrown, seventy-nine
on her train, in those cars, terribly
can’t be explained away
with a miracle—yet just one
through each of our cells.
Miss Clark names her dog Homer, she says, because
he kept her home, though that night it may be
because of another passage recalled.
For years, whenever her neighbors’ nieces
visit, they call on Miss Clark and on Homer.
He accepts their affectionate
strokes with the aura
of a dauphin in exile, anointed
but with no command
of the language
gratefully surrounding him.
Miss Clark is nearly ninety
when she dies.
In dog years, Homer
When I lived in Seattle, I had the good fortune to attend the Olympic College Writers Conference. I participated in a workshop led by Madeline DeFrees, who chose my poem “Waiting Room” for special recognition and publication in the conference chapbook Signals.
When the Queen Mary was docked at Long Beach
ghosts flocked the decks, making
a rookery of her gangways and luxe.
Like rock doves accepting urban downdrafts
as breezes off the coast of Normandy
these spirits mistook the liner for deliverance,
booked passage, and trapped themselves
between a past forever gone
and the promised forever. Cries
heard echoing the corridor must
be the dead, not living regrets; the face caught
fleeing the mirror could never belong
to the seeker. Yes this daily ferry
that doesn’t rest on either shore is our
waiting room, floating
burnt coffee, vinyl benches, knees
jiggling under folded newspapers, ordinary
misery: and we take it. All the while
desiring something, something. Sail toward the mountains,
to an island of enviable houses. In one
where view extends from lawn
to bay while the real
breaks off before
the rocks below, a healthless young man waits
for the cake his sister ordered. Because
he loves fine things, because he will never again
see Moscow, she brings
Saint Basil’s in marzipan and stained
white chocolate to him on a tray.
For the faithful, the onion domes are candle
flames directing sight heavenward.
He will follow imagined distance just far enough:
to the woman her gift this holding-off
death. On her return
to the city, she stands
the unsheltered deck so long her breath
is made visible, the ghost
of some better self. For a moment, as
a brace of buildings, the light-flecked
water, gulls above the harbor, all the expected
confront her, she would turn
to tell someone everything she wants