Dear Friends: We’re looking forward to your visit.
You must come by foot, but don’t fret;
our lands are wild but pleasant.
Travel light and carry a weapon.
Approach the mountain from the north.
Ascend through the scrub pine to the summit’s clearing.
The high hills are heaven, but you mustn’t linger.
Look south for our smoke then descend into the valley.
Stick to the walnut grove. It’s your best chance.
Beware the savages. Their darts are deadly. They seethe
despite our olive branches. Stay low and silent and cross the river.
You must swim, but the current is mild, assuming the rains hold.
If you make the meadow, you’re home free, practically.
Tread swiftly across the clover, but keep to the edge
and use the shade of the forest. Rest here if you must.
Savor the honeysuckle, but be mindful of the bear traps.
In fact, seek out the bears and bring one.
We’re down to our last few potatoes here.
Bones of Small Birds
Loving me is like
loving a bird that changes colors
(my drunk handwriting in black pen
reminds me of my fathers).
I tell you I’m sorry, you think
you are in love with me, I apologize and
mean it, sincerely, I wouldn’t want to be
the wounded and I wish I could weep.
I was there the night you lay on the pavement,
you spoke later of demons and dreaming my face,
of heartbeat racing, crows and blackbirds,
of rose-colored glasses which made the moon a rotten peach,
you said it was impossible to live without me but I
was out of your reach, I knew exactly how you felt.
I know you know I’m thinking about you,
(as eighteen blackbirds and my father
Self-Portrait as Indecisive
I bumped into some ripe asparagus under
the tomato plants, though it’s almost fall,
yellowish, a trifle pale but tall
I could’ve picked them yesterday
had I watered then. Saint Paul says it’s better
to marry than burn. How much better?
Who’s Paul he should know? What about marry
and burn? (May you be like a chandelier:
Hang all day and burn all night.)
What is this other than a desire to be
elsewhere, other than? Yet I can almost see
a line, a sliver that separates now from forever,
a hair floating in and out of sunlight.
New Year’s Eve, 2006
This is for the one
who drove off
with no first
or last kiss of this
or last year, who
departed before hope
or a half glass
of nostalgia; whose music is not even an echo
in a plastic horn, nor a false note stuck
in the long neck of a trombone;
whose portraits are shaded in charcoal
and then thrown away,
whose great eyes are made dull
by the bright palette
of day. She loves
the imagination most
but something beautiful
must have failed her,
like the monotony of the sea
or the way birds leave us
in the grips of gravity.
It is not known if she is fragile
or stoic, or what she has done
without, so wishes must be made
low, in secret, like prayers nested
inside sound, that she might drive into
the next hopeless bend
with flecks of confetti
on her shoulders, too light
for even her ghosts
Silver from Steel
He could never tell silver from steel,
mist from fog,
a church from a cathedral,
or whistling from a boiling kettle.
He forgot the names of enemies,
of streets, of old addresses.
It’s all about value,
said one of his four remaining friends:
Silver’s worth more than steel.
It’s about visibility,
said the second:
Fog is thicker than mist.
Size, said number three:
Cathedrals are vaster than churches.
Heat, came from the fourth,
and sound: A kettle will burn you,
and atonally at that.
His life was in hock to his ego
and he’d lost the ticket long ago.
So he gave his friends numbers,
since he’d forgotten their names,
and chances are more frequent than choices,
and he could never tell which were real.
Bus Stop, Snowy Morning
He sends his silent son out on dark winter mornings.
What boy dresses for cold or waits inside where it’s warm?
The father bites down hard and chokes his thousandth warning
to be ignored by the boy, stoic, free from all harm.
Tall and still, he just cannot foresee any mourning.
Though the father can; he sits—hot tea and cold alarm.
Son sees no fear or future; father sees the boy in the snow,
and sits thinking of the chill, the stupor, and the letting go.
—Edward A. Shannon
Gave Proof Through the Night
On fire, the lot of us. Bottle rockets & sparklers.
Precious ignitions. Transience. How fair
is that? You took up the sky,
remember. A red flash all around the night.
The sound made my center stop orbiting
for a moment.
We reach for fire like we reach for
love. Roman candles.
No kind of safe. You are
wobbling, streaming straight up as if
to the surface, for air. The air
destroys us. The pages of a book are white,
then yellow. Sometimes brown. Fire can burn
slowly. Fire is all around us.
A searing cracker flash
then done, gone. Oxidized.
Or a long strobe flicker that never leaves the ground.
I sprinkle water around my walls, chanting.
They are so very contagious.
—A. J. Luxton
Who Was Happy
A dead pheasant
lay by our back door
the winter Dad left.
Fleas and ticks
crawled in its feathers.
Mom called them beautiful.
She wrapped the body
in newspaper and plastic
putting it in the freezer
waiting for money
to frame the tail feathers
to teach us about nature.
Whenever I saw the framed feathers
I remembered the dead body
still in the freezer
as if meant for us to eat.
He strutted on the Lincoln
deck, and smirked
We won! We won!
Yet Death still does Her dance.
I watched another victory jig,
upon the fall of France.
—Alexander Forbes Emerson
Beneath the brush of old
firs, where the windbreak
lifts a little
clearing; down the tumbled
tracks a bit and beside
the cut; just out of town
down from Ronnie’s place,
a steer corpse rots.
The rancher who ruined
the skull with his bullet
towed it there with
a rusted chain, behind his red
tractor. And that ruined
skull, with its cracked third eye
and chipped curved
horn will, like the saprophytes
now tawing its skin,
receive no fit reward
though like the earth, no more
its mother than I,
I can’t wait to repossess it.
When we were little
Mother made matching dresses
for us to wear on Easter Sunday
When we were older
we wore white gloves
fancy hats and high heels
Later I played the organ
and the Easter Bunny
left colored eggs in my organ shoes
I seldom go to church now
but when I do
the hymns make me cry
The trees are drained and
all their tears are sitting around in buckets.
So that’s very peaceful, to come into the woods
and find all those buckets, already done for.
of bed. Now is a green time,