Poems from Cracked Piano

BOTTOM LAND

Evening tidings, the preparations,
each nestle, each cheep, like chicks calling,
the winnowing anomie, all
come to call too late, come
to call for sleep.

How a mother can change from angel
to sour mudqueen of all decay
by those who feel the sting, by those
who cry out.

Flail my heart upon the stone
in the grove near the riverbank,
rushing water to the river break.
Even the known becomes unknowable.
Their small eyes look at me like chicks
gathered against rain, staved.

Thin rivulets of fear, running-away-
with-itself fear, fearful fear.
No one can talk to you, no one
can listen, no one can touch you.
This is not stillness, this is not the keeper
of the estuary of the deep.

Don’t forget me, don’t forget
that hill the horses cantered
you down to the bottom land.
From this stone, ageless heart,
Remember your mother,
a mother who loved her children.

First published in Prairie Schooner.  Also published in The Lunatic Ball,  Kattywompus Press, 2015, and in Cracked Piano, Laurelbooks Imprint, CavanKerry Press, 2019.

 

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IDIOT’S GUIDE TO COUNTING

How do you become one
with the horse, riding and becoming
the act of riding,
and the horse becoming the self
and the other at exactly
the same second, counting strides,
counting muscle movement,
counting fences, hurtling over
them with the horse, counting
the everything
of one?

How do you count, how do you
pull a muscle turning over
in bed at night—measurements
that change everything, counting
back to everything, the everything
of one, the pulled muscles of the back
of one, the entanglement
of one, the waves of particles
counting back, the quantum?

How to become one with
the branches of a tree, a grandfather
tree in an apple orchard
that no longer exists?
Separate one
from tree, horse,
counting numbers, counting
the grandfather tree
to find the solution of
one.

Counting trees, leaves, counting
everything as no longer
existing, counting
trees as one with the everything
that no longer exists.

First published in Blackbird. Also published in The Lunatic Ball, Kattywompus Press, 2019; in Cracked Piano, LaurelBooks Imprint, CavanKerry Press, 2019; in the anthologies enskyment Online Anthology of Poetry, edited by Dan Masterson, 2018; and Reflections Pool: Poets and the Creative Process, edited by Laurance Carr, 2018.

 

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SPLITTING WOOD

It was the thought of his entering
their infant’s room that drove her.

She remembered his face the first time
she saw him. Now, half gone from whiskey,
eyes hooded like a hawk’s,
he said he’d kill the children when he woke.

The neighbors heard it,
the screams. They heard.

His workman’s hand,
his gnarled hand dangled down.
The knife lay by the bed.
She slipped from the covers
while he slept, placed her feet
on the floorboards just so.

The dogs barked outside, snapdragons,
flowered tongues, and all the wired
faces of the past strung up. The ax
hung on the porch, woodpile nearby,
each log plotted, uneasily entwined.
The children’s tears were rain,
tears were watering the parched hills.

The wild moon foamed at the mouth.
The wild moon crept softly at her feet.

The arms that grabbed the ax
were not her own,
that hugged it to her heart
while he slept were not hers,
the cold blade sinking in his skin.
She grew up in the country splitting wood.
She knew just how much it took
to bring a limb down.

First published in Connecticut Review. Also, published in The Hudson Line, Mainstreet Rag, 2012; in Cracked Piano, CavanKerry Press, 2019; in the anthologies en(compass), The Poetry Caravan Anthology, edited by Usha Akella, 2001; enskyment Online Anthology of Poetry, edited by Dan Masterson, 2018; Poetry.Magazine.com, edited by Andreni Zawinski, 2014; and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Garden Violence, edited by Laura Madeline Wiseman, 2013.

 

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Poems from Ghost Moose

GHOST MOOSE

Searching for moose, the children
run down to the river, calling

the already-gone, the forgotten,
for freedom of stench,

the smell of skunk weeds.
Moose calves become ghosts,

rubbing fur, skin, scraping ticks
off on tree bark.

In mild winters, ticks multiply
and multiply, occupy moose calves,

killing them slowly; their mothers
witness starvation from blood loss.

Moose calves resemble ghosts,
tearing fur, skin.

Calves waste away. Wasted
bodies frighten the forest

floor—foresters call April
the month of death.

First published in upstreet, a literary journal and in the chapbook Ghost Moose, Kattywompus Press, 2019.

 

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LITANY OF THE SOW

“Industrywide, about 10 million piglets are crushed by their mothers each year, according to pig-production experts, and studies have pointed to bigger litters as a major contributor.”  Michael Moss, New York Times

Farmers drug her to birth more piglets
in a cage so small they cannot move.
Her piglets cry out in pain;
bones dig in her skin.

There is an old woman who lives in a shoe; she has
so many children, she doesn’t know what to do.
It doesn’t matter,
nothing she can do.

Fourteen piglets suckle at her teats;
she shifts her body to keep from losing
limbs. Hear her moans,
bones tear in her skin.

Nothing she can do.
Under her weight, her great broken heart,
sigh of last breaths, the shudders.
Bones of her own, she can barely move;
bones slash into her skin.

They bind her in steel. She cries out.
Fourteen piglets suckle at her teats.
She cannot
move to comfort them.

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy went wee wee wee—bones broken,
bones dig in
her great broken heart.

First published in STATOREC Literary Magazine and in the chapbook Ghost Moose, Kattywompus Press, 2019. Also, forthcoming in Canary Literary Journal.

 

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BALLAD OF THE DOLPHIN

Ancient Greeks said they should be treated
as humans; their sailors would not kill dolphins.

How I have thought of you
caught in the fisherman’s nets—

they would set them to trap
you to catch the tuna

that swam under your schools.
How the fishermen hung

you still alive, upside down—
your cries brought others.

Fishermen grabbed you by
your tails, strung you, and turned

you, head down in water, tied
you to lifting hooks,

and dragged you to the docks. If any
of you were still alive when they slung

you on cement, they stabbed you.
How last survivors churned

the water red, leaping in panic,
waiting to die. In a “good” catch,

it took them three days to kill
all of you. How mothers whose calves

were entangled could not lift them
to the surface. They listened to their helpless

underwater clicks and sighs.
How often I thought of the whale skippers

who would radio the location of hundreds
of you, allowing tuna fishermen

to track down your entire pod. Think
of their nets, deep, foaming, wide,

so that hundreds could fit inside. How they
used underwater sound

to confuse and drive you down—
how many of you drowned.

Fishermen did not want to compete s
with you, but killing you was not enough.

How they used the screams
of several to slaughter more.

How one of you hangs from the prow,
still alive, calling, calling.

First published in Ghost Moose, Kattywompus Press, 2019. Forthcoming in Canary Literary Journal.

 

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Poems from Frozen Spring and Reading the Night Sky

Ascension

It takes seven strong men to drag the six foot
heart of a blue whale across the deck of a
whaling ship.

—FAITH MCNULTY

Beads of sweat well up on the sea-
stained faces of the seven men
who bear the still warm heart
of the blue whale to the boiling vats.
The men are deliverers; they tug,
rip, tear the heart
across the deck to the seething pots.
But their hands stick to surfaces
like flypaper, and recoil,
the red matter teething into fingers
as if leaching out the blood.
Ventricles, gaping mouths,
stand ajar; red smoke rises
in the darkening mist. Harsh wind
raps against crevices, something
trying to get back in,
tapping out an aberrant beat,
an unknown code, and something whines,
long and low, a sea moan.
Only a crane can lift
a six-foot heart, and as the last
inch of the raised organ
recedes into the stewing vats,
dismembered parts of the heart ascend
and billow over the deck.
Seven men inhale the vision, their hearts
slackening with each breath.

First published in The Webster Review. Also, published in chapbook, Reading the Night Sky, Riverstone Press, 1996; Frozen Spring, Mid-List Press, 2002; and in the anthology, Dolphin’s Arc: Poems on Endangered Creatures of the Sea, edited by Elisavietta Ritchie, Scop Publications, 1989.

 

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Conversation with Bertolt Brecht

Solely because of the increasing disorder
in our cities of class struggle,
some of us have now decided
to speak no more of cities by the sea,
snow on roofs, women…

—BRECHT

As if the Chilean songs of revolution
would bring back the gray fishing boats
sailing through frail, deepening waters
at dawn and the seagulls making earthly sounds.
As if these songs could restore the balance,
the driven leaf, nail old
and rusted, shoved through the bent bough.

Each step through mirrors brings us
back to the pitch of sleeplessness,
the unstrung dream, an oil slick
on an ocean still and black.
As if all the songs of revolution
could bring the murmuring tree back,
could restore wind to the rigging,
full sail to the morning light.

How many years, messages, wars,
strange incidences, ironies?
The wary eye of the mother
wanted to protect her child,
promise more, cities near the sea,
clear waters, full sail,
the morning light.

First published in the New England Review. Also, published in chapbook, Reading the Night Sky, Riverstone Press, 1996; Frozen Spring, Mid-List Press, 2002; and in Voices for Peace Anthology.

 

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Night Rising

To be willing to sit here like this,
with nothing, nothing on my mind.
To be willing to waste this time,
day after day, as if my life
meant nothing to me.

Muggy, measured air of late summer
leaden with cicadas, the circus
of insects, the symphony
of their short time left.

To hear the birds weigh down
the apple tree, to watch dahlias
brown out in September, the infested
fallen blossoms on the weed-choked lawns–
so many would give up everything
everything for what I have–these worms,
split and drying on the paved avenues,
yards and yards of worms, millions
and millions, too many to count.

Think of the 50,000
earthworms in an average backyard,
their moist underbellies,
every night rising,
curling over the lips of
their individual holes.
Think of their vast chasm of tunnels.
They riddle the ground with their castings.

It’s always the leaves I come back to,
because I stare outside,
and it’s always the leaves pressed near windows,
ghosts trying to get back in,
it’s always the leaves I see.

When I lie down at night
above the bitter opening of sleep,
the sad pines, the sad crooked pines,
and the birds, listen, hear them,
as if their song were made in heaven,
something almost somnolent,
something almost cold in the darkness,
coming out of the green door,
coming out like this, out of nowhere.

First published in the Seattle Review. Also, published in Reading the Night Sky, winner of the 1996 Riverstone Press Poetry Chapbook Contest, and in Frozen Spring, Mid-List Press First Series Award for Poetry, 2002.

 

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