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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Poems from CRACKED PIANO

MY MOTHER IS DYING

In the place where she belongs,
suffering erases itself, doves
bring her seeds, horses sleep
next to her in the straw,

where she belongs; a welcoming
place holds her, keeps her
from running away—the green
greenness of the hay turning to gold.

Already, the rain’s restless
trajectory. My mother is busy dying;
she no longer knows my name.
This is the wind of Eden,

the wand of change, the last slave
of silence, the knave of rain, so quiet
the roving of each vacant quest. Let her
be buried in the sea by the sea berry,

the briar rock, the fossil chamber.
Alone, blown, roadside stray,
the flown restless way-ward ringing,
bells clang, ocean downcast, rolls.

Wandering once again, now I
return to the center, searching
the level earth, calling her name,
remembering that I am lost.

The path unfurls before my dog
and me, walking to the rocks, the ocean
on one side, the bay on the other,
eiders blessing the waves.

The seagulls spontaneous burst,
how it hurts with the radio blaring.
My mother is dying, gone from
a body that has abandoned her.

Cry because everything goes haywire,
because this is Apollo’s siren lyre, the field-worn
answer, the childless response, children waiting
for some god to bring them home.

First published in Poetry Flash.  Forthcoming in CRACKED PIANO, Laurelbooks Imprint, CavanKerry Press, 2019.

 

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THE LUNATIC BALL

after “Dance in a Madhouse,”
by George Bellows, 1882-1925

Furious dancing gives way to screams;
five men stare, ghoulish, at the wall.
This is the lunatic ball.

The best student Yale had ever seen:
three months after graduation, typhoid—
brain swelled inside his skull.

They dosed out Calomel—five ghosts appeared
in a mercury dream; headaches unbearable.
This is the lunatic ball.

Married one year, baby the next, his wife
filed for release; the medical textbooks
he gleaned: futile, endless stall.

A woman names her baby doll Christ, lurches,
leans, a building in an earthquake, then
she crawls. This is the lunatic ball.

One man plays a flute, calls himself Faunus;
another uses an invisible latrine.

Attendants haul out a wildman in a straitjacket
on a wooden beam; a woman growls like a bear.
This is the lunatic ball.

Behind a glass wall, well-dressed spectators, riveted,
sit amused. Looking at them looking, the patients

know they are through. Spectacled
men sport greatcoats, and laced-up
women make jokes in the shimmering hall.

First published in chapbook, The Lunatic Ball,  Kattywompus Press, 2015. Also, published in cahoodaloodaling.  Forthcoming in CRACKED PIANO, Laurelbooks Imprint, CavanKerry Press, 2019.

 

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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. Forthcoming in CRACKED PIANO, Laurelbooks Imprint, CavanKerry Press, 2019.

 

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The Hudson Line

The river stretches out
like a line of flight, a pattern
winging toward God.
The river sucks
oars down; it pulls
toward depth, toward
study of the under-soul.
The river is constant.

The frozen forgotten earth
no longer speaks a language.
The dogs next door bark
at the clicking heels of the woman
who makes her way to the station.

Passengers stare at me on the train
at Spuyten Duyvil—their metallic drift
of perfumes, their attempts
to read as I write this line.

The river just stretches
with the Tappan Zee Bridge
into the green haze. No
river can deny the existence
of God, nor can trains travel
backward with people
shouting blindly out of windows.
This is a little train of reason.

People cough on trains;
something sticks like silkworms
to the backs of their throats,
and we who do not yet have coughs
have no time for mercy.
This is a train of thieves, all of us
who never cared for our jobs or our mothers,

who looked out over the Hudson
and saw only water.

First published in Elsewhere. Also, published in The Hudson Line and forthcoming in CRACKED PIANO.

 

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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. Forthcoming in CRACKED PIANO, LaurelBooks Imprint, CavanKerry Press, 2019.

 

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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 and forthcoming in CRACKED PIANO.

 

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