What I Love About Fiction
Turning each page, how fast
they pile up in your left hand,
how your progress is marked
by a bookmark’s steady march
through leaves. And poetry, the opposite:
how slowly you move from poem
to poem, how long it takes
to read one slender volume,
how each night you turn only one
or two pages, carefully,
and then sleep,
like learning to love a skinny
and complicated girl.
When I Am Asked
When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.—Lisel Mueller
When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about my father’s bruised
thumbnail, how my father, grandfather
and uncles, carpenters all,
stride the bare trusses of my childhood
in cracked work boots, each
with one ridged fingernail turning
purple then black then yellow forever.
They are building our home again
out of things that can hurt them—
concrete blocks and rough wood
and nails longer than my fingers.
My mother collects all the dropped
nails and shingles, singing hymns
and John Denver songs.
From: DIVINE MADNESS
The idea is to throw out a net of words
to catch the poem
a net such as Vulcan makes
at the ocean's depths
in a fiery cave
a net of fire in water
forged by one
cuckold of Venus
lame joke of the gods
whose hairy blacksmith hands
can make a net such as Neptune wields
to hold the waves
a net of words
arching back on itself
to contain the exploded universe
a net of light cast into a galactic sea
of dancing stars
a choreography of answers
in a dark chamber
where the soul
as a net of questions
in a net of breath
HOMENAJE AL NERUDA
is an Arucanian tree
roots pushing into earth
in search of that
which is also
the source of desire.
There are no politics
apart from this.
What blossoms from it
turns us into lovers
with the hearts
(even in old clothes
even with gray hair
even in the uncertainty
that moves us forward
there is only this left
after everything else
she who waits
apart from ourselves
that part of
we have missed
without realizing it
she who has searched for us
where we can’t
and finding us
wraps us in her shawl
with the voice of our voice
in which a fledgling
rawness beats its wings
BLUES FOR DICK AND JANE
All things are on fire
even the moon. See
how it puckers
We burn at different rates.
Most poets go mad
others fixing dinner
who will share
the conversion of matter into energy
our hearts strive for
at a ratio of 2:1
never as easy as
Dick & Jane
it was Spot
they watched run
who ran away
and set them both
THE DEATH OF TED BERRIGAN
on Independence Day
of a heart attack
carrying too much weight
in his beard
At his Memorial
in St. Mark’s
Sanders likened him
couldn’t find words
to describe his friend
of twenty-four years
Ted beat him to the grave
painting of the poet
in a chair
to leap from
the Ottendorfer Library steps
Praise the Lord!
your voice again
trapped in ale
at the lips of old men
for words in
the low grass of my throat...
playing Kung Fu
on the roof below
two Newyorikan kids in black giis
and a blond Ukranian girl in toe-shoes
are showing her
how to kick like a grasshopper
how to move her arms like a praying mantis
is flooding the western sky
like a ghost I thought had abandoned
its old routes between my sleep and the outer air
What I like most about Cavafy
is that he can't stop moralizing.
Growing old he sees he also grows
warmer to the barbarian in himself,
the Persian among Greeks,
the would-be voluptuary.
He spends days in cafes
by the sea,
drinking ouzel and wondering
if the whole world is destined to
become as small and seedy
The bodies of young men excite him.
He watches them from
his Garden of Missed Opportunities
until it resembles Gesthsemene
where he turns part Christian,
while the Greek in him
continues to weep
at the tomb of Patroklos,
insisting there is a grace in us
more magnificent than the god
You want to be Orpheus,
make trees dance, grass sing,
water a sustaining melody:
you refer to yourself
in the third person, saying
"Antonych moves" or "Antonych breathes";
you give the moon animal reflexes,
the sun a grace, like your own,
that looks for its intelligence
in everything it lights upon,
wants to grasp it where
it grows invisibly
I see you in Lviv
holding your ears as almonds burst
or late at night Mercury rains
that will rise and weep
when all things confess
they'd been distracted,
couldn't keep their meanings clear.
At 28, nearing the end,
you rush to keep pace
with your ghostly dictation:
in my mind
you're all ears,
listening to silverfish
eat your books
like a whole band of Carpathian tubas.
Herbert, my friend, I hear you've taken out the fiddle
What can I say?
I once knew a man who shaved his head and went to live
because they fiddle in bogs.
I fiddle also,
My fantasies hang like Spanish moss
outside my window and are always in my light.
My dreams swim like alligators
around my home,
of merciless clarity.
I look out my doorway
squared against the impeccable mitre of
and am moved to say,
I fondle my prick
and slobber over the lady in my mind
bending to my anger and my need,
wringing her hands,
salt air whipping her thighs.
I tell her:
Make an honest man of me!"
I look for her everywhere.
In bars. In banks.
And everything I think is cheap,
without her, if she isn't there, with her naked eyes.
From: SONGS FROM THE PAGE OF SWORDS
The antique clock
chimes past her breakfast
of pancakes, Canadian bacon
and lunch of Caesar salad
The page is still blank
blank as a poker player
as the still air cuts her
like a machete
deeply wounding her psyche
The silence washes over her
searing her senses
like drizzled olive oil
over wild salmon
As the chiming clock sings six
she savors spinach, asparagus
salad and sea bass
When the clock chimes seven
her fingers fly to heaven
Her computer is alive
with words, words, words
toppling over each other,
expanding and bursting
into lines, stanzas, pages
crafting into free verse,
as she writes into the night
sipping Red Zinger tea.
POETRY IS… (A Sestina)
Oh blue-green poetry
master of pithy words,
sometimes thy name is reality
gliding through war-torn streets of life
wandering through deserts, scaling mountain peaks
or luxuriating in a sphere of fantasy
But why create fantasy
with iridescent poetry
of angels, dragons and gnomes atop peaks
The essence of magical words
When the richness of life
Lies before you to pluck its reality
But what is reality
Yours may be his fantasy
sans all the rules of life
which can be culled in poetry
Choosing the right words
are paramount, so your verse can peak
Of course some peaks
rise higher than others. Reality
is king for a while, basking in truthful words
shoving all imaginative fantasies
aside, marching triumphantly through poetry
-- the manna of life.
But many things depict life.
Some do reach the highest peaks
through air-borne poetry,
while others seek truth in reality.
Still others debunk fantasy
reveling in ascerbic words.
But thoughts can be written words,
and can make or break a life,
steer one toward childlike fantasy
and soar eagle-like over peaks,
thumbing your nose at reality
through satiny elastic language of poetry.
Whatever your words, make them peak.
Scour through life. Find your truth, your reality.
Not the fantasy. Make it your poetry.
The Poem as Airplane Passenger
At first it’s really nothing,
idling in the terminal, too poor
for overpriced bar drinks,
marked-up fast food.
It has explored in every direction,
the numbing repetition of gates,
their waiting crowds growing
from the lines of linked seats.
Soon it will board. But now,
poem slumps in a vinyl seat,
a foot propped up
on the carryon bag.
First called to board, it takes
an aisle seat. Other passengers
bump its waiting head
with bags as they go by.
A large man squeezes in
the window seat next to it,
spills over the armrest, gains
weight on the tarmac,
his shoulder forces poem’s
torso into the aisle.
The flight attendant’s ass
brushes poem’s shoulder
as she checks the security
of every passenger’s seat belt,
readies the cabin for takeoff.
Poem is uncomfortable,
but says nothing. Takeoff
awaits. The plane will rise,
air pressures change,
turbulence jar this narrow world.
In this new atmosphere,
Poem will grow, its body
become something new,
filling every empty space.
relationships among her poems and otheration
artifacts, but also createseration
variants, etc. her poems *stutteredation* -
were produced individually or losteration
is their *inertia* of the poem. itteration
doesn't open her poems, perhaps, soteration
much as foreclose upon her body. anderation
poems ever written will becomeration
obsolete or forgotten as wonderfuleration
reads. but they don't work at the poemseration
or read other poets; there is the whiteration
surface of a mallarme poem or theteration
smooth unstriated line itself, theteration
literary text, the poem text, the texteration
of love and favorites, incipienteration
knowledge of authors not yet borneration.
there's a determinate fashionation,
permitting poetry but not embarrassmenteration
or at least one of the issues oferation
poetry: that of its materiality - itteration
opens upon a multi-dimensional grideration,
within which poetry itself - of theteration
poet - is enormous and indefinite, justeration
as the hypertext itself to comeeration
will have no poets and no philosopherseration,
something i praise. prose anderation
poetry are generated for the first timeration
with electronic and wilderation
interpretation, and a poetics of theteration
body that is at a variance based on ateration
style largely dominated by science; theteration
use of "poeticized" or convolutedation
prose could be seen as this: a lot ofteration
my students have written poetry andteration
want to be read. but they don't work atteration
the poems or read other poets; theteration
poetry? nothing more than "poetic faitheration."
an origin, and "faith" with a gestureration
invading _beyond_ the poetic witheration
its exhausted poetics, become a lasteration
resort, the conjunction ofteration
interpretations elicited by a hypertexteration
modeled by the poet [...] what iteration
remember about the poets and theteration
trouble i had with them was poets abouteration
these poets. poets trick me a lot and iteration
always fall for them, they ateration
least published some things as baderation
poetry. now i look back and see poetryation.
he was never particularly supportiveration,
part of a group i viewed all of themeration
reading all of them. i could neveration
believe in poetry ever again, includingteraion
my own; i can never use `poetryation'
without shuddering. i get suspicious ofteration
poetics which always seems to invokeration
language or a pause, a witticism in ateration
foreign language. i am a pariah for theteration
This poet walks into a bar, sits down,
and scribbles notes on a cocktail napkin.
The barkeep says, “Hey, did you know we named
a drink after you?” “Really?” the poet asks,
suddenly looking up. “No, but we figured
you’d be self-absorbed enough to believe it.”
What cheap cocktails might a poet inspire?
Fuzzy Navel Gazer? Arse Poetica?
Last night a bunch of poets got together
here and read their poems against the war,
not realizing that most Americans
would see a night like “Poets Against the War”
as a good argument for taking up arms—
if not against Iraq against the poets.
Before he died, one of my best friends
asked me, “How many poets does it take
to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to write
about the light, the other to gaze out
the window.” He was a photographer and knew
about the light, and teased me that the only
light I ever wrote about was Bud Light.
After my friend died, his wife asked me
to write a poem for his memorial,
which I read in front of a couple hundred mourners.
I felt like a creep capitalizing
on a captive audience, on my friend’s death,
catapulting my poetic career,
such as it is or ever could be. Poet!
At the bar there’s a flyer from the “Poets Against
the War” reading. On the back someone
has written, “Oh shut up”—no doubt another
poet impatient to take the podium.
The lights dim and the bar grows crowded. Shadows
crawl up the walls, and the bar grays with smoke.
I tip an Arse Poetica to my friend,
to those about to die in the coming war,
which poets won’t stop since poetry best
helps the living when honoring the dead.
from his latest book, BORROWED TOWNS (Word Press,
as bruised fruit
ether its either its (widening gyre)
pulled back and forth and there again
(she wrote us into the garden)
by its tapping it knew us. pin-pricked birds
judging themselves for the pile
it could have spun all night i could’ve (spelled)
(typed strong and pure)
as if as in– and there she
caught between the tinpan and the wind
typed by degrees. clack of pen on ink
letters liquid met. underbraided
its catch its girl its tiny clicking claws
under noon and where the child in the garden
turquoise alabaster emeryboards. worn smooth
(coming noon) esther
she watched the doctor’s
a doll’s hard proof you might at last be me
juggled in braids and plastic lids
as a bee might enter a sandal
baking soda fingers
noon hour spackle
her forward her backward
colt a cut a cult
chigger cheater aswamp aswap
collate her finer pages
injury as to fish
bird’s eye view and narrowly
i am much in need of
as e– as the letter e–
scintillating passages. a child needing a fish; as in,
her cap just happened to
esther took to breaking
take five a day unless
i otherwise mention
injure as in story
For the leaves of words that unfold in autumn
when final colors consume the trees like fire.
For the phrases of light that rim the leaves.
For the river that speaks through the forest
and syntax of stones and ferns and the ripple of light.
For the branches that paragraph the leaves.
For the tongues of flame that round the branches
and stones and the full stops of crows.
For the pages of leaves. For the chapters of light.
For the book of the forest that unfolds.
The voice of the palm fronds
draws its breath from the surf,
the measured exhalations
of waves on Estero Beach,
the cathedral of coconuts
on its bank, cantatas
scored with serranos and limes.
Julio translates the voice
with the nib of a pen
from a chair in a cantina,
the loops of his l's and t's
the stems of olives and figs,
his lyric Tequila
in a glass by his plate.
Eucalyptus and jacaranda
whisper the rolled r's
of the tide in his ears,
the prayer of the surf
hymned by paisanos.
Julio pauses to listen to the voice,
and notes in the layered
rosary of leaves
that compose the pastorals
of the evening
the ascending breeze in the cantina,
the lines on his page,
the tortilla o's of the moon.
Pitaya & cholla in the Sierra de Juárez
landscape the ridge of the Rio San Miguel
the desert reversing the sea
the communion of tamarind & cinnamon
on the tongues of arroyos
naming the townships Bajamar, La Salina, Punta Morro
after the sign of the surf
& voice the scroll of the tide in the blue fan palms
& the bleached shells of crabs on the black stone beach
In the orchard of Santo Tomás
heart bruised like a peach
gathers the fruit
the grapes bunched like a rosary
the pears wicked like candles
the sacrament of orange & wheat
in the grove
by the ruins of the mission
& reads in the leaves
of the valley
the book of his faith
yucca mesquite cirio agave
the salt vowels of the breeze
& the text of his litany
on the flecked sea
Under the plums of the moon
I am the laborer
by the wide strokes of the waves
I harvest these lines
the print of the gull & the piper
the ribbon of fig on the mesa
the ray of the brittle-star
brilliant as grace
my hoe is the stalk of a pen
my tablet the pages of corn
my rows are the swells of the Bahía Descansos
Bahía de Todos Santos
the mass of the dry scrub of Baja
the field of the provident sea
There's the waking up and being thrown out in the midst of words.
And then the words in the garden: the getting out, the go.
A rule of words, a pile of words.
Words stacked up (racked up) carelessly on a hill.
And words left behind but hanging off of trees.
Some words on the tip of a sword.
Some words still grim on t-shirts.
Words holding onto embankments while waiting and remembering.
Words in and out of place.
The unusual and glowering words-the tied up words.
But it's sudden.
It's the announcement, the way of seeing, newer words now
wrapped in spindled and gilded gold.
He wrapped the plants and columns in words
only to find those plants and columns unwrapped because of words.
His wings encased in words that now work with precision.
No more wasted or useless words.
Words bound up in the telling fingers of an angel.
Words in blue and gold blankets and in ladies' chambers.
Words on walls with all the same thing to say.
The golden words coiled around the neck of the woman
and around the neck of the room.
The golden words are tight and tighter still at the tips of a thousand feathers.
He will never be wordless.
The blue dress is a dome of words.
There are words hidden in slippers and bedclothes.
Words behind curtains and low stools.
Words written on the inside of eyelids and later sewn into books.
The Second Between
Jane Kenyon writes about it best
I remember as I get out of bed.
I try not to overfling the blankets,
but I’m mad at the night and my
listing brain ticking past its chores.
In the bathroom I don’t turn on the lights.
I feel the cat’s ribs and her extended frame
as she stretches on the bath mat.
Does she like my insomnia or just accompany it?
She’s a head companion, a scarf of thought, and a dream dictator.
She chooses to sleep almost exclusively on pillows and the back of the couch
with one back leg extended to rest against a shoulder or a temple.
I feed her and look out the window.
I hope for birds but hear none.
I write two zealous and verby lesson plans in blue ink and a string of post-its.
These are exorcisms really, detailed scripts, each overdone.
I keep myself from making a to-do list.
I’m writing this poem instead. I repeat to myself,
“You’re writing this poem instead.”
The sky is gray now and I nudge the cat with my pen.
Up close her white fur sticks out like fish bones—
tiny white filament floating at the edge of my face.
She bristles and in a moment is off the couch and at the window.
Is it morning?
Is she up?
Concerto grosso, blackest heart,
A mystifying natal chart--
All ignite the metaphoric art.
A planetful of pure desire
Is all a poet should require
To set the commonplace afire.
The heart that hides inside the form
Observes the words that fume and swarm:
No one lives above the storm.
previously published by Gettysburg Review and
forthcoming in the book, Stroke, from Persea Books
Why must art be
long, I ask?
Why not sizzle
up the task?
Largo, says the
snappy hands make
Latefall light in
muscled up in
this is why
heart lives in an
morsels of the
previously appeared in Celestial Bodies, LSU Press 2002
Not pylons estranged friends
Hold aloft electricity cables
Table reuses blessing
Small white graves walk along the road
Voice leads where meteor touches tooth
Sea defences made of clocks
Before acoustic cousins arrive
Loving old stories
All burnt porridge
One final telling
One carriage train slowly crossing from recto to verso
On the flooded tracks now of course my pen will not work
A knowledge of loose hair
Followed across rough seas
Story boils milk
Sweat wire wool
The woodland one week old the trees
Barely visible above ground the emphasis
previously appeared in part in Noon: A Journal of the Short Poem
RAIN ON THE ROOF
Rain on the roof
as the year dies,
these words not the
result of feeling,
but the words come
first and create the
reality that I could
until I wrote them.
Daytona Beach, 2004
For you reader,
I took a picture of my hand,
skin convulsing in wreaths of locomotion
under white-lighted halos,
my arm from the elbow
shaking—I could not keep the camera steady
long enough to find
the heart of the poem:
A movie stub,
a red stamp on my hand,
two couches floating in and out
of my imagination
as the three realms merged into one.
Enough nickels and dimes,
exact change for a
leaving photo foam.
I was in the middle of the compression,
stunned in multiplex cinema attached to the hotel.
a thousand ponds of thought
in the way.
I knew I’d lose this tiny angel of a poem if I ran.
The panic! thick
I did nothing but count the escalators of my descent.
but where is the third? I went up three
but the last is gone, risen—
What floor is this?
My mind, a damp fire, desperate for someone to listen.
O mighty ocean,
I called you
but you were busy, so I ditched you.
O Lord, I came to you second
as I was coming down from my cinematic high
when I saw a brown leather couch, dimly lit,
a stage prop
halfway down a dark hall. Hands
reaching into my pockets—a notebook!
The lights went out, the sweeper was run;
everyone was leaving, but I sat there like an injured man,
both ankles broken from mindful dancing.
Fragments of the conversation we had
the night before, the night when I was robbed
while sleeping, dreaming of you,
replaying our conversation
about how you still needed a veil,
how you were going to play your oboe in Church,
how you still wanted me to call you
around three. My Lord speaks tonight,
sending karmic love letters
along the jet stream
for all the things I have done to make her smile;
the Poseidon pulse washing in and out,
and I wonder when he will wash away this feeling
but it stays! it stays!
and I know she is thinking of me
and that the Atlantic Carrier
will make an exception and print
the complete poems of my heart.
After midnight now
as the great mother releases a filter to me, just tonight,
to capture the earth’s naked beauty,
to discover my own fortune,
unharmed by danger the night before
as my hands, now delirious, not mine,
are caught in verbalized nettings,
in the haze of earth as heaven:
I cannot contain my nervous joy.
I return to my bed, undress, then dress.
It is the time of lovers now,
and I know that you are kissing your pillow
thinking about where I am now.
My own angel muse,
milling around the veranda,
her wings covered in maple syrup;
I clean them with sea salts.
I let her talk about 60 watt bulbs as candles of the Menorah —
the meaning dims when I try to actualize
in this cave
in this city
where my pen moves with seismic certainty:
the tape runs,
the whole cosmos
knows it has to bow down now
so write boy write
because it’s fading when you think.
you are creating my heaven while I sleep,
am I in charge of the splendor of yours?
even now, re-imagining the shadowy figure
who moves in stealth
looking for cash in the sun-burnt brow of my wallet.
Aloe trails, the moisture
as my name floats somewhere on a cell phone with a low battery.
The panic of your name,
allowed loose on the beach
The wall against your back
is my back,
the split seconds you woke during the night
were my kisses.
This is me at my best, my holy time traveling done,
your chest heaving from the pollen in your heaven.
I am working on that.
I am working on that.
You, take the picture, take it, here, now, and now go
where I go when I go to sleep
to see what she has done with my garden—
I do this for the reader,
glass marbles, blue and green swirls,
blown up, passing around
rolling rolling rolling
in my mother’s bathtub,
the one with the claw feet that no one ever bathed in,
the one we had built for looks,
where I leave you for the night.