A disbeliever down to the bone,
he kneels before the stunted tree
alone in the feverish desert
called sleep. Various offerings—
wells of ink, plaster statuettes,
pages yellowed by time and heat—
from those who, like him,
once hoped to be forgiven or healed
lie scattered around. No doubt
he desires the persimmon
seeds, some kind of constellation
to give mercy, mercy enough.
Such windfallen fruit.
Such impossible sweetness.
Nothing here, says coyote.
Don’t listen, says man. Believe.
When enough is spent, the sainted
tree seems to creak, seems to whisper,
on words reverently pronounced
as ritualistic appeasements,
only then will the buffalo’s head
propped here in the highest fork
listen and reply. A spoonful of maggots
swims in each ear and the slack mouth.
The man snatches lines from the wind,
uproots them along with the pale grass
and swallows alkali. Nothing.
He praises the wind’s countless
moods, that grass for its democracy.
Nothing at all. He strikes flint
for illumination and misses the mark,
drawing blood. One eye in the head opens
halfway. The wound is not enough.
Tonight the first poem will happen.
previously published in Poetry Northwest
The story reinvents itself
each night around the campfire.
Once in Ireland, for example,
upon a time some terrible storm
left a horse high up in a tree
or if someone lives by the sea,
then a seal. In the highlands,
a goat stands in, regardless
of what each has in common:
always a figure which has lost
its position in the appropriate world,
erased by chance or embellishment.
And when the wind blows through
the treetops, a baby and cradle will fall
out of one version and into another.
This tree could burst into flames
at any moment or be felled by an ax
wishing to carve more of its kind.
The story, though, goes on and on,
unafraid, untouched but changed.
previously published in The Bellingham Review