“...it is surprising how the morning air gives one ideas!”
--Scenes de la Boheme
Facing the blank of the wall,
turning toward the window, distracted
by a Puccini aria blasting from a Speedpack box
at the Car-O-Van blocking the sidewalk--
a neighbor is packing up a life, all the odd
whatnots, curious thingamabobs,
those whatchamacallits. No passerby veers
from the bellow of the taped tenor,
from the pell mell of the sidewalk--each stops,
has to stop, heads ticking back and forth.
Words drift this way and that
in from the fussy street, and I am distracted
as another curiosity piece enters the scene--
a sea blue‘52 custom Ford pickup
pulling up to the curb, a woman
in a cracked black leather jacket,
in low slung jeans and velvet high tops,
hair a slick of purple pomade, singing,
singing along in a froggy single-speaker rattle
to La Boheme.
Flightless bird beneath a storm-scratched sky,
I try to chip out my own sound
beneath this canvas of noisy spring flyway,
but I am distracted by Our Lady of Lourdes
churchbells chiming in almost midday
and something else I am getting up to do
that I forget in an instant, yet something
curiously more important now
than facing the blank of the wall--
where corners web with dust.
appeared in Vermillion Literary Project Magazine
circling Lake Merritt in Oakland, California
and imagining Paris, France
This morning circling Lake Merritt, the birds
rouse the imagination with squawks, honks,
raspy cries. Slick cormorants line log booms
beating wings at mist, clumsy pelicans
slap at the water’s sheen, everything
awake on a snake of lake-light crawling
the gnarl of tree trunks--and Angelina
turns beneath her blanket on dewy grass,
turns there to kiss her lover on his cheek
as they rise there, as he calls out her name
like an urge, like a drive, like a hunger.
So in this poem name him Romero,
because you can. Imagine them instead
as they dance lakeside, Bois de Boulogne.
They dance lakeside at Bois de Boulogne
in Paris, France--dance with the same fluster
as birds circling in a raucous laurel
of wing beats, coos. But this is not Paris
but Oakland, California, and they
are homeless where sentries of city doves
preen at water’s edge on the lake wall’s lip
along a ducky little waterway.
This could be Bastille Day, could be Paris
dressed in pomp and flair, a firecracker
sky flushed in a blush of hoopla. Lovers
are the thing there. If you are not in love,
you will be, or steal into someone else’s,
too much Bordeaux too early in the day.
Too much Bordeaux too early in the day,
name them what you will--him Remy, call her
Adeline, because you can. That’s the thing
with poetry, it can pose lovers where
imagination wishes to have them
stir or waken or even dance around
in Paris. Here, part of the scenery
and art of invention, her hand in his
rests for now on her grumbling stomach
while a legion of pigeons guards the bank,
feet a polish of pink, eyes golden sequins,
garden varieties, yet necks lustrous
in a royal sheen of purple and green--
but this poem is not one for the birds.
This poem is not one for the birds, but
it is for that homeless girl blanketed
in this Paris of the imagination
wearing a wide-brimmed hat and scented
lavender, not at this man’s coarse and thick
hands grabbing mussels young gulls fuss over,
flurry of feathers caught in the brambles,
city doves strutting their velvet nightcoats,
pecking peanut shells she scrambles after.
She dances lakeside, Bois de Boulogne,
too much Bordeaux too early in the day
where a sweet rich napoleon calls her
with strong coffee all the muscle she needs,
someone else busy with birds in Oakland.
appeared in Many Mountains Moving VII:1
THE POET DRIVING
at the podium, drives
the crowd. And reeling,
as if taking on mountainous S curves,
or hydroplaning minefields,
the poet maps metaphors
in shag bark and hickory, staggering
the dappled sundown.
This could be
Kansas, Saigon, Mozambique, Peoria,
a road, bridge, underpass
where the poet dresses deathbeds
in thin sheets
The clenched fist
becomes an open hand,
fingers that point
press into prayer.
And our silences
grow ravenous for this.
We choke down whole landscapes,
drink in cloud bursts, throb
with the starlit sky. We lean into the words
like a slow dance pinned to ourselves
like a corsage, like a lover, like a poem,
like the language
first appeared in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
“...all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it...”
--from Introduction to Poetry, Billy Collins
You knew you were in trouble
the second you put the plate on the table--
those sesame snow peas and truffles
you drizzled with kumquat and ginger
to impress your poetry potluck writing group--
when he said, Not Chinese again.
You knew you were in-for-it
when he called your poem a travelogue of Paris
grinding down the wrong track
with its Kunitz epigraph fumbling at the gears
as he blasted, The old man got to wear
that crown of Laureate just for his age.
You knew, despite your mince and trim
and folding in its metaphoric light,
this poem would be tied to the chair
with a rope, have the life beaten from it,
a flabby bunch of bunkum flattened
with his belting, Where is the cri de coeur?
And you knew in the way you know
in a half-wake state when you hear a train
in the distance barreling into your sleep
in a blur of whistles and grinds and whirs,
its metal scraping rails in a still night, deep
in dark, its muffled blue note wailing.
You knew you must be dreaming this
standing before a train coming on headlong
at you half-naked there, a train about to slice
through what you peeled down to--
an awful tutu, mismatched shoes, feather cloche
you shouldn’t be caught dead in.
Then this man with a train for a mouth
tells you this is not a well-lit poem
and the guy donning laurels in the first car
misdirected it--that it’s rocketing
down the wrong track on a collision course
headed right for Gare du Nord.
And you actually thank this man, talking
with a mouthful of train, for his observation.
But you don’t write a word for days
then weeks as you focus instead your eyes
on a wind riding dunes hitched to a slice
of tangerine light, shapeshifting sunset.
You put your ear to the movement of earth
beneath a frenzy of shorebirds pecking the eyes
from a head of a beached seal there. And speechless,
you listen for a fading blue note of a train
in the distance, off to somewhere far away.
first appeared in Paterson Literary Review #32 with Allen Ginsberg Award Honors