An Uneasy Accord

It does me no good; violence has changed me.
My body has grown cold like the stripped fields;
now there is only my mind, cautious and wary,
with the sense it is being tested.
~ October by Louise Glück ~

The moment I knew
wasn’t when my phone
logged three miles
though I had never left the basement,
my notebook crammed
with verse I didn’t write,
or the day I couldn’t make the streets talk.
I don’t know why I demand
the signs tell me where I’ve been.
It does me no good; violence has changed me.

The moment dawned with light.
How long had I been downstairs?
I might have been tinkering.
The workbench lamp, swinging yellow, white.
At my feet, a shattered mug.
I wondered why I should hate the thing
why snails evolved such unlikely bodies
water boils in the kettle
every October day looks like May
my body has grown cold like the stripped fields.

The moment followed the clacking latch.
Between the stairs I saw slippers, one and two.
The way her ankles peeked
below her jeans, how she took coffee.
Are you down there, Hon?
I heard my voice reply
I don’t know.
The moment I knew
where once was whole body and soul
now there is only my mind, cautious and wary.

Some say they fear the unknown.
I read the dying astronomer’s
antidotes to fear of death.
Lying on her back those nights
she would swallow all of the stars
or drift to the beginning,
before space and time, before fear.
How to make such lasting peace
when I wake each day
with the sense it is being tested?


On Wordsworth’s Birthday

Each April, the returning host
won’t be ignored.
I could have opened this poem
with the sonorous croaks
of migrating cranes before
turning to daffodils.

One April morning,
I found myself writing
as I strained to contain
another dreadful headline
until I failed to find
the apt metaphor for a madman
gassing his countrymen.

Just once, let me wake
empty as a cool dry well,
carry my rusty bucket
over the dewy lawn,
shower the violets in rainbows,
turn from their trembling petals
and call it an empty day.


The Imperative

The Imperative

I no longer dream the same dream:
My heart sleeps, a tight fist of petals.
How can I live with myself?
At dawn, my quiet heart unfurls.

My heart sleeps, a tight fist of petals.
I recall how we danced in the parlor.
At dawn, my quiet heart unfurls.
When I was young, I knew the answer.

I recall how we danced in the parlor.
The truth is an untamed mongrel.
When I was young, I knew the answer.
I could dance any dance.

The truth is an untamed mongrel –
I discovered this myself.
I could dance any dance,
yet where you go I can not follow.

I discovered this: myself.
How could I remain unchanged?
And where you go, I can not follow.
This greedy thing grew inside me.

How could I remain unchanged?
I nearly erased all trace of myself.
This greedy thing grew inside me.
Now, I must answer the question.

I nearly erased all trace of myself.
I no longer dream the same dream.
Now, I must answer the question.
How can I live with myself?

Photograph by markthegrey, Benton St. bridge over the Fox River, downtown Aurora, IL USA

Quirks and Quarks

No Ordinary Bird

As I sip coffee on the deck this frosty Christmas morning, chickadees and nuthatches call at once from every direction. A chickadee lands within my reach, calls chicka-dee-dee-dee, cocks its head when a partner in a spruce returns the call. Calling again, it hops onto the nesting box my daughter and I built and mounted just days ago. It perches in the opening, hops to the deck rail and calls again. Always the calling.

This tiny mouse of a bird survives when many birds don’t make it through winter. Shelter in a tree cavity is not enough. Each morning the birds leave their shelter and spread out to forage, but they must find each other before the sun sets on the short winter days. They call out regularly to maintain contact as they move about the trees. Visual contact is spotty in dense coniferous forests, their usual winter range. By calling the birds can keep within earshot of each other and still forage. And by making occasional visual contact throughout the afternoon, they can quickly assemble into a protective downy huddle for the night.

The chickadees I hear next spring survived the winter’s polar vortex without high tech parka, boots, or gloves. Other species escaped the cold by taking wing across the Gulf of Mexico to Central and South America. As I watch this wee feathered creature peer into my daughter’s nest box, I raise my mug in salute. Nothing ordinary has ever evolved on this little planet.


Villanelle: I Am Greater Than This Darkness


Life: Still Life

Life: Still Life

Have you seen the still life: a slice
served up by the masters, just so?
One rosy apple, one green pear,
golden round of cheese, knife, platter.

An empty chair, the table set
as if it could be for you.
Or are you in the pastoral?
Lakeside figure, dangling brown feet.

Are you dreaming? bamboo rod,
spade sleep on the bank,
rustic loaf peeks from the basket
lined with blue checked cloth.

Orchard melts to meadow,
sunflowers, sky.
Silent mill expects a breeze,
Inside the stone cottage, a still life
where nothing changes.

Yet, the pear blackens against the hard bowl,
the apple caves where it struck the dry ground,
mildew dusts the cheese,
more yellow than gold,
and lines trace the figure’s face.

You cannot see what came before.
You wonder who set the table,
baked the bread, picked the apples.
You ask what will come when the season goes.

Who will take the seat,
Who will sow and who will reap,
who will dream, who will weep.
You cannot change what came before;
you wonder what will come.


A Poet’s Resolution

Of means, none silent as the candle

greetings, none soft as dawn

causes, none grand as the moth

to weave moonlight each night.

Of words, make mine such steel

that I too would render

wonder from darkness.


October: When to Worry

October: When to Worry

Today you would not write lines
on October like the musings
from your teenage brain.
You said the rosy sky was afire
and the smoky air was sad.
You smelled leaf rot (deep in your soul).
You marveled at pearly dew sparkling in morning sunlight
because that’s what dew does,
and that’s what a boy writes
the day he knows October.
He’s learning to write October.

It’s time to worry
when you see brown.
When you hear “the terminal sound
of apples dropping on the dry ground.”
You’re going south the day you see geese flee, sunlight fail, green grind down.
You’ve got bigger problems
than gray wind and dry rosehips.

You’ve pulled out of your dive the day brown becomes cinnamon,
when October nods, slips into red, and Autumn creeps.
You’ve turned the corner the moment you see
Summer pause on sunlit hill,
weep, and move on.


Daydream: A Poem

I live in an era of stars
Long after their birth
Long before
The last dim red dwarf disappears

My home is a river of light
Bright pin-pricks
And pinwheels
Familiar figures of my night.

Even as I sleep I weave
Color-stained dreams
From threads of daylight.

But I am easily fooled.
The truth is I live in an era of darkness.

The truth is one moment
Of starlight in an infinite
And expanding black pool
And the blessing is this I forget

The Gift

Peonies remind me of June and my grandmother, whose garden was ruled by these grand blooms. Here’s a short poem I wrote during an early morning walk some years ago, and revised over the years.

The Gift

In my final hour
give me one June dawn,
the hour of leaf-light
candle glow,
of rising chorus,
heartbreak and promise.
At last I will know
the color of June,
by naming make it mine.
I will whisper its name
to another,
take my place
in the unbroken chain
of every gift
received and passed
linking the first dawn
to last.