The Burning of the Whales
Fire never seems to mind
whether it’s the curl of a candle wick
or a bed with baby sleeping.
So it was with the whales
beached in Oregon
and the not knowing
what else to do
with the corpses.
If we were but fire
we would not mind either.
But we also are water—
even one drop of which
forms a tear.
Those on the beach that day,
who lit the match
and beheld the flames
on fiery wings rise,
they will never forget
the trembling of the sea
in their chest.
Most prefer pizza,
or a pub
where a barmaid named Gina
pours a cold one or two.
In poetry nothing
goes in the mouth
and the only jukebox
is the sound of the wind,
and a heartbeat
that turns out to be our own.
No one gets drunk from poetry,
or fat. Like I said,
there are only words,
and as we listen
there are not even words—
there's just the sound of the wind.
Magic Light (Winner of Lyrical Iowa’s 2012Norman Thomas Memorial Award)
Ansel Adams sits up
reaches for his camera—
his arm bony as a tripod leg,
for it is “Magic Light,”
the golden light of sunrise
But then he lays back down,
and focusing instead
through the lens of his soul
in the black box of his skull
he sees... all the light
that ever filled Yosemite,
or blazed the crosses at Hernandez.
And with his brittle jaw
with its few teeth remaining,
there in the dark room of a coffin
Where I Walk
I walk where the rusted car sits
at the edge of the field—grass high
as the fenders. The shout of the engine
and rumble of the road are gone
that now the grass is heard—chaff bells
chiming in the wind, and birdsong—bugles
of a feathered cavalry. Beyond the field
are trees, the earth sloping down to a stream
with water enough to hear what water says.
This is as far as I’ve come. No further have I
been. As many have not but a field mouse,
a hawk, an oak holding sunlight in its arms
and a poem, though not this poem,
but one you write in a field
not far away.
What You May Not Know about Frankenstein
Although he had not the hands to crochet,
the patience to build birdhouses or the nerve
to push a hook through a worm in the hope
of pulling a fish from the sea, he did write
poems and wrote often and late into the night.
Was it pain that made him write? The pain
of all those stitches, or shoes that despite their
size were still too small? Was it psychological
pain of social non-acceptance? Or the electricity
that years later still snapped between his fingers?
No, it was simply what his brain wanted to do,
the brain they dug up and sowed into his head,
it was just grave-robbing luck.
At poetry readings where everyone is welcome
he read his poems sounding like a man who
having fallen into a well and cried out for years
was now finally being heard.
Like this, there are many so-called monsters
with poems to share. The same is true of angels,
of gangsters, shepherds, anyone who fits words
like body parts together, revises, revises again…
until magically, beautifully, lightning leaps
from the pen and the poem opens its eyes,
sits up from the page, staggers into the world,
and whether it is seen as monster, or friend,
it is alive, every word it says is real and it comes
not from the grave but from the sky.
The Church of the Old Car
I’m on the side of the road, hood up,
watching the shiny cars pass, waiting
for a faded one, like mine—dented
with rust, to show the jumper cables to.
Someone who’ll look me in the eye,
who’ll say when I thank them—“It’s okay,
sometimes I need a jump too.
” Like this we of “The Church of the Old Car”
rise from pews of worn upholstery,
open our hoods in offering, and unite
through a pair of jumper cables—
common in the conviction that an old car
can get us there, and humbled, for it is all
we can afford.
And when the weary engine runs again
we rejoice—as in witness to any miracle,
and return to the road richer in brotherhood
and bolder in the belief—that by the hands
of providence on the two ends of a jumper cable,
we will make it there… in peace.
On 11/9 the Twin Towers stood up,
planes flew back into the sky,
and firemen throughout the city
ate pizza and played ping pong
on a day without fire, without
After 11/9 everything changed—
troops deployed around the world
came home and the makers of
weapons made flowerpots instead,
leaving enough in the treasury
to buy everyone flowers.
If you can’t see this, if you are yet
in the rubble of one day’s collapse,
then you need stand with that
which does not fall, to sit where
the earth is one with the sky,
and you too will be the maker
of flowerpots—and make them big
enough for the blossoming of all.
The Unmaking of Bologna
We grew up on bologna
and American cheese
on wonder bread—still
evolved, that years later
we read Rumi, voted a black
man into the White House.
While there are some yet
with bologna in their mouths,
the talk at the table is of planting
a garden and cleaning the yard,
even of going gift in hand
to visit a neighbor
no one has smiled at
in a long time.
The Irish Jig
In this dance
arms are not needed—
it’s all legs and air!
The head too—
fixed as a fence post,
while there’s nothing
the feet cannot do—
I tell you,
the Irish Jig
fills the ground
but even if there
we are free!