Monday, November 28, 2016

Poem 55: Exactly This

Still, the steam rises from the roofs in the morning, like breath.
I sit here at my little desk and look out the window in silence
and notice there is a humming in my ears.
The simple lack of noise is terrifying, until I
remind myself that I can hear the birds and the sound
of my fingers, typing. This morning, in my rounds,
people asked how I was doing, and I couldn’t look them
in the eyes.

What I see is not pristine. There are layers of ugliness and decay:
the still-gray side of my garage, the chain link kennel fence, and the
weed maple trees that hold it up, even though the neighbors’ fence behind us
fell down.

These are not the subjects of poems, people tell me.
You are far too sentimental. But what am I supposed to do?
It is the bird songs that save me, every morning, but only
when I listen for them. They sing even though I don’t fill
the bird feeder. I fail in my responsibilities, I don’t keep up
a respectable household. There are flies in the basement,
like Beezlebub, whatever that means. I can’t stand the word
heathen, even in jest. Orthodoxy never seemed a friend to me.

I like the idea that the sun releases the frost, and you can see it.
It is just a thing that happens, I know. But I like to watch it.
I hear dogs barking in the neighborhood. Cars drive by.
Sometimes, I think the limit of my courage is to be quiet and listen.
Even though I’ve heard people shout that exactly this
is the wrong thing to do.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Poem 54: October on a Napkin, Somewhere

You don't need to tell me
I'm mediocre, white;
I know that in our brief seasons,
We lose our green and become
Vibrant and hallow, we sing
Red, gliding into orange.
Who should I blame
For just standing here,
Romanced by stone walls?
Fire, fire is the answer.
I am in love with my own

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Poem 53: Near as I can tell

Near as I can tell
being a poet means
sharpening a pencil
at 2 a.m. by lantern light
with a jar of hard cider
by your side, because 
you can't sleep.
It's that you think this
is a good idea,
that you want to write down
the sound of the saxophone
playing at the top
of Poet's Seat Tower
one summer night, months
ago. Pencil shavings
are deliciously analog, 
and it's better than worrying
about the price of cord wood
or what your wife said
to you last night, in a fit 
of pique. You think
of mussels, blue cheese,
wild apple cider.
You think of yeasts.
You think of the meaning
of spirit, what is left
after the fermentation is done.
It all looks better
by lantern light -- all the breaks,
all the lines. You can't sleep
because you're fermenting.
The night is just the place
where it's only you.
The neighbors are all sleeping.
An old lullaby mix plays
faintly over the baby monitor.
It plays for you, like the saxophone.
The cider is half decent.
Yours will be better. It will taste
like the whole tree -- twigs
and all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Poem 52: For Jim Foley

“Beheaded,” I heard
on the radio in Canada,
driving home.

New York tabloids
stamp your name
in dark Helvetica.

Your death tells us
Everything they think
We need to know
About Syria.

Scrubbing the floor,
the rag I’m using was once
a t-shirt; it reads
“UMass Basketball.”

Once, I hit the shot
On the floor at half time
And climbed back up the stands
To high fives with all the guys.

Basketball, Boyden gym:
the gray standard-issue shorts
we wore then, writers
on the pick and roll.

You were fiction, I
was poetry. Our paths hardly
crossed. Only after grad school,
journalism called us both.
I went local and you, global.

In the newspapers now, you
are always wearing aviator shades,
flak jackets. In my memory, you
always had a square jaw, perpetual
shadow, that deep, gentle voice.

I didn’t know
you that well,
I didn’t know
we were almost
the same age,
I didn’t know
I should have been
paying attention
to the number of days
gone missing, to
the blue mosque door,
the Arabic graffiti on the walls,
the labyrinth of bombed out buildings
and rubble, the sound
you hear in the turret
when you take fire.

For you I’d like to drink away
the deadlines at father’s hours
at a bar in a sleepy town.
I’m convinced, no,
I’ve convinced myself you
were there, and I

I gave you five.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Poem 51: Letter to Brooklyn

I've walked
across your bridge,
worn your beer shirt.
Local. From this old river
town in the hills, to you
old river town by the sea.
The naval fleet passing betwixt,
an orchard with a Victrola,
bottles of bad apples, drops,
sparkling, foil, kissing.
Syncopated, discordant, blue.
Once, on the stairs in a walkup
what I wanted to say. But.
Know this. Out in the provinces,
some of us have stayed
amongst the moss and brick
and running. The water even

Monday, March 31, 2014

Poem 50: Spring Comes to the Candle Store

Tomorrow, it will be April, I said to the woman greeting us on our way into the store. Have we been here before? Oh yes, this is our indoor playground. Baseball hat, my two-year-old son said to me, back inside our front door, getting ready to go. Opening day. The flagship candle store is all animatronic singers, gunnite cobblestone floors, and twinkling lights on the ceiling. Today the soap bubbles blown down in the Bavarian evergreen grove are strangely comforting: at least here, the snow is fake and we can pretend winter is quaint. We change diapers, we meet Mommy, we stand on the bistro tables and watch the indoor fountain. It's spring, so I'm thinking of opera and frolic. Of Hart Crane in an apple orchard, drinking hard cider and listening to jazz records. As we walked past the towers of beach scented candles, Tone Loc rapped "you can be my queen, if you know what I mean, if you let me do the wild thing" over the store speakers. We buy nothing. We brought our own snacks. On the way out, the man at the door said, At least it's not snowing here. My son and I paused under the eave -- he was picking up rocks to throw onto the deck -- so I could point out the little green shoots poking out from the soil beds. Look, I said. We are almost there.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Poem 49: Grit

On a bluff above town, a man sits
In his car, eating French fries 
From a bag. The graffiti inside
The tower features a moth
And beckons you to jump.
I keep noticing the vinyl siding
Of the houses, crowded in
And leering at the street.
When do the crusty gray
Snow banks finally melt?
Where do you suppose 
That ambulance is heading?
The road bends; that's why
You can't see the police station.
There are two McDonald's 
In town. One next to the tire
Place with the inspirational
Signs. None of this goes
Anywhere. Always, you can stand
On the bridge, looking down
At the river and see that
Little island with the tree
That bends in high water.