Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Poem I Wrote Is Glad It Missed the Train

Songs and Letters, Volume 17, Complete

About these poems

The seventeen short poems grouped here were written in a nine-day period near the close of 2007. To me, each word they contain is a kind of love letter. Is it any wonder, then, that, by the very act of reading them, I imagine you tying a ribbon around the whole sweet bundle?

The Oldest Poem

The oldest poem, the very first poem,
the poem which still lives and gives birth
to all other poems, is called being here.

December 19, 2007

The Newest Poem

The newest poem is a baby bird,
pushed this very moment from its nest
by its hungry brothers and sisters.

December 20, 2007

The Poem My Mother Wrote

The poem my mother wrote
is a bright warm kitchen that smells
like the relatives are coming.

December 21, 2007

The Poem My Father Wrote

The poem my father wrote
is a long vineyard row on a winter day,
still waiting to be pruned.

December 21, 2007

The Poem My Grandfather Wrote

The poem my grandfather wrote
looks a lot like a walnut,
and has a shell every bit as hard.

December 21, 2007

The Poem My Other Grandfather Wrote

The poem my other grandfather wrote
wears suspenders, smokes a pipe,
and sleeps outside on summer nights.

December 21, 2007

The Poem My Grandmother Wrote

The poem my grandmother wrote
would taste good even without raisins,
but I’m glad she put them in.

December 21, 2007

The Poem My Other Grandmother Wrote

The poem my other grandmother wrote
is a thirsty doe sniffing the rocks
where its favorite waterfall used to be.

December 21, 2007

The Poem My Best Friend Wrote

The poem my best friend wrote
would stop Van Gogh and make him
want to touch it with his hands.

December 22, 2007

The Poem My Uncle Wrote

The poem my uncle wrote
came home alone after the war,
not the same poem as before.

December 22, 2007

The Poem My Hometown Wrote

The poem my hometown wrote
tried suicide when the old city library
was torn down, but it was saved
by the water tower.

December 23, 2007

The Poem My Piano Teacher Wrote

The poem my piano teacher wrote
brought flowers all the way from San Antonio
to California, just to give to me.

December 24, 2007

The Poem My Neighbor Wrote

The poem my neighbor wrote
is a private curse uttered
beneath an old magnolia tree.

December 26, 2007

The Poem the Sky Wrote

The poem the sky wrote
sounds much different
when it’s sung on a cloudy day.

December 26, 2007

The Poem the Tree Wrote

The poem the tree wrote
is a solemn oath
whispered from leaf to leaf.

December 26, 2007

The Poem I Wrote

The poem I wrote
is glad it missed the train,
because that’s how
it met you.

The poem I wrote
also knows you have to go.

The poem I wrote
is this place in time,
before everything
is rearranged.

The poem I wrote
cries when the whistle blows.

The poem I wrote
is everywhere I’ve been
since your footsteps
died away.

The poem I wrote
is the last thing I’ll ever say.

December 27, 2007

The Poem You Wrote

The poem you wrote
somehow tells the truth about me
without sounding cruel.

Or is the poem you wrote
a poem about you?

December 27, 2007

The Asylum Poems

About these poems

The Asylum Poems came into being in 2007 while I was taking care of my mother, who was battling Alzheimer’s Disease. The cycle of twenty short poems comprises the whole of Volume 15 of my Songs and Letters, a much larger work begun in 2005 and completed in 2009. The poems were written early in the morning at my mother’s house, in a small bedroom facing the overgrown backyard. Fir trees, rhododendrons, wild blackberries, ivy, mushrooms, spiders, squirrels, all of them often dripping wet and blessed by Oregon’s gray fall skies — it’s no wonder that now I find, upon a fresh perusal, that these poems begin with rain and end with a miracle.

Rain at the Asylum

It’s raining at the asylum,
and the spiders have come down
from their webs — all but this one,
which dreams of one last meal,
or prefers to drown alone. 

October 20, 2007

Peace at the Asylum

An army of penance-minded soldiers
bearing clean white sponges arrived in the night
to collect rain from the street — I heard them
tapping on their little metal pans, their feet
aligned with joyous wringing, bringing
peace, sweet peace, to the asylum.

October 21, 2007

Letter from the Asylum

Every day, I imagine something different
painted on these walls — a two-way mirror
that lets you in, but never lets me out.

I imagine your surprise, and relish
our wayward conversation —
but you would have been wise to run.

Today we’ll write a letter home,
explain it all in silent prose
as vivid as a child’s daydream.

Should you care, I’ll show you
where to sign your name —
not at the bottom, but in your brain.

Foolish as it seems, our loved ones
will pretend to understand —
and for that, we will always pity them.

October 23, 2007

View from the Asylum

In a ragged, leafy space between rhododendrons
where the ivy was chopped down, in a place not unlike
a room, gently lit by autumn sun, random-sown,
my very own pure white mushrooms, their faces wise
and undisturbed, strength derived from a single
common root, like every unsaid word here at the asylum.

October 23, 2007

Cold at the Asylum

Poor little bird, you bear
a great responsibility,
bringing winter
on your

October 26, 2007

Dream at the Asylum

Have you ever wondered how, no matter where you are, your dreams are able to find you? They’re not always in your head. Dreams can enter through bolted doors. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve heard them roaming the corridor. They cling to a person’s clothes, like dust, or fingerprints, or mold. Many are shared, like germs passed from host to host — even this one, which finds me holding up my poor dead father, who has returned, and is too weak to stand. Sit down, my friend. Sit down. Tell me, why have you come back again?

October 30, 2007

Sleep at the Asylum

Sleep is the ocean, and the ocean is full of sharks. The sharks open their mouths and swallow the ocean. But the ocean wants to be swallowed. It wants to be known to the sharks in this way. It wants to be remembered by them. Sleep is the ocean, and when they open your door, the ocean empties out onto the plain and laps up against the other doors with the great thudding of sharks, the bumping of their heads against tarnished steel, and the sound is loud and long and dearly familiar, like Fate pounding her drum.

November 2, 2007

Remembered at the Asylum

The birthday of a friend
who died

fog at the cemetery

the same place
on a summer day

a narrow road
that led away

never to return

November 4, 2007

Bells at the Asylum

I don’t know which church it is

but there’s a field
in between

and in the field a man
without a name,

looking this way.

November 4, 2007

Mirror at the Asylum

If you look long enough
you can see yourself in any object,
any face, looking back,

And before you turn around,
you can see yourself
walking away.

But you tell no one,
because the distance
is too great.

November 5, 2007

Supper at the Asylum

This room is like a great cathedral
when the people have gone
and the tired priest
takes off his robe
and eats alone

haunted by symbols.

November 7, 2007

Bath at the Asylum

The metal handles squeak
like those on our old tub at home.

The smell of rust: one for hot, one for cold.

My mother’s random cigarettes,
ashtray on the window sill.

I never saw her smoke,
now I never will.

November 7, 2007

Train at the Asylum

Yes, your secret is safe with me.
Mine? Carry them away. Set them free.
They’ve long outgrown my need.

November 9, 2007

River at the Asylum

I watch my boots beside the chair
beside the chair my boots watch me
we wear our mud so patiently
waiting for the river to subside.

Through the night no lantern light
no voices reach the shore.

When morning comes the river runs
and hope flows out the door.

November 10, 2007

Visitor at the Asylum

There’s a visitor who never comes
to whom I speak with great conviction
and whose sane answers I hear
long after he is gone.

I’m waiting for him now.

November 12, 2007

Distance at the Asylum

Never have ten paces
carried me this far

each step a door
closed behind my back

November 12, 2007

Bread at the Asylum

Miller, I beg of you,
grind me too.

November 13, 2007

Ghost at the Asylum

There it is again. The hand on my shoulder.
I used to turn around. Now I know better.
Never have I seen such pain in a face.
Or been so helpless to erase its misery.
As if I were to blame. Well. Maybe I am.
But what of him? Can’t he learn to share this room?

November 15, 2007

Gone from the Asylum

Light. Something has driven it away.
Incandescence in its place.
It’s not the same, believe me.

It’s like a memory without eyes.
An empty space through which you fall,
Cursed by what the sane pretend.

What happens when you land?
The buzz of a million useless questions.
And you’ve heard them all.

November 16, 2007

Miracle at the Asylum

This morning I discovered flowers
growing under my bed.

I’ve been on my knees
in a meadow ever since.

November 18, 2007

Monday, July 20, 2015

I’m Telling You All I Know

Before I add any more to this unsolicited pile of words, I simply must take some time to sort through what has accumulated; and, upon determining its relative worth, if any, put it in a more organized, slightly less perishable form. This will likely mean one or more additions to my Author’s Press Series, which has suffered (or perhaps benefited) from my inattention since my three-volume flurry of publication in 2009 and 2010.

For that reason, it will be necessary for me to step away from my online involvement for a time and focus on the work at hand. Granted, in the process, I may discover less of value than I have modestly allowed myself to expect; so be it. Whatever the result, there are a great many stories and notes to re-read, and well over a thousand poems (possibly twice that number) to assess; there remains, also, an unpublished novel, which trusted readers have said is at least as good, if not better, than A Listening Thing. And then there are the canvasses — who knows what, if anything, I should do with them?

Again, it is all relative. And since I am the closest relative — father, perpetrator, or what you will — of this mess, it is up to me to clean it up.

In the interim, beginning today, I will check Facebook for messages on a weekly basis. Email, the mode I far prefer, I will check daily. I flatter myself that some of you will want to stay in touch, and hope you will do so. Like reading, correspondence is my life blood. You already have my gratitude and respect; but for now — and I hope it will not be perceived as selfishly — I have to dig in, and deprive myself of your kind attention and efforts. I know, though, that I will savor them all the more upon my return.

Until then, you have my deepest thanks and warmest, very best wishes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fewer words

Fewer words, and fewer still — until you find yourself
rich pulp, seed blessed, sweet juice, expressed.


translated and edited by Marie Jenney Howe

Currently Reading

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Canvas 574

Canvas 574

July 9, 2015

So many words

So many words, running down your face
and neck and breast and eyes — and then you realize
they’ve dried — not to fade, or crack,
or die — but to seal the hurt
you once called



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

George Eliot, Illustrated Cabinet Edition, 1895

“This Edition, on Large Paper, With Extra Illustrations,
is limited to Two Hundred Numbered Sets. No. 91.”

(Click to Enlarge)

The Works of George Eliot
Illustrated Cabinet Edition in Twenty-Four Volumes

New York
Merrill and Baker


Saturday, July 4, 2015

a thread from the dress


a thread from the dress
of a dream not confessed

in your presence

the hem in my hand
where it ends with a hum

of my breath
in remembrance

Friday, July 3, 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Canvas 569

Canvas 569

July 2, 2015

This much, how much


This much, how much, you don’t know;
poetry, the joy of open eyes; memory, the joy of closed;
brief, the means of scant reply; of longing, longer,
than you suppose; grief, the chance to wings
apply, the dreams of open eyes,
now poetry, alone,
that flows.