Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fare thee well, my honey

I knew if I waited long enough the world would end,

the pessimist said,

and lo, it was the knowing that did him in.

And if I had wings like Noah’s dove,

I’d fly the river to the one I love.

So fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.

Friday, December 30, 2016

after the bath

you draw with your fingertip
on warm naked skin
and then call the poem a rose

Thursday, December 29, 2016

I like the idea

I like the idea that there’s an idea. In the bare trees of winter.
In the wise-hungry birds. In madness and mittens.

Out past the graveyard. Have you seen them?
How they roost on the branches of frost-bitten words?

And they’re off. And I like the idea that there’s a generous palm.
In a snowy statue a beating heart. That all is well in the world.

But you tell me a time comes. And another. And then another.
And I tell you, all of the times are one time, and the one is none.

You tell me apples are not oranges.
And I tell you how much I love them, naked and bleeding.

You are beautiful. You tell me many fine things.
Very well. I confess. I live in a dream world. In a world of dreams.

You smile. I’m your puppy. Your goldfish. Your child.
And I tell you, dig deeply, run freely, be wild.

The idea that there’s something hidden and something revealed.
Like the distance we imagine between us is healed.

O dear one. Such a steep climb. So many graves. What a fool I am.
In the marketplace you would give me a penny and be done.

But here we are one. Masculine-feminine. God.
And the moment we have waited for is finally come.

When ideas aren’t needed. Take me up. Lay me down.
Bid me farewell. I am your bones. You are my tongue.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My bookish year

During the past few years, I’ve kept a detailed record of my reading and shared it annually as a quiet celebration of the printed word. This year, though, the list fell by the wayside. Making it simply didn’t seem interesting or feel necessary. You know I read, I know I read. You know I collect old books, and I know it. As for remembering what I read, that has never been a big concern of mine. I read it, and, like the very life I live, I love it, I savor it, and it goes.

Still, there were a few highlights this year, beginning with the Sir Thomas North translation of Plutarch’s Lives, which I enjoyed immensely in a beautiful limited edition published in 1928 by the Houghton Mifflin Company and printed in eight volumes, in its original spelling, by the Shakespeare Head Press at Stratford-Upon-Avon.

I also read all of Thackeray’s major novels.

Since July, my book-reading has been almost entirely in Spanish. This change in gears caught me completely by surprise. One day, I simply decided out of the blue that I was going to switch languages. I have no real goal, other than fluid reading, proper pronunciation, and reasonable comprehension. It’s going quite well. I’ve read books for children, books for young adults, a translation of Machiavelli, several volumes of literary criticism focusing on the novel, from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth, and a few other things. This quiet, solitary process gives me great pleasure and satisfaction. It has revealed to me a lot about learning, and about how I learn in particular. Don Quixote is waiting in the wings. No doubt Cervantes will have the last laugh, but what could be more fitting?

Anyway. There you have my bookish year, in all its vague and unremarkable glory.

Canvas 814

Canvas 814

December 28, 2016

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Symphonies and bridges

Deep down, you know it’s all true — the war, the poverty,
the symphonies, the bridges, space flight, the cello, the monastery,
the pilgrim, the wind chime — and you know it’s perfect
and sacred just as it is, as right as a recipe
written in your mother’s
own hand,

oh dear lord look at you, where have you been?

out playing, out sleighing, out walking this land,
out in the moonlight, seeking the daylight,
out being a child and being a man,

sit down, then, but first wash your hands,
and I will clothe you and feed you
with all that I have,

with symphonies and bridges,
and sugar thrown in,

with love and with riches I still can’t explain,
but deep down, I know it’s all true,
and that’s what I give, and that’s what I am.

I get up, and what do I find

I get up, and what do I find, but the sweetness of pain and infinite light,
nothing to lose, nothing to gain, and everything right,
as reigns in this world this death and this life,
this hurt and this strife,

I get up,
and what do I find,

but a star so bright I am gloriously blind.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

O holy night

I do love the short days, the early closing in of the dark, the long nights beginning in the afternoon, the afternoons even earlier on the rooftops through the firs. There is so much light in everything everywhere I turn, in objects, faces, and books, the darkness in its abundance and wealth seems to me like rich chocolate, like kissing, sightless and soundless, and wholly and holy through touch.

Somewhere around there

Ten. Maybe twelve. I don’t know. Somewhere around there. And so the shaving mug is a good fifty years old. I say shaving mug, but my father never used it as such, because it was too small. It was so narrow inside, his round Colgate soap couldn’t even rest on the bottom. What he needed, and what he already had, and had been using for years, was a heavy coffee mug, as wide almost as it was tall, with ample room for vigorous brush-action — ah, that sound, I remember it well. Anyway. That’s what I gave him that year. He liked it well enough for its form, though, and who wouldn’t, really? A mug with an old Ellis Island sort of face, part Greek, part Norwegian, a little French — he could be one of the family. And is. Do you understand me? No worry. No matter. He’s here among my books, atop two old smelly German volumes published in the 1830s, looking at me, through me, and beyond, out the window, down the street. Waiting? Content? Both. That’s it, Pa. Nice. And easy. Oh, how I love your dear mug.

Canvas 811

Canvas 811

December 22, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I forgot to mention

Snow. And then a hummingbird at our kitchen window. A flower inside, on the windowsill. Begonia. Pink. Tiny yellow center. Poised. About to fall. The bird, right up to the glass. Pondering the impossibility. The implausibility. Next, a sudden shift to where I was standing. Eye to eye. Face to face. Graceful space. Present tense. Presence past. Winter fast. And to this place we come at last.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

winter walk

these brittle leaves are hands, and faces,
and spirits — and now, in this land gone cold,
only wings will save us from ourselves

Canvas 808

(click to enlarge)

Canvas 808

December 18, 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

snowflakes are kisses

snowflakes are kisses

as we statues well know

what the cold world misses

is love that is slow

as this bliss is

Thursday, December 15, 2016


your eyes are a dance
and their veils
make a fool of my face

by choice and by chance
in any case

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Canvas 805

Canvas 805

December 14, 2016

My first snowflake lesson

On days like these, I remember my first snowflake lesson.
Simply breathe and fall, my teacher said, And don’t worry about
if or where you land.

And then she placed my hands on the piano keys,
and I began to sing. That’s it, she said.
And now, let’s fall again.

And I’ve been falling
ever since.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I love the little chores

I love the little chores, and think not a one beneath me. Dishes, dusting, washing, sweeping, wiping, cleaning. Indoors. Outdoors. Rooftop. Windows. Garden. Gutters. Worn out rugs. Scratched floors. Blinds. Corners. Each says, “You are here. You are lucky. You have food. You have shelter. You have shade. You have warmth.” I commune with keepsakes. I admire the wear and tear on our old family silverware, the chips in everyday cups my parents used and that we still do. To me, housework is a time to marvel at the beautiful, mysterious lives of what are thought of by many as “ordinary objects.” It is not a job to do, but one more opportunity to be grateful. I never say, Now I’m writing, Now I’m drawing, Now I’m dreaming, Now I’m cleaning, Now I’m shopping for groceries. I say, Rejoice. Each breath is a poem.

Monday, December 12, 2016

He took the morning in his hands

He took the morning in his hands and said it was an orange.
I’d never seen one peeled that way. He offered me a slice of daylight.
I remember the way it felt on my tongue. Papa, I said, Tell me,
Is this really the sun? He laughed. Yes, he said, As long
As we’re young. He peeled it up. He peeled it down.
He peeled a house. He peeled a home. He peeled
And peeled, and then he was gone.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Akitsu Quarterly, Winter 2016

like raindrops
too many treasures to count

Akitsu Quarterly
Winter 2016

fortunate to contribute, proud to subscribe

Canvas 804

Canvas 804

December 11, 2016

And when I say you are all I have,
I mean this world,
and the way you hold it in your hand.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Canvas 803

Canvas 803

December 10, 2016

From a wise old man in a child’s body,
to a child in a decrepit frame, as ash is snow
and hill is plain, and one is flower,
the other rain.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

When I stand

When I stand, I marvel at the almost-feeling where my appendix used to be. It’s as if its ancient forgotten function is still in silent operation, or willing to be. The faint dimple of a scar left behind after its removal some thirty-odd years ago is like a baker’s thumbprint in oven-ready dough. It reminds me of our family doctor and surgeon, who liked to study his patients over his half-lens reading glasses, waiting to see if they understood the humor that permeated his being and which rose to the surface in the subtlest ways. Quite simply, you had to be alert. You had to be ready. You had to realize that the gurgling sounds in your innards meant that the entire universe is predicated on humor, even as its foundation is musical, and its fleeting nature is represented by wings. And when he passed by our house in the country in a hearse on his way to the little Adventist cemetery at the corner of Road 64 and Avenue 408, where dust prevails and coyotes howl, we removed our hats and said he was the best doctor the town ever had. Dead at sixty-six after a clean life, a man who knew us inside and out, and who said my father’s gall bladder was beyond his surgical ability, meaning my father himself. Well, you see now why I marvel, and how. Ripe and ready to go, I could just as well have been dead at the age of twenty-six. As I’ve said often since then, I’m living on borrowed time. Half-joking, of course, but completely serious too, because each and every one of us can go out like a light this very instant. And I must say, that is one of the things I love best about this life, this grand poetic recycling experiment, this almost, not quite, surely it can’t be, but must, because it is and it isn’t, all at once. And in the cemetery there is a thumbprint, if you know what I mean, and we’re all in the oven. When I sit? that’s another story.

Between the ivy and the big rhododendron

Yesterday morning in the kitchen we were talking about our old cat, Joe, and how at peace with the world he was in his declining years, which he spent in our backyard staring off into space, simply listening and taking it all in — the bird song, the sounds of the neighborhood, the opening and closing of doors — and what good fortune it was for him, and for us, that he was so calm and secure in his present absence and absent presence. He died and was buried on a cold night in November. I rake over him every so often, lightly, through the fir needles and birch leaves between the ivy and the big rhododendron, near the massive fir root that keeps his grave from floating off into space, and when I do I always think of him, his life, and his funny ways, and know that he too was, and remains, one of the countless angels in our lives. And anyone who thinks human life has more value than a fellow creature’s of this earth, is sadly missing the value of his own. But that misunderstanding can change in an instant, and will, and the revelation will be grand — like a poet’s cup of tea when the last and best of him is up in steam.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

So many angels

So many angels in our lives — the doctor, the mailman,
the cashier, the bell-ringer, the child, the parent, the friend, the adversary,
the barber, the field hand, the writer, the artist, the nurse,
all creatures wild and tame, rocks, waterfalls, deserts,
trees — there when we need them, sweet mist
when we don’t — and suddenly,
that moment we realize
we are angels

and that each time we meet,
in flesh, in pixel,
in print,

we are on a timeless mission,
in the right place, in the right moment,
and that there is no way and no need to resist,

O dear ones, our innocence.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Canvas 801

Canvas 801

December 6, 2016

I found a poem with leaves

I found a poem with leaves where commas might have been,
or so I thought, until I read the limbs, which suggested deeper roots,
with patient influence, like my grandmother’s handmade quilt,
and so I read and read and read, and warmed my knees
with the voices of her hometown Swedish friends
just as the snow began to fall, their breath
my life her hands your love
so pleased to praise
and sing
it all.

Monday, December 5, 2016

That little bit I say

That little bit I say before it gives way
beneath its own weight,

and the icy wind upon the face
of the statue I’ve become

in this garden
of wonder,

O dear one,

grace alone
can make the blood run,

love erase the trace of stone
and free the dove

I once was
winging home

before more words were spoken.

just enough snow

just enough snow on her limbs

to make the light dance

of words