Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Wrong Man

Clearly, he was the wrong man,
not that it mattered: he fit the sketch,
and, more importantly, the plan.
An innocent, a snap to catch,

he even looked the part: the clothes
they dressed him in, the sleepless stare,
you saw him, thought, “One of those.”
But it wasn’t him. They didn’t care.

The bruises didn’t help at all,
nor did equivocal reports
from school; those who did recall
him said he was obsessed with sports,

and of course they couldn’t find a priest
who knew him from Job. His former wife
implied he was a perfect beast,
the lone stain on a faultless life,

but couldn’t bring herself to say
exactly why. The neighbors allowed,
in their particular neighborly way,
that he seemed to live under a cloud,

although he’d always been at pains
to keep to himself and had never made
unfortunate scenes in the public lanes,
he did march in his own parade.

Still, something like this
was unexpected, until you thought,
then you wondered how you missed
the signs. It’s lucky he was caught.

Of course, he was the wrong man,
had always been. He was one
who never fit, whose life began
at odds with time and place and spun

on from there without a plan;
he walked the dog and belled the cat.
But clearly, he was the wrong man,
and you do have to pay for that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lieutenant Archer

Arched across Kansas the sentinel night
ticks with steel beneath the tall silence
of the sky, above busy silence in earth.
In this clear chill the voice of time
choirs across the galaxy a high,
immaculate harmony of lights that pose
a question to the black apse of forever.
I always walk a bit on nights like this
when I’ve had the duty, to decompress,
though I can hear the cold, vigilant silage,
sown teeth in the furrowed earth, poised
to rise like demons at the beck of aged men.

I shouldn’t think about it all so much.
It does no good, clouds all resolve,
but lately I feel a growing need to know
just where my fifty little suns will set,
whether at the turn of my key the souls
will rise in millions, call me to judgment,
demanding answers I no longer have.
Will I be able when the codes come? Act?
Or will I see in that blinding moment
the apparition of some gentle god
reiterating shopworn admonitions,
fail my duty to protect my soul?

Idle speculation, understand.
It’s all a drill. We do it by the numbers,
once or twice a week. At first you sit
braced for incoming at T-plus-six,
but soon it’s a chain of reflex, mindless:
you unlock the door, then you ring the bell.
If someone answers, it’s an exercise;
if not, the groundshear offers absolution
long before your conscience names you
history’s killer, avatar of chaos,
envoy of the bloody book of Cain.
Me, I’ll be glad when I get my orders.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


He took the path from Katmandu
(though he knew there was no path)
to seek a holy man who sat
alone up in the high places.

It was said he knew Everything,
this holy man, enough at least
to shrink from the world’s dizzy riddles,
an oracle completely centered
in the perfect flower of his being,
a lotus in the teeth of creation.

There was no office space up there,
no phones, no secretary’s books.
A hut, or a cave, a certain announcing
radiance would point him out.

After all, he wasn’t up there
to natter on at every passing shadow;
he was the very soul of saintliness,
strider on the illimitable stream.
So the pilgrim set out, all ways one way,
to find what couldn’t be found: couldn’t.

Snowblind, blistered, he picked the trackless
underpinnings of the sky
for seven years without a sign,
only the giant silence of Nepal.

Without hope, he went on. Then,
a miracle on a flat rock,
a metamorphosis: a black,
twisted root bled red
where a bird pecked, and the two eggs
in the nest were white, uncanny eyes.


The pilgrim threw himself flat.
“Master, what is the essence of life?”
He held his breath, afraid to look,
bit the thin, particulate wind.
The root seemed to move:
“Boiling oil on fast fire.”
An enigma for innocents.

“The essence! Please! Teach me the essence!”
Nothing for an hour. Then,
gravel on a frozen slope:
“Hungry, eat. Tired, sleep.”

“Tell me! You must!” He raised a stone
as if to crush the knowing head.
It was still. The mountain rattled on.
Truth was a scorched angel in the passes.
The pilgrim then regained his knees.
“But please. Am I unworthy? Please.”

“All I ask is that you teach me.”
His tears froze as they fell,
three grains of rice. The master said:
“The rose is not red, nor willow green.”

The pilgrim turned his face up
to the shrouded peaks and knew despair.
But years later, D-train riders
hardly noticed when some guy
you wouldn’t half see in the rain
dropped his books all over the floor

and giggled like a loony
back and forth, back and forth,
Coney Island to Bedford Park,
King’s Highway to Katmandu.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


She dreamed, she said, a white horse
came out of the night to circle the house
at a fitful canter, stopping only
to call her in a voice pitched
between pleading and command,
until she took that mane
in her fingers, woke to a pillowcase,
a sense of loss, while something wild
flashed to the horizon in her head.
Dreams are like that. I don’t suppose
we ever gave it a second thought.
I wouldn’t think of it now, except
for the way the house rings with quiet
as the curtains flutter in and out,
the hoof prints flocked in the broken grass.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Soldier Boy

He hadn’t learned to walk; he’d learned to drill.
They dressed him up in camouflage, got
him a tiny rifle and combat boots, a hard
plastic helmet, sent him to patrol the yard
while Sergeant Dad pretended to be shot,
dead in his folding chaise with beers to kill.

By age six he’d killed a thousand men
or more, but never a woman, never a child.
He’d fired tons of ammo into the Nam,
tossed a million miracle grenades, and then,
in a last ditch, squared his jaw and smiled
and gave his life again for Uncle Sam.

Now he's dusting off the desert sand,
back from Baghdad, shy a hand,
both feet, and one clear eye,
learning to drill on his new hardware,
a spanking new, spring-loaded pair.
Vets with hands applaud as he totters by.

So all’s well, but for the crazy dreams:
every night he begs the president
to give him back his feet, never mind
the rest, but that worthy always seems
to be too busy petting God to find
out where the missing body parts are sent

once they’re not connected anymore.
But somewhere in the Pentagon they wait,
tagged and sorted into stenciled crates,
awaiting orders to rejoin the corps
if things go south and mandarins have found
we need the extra boots back on the ground.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


She was bewitching then. On
the windowsill she sat, an arm
across her dragon, gaze turned
from the caves and deserts of his face.
At her throat hung the gold bones
of a fish, and in her hair
a small companion floated, gave
the sun back to the room in spines.

Fingers whispering along the sash,
she looked at me, eyes a thin
mountain wind. I felt my heart
consumed in me by birds that ate
and soared away before she moved.
The dragon laid a cloud of smoke
across the table as she stepped
from his coils to cross the room.

“That was good,” she said. “Yum.”
Then she plucked out her eye,
put it gently in my hand.
I’ve kept it all these years.
I can see through it almost as if
it were my own. But it rattles in me
like a window in a dining room
when the guests have eaten and are gone.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Crazy Poem

Once a crazy man
lived with his crazy wife
in a crazy little lane
down by the crazy creek,
and of their three crazy sons
the second outshone the third,
but Sonny number one glowed
with a pure, crazy light
by which they all could read
the crazy writing on the walls
all the livelong, crazy night.
And every day Man would jog off
to his crazy job in Crazy Town
as the boys went crazily off
to their bagpipe lessons, and Mom
would stay home to bake more
crazy, self-cleaning pies,
or cut up the clothes for quilts.
But one morning Mom--
six-two, two-ninety-five,
black stockings rolled holy
below the polkadotty dress, nose
broccolied by a patch of warts,
left deltoid tattooed with
a death’s head labeled “BARB”—
had had just about enough,
and showed up on a motorcycle
so elaborate, so exhaustively tiered
and bedecked, so encrusted with
such fully-matured, rococo madness
that number one son’s light
began precipitously to sputter
at the sight of it. Nevertheless,
they all climbed dutifully aboard
and roared away, like crazy.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Chicago Poem

Imagine a snowy street, broad as the grandest esplanades
of Europe, flanked by two low rows of dowdy brick,
powdered white, eyeing each other across the drifted snow
like Foster Grant contessas wrecked in some arctic sidewalk café.
Notice how everything is white, white, the steam-leached
fluorescence of the white enamel diner, one lit
window white. Inside, one taker bellies the white
Formica, eyes pinched on his turkey white, side of milk,
until the glacial waitress comes, trims the crusts.

Relieved, he hefts one white right triangle,
swoops, parabolizes the hypotenuse, chews.
As he follows with a sip of milk, a snowblind
cockroach staggers out from behind the napkin rack,
caroms off the pastry sconce, careens across the counter
toward his plate, black as a buffalo, big as truth,
feelers desperate to puzzle out the white, alien void.
Without the slightest flicker of hesitation the man sets
his milk down on the roach, bites a corner off his sandwich.

Thursday, May 03, 2007



she likes bleeding.
Our tablecloths are
stained with lust.
In first dusk
we gel into
a cool, efficient,
preparatory machine.
Prizes are produced:
applauded: torn.
Her eyes
faintly incandesce
as her teeth meet.


night flower,
in dark unfolds
her stark, electric
bloom. Eyes
obsidian refract
the chilled and shaded
commerce of her soul.
Love me. Love me... .
Famished tendrils
seek the heart:
encircle: twist:
consume. Fed,
she closes, withered.