Saturday, September 29, 2007


In the end, his mind wasn’t right,
if it ever was. It was clear,
as he put his jeweled soap to flight
from the city’s summer parks and piers

that he was no longer there
with the rest of us, that he was one
with the iridescent membranous air
his wire wands stole from the sun,

the huge, oscillating spheres
in which a hundred others milled,
the tetrahedra stacked in tiers
until the twisted columns spilled

their remnant droplets to his feet.
He was perennial, a fixture,
his nest of wands, pans, discreet
tip jar, his secret mixtures

jugged, marked with painted runes,
but he imperceptibly became
as sheer as his diaphanous balloons.
We didn’t even know his name,

still less where he might live, or how,
what kind of life his small and few
contributions would allow.
He charmed us, that was all we knew;

we were blinded by his art.
An ephemeral phenomenon,
he drew the music of his heart
in films of air. Then he was gone.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Two brass monkeys
one brass bitch;
devil to pay
and no hot pitch.

Iron monkeys
stuck in a ditch;
devil to pay
and no hot pitch.

Golden monkeys
growing rich;
devil to pay
and no hot pitch.

Sleepy monkey
at the switch;
devil to pay
and no hot pitch.

All the monkeys,
which is which?
Devil to pay
and no hot pitch.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

Charles Tombe lost his wife;
the black angels swoop and drag.
His Rose, the flower of his life,
has strangled on a plastic bag.

A goat, she was his complement;
a truer heart was never born,
and he was never so content
as when he took her by the horns.

Her face was all an impish smile,
her sweetness brightened all his days,
at night she warmed their domicile
with her endearing, woolly ways.

Their love had been discovered by
her former owner in his field,
and in Sudan that means you tie
the knot: the banns were quickly sealed.

A modest dowry was assessed
by the local judge who married them;
their marriage vows were duly blessed
by clergy, law, and cherubim,

and all went well for Charles and Rose,
though life was hard and times lean,
would still be well had not her nose
been drawn to polyethylene.

But do not mourn for gentle Rose,
nor Charles, who’s not a man to worry,
all earthly things come to a close,
and she became a lovely curry.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Landscape With Still Life

And now the hedge crawls with roses.
Neighbor’s getaways, they smear
the sober privet, little lips,
calling in little pink voices.

Listen. The neighbors are laughing about it.
They sit on their pressure-treated altar
rattling tall, aluminum teas,
toast their luck at being themselves.

Meanwhile, their roses flee,
weak, unpruned, gone to foliage.
Listen. You can hear them purr,
soliciting, mewling love.

Oh, it’s wonderful here. It is.
The ranked pools of iced tea,
the decks of impeccable, rotless green.
All this. Roses, too.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Much Ado

If nothing else, Nothing’s plentiful.
The universe, to modern thought,
is full of it, a veritable
cornucopia of naught,

the matter that we take for All
a scant fraction of the whole,
including what we choose to call
“dark,” the mystery casserole

of particles we haven’t found,
grit we posit “Somewhere,”
lest good equations prove unsound.
Still, we know there’s Something there,

though even Something’s mostly not:
everything we see or touch
is virtually empty space; what’s
truly solid isn’t much.

Nothing grows at quite a clip:
the universe is fast expanding;
but sweet nothings from your lips
are truly Something, notwithstanding.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


A pointy-headed potentate
declared His closet out of date,
commissioned robes to be designed
with His divinity in mind.
The tailors ran Him up some stuff,
none of it nearly good enough:
to Him the breathy silks of China
whispered hints of something finer.

On pain of death He set His drapers
weaving bolts of silky vapor
and they did exactly that:
they brought the jaded plutocrat
a suit of air and stroked and fussed
until He was completely trussed
in nothing but His own belief,
wafting a matching handkerchief.

Light of Heaven, thus arrayed,
decreed a royal cavalcade
to show the population just how
comely was its sacred cow.
And so He rode His gilded chair
among the thronging thousands, bare,
while everybody played it cool
and noticed nothing. Enter Fool.

“He’s naked!” sang our barefoot boy;
“We’re history,” mumbled hoi polloi.
Anointed only gazed and said
a single quiet sentence: “Head.”
Someone took it from the street,
put it gently at His feet.
Awed, we watched His raiment flowing,
the silken grandeur of His going.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


It’s difficult to trust the trees,
the way they whisper each to each
in sibilant conspiracies
that almost verge on human speech.

Their daedal, implicated crooks
appear to watch us as we pass,
poised to catch us as we look
for roots that slither in the grass.

“We’ll be back,” they seem to say,
slipping gaudy colors on;
but man progresses day by day:
with any luck they’ll soon be gone.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Afternoon

You are sitting in your chair
watching sinuous
cadenzas of smoke in the
sun. I say the day
is too beautiful to waste.
You don’t answer,
but in a few seconds say
“It’s too beautiful
to stay inside. Let’s go out.”

Walking with you quietly
at dusk, I say how
brilliant the sky is in the
west, but find myself
alone, gaping, turn to search
for you, until, at
my blind elbow, you say how
brilliant the sky is
some spring evenings in the north.

Then, in our news-printed sheets
I listen to your
breath, careful not to wake you,
conjure faces from
the ceiling, but in a while
you mumble something
I don’t quite catch. From the edge
of sleep I say “What?”
You, awake now, say “What? What?”

Saturday, September 15, 2007


This morning
even the squirrels
were stretched out
on the fence rail,

the privet quivers
with the first
uncertain whispers
of winter.

the bitten crickets
are a single
blind beast of

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Let’s walk, beloved, weary girl,
through the massed September glory
easy in the careless whirled
couturier memento mori,
let’s smile in fall’s face.

Let’s find a snug place
in this divine deciduous fire,
learn the leaves’ abiding grace
in letting go to tumble higher,
learn to ride the appled air.

Let’s find a place and settle there
to watch our larking children go
imperiled to the world’s affairs,
and watch the maples gather snow
with ivy woven in our hair.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Lovers

In Mantua a busy building crew
unearthed another Neolithic grave,
which in itself is surely nothing new,
and this was like most others, save
that this one was inhabited by two.

Two who must have loved each other, by
the look of them together; they embrace--
their bones--like living people where they lie,
her slender fingers cradling his face,
his arm around her in a long goodbye.

Posed thus, they lie in state, our own,
youths, dead before their teeth were worn,
dead, but not by stick and not by stone,
whom ancient spirits thought it right to mourn
with the lovely interweaving of their bones.

Whether sacrificed or dead by chance,
they never thought to see the sky again,
could never ken their present circumstance,
but we see in them a talisman,
the dancers folded to become the dance.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Days diminish, nights grow cold
as consummation takes the trees,
we wander deep in blood and gold

that yesterday was uncontrolled
profusion of ascendancies.
Days diminish, nights grow cold

and now the brittle wind unrolls
a tapestry of ecstasies
we wander, deep in blood and gold.

Darling, we are growing old
for casual antitheses:
days diminish, nights grow cold,

the gentle pastures once we strolled
forget us when the rivers freeze.
We wander deep in blood and gold,

with ancient chapters to unfold
of winter’s snug felicities;
days diminish, nights grow cold,
we wander deep in blood and gold.

Friday, September 07, 2007

In Vitro

Mary Alice is her given name,
by all accounts she’s something new;
so say the ologists who framed
the test-tube tiger at the National Zoo.

To all appearances she’s fine,
as tigerish as one could wish,
without a single outward sign
of glove, syringe, or petrie dish.

But is she still a tiger in her fur,
or something not completely clear?
Is she the beast that tigers were
before the jungles disappeared?

She prowls her stingy habitat
for carrion the keepers leave,
jackal dressed as royal cat,
administrative make-believe.

Her kind is dying out, they say,
we had to take heroic steps
to save them for a better day:
Sunday afternoon, perhaps.

There in her stagy set she lies,
eye of the city’s feral roar,
her beauty conjured to imply
there’s room for tigers anymore.

Monday, September 03, 2007


You recognize the symptoms: spring,
when the dendrites out behind the house
hiss in their synapses news of the sun.

There is no green like this green:
plush, arrogant, greedy for sky,
a green to robe an infant czar

in manifest dominion while
the subtler tinctures take effect;
a green too green to last.

All through the thinner twigs
the ghosts of old composers forge
a metal, incoherent music;

elated squirrels dare anything;
even the mice sifting the litter
seem glad to fatten for the cats.

You see these things. You register
the small and interchangeable
delights enacted every year,

as though the pageant of renewal
were a scene set to catch you out,
convict you of your winter heart.

Look: already the ghost: a scrim
of gray gauze, bearing the face
of a deposed and neurasthenic monarch,

a face very like your own,
hovering outside the glass
to cry murder as the sun goes down.

This is no dark wood.
This is the rank wood of knowledge,
busy murmur that refutes our lives.

Listen: this is the murmur of the world.
This is the buzz of life, or else
a flickering fluorescent light.


But, inevitably, the telephone,
then the door, will be enlivened
by one you ought to recognize.

Certainly he seems familiar—
you’ve seen that laurel wreath before,
atilt like a tour-guide cap,

Virgil via Cecil DeMille—
the question is, familiar to whom?
Invite him in. He may have news

of the one you thought you were before
you woke to the shrill choir of knives,
the shook rattle of plastic sleep.

Face ashier than yours, he’ll sigh,
tell you how the nobler Romans
ran against their honed bronze,

or lowered their goose-quilled brachials
into warm, oil-scented baths,
how death’s simply a debt we pay

in battle or bed, at altar or wine,
to ransom dignitas awry
or simply to cheat a mad emperor

of another moment’s entertainment.
No doubt he’d find it hard to believe
that for you it’s a meaner matter still,

stripped of the frills of circumstance,
a keening wheedle in the cells,
salesclerk haunting your sleeve.

Keep mum. Soon he’ll be tired
enough of your inertia to depart,
wishing well, advising rest

as though there were any rest,
work, as though there were work,
or any reason to rest or work.


But he has something else in mind.
A party. A get-together, smallish,
friends, maybe friends of friends.

If only the room didn’t stretch
to the vanishing point, if only the door
were big enough to pass a cat

you might be less disinclined.
You did promise, weeks ago,
and you have no wish to give offense,

not again, at any rate,
but now your mind refuses to produce
a single credible way out.

It’s this or the dark, elastic hours,
or worse. It’s not that far.
You pull yourself together. Go.

Each step proves you wrong.
Each buzzing streetlamp
makes a virtue of futility

beneath the overarching dark.
Behind the blue-lit windows
lives go on as lives should,

as though informed by some purpose,
some solution for the riddles
we inherit with our skin.

Soft laughter sifts from the porches,
cut by the metronomic chirp
of wicker and hinge and rocking chairs,

but you feel no such easy kinship.
You are less in the world than a wolf
padding across the permafrost

on the deepest night of a cold year,
intractably itself, unalterably at home,
a beast you can only envy.


No. You are the pale-eyed child
in the cell of polyethylene,
film proof against a world

that threatens on all sides
but hovers always out of reach,
infecting you with otherness.

When you hear the laughter and the music
you wonder how such innocence
could possibly relate to you,

but you follow your friend inside
to face the gathering, hoping
to find the bar and the cozy corner

with the one reasonable chair,
nurse a drink, quietly leave.
No one’s inclined to interfere:

you pucker up to your Bordeaux,
silently nibble your Goldfish
until the sudden rapture of glass,

the blossoming roses in beige pile.
You recognize your host’s son.
You recognize your own hands

clamped to hold his arm together,
slick with freshets of bright arterial
blood you cannot stop. You vise

tighter down on his arm, but still
the blood sluices through your fingers
with unimaginable force,

exulting in its new freedom,
hot to know the wider world.
Someone throws a towel, then

a belt comes from somewhere else;
you know instantly neither will do,
and then you hear yourself yell

for a tie, with no conscious thought,
and one appears. It is blue,
you notice, with silver lions, rampant,

quite rakishly coroneted,
discreetly gravy-stained and sewn,
the label says, in Hong Kong,

as you pass it twice around above
the wound, calling for a knife,
feeling the boy's heartbeat

in your hands, a small wild thing
doing its best to escape a cage.
You see brie on the knife when it comes,

smears of cheese and crumbs of rind,
pass it through a wrap of tie,
turn it tight. Immediately

fresh fountains of blood, more
than seems possible, but then
it settles down, dies away.

You notice that your breath is short,
that the room has been sucked free of air;
that the knife is steadying your hand.

Finally, a siren. Someone
taps your shoulder. You move aside,
stagger through the stunned company

out into the cool of night,
to stand like a sprinter past the tape,
soaking wet, completely spent,

bent, hands on shaky knees,
trying to suck every atom
of oxygen out of the sky, the sky

made wholly new, created
just today, for you, and you look,
see it all for the first time,

first witness to the stars
splashed across eternity
with no particular design,

as crickets saw the soft air
for no apparent reason but
delight at being in the world, alive.