Category Archives: poetry

Scaffolding For Writers

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives… A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. “

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

August

fiery moon sets
deer in the garden.

a goldfinch in the fountain
shakes off water like a labrador

Master and Submissive

“One cannot be too scrupulous, too sincere, too submissive before nature… But one ought to be more or less master of one’s model.” 

–Cezanne

Gardenia

When the sky
opens beneath you

and you do not fall,
you hesitate to tell others.

What can you say?

The faint scent of gardenia
in the still air before nightfall.

Garden Bridge

Ivy grows up through the boards
of the garden bridge.

A rabbit runs across the bridge
and stops in front of me.

We stare at each other,
waiting to see who will move first.

The next morning I am not there
and the rabbit doesn’t stop.

The Place Where You Are

The world is no better than its places. It’s places are no better than their people while their people continue in them. 

–Wendell Berry

Tickets to See Bob Dylan

Distant
pale Ginsberg
beacon

shaggy haired
owl
chant to us

of sweet
Melinda
in Juarez

and gravity
and negativity
and give us

a reason
to howl too
tonight

Goodbye Muhammad Ali

“I wish the people of the world loved each other as much as they love me.”

–Muhammad Ali

Goodbye Katherine Dunn

Goodbye you crazy good writer. Goodbye you purveyor of geek love, you hunter of living gargoyles, you lover of boxing as it should be and connoisseur of life in all its tawdry finery. We will miss you writing sentences that spin the head around.

P. S. Please finish Cut Man,
wherever you are.

On Vegetating in a Corner

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
–Mark Twain

Too Full to Talk About

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

–Rumi

Refugee Camp

a fence line of blue toes
clanking stomachs
night cutting words

*This poem was first published in DoveTails Literary Journal

The Astonishing Light

”I wish I could show you, when you are lonely
or in darkness, the astonishing light
of your own being.”

–Hafez (Persian poet, 1325–1389)

Time Enough

The butterfly counts not months but moments, yet has time enough. 

-Rabindranath Tagore

Ask Me – by William Stafford

In 1992, shortly before his death,  William Stafford was commissioned by the State of Washington to provide seven poems to be installed on plaques alongside the Methow river, one of the most beautiful rivers in all of the Pacific Northwest. Ask Me was installed along the river in the town of Winthrop. I can go only so long in my life without reading it. It is one of my anchor and lifeline poems and it belongs along that river the same way Tibetan Buddhist paintings belong on the stone canyon walls of Nepal. 

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford

Black Iris VI

  “Nobody sees a flower, really…we haven’t time – and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.”

— Georgia O’Keefe

I wasn’t looking for a friend,
here in this rich man’s private garden
thrown open to the masses for a few days,
and yet I found you.

Cousin to the sea of black irises
that grew behind the white clapboard
victorian era army house where I grew up,
the ones that swayed in the wind
like drunken sailors at a beach party.

Bolder than the fire dancers on Oahu,
hairy and loose-lipped like Elvis,
long-stemmed, thick-rooted,
they all competed for attention.
How could anyone not see them?

I guess the same way
we don’t see friends
for years and years
until we run into them
at a garden party.

Thoughts on Being a Warrior Writer and a Motherfucker

The author Cheryl Strayed says in a recent essay you must be a “warrior and a motherfucker” when it comes to being brave and resilient in your writing. I don’t believe this is enough. You must become a mental strip artist, an artisan for the broken, a pub singer of the damned, a babysitter of lost ideas, a window cleaner in a shit storm, a pole dancer in a literary hurricane, a taxi driver for the faintest of whims, a rambler through cemeteries, a curdler of fermented ideas, a rodeo clown at a funeral and a parade street sweeper of bullshit.

A writer must be able to ask the question: if in Alexandria in 275 BC, a 180 foot long gold-plated phallus was paraded through the streets of the city, flanked by elephants, a giraffe, a rhinoceros and decorated with ribbons and a gold star (according to Athenaeus,) where did they put the damned star?

No More Surplusage

“Use the right word, not its second cousin… Eschew surplusage.”

–Mark Twain

Handmade Book

Assembling a poem letter by letter in lead type to print on handmade paper is an act of sexual reproduction. Each letter comes from a worn wooden tray,a snippet of the tribe’s DNA code, facile in the hand, expectant.

Words reassemble themselves, replicating their ancient legacy,
ready to construct a new being. The hive mind provides the creative spark. Old stories recombine, sprout new green feathers and take wing.

You can feel the deep joy of nature in it. A happy parent now steps aside knowing the power and the limits of his role.

 

Walking In the Rain with Robert Frost

(First published by Red River Review)

I read you first for sound,
For basalt cliffs dripping in the rain,
For lines like seasoned chunks of oak crackling
In winter’s wood stove,
For glaciers scouring down to stone
And pecker-fretted apple trees
Dropping Gravensteins with a thump
That ring your poems round.

I read you a second time for fruit,
For tragedy fermented with time and wonder.
Drawn from spider webs and rime ice
And the breath of horses and the shoes of children.
Your poems are like golden muscat grapes
Bursting with tangy juice and bitter seeds to ponder.

I read you a final time for breath.
When my own is made halting by this splintered season
And I am lost enough to pull my own ladder road in behind me.
You breathed deeply of life and drank from its deepest sorrows.
You remind me there is oxygen enough
On life’s widest sunlit prairies and in its darkest crevices.