Category Archives: SelectedPoems

Begonia

I went out to water the hanging begonia next to the driveway
I held the hose up for a second and a sparrow darted
away to the maple tree, scolding me. Under the leaves, in a careful
nest of sticks buried in the dirt, I found two eggs the length of one joint
on my little finger, each the color of sky and muddy clay

I stopped watering and checked on them every few days
One morning a brown lump stirred, looked up and snapped open its mouth
like a tiny coin purse. Two days later, two listless lumps with bristle feathers
sticking out. Maybe Mom told them sleep was the best to way to wait for her

The begonia seemed to be take this in stride
Its waxy-ribbed dark green leaves
and coral colored flowers drooped a bit
but they still provided cover for the chicks

Now I’ve become a novitiate of What Comes Next
I hope to be ordained someday but I am actually okay
with staying in the rectory making a sandwich and drinking
iced coffee while the neighbors run their leaf blowers
and Mama bird hunts for bugs in the evening light on Juarez Street

This morning I looked and the nest is empty. I stuck my finger
into the soft pocket and was rewarded with a smear of nutty
smelling baby swallow poop. The Buddhist app on my phone
reminds me with wonderful quotes to follow the Tibetan tradition
of contemplating mortality five times a day. Here is this
morning’s quote:

The graves are full of ruined bones, of speechless death rattles
— Pablo Neruda

Boxing Coach

Drop your hips when you punch
and when you block. In close
don’t forget the upper cut

Be quick as a heart attack
but don’t show all at once
Like a deadman’s hill on a back road
you don’t see until you are right up on it

I bet Jesus had an uppercut
Way he threw them money changers out the temple
You need something to back that up
Remember, drop your hips

The General

(this poem is a response to Carolyn Forché’s poem The Colonel)

The letter arrives in an oddly sized envelope with a quarter-sized blue postmark.
Dear Mr. Brandis… After five years of working with Amnesty International
writing letters to foreign leaders asking for the release of political prisoners,
I finally got a response. It is from a general in Uruguay.

Reading the letter, I can see the general in his cocobolo paneled office
in the old section of Montevideo. The balcony opens to the Isla de Flores.
It is the season of llamadas and the raucous sound of a neighborhood
candombe band drifts up through the open balcony doors.

He sits at his desk behind a pile of letters, his cuff studs clicking softly
against the desktop. At his elbow, a picture of his daughter Francesca,
with her high forehead and jaguar eyes that remind him so much
of her mother. She barely made it into this world. A breech birth in a
mountain camp without a doctor. Her mother’s body a bloody rag doll.
He had to go into the the hills for two days so his men would not see him
wild with grief.

This morning he is feeling generous. The music has made him so.
He picks a letter at random from the pile and decides to answer it.
He is not a bad man. Why do so many strangers around the world think otherwise?

It is dark in his office, but the balcony is sunny. He walks to the railing and looks down. A street vendor is cooking garlic sausages. She is striking in her plaid shirt
and wire earrings. She reminds him of Francesca, now away at college in Boston.
She wants to be a journalist! What puts such ideas in a young woman’s head?
Does she listen to the lies? In the streets? And what is a lie anyway except a truth
that is stillborn and must be buried to make way for the future. The woman in the street looks up at him and looks away. He walks back to his desk, puts down his drink and picks up my letter. Dear Mr. Brandis, Thank you for your concern about senor Mujica. We are proud of our people. We treat everyone fairly.

Facing In

The fish in the closet
are wandering

Diamonds have become used to
force feeding

No wonder the stadiums
are turning inside out

I wish to learn how to swallow
this morning blindness

Waitress

Almost out of gas
But I had enough to make it to Lake Charles
Carrying everything I own that could fit in my car
Driving like a tweeker
Even though I wanted to slow down
Finding a rest stop only made things worse
Given that I was nearly as empty as my tank
Hold on a little longer, I thought
Ignore the possibility that she was already gone

Just outside of Slidell, I stopped for coffee
Kindred is kin to me is what Dad used to say
Less than something is better than nothing
My waitress plunked down a menu
Nothing but rain all week, what’re you havin’ honey?

Only what I can’t have, I said
Perhaps you have something that makes you strong
Quick, like a gust of wind on a railroad siding
Reaction time is everything when you are meeting a lover again
Sure as you’re born, and as soon as you know
Timing is everything, she said

Underwater as I am, I don’t know if it would help though
Vines and more vines, all around my life, my brain
Where are you heading, she asked
X-ray me and find out, I smiled
You know, my x-ray is broke, but I think
   you might best turn around, she said with quiet eyes
Zero chance of good weather where you’re goin’

Saving Daylight

Time and space are modes by which
we think, not conditions in which we live
–Albert Einstein

Today, in the speedy parts
of the world, we band together
to save time by rearranging it

Maybe time is an orange
Peel back the moment and there
is a circle of segments inside, each
with the seeds of other times
You plant one and live a different life

Maybe time is an orchestra. A loose
confederation of things that have
willingly assembled to create
something where things appear coherent
and beautiful, but only if you are alert

Maybe time is a circus. The elephants
walk in a circle, tail to trunk. Someone
rides each one giving instructions
and we all experience time together
They spin in place and time goes
backwards

Maybe time is an ambition. We aspire
to live in a way that makes sense to us
so we age, wear funny socks and die in
small rooms with low lighting
But just as easily we could live so that
we make no sense to each other and time
could stand still forever

Thermopolis, Wyoming

The mineral water swimming pool in
Thermopolis, Wyoming has a smooth gravel bottom
My little kid feet were delighted to learn that
The water tastes oily. People are shouting
Women are wearing bathing caps with big flowers
on them and men are in baggy trunks
My brothers and I splash around like new
spring frogs in the slippery gray water

Decades later my wife finds some family
postcards, long forgotten in her fathers
desk after he died. There is one card
from an aunt that is postmarked
Thermopolis, Wyoming 1937

She writes to her fiance. Why haven’t
you come out to join me? They were going
to start a life together, there beneath
the Bighorn range. She talks of the late
spring, the snowdrifts, the new town jail
The slow pace of her life drifts off the
page like mist from a blue Yellowstone
sulfur pool

The postcard was written in pencil
On the front is a drawing of the mineral
water pool. Men in long bathing suits
wearing mustaches. Women in longer bathing
clothes. The roads are ok now. I know they
are slow, darling. It took me three days
to get here from Laramie. Why haven’t you come?