So Late

The bread was bitter, but he ate it,
smiling a little to himself, bending
over it at the curb, a few crumbs
scattering for the pigeons cocking eyes
at him.

He would have dug a riverbed from
our desert to the seashore if we had
wanted to sail around the world,
or cut a wine press from the solid rock
to see what we could bring in from the fields.

If you wanted, if you listened, if you
took the time to wait, he’d speak
what he had learned from listening,
with a voice grown dark and deep,
like colored glass.

How we despised his art, the blue
lightness of his eyes, the broken reach
of his arm, the ungainly swing
of his legs, the stone block of his head
grinding slowly on his shoulders.

We wondered how he got that way,
which war he’d run away from,
and why he kept his silence when
we asked him to his face to name
who’d done this to him.

But it was strange, uncanny even,
that when you laughed and pulled his ear,
when he swung that head around just so
and turned the lightness of those eyes
upon us without speaking,

I had the urge — you will remember —
to tell him all the things I’d done
that left me feeling shot through
with remorse. But it was late, so late,
and they hustled him away “someplace nice”
they said, and laughed.

Skeleton Key

Graveyards are for wandering,
not stumbling, but the faces I wandered by
had not opened their throats for a century
or more, lips sealed, breathing softly.

The dead lay pillowed and blanketed
in beds of green between high rails of stone,
as if at night they might arise, confused,
to follow some pale light between the trees.

When I knocked on the stout church door,
expecting nothing more than echoes,
a leaded window flung wide above,
a voice leaned out, called “Catch!”

and dropped a skeleton key
into my hand. I bounded up
the staircase to the belfry,
six pealers waiting with their ropes.

Then bells swung high to split the azure air,
clappers rang like iron tongues and ropes
dropped down from God’s own hand
to lift each foot up on its toes.

The dead awoke, rolled to their sides —
the stone rails held as I walked through.
Buoyed by the bells and far from home,
beginning life, I made myself invisible.

Wish Fulfillment

Before sunrise I walk through
December’s darkness on a path
I know. Out against the wind,
a loop around the misted field,
then back into the swaying forest,
downed trees like dropped pencils,
stripped and careless and bare.

The moon is a caught kite;
I can reach it if I stretch.
I hold it above my head,
a cool disc giving no heat.

I have wanted this all my life.
Surely, I’m not the only one? See,
there are thumbprints all over it!

Li Po saw its white eye above the hills,
thought it was the bright heart of the sea.
It made him so happy he hummed songs
until the sun rose.

I give it back for the next one
and clap my hands, silver dust
drifting among the trees.


Where I live, winter feints and slides,
hides behind cloud cover at night,
and slips slyly away
in the morning.

In the garden, green shoots poke through
rucked and puckered earth. They are cupped
and layered against the frost; do they know
what they are doing?

The high today
was twenty degrees north of sunrise.
We grow restless, take the sun’s warmth
as an invitation to a party.

Who doesn’t like the light? I step out
on my porch, stretch like a cat.
In the pulsing blood of early spring,
I’ll miss the quick, sharp glint of winter’s eyes.

Those Who Mourn

Alone are those who mourn
for the long, retreating sigh of the wind,
for the last warm light before descending,
for the skeleton boat where the lake
once lived, for the sparrow who falls
and is not noticed.

Alone are those who edge
across the dark ice of pain,
arms outstretched,
keeping their balance,
moving forward.

Alone are those who mourn
the loss of those received
with outstretched arms
and suffering.

Eye Exam

We see what we want to see:
so I was told by an authority
on the subject. I almost
believed him.

I have a need to read everything:
the scrolling credits at the end
of the movie; calorie counts
on the milk container; that objects
in mirror are closer than they appear.

Does the eye parse the sentences
of light that speak to us?
Do we choose their wavelengths
for our own reasons?

What will I miss if I’m seeing
what I know so well, looking
always in the same direction? I don’t
know what I’m missing. I don’t know,
I don’t know.

Point me in any direction
and I will find the face in the crowd,
the one seen before the light changes,
the one I will never know.


My friend, at sixty-two,
lost her father,
which is what we say
when someone
we love has died.
“I am alone now,” she said.
“I am an orphan.”
In her garden, the daffodils
burst from the soil early
this year, their shoots
green and firm. On her knees,
she clears last year’s leaves away,
her breath a wisp of light.


Deep in the field that summer day,
we found the salt lick cast away,
it seemed to us — we didn’t know
what use it had — a block of rock,
raspberry red in clovered grass,
beneath the oaks.

Then, seeing neither cows nor men,
we rolled it down the blazing green
above the cliffs that ranged along
the western edge of world and time,
above the waves, into the sun,
late in the day in ‘68.

I did regret that minor theft,
and wondered what the seals made
of such a thing upon their beach.
How long, I thought, before the tide
reached out and welcomed salt to salt?
But looking back, I must confess,
to just a touch of boyish pride.

Breakfast Alone

It's the breakfast buffet at 7:45,
with scrambled eggs in watery pans,
toast curling by the instant coffee,
home fries tossed in sodden heaps.

The couple at the window table are not
speaking. Her gaze is fastened on
the parking lot: his eyes are with the waitress.
"American Pie" sings goodbye from somewhere.

When he was fourteen, she was twelve;
they spent the summer running in and out
of each other's yards. They climbed up to
his treehouse, sticky palms from oozing sap,

thunder rolling down like boulders, his father
yelling from the porch to get their asses
back inside before the lightning fried 'em alive.
She kissed him on the cheek and ran for home.

He squinted through the rain
at her flashing legs and knew
he'd always follow. He would trace
her face's shape down to her smile.

He'd been sparing with his words;
he'd pared it down to simple touch.
But forty years along the kids are gone,
the business sold,

and he knows what she will say
and she's heard everything he knows,
and there isn't any cause
to look for wonder any more.

The Way We Talk Talk

I am a connoisseur of words,
selecting this one over that,
preferring, usually, the ones aged
in constant use over this year's crop.

I show my age and era: bad meant bad
when I was young and good was opposite
of bad. I still am up for something my
younger friends are down with.

But like them, I do not care if
I end a sentence with with. Although
I draw the line at doubling up a word
for emphasis emphasis.

In contrast to some teenaged girls,
my claims upon a personal god
are kept within my silent prayers —
not chattered up in shopping malls.

I do enjoy a Latinate embellishment at times,
luxuriate in polysyllabic morphings now and then.
But sturdy Anglo-Saxon words will do just fine
for everything but obscurantist bureaucratese.

Words are given that we might create,
and having created we can say
that we have lived, and having lived
return in gratitude the life we have received
when it is done.