Middle Winter [1]

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Middle Winter [1]

1.

Winter’s first third is a heel.
Crushing colorful leaves.

Surrendering the body
As it slides on black ice.

The holiday is undressed
In the shallow afternoon and dragged

Curbside but its shadow remains
On the wall in the shape of everyone

Who didn’t make it this year.
From the crib of a new moon a rat climbs,

Open-mouthed, teeth full of cheese.
Just above the surface of the earth

An entire house tries to escape
But it has to freeze in a passing

Car’s headlights, then forgets how to walk.
Days into the second third of winter

The moon is a hairless tail.

Entering the atmosphere

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Entering the atmosphere

Though matter’s not been lost it’s still true
For the first time in 87 years there’s a world

Without my father in it        Night knots up
Inside me      Stars swim away

Things burn apart entering this place
They slur into small and smaller nothings

Instead of crashing. It saves us here
On the ground some peril      the high burning

And provides a light in the shape
Of direction though by rule all

Who try to enter are leaving
Some other place      I saw my dad

Die but have no idea what he saw if he
Saw what was beginning or if

Nothing begins and so
Many ends

Are not seen by any eye.

The fifth tree

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The fifth tree

The dog’s name was Frederick.
On Christmas day he breathed his last

Short breath, four years ago this Christmas
And I lifted him, knowing his lightness

And his heaviness and buried him beside
The shed and placed a rough stone jagged

Edge up in the troubled dark ground. All the dog
Ever did was add a troubled edge to the day

Of anyone coming near his family. Swedish
Vallhund, short brown hair, long white teeth

Beneath black lips, he bit half a dozen neighbors
Across three neighborhoods and all forgave him

For whatever reason anyone forgives anything.
Every year here, the day after Thanksgiving, it’s raining.

The raining, present Friday, always the same.
My family and I pick out a Douglas fir for our Christmas tree

From the yard of a church a few minutes up the road.
The trees lean against a makeshift wall like middle

schoolers at their first Friday night dance. And we pick
One like one of them might be picked just before

The last song. And we dress the dying thing and
Give it water and when the solstice passes and

Christmas passes and New Year’s passes we take
It down and I drag it respectfully through the yard and

Lay it behind the shed and let it do what dead trees do.
Reminders to me, of what I am not sure, but I prefer

These trees where they are to things picked up from curbs
And tossed into a truck’s crushing metal ending.

On Christmas day the fifth tree shines inside and as
The afternoon warms I pay my respect to the previous

Douglas firs, and to the spirit of the dog who never saw
A stranger’s leg he didn’t want to bite. Hard to think

The second tree, the third, the fourth, came after Frederick
was already in the ground, with a fifth soon to join it. Some day

I’ll stop the family tradition or my children will, with respect
To these trees, and the dog who keeps them company,

To the fierce desire with which the dead serve the living.

Eulogy for your fathers

Eulogy for your fathers

When the time comes, you will
Not need the words. Whether

He was someone whose love
Shone softly like a lamp on a piano

Or like the highbeams of a car
Arriving just in time. Whether his deeds

Went unnoticed by anyone but you,
Whether he cared for nobody but you,

Defended you until death or until
your first step into your own perilous

Maturity, I have the words for you.
Tell the others to remember how

From a man he grew into a father and that
Though from father he fell into a featureless

Future, dying as a shadow of himself
that he first was someone light itself

Had to bend around. Tell them you
Don’t need the words. You had a father.

The last night of the fall of my fifty-fifth year

The last night of the fall of my fifty-fifth year

Winter comes in
Tomorrow, late,

Hardly anyone will stay
Awake for it. TV in

Front of an empty couch.
Fatherless months

Asserting order like a rake
Across dirt. It’s a season

I’m finally ready for.
Though every brilliant flick

Of survival by the wren on
The empty feeder mocks

My readiness. And in the
Quick corner of its eye

For the briefest wingbeat
Spring is looking at me.

Mid-October song

Mid-October song

It was late for a visit. I opened the door
And outside was standing my own language.

My old friend had traveled places I had not been.
Well don’t be a stranger I said. Come in.

You’re the one outside, said the voice of my language.
And I was, and I came on in, not sorry I was late.

The Instructions

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The Instructions

You unfolded the instructions like a bedsheet
And smoothed out the words with your palm.

First we identify all the parts, you said
To find the thing that’s missing. Or things.

It’s hardly ever just one thing.
The tools in the instructions, you pointed out,

We’d never seen before. Might have to make
Them out of scraps of other things we have.

Eventually that toolbox will have everything you need
but for now we just need a level and some sandpaper

So you can sand this grief to a shape that fits
the frame. Of what, I said. You read from the

Instructions: of that gap you fear so much.
If you look in that envelope included in the box

You’ll find the hinges of your life. You helped
Me sand and sand and mount the door

So oddly shaped and hear the bolt slide smooth
Like a finger through a ring.You folded the instructions

So the last line was all that showed and placed it
On my palm. What’s left, I said, the door is built.

You take your time, you said, and then walk through.