November hymnal (14)

November hymnal (14)

The sea stone sets down on the sky’s lobby.
Only the birds pass through it; their feathers

Still remember when they were scales.
The star has sent a poem to commemorate

The occasion. It’s the same poem every star
Composes. That every civilization has waited for.

The family pauses between house and car.
One of them points upward. A thousand things

Still alive in the trees and underbrush see
A thousand different families.

The birds rotate the stone like gears and snow
flecks off the stone as if God were sharpening

A great knife on it, to cut through the pile of burnt
Trees. To cut through ignorance, doubt, faith.

Four years later the house is empty. Sunlight
Streaks through the lobby and is arrested by

Clouds. Night falls. The star’s poem finally arrives:
“Too late!” reads the entire poem. Because they

Always have to be right, stars have few words
To work with. The sound of birds traveling through

The sea stone is like that of snow on steps.
The sound of stars composing is like a shovel on a walkway.

November hymnal (13)

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November hymnal (13)

No silence tonight. The light bulbs hum.
The washer in the basement sends

a thick pulse through the walls and floors.
Cats scratch carpet. Steam surges

up pipes to the radiators in the bedrooms.
When I turn everything off, grief is singing,

in the dark outside a house in my mind,
and though it’s in a foreign language,

each November I know a few more of the words.
In that song everything rhymes, leaves

pushed into a pile by the rain, my mother’s
favorite paintbrush, an old recipe typewritten

and amended with a blue Bic pen. No matter
what you try to throw in the song, it’s in perfect

harmony with grief. November night. A low
front off the coast. A bad painting of a mocking

bird by an artist we never knew. No silence.

November hymnal (12)

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November hymnal (12)

That day the house hit my brain with a piece
of its basement it was like I finally saw death’s

name. Like death was revealed as a real person,
someone you’d asked to see if the right size

shoes were in the back and who disappeared
and never came back out but now here he is

years later, he’s cradling this box in his arms
and he’s close enough so you realize he must

have an actual name, he’s not the devil or any
supernatural thing, he’s just the person who will

put on the shoes for you, you’d better sit down
for this, and when he leans down to fix the laces

there are more people behind him, an unending
line of all the people who’ve been helping you

toward your death, from before you were born
up to the last face you will see. I am on the

stairs, checking my head for blood. I’m going
to recline here for a bit, like a greek god, and figure

out what hit me. I look up the stairs at my family,
Down the stairs at my legs, sprayed there like graffiti.

At all the people in the world. The escalator of names
Drifting down. I have had those shoes forever.

November hymnal (11)

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November hymnal (11)

The bare trees reveal mountains unseen in summer.
Leaves scrape across the road like the words

Of unseen translators looking for an original
Language to give a new season to. I can almost see

This poem assembling as I compose it, rising
In a pile where the wind ebbs and only you,

With a scar on your chest where each word
Thin and twirling on its stem left your branching

Pulse after negotiating the passage between light
And life, only you would stop to read it, unseen

By the neighbors bending to their black bags and rakes,
Your bare shoulders glowing as sun breaks through.

November hymnal (10)

November hymnal (10)

Cause and effect cross-hatch the sketch
of death that gives it heartless depth, like weather.

Clouds pour from the trees and their rain is ash;
Memory, the fifth season, the language of sand.

You’ve scanned the barcode in this hand:
What minute mistake precedes the crash?

He burned alive inside his car. He already knew
these cities would not hold. In her bed the black

breath choked her but was not the cause, just the body’s
flag of surrender. Her last look could not be read.

She had all the time to prepare but none of the tools.
No understanding in the wide open eye. Too soon,

The promise of the pared appleskin moon:
so very little light is needed to die.

November hymnal (9)

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November hymnal (9)

The clouds are grazing on the hills of morning light
Waiting for it to get colder so they can become tigers

And bite everyone. For now they are just the shadow
Of the swishing tail. November, stop pacing.

You can’t pull us apart like a vulture on the road.
You’re not October’s thrill of departure but a cooling

Afterthought. You don’t see the sharp gloom of the departed
Who themselves don’t know they’re gone. Who are us all

Each to our someone who’s forgotten us. I tell myself
That nothing lasts, but I remember the first time I heard

You laugh, a prowling like a new word that could
Swallow this season whole and leave footprints in the snow

Still yet to fall, like those flowers that bloom in February
Or the dry shadow of a paper delivered in the rain.

November hymnal (8) / for Doris

November hymnal (8) / for Doris

Here in the dead center of autumn
Comes the voice on the phone.

I am outside of the house, outside
My father’s Explorer, on the side

Of a hilly street I call home. I was
Looking at the library across the lawn

Across the street when I heard the words
She was dead. Just then, as I stood

Inside nothing. And the past was past
Me, like a car on its way to the library

Traveling too fast on a neighborhood
Street past a standing man, nothing

More than a pellet of the present, on
a bleak night’s road beneath which the miles

Spin and the signs have gone dark.