Monthly Archives: May 2014

Small Sea Monster

Small Sea Monster

from a sculpture by Severo Calzetta da Ravenna

The sea monster of 16th century Italian origin
looks in bronze like a freak show dog with scales

and a half human face. Its webbed hands arched
delicately like a lawyer’s on a witness stand just before

cross examination. A tail that could be a dinner bell.
Coming up for air from another dream of drowning

I think the tiny dog standing on my chest looks more sea
monsterly, and I wonder if I’m exchanging

one depth for a murkier other, of waking.
it’s only at the surface that we’re surprised

by what breaks through, in the shallows
that things get stranded between tides

like this hideous thought splishing about
that in the deep would be graceful, near invisible, at home.

Self Portrait at Forty Nine

Self Portrait at Forty Nine

Even in a small town there is a sound arriving
through the silence like the breath of the tiger

hidden in every house. Asking how can something hidden
arrive, finally, to the place it’s always been?

Nevertheless there is no standing on reason
for that is the mystery I hear in the silence

before the house wakes, when the train sound slides
away and the bells of competing churches hollow

out to the thinnest reminder of passages time turned
away from to linger on a single guitar chord,

from this open window, now long gone, hours
later, as I lay in bed and when the entire neighborhood

is between breaths I hear this breath, this sound
arriving to the place it’s always been. Earlier today

my neighbor dug up with his bare hands four solid
concrete steps leading from the curb to the space

between our houses. As if there was an invisible
house there all along, and in absence of anything

but a passage all we can do is wait to see
who owns it, or who will come visiting

in the silence, or if the sound arriving is simply
the door we cannot yet see, not yet open.


no sea here: breathe

Dana Martin is among my favorite poets, on or off WordPress. She has been posting a poem or two each week from her book “No Sea Here,” and while I regularly find something remarkable in each of her poems, I liked this one so much I formally petitioned the poet to change the title of her collection to reflect this beautiful, compassionate and disconcerting poem.

Another Full Moon Night, Under Clouds


Another Full Moon Night, Under Clouds


Weightless, local, essence of form but in no form
that keeps, these clouds block my view of the one

thing we can both look at tonight and know we share
the same world. It is not enough to know it’s there—

I must know that I see what you see. But if clouds,
empty of all illusion of form or permanence,

absorb their share of the moon’s glancing light
then maybe this love, shorn of time and setting

and shape, is equally bright and worthy
whether we see the moon or not

Soaking Wet Suite, for Human and Any Available Instrument

Soaking Wet Suite, for Human and Any Available Instrument


Wherever you hide from the rain becomes the rain’s instrument
the roof over your head tin or tar the glass and metal casing of cars

and every room in the house has its own sound of soaking wet
Earlier today the instrument was me at first the sound of a dry being

surprised by downpour and seconds later was already the sound
of saturated work clothes and splat of drops on hair as wet

as it could get: I love these sounds but I’ve had enough
Tomorrow I’m going out to listen for the sound of things drying

Fire Followers

Fire Followers

In the spring after devastating fire
they grow only here on the back of the devil

whispering bells and red maids, golden eardrops
blazing star with its spiky leaves and yellow flowers

and in the scorched canyons harder to hike and even then
for just a few weeks the fire poppy flicks gold notes

Under the pressure of smoke and firestorm and ash
the seeds break open then in the spring surface and bloom

For the only time in a generation or longer
the inclines of Mt Diablo are covered in gold red and purple

Gone in a few years and back to something buried
by what we see as the normal brush and vine and trees

Who knows what seed dormant inside us may burst
into quiet small beauty brought to birth by the worst

that can happen who knows how long it will last
this beauty not normally us and not someone else


Spring Thunder, Spring Lightning

Spring Thunder, Spring Lightning

Hungry ghosts bang their empty bellies
Who ever said the kettle cares not for the meal?

Trees lean to the earth and touch it like Buddha
asking the grass safe in its smallness to be a witness

That what looks like sorrow is sacred; and on this open
parking lot the rain slides under cars like a sea of snakes

and toward this tree under which I stand for shelter
where the yellow  teeth of monkeys flash behind the leaves

[Mother’s Day] Vanishing Tracks (II)

Note: This is one of a series of poems for my mother from my book Vanishing Tracks. A Tibetan Buddhist teacher I knew used to say that if you imagine that we are all born again and again, then even the person who seems to be our worst enemy was at some point somebody’s mother, and recognizing that possibility can make us treat our fellow creatures, human and otherwise, with more compassion. While I post this poem today to honor my own mother, I also honor all mothers, and our memories of them, and their important place in our own identities, no matter how many (or few) times we think we’ve been here before. //JSS


Vanishing Tracks (II)

What is resilient in us is resistant to memory
When the memory goes she will be some other self
Still resilient to the sailing light and shadow
And hungers and exhaustions of love
Made maybe even more immediate

When the resilience goes what is that then

When the resistance goes what is that

Just outside her heart she hears a sound in the night
I am out there knocking on the dusty porch
I have brought a friend with me
When she opens the door will she see herself
Holding my hand?

Do you remember when the car door opened up
As you drove and I hung out there clinging to it
Legs dangling hollering your name?

Do you remember hollering my name
In encouragement
As you sat in the bleachers to watch
the smallest second baseman ever?

Do you remember the rides on rainy days to school
In the golden Rambler you called Goldilocks
Your children and their friends sitting forward
And backward like sardines to fit more of us into the back seat?

You spent so much time doing these things you have the right
Not to remember

Nothing can change what you have done
What is has made in me
I will remember these things
For you and when I can no longer remember
Nothing can change what you have done

Everything I can remember makes up only a small part of your life
The rest of it now becomes more you to me I see that now
You become your childhood your mother in that picture
Is you now as you look at it which is not
A bad thing as you tell me laughing
Your nephew becomes your father in that picture
Standing beside you younger than you somehow
It doesn’t matter
He has always stood beside you
From the moment he died when you were thirteen he was there
And you grew older as he remained a young father
I only understand now
how you see that picture

The mind’s tide’s becalmed
The beach endless
These memories now rise
Or settle
With little difference in depth
To the step of the moment that splashes


It is Before

It is Before


Cool spring wind. It is before crickets.
Before the night sit-ups and downward dog.

It is before cobra pose and crow pose, the time
of sky that carries a moth the color of birch bark

To my desk who will land on the rim of my eyeglasses
mistaking reflection for source.

It has the scent of yesterday. It is
before the century I was dropped in the middle of,

before the one I’ll finish well ahead of
its resolution. Before the silence that follows

the wind, spring wind say where you came from
who you woke before me in the native tongue

of her flowers and the throat of her open
windowsill and the hair your whisper shifted

across her ear as she slept? It is before
her I tossed love into the wind like a kite

on a twine of trust, before I lost sight of it,
and still long before I have given it up.

[publications] New Orleans Review, “Roadside Attraction”

Today my poem “Roadside Attraction” was published on the New Orleans Review site. It’s on the site’s main page, and also has its own little link here.

My thanks to the editors there who saw fit to give this poem and “The Push Pull” some exposure to the NOR’s readers.

The poem is based on an experience driving home from Kure Beach near Wilmington, NC in the twilight hour, as the carny atmosphere is just starting to light up on the main drag between the beach and the city.