Category Archives: Poetry

Sitting under a mountain [Summer Mountains 1]


Sitting under a mountain

Three peaks: the host and two guests.
A way to art where images were drawn

after the shape of words for things.
Let’s call the guests Shan and Mu.

They wandered twelve miles, their host
shrunk with each mile, even they grew

smaller till a human could climb them
without a rope. They got green, waited.

On the other side of the water two women
lay down together and the plague spread

its blanket over them. Their names were pulled
from their mouths by the one who found them

and carried on the shoulders of children
to the place where Shan and Mu sat,

leafy and waiting for their host to retrieve
them. The people planted the names

and in a few seasons the names grew
into the hills and out toward the sun

like a character for a tree, or a man
buried to his waist and left to die

for stealing someone’s name
and taking it so far from their bones.

And the mountains tried on their new names
and the sound of syllables and that it

took twice as long to say a dead woman’s
name as it used to take to measure

three mountains and that was good
and to this day nobody will build

a house on the summits or
cut down a tree at the crown.

At the terminal

At the terminal

Before I was born before he was who he was

coming back from college in Rhode Island my father
saw striding across the floor of Grand Central

Station the familiar shape of his dad

off on another government trip    They met
by accident surrounded by marble and sound
people coming and going while they stood

next to each other for a moment talking

Your death

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Your death

One day your death is born. Like a root vegetable
he forms just beneath the surface of the earth,
fed by future circumstances combined with causes
thickening and unwinding in the dirt of time
where the past and present lay beside one another.
He wriggles out slowly, turning and turning and tilling
the door of grass open. As soon as air hits its body
it grows clothes, ceremonial looking robes and headpieces
from your nightmares, your childhood. The disappointed
brow of your father, the breathing of the stranger who
followed you down the road. Like a bird he knows
where he must go. To find you, so you may meet your death.

He’s ugly and small, so your death must travel by night.
If enough living people see him, he will simply disappear.
He knows the oppression of not being accepted, not being
believed. He has no language to formulate this knowledge
into words or he would offer people he met some solace:
Yes, death is real, your own death will come for you some
day, but today is not that day, and I am not your death.
I am the death of the reader of this poem, but even knowing
I am coming they will not believe, and wherever they will be
When I meet them is where I am heading. And he’d go softly
away, but it’s never like that. Without believing in him
they stare through him until he is truly transparent, truly not there.

So another day your death is born. Like a bird he knows
where he must go. He travels by night, he covers himself
with fallen leaves and pine needles during the day or lies
in the shadow of chunks of concrete on the edge
of a construction site. Occasionally, while nodding off to sleep
an image of him comes to you, in perfect focus, this little
unbeing, like a still photo but you know he’s not still,
like a postcard he is moving towards you. He finds one night
the interstate, knows it is the most direct way to reach you,
and his hair grows more quickly as he feels himself getting
closer, until a sleepy truck driver nods off just long enough
to slide into the breakdown lane and crush your death where he crouches.

Your death is born on another continent, even farther away. His eyes
turn like dry stones in his sockets, he has stunted leather wings
under his arms that would not work to fly, and as he emerges
from a bog his head is instantly covered by a bowler cap, his squat
body glistening in shiny robes, his feet quick in colorful hiking shoes.
He learns almost by accident how to use public transportation,
where nobody looks at anyone else. One day, months along,
he comes upon a scene of horrific violence on the road, but other
deaths are there for those people, you’re nowhere to be seen,
and he sees that it’s safe to climb inside the wheel-
well of one of the ambulances. Even if a paramedic sees him
out of the corner of her eye, she has seen so much death
she doesn’t look twice. Death is in your county, coming down
a country road, stopping at a park, walking through the woods.
Emerging from the near side of the river your death notices
something moving in the tall grass, and curiosity gets the best
of him, he follows it, and as the grass gives way to a freshly
mowed lawn, he sees it is another of your deaths, and when they
see each other they both pop, neither can exist now that
they have witnessed the other. You hear a sound in your yard
and think one of your cats is throwing up, but there is nothing there.

Your death is born in the cold wasteland. He is so unappealing that
even a hungry polar bear will not swipe at him. He falls into the ocean
and rolls for years, for decades. The part of him that is not submerged
sports a tattered raincoat, then a wave crashes over him and a new
flank surfaces like a leg covered in spandex. Then that submerges,
and over and over it rolls. Your death is born on a hot summer day and
tumbles out of a palmetto tree like a cockroach and is stepped on
several times but its mass expands into the crack of a sidewalk and
keeps moving. Your death is born just a mile from you, mucus streaming
from his snout because he is so close, he has no limbs to propel himself
your way but he knows if circumstances are right you will walk right by him
while you walk the dogs, so he waits but you are distracted by a text and he
melts in the sun. Your death is born ten years from now and like a bird he knows
to travel by night and meet no one’s curious glance and find his shadow
in moments of unbelievable coincidence where his existence will not
be questioned, he’s coming, of all these possible deaths he may or may
not be the one to be here, but this poem will get to you first, this
small ugly thing with a male pronoun and a single message, if I got here
before death it is because death really is coming, you should make a place
for him every day, so many have tried and only one will make it to you.
Don’t make fun of his appearance, he is just a pile of circumstances
as unique as you have been, he will be thirsty and if you make him some
tea you will have just a little longer to marvel at your life, perfectly cast
in his reflection in the mirror as he lifts the cup to his lips.




I pulled the tiny mantis from the spider web:
barely a fingernail of stillness and fight.

The strands, delicate and deadly as time,
wrapped forelegs as if in actual prayer.

It’s not pleading, and I’m not asking
for recognition as I remove the silk

And shred the spider’s web.
We build whole faiths on this foundation,

That something larger than us can disentangle
us from reality. When nothing comes

to remove us from dis-ease, our hope suspends
us till we can’t move. But I can act, not as god

but as antibody, I can act because I’m of this world,
enough death within me to save a life

and save what would be killed without killing
what would kill. I don’t claim to be fair

as I leave it on the porch rail to finish freeing itself.
Whole faiths have fallen on less.

Some things spread, and some things don’t.
We light the match to burn it. Our mistake

was believing we were loved before we felt
the love, then believe we need to earn it.

Carry me

Carry me

It’s fake noon in the eastern spring. The hungover sun’s
an hour behind schedule, or savings time’s an hour
ahead of the real morning, but at twelve my shadow still
leans against the porch like it needs more coffee
to stand mid-day straight in this plague tilted May.
I’m carrying the dead man’s book of bad advice from
the heart. Born in Germany, brought up in Israel, he’d fought
in two wars and done something brave once, carrying
an injured man through gunfire. There’s a precision to a bullet
missing its mark that the missed can feel, the smallness of a bullet
as cause of death and effect of a whole series of processes
and willful acts unrelated to intent to kill. And when a bullet
misses all those acts lose their potency; though when a bullet
hits every human act leading to it shares the weight
of a life. He could have been chased by gnats or horseshoe flies
on a hot beach at dusk, carrying his lover piggyback to the dunes.
He could have run from car to porch, dodging snowflakes
with an armful of gifts under his coat; the speed of what’s coming
doesn’t make it easier to avoid. The storm of death is vast and
rushing; the light falling of cancer, quiet, drifting, unavoidable.

As if he realized the folly of his success against bullets, for decades he threw
himself in front of every love propelled near him, maybe he was trying
to save others from the heartbreak a single instance of intimacy
can cause as it impacts and splinters within. Even if you survive
it you can’t pull out all the pieces, and some float in your body
years later, still moving like everything internal and not fixed
toward the heart. The dead man’s advice is not really advice,
more reverse propheteering, explaining all the bullets that
are missing us as he carries me away from the moment.
And now I am carrying him, the lightest dead man ever
buried or burned in trails of trembling ink.

I want you to carry me, not like the wounded but in these words,
and there will be a lightness to the air around you as you finish reading,
like when the rain stops or the battlefield is hushed or
you come out of traffic to a quiet road in the middle of the day
and even the shadows are out of tune with the time as if
the poem itself has stopped them in their tracks to listen
and then kept going on and on for an hour.
And you’ll carry me to a porch of shade
and sunlight at a false noon but also
I’ll carry you, you’ll be just a little lighter as the book in your
hands does its real job, to lift you and bring you to safety,
to promise you nothing but to make the pain more precise and less
Overwhelming, bullets and not a bomb.

May 5th

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May 5th

A fifth of May would be almost a week, not a day.
A fifth of a family is to be part of five lives, not fewer

than one. Alone, I’ve felt myself seeping out to the night,
not unpleasantly, and becoming less than myself

while more of the world, some animal, some star,
some puddle in a wheel rutted driveway seeping in

to the earth like a feeling absorbed by a body
and turned into a thought, an ache, a name.

A number that remembers isn’t doing its job,
only a fifth, which is fine, more like fingers

interlacing or opening like a flower in May
till the whole of us can’t be located

April 28

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April 28

A thousand miles up and over
a rough-hewn stone sits atop

the bodies of my parents
A smooth space on the side

for a name that will mean
Nothing to anyone in time

On this their anniversary
beside each other for

the first time in almost
a decade the rain has fallen

As if they planned this day
when they picked that stone

with the rough divot they hoped
would collect rain for the birds

My wife writes poems


detail from painting by Mary Winifred Hood Schwaner

My wife writes poems

My wife writes poems as email drafts, in the tub
with the door cracked open, she won’t compose

in a document because that seems too permanent,
she says.Usually I walk in at some point to check

on her and she’s writing but she may be looking at
houses for sale, thousands of houses, here, there,

in Providence, Rhode Island, in Greece, in Fall River
Massachusetts, or she may be reading about process

theology, but often enough she’s writing poems and
at times the email draft doesn’t save and that poem

is lost forever, like a house someone else bought, we’ll
never know what it’s like inside or how the light settles

in each room, and I’m usually drinking wine, or coffee,
depending how late she takes her bath, and she will read

to me what she’s written, or show me pictures of six
bedrooms in a house that is overpriced or underpriced.

When I wake up every night and can’t sleep and hear her
soft breathing beside me, her forearm draped over me,

I am tempted to move her arm, get out of bed, open her
phone and look at her poems, written by her as she

lay immersed in warm water, exposed but protected
like in a dream, and find the right person to send each

poem to, one to Jesus, to St Augustine, to her grandma
who visited her once from the unaddressable beyond,

here’s one to the spirit of the flesh, and to the floating
spirit, and to the minute still to pass, and this one’s

for me, this too, and here’s one for you, if you read
you will understand, and another, and for you, you.

Spring song

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Spring song

The hours hang from the chandelier of night.
One goes out; no sleep. Instead, a memory

of a walk with a friend in the woods of the northeast
where pines grew around stones the size of homes.

We’d climb and stand atop, surrounded by green
needles breeze-shimmering. I wanted to show her

how the thick green moss peels back
from the rock like the skin of an orange.

But the higher we get, the more we look up.
Elevated by the undiscovered, a cold complete object.

The hours glow, out of my reach. And sleep’s reach:
Peaches on a tree at a midsummer dusk

behind the orchard’s mesh fence. One drops out of sight:
silence: there’s no sound to the yearning for absence.

No explaining that what I’m yearning for
will warm with the next sun

but not change as flowers come and go.
I knew as a child about love,

that you can pick it up a like a rock,
keep it in your pocket like a talisman, lose

it without telling a lie or changing the love at all,
it’s misplaced, it’s discarded, it’s thrown away

but it’s always somewhere and will never change.
Let the spring moss find its crevices and cover it.

I don’t want to see another minute of this night.
I want to lie beneath the season.Underneath, where rocks lie

Far from the ocean, walking beside my house I sense the coast

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Far from the ocean, walking beside my house I sense the coast

Far from the ocean, walking beside my house, I sense the closeness
Of salt and seafood, cigarettes in beach sand, the smell of dunes.

Things had been going like this, I’ve been woken up in the spring blackness
By other springs, springs long gone or a spring out of place

Or just a piece of spring, like peonies from the garden of my first years
Of being a parent showing up near the bird bath in the backyard

Of the family house on Cape Cod when I was twelve. The wind coming from anywhere
To that yard smelled like the dunes and the sea and it never smelled like rain

Even when it was raining. These mountains have long felt like home but
Never smelled like it.

The clouds are running fast overhead,
Running as if they are late to a specific appointment a few atmospheres
Over, dropping hailstones on an afternoon wedding on the coast
Or sliding smoothly behind a grove of pines at sunset
That reminds a stranger of a time before her wings dissolved.

But moving so swiftly, running so fast they change
Into shapes no longer proper for where they were going
And they hang there, hours later, in mid-air,
Fraught with loss of what they will never do,
Not knowing they are struck momentarily with light like fire in exactly
The style of a 19th century landscape in oils, a technique then borrowed
by my grandfather and painted on canvas in the third year of my life:

A slow fire over a New England field and solitary oak tree
And a few cypress trees growing slowly like ignored children
In the background at hill’s edge, where all my life I have imagined standing
Waiting for it all to move.

In a closet in my mind
Above the jackets I no longer have to keep
Because I’ve buried everyone I need a jacket to bury
And I never actually wore those jackets

On that shelf in a closet in my mind I found a bomb
Ticking its way down to zero
I was looking for a love letter
I had never sent. Instead this thing
Vibrating in my hands.

I had not thought of myself as that destructive.

Your earth is sailing away from me, here on this satellite of rock,
Decomposing with each circuit around the heavenly body.
My only true virtue is my patience:
I wait until you are beyond the strength of my reach
To lob this beating thing.

I made a smoothie for the goddess of death.
This translation from dreams is a tricky thing, I said,
I may have gotten a few ingredients wrong.
For heart I might have dropped in my father’s arteries,
For constitution the rusting stents that held

The gateways of blood open. I drank most of the wine
So only a few drops got into the mix but I took steps
On the bottle and added these lovely green shards.
I set the blender too low as I threw in the names

Of the people I’ve disappointed because the
Grinding sound reminded me of my mom’s mind’s wheels
Mis-gearing over and over for seven years and it comforted me
To think you had to wait that long for someone so strong.
Elsewhere I was just acting on a hunch as good chefs do.
For example it’s not good to eat broken hearts

Without a lot of salt. People need time to relax and socialize
With you. I’m done with this fight-or-flight impulse. It takes a long time
To pour this damn thing. Sit down and let’s watch together.

Far from the ocean, walking beside my house.
I can hear the peonies muffled like the kidnapped

Right before the hero comes in to save them.
And like them, when they are free the peonies will have

Forgotten what was so urgent to say. And their gratitude
Will unfold in every direction for anyone with eyes to see.

Between blades of grass in the backyard far from the bay
blue wildflowers surface like a body of water on a map. Knee deep
In low tide on Cape Cod I could see my teenage self split in two
Shadows, one on the surface of the water and one on the
Scalloped sand below. I was different shapes of myself even

In a single moment, that each of my friends that summer
Saw a different silhouette of me. One they still see
In memories, stacked fresh like the fish in cold storage houses
After which the beach was named. The beach of my childhood

is a real place, after all, wet as water
With a name that’s no metaphor though sometimes a name
Like a tide pulls back some of the present as it goes
And pushes some of the past into the future. Which is to say

When a cloud ran quickly overhead the sun made it
Seem as if a tree had suddenly appeared in silhouette along
The grass, and its leaves were blue flowers. And when the next
Cloud came and the tree disappeared, it was no surprise.
I’ll remember it both ways.

Clouds gather around the mountain
Like seagulls around a junkyard.

Spring clouds can be scanned across the sky like syllables
In a sorry sonnet. The rain is real, the rest is reflection.

Far from the ocean, walking beside my house I sense the coast,
I am at the edge of things surging and things pulling back,

Like lying for hours in the pit of night pulling a blanket over
My head to try to sleep only to wake up and realize it was

A dream of sleeplessness. Waking to the sleepwalking death toll
Taking one more step. Waiting for the season to pass like a cloud

And to share the smell of salt and sand on a crowded beach.
To be stronger than these thousand words.