Before the Moon

Before the Moon

My boy’s breathing is fine. The moon is late rising,
The palm of night presses down. A few stars.

As eyes close the pressure inside and outside
The eyelid equalizes like the pressure inside

And outside the house. The house sees nothing too.
The wind like Zhu Xi sees nothing and begins

To investigate things with clarity. A few windy
Mornings ago I drove my son to the hospital

After he could not stand up because of the pain.
The night pressed in on the windows of the car.

Though it was perfectly still outside my panic
Drove the air into my resisting frame.

Zhu Xi was so still and undisturbed
He could have been lying against my windshield

And I would have seen right through
Him whispering knowledge and action

Are indivisible. After morphine and the three
Incisions, after the handcuffed prisoner

Who swallowed metal things was rolled out
Of the ER, after the appendix, vestigial

Like a scholarly appendix, was removed
Zhu Xi was an untouched cup of coffee.

A still Saturday morning parking lot.
Days later I am still there. Zhu Xi

In the back seat because you are
Beside me. Zhu Xi pressed against

The bedroom window like a giant moth
We look through waiting for the moon

Through closed eyelids to appear on
His wing. My son’s breathing is fine.

The Effigy Mounds

The Effigy Mounds

The high point of the ground is the canopy of bear.
The space between that and the canopy of bird

Is the heart’s canopy, where we walk across the shapes
Of what’s gone missing but nothing is buried where

The ground heaves up with the work of the woodland
Cultures. They knew the shapes were what

They’d built from earth to impress themselves.
The fleeting things don’t really come and go–

They are among us still, in your hand on my back.
In how far a word will fly to reach its nest.

April Evening

April Evening

In the sweet air we want to take off our socks
And the song of the grass is softening

In the dark something moves slowly across space
Even the wind is taking its time

The silver maple’s a month early getting leaves
I feel that way too — for each heartbeat that flies from me

Tonight there’s a silent starling waiting in the walnut grove

Uncle Tom Shortall’s Gone

Uncle Tom Shortall’s Gone

Uncle Tom Shortall’s gone, is dead
more myth than relative taller than life
whose eyes were higher than my father’s head
whose booming voice was an open door

whose sons surged through the den each year
who (he said) fed alligators in his dark basement
whose eyes were clowns who had no care
whose smile brooked no impediment

Uncle Tom taller than the fridge and most
could reach the liquor bottles with his eyes
blow off the dust for the once-a-year toast
where did he go what is it he sees

in the space beyond basements and christmas eves
where mice run away with a broken moon
where pain is fed to snapping teeth
Uncle Tom you left too soon

 

Author’s note: Tom Shortall was a beloved and to me legendary figure in my family’s Christmas Eve parties. It was not an official Christmas Eve until the Shortall family arrived. This poem doesn’t do justice to his life, of which I do not know much, but hopefully does justice to how big and generous a personality he was to the boy I was and still to some extent am. -JS

Before a Spring Storm

Before a Spring Storm

Who am I in the porch’s silence
Before the storm? A song

Of any more sense
Than mindless wind chimes?

They say merely ‘something is happening’
Good or bad it is the same thing

Until something drowns them out
Knocks them down or finishes

Happening their silence means
Not that nothing is happening

Because nothing cannot happen
Nothing is not phenomenal any

Wind chime could tell you but rather
That whatever may be

Happening is not moving them
Nevertheless they have enough

To say right now as cloud shadows
Chase light back into the sun

And knowing nothing really goes
Backwards I’m listening for the storm

To sing a song that chases
Rain faster forward into flower

Higher Things

Higher Things

Loss swells like a bruise,
inhibiting movement,

making everything that’s tender
a trial: though it’s permanent, the

loss, I mean, the swelling goes
and takes the tenderness away

even when you may want just
a little to stay. Absence, though,

can inflate like a nylon balloon
on a cool spring morning: filled

with warm emptiness absence takes you
Above it all, floats you over the impasse

that seemed impossible to cross
on foot, shifts perspective to higher

thoughts: here in this basket
of bewilderment and wonder,

you can stay with me even
a little longer than we thought.

Visible Space

inkedspace

Visible Space

On the sky press even the spaces must be set in metal
And sit above the text of dreams to print night’s pure black.

Sometimes that space like the space between us
Slips into the day and rises above the waking words

and becomes visible space. It ascends from the pull
of the moon and pushes forward like a panther,

Like a runner in a darkening wood who suddenly sees
The trees don’t block the path, they make the path.