By this river

By this river

My river starts as a creek that idles like a train loading up kids at a park
then slides underground, quickening beneath the destroyed black neighborhood

beneath the cheap hotel and its parking lot that was supposed to be a mall
and on downhill past City Hall where it bursts into the open thirty feet below

the police station parking garage then sidles back under the concrete
and into the dark again beneath a parking lot called The Wharf though

it hid the only waterway in the valley so sometimes when I want
to touch the current of my life I feel a parking space stripe that

hand-wide line white or yellow painted over and over for years
until it’s a physical presence not just a visual guide the layers

of paint countable like tree rings when what I want is the rush
and gurgle of what’s just below our pedestrian lives

Neighborhood song

Neighborhood song

Where things end up is past wondering.
Despair leaves a bag of burning shit at your door.

Rings the doorbell and runs. Sadness comes
to visit and sees the bag, stamps out the fire

before you can open the door and stop it.
Sadness never gets the trick. If you close

the door in its face, it will just stand there
and wait. Perspective texts you by mistake

a few minutes later: “You really put your foot
in it this time.” So eventually you let sadness in

And make it a favorite drink. You throw a comforter
and pillow on the couch, or chair, or floor.

You know it can take care of itself, and will leave
when it’s ready. Regret can’t blame the door

It walks into until you have opened it up to let
it in, and it can see what’s behind it clearly.

“You never should have let th-that thing in,”
pointing to the slumbering lump on the couch.

There is no need to be nice. Once you push
it out into the night, “You’ll end up wondering

what you’ve wasted your time on!” it says,
backing down the steps. The rain, being rain,

begins. Miles away the storm is thundering
like the biggest lost imagined toy. In the dark

you may have smiled, like a clock-face caught
by lightning. There are words for what you see

which don’t exist in the past, which dissolve like joy.
Where things end up is past wondering.

The angel reconsiders

angel face flame

The angel reconsiders

The flame over its head twists and flickers.
A cowlick of wonder. Through the sinew

of transparent wings flows the blood of creation.
It lifts and sets down, interlocks fates, initiates

patterns we feel in our hearts when things die
and when things are born. It has been feeding.

It looks to the lower middle left, that place we look
when we are thinking about the truth.

It would be a good year to start from scratch,
the angel thinks. Its round face,

blue like a baby’s eye, blinks. Nothingness
begins to melt into a terrible form

of a hand and dark thoughts. Then
the angel reconsiders. Its wings spread

high, high, higher, into a sacred shrug.
The hand is left alone, reaching for its maker.

angel detail


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I awoke and you were on me.
Blackness: the sky through the window

is the hole of an open grave.
The branches outside, roots sticking through.

Your arm held me from falling all the way
up and on

Going on, I leave nothing behind,
no place no person no road or tree.

Continuing on is the unspooling
rug of time. If we ever found

the edge we really would fly.
But we won’t. The past isn’t gone,

Nothing is gone. By which I mean
I really can’t find it. It’s the only thing missing.

Covered pool in the apartment complex
At the end of the dead end road:

A single frog emits his signal, a tone
brighter than traffic lights. It goes up,

it punctures space, length of a star’s
light, into the vacuum, it goes on.

Godzilla’s revenge, or, self-portrait on a t-shirt

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Godzilla’s revenge, or, self-portrait on a t-shirt

Morning after a rain, baby crickets fling themselves out of the grass,
like someone told them they have to jump upstream

recklessly to spawn. I’m sure placing my lame dog
on the grass to pee that I have crushed thousands of them.

I always felt Godzilla had no burden of guilt for the sweep
of his tail when trying to get around in the city. The crickets

can be so loud in the back yard that when I lay awake
at 1 a.m. trying to sleep I can barely hear the two churches

compete to toll the hour through the open second floor window.
We live on a hill. When the rain came last night I ran outside

and pointed my phone’s flashlight along the edge of the road.
It takes a few minutes in a hard rain but the water flow that starts

at the top of the hill winds its way to my street and passes
my house, first as a trickle, then a rivulet, then river then

a torrent that leaps the sidewalk and takes up a third
of the street. I like to see that first movement of water

before I go back inside. In the morning dozens
of businesses have been flooded. A police car floating like a lily

in the intersection by the bakery. It’s a hot and dry day.
Gravel and dirt are spread over the streets like the

footprints of a giant monster with no memory it was here.

Get lost

Get lost


We live in the spaces between trees.
No matter how many we cut down

There is always space between one
And the next and that is where we are

But as the lines get longer it is harder
To breathe.


Heat is selfish. Cold is impersonal.
Weather is activating. Love is not

A verb or a noun but an adjective.
So what is love?


It’s okay to be lost. Being lost
Doesn’t change your position

In the world. It’s easier to be
Found if you’re not in the usual places.

Nobody but you will be the recipient
Of your rescue. I prefer to stay lost

And at least know where I am.

Decision tree

Decision tree

After the incident in the city I found the decision tree.
It spread towards heaven and hell from its trunk

in the yard of my grandmother’s house before her stroke.
Who goes there, she said, laughing. My grandmother

never said stuff like that. Who goes there? It’s me,
Grandma. I’m trying to figure out what to do.

You haven’t done the lawn in 39 years, she said,
standing in the driveway. The house’s current owners

drove through her ghost and parked. Can I help you,
asked the driver as he got out. I could have told him

Yes, you actually can help me, that’s what I came here
for, but you just ran through my grandmother and now

I’m a little confused. They’re all gone, she said, standing
by my side. Do you remember how your sister would

give me hard candies when I lived with you all, she said.
She’s gone. No she’s not, I said, she’s still here, she

has two daughters, they’re in college, she married Ernie
don’t you remember Ernie? Oh, she’s long gone said

my grandmother. They all are. She was walking away
back toward the house. Do you remember when we

surprised you at the Cape and brought you and Peg
ice cream from the Ice Cream Smuggler, I called

to her. Is that all gone, too? Am I gone? She kept walking,
through the man and his car and his two children still sitting

in the car, and they all sneezed. Then I felt her hand
on my shoulder. You go on, her voice said. You don’t

need a tree to tell you that. It was a maple, that tree
and one night even lightning couldn’t kill it.

Chimney song

Chimney song

The brick broke close to cleanly
and lay in a wheel rut its two pieces

within half an inch of each other after
the dark tumble from the next door

neighbor’s chimney down its roof
and in air across the shared dirt driveway

between houses where it banked off
the screen of our kitchen window

just below our bedroom then fell
its final six feet to the muddy tire

tracks and divided itself almost
neatly like a last piece of cake

being shared between the past
and a future without houses

The shadow of a doubt

The shadow of a doubt

So much bigger than doubt itself
cast into the future or back on the past

where it seems more solidly something
else. I crept up on it once

to see if it recognized me
After all it had led me so far

forward and back
but I could not find its eyes

The King of Frederick Street

Note: As the Yankees and Red Sox square off for the first time this endless pandemic summer, I’m reminded of a poem from my 2013 book 20 Poems & Other Translations from the English, which is about my father’s last visit to Virginia. He was afraid to leave his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, for too long, but he spent a week with us and it was wonderful. It was also the last time we watched a Yankees game together until the month he would die, last July. So just a nod to my dad that I’m still watching.

The King of Frederick Street

Almost eighty, my father is surrounded
by my children, their dogs and cats
while wrestling a Solitaire game whose battery

will not seem to die. We set a folding chair
on our elevated patch of lawn
where the maple’s shadow slows and slurs

across his feet, sliding up the grass
to the house like an instant replay
of a baserunner sliding past him safely home.

It takes an hour, but now he rests in the sun.
The King of Frederick Street, we call him,
sitting on a lawn above car level on the high

side of this crooked hill, watching cars
go by, too fast, he notes, for a street
with children. Seven hundred

miles to the north his wife does not remember
most of while she’s loved. Still, him she loves
and recognizes four times a week,

musses his hair and strokes his nose and laughs,
and now does not beg to be released.
From love and parenthood there’s no escape,

also no home safe to slide past and drag
a hand across the plate just beneath
Death’s late tag. Though I can see him

try to calculate the odds, the angry focus
like leading off third, game on the line.
Pop–the Yankees are on at eight. He’ll come

Then, pick up that infernal Solitaire game
and we’ll play it side by side on the couch,
stand for the anthem and work the count

as innings race by in slow motion.
I glance across the thirty year gap
And know the years will thin;

Meanwhile, we sit, and compete
at who’s best at being alone.
He wins and wins.