Tag Archives: Cape Cod

Mirror, Cape Cod

In the house my parents built. These mirrors have seen my face,
my naked body, for longer than any living thing: at twelve, sunburned

And skinny and flush with summer friendships from the beach;
at twenty-three, back from graduate school with the young writer

who’d become my wife, tired after walking ten miles from Hyannis
to Dennis to surprise my parents with a visit from Boston.

And now at fifty-six. Watching our three teenagers watch the sun
Set from the Cape’s highest point, stone tower a stone’s throw

From this house. O age inexorable and gentle has given me
A face weathered with seasons of gratitude. In this bathroom mirror is

An image of each time I’ve stood before it, in the same place,
Dripping wet, a little transparent, my selves seeing uneasily through each other’s

particular reflections. It took every second to get us all here.
No wonder the image wavers.

Outside and a mile away through scrub oak and sand the bay
glints with day’s embers, the slow ticking away of light

dropping through the horizon’s grate and the oncoming
Rolling rememberlessness of night, the countless

Reflections no one will see

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.

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.

Creek, Cloud, Cricket


Creek, Cloud, Cricket

I drove ten hours toward the gravity of mountains
Away from the withdrawing bay and on the other side

of the Cape the sea’s constant worry-beads whirled
In the many-fingered tide. I was home and a long way

From it. I was twenty trash bags tightened one at a time
With old things, stuffed with the past in a dark garage.

I was inert explosive. I was upright. My father’s lips
And eyelids affixed shut, his hands folded, all horizon.

Modest shadow details of sunset on a strange beach.
I was home and alongside the creek I was alongside

When my father spelled out the last word he said to me:
“Yes.” The creekbed’s brushed knuckles just below

The surface of running thought, watered down mountain
wisdom. Summer drifted like a jellyfish. A creekbed

Mumbling yes endlessly. A cloud over a hospital wing.
Ritual shawl over a casket. Spell it out slowly.

Dread lifts lightly like an August wasp. It has its own
Direction and settles according to unseen rules

Of behavior written in the humid afternoon air.
Eventually, after rain, crickets give the all-clear:

It’s too dark to tell if I’m happy or sad. If grieving
Is the rocks or the water, the cloud or the rain,

The pinpoint crickets or the spinning earth.

Night on Cape Cod


Night on Cape Cod

Sister, the song keeps restarting
And each time it is a different song

With its insistence that nothing starts again
Not fathers or mothers or families

But the sunset our grandfather painted
Stays just where it always has

We believe the promise of wind on sand dunes
Surf on a tumbling shell

The house we grew our souls in
Where we pulled our mother’s memories

Out of albums photo by photo
To find the wrong name on the back

Or a name we didn’t know
None of our souls can outgrow

That house
The wind comes through the upstairs

Window like the house is breathing in
Before starting a song




Time between the tides.
Horseshoe crabs guard

The low tide, bury themselves
Beneath the sand ripples,

worry lines on the sleeping
god’s forehead.


The thought comes to the edge
Gently, again and again. You pile

Rocks to keep it at bay. It’s not
The thought that will drown you.

The rocks glisten in the sunset
Where the thought caresses them.


Even tears big as jetty stones
Disappear into the thought.

It’s enough, you think, to know
If you just lay on your back, relax,

The thought will support you,
Hold you to the sky like an offering.

Before grieving


Before grieving

I could hear but heard the past most clearly, the voices in the moment
Warped like waves at a puddle’s edge bouncing backward

I could move but was walking ahead of myself, my feet traveling
over a landscape I could not feel beneath me

I could see but saw only context, I could smell but smelled only
The rainy earth of medicine

I felt time pass but my fear was a half-second quicker
than my certainty though they walked with the same shadow

I understood but like understanding a letter written to someone else
Or a message that once understood cannot be answered

I remembered but I remembered like a book where I’d underlined
every word leaving me with all significance and no sense of direction

I could tell the dying his own death story but in the telling fell
Out of my own life a stranger holding his father’s hand

The Draw


The Draw

Almost solvable riddle of woods.
We are rooted in the underword.

Absence the untitled chapter.
The drawer of memory creaks

In its not quite closed position
Warped by incremental tears.

An empty house draws me
Dug into a soft hill of oak and arrowhead.

Crows zoning over the tree canopy
Level with the loft room windows

And my mother’s abandoned dresses.
Send a sand dune home.

The Mays

The Mays


I walked in the scattering
shadows beneath scrub

oak those Mays each step
Compacting years whose

Deaths I’d not earned
Such leverage from

Toward wild blueberries
And the cairns of earth

Behind the drive-in past
Hokum Rock Road and

Its eponymous stone dropped
By god or glacier– if names

Went the other way I didn’t
Care — if the stone dropped

The god and abandoned
There it turned to stone it

Hardly mattered — all the Mays
Sweetened to summers

The water warmed in the bay
And at the drive-in the boundaries

Of story cut corners of moonlight
Now decades later and deaths

Cantilevered one on the other
And anticipating the next step

After messages passed while
Thunder flexed against the rainless

Night comes a quiet whisper
In the trees reminding me

Of rumors in the scrub oak dark
The unvisited stone cracked

Down the middle a gap a child
Of a dozen Mays could leap

Squinting like a dimming eye
That’s earned all it’s seen

Rock before names eyes before
The warming waters

November hymnal (30)

November hymnal (30)

I have cast these songs as a spell
Against the clarity of faith and doubt

Drafted the lyrics on fog
Or as water freezing on a windshield

Light still coming on through
Not broken but improbable

Temporary refractions where
Nothing’s lost to trust

I have cast these songs as a counterweight
To wings who’d take me from creek wisdom

And these songs I’ve cast like rocks
Through the windows of sunday

Thirty days leave like clouds
over cold jetty stones