Mountain Mahogany Song


Got up, put on my jeans and winter boots
black coffee in hand, a toasted bagel,
chose an old plaid shirt, left the Irish suit
to visit the gray men on the western hill
sitting side to side, knee high, tip to root
from the weathered overlook above the well;
couldn’t tell if they were dead or fast asleep
— they said, it’s just the company we keep.


Who keeps you warm on February nights?
Who dresses you, they said, when you turn in
because Adeline came by, by candlelight
asking for something comfortable to spin;
she took our branches (she was so polite!),
stripped bark, soaked them in the stream and cut them thin,
sat on the banks among the cottonwood leaves
handmade a mantle with an airtight weave,

filled gaps with green moss from your steep ravine
where it’s growing in the death camas and quartz,
the wild onion, the mountain columbine;
— you know, you strike us as a sensible sort
as smart as any human that we’ve seen
but you forget us and your heart distorts
what’s true: you’ll sleep through soft winds and our storms
but it’s Adeline’s coat that keeps you warm.

It’s Adeline’s coat that comforts you they said
and Adeline who whispers in your ear
for all the baseboard heaters by your bed
your walls and windows, how the drapes appear;
it’s not really that she loves you but instead
she loves the wilderness, the salmon weir
she needs near everything that lives and breathes:
you asleep, our seedlings in their quiet sleeves.

And who feeds you on February nights?
You’ll say groceries from the local store,
you’ll say the deli or the buffet, right?
We’ll say the hawk, the mule deer, and what’s more
the lonely kestrel in her sober flight,
old ways, old rock, old pathways you’ll explore;
trust me — they’re never hungry in these hills, but
in exchange the deer, the deer, are eating us.


I left them where I was sitting on the ridge,
picked up my cup and started down the slope
across a narrow stream along the bridge,
climbed the rise, sure-footed as an antelope
glanced back at the shrubs, a long gray carriage:
a train of gray men tethered on a rope
one, green hands turned up, like a woodland friar
in ancient prayer beside a woodland fire.

Love Deserves the Infinitive

To love
she took your hand in the wood
and when you cried over the math
in third grade
and the class snickered awkwardly
it was she rose without thinking
and stood at your desk
in the ruled foolscap of the morning,
the milk in
and the nettles and oaks
speaking at the window.

She had not learned much:
to make the action past,
to conjugate conditional —
not even bare
without a particle.

There was no loved,
nor could love,
nor if the rain had come
we would have loved.
Nor once above the mibs and taws
her shadow may.
But in the sucking clover,
disguised in a neat dress,
she invited atoms,
breathed like billows,
made everything whole
because she knew it whole.

Courtship Dive

A broad-tailed hummingbird,
the one with the green back and the scarlet throat,
flies between two pines
at opposite sides of the lot,
pauses out of reach,
pivots in place,
first to the left: here’s my throat,
then to the right: here’s my tail,
pivoting left, and then to the right,
all the time whirring
around an invisible pin.

And then, of course, there is no pin.
That also was a mirage,
sound faking form:
a fiddle string vibrating so hard
it loses itself.

In the near dark
when the deer come out
he soars sixty feet into the air,
turns hard to ground
in a suicide dive
from which he must pull out,
but who could see it?

She can see it, a friend told me once,
down low in the lilacs —
sees him resurface
high in his inverted world,
where gemstones drop loose from the clouds
and lightning races into the sky
from the loving earth.

Os Pavões Brancos

Porque os pavões brancos
na Avenida Pinheiros
sente-se em gaiolas de arame ao lado dos estábulos
eu comparo os seus corpos
a lótus que crescem na lama,
ou para uma cabeça de fósforo
iluminado na escuridão.

Nem sempre foi assim:
durante meses, mal conseguimos vê-los
entre as caudas de cor creme
dos cavalos em miniatura
e só sabíamos que eles estavam lá
porque um sinal em uma poste de cerca
disse “pavões adultos à venda”.

Mas agora,
mesmo aos domingos brilhantes,
eles estouram contra a lama
como faíscas de soldadores
e eu fico acordado, vendo-os
drapeados no nosso corrimão de cedro húmido,
o fardo de beleza deles
como um buraco
perfurado no céu.

White Peacocks

Because the white peacocks
on Lodgepole Drive
sit in wire cages next to the stables
I compare their bodies
to lotuses that grow in the mud,
or to a matchhead
lit in the darkness.

It wasn’t always that way:
for months we could barely pick them out
among the cream-colored tails
of the miniature horses
and only knew they were there
because a sign on a fencepost
said “adult peacocks for sale”.

But now,
even on bright Sundays,
they sputter against the mud
like welders’ sparks
and I lie awake, seeing them
draped on our damp cedar railing,
the burden of their beauty
like a hole
punched in the sky.

The Gulls on Alcatraz

They’ll eat anything,
the Western Gulls on Alcatraz,
so sometimes you can find
on the rocks at the base of the island
or on the cracked and splintered yard
where the cons worked out
tennis balls and bright yellow golf balls
the birds brought over and dropped,
thinking they were mussels or oysters,
some kind of unfamiliar shellfish
the fall would break
and not the crap we lose or toss out,
all things finding their way
to the sea as they do.

And I understand their confusion
when the balls hit the ground and bounce
high in the air, intact and inedible.

I also have made it this far,
tired from looking,
the junk of another world in my jaws

and I also recover,
beat away again across the flat bay,
sure that tomorrow,
on this same slipshod ground,
out of the deep cerulean blue
a bird will land,
the moon in his mouth
and his whole head
shot through with light.