I speak the way I write,
but more slowly,
sorting and disposing of
five different ways
of saying something,
while my companion,
who really
only wanted a brief chat,
He grows hair in places where
there shouldn’t be any,
where before he was bald.

And meanwhile,
the tectonic plates
of the Colorado Plateau
dinosaur bones surface,
sea turtles and bristlecone pines
complete entire life cycles.

“How should I put this?” I say,
when a city or two has fallen
into the ocean swell.
My friend is sallow now,
his skin cool, unresponsive.

“It’s coming,” I assure him.
“Too late…too late for me,” he replies.
“Is there anything
you want me to pass along?”
I finally say.
But he is quiet,
eyes staring, mouth dry.

Sand Lily

If you look for them
in the pioneer cemetery
you see only the headstones
standing up in the dry grass,
like erasers,
worn on one side by the wind.

You don’t see them
until you are right on top:
in a tuft of grass,
a star of wax petals,
closer to the ground
than voles and unread diaries.

(Bingham Hill, like Hillsboro,
like Antioch and the rest,
is the earth’s own step-daughter.
The child in the ground
they carried on the Overland Trail,
although she was too sick to move.

When they got stuck in the mud,
near Laramie, Anna said
she could hear her sister coughing,
and then she was gone.
On Bingham Hill you still
have to walk on the dry
edge of the ditch.)

They bloom in spring
and early summer and then they sleep.
Their roots grow down in strings
among the dead.
Our memories have always been in sand:
on microchips and Bingham Hill.

When he took his son to the hospital
they said it was a cold.
The symptoms were so much like it.
He stayed up by the bed anyway,
and then the boy’s heart gave out
as the sky got white on the eastern plains.

It was still winter.
The sand lilies were sleeping.

Things That Are Obsolete (But That I Love)

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations,
like opening rain;
The New York Times obituaries,
closing it back again;
the barrier islands of North Carolina;
saying Carolina —
are we allowed
such a beautiful word?
My girl, but there are limits;
the moist mariners
on Nimitz-class machines,
Allen Ginsberg and his genes:
are we aloud?
My wife, spouse
sweet talking,
tight as she can be;
patina of a depression
era gun,
blown up in
neat sweet pixels
by the setting sun.

Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.

Decorah Eagles Webcam

Lacking a necessary truth we make myth:
Athena breaking from the head,
Herakles, eight months old,
strangling two snakes.
He was found playing with them
by his nurse
as though they were toys.

But the fact is
nothing is born strong.
The young are always vulnerable.
When the first eaglet appeared
it was just a pip in the egg.
One hundred thousand people watched.

The camera panned the road
by the fish hatchery.
It snowed; there was an ice storm.
The mother spread her wings.
The tree shook, the chicks walked too close.
The nest was eighty feet up.

They were too small
but their beaks grew first
and their feet, outsized,
they wrapped like quiet bombs.
They fell comically,
and if the muskrat
or the raccoon or the raven
took some comfort in that /
when the female flew from the nest
she made a sound like a flag unfurled,
a sound that strikes at the gut,
the snap of banners above a bristling

They had their chance:
there was the height of the nest,
the two parents gone,
the helpless ball of down,
but full-fledged, the young one
will tip from the branch,
and then it is too late,
when the wind catches the first flight

Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.

11 Irregular Stanzas on Trimming Toenails

The first nail flies off like a seed,
a dark germ inside,
and plants itself in the sleeping grass.
Come May, a full-grown toe,
luscious and greening,
lures grackles to the cottonwood.

The second is a fractured nursery rhyme,
a plump little piggy going to market,
disfigured by a fungus.
Even the wolf crosses the street
to avoid him.

About the third
the less said the better —
a disappointment to his family.

Disney wrote the fourth,
a scimitar from the Arabian Nights,
sharp as the thing
that sets it free.

Five, Dickensian,
a washerwoman,
proud and fat.

A lawyer raised number six.
Home schooled,
she argued a case
before the Supremes
regarding the rights of toes.

Seven was a sly serial toe murderer,
the cutest of the bunch.
Motel owners remembered him
signing the check.

Eight ate leather,
loved one hundred and fifty dollar
running shoes.

Nein, the philosopher,
famously said, “After all,
what is a toenail?”

The tenth nail,
from the big right toe,
a cruel flagship,
shoots a sliver across the lake,
the ice just off,
the geese lazy on rails
like amusement park rides.

Remember the girl who dragged herself
from the sea (who can forget her),
where the old god’s sperm roiled the water?
They say the lunatic seers of Babylon
warned us about her sister:
you, Alea,
the second apocalypse of love.

Breaking Camp

I am deliberate, breaking camp.
I draw tent pegs out
like a vet pulling quills from a dog.
I don’t tug at the earth
and she settles shaking on my palm.
I fold the tent with Japanese hands,
making envelopes for her;
I fold long-necked birds that fly up
in the warming updraft of the dew.

I am a clock hand in the desert,
slow and circumspect in the rain,
commanding our tent submarine,
a black watch-cap lookout
soaked through again.

I press air from the sleeping bag,
lying full length, fucking the ground.
We make small fires,
extinguish them with small floods.
We will eat everything eventually,
the rock and the elk —
our edges honed smooth,
we fit like all married pieces,
like all married things:
part given, part owned.

Cleaning Birdhouse

We are always children, really.
Every animal death is the death of love —
not dependent love,
not mom or dad, however deep,
but the first one we knew ourselves
separate and complete,
that made us separate and complete,
and so in an awful unexpected way
the death of us.

The schoolyard girl, the girl with the bangs,
the unborn twin, the boy down the block,
the collie at Christmas.
No one loved for us, none loved as we did.

The day after I put it up
house wrens built their nest
in the new birdbox,
ferrying sweetgrass and sprigs of sumac
through a hole in the neat shiplap.

It was a fine bright thing:
white pine and brass catches,
one wall and the roof hinged at the top
for cleaning out.

But at the end of summer,
cleaning it out, I stopped,
grabbed the shovel from the shed,
dug a foot-deep pit on the ridge,
above the cottonwood and the creek,
and buried the old nest there.

I drove to town in my middle age
with a well, a wound in my throat,
an organ of need, twig, and skin
wanting all of it again,
the gaping breath and the whole bone,
sure that I could not be,
after all, just a part of this.

That by now I must be hardened off,
complete as flight,
not running edgeless
into the rest of the world,

and not undone by the fledgling
left dead in the nest
his perfect unwrapped
new-brown feathers
a miniature of grief.


Voyager 1,
when it was launched in 1977,
carried on board a golden record
with the music of Mozart and Chuck Berry
and greetings to alien life
in fifty-five languages:

“Hello from the children of planet Earth,”
it said in English.
“May the honors of the morning
be upon your heads,”
it said in Turkish.

It’s difficult to beat,
“How are you all? Have you eaten yet?”
but my favorite is in Swedish:
“Greetings from a computer programmer
in the little university town of Ithaca,”
it says.

No one knows exactly why cats purr.
We assume they are happy,
comfortable, comforted, safe,
but vets report they also purr
at the moment of death,
after the needle is slipped under the skin
into the vein of the leg.

And studies show they purr
at a frequency that heals bone,
that a healthy cat will lie down
next to a sick one
and begin purring for it.

But they don’t purr when they are born,
and they’re born blind and deaf,
ears down, like lumps of damp dough,
spinning through space
in their own quiet world,
huddled up against that soft universe
of fur and flesh,
huddled against the mother
they can only feel
in their blindness,
in the deep mute well of the night,
eyes lidded,
eyes wrapped in skin and loss,
until three weeks or so along:


The root and meaning of all speech,
their own golden record:
It’s me.
I’m here.

What I Remember About Winning the Race

Although I said to myself I wanted nothing more
than to break the tape,
to be the first one over the line
in the ninety-degree heat of Castroville,
Artichoke Capital of the World,
in fact, a runner doesn’t break the tape at all.
It wasn’t even a tape.
It may have been a length of string
the two who were given the job
at the last minute saying,
“I thought you had it!”
“You said you did.”
“The gun’s gone off…we better think of something.”

And so it was a chalk line someone had in a bag
hurriedly stretched,
not broken but pushed through,
pulled away from their hands, one end dropped,
the string gathered, balled up,
stuffed into a knapsack at the end of the day.

Although I said I wanted nothing more
than to come in first,
the light popping in John’s eyes,
my winner’s knock-kneed unmuscled stagger,
I did nothing more than hurt and retch,
stretched on the cold tile of the men’s room floor,
breathing unusual breaths,
my breath coming in short gasps
and no teammate
no concerned official knocking at the door
(there was another race I’m sure) —
alone in the men’s room
my hands gripping the sink,
puking over my knuckles:
the touch and temperature of victory.

The Penitent Brothers

The soap plant flowers in summer
but the leaves come early,
sinuous as Javanese daggers.

In the Old West men lathered their hair
with the juice from the bulb,
healed poison oak,
killed fish in the streams.

At the foot of the Turquoise Mountain
they are more devout:
by March the leaves of the plant
finger out in cat-o’-nine-tail clumps
and they clean away sin
on the backs of the Penitent Brothers.

(When they lashed Rafael to the cross
on Good Friday in a canyon out of town
he cried like a child for the nails:
Ay! Como estoy deshonrado!
his arms swelled purple and he groaned
in spite of the shame.)

While the village sleeps
the soap plant blooms in the hot afternoon,
its thin white petals curled back
like an ecstasy of saints,
its stalks so delicate
the flower seems to float in the air,
feeling for the sun.