Taking a stump for his lectern
he arranges a page turned out of his pocket:
a yellow ball,
a ball resembling clay,
which he rolls with a thick hand
into the flat of the cedar.

Once there were words,
the page was new, veined
with blue ink like a suckling,
but the forest took them first.
It rained.
A drizzle fell from the lodgepole pine,
a fine mantilla fell on his fingers
where they worried with paper
and the running ink.

Once there were whorls
milled in the paper,
ridges like those of his thumb,
enjoying their feel, dryly enjoying,
he had left for the forest
but the forest took them.

It rained.
A syllable fell from the sycamore,
a veil more gentle than thinking,
on his fingers, where
they evened the smooth, pale page.

He didn’t speak then.
The ferns breathed out instead,
mosses sweat into pools,
chickadees jibed and jigged
in the chokecherry bushes.

Two hundred mornings pass in the same way.

Approaching the stump, he removes
from his pocket an earth-colored pea
soft as hashish
which he crumbles with thick fingers
into the flat of the cedar.
He presses the grains of his words
into the lichen and the old sawcut,
into the salt and the weeping damp,
and reads, by heart,
the ring in the wood.

Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.

Document the Decline

If they bend your knees just right,
with one leg beneath the other,
you will fit,
although the plot is short and shallow.

Pothunters will wonder why
you are buried under the Russian olive
and not on the hill, in the old mausoleum,
and why the sudden stopping,
the decline, the fall,
the years of neglect —
the center of commerce shifted perhaps:
a terrible epidemic,
a brutal war.

They have sunk all the ships already
and the oil has slipped away.
The bread and the books are spoiled,
the enormous library burned in the night —
not by armies — by the old postman.

You watched it light
that cheerless June, when the evenings
smelled like sage and sherry.
But there are no more good men to poison,
no more pamphlets,
just circus posters on shop shutters.
Even the topsoil doesn’t hold.

Some helpful soul
will have broken your arm to save space,
placed your viscera in a jar
painted with bluebells,
lovingly wrapped.
They will wonder why the stalks of lavender
and the hawthorn berries spilling from your right hand,
a pen with a metal nib,
and who lent the fateful blow,
the one that counted.

They will wonder why you didn’t fight.

A grad student, a coed,
will love your expressionless bones,
fill them with meaning,
construct a digital face and make its lips move.

She will imagine you
like a paper wasp
who came back to the nest
to find it gone — just a ring
like plaster on the wood,
the queen gone too, a few bodies,
and you later on the sill,
slowly, slowly,
slow with cold, in circles.

After Trout Fishing

She hung them on a yellow stringer:
a handful of Kamloops, a couple of Kokanee,
wet with lake water,
three hours old.

The breeze that snaked up
smoke from her cigarette
turned the trout in slow pirouettes
against the long unbroken lake.

Her smoke twisted up into the rain,
flattened out, dissolved,
and the lake drank in the downpour:
sheets of stone and steel
and backlit green,
virile green, unbending.

They had lain awake the night before
listening to the owls
and the loon on the water.
He was sure she was
expecting them to fuck,
but they were his sounds —
the cool air was his, the creaking of pines
all betrayed now, was his.

And today only the mouths
of the fish were warm.
Indian red, rose madder,
pale pink gaping half-moons
that still sucked at the hooks
in the unbending green.


Lately, two black-chinned hummingbirds
have taken over the giant hyssop
we grow on the balcony —
grown for them, it’s true
and for the bumblebees that come in July,
more vulnerable despite their size.

It used to be that only the broad-tailed hummers
fed at the purple flutes of the flowers
but they are mostly gone,
chased off by these smaller bellicose birds
who fight even among themselves,
smacking their pale chests together
in the air.

When one of the old kind appeared,
its scarlet throat flashing in the sun,
our cat swatted it from the blossoms:
it died slowly,
the red on its throat fading to gray
as though it had been a pulse of life.

It is almost August now.
The horizon stretches east,
an expanse of dark plain,
and the morning gleams from the patio
like wedding china.

But it is false summer:
when I look at these new birds,
at the cat patrolling the boards,
my heart clenches in a fist.


We were reading stories
and the neighbors’ kids came round.
They sat, solemn, in the living room,
while Jean recited her cat book
and I served pink lemonade.
There were brownies.

Two boys leaped up, finally,
when the sitting was over
and ran along the driveway
to the ponderosa on the south.

I would have done the same once,
far too shy for small talk and small rooms:
a better fit
for a harbor of branches,
of pine straw and damp earth.
They were already hanging,
suspended like sloths,
when their mom called out:
“Guys! Be careful there!”

We don’t have kids.
No boys had ever swung
in the giant tree before,
and for me it lived
respectfully apart, an elder,
with a twin on the north side,
keeping the house between them
as a kind of indulgence.

When we turned to look
I noticed one limb
had torn from the trunk,
some way up —
a narrow elliptical scar
the color of country cream,
the scales of the arm less bright,
no longer that rich orange-gray
ponderosas get.
An old injury. Who knows how long?

Apparently you can take an injury
like that through the seasons,
through one summer after another
until it is almost hidden
by new, reluctant growth,
by weather,
by the furrows
and the plates of age.


It happens I’m a little loopy about Portuguese, in song and poetry, and when it comes to song, about fado and Mariza. (For background, here)

A song of hers has been going through my head, on repeat. At least, it’s on Spotify on repeat, and so it’s been going through my head: Primavera. Spring. Archetypal fado. Listened to it a basketful of times (uma cesta cheia de vezes?) before chasing up the lyrics, then found a translation, and tweaked the translation a little. Like most love songs, the lyrics themselves don’t blow you away, but Mariza herself will, and the vocal gets in the gut like a Lisbon fish hook.

The video comes complete with a guy playing the guitarra portuguesa who looks like the Anonymous mask experiencing carnal bliss. I say that with respect.


All the love that had bound us,
as if it were wax,
was crumbling and breaking apart.
Ah, tragic spring
how I wish, how I wish
we had died that day.

And I was condemned to so much:
to live with my weeping
to live, to live, and without you.
Living, though, without forgetting
the enchantment that I lost that day.
Hard bread of loneliness —
that’s all we get,
that’s all we are given to eat.

If you keep on living,
what does it matter,
if the heart says yes or no?

All the love that had bound us,
was breaking down, crumbling,
overshadowed by dread.
No one should talk about spring.
How I wish, how I wish
we had died that day.

Lyrics based on lissber translation

Ten Haiku Written at 3600 Metres

high on Tincup Pass
thunderclouds form — but far south
a plump pika cries

bumble bee dances
on alpine golden aster
holiday begun

at twilight an owl
curious, cocked his wide head
two-legged elk? he asked

three a.m. panic:
eclipse made me pitch black blind
or else — cap on eyes

the climb short but steep
I hurry to set up camp
sleeping bag leg cramps

done! a fair exchange:
I gave up my trekking pole
the trail offered rain

waiting for David
to get down off the mountain
I’ve finished six poems

switchbacks ease the climb
so why do they seem more like
switchblades in the back?

like a kid’s squeeze toy
pika wants to hide and seek
but I ain’t playing

a skanky motel
outside of Buena Vista
but — Magic Fingers!