When you constrain freedom, it will take flight and land on a windowsill.
Ai Weiwei

It was a lighthouse first,
graywacke iced with the shit of seabirds,
guiding ships away, steering them clear.
the very opposite of keeping and holding.

What we notice about prisons,
even this one in San Francisco Bay,
are not walls, but everywhere windows,
cracked spectacularly,
small and thick as paperback books.

And then fissures, pierced stone,
elaborate grates in the floors of gun galleries.
We cannot build a wall without needing to puncture it,
to make the windowsills
on which freedoms perch.

There are jails, we know
and there are prisoners,
but always there is an opening,
a cracked glass too wide for despots,
and through it, sweet and punishment,
the shape-thought of a gull in the fog,
the blade of its cry
so sharp it cannot be held,
not even in the heart.

Collared Dove

Released to play, my brother and I
kicked a football
against the wayside chapel
that stood at the end of the driveway
of our new apartment block
in a distant suburb of Brussels:
a rural town of chicory fields.
At night, the lights from brothels
along its one road,
framed in new windows,
kept us awake.

But in the morning, school out,
we kicked the ball against the Madonna,
thinking no one here
would need her comfort:
here was the new building,
the red lights,
in the evening, new plaster.
The car ran well; the ball,
with each kick, made a satisfying bounce.

But then a different thud
against the window,
and Mr. Klinsmann walked
around the corner, as though
he had been there all the time,
picked up the bird
that had hit the glass
and paused,

cupped his thumb and finger
around its throat
and twisted, like a cap, its neck.
Stuff came out the other end,
the neck drooping on his knuckle.
Es ist besser so.
It’s better this way, he said,
the gray neck softer than the Belgian sky
against his thumb.
Kinder, he added,
shaking his head —
and I thought at the time
he had just mispronounced
the English word,

because it was hard
it was hard to imagine
it was hard to imagine ourselves
that kind.

Eight Years On (Guided Meditation)

The white wolf,
the one who comes out
of the woods in the northeast,
pads into the circle
between two ash trees in leaf.

She doesn’t say anything.
I don’t raise my hand.
She stretches at my left hand,
head turned to the side,
head in the grass,
her breath moving the blades of grass.
And like old lovers
we sit that way for a long time.

By my foot, at the base of the tree,
someone has left a compass,
dented on the top,
with a needle that doesn’t spin.
I hear you laugh,
saying, whichever way,
whichever way,
we can never be wrong.

Not now in the shade of the white ash,
the one that cools,
the one for damp-heat, for childbirth,
not now where the wild wood ends,
where small waves rustle like aspen,
where water gently rocks the coracle
you were
too soon
cast in.

I held your head in my lap
one birthday,
in my wickerwork lap,
like a nest of white-gold birds,
like ribbons of smoking resin,
cupped, cradled, out of the wind.

I close the book I was reading.
I close the thin red cover of the book
and bind it with a leather cord.
We sit there for a long time,
not touching,
humming wolf songs,
and you know when I have left
because you have never left.

Aston Quay

I go down to the Liffey
to think of girls.
Not because the English
called her Anna Liffey,
unable to pronounce her Irish name,
not even because she begins
in the mountains,
hill dark girl,
her feet in pig shit
in the Wicklow bog.

Not even because every life
is an unfinished life
every one emptying, always emptying,
every one again leaking
up from the mud

but because I have never mastered either,
neither girl nor water,
but at least I can see,
from Bachelors Walk or Aston Quay,
bridges, hard bridges,
open for her,
and on her skin
unscrolling to the sea,
the rain in Dublin paint
her margins silver.


The sun sets in a muddled bank of cloud,
the evening falling fast on Labor Day.
Five of us around the table:
a Brewer’s blackbird, a jack pine,
a stone, and Emily and me.

We served red berries and a trout,
and when the dishes were all put away
we played that old game of Telephone,
where you whisper a few words
in your neighbor’s ear
and they pass along to theirs
what they believed they heard.

Blackbird, I said,
All I have to lend is meager light.

He landed weightless on the stone,
repeating: Dark or day we rise in eager flight.

The stone, stone-deaf, in a low voice
to the tree: Snow numbs, but see,
on the hillside how it glistens!

And the pine, a metaphysical sort,
passed along: Wind hums, sit with me
and feel her kisses.

The message came to Emily
who turned and touched my face:
But when it comes, she said
the landscape listens.

Mail Creek

When I am right in what I do
I sometimes see a red fox in the open space,
along the top of the ravine
where Mail Creek
works its five-hundred-year-old course
through flood-ravaged shortgrass plain.

She greets me full-faced,
neutral, brave, and unimpressed.
It doesn’t matter that I’m there.
Whatever threat I represent
she has places to go:
remembered ribbons of trail,
dry thickets on the riverbank,
subterranean passages
I will never see.
Who knows?
a pair of kits among
the fur and bones of old hunts.
She has places to go.

On a more timid day
she might recognize around
the orbits of my eyes
the look of prey:
the shallow breath,
and all my purpose hushed —
but this morning we have come out bold.
She passes on,
just another hunter in the brush.

Prayer to Survive the Glacier

In the little alpine chapel in Fiesch,
for more than three hundred years,
the villagers prayed for the ice to stop.
They were farmers mostly. Catholic.
Placid and philosophical at work,
fixtures, like wax or oak,
or pulpits polished by grace —
and sure,
as German hands.

Glacier is ice, they sang. Ice is water, water is life.

But it was death, too, they knew,
swallowing pastures,
dropping immense sheets like buttresses
into the lake above,
flooding the valley.

Friends died, the baker and the blacksmith.

They buried the dead, rebuilt, sang hymns,
looked up at the spectral spirit
come down to earth, yawning and stretching,
pregnant, rudely aping
the Visitation of Mary,
for whom they had named
the little chapel in the pines.

And it worked.

Their anxious voices rose up,
hundreds huddled in procession,
children grew old, falling asleep
with the words of the liturgy
in their heads.

The ice shrank, ten meters or more a year.

So they changed the prayer.
Now they pray for the glacier to survive.
And Mary,
when the little chapel was dark
and the crowd had dispersed,
sat amazed, sighing and amazed,
at how little they knew
about power.

National Bison Range, Moiese, Montana

Silt-brown and yellow, yellow and brown
the grass urine-yellow
rising into mismatched haunches, and there,
mud stained with sweat, musk, blood:
a brown inimical to
the sweet-pea blue of the sky,
the clover crushed underfoot
and feathered with dust.

The bison gather in knots
on the rolling grassland,
their heads blocked by the air.
In those scattered threes or twos
undeniably, some memory of the
rippling plain of bone and hair,
and in the siege hammer heads
that great Picasso eye,
staring like a shark,
determined, drowning.

They have hidden outrage well
or perhaps they have lost it,
or perhaps outrage is a human thing.

On 70th Street — eight forty-six,
a February day.
The cars queue shoulder to shoulder
at the intersection,
their thunder rolling up
from the Oak Street Bridge
where they ford the Fraser.

Listen! Just like we did as kids,
putting our heads to the sidewalk
and the singing lamppost.
Listen to the inhumation of sound
from the silver metal sea.
How bright they are! How solitary,
the drivers, their eyes staring,
grimly and gladly staring
drowning, determined.

They have hidden outrage well
or perhaps they have lost it,
or perhaps outrage is a human thing.


I am haunted by the failures of great people:
how, inevitably, they were tossed out of Harvard,
eviscerated in newsprint,
cold-shouldered by forgotten matriarchs,

and I have to think
(you know where I’m going with this)
short of a criminal act,
how could I compete with the sad sack
who was Abraham Lincoln
before he was Abraham Lincoln,
the tubercular Eugene O’Neill,
the idiot Einstein,
the rejected Malcolm Lowry,
the incandescent torn and lovelorn
and thirsty,

except by standing on point
in front of our two sleeping
ginger tabbies
with a scallopshell lampshade for a hat,
wrapped in a pale blue polyester brocade,
and think
(keep it quiet, cats are sleeping)
could they do this?

How to Address a Black Iris (Villanelle)

Even perfect eggs are made to crack,
and morning breaks so morning light gets in.
It’s true, I’ll leave, but every spring come back.

Wizards wear white beards, though yours is purple-black.
Root-bound passenger, let’s let our world spin.
Even a perfect egg is meant to crack.

Midges bite, leaves crimp, coiled cancers attack.
Heart-strung, you never sicken, never thin.
I leave, it’s true, but never turn my back.

Fires burn, pine bark beetles leave their tracks
on trees, but never touch your seagreen skin.
Even perfect eggs — aren’t they meant to crack?

We dress, clothes horses, chests full, rack on rack,
while you fix petals with a single pin.
It’s true, I leave, but never turn my back.

Stalk-bent, dead-headed, stem and flower slack,
did you tease, die, or tell me with a grin
that even perfect eggs were made to crack:
“I leave, it’s true, but every spring come back.”