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.

Ambition

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.”

New Skin on the Old Face

If I knew, I had forgotten
until something small shook me into doubt.
If I knew it once, it had been shuttered,
before the sun came up, by the sound
of the yellow school bus in the street,
or the diesel engine of the fireman
pulling himself heavily into the forest,
the black-gray shapes of neighbors
off to work, and then,
by steam rising in the pre-dawn cold
from the coal-fired power plant
on the north horizon,
by the lights going out in town
and the coffee shops opening up,
by phones ringing, and the winking glow
of computers on hard vinyl tabletops.

If I knew, I had forgotten
until the Steller’s Jay, chattering in the black pine
like a parent shaking me from sleep,
black-headed like the blueing sky,
and then, the river in the cold undying grass,
the rock, turning to speak out
and not into the earth, for me,
the gray-black shale
slowing long enough for me
and speaking loud enough,
in the reeds and wreath of cottonwoods,
how some important thing
was going on beneath.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Bell narcissus, bobbing on the swell of wind
that licks up the foothills, trumpets filled,
gulping lungfuls of the upslope morning.
Springing mute-lipped, one March day bowed with snow,
the next, by their deep pneumatic will, upright,
flexing, boxing air.

Still, unstill cornets who neither sing nor stop.
Soundless, December’s cellared children,
together tethered to unspeaking kin,
hand on mouth should someone hear, speaking
only through their skin.

What we know of yellow is extracted,
emetic, from their frayed and furrowed flutes.
Use this caustic color with care, she warns:
Spring brings out its fighters first, those with a thirst
for struggle. Picture tinctured spirit, too strong
for pretty idling.

Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.

Making Garden Gryphons (Ghazal)

They’re never as practical as you will have thought:
Sphinx moths with a real girl’s face? but at least you’ve thought.

The best invent themselves: perhaps a fox hair brush?
Too slow to beat the hawk, too bright — well, we might’ve thought.

Contrived creatures, and never as we’re taught, “nature”:
we will have felt “dragon” but never thought the thought.

A winged lizard — impossible! Do caves give birth?
Unless…combining fear and earth, evil, half-thought…

Beauty never makes a beast, though beauty kills it dead.
Just think with hormones, not with bioactive thought.

A perfect petri dish: some sleep, cold stew, some wine.
Remembering embarrassments she will have thought.

Ta-da! How’s this? A stag’s body, a cat head couched,
its one eye white as pearl, part blind — full blind to thought.