—for Robert Hass

You wrote: “A man leaves a woman for another and wakes up
in a room with morning light and a vase he doesn’t recognize
full of hydrangeas, mauve petals of hydrangeas.”

You might have written: A man leaves a woman for another
he’s never met and wakes up in a room drenched in moonlight
and sweat. Through the open window, the whine of mosquitoes,
the rumble of distant bullfrogs.

I wrote: A woman leaves a man for the woman he’ll never be
or the man she’ll never be. She leaves him (or her) for the tall
dark prince of her childhood, who still lurches through the rooms
of her night-dreams. She leaves behind smoke, and the confusion
of broken mirrors.

I might have written: A family looks suddenly out their window
at a great heron, gray in the rain. A vase they have never seen,
that was not on the shelf until they looked away, is encircled
with poses of human delight that have been buried in 2500 years
of rubble. The heron’s beak slips into the grass to impale a frog.
A child’s broken skull is healed.

Hydrangeas nod and turn to rust in the paling sunlight.
the room shrinks and cracks. The man will not leave her again.
She is always leaving. She has always been left. These things are.

Through the open window, a whippoorwill calls.

For a moment, the moonlight flashes
out of the damp curls
out of her parted thighs.

(The quoted lines are from Robert Hass’s “Notes on ‘Layover’,” in Sun Under Wood (New York: Ecco Press, 1996) p. 29.)


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Is there anyone left to remember Don Bryant? He must have had a mother who loved him, once. Two children so young they couldn’t possibly remember him, unless it was through stories they heard. But did anyone bother to tell stories about Don Bryant, once the news of his death grew old? An 18-year-old wife, Ginny, that he’d married two years before—maybe she’s still alive somewhere, maybe she still remembers his life. It falls to me to tell his death, if for no other reason than because it haunts me.  (read this post)

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like a poem

I remember when they taught us about metaphor.

First they addressed simile: it was like
when I say to you now that this
is like a poem. Then came metaphor:
it’s like simile, but you leave out
the “like” and the comparison
becomes implicit. It’s a trick, you see,
one of the greasy tools
in the poet’s tattered bag.

With great and attentive care
they were teaching us
to hate poetry.

I didn’t know then
that it’s all metaphor

that the words on the page
are metaphor
for the things they strive
to mean, and the letters
that make up the words are
metaphor for the sounds we make,
the sounds themselves, metaphor
for the call of a jay
the swish of water.

I didn’t know
that the American male’s trained
hatred of poetry
is metaphor for our fear
of the Unconscious
and all the subversive things
that lurk there.

I didn’t know then
that your body
is metaphor for you
and you are metaphor
for the thing you become
at night when you go up
into the attic and climb
the rooftree to step out
onto some passing cloud
in the gray wind.

That all of it is metaphor
for something that happens
somewhere else where everything
is real, and clear and simple;
where every thing
has a meaning
all its own.


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An attractive evergreen shrub, I met her
in Cleveland in 1970 before Christmas,
at a wine and poetry gathering
at Bob Kusch’s house with aromatic
conifer-like leaves,
up in Coventry, if I
remember, and it was cold; snow in the air.

Later that week we had dinner
at her place with a tea-like aroma,
sitting close on the couch reading,
talking, bearing trusses of blue flowers that last
deep into the night. It’s the eyes I remember,
through spring and summer,

thriving in a warm and humid environment,
the softest blue I’d ever seen. I confess
that when we kissed her breath was
not so sweet, its flavor slightly bitter
and with a savory resinous aftertaste.
I’d have stayed if she’d asked,

and perhaps she (botanical name
almost did ask but the
(old Latin)
navy boyfriend waiting
in the wings, from the dew of the sea
and in the air around us, prevented her.
Before I left town we went to the Covenant

Church on Euclid Avenue where some
degree of drought is tolerated.

we heard the Christmas music,
its pale blue dewy flowers and
neither of us Christian really, not me
anyway, but both were loving the music,

reminiscent of the sea and the theater
and ritual that it so often grows near.
And I became fascinated with the word
“covenant,” best propagated from
cuttings of the twisted wood
. Her mother
showed up, a symbol of remembrance,

and everything evaporated, it was
Rosemary chastened by the mother’s pruning.
There was one more kiss and friendship
carried by wedding couples as on the street,
the snow fell, and I never saw her
again. She wrote once or twice

and then faded, a sign of love
and fidelity,
true in the end, perhaps,
to the navy boy. It is said to protect the home
from thieves. I wonder if he survived,
providing a light well-drained soil,
both Viet Nam and her baccalaureate.

Allow plenty of sun.


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Cro-Magnon enters the 21st century

“you will be a fugitive and a wanderer
on the earth”
Genesis 4:12

A voice is echoing from the caves.
The ground is whispering, “Abel.”
There is ringing in his ear.
Domed brow wrinkles, a mark
that binds him to life by death.

In the river sands, which lead
through estuaries out to brooding sea,
he wanders, mourning; seeking
the spoor of Neandertal,
buried tenderly in flowers.

Flowers to bloom again in the rising light.
A dim mind wrestles, wondering
what fruit will be born
out of soil made rich
with a brother’s blood.


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you’re driving down a street you’ve driven
for years  you turn right onto another
you’ve also driven a hundred times
or five  but your mind is sifting details
the shoe laces you need to buy
or the garlic  or the meeting
you need to get to  and suddenly

everything is different  that church
looks familiar  but it doesn’t belong
on this corner  and why is there a left
here too soon (it’s not right) and why
is it only a left when it should be a crossroads
and what’s this: “One Way
Do Not Enter” — it’s always gone
that way of course — but not here  not on this
safe and common street so suddenly

unfamiliar  the answer comes a saline rush
through the cells  uncomfortable warmth
reminding of when you were your son’s age
and the girls’ snickering glances clued you in
very slowly to the knowledge
that your fly was open — or younger,
and worse  the rush that came in the night
outside your skin a scalding
voice that woke you suddenly
reminding you
you were too old
to wet your bed  but now
you’re too young to be
making this mistake  too young
to wake up out of the ordinary
to discover that suddenly

you really don’t know
where you are  this will be death
you think  not so many years from now
a road you’ll turn down
where everything you see
you’ve seen before
but not here  not like this

this time the one-way signs
the do-not-enters will be behind you
telling you there’s no return and up ahead
where that right turn ought to be
a flood of light or maybe darkness
it doesn’t really matter  suddenly

none of this matters because

this namelessness is calling

calling down the long empty street
a song you’ve always heard
a song to which

you suddenly
know the words.


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Zeno’s arrival


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Transgression: 1967

 The scene : School bus: guerrilla warfare in the high school jungle. Smalltown Vermont. Depression and McCarthy are only now fading together. A wife is still property,  faggots are fair game. The farms are dying fast, the boys leaving; Viet Nam a patriotic war that’s coming home now.

The cast : Steve: class president, consummate athlete, whose intelligence and art are focused entirely on perfecting the highest level of sarcasm. Goes steady with the captain of cheerleading team (this is 1967, after all), but all the girls are wrapped around his so-to-speak finger. Debbie: neither part of the popular crowd, nor not. She is a being unto herself. Yet sits with him because Barbara Cheerleader has her own wheels, doesn’t need to ride the bus. Debbie is short-haired dark-eyed a mystery of silence to: Me: child of alcoholics, intelligent, viciously angry, silent, romantic poet; an athlete’s legs, farm-boy’s shoulders and between, a sensuality of girl’s curves. The rest: “underclass­men” (and further-underclass wo-men); silent, faceless: witnesses.

Debbie has just left Steve’s seat, moved to the front of the bus for her stop, next after mine. For the first time ever, I notice the swaying curve of hip as she brushes past. I rise to exit as she sits.

Steve calls out loud: “Hey Nick, Debbie thinks you’ve got a cute ass.” (remember the year, the place. we do not say these things. we do not.)

Debbie turns, caught inside a secret that has a dark shell and pink interior. Pearls that have just been cast. Cheeks burn a high quick rose. Eyes weld to mine, challenge, will not let go till I am past and off the bus.

Steve: laughs: coyote, hunting.

The rest: titter: nervous birds.

My cheeks are hot as hers.  I hate myself, that he has touched me once again.  I long to turn, and deliver over finger raised some withering repartee.  My buttocks are hotter, rising to her gaze, longing to be parted by her—or by him, with her as silent eager witness.  Jewelweed in late summer sun, opening to the hummingbird’s beak.                          How the nectar flows.

Steve, today: mildly successful salesman for an inconsequential company. Kitchen cabinets, perhaps. Still some tired charm, the anger gone, the edge dulled by liquor. Me: the poet remains; the athlete gone. Ass gone sadly flat, like an old tire. Debbie: lost, returned to the shadows she came out of. Her name, forgotten, is a fabrication for this account. I never spoke to her, not once, nor she to me.

yet her eyes dark fire  that locked would not release        
the glow that rose up the cheekbones they make of this        
prose even now some thing that writhes that will not stay        
within its lines.        

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Filed under gender, poetry

Morningpoem: 1

in the high dawn
faint yellow over orange
a shiver of wind through bare branches
a thin gasping cry

the woman downstairs
is coming  or
the man downstairs
is killing her  or
there is no one downstairs

or a dream

is slipping through the cracks
in the walls of night slipping
my day



a faint humming
through the timbers
of my house

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Nightpoem: 1

A singular weightlessness
pervades the existence I call my own

endless chatters of doings float
through a bedroom window

softening them: a lullaby of rain-mist
still a hundred doings not done

sort themselves, settling: ballast
to hold the float-away pieces

weight against muscles limbs
inclinations that stretch outward

weight that binds neck to shoulder
head to neck  here to now

birdsong to day-star
these bindings  and then

a knife of night to separate me
from my trivial bones.

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