Tag Archives: memory


—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.)


Filed under poetry


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.


Filed under poetry

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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Filed under poetry

Harlem summer

—for James Baldwin

on the twenty-ninth of July, 1943
         —your father died.
         —his last child was born.

his funeral
         was your nineteenth birthday
         Harlem exploded, a wilderness
         of splintered plate glass

the journey to the graveyard
         was a black-hearse silence
         in the unquiet
         the ruined streets

see him even now: a dark deep face
         in the window
         betrayed by children
         reaching toward the world

the streets swelled like a boil
         people moving in every direction
         against you, every face white
         gleaming in the night

a big-bellied man grabbed you
         began to beat you
         you kicked him and he went down
         your friend in your ear: “Run!”

it would have been better
         to have left the glass
         in the windows
         it would have been

Harlem needed
         to smash


Filed under General musings