Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday, July 24, 2016

a 17th anniversary poem

let me not be an impediment to you
in this, our seventeenth year, when
struggles array themselves against us
arrogantly. let us raise our weapons then,

make a mighty roar, a great shout
as we rattle swords and spears and shields,
raise standards and emblems and banners high
into the sky, arrayed in bright, shining armour;
expose barriers and traps and arguments.

various resistances shall attempt to dissuade us
as we adventure on -- i make no false guarantees,
no promise of ease. i can only attempt to fulfill

vows declared before a great cloud of witnesses.
let me confess i still have many small hopes.
i still love you and your stalwart heart -
even in the midst of the cloud of battle
that hides our true faces: i will fight for this privilege.

Monday, May 30, 2016

ghost stories

a poem for Patrick Lane

in my mind’s eye, 

you are a hard man, rough.
or you lived a rough life –
sleeves rolled up, hands or fists
ready to plunge into mud or guts,
taking hold of the stuff of life.
i was never sure how much
you cultivated the image
or how much it was foisted upon you.

a woman and a donkey in Mexico,
a boy and a chicken with its head cut off,
a botched abortion.
you were always such a storyteller –
never sure how much to believe,
i believed it all. i believed it all
because it rang true, even if lies.
there was no denying the voice,
the insistence of brokenness,
and the beauty of the shared story.

now you find yourself surrounded
by beauty, your hands plunged into dirt,
and that makes me glad.
you’re a husband again;
your wife, too, a poet
with singular vision.
i see the two of you drinking
coffee at the breakfast table.

is redemption too strong a word?

perhaps we are not so different,
after all. it seems to me that
our ideas of honesty, faithfulness,
truth are closer than the trajectory of our lives
would admit. i suppose
that’s always true.

was there really always danger lurking
beneath the surface, anger
and bitter fruit – seeds to be spat in the eye
and carve the past into sensible shapes?
those flares casting light upon hurts
and failures and the bright regrets
of acts committed and not?

there are always ghosts.

there’s the image of you
and the image of you.
not sure why i’m surprised
by the elegance of the language;
the hard-won understanding
of cadence, of the lyric;
unflinching view of the world
and your place in it.

you taught me the poet’s task
is to face himself and see himself clearly,
without sentiment.

can i just say?
i wish i had known what a privilege
it was to sit at the table with you,
i wish we could have had a drink
together, or that i would have even suggested it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

so brightly

you said, sometimes
it hurts to look at you,
you shine so brightly.

what does that mean,
you shine so brightly?

like the sun? no. not like the sun.
i see you clearly; your surface is still.
your desire is an open book.
it takes less than eight minutes to read it.
i see little else.

like swords? no. not like swords.
i always see the cut coming. or usually.
it is to be expected. what is surprising
is the speed with which they leap from their sheaths.
so quick.

like reflections off a lake? no. not like a reflection.
perhaps this lake is a symbol for memory,
or it is everything you ever thought
you drowned, everything
hidden and still.

like a welder’s torch? no. not like a welder’s torch.
nevertheless – you should avert your eyes,
lest in seeing you are blinded.
in Britain, torch is another word for flashlight.
if only you carried a torch.

like a flare? no. not like a flare.
in the afterglow, i survey the landscape
as everything is cast in relief.
you are all shadow.
you should return to your cave.

like a laser? no. not like a laser.
let’s take a closer look –
it is a fine point, that
i shine so brightly. this moment
leaves me cold.

let me say that i do not believe you.
it does not hurt you to look at me –
it hurts to see your own reflection.
what you see is only your own fear.

what you fear is the possibility
that you will be wounded.
you see yourself best
through the eyes of others.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


i was reading a poem
about Japanese poetry
and wondered when wolves
disappeared from Japan.

a hundred years ago,
evidently. or less.
               there continue to be reports
of sightings. their ghosts
roam the mountains,
guarding secrets, or myths;
their presence fugitive
on paths that lead one home.

poetry sometimes feels like that:
misty, indistinct mountains
                                          and fog
in a foreign land, where
i am a foreigner.
language places me in exile.
                                           (which language?)

the problem of language
is exactly that
i don’t think that means what
you think that means,
are you talking about –
or why wolves disappear?
how they haunt the land still,
and the tale of their wisdom
is shared mouth to ear
and ear to mouth;
an offering left by the door,
or a window.

poetry in this land is gossip,
something familiar shared
between friends,
or a gift to make one.
let me offer you a story;
i cannot vouch for its accuracy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016 redux - a cento for lisa


a cento for lisa

we duck and we amble and
minds all revolve around
the age of loneliness, where
people post a secret to a stranger

the path ahead split
open, the way memory clings.

on thunderous nights
you appeared: glory days.
the character of my ardour.

graves await us both
if we're unchanged. words
woven as you needed to be free.

remind me of the way
you see your world
while you find your way in it.

i think often of the cut -
one leaning shaft of sunlight,
a quick sip of air.

there are vices under our skin, those
in secret; that grip from within:
this joy. this joy, unspent –
a mist i can't quite remember.

wordless - you on your way -
we close our eyes and dream
of all that is pretty and lovely
and get it wrong.

what would i not do for you, my sweet one?
sometimes you pray for growth, and instead
you get bored. i let so many things pass me by.

here comes our hope. reborn,
don’t forget these moments.
there is talk of a kingdom all around us,
elusive and slippery as glass.

it's all I have left of you,
you who barely know me.

NaPoWriMo 2016 redux - a cento for dave

there has always been music

a cento for dave

it will have to be enough.
there is something heroic about the word.

i want to stop my wandering –
you can tell yourself so many truths
and dare yourself to sing.

i cannot explain
how beautiful people are
awaiting resurrection.

on days when it’s hard to know someone
convinced enough to defend truth –
trying to find a way to explain it –
i hold myself up to your light, emptied
until there is a moment small enough to stand on.

make way: let me be a ghost.
i do not know what to do in a moment like that –
all I want for you is to look into the mirror
and not feel shame while walking home.

i cannot feel your breath on my neck and
i cannot hear your foot steps.

it is not every day you can walk
into the mouth of darkness, full of hope again.

home, we move soft and slow
between the words,
where gravity pulls so much that
even light can not get out.

you forget there has always been music,
every time i reach into the dark.

NaPoWriMo 2016 redux - a cento for audra

remember to dance

a cento for audra

i wonder if all of the names you gave me
are true names?

i was rooted there.
i took a day of rest
to confront the fear of running away.

i repeat the same mistake –
how to account for a thousand years of birth and loss?
i did not want you to escape me.
my form of speech adopted,
each higher or deeper meaning only ashes,
makes me feel naked.

my head is pounding. why?
you sing your songs until
i could inhabit a small, quiet place.

there is glory there.
how do I measure time when
learning weakness?
it is the constant of my life.
how do I measure time?
when learning weakness,
sometimes i am dying.

let us stop to remember:
you are shade in the summer heat
and a nesting place in spring.

if it has been a while
since you were reminded
of your power, let me remind you now.

i am also human, but when i say that
i hear you as a mighty wind. know that.

what i mean is: i spent my day steeped in words.

i did not forget: you will certainly be changed,
dancing still.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

a poem for my wife on mother's day

list everything that matters.
if that list fills the page,
start another list of all your hopes
and every promise.

maybe there will be new things
all of us can be thankful for.
rejoice! there is always a new thing
in the wings, hovering upon waters,
eking into view, and our hands.

visions aren't secrets
and dreams are never arbitrary --
now is the time to breathe
vitality into them again.
lift everything that matters,
if those things fill the heart, let them
erupt into sound and light --
take hold of each one 
                                 and give them wings.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

reflections on #NaPoWriMo 2016

another national poetry month has come and gone, and once again, i managed to produce a poem per day.

since my trip to the glen workshop with scott cairns, i have managed to write some 100 poems. it might be time to see if i can massage them into a chapbook of some kind.

the discipline of writing a poem each day - along with the goal of ensuring they are as complete as possible once they're put out into the world - was even more fruitful this year. there are many more scattered lines and lonely stanzas in my journals this year, which bodes well for an ongoing commitment to writing. i'm not going to keep up the same pace (there were times i found it stressful), and committing to finishing a poem each month seems a minimum.

thank you to my friends audra, dave, and lisa for joining me this year (last year, only dave did). you should check out their poems as well - many beautiful lines, images and poems i wish i had written myself. you all provoke me to jealousy.

which is good.

next up - national haiku writing month (#NaHaiWriMo) in february!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

every day

i wrote you a poem every day.
i don’t think you noticed.

this is a baptism;
this is everything made public.

this is a declaration of trust,
or at least that intention.

this is a sudden awareness
of the passage of time.

this finds you arrested,
facing accusations –
unspecified sins.

this is how we support the mystery,
gathered in a circle.

this is all the music,
or at least this song.

this is the only way
you will learn authority –

this is a pearl.
set it in gold and place it in your ear,
or on your finger.

this is everything
i wanted to say
at this time.

this is an end.

Friday, April 29, 2016

strong hands

she was a welder, and played the cello;
both required strong hands.

upon being betrayed, she betrayed –
that required strong hands too.

there are ways to reach out
across an ocean.

there are ways
to silence all communications.

there are ways to pretend
everything will be okay.

all will be well, and
all will be well.

there are lies that need not be told,
and truths that should remain unsaid.

there are many things in my power to change,
this is not one of them.

i realized that i was weakness
and put my hands to other uses.

i made a gift of my weakness
and placed it in better hands.

this is how i rebuild the world, 

one word after another.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

the blood, the blood

it was in that instant that my blood ran cold and i stood there gripped and handled with the desire to run and yet i did not run. i sweated blood instead (it’s called hematidrosis) brought on by every thought hard squeezed and pressed on every side of the questions i carried in my pockets. you can’t get blood from stones (let alone turnips) and so let every grain or drop be collected when the moment arrives in its full glory adorned with blood, sweat and tears; unbowed and uncowed, crowing and prancing by the side of the road. it’s like wading through water, though thicker – like blood – and i am afraid to count the cost, afraid of blood money and the many trails it leaves, afraid of the taste it leaves in the mouth – all that bad blood. no blood, no foul you said, and you walked away thinking that wound was a gift, traces of that gift on your hands and underneath your fingernails. and that was that. i am only flesh and blood and bone and skin and words – too many things are too rich for my blood and too meager for yours, or too meager for mine and too rich for yours. how we determine who walks in privilege and who walks in the cold. It’s not enough to say that anger runs in the blood, passes down through the bloodline, generation after generation until regeneration and the new blood. let me find some new words, to heal and not to wound; to fill and not to drain. start walking.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


i’m trying to ground my poems
in a body,
or something concrete.
it’s so much work –
giving ideas a skin,
muscling your way
through language.
i still write everything
by hand, a stylus
tracing figures
on the tongue,
carving angles,
breaking lines, shifting

it’s a delicate thing –
how one determines
how heavily to be present.
there’s only so much weight
the poem can bear.
i tend to step lightly.
i tend to whisper.
i would like to be a ghost
walking through rooms –
and by rooms i mean words.

(by words i mean thoughts,
by thoughts i mean hearts,
by hearts i mean prayers.
by prayers i mean to say
i want to trust you with this)

i would like to write something
where we are both naked.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

taking it personal

i just want you
to know that
it’s not personal.
it’s political.
by which i mean to say,
i take sides –
i didn’t take yours.
i have no regrets.
i did not intend
to be unkind.
there was neither obligation,
nor wasted time.

when we were
out in public,
there was something
precious to steward.
we did not.
we wounded
know only
how to wound.

the question was
who would govern
? who
exerts control
over the heart, who
the tongue
(a fire applied
a consummation, 

of a kind.

Monday, April 25, 2016

friday night writing group

we met more or less monthly
to share our poetry
more or less
while mushrooms steeped
and joints were rolled,
we drank glasses of wine
and bottles of beer.

a motley crew, we were
there by choice.
a chorus of voices
joined by a love of words,
a grasping for meaning:
the philosopher and the sci-fi nerd,
the hippie and the party girl,
the cheerleader and the engineer,
the earth goddess and the goth.

we made ourselves vulnerable,
and shared our songs.
we did that for two years.

later, there was dancing.
some of us mistook our love
for words for the possibility of love.
some of us never took that chance

and then all that remained
was the memory
of writing, what was
and what could be.

all those dreams:
that together we could build a new world,
that our words could change hearts,
that we could make someone fall in love,
that the attempt is beautiful.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

about painting

i don’t remember the moment
when art became important to me,
but i do remember when
i fell in love with mondrian.

while mrs. james loved pollock,
and would often sing his praises,
she at least made time for other voices.
i found all that splash and hiss
too bombastic, heavy-handed.
at that moment the terms were set:
it was either mondrian or pollock
(it would be years before i faced
picasso and cezanne, or
monet and matisse).
i suppose it need not have been
adversarial, but we must choose camps.

i loved the elegance of his project –
all those possible variations
with limited means. i spent hours
arranging and re-arranging
combinations of rectilinear bars
and blocks of red, yellow, and blue.
the elements seemed simple,
yet their effects maddeningly complex.

years later i visited the philadelphia museum of art
and visited the modern European art wing.
there, mondrian was paired with brancusi,
kindred spirits in their search for essences.
they were so small, and still
surprisingly thick and full
filigreed with cracks,
and no less elegant.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


let’s get the band back together –
all of us in the same room again.

i’ve missed the friendly bickering,
all those passionate arguments.

i’m not even sure why we broke up –
something about choices, i think

who was sleeping with whom,
and the reasons why.

perhaps we were too inseparable,
it wasn’t just meals we shared

or workplace, or classes, or holidays.
it wasn’t how we protected each others’ secrets.

there was never any jealousy among us,
and we held all things in common.

then again, maybe it’s a bad idea after all,
fueled by nostalgia or loneliness.

perhaps we’re better off now,
having sloughed off the impetuousness of youth,

having lived through our many poor decisions,
and having forgotten the taste of them.

Friday, April 22, 2016

good night, sweet prince

this is
i sit
at my
i’m not
sure why.
i did not
know you.
only the

a dynamo
in heels,
guitar –
in complete

(in your
i will

Thursday, April 21, 2016

old photographs

i regret that i may never know your child.
not that i ever thought it might be mine.
it’s just that we once shared something beautiful.
i see the photographs of you and your son,
and wonder what stories we would be sharing now
that we both have children. this is a mystery to me –
that we somehow both ended up with unexpected gifts.
to be honest, i never expected to have children.
i never anticipated being married. oddly,
i never imagined being married to you.


i had a dream about you last night.
that doesn’t happen often, or more rarely now.
to be accurate, i had a dream and you were in it.
i was sitting on a coffee shop patio watching people –
you were crossing the street and walked by the patio.
you didn’t seem to see me, and i found myself standing up.
perhaps you had forgotten my face – i am older now
with streaks of grey and extra pounds.
admittedly, i always thought i could never be forgotten.
it seems i might never forget you.


sometimes i am still afraid i will see you again
and i, being unprepared, will stop and stand stunned
into silence. i am afraid there will be words
unspoken, or worse, spoken and untamed.
or i am afraid there will be no words,
only my body remembering your body
and how our bodies together were beyond words.
i am afraid of the shadow that seeing you
casts on the present, the way it colours the past,
how the images stay with you, like rumours.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


as the poet reads,
all i can think of is flowers.

she reads like she is singing –
her voice drops and then lifts,
she gestures wide with her arms,
hands aflutter.

she obviously loves words.
she must enjoy rolling them around in her mouth,
trying them on for size,
utility, impact.

i once dated a poet…
it did not go well.
i fell in love with how she put words together,
and misread their sharpness
(recognized myself in her
poetry twenty years later).

that’s why i do not trust poets.
they always expect words to do more than their fair share,
they use them to wear down your will,
to encircle you and
mount your defenses.

they are sorcerers
conjuring fantasies and promises,
cajoling us to see more than the words
and yet the words elusive;
they place us in chains
and chained to possible meanings,
all our hopes and dreams
held in their busy little hands,
offering us these bouquets.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

gently, now

it’s all about the smaller gesture
whether dancing, or giving, or sex.
the intimate expressions of intention
and the hope of surrender
(or something like it).

i don’t trust anyone that tries that hard –
there’s something somehow desperate
and self-serving about extravagance.
better still to treat things as if they are delicate,
as if they are rare and beautiful and fragile,
like Fabergé eggs.

may these words be a gift to you,
from one royal to another royal;
let me be humble and you gracious.
let there be peace in the city
as you open them up;
let there be surprises
that bring a smile to your lips.

it can be a small smile –
perhaps even a sly smile.
we know what secrets we share.
we know these words
are larger on the inside,
there is always room for more.

Monday, April 18, 2016


watching the boston marathon
i am astounded by these runners
surrounded by the shouts of crowds,
shrouded by legacy, lined up
like a procession -- with flags
instead of guns, or candles.

how long have they been running?
only a few short hours;
it is already almost the end.

as they near the finish,
their pace never slackens –
steps tick off the distance.
they are superhuman -
all of them pushing a boundary:
the body, the mind, the moment,

some of them don’t even wear shoes.

i remember there were bombings there
only a few years ago.
the finish line filled with smoke and bodies
and parts of bodies.
for almost ten minutes after,
runners continued to cross
the finish line, unnoticed.

i have seen the resilience of people,
the way a city can dust itself off and rise again.
we can learn to wave our flags once more,
we can rediscover how to rejoice,
we can celebrate each other
and not live in fear.
let us not forget –

we’re still running.
choose the direction.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

starting verses (haiku)

today is international haiku day - there's even a NaHaiWriMo every february.

some of these are brand new haikus, and some are reconfigurations of some previous lines of poetry. anyway...enjoy.


my poems are getting
shorter. everything
is more measured now.


this is the moment
promises are made lightly
and i hide from view.


some words were exchanged
and emotions hard bartered
for scraps of meaning.


please come home and spend
whatever time is required
to make your way clear.


lay down your burden
at your enemy’s feet
and find yourself alight.


you are mostly empty
space and light traversing
the gap between hearts.


then come take my hand
and eat the words i lift to
your lips with longing.


the only thing known
to shift story from whispers
to a memory.


this and this and this
longing and desire for joy –
a settled embrace.


walking the slow path,
i stop to smell a flower –
a reminder of you.


the way to carve space
is to assign it new names
and set it loosely.


i only wanted this –
this thing i now desire –
this unending joy.


your mouth, delicate,

dances lightly across skin
all electrical.


the way a shell breaks
and light enters like a thief;
each desperate thought.


and then the flag raised
and trumpets sounding the depths
as we brace ourselves.


the earth will own me,
will claim my songs as ransom,
a verse to all change.


my face set like flint
against or towards mountains
and valleys and seas.


until our bodies press
next to time and flesh weakens,
spirit and blood rise.


again, the promise
to have and to hold and to
never walk away.


again the path, again
the light and sound of drumming,
echoing the bones.


and thus I am known,
and perhaps rejected, and
perhaps too, embraced.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


it’s an honour to see you
during these beautiful moments
of frustration.
                      you’d like to pretend
that doesn’t ever happen,
you’d like to
                    take those moments back –

recognize they are seeds
sown into the future.
make sure it is good soil
in which they find purchase.
make sure
                  you know to whom
the field belongs,
that the object of your longing
is worth your regret.

Friday, April 15, 2016


we left behind shadows
burned upon the rocks.

we left behind stories
that were shared around fires

children danced
and songs were sung.

there was no shame
in our leaving –

we had spent enough
time in the homes of strangers.

there were oceans to cross,
and mountains to compass,

we have heard the call,
and must follow it to the source.

embrace each gift
placed in your hands,

savour each promise
and wear them like armour.

there is strength in us yet -
hidden inside the bones.

you can bear the weight -
It is the easiest thing to forget.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


sometimes people get sick.
they just do. sometimes
it’s an attack, or feels like it.
sometimes we take it personally.
sometimes we fight.

but then there are other days
with syringes and side glances,
with groaning beyond words
and no way to attach meaning
and time is only a nice idea.

family looks like strangers
faces tightly drawn
like a veil or curtains
and loneliness is a warm blanket
happiness a loaded gun.

people stand around
whispers wrap around doors
opening and closing
and mostly closed
hands holding hands.

none of this really matters.
anything could still happen –
there might be a miracle
cure or otherwise.
there might still be singing.