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!