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Poetry

CLIMBING AFTER A FALL

I hold back, feel the pull
of gravity through my boot.
Mac says it will be easy
scaling the vertical
rock face full of cracks
and quarter-inch ledges.
I climb and granite
turns to flat gray.
Handholds visible from below
vanish at a certain height.
Everything is gone—
summer grass, Mac’s red car
gleaming from the road,
the green silhouette of a tamarack
against blue sky, the screech
of a redtail hawk. All gone—
even the wind that blew
dust across the dirt road
when I took my first
look at the wall.
All that is left
is rock, my body pressed
against it like a lover,
the pull of gravity
seductive.

–first published in New Poets of the American West

 

MORNING IN MADRID

Trees flip their brilliant hems
like gypsies in the fall breeze
that sweeps down the Paseo del Prado.
Birds bathe in the fountain of Apollo.
The city soothes us—
me with my budding American mind,
homeless immigrants asleep on the grass,
tourists crossing a sea of red flowers,
a white-haired local resting on a park bench
reading the daily news like fiction.
The cool breeze spins a spectacle
of leaves around the feet of Spaniards
who stroll across car-clogged streets.
Time moves like a monk along these avenues
where trees dance flamenco,
where winged bronze bodies poise for flight
from the tops of buildings,
where water slips like history
around Apollo’s marble feet.

–first published in Orbis 101/2

 

UNWANTED WAKING

You go along thinking
your life is a rerun
an old black-and-white
but then you notice
a lump in your breast.
First you cry.
You want the rerun
back not this new
scene where you act
like every cup
of coffee you make
could be your last.

You see your breast
as never before—
soft like your life
heavy like your heart.
You want so much
to salvage it.

–first published in Poetry East 42

 

FLINGING OURSELVES AT THE NIGHT

Summer nights on Pea Ridge
flashed with fireflies
blinking constellations
rising from the grass.
Bugs with echoes
of stars in their bellies
thrilled us as children
blinded us
to the darkness we ran through
each of us trying
to catch our own
piece of light.

Circling through cedars
we laughed and flung
ourselves at the night
grabbing at fireflies
that disappeared
and reappeared
beyond our reach.
When we caught them we pinched
their bodies in half
stuck their shining bellies
to our shirts like diamonds.

–first published in Appalachian Heritage 28

 

PURPLE INK SKETCH

No one can break the purple horse
that grazes the tall grass of the artist’s mind.
He wears no bridle.
Reigned to a stop by his creator’s pen
he stares shocked at the wide Wyoming sky
listens to the cry of sage desert wind.
His mane flows like the booze
in Mickey’s blood. Pinedale’s own
eccentric artist, rusted cowboy,
Mickey can’t explain the visions
that leap from his hands.
He sleeps in an alley shed
and drinks his breakfast at the bar.
Daily he staggers over gaping hills
making pictures, crawling
through fences that never divide
his own landscapes.
He gives me this sketch
because I live in my truck
and drink with him after work.
Our conversation slowly hones
to a raised eyebrow, a smile.
Wiskey steals his words
whittles his declaration down
to the single point of a pen
that glides over white paper
over Jim Beam stains
in the sagebrush foreground
and the purple horse with wild
astonished eyes.

–first published in Camas 9

 

WHERE WERE YOU BEFORE YOU WERE BORN?

The Zen master proposes
we contemplate that
but I answer fast,
snap the question in half,
pause only long enough
to blink the growing
uneasy not-knowing.

I say I don’t know
if I crossed a gap
where illusions beckoned
or climbed the spiral
ladder of DNA
full of possibility.

It’s all a blank
up to the day
I began to see
the hand that waved
before my eyes
was my hand.
My great desire
would be to get
control of it.

–first published in Pilgrimage 31


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