As I promised to do.


What We Have Done

My mother shrugged off life
Three thousand miles from Paris,
City of her birth. It takes
Two weeks of bureaucratic tape
Before I fly her scant remains
From Buffalo to this historic place,
May 9, 1975, a fine night
For being scattered, if ever
There was one. Co-conspirators,
We creep beneath the Pont Neuf,
My mother and I, she beneath
My coat in a cold container,
And then I dump her in the Seine,

How her dozing old bones
Must gape at the ancient stones.
How surely my mother laughs
At what we have done, laughs
To have come home like this,
Laughs and laughs from her sandbar
In the Seine where she lies
Like fragments of an old ghost,
The ashes of a medieval saint,
In the mud of her resting place.
Jung Doubts

It may not be possible to go deeper, beyond
or beneath anything but birds and their
little thoughts feathered among the leaves.
Perhaps we're stuck in the bruise of broad day
with its donkey cart clang and silence like a choir
of gestures
or an aerial view of schoolgirls spilling from a school.
Perhaps we will open the inner door and find no stairs
or an immense frozen stone pointing at its old friend
the moon of our echo
going round and round with little trays of sweets
remembered and given
in the service of regret.
And though the deep rooms knock and sometimes sing
we can't help thinking what if our minds aren't really
anything? What if no one's there, dear lady
who lifts her arms up to our own, dear contused old man
whose tears run in the blackened street
we climb, convinced the beloved is behind us and our lives
before us in a shadow of the shadow of the light?
Knuckling Down

Oh for the gift of eptitude. No job too big or small or awkward.
As nifty with a reciprocating saw as with a humble bradawl.
Adept at fitting unfamiliar widgets instinctively in place.
No ceiling, joist, masonry or quarry tile an impediment.
Marking out a rebated joint one day, knuckling down
to a cavity tray the next; checking the leak from a valve
spindle, then flush-mounting a socket outlet nearby.
Keeping the show on the road, the jets in the air,
the world's motor lubricated, its axis oiled; waving
aside the clients' plaudits, though their bafflement
is absolute when that guiding hand withdraws.
But by then their lives are set to rights: piped water
sourced again, heat coursing through radiators, the car's
smutty engine blasting off with rejuvenated smoothness.

Then wrapping up a job, settling the tools
in the metal box, folding paint-drooled
drop-cloths, snapping the padlock back on
the garden shed, hosing down your splattered boots,
changing into a fabric-softened cotton polo shirt.
Even clicking the cap on the felt-tip, after
you sign off on the planning application.
Filing away invoices, certificates, receipts
once the online tax form is completed
and the Send button flicked with relief.
Unwonted moments when all the pieces
cohere, loose ends tie up, quandaries resolve.
The Reflection of All Visible Light

The faces are white.
The flowers white.

I drive around town
expecting the familiar—deer
lashed to trucks,
kids on skates, the metal scent
of winter—

but an empty stadium
floods with light, a sky full of geese

Time is white.
The yard white.

I turn in the driveway, white
as the butcher's bar of soap.
Down Through Dark and Emptying Streets

Open a new window.
Go and Google yourself.
Open Facebook and update
all trace of yourself.

While you search MySpace,
sync your apps, correct a wiki,
blah blah on your blog,
stream and twitter, you see

such-and-such has got in touch,
requesting you as a Facebook friend.
And the name's slow-dawned gravity
widens the window, weirds and sends

you plunging into the déjà-vu
of a phlegm-skied twilight
with unreal soldiers on the walls
lit by fire-red and air-blue streetlights;

sends you trampling through the fank
and crumble and Regal packets
of your hedgeless estate
in a tufty and tarnished leather jacket,

flappered and frazzled paisley shirt,
scuffed and shagged-out oxblood boots;
walking away from your mother, the screech
of your sister's wee black flute,

past the clanking monkey bars,
swings and roundabout of a dog-dark
dungeon of a playground,
through a sinister elm-guarded car park;

cutting to the main street through
the grounds of a windowless factory,
past the pock-marked and Jesus Lives
walls of a public library

while the sky turns to liquorice,
dull cardigan and tobacco fumes
embered with persimmon blushes,
melon-flowers, mango blooms;

walking until you catch a hint
of her toe-to-heel click-clack
and follow her past scuppled shops,
dead-end alleys, hokey flats,

past head-the-ball hardnuts driving by
in souped-up Cortinas and Capris
hunting their prey; and she's driving you
doolally, knocked at the knees

as you follow her past the bookies'
arcade machines and nudgers'
Fisher Price lights and beep-bop-bings;
past the queue of scratching pudgers

in the chip shop where a pouty girl
shovels cod with a lizard-eye
love bite, Princess Diana pendant
and powdered-over black eye;

past chain-smoking bars with ducktape
on the cracks of their panes
silhouetted by the awful size
and dormant metal of dockyard cranes;

and you're all hearts and flowers
with each step into the square,
where she turns so you can finger
her pampas bleached and hair-

sprayed hair, and she says Hey there,
in her clown voice, is that a spanner
in yer works? under the twenty-foot
high frown of an Ulster Says No banner

and her rib-cage is delicate white
as flour on a fillet of fish
while her lips, still hot with sausage,
salt and malt vinegar, mouth a wish

and clarty newspapers carry news
of the weekend's nil-nils
windblown with Special Brew
cans and Styrofoam cups as you thrill

to her octopus fingers,
the probe and prod of her plum of a tongue,
your teeth and her teeth tapping together,
holding breath until kingdom come.

She asks will all this last forever?
against the dun Woolworth's door.
Now your hard drive hums and haws.
You waver between Confirm and Ignore.
Dark Spots

In the late nineteenth century, some photographers
claimed not only to capture images
of loved ones from beyond
the grave, but to be able to photograph memories
of the deceased, their auras still glowing
around the bereaved,
as if to capture light reflected off a body could preserve
that body over time as Beatrice explains
the presence of the dark
spots on the moon to Dante in Paradiso, how
the brightness of a celestial body
reveals the angelic
gladness that quickens the body, letizia that shines as joy
shines through an eye. Visit Fort
Courage—Take Pictures
of the Past, the billboards across Arizona advised,
and at the base of the mountain in
New Mexico, a note taped
to the gasoline pump read, Hold tight to your money—the wind
will carry it away. In the snapshot of
my grandmother in her
casket, wearing the Elizabethan collar and perm'd
curls she never wore, my mother
gazes through her
to a planet she always knew existed but which, without
the darkness, she could never see
before. They call
some bruises shiners like the violet stars of the Rose of Sharon
that come out in the morning and shine
all day in their leaf-black
shade, shade carved into the yard like fish scales covering
the sarcophagus in Sant'Apollinare in
Classe near Ravenna
or the stiff, veined hands of the sycamore stretched wide
in applause, the Italian gesture
of mourning.
Everywhere the Earth Is Opening

After eight dry months of dirt,
this morning glowed all grass
and my pomegranate bush
finally boasted its knobby fruit.

Though mistakenly called apple
in that first search for skin
through the vine, I mean
another myth, another love altogether:

I mean that fruit that draws a curtain of earth
between mothers and daughters.
First light, I stooped low to the ground
but there were no deals to make

—she is dying, my mother's mother,
and won't make it till I touch down—
so I plucked each red bead
and littered them on the lawn, left them.

Mother, how can you possibly be next?
Everywhere the earth is opening
into slits that smell alive
and, between them, blooms.

Follow me, step into the soil.
Forget the fields. Let the others look.
We will always be daughters
and the dazzling seeds go down easy.
All the Old Weapons

Who's the one who said it? All the old weapons
poems lay down, bladelessly or just rusty
fall to prose in paragraphs safe as houses.
(Lock up the gun case.)

Here beside me pick out the weapons once you
used to slice through language or love. Achilles,
tent the blanket round us and heal these tenden-
cies past believing.

Ancient rhythm, cardiac wisdom beating
punctuates the body with rhyme and reason.
Silence treats us equally, linking pulses.
I hear your blood flow.

I'm the reliquary whose artist carved her
center's empty space to hold something sacred,
petrified as the bog-heart buried ages
I don't remember.

Absinthe, teardrop, water of life I may be
only drinking all that I know of useful,
bottles, battles, settlements, as I watch us
learning the language.
In Praise of Wobbly Tables

The restaurant's pristine. He leads you in,
all gentlemanly elbows, to your seat.
Warm light refracts the crystal vases' keep
of flowers you could never afford to buy.
The waiter recommends his favorite wine.
The busboy pours the water and the glass
beads up just like the nervous sweat you feel
on dates with strangers.

This one's promising:
you like the way he asks about your life
and doesn't vilify his former wife.
You sink into it, scotch and tweed his voice,
the wine's delicious, an excellent choice,
you let him order appetizers. Right—
then suddenly he takes a dive, below
the tablecloth (what is he doing?
is he a fetishist going for your toes?)

The table's slightly crooked, can't you see?
He'll fix it, just a minute, pulling out
a panoply of matchbooks, papers, clips.
Give me just a second and I'll fix it—
The table lurches with his ministrations,
a tiny plume of wine flies from your glass,
but down below he hears no protestations.

At last. He rises, straightens up his tie.
Much better now, he winks. I like it stable.
But now you're shaken, sitting, wondering:
if he can't take the tiniest of wobbles,
this gorgeous restaurant, the best of tables,
what will he do when plate tectonics shifts
between you, when that certain earthquake hits?
Pillow Talk

As an insomniac compulsively flips a pillow
to cool the cheek, I turn you over again & again
& again in my mind when I need the cold side
of the said affair to rail against
"the ruinous work of nostalgia."
If life imitates art, then each stillborn
has its own mucus-bright Blue Period.
Sharks keep moving to prevent dying.
People keep moving too, unwittingly staving off
the comfort of stasis, the virility of expiration, blah, blah ...
But Death, the great highlighter, makes us all shine
a bit more dearly. I'm a widowchild who needs sunblock
against your blinding legacy. I used to get my cardio up
by just sleeping next to you. In a sane world,
I'd be bumped off to warn the others of a sky
so blue at the end of the working business day
if your veins hadn't stolen the purest
Pearl Paint blue first. A broken thoroughbred—
I need a passport & vertigo pills to reach you.
Godspeed, galloping into your Misty Blue
OMG I miss you.

As the riders step out into the glum,
deadbeat day, greasy, thick, and the dingy air
crawls from the door to my seat—I think
of the time hands tightened around my throat
and face. How from the off-white wall,
my legs dangled, and he slung me to the floor.

I could not read it, the word that got me beaten
and bloody. Sounding it out ruh-ing—
knocked upside my head for not knowing
what I was spelling meant, r-i-n-g. I step
onto the grid, Western Avenue, where on either side
of the street the guts of houses still stand,
rickety on their foundations.

Work 6 blocks, on the corner of McKinley,
where inside I stack dishes, clean grease traps
and flip burgers. Two blocks, through an alley, craggy,
shattered bottles of Mickey's, the smell of grease.
I see a mutt, its coat almost cinder-gray, mangy
at the tail and neck, sniffing its way through a bag
of trash it must have gnawed open with its teeth.

Mobbing out of the alley and onto NW 23rd,
a store—every window barred, folks out front,
leaning up against the wall, paper-bagged bottles in hand.
I walk to a cooler of beer and find the tallest,
cheapest can of malt. Rattle of change,
the beeping door, back out on 23rd.

Twilight, 90 degrees, some kids shirtless,
licking Red Bomber popsicles, ice-cream truck
chiming its way up the block. As I make
my way through McKinley Park, I remember
the time, amid an onslaught of lights,
the cops found a teenager in the parking-
lot dumpster, shot through the dome.

How do I sound it out, even still, dreading
a barrage of blows coming after every misread
word? How do I spell grease popping
up from the grill and onto my face and hands?

On break, cigarette burning on my lips,
wheeling a load of soggy-bagged trash
to the dumpster, reminds me that the bus driver
said the victim was a kid that lived on 10th
and Kelly, and that the gunman is still a mystery.

There he was puffing his way toward
me, smoke at his lips and out the nostrils;
his face scrunched under a potato-chip hat,
shirt hanging from his shoulders sweat
Behind him a constellation of workers
crouched near the strawberry vines in their
wide-brimmed hats; one woman had a baby,
sheet-wrapped to her back, and a teenaged
walked the field rows, barefoot, with a pail
and dipper of water. Behind me sat my lemon,
overheated and parked in the knee-high grass,
the hood propped up. No habla español,
I said,
hand over my brow, the other in my pocket.
No one spoke English, but as we walked
toward shade and I was offered water, I knew
to drink, and hours later when offered
pinto beans, and potatoes, I knew to eat. As
the bright day gave way to sounds of cicadas
and the reddening set of the sun, the man
approached me again and led me to his
And driving to the nearest town, he talked
to me, pointing to the fields on either side
of the road, and I knew then he was talking
of work, and the long, slow days picking fruit.

i from the sketchbook

I thread the blackberry thicket for the shaded stone.
August has shriven the grass, the green sargassos of June,
And summer's alfalfa is lusterless gold in a nimbus of heat
Waiting the baler. It wavers, helpless, a phalanx of light.
August drums as bright thunder trumpets the field,
And the maple's khaki undersides lift in brisk salute
To shadows stalled against the pitiless scope of the sun.
Rain will riddle the valley, strafing blistered grains,
And black-eyed Susans in unison rise like the girls of St. Anne's.
Where foxglove in her petticoat has crowned the hill—
An indolent cotillion girl who tosses gold
From her shoulders, and proudly rustles yards of crinoline—
Freckled goldenrod assembles, choir boys,
A drift of anise, bobbing over their churchyard gate.
A sunflower's ovate leaves become the rough arms
Of a drowsy fieldhand, leaning on a split-rail fence,
Whose mouse-brown eye, alerted, lashed with gold, translates
The clouds as victory, the wind's voice as rain.


I knew the river wasn't theirs at all. Just once
When January sun on snow had made us wince,
When hickory and juniper were frosted cakes
On Barker Hill, my father tracked the Squanicook
With one gloved hand above the valley's heart—a braid
Of shattered mirrors bridging fields and barns and roads,
Through yards resigned to her encyclical despair.
In watching shards fragment those stalwart gabled spires,
I saw a fractured picture of our town and knew
I heard an ancient, urgent fury break the snow,
A fierce quicksilvering of winter's crusted dyke.
I watched it runnel gently where we crouched; its wake
Defied the valley, joyfully sped from where we gazed.
I felt the shrugging off of nature's deep disguise.
The river favored us. She lived and leapt the gorge.

iii from the notebook

The shadblow sheds it purple fruit and spills its seed,
The linden bartering yellow bouquets for a necklace of gourds.
Unbraided pennons, catkins of the willow, fill
Like ragged sails. A towering cumulonimbus patrols
The eastern skies. I watch magenta clover drone
On sleeping epaulettes and know the sun-soaked earth
Is breeding still: in torpid pools, in stagnant ponds,
Rebellious nature sets her offspring quarreling
For food and territory—in-bred stone-flies riot
For their rations where the water striders run
Their useless marathons; inflammatory toads
Attempt a revolution, all in vain. In time,
The planet's microcosmic battles merge and fail,
Leaves of drying blood consumed, a season's compost.


We walked the property a thousand times, as if
Without our walking there, the landscape might dissolve.
His trees were young. A drought-summer spark had cleared
The western third some time ago, and when he could,
He meant to have that forest back. He planted spruce
The size of children's pencils, fifteen hundred sprays
Of evergreen, each year as spindly as the last.
It hurt to watch him tearing up the ones he'd lost.
We carried water from the brook sometimes. It sluiced
A dozen clotted paths, where once an ancestor sliced
The forest open, and oxen, yoked, had dragged a road.
This was ours. New Hampshire, north of us, was broad
And diffident as France. With vague disdain, at six,
I knew our woods was better—even my burdocked socks
Belonged to Massachusetts. And I loved our field
Whose hundred-year-old hair had not been cut; it filled
With captivated birds. A thorny orchard kept
A dozen wizards prisoner. I watched their script
Of runes engrave the granite sky with ancient debt.
Everything the woods could teach, my father taught:
Delight, exactitude, a faith, his journeyman's doubt.

v Fire

Father, I'm dizzy in shimmering August, rising new
As summer's mistress from a field of corn. She now
Is married to the heat-swept grain. Her ripening breast
Is a thicket, bright with blood-berries, her body dressed
In flame. The red god of the salamander sandals her foot,
A monarch touches her lip, her coppery hands fit
Petals in a chain. She knows she has chosen to burn
At noon, as nature intends. The thrust maize, unborn,
Has made her heavy and drugged as a bee. A tawny wood-
Dove sleepily croons what her tongue cannot: the subtle wound
That too much plenty makes. She doesn't know that winter
Ravages, that grief and habitual wind will tint her
Skin and break the tender stalk of her body. She stands
Impaled by arrows of afternoon light until thunder stuns
Her—she slips like smoke into shade, behind the burning stones.
Narcissus incomparabilis

Lean down, lean down
while the light's abducted,
its last skirts caught
then torn through the trees.
Keep your own eye still
so no one catches you.
When it's gone, it's everywhere—
air a memory of light,
incident turned ambient,
and it never takes long
for this nacre to grow
over each absence or intruder
and become the world.
Lean down now,
creel of starlight and moon,
and reflect again
your inherited light.
World may ripple—
pearl, scale, pebble, bone—
behind all memory,
may ghost you, stranger,
where you don't belong.
But lean down now,
as memory hardens
its incomparable light.
Don't let the sun
set on you again.
Come On All You Ghosts (excerpt)


I heard a little cough
in the room, and turned
but no one was there

except the flowers
Sarah bought me
and my death’s head

glow in the dark key chain
that lights up and moans
when I press the button

on top of its skull
and the ghost
I shyly name Aglow.

Are you there Aglow
I said in my mind,
reader, exactly the way

you just heard it
in yours about four
poem time units ago

unless you have already
put down the paper directly
after the mention

of poetry or ghosts.
Readers I am sorry
for some of you

this is not a novel.
Good-bye. Now it is just
us and the death’s head

and the flowers and the ghost
in San Francisco thinking
together by means

of the ancient transmission device.
I am sorry
but together we are

right now thinking
along by means
of an ancient mechanistic

system no one invented
involving super-microscopic
particles that somehow

(weird!) enter through
your eyes or ears
depending on where

you are right now
reading or listening.
To me it seems

like being together
one body made of light
clanging down through

a metal structure
for pleasure and edification.
Reader when I think of you

you are in a giant purple chair
in a Starbucks gradually leaking power
while Neil Young

eats a campfire then drinks
a glass of tears
on satellite radio.

Hello. I am 40.
I have lived in Maryland,
Amherst, San Francisco,

New York, Ljubljana,
Stonington (house
of the great ornate wooden frame

holding the mirror the dead
saw us in whenever
we walked past),

New Hampshire at the base
of the White Mountains
on clear blue days

full of dark blue jays
beyond emotion jaggedly piercing,
Minneapolis of which

I have spoken
earlier and quite enough,
Paris, and now

San Francisco again.
Reader, you are right now
in what for me is the future

experiencing something
you cannot
without this poem.

I myself am suspicious
and cruel. Sometimes
when I close my eyes

I hear a billion workers
in my skull
hammering nails from which

all the things I see
get hung. But poems
are not museums,

they are machines
made of words,
you pour as best

you can your attention
in and in you the poetic
state of mind is produced

said one of the many
French poets with whom
I feel I must agree.

Another I know
writes his poems on silver
paint in a mirror.

I feel like a president
raising his fist in the sun.
Essay on Novels

Their shambling power and verisimilitude,
their mimetic resemblance to souvenir Yuletide
snowstorm paperweights in which we discover
our tiny selves shoveling silver glitter,

or scrimshawed whale's teeth, or
ships-in-bottles, or breath-fogged mirrors,

fanciful, delimited, craft-wise, time-bound,
toothsome and foredoomed as mastodons
crossing the tundra page by page
through the last ecstatic blizzard of the Ice Age.

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter's age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she's a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours, for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you'll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn't plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you'll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There's a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But there's also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here's the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you'll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You'll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
Sutliff Bridge

You wouldn't know about the bridge, bar and store
unless you were local, but now that the flood-
waters are down, everyone is coming to stand
and stare at the empty space: half a bridge gone,
grabbed in the river's fist, twisted and dragged
downstream to where its dark skeletal tips break
the gentle surface, pointing awry at the sky
like rusty hindsight exclamations of distress.

People murmur that the lost half should be brought back.
It could be retrieved, restored—just a matter
of allocating the money and equipment.
But will the county ante up? It was an old
bridge with scabrous cement piers, wooden planks
that roared like thunder when you drove
over them, and diminutive spans shedding
flakes at every vibration—the puce metallic bits
freckling the roadway until the wind blew
them away. There's a newer bridge upstream—
it survived this flood and looks good for a few more.

The Sutliff store used to sell everything from seeds
to paraffin to aspirin to boots. But it's been fifty
years and now the high tin-ceilinged room—with its
bounty of varnished shelves and drawers and marble
countertops, its glass display cases a remote
emphasis of emptiness and dust, its spindle
of parcel string still hanging at shoulder height
near the silent brass register—serves only as a way
to pass from the original bar to the recent dining
addition out back, so new that its exterior
still reads, KEVLAR KEVLAR KEVLAR, from every angle.

They do a booming business in Old Milwaukee pencil-
necks, fried bluegill baskets, and chili dogs. You can
eat inside while the jukebox skips and mingles
with talk of tractor parts and DVDs, or go
out to the riverbank where a few guys
have their lines in, casting for trout or bass
around the weeds under the bridge.

Imagine, after the flood with what newly brilliantined
suddenness the sunlight must have struck through
the water where there had been the shade of the bridge
for more than a hundred years—weeds and fish shocked
in an aqueous net of umber turning to neon green,
skated upon by the movements of clouds.

Visitors in the know write their names on dollar bills
and tape them to the low ceiling and walls of the bar—
a glaze of long-forgotten singles ambered by age
and grease and smoke. The old ladies like it here,
parking their walkers along the wall, and the farmers
wanting lunch and conversation, and the Harley
riders who come through the screen door in groups
with dust from the gravel road blunting the shine
on their leather. Since the bridge went out, bar business
has been even better than usual. No one needs strong
black thread or lampwicks anymore, but they still
want potatoes piping hot out of the oil and a place
to congregate, and this small destruction—no human
deaths involved—means nature's power affirmed,
the satisfaction of fretting over an impersonal loss,
and a blank in the air that looks like change.
False Documents

They ran the numbers twice for you
giving you the benefit of the doubt
but you knew the computer at the other
end of the officer’s PDA would not find
your brown number in its little black index.
You drove exactly one mile per hour below the speed
limit. You buckled your baby into his car seat according
to instructions. You signaled for exactly three seconds
before you turned left. You wanted to hide the Subway wrappers,
the empty box of Orbitz gum. Evidence of Big Macs.
You wanted to drink the Mountain Dew before it turned toxic
in the hot Phoenix sun as you asked, doesn’t this green
sludge make me American enough? But you didn’t
move because you knew the officer would have taken
that for gun-finding or drug-hiding or some other supposed
Mexican sport. You with your hands at ten and two
wondered how long the bus ride the officer would take you
on would last and whether they would provide any water.
You wondered, as the officer put hand to holster,
how dangerous it would be to down that Mountain
Dew then and there, in the wide-open American air.