The night my father died I buried myself
in a little language, a testament of will,
measured out the way the stonecutter

measures out our names to make them fit,
and as I leaned beneath the bell of light
to the cursor where it pulsed, I placed there

neither man nor the shape of his absence,
not grief as I knew it, but the tiny bones
of ink that grief made, rising to the surface.

I have met with those who disapprove
of passing through too quickly into song,
as if, with death, we give to it the first

word which is none at all. Anything more
is to make light of suffering: mine, yours.
Or worse, to make far too much of it,

to lose oneself in the futures market
that seeks to clear a profit on misfortune.
They have a point. That is, some songs need

a certain hesitation to break the ice
and move more deeply into winter’s current.
Then again, tending to a song’s needs

gives loss a vocation, and who is to say
what will come of it, any more
than what comes of music while it lasts.
Audubon loved the creatures that he killed.
That is part of the story. He loved the music
he silenced, gutted, stuffed with clouds of cotton,

the bodies he cleansed with a surgeon’s care
then mended with needle, a stitched seam
tucked beneath the feathers where they shone.

He loved the eyes that gave way to seeds
of glass, the small black blisters gleaming
with light that went just so far, so deep.

Somewhere in that region of inquiry,
in what he could not paint, the illusion
of life took, and fluttered to the surface,

informing the angle of the head, the beak,
the bright rustle of wings as the ivory-
billed woodpecker turns away from us

to make out some motion in the distance.
Movement is danger. Or so the heartbeat
says at first, until it settles back

onto its perch, its branch of understanding.
What you see within the sure lines and blush
of these renditions is an artist’s gaze,

so steady, cautious as it crosses the lip
of stillness, our open coffin, careful not
to break the perfect silence where it breathes.
Suppose all the world is a house lit up
against the night, and the eye of the bird
our only window. If you look through

the black air, you just might see a man,
a father, say, who takes his broken sleep
down the hall to a desk in the distance.

He is peering over his heavy glasses
to the near at hand, papers that await
his signature to put his affairs in order.

When he writes, his pen bleeds a little
ink over the line, real or imagined,
to lay a name against the emptiness.

Birds slip into the flowered portraits
of his study, silent, and yet made flesh
by the hand that murdered to create them.

The Carolina pigeon dips the nib
of his beak into the mouth he feeds.
If he spreads his colors, ribbed in black,

it is one more song that calls the thing
unseen. The man closes up his desk,
and with it a passage in his testament,

the part where he asks to be scattered,
remembered the way a body remembers to breathe.
A ghost thread pulls outward, like a word.


To Wait

is no great

It's tough

and mostly

You chew

and chew.
It's said

to be good
for you, but

it only fills.
Swallow it,

it swells.
And it must

be mildly

for its last
effect is just

like its first:
thirst. Take

birth, for

nine whole

a baby
keeps mum.

Take spring:
up north,

all time's
a sandwich

between thick
white crusts

of wintering.
Take anything

that bakes,
brews, builds,

or makes

more than a
few days out.

Take worry
and doubt.

And what's
hurry but a

hurried wait?
Every day

we wait for
night; every

night we wait
for morning.

Take warning.
Take endings,

endings made

(or, worse,

by excess
drivel or a



the wait
is what

a writer

his brief
and bitter

tenure on
this breath-

taking, heart-





Feathered Friends

On Spectacle Pond a laggard loon yelped, next
I saw it, next I didn't. Hardly mannerly
of me to paddle out chasing the loons, but I did.

High fall color, but leaves upon leaves,
spotty this year, begrudge themselves. They remind
me of me, trying on grade school dresses in ill will.

Undone! Obstinate spirit undoing! —reiterates
whatchamacallit, territorial chirp of the backwater nondescript.
Every so often my heart sinks without a trace.

Shaggy pond, in finite patience, means to shrink itself
soon to a meadow: tree-by-toppling-over-
tree it raddles its rough edges gradually inwards.

Despised exotic once myself, I did my stint of fish-&-wildlife
mischief & thrived. (Among profuse apologies a few
fresh aspersions cast, with luck nobody gets them.)

Most maple leaves alight face-down. Buoyant on tips
on the facile surface, they round their silvery
wrongsides up & erect red stems; swanlike, disperse.

Brief breather, then parties to refractory
local hostilities resume: in a twinkling I snap up a modest
rocky lakefront property, post my dissuasion.

The pond mistakes itself for the time being.
Inevitably most pond creatures fall prey.
The pond quibbles and turns to itself a deaf ear.

Solicitudes, regrets: community civilities
too proliferate upon so little to recommend them that I do
relish a tongue-lashing followed by laughter.

Subject to lunatic humors, myopic of eye & woozy,
I poured myself some glasses of water. Binocular
blink: those two look to me like the same pair, year after year.


Within Shouting Distance of the Coosa

Once in Alabama when I was young
and given to aimless ambling,
I followed a red road between pines
where even at midday the cicadas
were complaining, and with nothing
on my mind and expecting nothing
I was about to pause for water
when the road's weedy roughness
opened to a clearing where boards
wounded by years of weather
formed a modest church, the peak
of its steeple gone and door scotched
open. The wind was scattering pollen,
and somewhere off in the needles
a mockingbird thought it was evening
and half-heartedly sang. Do I need
to say I forced the door and found
everything rain-soaked and broken,
the pews only planks whose cinder
blocks had fallen or were, as I've said,
ruined? But I heard a hum or what
I thought could be a hymn rising
from behind the altar and squinted
to see the worker bees dance and circle
where they'd swarmed. Young
as I was, I understood "not one step
closer, do not disturb," so backed
away, because I knew they believed
their honey holy and would not
suffer it to be troubled without
rushing to beset me, and besides I'd
already been touched by the Word
and held under down at the river
till I heard God's gold voice shining,
insects swarming the choir's serenade,
bee sound the very sound He made.