Father's Day Race


The boat had no hull. It was a wing
fired in porcelain, glass and steel
skimming the waves and our girl gone

with you to let out the mainsail. The win
was what mattered, speed and style.
The boat had no hull, just a wing

so that waves slipped past like Teflon,
your mast tall and great sail full,
skimming the waves, our girl keen

on your mark. You could not begin
to take enough care, so you took none at all.
The boat had no hull but a wing

for speed and style, no ballast or concern
for safe—just cut wake, caressed foil.
It skimmed the waves, our girl gone

over the side to rescue the rigging. No will
now, no mast, no cumbersome life vest.
The boat had nothing under its wing;
it skimmed the waves, and our girl was gone.


Memorizing "The Sun Rising" by John Donne

Every reader loves the way he tells off
the sun, shouting busy old fool
into the English skies even though they
were likely cloudy on that seventeenth-century morning.

And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words,
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare,
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.

But after a few steps into stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes,
I can feel the first one begin to fade
like sky-written letters on a windy day.

And by the time I have taken in the third,
the second is likewise gone, a blown-out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.

So it’s not until I leave the house
and walk three times around this hidden lake
that the poem begins to show
any interest in walking by my side.

Then, after my circling,
better than the courteous dominion
of her being all states and him all princes,

better than love’s power to shrink
the wide world to the size of a bedchamber,

and better even than the compression
of all that into the rooms of these three stanzas
is how, after hours stepping up and down the poem,
testing the plank of every line,
it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.


Name Gourmand

—Post Cove, Deep River, Connecticut

Arrow-arum, water purslane, and false
pimpernel are new to me now
that I live on a riverine tidal marsh.

These plants grow about or in the cove
where, out with the tide and in,
the common mummichog and banded

killifish swim. I imagine if I've seen a thing—
golden club, sweet flag, reed canary grass—
its name will spring to mind when

I want it to, but the deep truth is I enjoy
the luscious touch of common names
about the roof and floor, teeth edge

of my mouth—the salivate, sexy sensation—
my way of kissing the ring of English
for having crowned me English-speaking.

One evening last summer I spied the marsh
bellflower—dabs of blue amid chartreuse-
bright wild rice sprigs—two yards from

bursts of bur-marigold and rosy meadow rue,
and I'm still hunting for the uncommon
Hudson arrowhead, the cut-leaved

water horehound. However did a plant get hound
in its name? But I don't want a pause for
etymological dreaming to halt the susurrous

and rattling runs of consonants, the shallow
and broad bellow of vowels, all that music
that, in trickles or rills or dips or blows,

trips the switch of this or that synapse:
the Wernicke and Broca areas of my
cerebral cortex flaring up like hydrogen

firestorms on the sun, my entire body
scintillate and quick with the gush-in,
flush-out, whisking blood


Landscape with Figures Partially Erased

First, it's just the faces disappearing.
Because, deflected, as the faces long have been,
with their hunched trunks
and mercilessly twisted necks,
they can only be regarded from a ground's-eye view.

The bellwort tips its fallow head down
in the hot tomato field. The green snake rests
beneath the green leaves, and the air is toast brown.
Diesel tractors grind to the road and idle there,
their heads bowed, too, like giant wooden horses
meant to sack an unsuspecting city.
Down come the earthen walls.

My father used to pour libations onto the ground
from the gas pump's nozzle, and I'd swirl
its iridescence, respire it into my lung's core,
so woozy, so sick, and awed by the vapors.
Fire beguiled me, too. As did the concept of force.

Whole villages burned in a single spritz.
Even now the past gets altered. We forget
because our friends won't suffer that subject again.
Because the students tap their pens uncomfortably,
look around to see if anyone else is taken in.
That's when we figure it's best to make a joke.

I've wandered, now, from the corrugated sheds,
with people half in and half out of nuclear range.
My retention of facts is not a silo.
Even if it were, some disrepair gets fallen into.
I like to think we dismantle thought
as much as tortuous thought dismantles us.

I have seen sharp men lose limbs. Women too.
A hand pulled off, conveyed into the hopper.
But these were country matters.
Like frilled silhouettes of flowering wild carrot,
white against the mackerel white sky,
the texture is imperishable, the details

so far off. These bodies: their contours
uncertain. Just a general cast to the light.


The Egg Had Frozen, an Accident.
I Thought of My Life

The egg had frozen, an accident.
I thought of my life.
I heated the butter anyhow.
The shell peeled easily,
inside it looked
both translucent and boiled.
I moved it around in the pan.
It melted, the whites
first clearing to liquid,
then turning solid
and white again like good laundry.
The yolk kept its yolk shape.
Not fried, not scrambled,
in the end it was cooked.
With pepper and salt, I ate it.
My life that resembled it ate it.
It tasted like any other wrecked thing,
eggish and tender, a banquet.


Visiting Stanley Kunitz

I have flown the Atlantic
To reach you in your chair.
Cuddling up, we talk about
Flowers, important things,
And hold hands to celebrate
Spring gentian's heavenly
(Strictly speaking) blue.
You grow anemones,
You say, wind's daughters.
I say the world should name
A flower after you, Stanley.
We read each other poems.
You who'll be a hundred soon
Take forever to sign
My copy of Passing Through.
What flower can I offer you
From Ireland? Bog asphodel
Is the colour of your shirt.
Grass of Parnassus? Mountain
Everlasting in New York?
Your zimmer-gavotte suggests
Madder with its goose-grassy
Tenacity, your age-spots
Winter-flowering mudwort.
But no, no. Let it be
Spring gentian, summer sky
At sunset, Athene's eyes,
Five petals, earthbound star.



Last night you called me out to the December dark
to look up and see what neither of us had ever seen
before: a burnished flock of Canada geese, bent
into a flexed bow and heading south across a clear-
starred moonless sky in silence, winging it
to warmer quarters, and all lit up—like mystery,
I thought, a lit thing bearing nothing but the self
we see and savor but know no more the meaning of
than I know what in the cave of its fixed gaze
our cat is thinking. The geese were lit to the shade
of tarnished gold or dead oak leaves hanging still
in sunshine, or the color tall reeds have when
car-lights stream and splash over them in winter.
And they were—these beings moving as one—
a mystery to us: Why, we asked, their color, who
by daylight are simply black-winged shapes
quickening southwards across a sky-blue canvas?
How could they be lit from below like that, from
somewhere near where we stood on the earth
we shared with them, staring up, the earth that
for this inhabited minute or two must have been
giving off a light that made these creatures shine
for us who were there by chance, with no moonshine
to explain it? Then they're gone, gone dark, gone on,
though in their aftermath the cold dark we stood
our ground in was for a little while neither cold
nor dark but a place of visitation, and we were in it.