Under a red umbrella, confide to morning
your three soft scars—a pit, a plum, a glaze.
Sometimes two sugars are not enough.
Keening helps, but use the lower register
for grief—a cello, or bar of chocolate, dark.
Uncouple the locomotive from its tender!
Scraps you squirreled away for just this moment—
already they’re obsolete. How little you know,
how fiercely you’ve clutched it.
Learn the varied sounds of hammers—
framing, ball-peen, tack. Then become
a simple answer to a complex question.
Admit you can’t dial the truth, or have it faxed;
begin to trust the thrum of your nerves. Keep
others’ hands from your pocket, even for keys.
Heavenly bamboo’s not a bamboo; sometimes
you can know too much. Imagine
moonlight’s a phone to your heart.
Never say shimmer, given a choice. Start
at the root of the tongue with couscous or
quail eggs, the tang of what’s odd.
Read a history of wings before attempting flight.
Some believe, to find your way, escape on paper.
Now’s the time: re-couple the tender.
Scratch the one good ear of the pet who listens.
Honeysuckle’s not the devil’s flower; the naked tulip is.
Bang a wooden ladle on the iron skillet’s edge.
Skirt the saltwater marsh: a swirl of shearwaters
banks in the wind, hidden plover explode underfoot.
Watch sun simmer on the eddy’s oiled surface.
. . . by your bootstraps? Not everyone wears boots!
Hold an answer long enough; the question changes.
The body is heaviest when you first take wing.
To find the straightest line between two needs
follow the hummingbird. Or the moth.
Or the faithful beagle nosing a hedge.
Feel a ladybug traverse your inner thigh,
let the small hard shell row into the void.
Even a grizzled pigeon clatters up in time.
Imagine your dark heart’s serene, your feet not stones.
Appreciate the glacial erratics in Antelope Valley. Deer
believe their legs; watch them clear the cattle fence.
Hot day, wet mouth—both can change your mind.
Think how green this small planet is,
and how the petals fall away.
the coming grandchild
Phantom-child, serene floater, mostly head, you’re dozing,
chin to chest, arms folded, bird legs stiff. Fingerprints,
tear-ducts, toenails; already your eyes sense light.
You can hear your mother’s croon and booming heart.
But please—slow down! Your lungs are furled, you have no
head-hair, calluses, bravado or deceit: you’re still not ready.
Us? We’ve done our best. We’ve been distracted—flood, fire,
war—the lethal carnival. We haven’t fed those who came
before you, covered them with coats or roofs. Haven’t healed
the ones we trampled. Warned by ministers and scribes,
we’ve sprayed the land, tainted water, killed for peace.
Wanting you so much, we tried to soothe capricious gods.
We haven’t yet fashioned a world for you—but wait. Swim
in limbo while we make this temporary place—a newly
whitewashed room at least, a narrow crib, thin quilts.
Be patient: we’ll show we care with the gift of this world—
that someday you’ll be stricken, too, by a new soul forging
its ardent way toward your own calamitous, dazzled life.
for James D. Houston, novelist (1933-2009)
Like this: I’m spading up the garden,
no idea his last breath’s puttered out
from one dark spadeful to the next.
It’s work. It’s hot. One day later
I’m running a hand over yesterday—
incidental things: the soil caked
from rain, surface bleached, turned-up
earthworms, twisting laces—pink.
Did his tangled eyebrow twitch?
Did he swallow? What I didn’t know.
Here’s the beach he walked. Heat
contorts the shoreline—throbbing cliffs.
Limp surf scoter washed up. Not him
ambling up the sand, waving.
Stranger with a singular gait—rolls
like him to the left. Wouldn’t see him
for years, then a bass chuckle,
huge hand clamping mine, confidential
eyes, “It’s one Great Joke, my friend,”
arm on my shoulders, “I’m dead serious.”
Pelican skims the breakers, riding
thermals. Just to know he was here,
brooding over the bay—fathomed
himself day after day, trusting
words would come. It’s almost enough.