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palimpsest (132)

tension slips between

skin and flesh

as skillful as a fishmonger’s

blade slices down

the length of an eel

with one stroke

a practiced motion

without thought

like a priest at prayer

each wooden bead rolled

over fingertips in sync

with the slow muttered vowels

one patterned moment

moving toward the next

with endless patience

as the next ritual waits

for the candle to be lit

the words to flow

less with meaning

than as a balm

to still disquiet

(April 14, 2021)

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Pentecostal Ash (130)

within a multitude of soft tongues

a flame whispers accusations

around the kindling at your feet

and with a puff from her lips

it flourishes like angelic trumpets

curling toward a blackening sky

then soon enough

the fire fades 

to a boredom

akin to sadness

it’s not there

in its absence

as sadness pervades

each need

with lackadaisical ease

(April 5, 2021)

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what’s to be done but misunderstand (129)

SONY DSC

with a thousand toes to step upon

scattered across the ballroom floor

he negotiates with a nonchalance

reserved for sinister seductions

each phrase she said like a rabbit 

testing the air for the slightest sound 

to announce the wolf’s ragged debut

yet the wolf is off in some other forest

tracking that red-caped girl and

the wind carries sounds 

from some other tale as 

everything we once knew

crumbles into sullen ash

(April 2, 2021)

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like televisions in empty rooms (128)

at night a window becomes a mirror

where I see through my face 

floating upon the glass like ghosts
outside the trees glow in moonlight

I open another door and walk out

across the grass mixing my shadow

with the night’s mottled shadows

as if dark lace woven into the earth

I turn back to watch what I’ve left behind

the figures in the house move silently

from room to room like actors 

rehearsing how they will say what they say

(April 1, 2021)

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there again as if never there (127)

the rose belies death’s presence 

its slow decay into transcendence 

like words we almost knew 

but failed to say somehow 

only to be troubled for years 

rehashing conversations 

as if our world would change 

if we could only stay on script 

hearing each cue clearly without 

improvisation to distract 

from the offerings of love  

burning upon a broken stone 

as if some deity would take pity 

on creatures who could create 

no better god than themselves 

(March 25, 2021)

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side note

indecisive and insecure 

I am on an edge 

no cliff nor rooftop 

from which to leap 

more marginal  

more like myself 

a collection of questions 

laced down a ragged page 

I take a moment 

to pull myself close 

to gather myself 

into a tighter pile 

of misunderstandings 

to tie myself to a series 

of questionable knots 

strung across the night 

with a sense of frivolity 

like lights at a garden party 

or a noose in a lonesome room 

swinging beneath a bare bulb 


(March 25, 2021)

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I am not You (126)

“a border is never neutral”

—Jaques Derrida

on a map it is a line drawn

in color across the landscape


it’s arbitrary except for words

which no longer make sense


when placed abstractly on trees

and through creek beds


no one sees them except 

the ones who kill ones


who speak their vowels

elongated or shortened

(March 11, 2021)

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with each glance a horizon forms (125)

to form a new line

just out of reach


like desire

and all we remember

we fall away

from ourselves like rain


leaving clouds

to float on the horizon


too tired to speak

too heavy to hold the sky


we move down a road

always approaching a line


if we cross we’re freed

into a new chain


a new destruction

a new circle to close


like blood squeezed

along sclerotic veins


until the heart seizes

at what remains


a lost kiss a touch

one last word


(March 8, 2021)

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Each Moment Re-inscribes the Present (123)

like the good china handled

with delicate hands as if

the people pictured could be

shaken from the scene and lost

they are only brought out on holidays

or as we gather to bury the dead

who were the ones who knew them all

these photographs that stepped from context

as soon as the shutter snapped

the aunts uncles cousins friends pictured

within a tangled patchwork of memory

at their own holidays their own funerals

look back at us with our familiar eyes

wanting to know who we are what we’ve become

(February 25, 2021)

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Without the Stories She Must Have Told

700-00041983 © Bryan Reinhart Model Release: No Property Release: No Blurred View of Hellbrunn Alley Salzburg, Austria

All I know of her is, perhaps, this 

three-second, eight-millimeter film clip:


discernibly old, she steps through shadows

next to a tall man, who is also in shadow.


Briefly from the sepia tress, she looks back 

towards the camera— her face a blurred silence.

(February 18, 2021)

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Layers (122)

the cat slept all day

turned tightly into herself

a sublime wisdom


snow begins to fall

silencing the day’s hard sleet

the night grows colder


ice brightens the moon

along the bare branches’ backs

like a hot whip’s snap


by morning the snow

drapes the yard as if with light

the chimes slowly sound


a lone mockingbird chirrups

inside the house the cat waits

(February 18, 2021)

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a house without mirrors (121)

from what vantage point

can one see oneself

with a panoramic clarity

reserved

for history

and mountain ranges

in the spring


the answer of course lies

in one’s own myopic

vision blurred

with warm blankets

precise collars

and a dilettante’s 

book shelf

(February 13, 2021)

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Blatantly Obvious as Well, to Answer Your Question (119)

another story’s offered

as talisman against

the last day’s horror

i’ve listen to for years


and despite the slow

unfolding I understood

sentences ago i wait

for the last syllable to fall


grace allows misunderstanding

to slip away like ash

from ember as easily as

truth falls to lies


so yes i understood you

each and every time

(February 7, 2021)

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Four poems from a series (115-118)

each breath (115)

a butterfly turns

from the chrysalis’s shell

then flutters away like breath

(February 4, 2021)

problematic poetics (116)

each image resists

the metaphor’s

transformation

(February 4, 2021)

each tongue a border (117)

i struggle to translate

my language to words

i may speak with others

who are closest to me

and who are said

to share my tongue

(February 4, 2021)

vocabulary impediments (118)

talk normal 

there boy

(February 4, 2021)

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adrift (114)

in the dark a red thrum quickens 

the edge of remembrance like light’s 

first glimmer across the sea 


I trace my gnarled fingers along the slick 

interior walls to justify what it is 

that pushes back my intentions 
 

like the egg in childhood’s experiment 

which floats in a glass of salt water 

I drift seemingly unsupported 

 
with vague suppositions and 

innuendo to tangle like seaweed 

trapping my voice below the waves 

 
and what I would if I could speak 

drowns in my first breath 

like a fish mouthing silent words 

(February 3, 2021)

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doorway (113)

formed out of these walls to shape

the air to separate here from there


beneath the dark winter quilts

my skin presses to your warmth


longs to be more than my limits

more than what’s contained inside


more an opening to other spaces

other ways with different lines


to cross with a limping accent

a creole to hone words into an edge


I know only what I know

my cell wall’s textures memorized


through the season’s slow change

the light and shadow through the bars


play their fingers in the silent air

like puppets alive to the string’s pull

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as in fields of broken stone (109)

all the ropes and chains

and puppet strings

knotted about

our brittle bones

like love turn us

toward a hell

we’ve compensated for 

for years and years

where we coo and flutter

like lonesome doves

*
this is where i am this

is where you are this

is where i need to be

no where else but here

where i followed

continuity’s remains

like snails’ wet traces

through damp vegetal rot

where i find the eyes of the dead

laid on a cold plate

watching the mendicants

offer olives and oil

to a god

who cannot be bothered

to laugh

(January 25, 2021)

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Permissable Topics (108)

we cannot talk about some things

because that causes them to happen


We cannot talk about sex

or death or injustice


because they do not exist


we cannot talk

of our experience


because it contradicts others


we cannot speak to each other

because that could build bonds


we cannot speak of the voices

that await us at school

at home and in our heads


we cannot speak

we cannot talk


we are not allowed

(January 21, 2021)

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which simple metaphor shapes my day (104)

a different time with new shadows

wraps the light in different patterns

more random more abstract less fragile

less likely to crack like a beetle’s

carapace beneath my careless boots


I roam between my vacant days

then disappear easier than I thought

between quick ire and old resentments

like broken branches slip easily

with the river’s froth across smooth rocks


despite all the engrained justifications

despite the comprised and contradictory

narratives despite the feral rage

I am who I am stripped of language

laid down since birth like shrouds

(January 15, 2021)

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Slow Read

A few days ago I read about a thing called a Slow Read. You choose a book of poetry by a single author (I added in not a collected works), then each day you read one poem out of that book several times during the day. The next day you do the same with the next poem in the book, and continue until the book is finished. ( I also added in the further restrictions that it had to be a book I had not read yet, and it had to be by a woman). I am starting today. I am going to slow read the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout.

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shadows near shadows far away (103)

as if trapped in a net of shadow

afternoon light through the window

struggles on the opposite wall 

to form a coherent pattern where

a difference may be discerned

between shadows near and far away


outside the oak and elm stand mute

allowing the air to whisper for them

allowing easy cliches to answer

decades of hardened blood

to answer questions never asked

to form opinions from shadow

as old palimpsests below the scars

re-inscribe the day hour by hour

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Reflection’s Projections

“the other is the figure of my truth, and cannot be imprisoned in any stereotype (which is the truth of others).”

                        –Roland Barthes

He is no more this, than she

Permits outside the walls

He hides behind. No trope

To be conjured within, she

Vaguely files her nails,

And thinks of him less

Than what to have done

At the spa. He knows

Her as he imagines,

Not as she is told. She

Believes she does not

Change outside herself,

As much as he desires

Her to be more than both.

(June 15, 2017)

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what silence waits to give voice

how much must be

etched across the glass

like ice across the lake

before I can hear

the ravens in the wood

caw out their hunger

before the dark wings’

fluttered descent disguises

the sharp peck and pull

that is my final vision

what silence waits

as an echo’s first reflection

before it wraps itself again

around the trees like snow

(December 24, 2020)

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to divine the past (102)

from any chance moment

wherever you happen to be

like light and dark dancing

across the forest floor

memory without warning

will step out from a phrase

to raise the ancient dead 

the way dust devils 

on cool autumn afternoons 

will twirl lifeless leaves into the air 

like moon-pale bacchants 

arms twisting above their heads

then within your next thought

let fall still trembling to the ground

leaving you ashamed for some act 

of cowardice or petty remorse 

at best remembered less if at all 

and then only as a trace of flame 

flickering shadows upon a wall

(December 21, 2020)

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continuous balm (101)

“but little thought”

—W. Wordsworth

today as I drive past sorghum fields

on my way to work I recall

a train in the Netherlands

decades ago moving through tulip fields

long strides of red and yellow

that stepped toward the horizon

(December 8, 2020)

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ambient fear (100)

on the edge of a field a rabbit

sits still as a new wind stirs her fur

with the resonant dangers nearby

thus the day’s anxieties flow

through my skin as if I were a net

tossed into the ocean’s pulse to collect

the bits of how I am defined

by everyone but me

the deeper I drop  the darker it becomes

and I am too tired all the time

to watch my last breath rise

in swirling bubbles like butterflies

lifting as one from a field of flowers

(December 6, 2020)

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high mountain lake (99)

“where absent-minded prophets come to drown”

—Benjamin Peret

near the water’s edge he sat

as if waiting for something

momentous to occur


although the sun shimmered

brightly across the water

the mountain air was cold


for a moment he sensed someone

watching from the trees

he turned but nothing waited there


far away his life changed

as he watched the light

dance along the water’s surface


he swam out slowly

to the middle of the lake

and sank into the dark


(December 3, 2020)

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how much self-denigration must occur (96)

if i gnaw out my fragile heart

canines slavering through flesh

the way wolves trapped

will desperately gnaw off 

a leg to escape the hunter

will I be free with only a blood 

limped trace dropped like roses

through freshly fallen snow

to mark my passage like stale crumbs

scattered across the frozen forest floor

a vaguely cogent sentence fragment

to parse a meaning into salvation

will I see in time the breach

open wide enough to squeeze

rock against chest between

tightly held breaths balanced

on a desperate fear that I have

lost the best bits of myself

(December 1, 2020)

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parenthesis (95)

with an accent slightly different

than any dialect spoken here

 a hole opens around us like an amoeba

and we are contained within 

an other’s misinterpretation

as if we were not a part

of the conversation like a rock

is not a part of the river

which erases incrementally

shaping the rock as it surges past

oblivious like memory to the change

as each remembrance rises

to take dominion everywhere

if only for the moment it takes

to speak and then to unhear

all the patterns which brought us here

(November 19, 2020)

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only mine (94)

I cannot see much of life

beyond the ragged hedgerow

I’ve grown from broken thorns

scattered like blood

across still water

unless the walls fall

and all the little boxes

open like rain misting

the tightly trimmed

topiary with ice

and the cold parenthesis

cracks like cicadas’ wings 

as i slip from myself 

a worm through earth’s minutia

feeding on the remains

and fragments that were mine

(November 13, 2020)

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an assumed direction (93)

this labyrinth has no end

no center in which to be eaten

no twine to trace an origin


just a blind turn toward hope

a quick glance back toward despair


one cannot be lost without direction

yet our angled descent is certain


I can see the sun before it sets

listen to the fuss of squirrel and jay

or be consumed in worry’s fire


there is no clear path to happiness

we are always here

(November 5, 2020) 

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Today’s Lesson

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

—T.S.Eliot

my students work over the abstract

idea of redemption in three stories

as a preparation for the wasteland

which we will read for the next class

one thousand miles away students

hide as their classmates are killed

and we are told there is nothing

nothing we can do except pray

prayers are useless balms for the dead

and pale recompense for the living

who must clean blood from walls

and mix memory into the earth

devoid of hope near an open door

we are in a hell we have created

(February 14, 2018)

I wrote this three years ago on the day of the Parkland massacre. I think about my students every time there is another school shooting. And there always seems to be another shooting. And still nothing is done. This poem was published by Shantih Journal.