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My Hands

These are my mother’s hands:

wracked with worry, the veins

thick below the skin, soft

like worms in loam.


These are my mother’s hands:

holding my face, stunned

that I am still alive

to walk through another day.


These are my mother’s hands:

kneading the bread dough

for another Thanksgiving,

one more meal together.


These are my mother’s hands,

empty like bones in the ground.

(November 28, 2021)

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Presence

I breathe in this world.

A rose blooms in the backyard:

Today is today.

(November 26, 2021)

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Reconciliation

Unintended, random like dice, or love

the stories fell into place, puzzle parts

as remembered, and retold as punch lines

to a deflected tragedy one night

late after almost all had departed.

You spoke into your anguish. I listened,

troubled in my failed attempt at reason,

for what you had said tore into my heart.

How can anyone know the genetic

strands of what we have said to each other?

where the safe world we have constructed shapes

us from the lies we have neatly explained

until the only truth we know is ours,

tangled in our hearts’ cold reliquaries.

(November 21, 2021)

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Last Day’s Wait

He was dying slowly, and I

was impatient.


The bell, sewn on his pillow,

called and called.


All afternoon as it rang,

I would go to him.


He would whisper slurred words,

as I leaned into his deaf ears.


What do you need? What can I do?

Water? Do you want water?

He’d groan, his eyes lost

somewhere in the distance.


What do you need? What do you want?

As if  I did not know.



(November 18, 2021)

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I Try

to be here

to be happier

more often

than not

to laugh

without bitterness

to disengage

the past

cut loose

those chains

to drink less

to be less scattered

to be less

to not be afraid

to not be

here


(November 16, 2021)

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My Grandson Asks My Son

thanks to They Might Be Giants

“What’s a soul,

and how do you build a bird house

in it?”


My soul ached then,

as he built a space

larger than the sky:


the bluest wonder widened

within, opening his nascent world

to dawn’s infinite chorus,


and I rose with the song

to a dance

I had thought forgotten.


When did I lose such trust

in the fragile

feathers of love?


(November 14, 2021)

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It’s Not Cold; It’s Nothing

I look out and see the sun;

I feel no warmth.


I do not want to be here,

but I have nowhere else to go.


I would say I’m unhappy,

but that implies happiness


existed as a measure

to gauge an amount of rain.


If I listed all my faults,

I’d have something to do.


Today was much like yesterday:

hot, dry, and lonely;


The sun slowly shimmers

the surface of the lake, like ice.

(November 11, 2021)

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A Problem with Narrative Poetry

You begin with some mundane action,

which is not so mundane, of course,

as the poem progresses casually,

like a suburban park’s path,

along an implied narrative’s arc.


Then some fragile moment occurs—

perhaps a squirrel who, startled, stops

mid-path to stare for an instant,

it’s dark eyes questioning your life

before fleeing into the nearby brush.


Then you turn on an epiphany; and,

rising above the path and squirrel

like a Pentecostal dove on fire,

you signal your transcendent virtue

to all those who pause to understand.


So, the poem comes to a cliched close

softly condescending so as to not

offend any who might see themselves

mocked behind any veiled smirks

or metaphor they might find here.

(November 7, 2021)

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Net Worth

Like raw clay upon a wheel,

I twist decades’ old regrets

to shape my truth with desire

to be some other than I am.

As if life’s embarrassment

could be stripped away, like skin

cut loose in great bloody skeins,

free from doubt’s infinite knots:

Tangled in old fishing lines,

I am trapped within myself.

The only recourse is guilt

inlaid along my arms’ veins

like intricate red nets flung

across a river’s slow wash.

(November 4, 2021)

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The Function of Memory

(four haiku and a tanka couplet refrain)

The flames slip across

the old wood in the fire pit.

I think of you.


My life trails behind

before I step into it.

I’ve been here before.


I am always here.

Today, I lost who I am:

I tripped on a root.


I see who you were

when I fell in love with you.

Forty years slip past.


A mountain is a mountain;

a river flows to the sea.

(October 31, 2021)

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Will the Answer be Worth the Question


For several days, I don’t write at all,

then start to worry I won’t write again.

Not that it matters to anyone else,

except me and the niggling voice within.

I know, time to think will quiet the voice

which fills the silence like an open wound;

for Time’s a negligent god, not caring

if I pick up any of the dry bones

she casually drops as talismans

on this twilight path I long to travel.

So, I tear out my heart as sacrifice

to the twisted beast who is my other:

will it satisfy this constant hunger,

and let grace fall on me like winter rain?

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You Find a Poem You Wrote Years Ago

It’s like seeing old pictures of yourself

long after the camera’s cold click. You

have a sense of familiarity,

a recognition that you were once there

in that moment, but not of the moment

before, or after. The lines have taken

on depth as their specificity blurred,

the colors clarity fading through time

into generalized gestures, and

you stop short, stunned at your oblivious youth,

the clear lack of fear, the unacknowledged

audacity that spoke with more wisdom

then, than you ever knew you had, and have

since lost like someone waking from a dream.

(October 21, 2021)

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Self-Portrait

This is me:

laconically bored

sitting in the stands

watching from above.


This is me:

focused on the moment

tracing a rune

across the killing floor.


This is not a mirror,

a simple reflection,

rather, a dissection,

a slow flay, where


skin peels off

in thin sheets until

only raw red bits

of sin cling to bone.


I am a myriad,

shattered.

I am a scar,

angry and raw.

(October 14, 2021)

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No Partitions

Beneath the bed, I hide

my sack of broken secrets.

They leak into my dreams

like drops of rain sift slowly

through limestone to form

deeper pools, darker caves.

I wake to put them on again

still damp, clinging to my skin.

Through the day, they etch

their strangled blue runes

onto my hollow bones

with a cold acid. I become

a flute to my fears, a crescendo

of trills like dying birds.

(October 8, 2021)

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Today and Every Day

We drown in our waste,

as history fragments, like

ice shelves to the sea.

(October 1, 2021)

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Set and Setting

“till we turn to see 

who you were, who you are, everpresent, vivid 

luminous dust” 

            -Denise Levertov 

Like wolves feeding on a fresh kill 

steaming in the snow, each dead second 

is pulled apart. No matter the effort, 

time disallows the past to continue 

fully formed. The future devours us 

leaving little tufts of fur and bone bits 

to decorate our current troubled paths 

and explain away our broken sorrows. 

I am hungry for something I don’t know, 

a freedom from imposed obligations, 

an escape to a place I am not known. 

Yet, where I am, and who I’ve been tangle 

like the strings of old puppets in a crate, 

waiting for someone to haul them away. 

(September 28, 2021) 

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Dad at Work Repairing Antique Furniture

There was always a way; a way he knew

to map an idea out of the landscape

lying before him like an unfinished 

puzzle; some way to reshape creation

with a simple jig. His mind danced about

the problem, as he rose and sat, sat and 

rose to walk across the yard cursing his 

thoughts for not seeing it: so simple, so

obvious. He’d lumber back to the bench,

pick up the pieces of wood and begin

to cast the abstract into the concrete.

Beneath his broken hands, he would divine 

a new pattern from the pattern inscribed 

in the broken palimpsest of the wood.

(September 26, 2021)

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Happiness

Happiness

—after Jim Harrison

The wine and whiskey, I am certain,

do not compliment the anti-depressants,

as well as I wish they would; yet, “all this time

counting the mind, counting crows”—

I pour a new glass with a touch of ice

to begin this conversation:

Hell has come to us as a heaven

we will never know, like Sappho’s apple

dangling slightly beyond our fingers

which grasp only at still air.

Where do we go when things fall apart?


In 1978, Buddha’s birthday

was three days after my eighteenth.

I was a crumpled bag of emotion:

my father had died two months earlier;

I was in love (and still am) with the girl

I would marry. I moved, two months later, 

125 miles to the north, leaving my hometown 

forever, yet still trailing all my doubts and fears

behind like crows along a fence line

who caw and flutter, marking

their constant presence with darker eyes.


We think we can escape ourselves,

ignoring the crows flying in and out

between the twisted oaks nearby.

We flee burning madly as we go;

yet, we can only be ourselves,

and, most days, that is not enough

to keep our fears balanced tightly

like circus clowns spinning plates

atop long fragile poles through the night.

(September 15, 2021)

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Worry

the darkness festers

into the night, then lingers

through the waking day.

(September 12, 2021)

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So Afraid, Always Afraid

“but in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself”

—Albert Camus


Any tremble

through the trees

contrary

to the first

wind, the

next wind,

or no wind:


always afraid,

so afraid

to simply be,

with no

definition,

with no

place to go,


no

walls left to build,

no excuse

left to believe,

no end;

then again,

no end.

(September 12, 2021)

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Confessional

“what I lack is myself”

—Susan Howe

The door’s full like words

in an open mouth,

blotting out the space

it opened onto.


An entrance becomes a wall,

an allowed space disallowed,

as keys and locks

become ritual.


Such small sacrifice

the tongue becomes,

burning clear

any lost syllables.


Nothing’s left to say;

everything’s unsaid.

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Negation

I’m lucky not to drown,

second by second, as I 

walk down the street—

what with all the lies

and recriminations

I mouth, then swallow,

like a gluttonous beast

devouring itself wholly.

Perhaps it’s fate not luck

which keeps me afloat? But that

requires some god to blame,

and explain the curses directed

daily over rosary beads, like 

mendicants to a self long lost.

(September 5, 2021)

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Map a Return Into the Ocean’s Lost Metaphor

There is no causality, no maze

to transcribe into memory,

simply a chance to breathe

near the bottom of the stairs;

and, like a mouth singing 

arias, I crack open the bones

in my chest to find a way

into the warm flesh, to dip

my worn fingers slowly in,

to feel the heart’s contours

define the next last moment,

to map another return into 

the ocean’s lost metaphor.

(August 25, 2021)

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Teaching in a Time of Covid

Tomorrow I go back on contract for my 33rd year of teaching. Last year was one of the worst years because of distance learning and the lack of contact with my students. The Students are always the best part of teaching, and for the last eight years (starting my 9th) at Ann Richards, I have had the best students ever, every year. Last year it was important that we teach remotely. The students, their families, my fellow teachers, my family and friends were at risk to this horrible deadly disease. We stayed at home and did what we could through a screen full of little boxes, because we had to. This year there is a more deadly, more virulent version of the same disease, and even with the vaccine, which a too large group of people refuse to take, and with no vaccine for the under 12 group…. which means ELEMENTARY CHILDREN….. It is more dangerous than ever to go back. Yet, here we are.. going back into the classroom. Cases are already being reported at my school, and the district where my wife teaches, and across Travis county.  I fear for what will happen over the next few weeks and months, as we go full bore back into the schools.I fear for my students.  I fear for my grandchild who is starting in a pre-k program. I fear for my family. And all of this is not necessary, we could stay remote. At the very least the elementary schools should stay remote, until the under 12 children can be vaccinated. I don’t understand what is the end game of the politicians like the Texas Governor, who seem to want children to die. What is the benefit to them? I want to believe in a hell, so the people who are forcing this to happen have some place to go.

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Always a Model Nearby

“Props and other disinherited

paraphernalia are never enough.”

—Susan Howe

My hands cradle my face,

covering my dead eyes. 

Worn thin like ragged cloth,

I am tired of my life:

Before sunrise I wake,

slowly move down the stairs,

and start again. Morning 

rituals of coffee

keep the old dramas near,

private. I want to wail,

long howls into the dark.

Instead, I feed the dog,

whose tail wags happily

as she eats her kibble.

(August 9, 2021)

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Campfire Story

A nostalgic old man,

whose whispers adhere

to the flames’ tongue,

tells his one story again.


You are charmed.

So the chains slip

into your veins,

your heart, your lungs.


The air thickens your breath,

until every song you hear

is the only song you hear,

then you can no longer dance.


And the fire burns down,

for nothing’s left to say.

(August 6, 2021)

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After Image

With disdain,

he turns

from the mirror,

leaving

himself

behind

like a cicada’s husk

caught

on a tree’s bark.

(July 29, 2021)

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The Fire Consumes Us All

Yes, poetry burns in feral anger—

a knife flash fast at the shadowed church door

cuts through a dank cassock’s folded black cloth,

twisting quickly below the priest’s fat rib.

Yet, the mundane’s slow-etched eddy of truth

leaves its testament in the margins

of the more violent rush and tumble

relevance churning in the crowed streets.

My life is easily enough dismissed

with the trivialities of the day

dropping their dead petals across my path

like roses in ecstatic agony.


Yes, poetry burns in feral anger—

and burns and burns throughout the dullest day.

(July 26, 2021)

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Night Terror (a reading)

Night Terror

“When are we not in a dream?

…when are we not skeletons?”

—Sy. Hoahwah

I don’t remember 

the dream before,

I cracked my head hard

against the wooden night stand;  

the fine grained ephemera, 

which held the dream together, 

burned like flash paper into the air.

A lightning ball exploded 

my darker vision, as the dream,

too agile to cradle, threw me 

deftly from sleep onto the floor.

Not existing fully in the fluidity

of sleep, nor the concrete warmth

of the morning window’s light,

I held my head in my hands,

eyes shut, as the lightning flash

faded, leaving only the muscles

in my neck to burn like trees

broken during the night’s storm.

(July 16, 2021)

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Metaphor’s Comfort

Flying free

through the blind night,

bats,

with their high lyric cries,

justify

the walls around them.


(July 19, 2021)

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Night Terror

“When are we not in a dream?

…when are we not skeletons?”

—Sy. Hoahwah

I don’t remember 

the dream before

I cracked my head hard

against the wooden night stand;  

the fine grained ephemera, 

which held the dream together, 

burned like flash paper into the air.

A lightning ball exploded 

my darker vision, as the dream,

too agile to cradle, threw me 

deftly from sleep onto the floor.

Not existing fully in the fluidity

of sleep, nor the concrete warmth

of the morning window’s light,

I held my head in my hands,

eyes shut, as the lightning flash

faded, leaving only the muscles

in my neck to burn like trees

broken during the night’s storm.

(July 16, 2021)

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Extant Only in Memory

I bend to pick up a small bit of trash,

and I think of him crossing the room

to pick up a random piece of paper.


For decades now that one small gesture,

a moment of casual insignificance,

is all that remains of an old man’s life.

(July 12, 2021)

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Acceptance

(after J. Ruth Gendler)

Acceptance makes hot tea

for you on cold blustery days.

Acceptance waits for you 

to decide who you are—

She makes no judgement

based on arbitrary rules.

Acceptance knows she is stronger,

because she knows the difference

between herself and Acquiescence,

who is too afraid to be different.

Acceptance sits near an open chair

knowing you will find a way home.

She likes to listen to your voice

as you take delight in new ideas.

She does not care they are not hers.

With the gentle reassurance of love,

Acceptance takes your hands

as if they were fresh cut flowers.

(July 1, 2021)

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A Space Opened Into Absence Like the Sea

Where words we would have said

were swallowed, like sailors sacrificed

to the waves, possibility slipped shut.

If only we could have heard the words

we sang in secret to each other;

if only we had not died there,

feeding like fabled monsters

upon our embittered flesh;

if only we had relented

to the siren’s cold seductions,

then the screams in the waves

which smashed upon the sea wall

would not be lost to the blind pulse 

of froth and spume across the wreck.

(June 30, 2021)

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then, an ever present now (a reading)

then, an ever present now

The shuttlecock flits nimbly across the loom with a soft clacking beat. “For every time I’ve told this tale, I’ve told it twice again,” she implies with a sigh as she begins. She speaks of patience and home, and slow unsolicited seductions, as time unravels across the floor like red pools of forgetfulness at her feet.

He watches her hands shift the threads as if playing upon a lyre. He thinks, “There are so many ways through the woods; so many rivers and creeks to cross;  so many hollows and caves to wander lost, always different, always the same as the ones crossed before.”

For years and years as he wandered, he watched the waves pulse repetitive hallucinations and horrors towards a horizon he could no longer see. Unearthly monsters churned the waters feeding one upon the other; the past devoured the past with a ceaseless hunger for more. While elsewhere late at night, she walked the halls without a light, leaned against a shuttered door, and listened to the incessant voices muttering their plots and plans for a life she abhorred.

As the story faltered to its close, there was no soft landfall upon the strand, no wreck scattered upon a beach; no violence in their reunion, nor familial embrace. What had grown between them, tangled like olive tree roots upon a cliff, could not be troubled enough to be called love, if it could be called anything at all.

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then, an ever present now

The shuttlecock flits nimbly across the loom with a soft clacking beat. “For every time I’ve told this tale, I’ve told it twice again,” she implies with a sigh as she begins. She speaks of patience and home, and slow unsolicited seductions, as time unravels across the floor like red pools of forgetfulness at her feet.

He watches her hands shift the threads as if playing upon a lyre. He thinks, “There are so many ways through the woods; so many rivers and creeks to cross;  so many hollows and caves to wander lost, always different, always the same as the ones crossed before.”

For years and years as he wandered, he watched the waves pulse repetitive hallucinations and horrors towards a horizon he could no longer see. Unearthly monsters churned the waters feeding one upon the other; the past devoured the past with a ceaseless hunger for more. While elsewhere late at night, she walked the halls without a light, leaned against a shuttered door, and listened to the incessant voices muttering their plots and plans for a life she abhorred.

As the story faltered to its close, there was no soft landfall upon the strand, no wreck scattered upon a beach; no violence in their reunion, nor familial embrace. What had grown between them, tangled like olive tree roots upon a cliff, could not be troubled enough to be called love, if it could be called anything at all.

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Constructs

To connect to some constellation,

we curve toward our angle of light,

intwine our limbs

across any lattice we find.

For only in reflection

are lines straight,

a simple step followed by another,

where all our lies are justified

into sclerotic prison walls.

We turn our faces to the sun

like mirrors tracking distant stars,

where there are no explanations

for our desires, where absences

appear unanticipated

like the sadness of angels

momentarily entering a room

only to leave without speaking.

How do we know

to stand before the door

knowing it will open?

How do we know

the door is there?

(June 17, 2021)

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We See What We Will

He plods down a street,

head bent, watching 

the ground as if afraid

some detail will be enough

to tumble him into hell.


Every moment’s an edge

as each letter in each

word inscribes the air

cleanly, like a tattoo

cut freshly into skin.

(June 9, 2021)

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I Move Slowly Toward an Understanding

The mud thickness

on my shoes,

as I plod along

singing.


I bend slowly

into the earth;

my voice swallowed

by the wind.


Except for names

of the dead faces,

I remember most

versions of the past;


the storied details

reassure me

that what I knew,

I know. 


Despite other’s 

revanchist revisions,

I hold to a path

which will lead me home.


(June 8, 2021)

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The Whispers Drive the Narrative

The wild mustang grape vines

its way along the fence line,

further obscuring boundaries

between what is said, 

and what is perpetuated.


The past is of no consequence

beyond familiar stories to bolster

today’s latest interpretation,

which momentarily coalesces

to cloak in ambiguity

the Absence as it festers

in vague nostalgic shadows.

(May 30, 2021)

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We are One

How do we maintain a balance

between apart and a part?

Lean too far one way, one lose’s

humanity, too far toward the other,

and one loses one’s soul.



I am I, as you are you;

yet, I am also you, as you are me,

as well. There is no other way,

other than each other. The hope

of god’s redemption lies with us.

(May 30, 2021)

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Chagrin

Outside, a butterfly flits

across the sun-dipped tips

of black-eyed Susans

swaying in the wind:

While inside, I struggle

with what to write.

(May 21, 2021)

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Old Age

Along convoluted back trails

misted in vague familiarity,

we wonder in our ruins,

grown strange and inevitable

across dry rivers and dead grass.

Former landmarks fall to rubble,

become base for new towers,

new ways, not ours.

Then as if by accident,

as if with purpose,

we arrive each moment,

near-sighted and deaf

to regale in our misfortune,

repeating yet another iteration

of the story we all wear,

like chains forged from dust.

(May 20, 2021)

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Bone Tired

SONY DSC

yet another day

with another grey sunset,

my glass is empty.

(May 13, 2021)

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Alone

I fear silence

for it leaves me

to my words.

Their whispers

mouth

my periphery,

like minnows

tear a worm’s

flesh from

the steel hook

glimmering

in a creek’s

slow eddy.

(May 11, 2021)

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turn turn turn (140)

with spring’s violence flowers burst

into bloom from winter’s death

as chimes toll slowly in the tree


mere weeks ago ice creaked

tightly along the chase tree’s

twisted branches as the chimes

hung limp and people froze

to death alone at home

(May 9, 2021)

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community spread (139)

when listening to someone speak

each word takes root

along the tendrils of the unsaid

a pattern emerges

branch grafted on old wood

flowers to mourn the newly dead

(May 8, 2021)

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ways of knowing (138)

certainty’s a razor’s edge

pressed lightly across skin


i draw a line along

the length of my arm


tracing a blue vein

a way in a way out

(May 4, 2021)

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Start the Way You Intend to Go

from “an untitled serial poem”

grey and cold all day

the year begins again

cedar pollen drifts wildly

I can feel the shredded bark

deeply behind my eyes

trying to cut a way out

I’m not surprised but fear

all that has changed enough

to become a normal day

as wolves claw and slaver

at the door

(January 2, 2020)

note: I am starting a series of 140 poems, the length of each poem will be a set number of syllables determined by a random number generator. each poem/stanza will organically arise from the previous poem/stanza in the series in the manner of a renga without following the traditional renga’s syllable parameters. Additionally there is another requirement put upon every tenth poem/stanza in the series which will connect it to another “ten” poem/stanza following abstractly the traditional rhyme pattern of a Shakespearian sonnet. This is the second time I have written a longer poem following this self-imposed system. The first was called “Sonnet: a rengaThis is the beginning poem/stanza of the new series.