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accents shift

from one neighborhood

to the next — one town

over– no more sounds

like yours or your friends

at the corner pub

where even the odd

and unloved fit warmly

at a table in the dark

where the fog follows you

home into a darker wood

until your voice tangles

among incestuous roots

and a knife draws

a line along your throat

at the possibility

of a misunderstanding

(April 22, 2019)

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Coupled

At home, they sit across from each other

like a pair of stone-silent gargoyles, when

he sighs to himself as if with remorse.

Looking up, she asks, out of politeness,

“Is something wrong?”  He shakes his head, and says, 

embarrassed that he had spoken out loud,

“Oh, Nothing, just thinking, at least nothing

important enough to say:  just thinking.” 

They watch each other with a quiet calm 

like the still center of a raging storm; 

each happy enough at home not to stir 

up any conversations to avoid. 

Slowly, they fall into their silences,  

starkly alone with their thoughts together. 

(April 18, 2019)

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Motion

one stands always at a beginning

a new door opens to a passage

which leads to another door

which opens wherever you are

there are no keys no locks no doors

only you standing within time

in motion without moving

yourself a passage a sluice

through which apparitions slip

taking on your form like robes

then quickly cast away replaced

by yet another without end

each moment embraces death with a kiss

each moment finds your self reborn

(April 16, 2019)

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Turn


a turn toward the other

whether in body or spirit

a turn toward some other

than myself to complete myself

a turn toward the other

like the horizon turns east

always seeking after light

a newer day to exult in

the earth’s curve the curve

of your breast silhouetted

in dawn’s light slipping

through our bedroom window

I turn to you from the dark

seeking your warmth in turn

(April 15, 2019)

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Just Another Name for the Devil



Perhaps the thousand-thousand

unpronounceable names for god

wait to burn your tongue,

if, by chance, your babbling

could bring you to the brink

of intelligibility. The thousand

monkey’s theory of Macbeth

could prove true given enough

time. Yet, we’ve been at this

for so long now, one would

assume our relationship

would be stronger somehow,

that I would know your name;

since, I know you know mine.

I’m unsure where you are, or if

you are, or, perhaps, I’m speaking

to myself—all those years gone,

as I puttered randomly about the house,

pulling books off the shelf, reading

a passage, thinking someone nearby

was speaking directly to me, but

only within the context of that moment;

never a sustained conversation,

as between long-time friends.

What can be said, when there’s no one

to hear? If you are not here, then 

what consequence can I be, beyond

these words I speak only to myself?

Unless perhaps, what I speak, and to whom,

are enough of a signature, a singularity, 

to pronounce, with clarity, if only

for this moment, my name into the dark.

(April 12, 2019)

unpronounceable names for god

wait to burn your tongue,

if by chance your babbling

brings you to the brink

of intelligibility. The thousand

monkey’s theory of Macbeth

could prove true given enough

time. Yet we’ve been at it

for so long now, one would

assume our relationship

would be stronger somehow,

that I would know your name;

since, I know you know me.

I’m unsure where you are, or if

you are, or, perhaps, I’m speaking

to myself—all those years gone,

as I puttered randomly about the house,

pulling books off the shelf, reading

a passage, thinking someone nearby

was speaking directly to me, but

only within the context of that moment.

What can be said, when there’s no one

to hear? If you are not here,

then what consequence can I be, beyond

the words I speak only to myself?

Unless perhaps, what I speak, and to whom,

are enough of a signature, a singularity, 

to pronounce, with clarity, if only

for this moment, my name into the dark.

(April 12, 2019)

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New Normal


Trouble pulses, like cicadas

along oak branches through

summer’s heat: pervasive

and cold. It permeates

my blood like a poison.

I worry the times — for nothing

can be done – How does one

take on more than one self,

yet again? Don a new mask

to project a calm certainty

when fear’s fires rage and burn?

I have no place to stand with 

surety. Answers are simple

without people’s constraints:

the constant tug and shift,

like the tight tectonic grind

as ground slips over ground.

(April 2, 2019)

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Darkening of the Light

from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress



At night a light

exposes one, opens

like a wound to bleed

out into the dark.

I want to stay

hidden within

my secrets, to hold

my desires close

like a small flame.

It’s safe there, stitched

tight between muscle

and bone, waiting

to enkindle a better day.

(March 23, 2019)

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Nearby

Rose petals on a ground

Like flowers in a slow conversation’s

eddy, he floats through his circular day.

Nothing’s amiss. Almost, as memory,

the pattern persists; almost as if he

whispers to someone who listens nearby.

Each flower’s petals fall, by troubled turns,

until the air is not enough to hold 

the incoherent world; and, like glass,

it shatters into the composting earth,

oblivious to its own slow demise.

The flower unfolds into its silence;

the swift flutter of bird song in the trees;

the rough caress of dry leaf on dry leaf;

the winter wind’s incessant pulse and pause;

are nothing to his flower’s petal’s fall.

(March 20, 2019)

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The Clinging, Fire

from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress


He holds to the shape

of his world, safe 

as a cow’s contentment.

He darkens the light

he reads by, then forms

opinions like fire

softly licking the air

into smoke. As each

day becomes another,

he accepts the work

before him, unconcerned

of what comes after.

(March 12, 2019)

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Preponderance of the Great


from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress

I worry too much,

or not enough,

yet do nothing.

Here at home

cats curl

in our laps;

when friends visit,

the table’s full,

laughter and wine

flow unabated.

Far away

along the edges,

below the ice,

cracks appear;

and, the ground shifts

beneath us.

(March 7, 2019)

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The Corners of the Mouth (providing nourishment)

from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress

I return again

and again to

gain small bits

of what she offers.

Often drunk

at her table,

I feed on

her infinite root.

Even as I am

changed, Poetry

absorbs the earth

and all upon it.

What part I am,

what part I have

become, rises

into her dance.

(March 6, 2019)

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Examination

E

“The unexamined life is not worth living”–Socrates

What’s wrong with being

happy? Oblivious,

stumbling along, content

with the morning sun

parsing the petals

of the rose’s first bud?

Under the instant and

insistent barrage 

of doubt, the examined 

life is not necessarily

worth living. Living

is worth living. Implicit,

joy radiates, each moment

transcendent, without

need to justify within

mocking parenthesis.

(February 26, 2019)


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Linear Circles

L

The beginning squeezes back

like a hermit crab retreats

deeper into its ever-tightening

shell. This moment opens

into and closes off the last

and next, as we each pretend

we are a cumulative consequence.

God, if extant, does not care

about time and its causes, the click

and clack of the marble rolling

through preordained mechanics,

nor the butterfly landing on her hand.

I fear pat endings’ homilies,

as if someone turns off the lights.

(February 15, 2019)

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Enough

Last year on Valentine’s day, my students were working on three of the stories which are alluded to in T. S. Eliot’s the Wasteland. On the way home that day, I listened to NPR’s reporting of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where seventeen people were killed, and another seventeen injured. Since the Columbine High School, Every time there is another school shooting, I think about the students I teach everyday: the joy, trust, hope, and curiosity they bring with them into the world. As news of another killing happens, I cannot avoid thinking about them bleeding out on the floor of my classroom. I am horrified at the “solutions” offered by our political leaders: arm the teachers, “harden” the schools, conduct live shooter drills as casually as fire drills. Last year, I responded personally, the way I respond to most of what troubles me by writing into the horror. A few weeks later Shantih Journal ( https://shantihjournal.org/issue-2-2/) put out a call for writing about social justice after the March for Our Lives protest in Washington. I sent them the poem I wrote the day of the shootings, which they graciously published. I would like to think that there has been a change in people’s political will to do something that will end the slaughter of our children, but I fear we are too mired in sclerotic thinking to change. Here is the poem I wrote:

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 the 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)

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Work on What has been Spoiled

From “Renditions of Change” a work in progress

Caught in a tight 

spiral of self-loathing,

I try to scrape

and cut away 

memory,

like a benign tumor.

Yet, I return and return

to each malignant moment,

and paint my face

in ritual guilt,

as if one could absolve

the past, and be free. 

(February 12, 2019)

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A Dagger Which I See Before

from “Renditions of Change” a work in progress

A

Tentatively, I stumble down

the hall in the dark. This time,

this is not a dream. I tell

myself I will kill myself

tomorrow. I laugh, as if

I was joking. Then I hear

a draft of a first line,

and hope I can hold it long

enough to write it down

before I drown in a river

of my own clotted blood.

(February 9, 2019)

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Again

A

Even against prevailing winds,

the pattern persists—Happiness

is a myth. Too troubled to

untangle this moment from

the last, I am trapped in

a quandary of happenstance,

an Irish know woven from briar.

Unlike Lao Tzu by a pond, I hesitate

allowing decisions to pass undecided.

I don’t wait for the wind to fall,

or the murk to settle into clarity.

(February 8, 2019)

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Possession in Great Measure

from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress

As I teach my students,

I try to be honest

in who I am;

yet, fear

I’m a fraud.

Teaching’s resistance:

how to read,

analyze,

break meaning from words–

then rewrite

in the students’ voices

without becoming

a lie that exalts

the life

they are not.

(February 7, 2019)

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Speak Into Silence



S

As if with a spoon,

she scoops the words

from his pliant mouth.

The rounded vowels,

and crisp consonants

shred her tongue

with shards of ice.

Meanwhile, with slick

knives, he carves

all conversation, 

leaving bits of blood,

like rose petals,

to stain the ground

in a red-wet lust.

Neither he, not she,

can speak into

what was said.

They stare, stunned,

past empty eyes;

their mouths slack

like the recent dead.

(February 5, 2019)

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Fellowship

from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress

We ate a simple shared meal,

a sixteen-bean soup with bits

of Christmas ham. Afterward

we played a counting card game:

They laughed and talked awkwardly,

as players dropped from the game.

I realized, once again,

I do not fit in.

(January 31, 2019)