We are as much as we see.
Henry David Thoreau
1/ The North Wall
At its center sits a massive stone fireplace
And chimney dotted with anomalies: rounds
Of opalized wood, crystal-lined geodes cracked
In half, porous lava pebbles ringing polished
Black basalt, banded beach agates clustered
About a clam shell the size of a man's hand
Spread wide, set in fine-grained gray sandstone
From an Eocene seabed . . . and, beauty of beauties,
A broad mantel sculpted by the same mad mind
Of flat, oblong river cobbles laid end to end.
On both sides of the chimney, windows blink
Like beacons from floor to ceiling bookcases . . .
Skinny little leaded windows, one shelf high,
Three feet wide, eight panes of beveled glass
Apiece, focus of the wizard's face I conjure
On pouring-down, blown-about nights like this,
When headlights blazon the wildly waving limbs
Of leafless trees against the hollow shades.
Filled with my books, my best old friends,
The shelves call my name. An oak fire crackles
On the grate, beeswax candles dazzle the crystal
Geodes, the pale ghosts of flames lick the lips
Of deep recesses, marble caverns carved smooth
As skin, where oil lamps loiter. I shall read
Far into the night by this most mysterious glow,
The little lights dancing on the page, scattered
As by mirrors on a ballroom globe, the tongues
Of torches flickering in the mouths of caves,
The liquid brilliance pitched from the lustrous
Cat's-eyes of owls disguised as brass andirons,
The molten spill into space where every speck
Of dust identifies itself. Unlike the moon's
Dark side, mine shows: my silhouette springs
To the far wall when I turn, sways like a djinn
Rudely jarred from its dreams. I learn secrets
From the fire, the origins of life, the rise
And fall of empires. Coals burst with tales
Of alien creatures locked in brief eternities,
Their dramas no less fierce than those a man
Might boast about, no less meaningful, or real.
Overhead, Boston ferns chained to the hand-hewn
Ceiling beams reach down like seaweed to a diver,
Green fingers opening and closing in the eddies
As wind lifts, then settles, the cedar shingles
Overlapped like thick leaves on the pitched roof.
A cable spool for a coffee table, a Persian rug
Yanked from under a second-hand dealer's nose
At an estate sale (for a song!), bushel baskets
Filled with dried weeds from neighboring fields—
Furnishings enough for anyone who lives alone
With hopes and aspirations, mine when I glance
About and count my good fortune, piece by piece.
2/ The South Wall
At its center sits an ordinary forced air oil stove,
A source of heat to one sailing smoother straits . . .
But here, a space eater, its tank as empty as my life
Before this house, when I would wake to wonder how
This day would differ from the last, and work loomed
Like black clouds churned stiff above a dreary grey
Horizon. The varnished pine opens left to bedroom,
Right to kitchen. Halfway between, off a narrow hall,
Sits the tiny bathroom, its tin shower stall peeling
Creamy latex paint. On this wall the hidden image
Of a stairway hovers, gone when I look for signs, nail
Holes, a difference in the wood. A wall with eyes,
Watching. A plane to sail through to other places.
Up through the dark-tinged beams, tongue-in-groove
Boards block a room not there, an alien space where
Bed, armchair and mirrored dresser rest under dust
Which gleams silver in late light stealing inside
Panes of grimy glass reached by scaling the peaked
Roof of the breezeway between house and garage.
When stepped beneath, this wall chills the bones
Like breath from an arctic ice cave, or a shroud
Of thick, ominous fog, quick frozen. It is a wall
Of passage, of no moment in this most magic house
Where time narrows to a point, and space opens wide.
3/ The West Wall
At its center sits my writing table, and through
The windows where I spend my days, the seasons pass.
Here, the sunsets and the stars are mine, patterned
By live oak limbs and leaves. Here, gray squirrels
Leap between cedar trees whose branch tips touch,
One launching itself wildly and hanging on for dear
Life while the limb whips up and down, the other
Warily pacing off the steps and making false starts.
Here, the tiffany mist is mine, the teardrop rain,
The blackberry blossoms bursting like the parasols
Of belles at the first hot sun, the brown polkadot
Puffballs falling like balloons to the forest floor
To nest in moss and decorate fern fronds. Here,
Bands of dive-bombing bluejays crack acorns against
The concrete slab beneath the wire line where I dry
My clothes when stone broke, admitting to a weakness
For quick-and-dirty laundromats in place of washtubs,
Hand wringers, clothespins . . . though the smell brings
A trip through time to my third year on Earth, where
I stand at my mother's feet as she pins up the wash,
Its colors bright against the sun, the sun hot behind
Her back, her flaxen hair flying in a breeze, her face
A silhouette, the cool brush of the sheets, the drips
From the tips of shirt collars, caught on the tongue.
It is here that I reach deep inside, here that I trace
My reasons for acting and reacting as I have, faced
With fear, and joy, and loneliness, and deep desires.
It is here, at last, that my feet are held to the fire.
It is here that I stop for the first time to stretch,
Stand back from the path I have followed aimlessly,
Make my peace unilaterally, erect monuments of epic
Proportion, and break down and bury obsolete weapons.
It is here that I shed my feathers and strut naked
In the eyes of nature, feeling like the bird who walks
To Tennessee wearing his dirty underwear, a refrain
From some dumb cartoon song stuck to my mind like glue.
It is here that I float the Lake Oswego of my teens,
Drinking up the sun, aware of the goddess who bends
As in prayer, exposing bronze breasts to the light
Bounced from her teak and mahogany inboard runabout.
It is here that I laugh and cry, and sometimes shake
Hands overhead, and rant and rave, and learn to love
One who remains just out of reach beyond my fingertips,
And groan against the work undone, and piss and moan.
It is here that the people in my life become at last
Real enough to touch, and I, real enough to let them in,
Become at last the person I have always glimpsed in me,
The one no longer on the white horse, proving things.
4/The East Wall
At its center sits an oak door, its wrought iron latch
Hard beside the dying stereo where Cat Stevens makes
My theme song, Sitting, come alive, Jim Croce strokes
Me with his Alabama Rain, Roberta Flack lullabies me
To dreamland with The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,
And Don McLean's Vincent lifts me to the feet of God.
At night, headlights pass like lanterns in the hands
Of monks, swinging this way and that, striking walls
And beams with crosses, feints, jabs, and uppercuts.
Once a week I venture forth to gather in my needs:
Limbs and wood scraps scavenged from forest and mill,
Fresh fruit and vegetables liberated from hillside
Orchards and bottomland truck farms, berries picked
From thick vines in clearings, away from road dust . . .
And if the mail has brought a check, tons of granola
For the slow times, a nice piece of lean beef, a loaf
Of French bread, mushrooms, a bottle of vintage red
Bought at the little shop a mile's walk from the foot
Of the hill, a mound of clean and folded clothes fresh
From the laundromat, and a long-distance call or two.
At its center sits a director's chair, the Persian rug
Beneath, the cable spool perfect for a pair of bare feet
Pointed toward the fire. I roll the vintage red around
The goblet's rim, nod my approval to the wealth of beads,
The crystal clarity, the deep ruby hue, the rich bouquet
Blossoming beneath my nose, the tannin bite at the back
Of my tongue, the altogether perfect aftertaste, the glow.
Here, beauty reigns from the rafters, permeates the air,
Gives rise to a joy beyond the reach of emperor or king.
I lay claim to the diamond dew adorning emerald blades
Of grass at the first blush, ruby fingertips in the rush
Of ripe berries to a bowl, old gold littering the forest
Floor after a cloudburst, the silver sun splitting like
Fine hair fanned from behind a rollicking thunderhead.
I subscribe to nature with a passion, knowing my renewal
Is as bound to be as the dawn, the spring, the aftermath
Of rain, the crescent moon, the sea floor pushing apart
Whole continents, the cosmic brush dusting bright minds
With radical thoughts, bringing our species closer than
It cares to know, owing to our having turned our backs
On commonality. I dwell as one at home with all I see,
Party to the grandest ruse of all, being what one seems
To be, and fooling all the fools who rush to rise above.
If I am a fool, I am no ordinary fool, and this house
No ordinary house. I live my dream of a perfect world
Where every lofty word rings true, the air is clear,
The water pure, the land about unfenced, and I am free . . .
Alone in Salem, Oregon, in the glorious autumn of 1973.
First published in Talus and Scree: An International Journal
Coffee during the morning commute,
The hour of the ass-over-teakettle rush,
Tastes on the front steps like the brew
You sip on a Saturday: not the stuff
Gulped in haste with eyes on the clock,
But bright in the clear cup, and rich
With gold flakes when the sun strikes.
I sit on the steps, contemplating life,
Eyes wide open to the wondrous world
I pass on the Monday-through-Friday express,
But never again: no more will I miss
This incredible sight, right here in reach,
Ripe for the plucking, but for my sense
Of propriety when station mattered most.
I see two golden specks in flight,
Two golden insects somehow off the mark,
Like tiny gold angels with folded wings
Ascending heavenward. Ah! no angels, these,
But spiders! borne aloft on laser threads,
And more! there on the juniper bush
On a platform of air in a mesh of web,
The tiniest spiders I have ever seen!
And another lets go, and goes straight up,
And never lets go, its lifeline taut,
Till it reaches the trees, and the leaves
Close in beyond the exercise of eyes,
And I drop down from a powerful high,
Wondering why I had been so blind.
The supermarket was a Saturday trip
When most of my life swept lickety-split
Past eyes out of focus, in sepia tones
Like a silent movie from the orchestra pit,
But never again: I seize the day, and swing
To the freeway with the greatest of ease
Since everyone's elsewhere, working away—
But I jam my foot down hard on the brakes!
A duck! running round on the median strip,
And no one can stop it from getting crushed!
I leap from my car and quick, gather it up
As I'd gather a child who's frightened cold,
And hold it close as I can while I drive,
A hero in virtually everyone's eyes—
But where do you drop off a motherless duck
When the duck is too small to know much at all?
Ah yes! there's a pond just beyond the farm
Up the road where willows and tall weeds thrive
As a guarantee of safety to a very lucky duck
With a lifetime to spend in profit and fun
Where summer grass grows gold for the fall.
I stand on the bank and watch the duck explore
Weeds on the far shore and willows on the near,
Catch a fingerling, dip down for a drink,
Rear up, quack, preen its fine feathered wings,
Conforming in a blink to a perfect place to be,
Where needs are met and wishes beg for wants,
And unemployment is a nonexistent state.
Home from the store, I strip to the skin,
Spread myself flat on a white cotton sheet
And soak up the sun: no creature on Earth
Knows what I know of the whole universe
Seen plainly in dots and dashes of clouds
As a code embroidered on a vast pillowslip
For dream-seekers bent after beauty and truth.
Look! Two birds drift wide-winged into view,
Two golden eagles skimming a thermal crest
In the ocean of air holding life in its place,
As one folds wings, and missile-like, shoots
Toward the valley floor with incredible speed,
While the other one keeps an eagle eye peeled
Till the first again soars: and then follows!
My eyes pursue till trees bite the sky
And a piece of me falls, wounded on the wing
By the distant blast of a diesel truck's horn,
Its air horn, there at the freeway interchange,
And tilting at the Monday-through-Friday express
As a knight sallies forth for glorious deeds
In a dragon's lair before the golden maid,
I break through barriers of light, a free duck
Transplanted by some miracle to a perfect pond,
And every wind-borne spider bears my name
As I aspire to the high branch beyond, to build
With a difference bound to be, when the only way
It was no longer is: when everything is new,
And all you can do is roll and trust your luck.
First published in Bellowing Ark
Be forewarned, this river’s pace is slower
than molasses. If you’re into thrills,
the upper Clackamas is close at hand.
Here, you’ll meditate on sunlight sprinkling
sparkles on the surface, dappling maple,
ash, and willow leaves along the banks.
Here, you’ll see a great blue heron posing
in the shallows, a pair of cormorants perched
on a snag—hear a kingfisher’s raucous cry.
I settle in, pretend it’s 1950,
keep a watch for landmarks from the time
I knew the river like my own back yard.
The railroad trestle was a source of high
anxiety—wide gaps between the ties,
no escape if a train chugged round the bend.
I’d balance on a rail to prove I could.
Now, as I look up, I wonder how
I managed to survive. My childhood—
splendid days spent lounging on the log
lodged at the mouth of the Oswego Lake
canal by a spring flood, bamboo pole in hand,
keeping an eye on my float while watching fry
and minnows pick at the log’s green velvet belly,
and crawdads creep about, waving their claws.
The two-lane bridge on Stafford Road, the old
log cabin tucked in its grove of cedar trees.
The covered bridge on Borland where I fished.
I knew the river’s history, how the channel
changed when glacial floods swept through, and how
pioneer steamboats replaced Kalapuya canoes.
I burst with pride when The Saturday Evening Post,
in a glorious two-page color spread, proclaimed
my valley one of America’s most beautiful spots—
here, near where I lived—here, where I played!
I knew, even then, this would be my home for life,
a place whose measured pace reflects my own.
Published in the Stafford Hamlet Monthly Newsletter. (Allow time for downloading 10.2 MB. It's well worth the wait!)
With apologies to Edmond Rostand
No words do justice to this grand affair
Beyond what Cyrano declared: How fate,
The arbitrator, loves a jest! Voltaire
Would blush to see how people celebrate
The birthday of a man who made his date
With Death wait while he gave his flame a ring,
A rosy dot over the i of Loving,
His nose aglow, red as Pinocchio's
When tendering his lies like thin smoke rising.
Ah! Whose nose plucks your heartstrings? Cyrano's!
Unless you're rocking in a straight-back chair,
You scratch your head attempting to relate
To Cyrano's restraint. Who's not aware
These days that plastic surgery's cut-rate?
No need for noses to protruberate
Like perches for the birds that come to sing,
Or blue cucumbers, say, or anything
Like razor-cases or portfolios.
Just whack 'em back to where they're ravishing.
Ah! Whose nose plucks your heartstrings? Cyrano's!
What is this thing called Love but nature's snare?
He queries, tete-a-tete with musket mate
Le Bret. Let every flitting bug beware:
Though dazzling light displays may fascinate,
The heat of contact will incinerate
The foxy one as well as the unwitting.
Yet Roxane fritters Love away while kissing
De Bergerac's frayed billets-doux, her woes
Compounded by the dividend she's missing.
Ah! Whose nose plucks your heartstrings? Cyrano's!
Those pretty nothings that are everything,
Those winds of jealous beauty ever blowing
Their dark fire and their music ... God help those
Who pass Love by with Truth and Beauty glowing.
Ah! Whose nose plucks your heartstrings? Cyrano's!
[Published in Encore, prize poem anthology of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies]
In these insurgent hills I laugh at death.
All my rebellious life I've slipped like sand
Between the fingers of a grasping hand
Whose shackles dampen zeal and hamper breath,
Whose greed drives wedges through a people's heart,
Whose sharp fork cracks the nuts of welfare, health,
Equality. I stalk the night, my stealth
Keen as a jaguar's. Lacking craft and art,
Unwary people fail to understand
The nature of a predatory beast
Until they're made the object of the feast.
Batista's rule wreaks havoc on the land.
Please know, despite the accusations hurled,
My motivation is a better world.
[From Selected Sonnets, 2004]
- Close But No Cigar
Posted to Poems on January 01, 2010 at 7:32 pm
- The Eternal Years Are Hers
Posted to Poems on January 01, 2010 at 7:17 pm
- Uncle Melvin’s Folly
Posted to Poems on January 01, 2010 at 7:06 pm
- Tsagaglalal: She Who Watches
Posted to Poems on December 30, 2008 at 1:52 pm
- Spencer's Rock
Posted to Poems on December 30, 2008 at 1:48 pm
- Darting the Dark Tunnels
Posted to Poems on December 30, 2008 at 1:45 pm
- Prospects of Life After Birth
Posted to Poems on December 19, 2008 at 5:11 pm
- Oil Futures
Posted to Poems on December 16, 2008 at 10:52 am
- High Tide at Hug Point
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 3:06 pm
- Down in Sullivan's Gulch (1944)
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 2:50 pm
- Sundown at the Frenchglen Hotel
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 2:39 pm
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 2:26 pm
- Charlie Marble's Day of Rest
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 2:21 pm
- Catlow Valley
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 2:12 pm
- Beyond Bliss
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 2:04 pm
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 1:45 pm
- I'd Rather Sail My Schooner Than Have Sex
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 1:31 pm
- When Joe Fell Out of the Tree
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 1:21 pm
- Willie's Wine
Posted to Poems on December 14, 2008 at 12:52 pm
- Bouncing Bareback Baby Boomers
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2008 at 6:56 pm
- The Twit Who Would Be King
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2008 at 6:52 pm
- Dances with Marketeers
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2008 at 6:39 pm
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2008 at 6:34 pm
- Meeting Aunt Ovidia at Union Station, 1944
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2008 at 6:29 pm
- Green Pond in Dry Wash
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2008 at 6:27 pm
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2008 at 6:06 pm
- Visions of Thrace
Posted to Poems on January 09, 2007 at 7:30 pm
- When Joe Stole the Show at Portland Junior Civic Theatre
Posted to Poems on January 09, 2007 at 6:13 pm
- When Joe Played Doctor and Got in Dutch
Posted to Poems on January 09, 2007 at 5:03 pm
- When Joe Jumped from the Upstairs Window
Posted to Poems on January 09, 2007 at 4:39 pm
- The African Exhibit
Posted to Poems on January 09, 2007 at 4:10 pm
- On the Birth of Jessica Hedges
Posted to Poems on January 09, 2007 at 3:15 pm
- Up and Down the Stairs He Chased Her
Posted to Poems on January 05, 2007 at 8:14 pm
- Aubade: Dialogue at Dawn
Posted to Poems on October 17, 2006 at 11:44 am
- The Barnum & Bailey Train
Posted to Poems on August 03, 2006 at 6:27 pm
- Death of the Red Electric
Posted to Poems on August 03, 2006 at 6:11 pm
- The Crosscut in the Crotch
Posted to Poems on November 22, 2005 at 8:34 pm
- Walking the High Wire
Posted to Poems on November 21, 2005 at 7:49 pm
- Alvord Desert Stars
Posted to Poems on November 21, 2005 at 7:41 pm
- Skipping Sunday School
Posted to Poems on October 30, 2005 at 6:04 pm
- Door to Door on Alameda Drive
Posted to Poems on October 30, 2005 at 5:55 pm
- To My One True Love
Posted to Poems on July 24, 2005 at 4:12 pm
- On Falling in Love With a Feral Cat
Posted to Poems on July 24, 2005 at 4:09 pm
- The Curious Stares and the Hungry Eyes
Posted to Poems on July 24, 2005 at 4:04 pm
- The African Exhibit
Posted to Poems on June 06, 2005 at 1:10 pm
- The All-aboard Express
Posted to Poems on June 06, 2005 at 1:05 pm
- The Wild Bunch
Posted to Poems on June 01, 2005 at 5:07 pm
- Driving to the Airport on 82nd Avenue Alert to Signs of Life
Posted to Poems on June 01, 2005 at 4:58 pm
Posted to Poems on June 01, 2005 at 4:52 pm
- Why We Love Miss America Clothed
Posted to Poems on June 01, 2005 at 4:46 pm
- Portland Poetry Festival, 1984
Posted to Poems on June 01, 2005 at 4:40 pm
- On Jefferson Street
Posted to Poems on June 01, 2005 at 4:33 pm
- The Finest Fiction Ever Written
Posted to Poems on May 16, 2005 at 12:53 pm
- When Basil Walked
Posted to Poems on May 16, 2005 at 12:38 pm
- When Joe Built a Radio Transmitter
Posted to Poems on May 11, 2005 at 07:56 am
- When Joe Drew Russia As a Class Assignment
Posted to Poems on May 11, 2005 at 07:49 am
- Spencer's Rock
Posted to Poems on May 09, 2005 at 7:38 pm
- Indian Reservations
Posted to Poems on May 05, 2005 at 3:28 pm
- Requiescat for Sister Helena
Posted to Poems on May 05, 2005 at 3:11 pm
- A Whole New You, Almost
Posted to Poems on May 05, 2005 at 3:04 pm
- The Chauffeur's Tale
Posted to Poems on May 05, 2005 at 3:00 pm
- Blackberry Wine
Posted to Poems on May 05, 2005 at 2:53 pm
- On Stirring the Pot
Posted to Poems on May 05, 2005 at 10:48 am
- Where the Antelope Are
Posted to Poems on May 03, 2005 at 4:11 pm
- Three Days in the Desert Before a Bath
Posted to Poems on May 03, 2005 at 3:22 pm