Thursday, August 25, 2016

Farther Than Words

the wind weaves through the trees and brushes by me
like someone late. Standing in a spacious green field, I
await lightening. I believe
in the unbelievable,
deny the unbelievable.
god is farther than words. 
farther than “exist” or “non-exist”.
god does not make watches, but neither repairs them.

each breath is universe.
this life itself is truth. 
each day, there is nowhere to go, 
but the journey never ends; 
no understanding, but no end
to understanding. 

no magic,
no miracles to believe,
except this beating heart,

pushing oceans.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

a seed senses what it will become

waiting to be shorn of its
summer sacraments,
our garden is a wild thing in August.

on hands and knees in its warm dirt,
I whisper questions:
when do weeds become flowers?”

and, “in the fall, where does it all go?”

in the evening, the Kentucky whiskey
I sip is warm smoke
from the embers of the day.

with a deep breath, my tired body slips
beneath sleep and drifts in its slow tides.

much later, I wake to see
the moon tethered to the treetops.
I grope for a pencil,
flip on the lamp, and write:

nothing ever really goes anywhere.”
weeds become flowers because they do.”

then I flip off the lamp
and watch the moon come untethered
until my eyes realize that I am asleep

and it's time to dream.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016


You can’t rest. Not really.

Life doesn’t let you rest.

“Rest in the grave,” says the chorus.

Your heart doesn’t ever, does it?

It labors through the night,

pulling its mighty oar,

while your mind 
catalogues all the heartless lovers

that stabbed you

through that very heart 

and stopped caring

where you slept.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Fluorescent cold fills
these glass aeries
where we perch, enamored
with the business of selling ourselves
piece by piece with the
gold scale at our feet

or just singing a cheerful song.

Happy as larks. Happy
as a coal miner’s daughter.
Happy as a traveling salesman
knocking on your door
without a sale in his pocket
that day.

Our cocks and cunts are pallid blue
in the harsh white, icy dread that lovingly
runs its fingers down our backs,
tangles us in a damp tourniquet of sheets,
wakes us with tied off veins
pulsing fluorescent
maps of unknown provenance.

The persistent hum and flicker
sliding beneath our eyes,
crawling like soft silkworms
down our ear canals,
filling our skulls with an unbearable
blue cotton candy brilliance
in which we can see not even 
one thing.

Softly then we,
with strangled breath,
sing a newly learned
and blindly cheerful song
of fluorescence
and how happy
it must be to be replaced




Monday, June 20, 2016

the sound of bees (for my sister)

          The blue rotary wall phone tied you
to the kitchen counter,
shoulder holding it to your ear,
while you stared at your parents talking over
Cronkite’s black and white delivery
of the news from Selma.

Confronted by the plainness of your life
in all its glory, you longed to be
in New York City,
read at
the City Lights Bookstore
or raise a pint of ale
in Devonshire;

though you knew not
what ale was,
who was drinking it,
what was being read,
why it mattered or
what stranger you would
make love to the East Village.

You only knew you wanted
the cynosure of anywhere,
longed for it, heard rumors of it
in music and from the
high school teacher that
none of the parents trusted.

Until after years of retreat,
when you could no longer abide
the estranged languor, the flatness,
the sheer absence of madness,

you gently laid that blue phone
on the countertop,
and let it fill the room

with the sound of bees.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

on taking a birthday polaroid at the crestone zen center

         with a camera almost as old as me,
the zen monk cocks the shutter to
take a black and white polaroid
to mark my 60th birthday:

“hold your arms out high –
like you’ve just won something,” he says.

after our breakfast of tea, rice and fruit,
in the midst of a warm May morning,
I squint to see the picture he took
just moments ago.

“It looks so cold there,” he says
looking over my shoulder and
tapping at the center
of the underexposed print.
“And you can’t smell
the crabapple blossoms at all.”

“Can you normally smell them?” I ask.

“Yes, well, every spring,” he answers,
brushing pink petals from his black robe
and putting his camera away.

“Every single spring.”


Friday, April 29, 2016


In a hotel lounge twenty-six floors above Seoul,
the sound of rush hour is muted.
The acrid grey sky is cancerous with sunrise.

With neckties tight,
and coffees half finished,
four businessmen at the next table
speak of the silver flash of trout
in shimmering Colorado streams.
Children in Bangladesh.
Second homes. Long hours suffered.
Rare earth minerals pried from Mongolia.
Starving migrations. Picassos. Monets.
The value of love. What to bid.
Consumption of McDonald’s.
The smoothness of ivory.
Profits for a cure. Stocks. Wine.
Pyongyang and cigarettes.
Their adored sons.

But my translation is poor;
their language of pure math
is difficult, a distillation.
A torrent of calculations with too many
decimal places rushing through stock markets,
canyons, favelas and forests far below,

washing away everything
that cannot escape
to higher ground.

Then, with laughter at a good joke,
they push back from their table,
and are gone into the stillborn sunset
bleeding across the city.

Gentle brown winds from China
burn our lungs.
The evening closes over us
like rising water;

nothing moves.


Friday, April 22, 2016

a poet puts down his camera

a photo is worth a thousand words too many for this poet.

the dam has burst and the flood of words
It held back sweeps me onto blank pages, the receeding waters leave the debris of my life scattered everywhere.

the scene would make for a vivid photograph, but I will find meaning in the beautiful chaos, letter by letter, word by word,

one poem at a time.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


saturday morning is lighting
the tips of the evergreens,
the wind comes in gusts through the window -
tousling my hair as my grandfather did.

i’ve just spent an hour reading of war
in chechnya. my coffee has grown cold,
but not so cold as their dead. curled up
in my worn reading chair,
there is still sleep lingering in my bones,
which is to say life.

my cold coffee now bitter - like the character
counting gunshot wounds instead of cadavers
as if each shot were a separate death,
as if in the tallying he will understand,
as if in the reading, will i.

another gust flips the pages
to where i left off, so i begin
again to count with him,
hoping to find the sentence
where ends the tallying.

i wake to find the sun high.
i have slept again. I dump
my cold coffee down the sink,
while he continues his bitter count

without me turning even a page.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015


let us wonder at

the pondering
the last act
the final door

all that leads there
is not true nor
the stained glass
layered with dust

let us find stones
and cast them
in the waters of John
and watch the ripples
spread and fade

let us watch the sun
rise from its palace

let us wonder
at dead children
life bleached from their hearts
their dear hearts
that beat so fast when born
but now just
cavities collapsing

and oceans

beating against shores

sounding their soft alarm

while dervish galaxies
whirl their endless stars

across the moonless sky

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent (for nelson mandela)

It seems unlikely to me, this season of Advent,
a story of an unwed Mother journeying far,
for reasons unclear, to a filthy manger,
to give birth to the Child - covered in blood -
in a pile of hay. And Joseph, a seemingly mute witness,
watching the story unfold, sensing
the grief that will one day enfold them.

Then there was a Star and three Wise Men.
From the East they came,
to the Mother and Child. Kneeling,
they brought gifts that he already knew then
he would need later. Reconciliation not being an
easy affair.

When Mandela was born, there was no Star, but
the Wise came to him eventually, if reluctantly,
and only much later. And Gifts?
I imagine freeing the oppressed counts.
He was not nailed to a Cross, but he carried one
for twenty-seven years
in a small cell and alone.

A man who forgave the enemies that tortured him,
imprisoned him, spat on him. A man who reconciled
an entire nation exacting no retribution.
And in this season of Advent,
Mandela has gone, called by the Child.
How long the people of South Africa waited
to follow their Star out of the wilderness.
How they must now grieve.

Listening to the news,
how foolish I feel in this season of shopping,
as I straighten the star on the top of my plastic tree,
take the dusty, sanitized manger yet again
from its old cardboard box,
and wrap gifts that are not wise at all
for people who know not what they do.

- r. russeth

Saturday, August 3, 2013

dark matter

One day we shall together write an epitaph across an alien sky,
Where an as yet unborn race will struggle
To understand that which holds together everything.

They will argue the nature of the gods,
Fight wars over liturgies and covenants,
As they build their first ship,
And journey to one of their three moons.

Their planet will suddenly seem very small
As one moon slides over their home world
Like a six fingered hand. Hiding it from their astronauts, who, humbled,
Will weep without tears.

But by then we will be long of that which holds together everything.
Our ashes making a slow journey of return
Through the sleep of galaxies;
While our revelations, written on photons,
Leap ahead.

And on a certain night,
Untold but as yet unborn children,
Will hear their mothers 
Calling them home at dusk
From their games with rules
Nothing like ours.

Called to bedtime,
Without perhaps seeing that one star
In that one night – with its untold trillions of revelations -
Flash brilliantly for a blink of an eye
For anyone bothering to turn an eye or three

To the small space between two
Of the three rising moons,
Before turning off the porch light,
And latching the screen door.

Brilliant unread epitaph,
Filling the night with all we never needed to know,
Before fading to everything
That mattered.

-        richard russeth