Monday, December 19, 2011

on helping to serve the eucharist (for the first time)

Standing next to my pastor,
holding the wine,
I have this thought:
“I do not belong here.”

The clay cup is heavy
and cool in my hands.
The wine is dark
and brooding.

Declaring to the gently
stooped woman standing before me:
“The blood of Christ, shed for you,”
I feel a sense of loss.

When she whispers “amen,”
I hear my doubts on her lips.

Handing the cup back,
she smiles, but not at me.
And I realize that she has received
something that was never mine 
to give.

I turn to the next person in line,
and the next and the next,
blinking back tears,

feeling holy
and undeserving;
with each “amen,”

that both are true.

                  - richard russeth

Sunday, December 18, 2011

václav havel (at Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center)

I know almost nothing
about you, but I know where I was
in 1968. it seemed the world was ending
that fall.

     did you hear sirens
when they came for you then,
or was it quieter than that -
just a rap at the door
after midnight?

now you are across this grand room from me,
surrounded by television cameras and crystal.

there is a toast in your honor.

at my table, we speculate,
but nobody knows why you are here
     - save that the UN
is also in this town.

my champagne smells sweetly
of fresh cut grass
or an afternoon with a lover.

the city slowly darkens into chiaroscuro.
above you, a chandelier begins to softly glow.

you smile at your companions.

taking your wine,
you pause with the glass
just at your lips,
as if you too
smell the cut grass
or remember a vanished
lover’s touch.

but perhaps it is another vanishing
that makes you pause.

even up here, if you listen carefully,
one hundred floors above New York,
you can still hear sirens
far away.

                             - richard russeth

Sunday, November 13, 2011

like days


          the flowers,

haven’t died,
though they haven’t
seen dirt
in weeks.

in the morning,
you trimmed
their stems
again and
arranged them,
so they could
stay with us.

dining table.
they don’t even
they’re beautiful,
these flowers;

          their petals
falling to the
like days.
so evanescent
as their
yellow starbursts,

but heartbeats.

wind and rain -

and sun.

it doesn’t matter
in the end,

does it?

that the flowers
don’t understand


we are 

by them.


Friday, November 11, 2011


a camera
in a box for my son
on the dining room table.
a retro birthday gift
film of the
old fashioned kind;
the kind you
can’t edit,
and don’t know what
moment you’ve captured
until far later.
months later.
years. lifetimes,

sometimes, you’d never know
how your story ended.
you’d find
rolls of film
and wonder
what was hidden there -
what joy,
what banality -
sadness -
no photos of the funeral
of course.
maybe in the bar,
after. always with
the flash in the mirror.

or finding
unexposed film
that should have caught
a moment
but didn’t,
and now,


or the shoeboxes
full of faded
you don’t
being taken.

but there you are.

or the negatives
you’d find in envelopes
later and realize

hiding in plain sight.

the beauty
you forgot you
took a picture of

like the love you
forgot you had

in that place

never went

Saturday, June 11, 2011

pearl (for charlotte)

bright sun,

trees scattered
shadow fish
that swam back
and forth to you
with each breeze.

The afternoon
stitched the blue
to the sky, and
laid rose petals
in your palms.

Under the porch,
the dog slept
as if we’d forgotten
to bury him.

At sunset, the
like candles,
the wind wove
gold threads
through the forest.

when it finally came,
was a dark plum
carrying a pearl.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weather Report

Does it seem odd, or is it just me,
that the “Jeopardy” answer is never:
“A president murdered by General Pinochet”,
or that the phrase on Wheel of Fortune
is never: “Where they burn books,
they will ultimately burn people also.”

Or that, 24/7, we can watch tornadoes
sear lives shut across Oklahoma,
machine guns fire across Gaza,
blood leak across dusty blacktop,
fast jeeps chased by faster helicopters
across a desert, or talking heads
declaim about revolutions
they’ve never needed,
their children never maimed,
their parents never disappeared
into dark waters
with hands tied in prayer
behind their backs.

Or, odder still,
me watching it all
as I surf my five hundred channels
with a bowl of popcorn,
so sure I comprehend,
so glad I care,
so frugal with my compassion

that I have enough for the whole world.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gently Settled

           At some point,
I knelt on my father’s grave
grassy grave,
lit sandalwood incense,
chanted the Heart Sutra, and,
while my waiting family did
the graveside shuffle,
finished with a command to
“be a buddha.”

Kneeling on the grass
over the boxed up but
gently settled clothes of my father,
this pretend Catholic,
pretending to be a Buddhist,
commanded his dead
but pretend Lutheran
father to also pretend to
be a dead Buddhist,
which didn’t work.

What I understand now,
that I did not in the
rapturous scent of
sandalwood then,
is that it takes a certain
amount of falsehood
to be true to yourself.

So I should have pretended
to be a Catholic pretending
to be a Buddhist pretending
to be a Catholic pretending
to pray my father out of purgatory;
in which case, I could have
gone home and pretended
that I had finally accomplished
something in his life.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

run with scissors

it’s important
to run with scissors
after that
paper blowing
down the street
that has a
heart on it


Letter To An Empty Space

In life, as in writing,
some actions are
like running the dishwasher
again and again

without ever, at
some point, taking the
plates and glasses
and spoons out.

on the other hand,
without ever filling it.
So that either you have
clean dishes
you can never use
and so you eat with
the dog from his bowl. Or

you have dirty dishes
that you use,
but find disgusting,
so that
eating is an act
of self-betrayal
for which you
can never forgive


Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The Ohio blue sky
blisters heat down
to hide in the shade
along the creek
that ran so high with
spring but is now
a sluggish turtle
winding down like
the old wristwatch
on that old man
on the bench
watching the shadows
lengthen each day,
stretching him
thinner and thinner
until the breeze
blows him
on down the road
like the newspaper
he left behind
on the bench
when he got up
to walk home
to dinner
with the night
limping not far


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

In Belgium,
in the cemetery of Saint-Symphorien,
the first and last soldiers
killed in the war to end all wars
are buried just seven yards apart.
In between lie the other 8 million.

Today, with flags flapping,
a parade of thanks.

For all those good citizens of good aim
over the last one hundred years,
who have continued the march

of cemeteries across rolling hills and
high plains, river deltas
and mountains,
from Lyons to Fargo,
Tokyo to Bombay, Ankara to Cairo,
Florence to Munich, Barcelona
to Manchester.

For those battalions of
lucky soldiers found with face
enough to be matched to names.

Their graves first awash
in praise, prayers, and peonies,
tears, roses and daisies,
when the dirt was still loose
and slippery and hard
to walk on in Sunday shoes.

Then flowers laid twice yearly with
nieces or nephews jumping from stone to stone.
Then plastic flowers faded in the sun
like old color photos of picnics
and baptisms, weddings and leavings.
Then the creep of ivy,
that last visitor,
until even the broken stones

Then the patient dead,
listening still for the footsteps
of the promised medic,
whispering to themselves:
“I remember. I


Monday, May 23, 2011

Once Upon A Time

He's short. I'm tall.
Thirty years ago, we met
at law school in Minnesota,
became fast friends somehow.

A typical day was spent mainlining
coffee and news for breakfast,
lunch at the bar with chili dogs
and a bump, long hours in the library,
then Grain Belt beers until we were
kicked out of The Uptown Bar.

It was always a joy to walk home with him,
the ice air deep snow January filling our heads,
clear stars outshining the city,
hands deep in pockets, waiting
for the lights to change
even when no traffic threatened.
We spun the world each night
with Kant and Camus sitting with us.
They’d tag along home behind us
kicking at our heels like little kids.
They’d join us for a nightcap
bickering over nothingness and meaning.

In the spring, sometimes, Nixon and
Carter would stop by for margaritas.
Kissinger always wanted to sit with us.
“Too bad there’s only room for four in this booth,”
Doug would say. In the next booth, Camus
would snicker. Crave such brilliance
the next dull day in civil procedure class.
This went on
until it didn’t.

Every spring
there was a fishing opener party
in Wisconsin, where the boys of law
went to fish, mostly for beer.
Two cases of Budweiser long necks
and a pint per head was the standard
estimate at the Liquor Barn on Hwy. 7. Once
one of the boys drank his way to a grand mal seizure
at the go-cart track. Once I woke up
sleeping in a still warm fireplace.
Once upon a time was told ever after.

When I lived with my fiancée on Lagoon Avenue,
he’d come for dinner and stay for breakfast.
Even when it was so cold that his green Chevy Vega
went numb and streetlights had frostbite,
those splendid nights were never too cold
for a walk to the pink neon of The Uptown Bar
for a Hamm’s beer with Reagan and Camus.

He was the best man in my first wedding,
but not my second. He eloped for his. Both times.
When email was invented I thought we’d
connect more, not less.
Eventually we both stopped
fishing, but for different reasons.
Some of the boys died.
He moved to New York, then came back.
I moved to New York, met its sad stories and stayed.
He came to visit, we reminisced
of fishing and nothing.
Together, we were together.
Then came Christmas cards.

I moved to Colorado and turned 50
with the obligatory blow out party
thrown by my second wife.
My sisters flew in. And my sons.
And some friends. And Doug.
He introduced his second wife.
We ate BBQ, drank beer and
laughed loudly at
once upon a time.

Years later,
along with a snowstorm,
a small package
wrapped in brown paper
arrived one December day,
containing two glasses
monogrammed in black:
"The Uptown Bar".
And a note that said:

"Dear Rich,
The Uptown Bar has closed
and is being torn down.
I managed to pinch a couple
of glasses for you.
Hope they make it there intact.



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stars and Trees Move Ever Closer

Our unclenched hands rise into that space where
the stars and trees move ever closer together
as the night sings away the heat of the day.
We greet the stars and motion them down
from their wise muteness.

The stars and trees move ever closer together,
the trees are unclenched with spring.
We greet the stars and motion them down
to these branches licked with silver fire
of unfurling leaves.

The trees are unclenched with spring.
We give our tree house over with thanks
to these branches licked with silver fire
that cradle its strong beams like sleeping children.

We give our tree house over with thanks,
loudly singing songs to the woods
that cradle its strong beams like sleeping children.
Far above the floor of this green sea,
from this ship of the forest, we scout the distant mountains,
mapping their curves by unseen stars.

Loudly singing songs to the woods,
our ship floats tied up as in a harbor,
far above the floor of this green sea.
We lay on the deck and watch the stars
wheel about the unseen axis.

Our ship floats tied up as in a harbor,
safe against the wild things slowly circling below.
Sailing while at anchor is a triumph,
landlocked while at sea is a failure of the heart.

Safe against the wild things slowly circling below,
we do not fly we humans, cannot.
Landlocked while at sea is a failure of the heart
that pumps oceans of blood in vain.

We do not fly we humans, cannot.
But you and I are learning. My heart,
that pumps oceans of blood in vain,
rides the waves of this dark night
that wheels about the unseen axis while

our unclenched hands rise into that space where
the stars and trees move ever closer together.


Sunday, May 15, 2011


I am looking for an old
manual typewriter
to use in my tree house,
where there is lightning,
but nothing domesticated.

The kind that involves black ribbons
and smudges and clack.
The kind where you capitalize
with a mighty shift click.
The kind where all the popular letters
have worn away.
The kind where thoughts appear
letter by letter, glowing only with sunlight.
The kind where you can rest your fingers
without unintentionally writing
a line of meaningless poetry.

The kind on which I wrote the first line of my first poem:
“The snow looks like marshmallows on top of the fence posts,”
while sitting in a wooden swivel chair
in my parents’ damp basement.
The kind where the possibilities are as endless
as the reams of white paper my father
brought home to seven year old me.

The kind where mistakes are smoothed over,
but not euthanized. The kind
I may never find again.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Recipes for Poets

Over on the site 32Poems, poets of varying stripes will be posting quick (20-30 minutes) easy recipes for all you writers out there on May 20th. Recipe as poem. Stop by and check out the site (excellent!) and participate as well!

Mother's Day

For years now,
the only flowers
on Mother’s Day
were at her grave, but
I’ve never placed them there.

Even with an airport next door,
it is quiet. No one
visits. Even
the dead wish to be

Except for her,
she chose
this place and
bought her ticket here
with the sureness
of all those sons
headed home

Her short note
was suffused with
the smell of peonies and
sourness, ripeness and

She wrote with 
the most beautiful
handwriting, was careful
with each word
in a way she never was
with her children,
said I love you without
knowing why,
said goodbye
without ever leaving.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Dancing Away Those (“Don't Grow Old Pt. 5: Father Death Blues” by Allen Ginsberg)

Hey Mother Love, here comes the sun.
Hey rich boy, now love your son.
Hey young Mama, the day is won.

Mother Love, let’s sing that song.
Daddy’s song, but that ain’t wrong.
Sister Love, you too belong.

Young Uncle Love, so laughing and
Young Aunty Love, gives him a hand.
O Brother Love, how grand your plans.

O Unborn Children, filled with mirth.
Laughter, oh, will guide your birth.
Come and help us turn this earth.

Stupid Love, you’ve just begun.
Deathly Love, your bell’s been rung.
Mother Love, tear the devil’s tongue.

Oppressive Love, your words are false.
Student Love, avoid learned sloth
For there’s a universe to cross.

Jesus Love, it makes no sense.
Spirits love in the present tense.
God, love’s a long senescence.

Joy and pain share the same page.
This knowledge will make a sage.
One man’s truth is another’s rage.

Mother Breath, hello to you.
I see you brought your tapping shoes
To dance away those dying blues!


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thirteen Ways To Picture Jesus


Against a background of sunset with Mary standing


Gorged on fish.


Walking along the water.


Taking a nap.


Bathing with the disciples in a dirty pond.


Performing a bad magic trick.


With holes in his sandals.


With holes in his feet.


With a sigh of relief.


Crying out in his sleep.


Washing his hair.


Smiling outside the door.


Wiping his palm on his dusty cloak
before greeting Thomas
with outstretched hand.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden

I would like to know what He
said to him when he showed up,
but I cannot hear because
there is a black curtain covered
with all the universe,
too heavy for me to pull back,
hanging over the face of God.

I imagine a tableau of tall and taller
mountains beyond mountains
beyond mountains.
A bright sun rising over snow on peaks.
A clear blue sky that
goes on forever.
A stream flowing
clear and fast,
cold and delicious.

On its banks is a small man,
newly alone, whispering
a dry prayer, weeping or perhaps not,
standing at the beginning
of a very long climb.

A warm breeze flowing around him,
alive with a riot of flowers
that he may never choose
to breathe in.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ode to Miss Shirley Delta Blow

This poem grew out of an assignment from my poetry writing class to write a classical sonnet in the Shakespearean mode. Fourteen lines, ten syllables each, rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Here you go:
Ode to Miss Shirley Delta Blow

We went to Hamburger Mary’s last night,
‘Cause our friend Stuart in drag would perform.
We laughed at his sequined dress with delight.
Through laughter this world he seeks to reform.

Miss Shirley Delta Blow, her name, her fame!
He shakes her long hair, for she must be bold.
“For one gets one life, life is not a game,”
She with a beautiful voice to us told.

Feminist blade ‘neath cotillion skirts,
Miss Blow sang, “Oh, we are just who we are
So rip that pink star from off of your shirts,
But doors to your hearts - wide open – ajar!"

From Shirley we learned that she must exist
So all can feel this world’s beautiful bliss.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Is How It Is

The last ray of sun before blindness. The last
raindrop before drought. The Libyan desert is
nothing now but the sound of smoke and starvation;
the sound of a child with no hands standing before
a feast spread across a vast
and beautiful table,
a slow exhale when faced with dead parents
in a burning home,
the slow march of refugees who leave their dead
for the sandstorms to bury.
“This is how it is,
these are our customs. If there is
something to eat, we will eat it together.
If there is nothing to eat,
we will have nothing together,”
said the Tunisian to the reporter,
embracing the refugees within
the four walls of his words.
Words that hang like lanterns
in the smoldering dark of this desert.
Words that say more than
this poem ever could.

Friday, April 29, 2011


One cloud dances in the blue like a teenager alone in her room.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


I learned to tell the truth in kindergarten,
where my first teacher
taught me with a wooden shoe.
She showed me how,
if you tie the bow on your shoe
correctly, you can’t help but tell the truth.

We practiced, Tommy and I,
tying bows on a paper cut out that we
had to then show the teacher.
I couldn’t figure it out so Tommy
tied mine for me. The teacher though
had that wooden shoe.

Last night, I stood on the sidewalk
in a line around the block waiting to
get into a concert, and I had to tie my shoe.
I put my foot on a flower pot in
front of the house by which we were
waiting, and the pot promptly fell and
shattered on the sidewalk.

I rang the front doorbell at the top of the steep steps
and a woman with a baby in her arms answered.
I explained about the flower pot
and offered to pay for it.

She smiled: “Don’t worry about it
but thanks for telling me.
I was going to get rid of it anyways because
it was already broken.”

The baby smiled at me, and I looked at
her Mother with a dumb smile,
while the entire line of people,
who’ve been eavesdropping to this point,
suddenly burst into applause -

as if our honesty was
the end of the first act
in a two act play, and the audience,
having a little trouble following along,
was glad for the chance to duck out
during intermission.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011


The last time I saw my mother alive
was in the lounge
of the Glenwood psychiatric hospital.
Lovely view from there.

She was there
due to a certain difficulty, as my father
described it, with alcohol.
She sat in a white plastic covered chair.
I sat across from her in the other
white plastic covered chair.
Both bolted to the floor.
While patients shuffled around us
looking this way and that
like pedestrians forever crossing the street.

When I rose to leave, she said
“I love
as if balancing
her words on a very long tightrope
over a center ring filled with red sawdust.
She looked down at me from that
high wire
as if i were a net.

Days later, when she fell and landed
in the front seat
of an idling Cadillac
behind a closed garage door,

I was a spectator
in the stands,
with cotton candy and peanuts,
as horrified as anyone
at her misstep. But relieved,

despite the tears of a child,
that the circus,
and all its sideshows,
was finally leaving town.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All Of Us

You who tell the poor to live on one cup of rice
while giving two warehouses to the hungry war machine.
You who heard Jesus say “The poor will always be with you”
and hear “You need do nothing for them.”
You who quibble over the feeding of Women, Infants and Children
while kissing the feet of those who profited from the destruction
of the American dream.
You who stand on the bones of the poor.

Be ashamed.

You who ride in sleek ego machines on the dark highways of lost America.
Who would lift your face before you lift up the poor.
You who would never turn the other cheek.
Who have no empathy once the child is born.
You who blame the homeless for your deficit.

Be ashamed.

You who drill the land to pain the skies with oil.
Who need the oil to power your electric kites.
You who have never, ever, scrubbed a dish.
Who build empires of flesh.
You who turn a blind eye to destruction.
Who seek to own what belongs to everyone.

Be ashamed.

You who launch rockets on Ramallah.
launch rockets on Beirut.
rockets on Tel Aviv.
on Benghazi.
You who broker arms to child soldiers.
Who broker false peace.
Demand other peoples’ sacrifices.
Believe the ends justify the means.

Be ashamed.

You who forgot Rwanda.
Who left the Cambodians.
Deny genocides.
Applaud Uganda.
Support enhanced interrogation methods.
You who say that she was asking for it.

Be ashamed.
You media preachers who claim to know what you can’t possibly.
You who are children of God, but advertisements for hell.
Who would deny another’s prayers to God.
You. Don’t. Know.
You don’t know, you can’t, not in this world.

Be ashamed.

You who are not sinners.
Who would decide who is worthy.
You who would decide who can have the love of a child.
Who dream of killing queers, gay and straight.
You who believe your right to divorce is sacred.

Be ashamed,
all of us, for we are complicit.

For driving the getaway cars of the rich.
For giving them the keys
and then buying them back.
For pointing the guns at the hostages.
For pushing them out of the lifeboat.
For believing Ayn Rand.

Be ashamed,
all of us, for we are complicit.

For strewing the landscape with burnt out hulks.
For being junkies and demonizing junkies.
For talking smack.
For hating.
For sowing the land with destruction that will not heal
even in our great, great grandchildren’s lives.

We are complicit.

For acting as if we care.
For acting as if we got where we are all by ourselves.
For acting different when no one is looking.
For acting our lives instead of living them.

For the prayers we offer in public but deny in our hearts,
let us hide our faces.
For we are complicit.

And let us be oh so very ashamed
that everything, in all the years since the Confederacy
went into hiding, since King was gunned down,
since the War to End All Wars, since the liquidation
of the Warsaw ghetto, since the Enlightenment,
since Hiroshima, since the Bill of Rights, since the Tet Offensive,
since the founding of the UN, since the Dust Bowls of the Depression,
since the Beatles,
everything is different,
and yet everything, every single goddam thing
is the same.

Be ashamed, all of us,
for we are complicit.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Five American Sentences

1) Grace is a small town pastor eating a bright red apple in a pew.

2) Loneliness rests on my shoulders like the threadbare snow cloaks the ice trees.

3) Last night’s snow dazzles like small time criminals robbing a candy store.

4) Magic barks at the snow storm but it keeps coming down like handkerchiefs.

5) Those who would feed the rich with rice from the poorest are bastards for sure.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

For The Pelican At Carlsbad Beach

The pelican breezes
along the expressway
of the the wind, looking
down on all of us,
and thinks to himself:

"If only I had hands,
I could build a castle in the air
with many stairs.”

Then wheeling to the right
and looking down at us
again, he thinks:

“If I had proper legs,
I could climb to the top
of the castle's bell tower and look out
for hours at my kingdom
of clouds."


Friday, April 22, 2011

Handkerchiefs of My Father

Bleached white handkerchiefs,
fresh from the dryer, warm like toast,
are piled in the green laundry basket
sitting on the red chair
next to the ironing board beside the couch.

You spread each one carefully
as if measuring linen bandages
for soldiers wounded in the war
from which your brother never returned.

The iron’s hot metal advances
across waves of wrinkles,
while you frown in concentration
at each imperfection in your life.

Starched and folded, the handkerchiefs
slowly stack up on the sideboard
like sandwiches for guests
who are quite late.

Walking through the room, my father
takes one, palms it into his back pocket, let’s his
suit coat fall back over it, picks
up his briefcase and walks out to the car.

You watch him drive away.

Setting the iron upright,
a steaming, blunt little rocket,
always prepared for landing,
you take the folded stack in your hands,
undecided, then toss them all into
the green laundry basket sitting on the red chair
next to the ironing board by the couch.

You smooth your dress,
sit down with your eyes closed,
and listen to the kitchen clock,
down the hall and around the corner, ticking
and ticking and ticking.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Last Supper

It will be a long night –
this feast of fish, olives, wine and bread;
their sweet aromas mingling with
the smoke of the flickering candles.
Good to sit with my brothers.

Jesus, our holy fool, is on his knees
gently washing my worn, tired, dirty feet.
I do not know why he emulates Mary.
He dries them as if there were nothing more precious.

The meal is amazing. I do not know who
baked this bread, but she must be celebrated.
Assuredly it wasn’t Mary, Jesus told her
to stay away this evening.
Some of us are glad for that.

Jesus is reminiscing about his father,
telling some story or other,
the wine makes it hard for me to follow.
All I know is we are preachers, poor as dust, followed
by rabble that would not know a Torah from a sandal.

Down the table I see Thomas nodding off.
James and John are arguing about that
damnable Pilate. “Rome did us no favors with
that buffoon,” says John, draining his wine and
reaching for the bread.

Judas is petulant - looking like he wants to smack Jesus
for those crazy words of betrayal.
The next time I look, he is gone.

Still smarting from that crowing cock crack,
Peter sits sullenly by the fire.
The musicians have left. The servants as well.
The dishes will be cleared away tomorrow, I guess.

Jesus puts his cloak on and announces we must go
to Gethsemane.

We grumble. Why we have to go to the garden
in the middle of the night is anyone’s guess.
“Decent men should be in their beds,” says Thomas.
Outside it is dark and cold – and no one can find Judas.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bury Your Dead

The snow that fell full from the hidden moon last night lays like paper
waiting for a pen on the deck we painted red last summer,
before your brother died.

And by that I mean, snow melts, blood clots, bodies blow in the wind.

And by that I mean, we breathe with the dead when we forget to melt with the snow.

And by that I mean, you can’t put winter in the freezer.

And by that I mean, seriously, take your aspirin.

And by that I mean, bury your dead.

And by that I mean,



Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Summer does not open
its arms here
so much as strike us
across the face.

The trees are ready
torches in the dry heat
of these mountains.
With shooting star
unpredictability, lightening
explodes them like
cheap fireworks.
Snakes its inspiration
around mountain peaks,
sparking, spurring
on the flash mob
infernos that descend
into the valley


The tall grasses are almost
as bad; lying
in wait
for any excuse to
the houses squatting around the
mountain’s base like children
shooting marbles.

Why lightening?
Why does fire come a mob
against our village?
We are new in this valley.

There is no Frankenstein


Monday, April 18, 2011


Slumbering in the garden
like misplaced torpedoes,
we’re startled each morning
by how much you have grown.

Your skin is the color of spring leaves
just after dusk, but cut,
your pale flesh glows with moonlight,
tastes like mint would
if it wasn’t mint.

Gathered in bushels,
my mother-in-law, blessing
you with holy vinegar and sugar
and proud garlic,
weds you and the summer,
then hides you in the cellar

until those short winter days
when we need a reminder
of melted August afternoons
when we longed for ice.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

In The Beginning Was The Word

There is no meaning to their precise order
in the same way that there is no meaning
to the precise order of tombstones, but they each
had their lives as did those dead. Words, I mean.
Words are born and apparently die.
The Oxford English Dictionary contains 47,156
"obsolete" words, which means “dead” the same way
“senior citizen” means you’ve more
or less been written off.

The King James Bible contains 14,564 separate words
in a meaningful order of 788,258 total words
while the Oxford Dictionary
contains 171,476 separate words in a precise but
terrifyingly meaningless order;
like the tombstones aforementioned.

The dead have their secrets and they
could all be found in the Oxford,
if it’s words were properly instead of precisely ordered.
The explanation of the Trinity (both Holy Spirit
and first atomic weapon).
Why certain people are idiots.
The recipe for Coke.

For example, for a set of four simple words:
“God raised the dead.”
there are twenty-three additional orders
“The dead raised God.”
and twenty-two additional orders
“Raised the dead God”
and twenty-one additional orders
that likely mean nothing to you
but perhaps have great meaning to the dictionary,
God, and the dead.

With a set of 171,476 simple words
instead of only four,
the number of possible orderings
is transcendent. In the beginning
was the Word, which is in every word,
where God and the dead
read all their lives and the lives
they might have led,
the world and worlds that might have been,
and all the creations for which there
are yet no words.


Friday, April 15, 2011

At Sunset

High in blue mountains, a bridge
built by strong hands, weighs across the gorge.
Lovers lean on its steel railings, gossiping and laughing,
dropping wish after wish
to the river, waiting far below,
who catches them in his slow hands,
and carries them in bottles of blue and green and gold
to the far sea, where they ride cresting waves
in schools of clinking laughter before
sinking fathoms deep.
Neither awake nor asleep,
they lay cold among the kraken
until warmer currents tug them to shore
and cast them against black rocks
that have waited for this breaking.
Dashed, they tumble, tide
over tide, in the fine roughness of time
until they are smooth palms.
A storm that broke boats and cottages
abandons them, glowing like dusk,
in the white sands south of the timbered dock.
Lovers, as new as the last wave,
hand off these lost and founds
to a beachcomber with crinkled blue
and frizzy grey, who strings them like music
into the bauble of blue and green and gold
clinking on the wrist of the barefoot child, I see
dancing down the beach,
in the sunset’s fading.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Good Night's Sleep

We spent yesterday lying in beds.
This plural is not a mistake.

“We need a new bed so we can eat cookies
better together,” we laughed,
and headed off in the red truck
to obtain one.

The salesman appeared to have
had a good night’s sleep;
I'm guessing your resume can’t say
in the mattress business.
His pillow voice of somnolent
accent made us want to lie down
on his wares.

Voyeur and exhibitionist,
laying first here, then there.
Waiting for some other couple to finish
on this one then that, this side then not,
miming the tosses and turns of a sleepless night -
but with no refrigerator with milk
or cupboard with cookies,
it was less than perfect performance.

We imagined tickling them with applause anyway.

After much false napping, bickering
and goldilocking,
we settled on one just right for night;
taking on faith
that it would be a good thing for that thing
most pleasurable in bed:


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How To Be A Poet

Some people visit graveyards
to make rubbings of the gravestones they find there;
usually those of relatives.
They do this by putting a piece tracing paper on the stone,
then rub across it with charcoal or a pencil,
until they’ve reproduced the words of stone.

To be a poet, you need
to hold up a really big
piece of tracing paper to your life,
then rub it and rub it and rub it.
Then tear it up. Then burn
it. Then throw the ashes
into the air. Then watch them settle on the flowers,
the bodies, the blood, the dead,
dreads, red cars, blue lies, the
people you love, the one’s you
the pies, the cakes,
lust, sweet whiskey,
envy and ivy, cop and carpenter,
grocer and barber, barista,
Sandinista, the jerk in the next car,
the girl you loved, the pine trees,
the bumble bees, and, at last,
the fast flowing river of spring that
carries them all far
from the sun.
Then, you must gather
the ashes back somehow,
and make pencils of them. Yellow
pencils that, when carefully
sharpened, you can use
to write down your life,
word by slow word.


Monday, April 11, 2011

world unseen

It has been decades since
you sang with plaintive
hope about a world
that you could see,
but didn’t exist.

I wish
I could tell you
it had come to pass. Still,

we do have a field, not far
from where you were forced
from this world,

where we lay with eyes closed,
in cool grass and warm sun,
and imagine

how things might have been.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

small extinctions

One day
we wake up,
and there’s a
that has never
been heard.
Like the buzz
of the refrigerator
gone quiet
in the night,
but that
bumble about
has gone missing?”

We see
the flowers
nod sagely
to each other
that theirs
is the last

panicking, we try

to bring them back
with swollen,
pollen covered lips
that we brush through
their petals
of fading scent,
too late
to ever matter.


Saturday, April 9, 2011


burning charnel house libraries
spread their ignorant stink
across suburbs of plasma eyed
and broadbanded dead
who slurp intravenously at the acrid acid
of unmediated media raining down
in radioactive clouds
from billboards, cell towers
and bulldozing antennas
throwing signals foiling
the tin hats of commercial fools
pushing shopping carts on freeways
searching for the best deal
on lies they can believe
while on their knees
praying to bankers with cankers
eyes wet with tears of joy
from the wind blown ashes of
burning burning libraries.


Friday, April 8, 2011

angel of salt

The universe provides us
a planet on which to live,
but salt! Salt is the crux,
the lightening in our eyes, the
taste of birth. It played a sadly
unacknowledged role in Genesis,
for it must have been salt water
over which the Spirit hovered
in the formless empty.

Then there is
the matter of God
and dark matter,
who, as a tag team of elusive,
invisible and unmeasurable partners,
make up most everything.
Scientists and theologians, one equally
mystified by the other, have tried in vain
to capture this duo;
if duo they be.

Salt, though filled with God and
dark matter, makes up hardly anything
but is apparently everywhere
from meteorites to mars; its existence
confirmed by the taste of blood.

The cosmos is a babushka
down to her last quark:
a different universe for
every elemental particle.
A combination lock
made of every electron;
where a single change in sequence
across the universe from star to galaxy
to the Lipton tea and sodium chloride
in your kitchen cupboard
unbolts new heavens.
Spin it! Again and again
and again.
Open every lock of every heaven
that God already knows.
While we know nothing
except how to make a nice cup of tea.

Through the Old Testament
flows a vein of blessed salt.
Jesus salted his disciples. Paul
called for salting our conversations.
Allah bestowed the four blessings
of fire, water, iron and salt.
Shinto, Hindu, Jews, Holy Water,
the Tridentine Mass are all sprinkled
in salt. 

In New York, Terence Koh
created a performance piece with
several tons of solar salt
arranged as an austere cone
consecrating a bare concrete space.
From 10 to 5 for five weeks, Koh crawled
on his knees around that perfect mountain,
prostrating himself every half circumnavigation.
His circular liturgy a submission
that salt may be all that matters.

Though to the person who
has since finished his tea,
and is now, even as you read this,
strapping on explosives,

salt matters not at all.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Time I Woke Charlotte in The Middle of the Night to Look at the Moon

The moon filled the sky abundantly.

From its alarming largeness,
the trees shied away like spiders.

But the fish in our small pond
were mesmerized.

For a long time,
we stood there in the garden;

our breath slowing
as the stars faded.

While all around us,
the day washed in

on the moon’s languid tide.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Blood red trees.
          Trees along a street.
Street with an odd name.
          Name of Persia’s king, Xerxes.
Xerxes outraged Babylonians.
          Babylonians lost to Persian furnaces.
Furnaces that melted their golden idol.
          Idol of Bel, not Xerxes of Armenia.
Armenia’s king who was assassinated.
          Assassinated as is my heart.
Heart wounded by numbers.
          Numbers of the faithful.
Faithful who pray for harsh salt.
          Salt not of the covenant but salt,
Salt sown in the earth from skies.
          Skies filled with death.
Death from wounds.
          Wounds self-inflicted.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

seventeen syllables allen ginsberg would have gracefully counted

Sun on clouds, moon in trees, nothing in this world is beautiful alone.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Anywhere (for my sister Kathy)

The beige rotary wall phone tied you
to the kitchen counter, your 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 that teacher
all parents rightfully distrusted.

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 beige phone
on the countertop, let it fill the room
with the sound of bees,
and went in search
of anywhere.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

On Learning Of My Mother's Suicide

The silence of God
is a terrible quiet.

A restless wind grown still
in trees encircling

an abandoned house.
Love seeking itself

in a mirror shattered across the floor
- a forsaken archipelago.

A plaintive room with a
chair and an open book.

The house across the way,
lights on, front door open,

the phone ringing
and ringing.


Friday, April 1, 2011


in your body

light through veins

each cell pregnant

with an unraveling

no rage can change


the way water


into the earth



Thursday, March 31, 2011

In Honor of NaPoWriMo: American Sentences

Allen Ginsberg invented a form of poetry he called "American Sentences." An American Sentence may only be 17 syllables. No more, no less.  Here are some examples by Ginsberg:

Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella. - 1987

Bearded robots drink from Uranium coffee cups on Saturn's rings. - May 1990

Crescent moon, girls chatter at twilight on the bus ride to Ankara. - June 1990

and my favorite!

Rainy night on Union Square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till I'm dead. - August 1990

So in honor of Allen and NaPoWriMo, I've written two American Sentences:

1. If everyone loved poetry then all the world around us would rhyme.

2. If everyone loved poetry we'd fight wars over meter, not God.

Thanks for reading!



April Fool's Day is a fitting day to begin NaPoWriMo - National Poetry Writing Month, when many people will strive to write a poem a day for the thirty days of April. A daunting yet also easy task.

You can join in the fun and all you need is a pencil and paper!

I'll be posting my per day for the rest of April and anything else in a poetic vein.