Sestina for Jaime
For more poetry, click “Poems”
The woman and the boy look back at the years
They have spent together, at what she will leave: the river,
The Santiam that flows cold
From the mountains over its bed of rock
Into the wide Willamette, warm in the summer;
And the sound roof and sturdy walls of their house.
Now that they have more or less deserted this house—
He only sleeps in it; she plans to return in some years—
[Insatiable, my eyes]
Insatiable, my eyes
rake November’s ground
as I walk the square—
on the sidewalk, tannic
ghosts laid down by rain
on last night’s leaves.
Fine, bright new-growth grass
bends in the wind as if
in obeisance to
This is not like a love affair—
the rising of this breast of ground
to my embrace. It is
a love affair. I give
my mornings to mists’ kisses; winds lift
my loosened hair; my afternoons—
sun’s yet-strong stroke on my bare calf.
and in the puddle by the street-
lamp’s light, the oak’s last russet leaf
beneath my heeled boot, it ends.
Still Life, September Afternoon
Night eats at the day from both ends.
Like a tender annual, I know the chill
belies the bright sun,
portends the death
I have gotten used to carrying.
Day 400 of the Rule "No Sitting on the Grass"
In the camps they will tell you
no one stays hungry
forever. Sooner or later you stop
desiring, then feeling, believing. Starvation
sets in, and if cool green grass by magic
appeared, So what? your tired shoulders
would shrug. You would mill around the packed dirt
Someday will you lead me to the river’s edge,
The Poet's Life
I’m with you, Brodsky,
sentenced to the peat bogs.
Sit your tired body on the bed
at the end of a day pushing wheelbarrow. Take off your
and when the scandalized ask,
say, I rather enjoyed it.
my starved finger tips want—
to touch the clouds
in that November sky,
to mix, with the edge of my thumb,
Mars black and titanium white
in bright scallops and deep troughs
on stretched canvas,
to reach out my vermilioned brush
and note the canvasbacks’ descent
to rest among these reeds.
I suppose they must have exhausted themselves,
the field of tinier-than-one-quarter-of-my-own-
purple to magenta five petalled flowers
with their dot of yellow center
blooming scattered over five feet square
of the weediest, deadest looking
scrap of yard
from eleven a.m. to one or two p.m. daily.
I checked for them
each time I passed; each time, they caught me
in their stunted beauty. I blew them kisses
to the consternation of the yard guards.
Two, at separate times, I plucked.
Three Poems on a Prison Suicide
You were not sentenced to die
by a thin shred of jailhouse bathrobe
from a louvered vent
high up enough that you had to climb.
You have to be really serious
to pull that off.
A bright young thing, I went off to make
My way in the affluent set.
We’d have comfort, security, and prestige
And never a moment’s regret.
But cities were burning, Buddhist monks were burning,
Burned babies were the evening news.
By the light of those fires I turned my back on it all
And walked till I had nothing to lose.
I was young, I was righteous, I knew it all;
I left a family without their father.
I defy the rules
of “Bind your feet” and “Bind your breasts,”
button the State-issue chambray shirt
over bare skin,
walk out into the late-June sun,
sit on the young grass, and dare
to take off my shoes.
[My Sorrow Sits, Like a Strong Magnet]
My sorrow sits, like a strong magnet
beneath my heart
and draws down to itself,
to one metallic, brittle block,
my lively heat
I am like an alabaster icon
barren womb, dried breasts,
limbs frozen in mid
At home the daffodils have naturalized
and grow like weeds
in the grass seed fields
rhododendrons I do nothing at all for
give pale purple double blooms
in profusion for a month
No zucchini flower, fecund work complete,
to pass through lightest batter
and crisp in new- pressed olives’ oil,
nor tomato red as lips
to shoot warm burst of juice and seed
from crushing teeth to tongue,
nor sun-burned limbs to stride bare
into chill rivers,
nor perfume of August grass fresh-cut for seed
to rise on evening air.
[for William Kunstler]
has come into my life.
Not the dragon Fear-of-Death.
Not the napalm raining from the sky Death-in-War.
Not the cold dark Death-as-Rest-from-Pain.
But the sudden death of old men,
the brutal, here just last year gossiping and storytelling
[The Swiss priest said...]
The Swiss priest said, “Look
at the word.
Woman means woe to man.”
He took the boys for ice climbs
on the Rockies’ glaciers
while I sat at home on the couch
getting what my brother called
Your rage, indeed. You raped out your rage
on my Aunt Marie
and left her in a catatonic dread
until she died
three months later.
You say in passing that you sometimes thought
about her feelings
while your brothers spent their rage
on my Aunt Marie
and the others.
I want to make my hand into a fist
and fuck it past your tongue
down through your lungs, your belly, and your bowels
into some place
where you still feel.
Elegy for a Cowboy
The December Death Certificate records AMI:
acute myocardial infarction, heart attack
The final rend in a heart that broke three months ago,
The sunny October morning you rode out in the roundup
on the gelded roan, your favorite,
To gather cow-calf pairs from the cheat grass grange
[As, one November, I split firewood...]
As, one November, I split firewood in the heavy fog
a gaggle of lesser Canada geese flew over me
so low, I could have hit them with my axe.
Long before my time there was a shallow lake
here, where my house is built.
The old uncle remembers,
remembers what the uncle before him
and the uncle before him knew,
and leads the V shaped flight
of long mated pairs and their offspring
and their long mated pairs
looking for the lake in my back yard.
The Seven Year Olds
To her mother, Where are you going, Mommy?
I’m going to visit my friend Katherine.
To her friends, She lives in jail.
Open-eyed, What did she do that she has to live in jail?
__The goal of spiritual direction is to develop in the directee
a personal relationship with god__.
You lifted me up from my place
at the top of the prison yard steps,
revealed Yourself to me
and for an instant
I knew you I was you. Traveling over all of time,
Sometimes we would argue over
who left who first…
Where once we dried and tore the lettuces
That, tossed with oils from France,
Would complement the pheasant we had hunted,
The unused dining table gathers dust
And Jaime begs haphazard meals with friends.
You knew and you drew on rock wall
By guttering lamplight
The true shape of beasts in flight
Hunter who had for life itself to know
As no modern day effete with oils and detail can know
That shape-in-motion and being the beast and desiring
the beast and painting out that desire on rock
in fervent prayer
[Snatches of Vivaldi show up]
Snatches of Vivaldi show up
used for punctuation on a training tape
and my heart aches for beauty in this barrenness.