Dead Son

Had you known
the colour of skin
clawed to bone
stripped, burned to ash

and how much time
it takes
for such a young body
to unpearl

Had you known
the taste of his name
hooked
to your webbed mouth

and how the feral nail
hangs death
on a life-long calendar

You would have known
the never it takes
to say goodbye.

Ophelia I

A stallion stamps under a tree
in the backyard meadow.

At the casement she dreams
he gallops to fill
the nothing she holds in her arms
with blood flowers and weeds
for her hair.

The walls of the palace whisper
her name, tell the tale
of a stallion wakening
dangerous under the yew
fennel and columbine
tangling his mane.

She wants him to ride her
past false dreams and stones
in the wall, past curtains
waving goodbye,

past the field, away to his bed
of wild grass near a stream
that’s not there.

Loving T.S. Eliot Master Poet

Didn’t you place the whoopee cushion on my chair with jokester flair?

Didn’t I praise your ears, your serious hair? Love the fuschia lipstick
a biographer swore you wore in the company of men?

Didn’t I wear the exact same hue as you?

Were you not meant to be a poet god? Communion and last rites
on holy nights writ large? Wasn’t your work a sung hymn?

A Sunday psalm chanted on the page, as in the vaulted nave?
Shouldn’t I behave? Be brave as you were, working in the dreary bank?

Didn’t I thank you? Write this? This set down?
Roll my trousers, wander town? Weren’t you the gentle suffering thing
the American innocent, sans bling, who held a peach within your guilty reach?

Didn’t I dare to eat the fruit you feared to taste?
Wander with you through the wasted streets at six o’clock?
Come to your reading, mimicking your step?

I love your sad delay, your inner dread, your literary craft
the top hat on your head, your quirky poet’s bed.

Weren’t your nerves as bad as Vivien’s at night? What did you say?
The world’s too bright? Too dead? Must I douse the light you shed
on Sweeney erect? What do you expect? Must I now genuflect?

How I love your talent for despair, and indecision
Repetition. And internal rhyme. Is my devotion to you such a crime
as you would have me gone? Can I be wrong?

Didn’t you say the gate of truth would never close?
In the cathedral, didn’t you bow, pull up your hose and vow your life
to pen?

Win a poet’s crown? This set down? Devote your time to verse?
Might I do worse?

Where You Come From

These stored images
belong to you, cracked photos
in albums, preserved
by others against rot, corrosion
drowning, page after page
old faces staring into old cameras.

Your great-great-grandmother from Russia
great-grandfather lost at sea, here
a forgotten cousin, aunt, or drunk uncle
and look, two babies
entering the crossroads
of life’s precious, terrifying moment
between birth and death.

What sound did their voices
make on wind? What stories of the day
did they tell at breakfast
or dinner, if there was dinner—
about how or where
they might have walked
or hidden, loved and cheated
blessed each other, lied

Or told of the day robins
returned to the garden
how arthritis set in for the aunt
who danced
what name they gave the too-early baby
who lay in a box on the stove door.

Look carefully at each photo
hold the fragments in your memory
and even under the weight
of their untold lives, let these faces
weave a line, an ancient thread
to lead you home to yourself.

Affair

I fasten a rope
between our houses
and I wait

All day
the wren sits
on the sundial
and whistles
for evening

Night comes
and I watch
for her

Wind lifts
her blouse
her hair

It is not until
she steps

carefully
from the roof
that I think
of Icarus falling
toward
a dark sun.

Border

The man’s loose boot soles flap like his heart
as he pulls his cart along the sunburned road.

He doesn’t know which side of the war he runs from
or which soldiers are planting spikes
like a dead fence across the border ahead,
whether the last border he crossed
is closed now, or lost to another army.

On the cart behind him his wrapped wife rides
holding their child’s head in her hands
in case gunfire opens the sky over the road.

Running is not hard for the man. What’s hard
is how fear sways the cart in the wrong direction
turns the road without him.

He can no longer remember who to hate
or whose name to call out for help
now that the border
spins in circles, farther and farther
from any way out of here.

House Space

But the unconscious cannot be civilized. It takes
a candle when it goes to the cellar.

-Gaston Bachelard
The Poetics of Space

Rising from sleep at dawn, sun-kindled
like a wave you flow from room to roof

securing the edges of your day.
You say this is the grandeur of your solitude,

this rhythmic wash through bounded space,
balcony, dining room, kitchen, den, the attic

where your careful poems salt the antique air.

Beneath the house, water scours the cellar wall.
You wish to descend the sea-worn stairs

but at night, unsettled by the obscuring dark

you fear the rip-tide’s pull
will drown the candle in your ageing hand

and carry you boundless into the unsayable.