Sonnets 61 – 120


Things are often more beautiful at a
distance, but not you. The closer the more
inevitable you become. Before
I thought beauty was what I saw, that the
superficial awed, but I was wrong. Your
skin is really you as fragrant as the
rose whose tenderness exudes its soul. A
truth is always true. I am no longer
young and though I know you would like to kiss
you must think of the future and begin.
Love though sinless would be completely sin
if from your lovely limbs more loveliness
doesn’t spring. This spring is my sacrifice
and joins me with you in begetting life.


Bird in the tree you are singing to me
as if you know and care that I am here
each note intended to put in my ear
a song. What is alone can be pretty
sharing itself, staccato before the
profound pause and silence still near and far.
Unseen the melody is all you are
bird off on some limb that is budding a
leaf as I write listening and the winds
and other choruses, even the car
screeching its brakes do not startle, just are.
The cat licks the hair on my leg and winds
around a thigh, it too meaning one thing
this sonnet is taking shape while you sing.


I was up late and woke late too, sleepy
with a dull brain to figure out the day.
Right from the start Cachito’s in the way
biting on my ankles so carefully
he doesn’t make them bleed holding his paws
around one foot hanging on from study
to living room. Pay attention to me
is what he is saying, dragged as he bawls
a plea common to all. There’s lots to do
and it’s soon time to go, but in the hall
Cachito wants to play. What if I stall
surrendering just a minute or two
and let go of the day, throw him to catch
his tattered toy mouse he’ll run and bring back?


Where is the snow that only yesterday
clung to the four corners of the sidewalk
and in the rectangular playground stalked
freezing the toddlers thawed out now who play
under the spiraling buds grown so thick
on every sprouted limb they poke green
as the grass between the cracked macadam seen
already in the sun? The warm wind licks.
The daffodils and hyacinths awake.
Me too. I couldn’t sleep if I wanted
to. I want to go walk with contented
old friends through Central Park, going this way
or that discovering a path. Just thinking
and talking of nothing would be something.


Cachito brought me a mouse while I slept.
waking to find the gift dead at my hand
when all at once the mouse jumped up and ran
for the surrounding shadows. The cat leapt
after, out of the dark batting the mouse
into the air. It stood its ground when it
came down squeaking a futile defense, its
final reprimand ended in the pounce
that caught it in its sharp and gentle jaws
alive like a delivered baby, raw
fetus with its fur torn off, a red ball
licked well beyond recall, what I just saw
on silent haunches bravely cowering
nothing now—Ah! but nothing was something.


My Spanish-speaking students ask me where
the English language comes from and I tell
them the Anglo-Saxons. But the conquest
of England by France made their native tongue
lower class, so crude and illiterate
that even to this day fuck, shit and piss
aren’t said in polite society. We’re
ashamed and self-hating hearing our Dame
English is partly French. I ask, “Is there
any French in Spanish like rapprochement
or double entendre?” They all adamantly
shake their heads no, no, no, till one student
looks at the rest and says, “There’s déjà vu.”
They have to agree: “Déjà vu, that’s true.”


I used to clean cat vomit up but now
I don’t unless it’s in the path I walk.
Otherwise it can stay unlike broken
glass or garbage with day old fish in it.
In less than an hour or less than that
the cat comes back to lick and eat it up.
You have to have the patience to leave it
forgotten as you should an argument
on politics. To change your mind you must
change yourself and some people are afraid
to be someone else. Have you ever met
a racist who’s not stupid? I haven’t.
Sad but true, you can’t make a rock into
a jewel no matter how you want to.


Had I left sooner or later it would
all have been different, but I didn’t
and got into two arguments, one in
a store and one on the sidewalk about
the neighborhood with two freeloaders who
do nothing, yet want something for nothing.
Today is Good Friday. You know something?
The world’s violent. I stop at a stoop
to scribble this on the only piece of
paper that I have, using the back of
a pack of batteries on the flat of
the cardboard, what space I can make use of.
A young man leaving looks at me askance
as if I’m someone crazy here by chance.


Happy children hunted for eggs and went
bursting through the bushes. I hurriedly
made love before that unexpectedly
standing up expecting any moment
students who didn’t come. Morning’s over.
The afternoon has found a warm bright sun.
Today was many people, now they’re none.
It is only you and me, dear reader
the shadow of the pencil on the page.
Don’t think I’m writing of the tomb. I’m not.
We hid the eggs and kids turned over rocks
or climbed a branch, things we did at their age.
“I’ll see you next year,” one smiling boy said
biting off a yellow marshmallow head.


As the Pope is dying it is raining
in New York. I’m remembering the last
time that this happened—Time goes so fast!
I was in Philadelphia cooking
in an Irish pub. One of the cooks was
upset that the new Pope had suddenly
died. At the Vatican the Papal See
was having to choose again. The month was
October and it was also raining
pouring. Thunder shook the cook with holy
terror as he worked over the flames, God’s
judgment somehow on him and frightening.
Although the Pope had died in far off Rome
here there was lightning in Philly his home.


If you can tell me, “I can’t,” then you can.
If you can spell cat, you can spell anything.
This is what I tell fearful students when
they falter stammering and stuttering.
“Go talk among yourselves, participate.
Write. Don’t erase. Cross out mistakes. Go on.
Neatness gets no points. Why? Because it’s fake.”
A teacher mustn’t stop anyone from
being spontaneous. “What of crazy
people,” you ask, “or those anarchists who
do wrong things and think they’re right?” We can teach.
When you see enemies and hate them too
wanting to kill or maim at least causing
them pain, say, “Good morning,” and keep walking.


Gay guy walks by in extremely tight pants
nothing left to the imagination.
Crazy man sings who is a Jamaican
by the accent he relentlessly chants
not scaring off anyone in the park.
Other than that it’s quiet on this first
day of spring. Winter’s dead. Smile. Painful birth
is over. Warmth is in the breeze, in dark
there’s light. The sun is finally shining.
Maybe he can walk, the man who’s about
to approach in the wheelchair, his hand out
asking for money. He could be faking
but I grab at my change and hold it out
giving him the benefit of a doubt.


Loose pencils make everything dirty
rubbing against them. If you don’t contain
them in a box in your bag don’t complain
because you have to expect that really
and can’t begrudge the smudge. Gladly I sit
write with this uncontained pencil of mine
trying to measure the mile I’ve just climbed
which is not the same mile as I walk it
in the city from schoolhouse to flat park.
I love New York, don’t get me wrong, but way
up the mountain on a rock I can take
off my clothes for a little while and start
to rest until the rain and cold make me
dress again. There’s nothing like nudity.


I saw the bluebird first, its beating soft
red breast. Young water snake, I looked for it
next settled near the dock but it hadn’t
risen yet or already’d slithered off.
The pond’s cold. I won’t dive in. It is flogged
by nasty winds abstractly shattering
the sky on its surface like leaves fluttering
while real fallen ones nearby jump like frogs.
I’m so happy I can’t believe my eyes.
The barn swallows have returned from the south
coming like a promised kiss on the mouth.
Friends are welcome even when a surprise.
Pleasant remembered all but forgotten
thoughts bring the warm sun with them when they come.


After a windy night the ground is full
of wilting blossoms on broken branches
that are scattered all around. Their chances
looked good to grow and bear fruit unmindful
of summer’s lightning and the autumn’s fire.
Oak leaves so young their color’s not yet green
linger yellow and there is still a gleam
on the red edges of acorn buds. Dire
fate has placed all of them here on this dark
unbending branch that refused to give way
and snapped where their heavy bearded stem stayed
attached to pliant bark becoming hard.
Poor things that have to end before they start.
What did God have in mind? It breaks my heart.


It is cold enough that my urine steams
the dark dead leaves spattering them even
more darkly. My own constant smoky breath
vanishes in the branches overhead
where the new unfurling leaves themselves could
be soft hazy flames burning off the wood.
Right now there is no end to what I hear
which is the quiet. No human sound’s here
but the loose pencil on the page forming
the words you read. As I write I’m seeing
faces form in the bark of trees around
us watching. Now an insect’s voice whirs round
kind of like a distant singing woman’s.
Even alone humans come to humans.


Frog eggs or clouds reflected in the pond?
Frog eggs. Everything has its opposite.
If you have happy thoughts you’ll have sad ones.
Just thought is what I try to meditate.
Startled the mallard hen bursts from the breast
and flies low over the water leaving
a dozen eggs there in her grassy nest.
Anything sudden might be death coming.
That’s why we jump at sound. That’s why we jump
at sights abruptly perceived, fast awake
when the sudden snake uncoils, not a stump
out of sight. Not that we’re afraid of snakes.
The black fly caught on the frog’s sticky tongue
was comfortably here then poof it’s gone.


I’ve just spilled some coffee on Bernadette’s
new book leaving the aromatic stain
drying on the pages that will remain
as long as her words are there. Those sonnets
of hers smell so good you can taste them. She
does put a lot of food in a poem.
There might as well be coffee on them. Mmmm
reading Bernadette will make you hungry.
Baudelaire says poets and cooks must really
appeal to all the five senses to keep
us present. Bernie could cook, but not sleep
in the East Village where the night’s noisy
so she left us to live in the quiet
mountains. That doesn’t mean she won’t riot.


A squirrel just walked across my shoulder
like I wasn’t there and didn’t matter
part of the bench, a kind of nothingness
who thought for a moment that a hand pressed
on him like an old friend’s familiar
enough to touch, but that was peculiar
and much more likely a panhandler’s strange
intruding one about to ask for change
or could it be that suddenly a crazy
man was about to grab and strangle me?
Calmly getting ready for a fight I
saw the bushy tail right between my eyes
not a friend’s or beggar’s fingers uncurled
no murderer’s. Death shrank into a squirrel.


Right now I am sitting in the best spot
in the park. Here the sun’s still coming down.
Some terrible happy little boys are
tearing up a bush in a game of war.
In a slower less violent race a
cripple walks by dragging his left leg that
I hardly notice looking at his face.
He’s handsome but also keeps his own pace
which gives to him, more than his beauty, grace.
A man shakes his cane as if to give chase
to the boys who do take off running past.
The ravaged bush is almost as it was.
Off the old man goes himself with his cane
tap tap tap tap tapping taps all the same.


Old childhood friend, how are you doing on
this day the politicians have chosen
to remember you and those like you who
go off and die in war? I know for you
it wasn’t patriotic duty. As
I recall, you were confused, mad at yourself
fallen out of love with the girl you knocked up
and went to Vietnam. Your son’s grown up
has children of his own, your folks and mine
are still alive and lunch together. I
looked for your name on the black marble wall
so many names I couldn’t read them all
sobbing and wondering why it is right
I am still here and you were sacrificed.


I’m cooking while I write this sonnet
poaching asparagus sprinkling them all
with some chili powder shaking the stalks
squeezing on a lemon. These tastes will set
and mix as the vegetables lose steam
and begin to chill. Heat, boil chicken broth
an onion and garlic. Spoon off the froth.
Dice tomatoes and dump that in. Then clean
chop parsley and water cress together.
Wait letting the soup reduce simmering.
Kill the fire as you drop the herbs in
to enhance their color and their flavor.
Overcooked food fades on the tongue. Food’s heard.
Say bread. You see and smell and taste the word.


My mouth is as slimy as a warm snail.
Walking down the mountain navigating
sharp rocks and the loose snapping sticks lying
in wait to strike at my legs on the trail
all that is wet is oozing out of me.
My forehead drips. Drops soak my shirt, armpits
and chest, add up as close as notes birds sit
to sing turn into song. I kneel to be
nearer the spring and lowering my hand
to bring a palm of it up to my mouth
gulp, dip and gulp until I’ve had enough
splashing my neck and face as the deer and
green flies settled to drink my drying sweat
fly off again. The end of thirst is rest.


My only brother with his bulldozer
pushed the brush away from the day lilies
uprooting thorns and sumac completely
around the bed revealing for Mother
those common flowers in all their glory.
Now if only she’ll come to look at them
making her way to the lower yard and
sitting on the old swing near the swamp see
how the hard green stalk shooting up becomes
petals sharp as comets like the fireworks
are going to explode on July the Fourth.
Look, here she comes to watch the explosions
as the night with a swallow swoops above.
There’s nothing animates us more than love.


It rained all around us, but here last night
the valley was soaked but not the mountain.
We saw the lightning and hoped uncertain.
The heat and biting flies are gone. My sight
is like I took off my glasses, subtle
haze, loss of definition in a mist.
The luxurious gusts of wind I’ve wished
for have come across the water, ripple
and bathe me with the promise of a storm.
How calm the world is waiting, the brown field
the dried up grass. More and more I can feel
drops of rain on my arm begin to form
as the wind grows heavier with the wet
like notes a bird sings that aren’t finished yet.


As I put my nose in milkweed blossoms
their resemblance to lilacs reminding
me now of the cold early spring sniffing
up the heavy fragrance happily some
bees move around me in such a good mood
none of them try to sting and keep humming
along my skin and the flower grazing
and finding there what will be honey food.
Fluttering butterfly startling my eyes
sticks its slender black thin proboscis in
the abundant overflowing. Walking
home patchouli’s in the air, a surprise
that’s wonderful because I like the smell
but if you don’t, it must be living hell.


She completely sparkles, the girl talking
to her father in a conversation
that must be a little funny because
she starts to laugh as well as talk, talking
of her final destination perhaps
leaving this very morning on a trip
from Lancaster on the platform going
east to Philadelphia, New York and
every other point. Then her mother
who’s been watching men working on the tracks
finally joins in and starts to point this
way and that—Which way is the train coming?
Each wears a shirt a shade of blue, the girl’s
with stars. Above the sky is blue. Clouds swirl.


At the wedding not only the living
but the dead are also here and all those
who aren’t born yet. Here I suppose because
there are more of them than us not living
with the sea and pines to our right and left
ghost relatives and babies yet to bloom.
Life is a garden seeded by the groom.
At Pat and Grace’s wedding I was Best
Man. There I gave a toast about the love
that had brought all of us together
a love that’s still bringing us together.
I see old friends Tony and Sylvia
sit, the past present. Here comes the bride. Wow!
We stand and all look back to what is now.


We’d be just as comfortable naked
but put on swimming suits anyway just
in case some hikers should come and find us
sunning by the stream. The unexpected
often happens watching what’s all around.
You point out the bright cardinal flower
and I the heron that looms before our
eyes gone in the lumbering air unbound.
We talk of favorite authors, Catullus
Whitman, Hawthorne, intimate as lovers.
I wish that I’d brought some Willa Cather.
If only you’d come to read her, I trust
you’ll find her as I do, that violet
there clinging to the cliff. Do you see it?


The poet slides on her bottom stubborn
as a turtle over slippery stones
sitting inching picking up the large ones
that hinder her path dropping them to form
an island in the current that’s rushing
at us. I’m on the stream’s descending slope
walking as best I can, wavering, grope
ready to fall and hurt myself getting
safely up to my waist and then my neck.
“What do you call that flower?” “Jewel Weed.”
“It’s beautiful. I think we’re in Eden.”
“We are. I can see a snake,” Bernadette
says—It is peeking from the rocks—and glides
spreading out her arms swimming by my side.


Cooking something is like you’re saying it
saying just what you think when you make food
I mean give words to it. Poets are good
cooks. Even after her stroke Bernadette
can still bake a chicken, prepare and stick
it in the oven, bring it out just right.
Phil grills sausage and sets them in our sights
thick sensual ready to bite. Who mixed
the salad with herbs from the woods and greens
chilled and tossed naked with fresh vinaigrette?
Who put the bread and cheese here? Bernadette!
I cut lemons, my fingers straining seeds
squeeze over ice and vodka, no small feat.
Reader, join us if you want to. Let’s eat!


To be understood words are objective
yet we understand them subjectively.
When Willa Cather writes, “The long main street
began at the church, the town seemed to flow
from it like a stream from a spring,” the prose
forms naturally from the simile.
Do you feel it as I do when I read
that words not only are but also live?
From church to street to town to spring as if
the stream itself were writing the sentence
Cather is here with me in the present
bringing from the past continuous gifts
words that are as real as the broken fence
we built with Dad to keep the horses in.


On a road of crushed salamanders, snakes
and butterflies I make my weary way
listening to a woman sing who makes
Mali her home thousands of miles away.
In Pennsylvania Africa’s close
as the green limbs that are brushing my limbs
when I pick their acorns from them. The toad
skins under car wheels pressed in macadam
resemble Roman mosaics. I pass
mosaics of grasshoppers. Catullus
breathed molecules of air I breathe and pass.
I want to hear the yellow jackets buzz
on a corpse and turning the music down
hear the airplane above, a louder sound.


Last year my father had a little stroke.
“Merry Christmas,” he says and then corrects
himself: “Happy Christmas.” That’s a mistake
he realizes after he says it
and lowers his head. This in reference
to my own birth on August the 15th
which is today. How many important
and unimportant facts come crowd our heads
to their eminentest extents added
the very first minute we remembered
the word to say exactly what we meant?
Oh where is it? The word I need to name
both you and me. “Happy Birthday,” Daddy
finally says laughing triumphantly.


Music turned off, I look at milkweed pods
Howlin Wolf vanishing back into time.
They were all purple flowers the first time
I saw them. On returning they are not
resembling spiky space ships now the shape
and color of okra, though near the top
they are turning purple where the sun stops
first to touch them. Age is a kind of rape.
Blooms do become a bruise and the color
of the lilac spring autumn beginning.
Again I listen to the dead man sing
and accompany him on another
song. In memory the sweet blossom stays
though at its stem not a petal remains.


Where there’s a will there is a way. After
her stroke my friend Bernadette could no
longer write by hand but lo and behold
she could type. Her words continued after
all, books full, and since then she has written
one of my favorite poems. Into the world
the unborn baby pushes and uncurls.
Bernadette learned to walk and read even
the subtitles in La Muerte de un
Burocrato and La Ilusion
Viaja en Transvia. Real visions
come to poets who know we suffer and
die, yet pain can begin more than it ends
healing hurting bones and making thoughts mend.


When I was small Dad was always killing
the cow, the pigs, one by one beheaded
chickens that flopped and sprayed a fine thin red
around the yard, squirrels that went flying
from the white pine into the attic shot
down with the twenty-two that also killed
the hissing hognose snake. God I was thrilled
standing by my Daddy. Pow! Pow! Pow! Not
now. Even the groundhog’s safe when Dad goes
on his tractor chasing it down its hole.
Have fun. Sure Death comes even to the mole
already in the ground. What Daddy sows
the crows, the deer and wild turkeys get. He’d
rather watch a groundhog now than kill it.


Mother is cooking marinara sauce
for three of her grandchildren who’ll soon go
back to college. It’s a darned slow process.
At Uncle Al’s I picked each tomato
as ripe and as red as it gets. Poaching
peeling slicing Mom finally dumps them
in the pot gasping heavily struggling
to breathe, maintain her heavy self and
ease the necessary doing, chopping
onions and peppers. The garlic and dried
basil I shopped for are thrown in bringing
all of the spices bubbling side by side.
To condense taste to its essence simmer.
Mother proves Love can satisfy hunger.


Reading Vygotsky I want to write down
a word I’ve not heard of—involution
Hmmm? Is it opposite evolution?—
and look it up later. Notebook open
I planned to jot it here but instead wrote
a sonnet about Mother and forgot
the word in marinara sauce. Sonnet
finished, returned to Vygotsky, the word
is still right there where it remains unknown.
I won’t write it now as the solution
but will remind myself with a poem
adding words I don’t know or want to know
better: concupiscence, algorithm
exegesis, satrap and amalgam.


That caterpillar is so beautiful
at its jagged hole in the milkweed leaf
pitch-black, white and yellow, I can’t believe
it’s condescended, incredible soul
to share some time with me. The more I look
the more I see the ants move without rest
a solitary wasp, a frosty nest
of caterpillars in their tent, who took
the tree hostage and eat the branch alive
growing so strong they’ll soon break from that cloud
and rain on us. Overcast day’s a shroud
upon the shoulders of the world. Me, I
see pods purpled by the approaching cold
looking like corpses beginning to mold.


Yellowing leaves say it’s soon time to leave.
The acorn’s fallen to the ground, snail shell
without its snail, fox shit with the seeds of
digested berries in it, styrofoam
cups hikers have thrown away. What do they
think? That I’m the maid who’s come to clean it
up? Oh no! Shucks. I sat on the snail shell
I’d put in my pocket. I heard it pop.
Darn it, there it is in all its pieces
sharp parts spread out on the sandstone. It looks
like part of the rock flecked with speckled pink
pebbles where I have come to read and rest.
What I write is meaningless I suppose.
Reader, don’t stay if you don’t want to. Go.


Garden stripped bare by my father even
and square, August’s last scallions are rent
where radish seeds now planted will augment
autumn’s table. Beyond was forest, then
this rolling field. Where the groundhogs fatten
used to be acres of corn. I saw with
summer gone it dried to its very pith
rattling stalks full of happy rabbits and
grasshoppers dancing in the last warm sun.
Who remembers the forest or the field?
You’d have to be old to know they were real.
Without the corn the pheasants have all gone
and I’m going too, back to the city
back to—oh déjà vu!—reality.


I woke up from a dream before daylight.
I’d dreamt I tried to make a living plant
into a work of art. It didn’t work.
Trying to make it sculpture-hard it died.
I was in a room with other artists
who were more successful than I was so
I thought I’d try to sculpt the mothers of
Baudelaire and Rimbaud. Don’t ask me why.
I don’t know, but what I did do was put
some pebbles in a bowl and splash them with
a hose showing the whole world how water
over a dry dull stone will make it shine.
Now other things come to take up my time.
Sleeping I worked. Awake I work. I’m tired.


Swallows gather on the electric wire
one after the other in a row. I
approach as some fly up and swarm the sky
hundreds of them sweeping out. I’m inspired
watching them burst and swoop and blend and flow
into the blue as far as I can see
like premonitions of eternity.
Over the pond, the house, the world they go—
Well no not go, but going. Or is it
only the agitations of my soul?
I was up early this morning thoughtful
of New York working before dawn. Visit
unfinished, my mind goes with the swallows.
Here I have to stay but it can follow.


I let down the umbrella on the dock
enclosing the wasps inside who’ve summered
up in the ribs. I had to do it. Not
only is it sunset but September
the summer is almost over and I
must go back to New York to work to live.
I’m sorry, guys. Unsettled now they fly
around my head, yet still stay off. We lived
let live. They came and went while I below
wrote and read without incident. Black wasps
are curious, not inclined to sting though
walking on your skin. Even now not cross
accepting it as soon they will the cold
back and forth they go settling in new folds.


Today I picked Uncle Al’s tomatoes
for the last time. Many were over ripe
rotten, had cracked or fallen. I was tired
but constant and making an effort to
exercise, bent holding my abdomen
in reaching into the vines to find them
ready and easily pulled from their stems
taking a lot of green ones putting them
at the bottom of the baskets. When in
New York I will give some to friends and keep
the rest for as long as I possibly
can because there is no better eating
than a tomato from a man who knows
how to plant it well and then make it grow.


I created the world with the first word
I spoke connecting myself with the real.
Then I could even close my eyes and feel
what I’d set in motion with the first word
I had spoken. Perhaps it was water
perhaps it was a snake or sun coming
through the branches. Right now I’m creating
because I was told to by Bill Kushner.
His hands look like sandstone with sudden flecks
of pink in them, asterisk fingertips
or constellations of stars. From his lips
he commands, “Write,” and my hand starts to, quick
blurred. It’s difficult to see what’s living.
Is it from the dead we get our bearings?


How do you teach someone something they don’t
know? The first thing that comes to mind is by
example. Look a student in the eye
even if she’s blind otherwise she won’t
understand you. The stone deaf will hear love
when they are touched by it as innocent
as any love that’s spoken on an eardrum’s skin.
To show someone the meaning of above
you have to say to him somehow, “Look up,”
and he must want to lift his eyes or else
the vain struggle will be against himself.
What seems to some a stone, some crack a nut
to eat the waiting kernel that’s inside
or plant it to make plenty more besides.


Out of the ordinary there will come
from time to time the good and very brave
extraordinary, someone who can save
us from our own damned selves and make us one
humanity. Children take Rosa Parks
for an example, a common seamstress
who sat herself in a seat where she was
told she couldn’t. Some said she was too dark.
Justice became evident and the fact
that a quiet woman can unsever
people divided, sew them together
nobody free till all are freed at last.
One little candle gives light to the night.
Truth is simple. It’s visible. It’s sight.


At a distance covered by the early
morning snow they look like celestial
angels prepared soon to hover over
the manger of some unwanted savior
sleeping and warm in swaddled clothes. On closer
inspection they are only milkweed pods
whose husks cracked open and exposed white fluff
rain soaked and snow froze, seeds black as tadpoles.
They all seem natural as flying birds
on high though not alive allowing life
to take flight from their broken gaping sides.
Gutting themselves they died yet tomorrow
the sunny cold will come to dry their fluff
and wind will take them up like making love.


Almost December, Thanksgiving over
outside is frozen once again. The warm
TV is on and logs burn in the stove
as I’m eating Aunt Fern’s dried tomatoes
desiccated skins like mummies from the
pyramids. Yum Yum Yum all of her love’s
ripe on my tongue as I soften them up
moistening spots, the harvest of August.
Suddenly last summer is in my mouth.
Katydids and fireflies live in my spit
and what had seemed hard and dead’s a red sweet
salamander slipping between my teeth—
Just one of the things Aunt Fern’s present is
I’d be satisfied if this were heaven.


This day fits my unquiet spirit. It
is cold but not cold—No actually
it is. Still the pond melts. You cannot see
the fish. Can’t skate or swim in it. And it
is raining ice. Can’t take a walk. I’m sad.
Help Dad stack logs he cut last year and split
dried out and ready to be lit. I’ll sit
by the fire and read Hawthorne instead, glad
at the thought of it. Glad too the crows move
on the snow, peck through all the garbage Dad
left them this morning. Feliz Navidad.
Joyeux Noël. Cake! Shrimp shells! Caw Caw. Who
knows language to articulate the we
excite good will in all of us and peace?


On a milkweed pod there is a tuft of
seeded fluff clinging like a terrified
hysteric dangling from a cliff. I huff
and puff but it won’t let go and take flight
from its husk, dry and brittle broken stuff
that it clutches desperately to stay
until my urging breath blows strong enough
to send it off. Up it goes, out—Away!
Then like an inconsistent memory
or second thought it spins and turns around
coming back down from where it came now free
to idle in the leaves on the cold ground
where any birth seems to be frozen yet
white and trembling and resembling death.


Dusk comes as I look at the Egyptian
temple by the reflection pool and the
crocodile, pink-flecked marble circa 1
A.D. as old as Christ and older than
me. It was a cold walk from the subway
cold as this smooth stone I am sitting on
near a father holding his happy son’s
hand dangling from him at an angle. Hey
when this boy’s as old as I am I’ll be
dead and that old temple there will still stand
just as it is in mid-town Manhattan
unless some comet hits us or the sea
has risen. Mundane facts keep us present
forgetting, remembering the moment.


Light comes down on Saint Francis through the cleft.
The Illuminator we do not see
only the Illuminated who bleeds
out of his hands. My friend Bill Kushner left
the hospital this morning at long last
the noon sun shining down on his bright pate.
The poet asks himself, “Is it too late
to start again? Should I forget it? Fast
life goes on whether I do or I don’t
make it to the cab at the corner. Fuck it.
I might as well write another sonnet.
Just what the world needs, another poem.”
The poet lives unwanted and then is
wanted when dead. Home is where the light is.


“How old is your son?” “He is 9 o’clock,”
my student says and the class laughs as well
it should. My student laughs and cannot stop
nor can anyone. We laugh and the spell
goes on unbroken. Everyone shakes
in on the joke, happy to be sharing
understanding the premise and mistake.
Laughter engenders laughter as kissing
kisses: just watch the teenagers do it
on the park bench. Laughter is forever.
That’s why Buddha laughs. It was expensive
my old sweater. Cachito clings closer
sticking his nails in. Let the cat claw it.
What the heck. Life goes on and Death doesn’t.


There is a springtime clarity to things
before the long summer comes to cover
everything with leaves. Old Lancaster
Valley’s in the hazy distance going
on and on, farms and roads all that you see.
For miles and centuries it’s been spreading
starting from this mountain where I’m standing
until the past blurs out of memory.
Through budding twisted branches what I took
for cloud perhaps is rolling smoke and ash.
I remember last night the sunset was
coming at me like headlights when I looked
back at the trees in silhouette ablaze.
Today may be that fire from yesterday.


Over the ferns and the treacherous rocks
popping out of the steep ground like the heads
of dinosaurs I come watching my steps
so I won’t fall or slip or have to stop
till I’m drinking at the falls where the stream
comes splashing down through the wet woods. Thinking
I remember when I was three looking
in this stream on a winter day. Daddy
carried me most of the way. I wasn’t sick
just cold from the snow. Minnows were swimming.
How could that be, the world frozen but in
the spring fishes still moved? It was magic.
Life was no different than a fairy
tale I understood immediately.


As I’m reading Elizabeth Bishop
an insect starts to crawl on my body.
It’s on my back—What is it?—I can see
the spider on my hand that I blow up
into the air. The ants walk on me like
I have climbed through the forest up the hill
another one, another one until
I’m a tarmac where flies also alight.
If you don’t want this to happen don’t take
off your clothes and lie down in the leaves. Come
what may I’d rather be naked with some
ants crawling over me and flies that make
my skin tickle. To be totally free
let it be. God, the sky is pretty.


Pat, Happy Birthday on your sixtieth.
I really would like this little sonnet
to be one of the greetings that you get
embracing you and giving you a kiss.
So much more does happen in the past than
in the present. Time keeps moving, adding
on more to us. Natural as breathing
a breath are two friends when they meet again
talking of what’s gone on and what it’s meant
since they last met. No other tongue can tell
what friends say now. Here is wishing you well.
The past is not the past when you’re present.
Not only has it been good to know you
but you are something to look forward to.

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