Song of the Chickadee


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There’s a rule among birds,

If it’s singing, it can’t be killing,

Which may, or may not, be true,

Except for the family of plump chickadees,

Who wintered beneath our cedar arch.

With their black caps and gray-backed wings,

They flitted from rail, to pan, to chair, to deck,

To aspen perch, peeking in at us,

Until I plucked my first A minor–

The 3rd and 5th string,

A melancholy chord found in most songs,

Even the chickadees’, it turns out,

When they hear you sing.


What is Aleppo?


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“We didn’t want anything else but freedom.

This world doesn’t like freedom.”

Abdulkafi Alhamdo, Professor of English, Last Call from Aleppo

What is Aleppo?

All that it was, or dreamed to be,

In rubble. Have you seen rubble?

It’s what hope looks like when it’s collapsed,

Reduced to broken chunks of asphalt

And twisted, distorted beams of rebar.

It’s brown. Not dark brown, but light brown,

The color of dust.

There is no truth, but suffering,

And the realization no help is coming–

No haloed army, no golden trumpets,

No white horses or heroes.

The choices you made,

In your heart of hearts,

Choice, like stone in your heart,

That is Aleppo now–

Stone in your heart.


The Cold That is Loneliness


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The cold that is loneliness–

Ice, snow, hunger.

Did we care

The days had shortened?

Dark mornings,

Dark afternoons,

We stumbled, it’s true,

But don’t we all stumble,

Slide on the ice–

A dangerous toboggan

Of metal and glass and rubber

Just sliding,

sliding, sliding.

Where will it stop–

Against a sign, a bank of snow,

An oncoming car?

We turn the wheel

Left, then right, then left

And tap on the brakes,

Hoping they will catch

Onto something solid.


My love, turns out

You were the solid thing

On which I caught.

Beautiful Mustang


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Beautiful Mustang

Beaty’s Butte, Oregon 2007

Some things survive
Despite capture,
Despite fear.
Like memory,

How it felt
To take those first
Feeble, free steps,
Then stretch your neck
Toward breasts,
And the reward
Of warm milk.

The world was starving,
But some things survived,
Like the smell of sage
When your bodies
Lay down at night
And crushed the stems.
You dreamt of flight,
On strong legs;
You dreamt of rest,
Under the mahogany’s shade.

Some things survived,
Like the smell
Of your dam’s fur in rain,
The smell of her sweat.

The sound of her separation
survived, too,
The calling back and forth
From pen to pen,
Your first real lesson
On what it’s like
To be loved.

That way.

In the way
Of the terrible missing.

Some things survive,
Despite capture,
Despite fear.
Like memory.

beautiful watching may 09




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Sit deep, deep in the saddle,

Your ankle, hip, and shoulder

A line, that dissects some star

And continues past,

“Where does space end,”

The question your teacher asked

In the fifth grade.

Which is to say, it never ends,

And I can’t help thinking,

I don’t either,

Nor does this horse,

Engulfed in her own heat,

Evaporating into the cold air

Of another December.

What is it about two souls

That makes the one feel alive,

Connected, two dots, through which

A line extends forever,

Pierces a fabric, so thin,

We were together all along,

Though we didn’t know.




Light In a Black Hole


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In the center of the Milky Way,

Exists a black hole

Equal to 4.3 million suns.

Its gravity so strong,

There is no light.

We stand on the edge,

An event horizon,

Or, the point of no return,

As refugees push out

And we argue about definitions.

Mothers and fathers,


Who dream of a good Germany,

A Europe with jobs and new homes.

They launch into black holes:

The Aegean Sea,

The Dark Sea,

Floating back in waves,

Absent of light.

We wonder at this hell,

A place of suffering,

And hope for something beyond,

A better place

Where there is love,

There is light,

Light in a Black Hole.

Break the Way


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Break me the way, you heavy hammer, 

To the deepest bottom of my heart.

Poem by Henrik Ibsen, on his Tombstone

The whir of fan,

the ticking clock,

My breathing, my heartbeat.

There is something

Pulling toward loneliness,

Stopped short by a good book.

The Complete Works of Ibsen.

I follow Nora through the door,

Oswald to death,

Karsten Bernick to truth.

I rush to keep up

With Solness, the Master Builder,

As he clambers the scaffold

To the tower’s highest spot,

Wreath in hand, dizzy, forgetting

He is destined to fall.

How intimate, to descend alongside

These haunted souls,

Hearts and motives exposed,

Laid out for me to judge or pity or pardon,

Or none of the above.

The truth of it fills my need

To hear true words spoken,

Even if only in my head.

Break the way, hammer.

Heavy hammer, break the way.

Norway: Henrik Ibsen


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“Let me tell you–that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”

Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People, Dr. Stockmann’s last words.


Henrick, Enrique, they say, HenReek.

The Henrik of Ghosts and A Doll’s House,

And Enemy of the People.

In Norway, he’s everywhere:

The looming statue in Skien

Framed by the bay,

And the old church

With its two sky-high spires,

towering above the ash-built town.

He refused to return there.

His ending, instead, Oslo,

Where the palace street

Bears his name.

The false doctrine that is the masses

Adore him, bend and kiss

The floorboards of his childhood home.

The compact majority, unwilling

To stand most alone,

More like Peter than the crazed doctor,

United in their fear,

But willing to tread anonymously

The now hollow path,

And bask in its echoes.

The Barn Swallows, Drowned In the Trough


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I can’t bring death to a world

Where everything dies.

Not even a spider in the front eve,

Its shadow, at night, a good five inches.

It scares the hell out of me,

But how can I fault her,

For dropping down, thread by thread,

And spinning her web.

I can’t add her death

To a world where everything dies.

And yet, I pulled two dead barn swallows

From the galvanized trough by the barn.

I regret, the shallow Victorian bird bath

I wouldn’t purchase, for fear

I’d lure the precious birds to our cat.

Despite trying to avoid bringing death,

It came anyway,

To a world where everything dies.

For Bernie


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The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love–
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

(Dirge Without Music, Edna St. Vincent Millay)

The Fall came in shadows,

The poetry,

Cancers of breast and prostate,

The tumor in the child’s lung,

By December it emerged

Another way, unpredicted,

Because who can predict death?

Fierce and final,

I would say it ravished,

But that would imply he may have lived.

And he didn’t.

What’s the word for being all gone,

The home you built, inhabited by strangers,

Growing cucumbers and tomatoes

In the garden you put away?

Did you think you’d see April,

The planting of the seeds?

Or July, with its harvest?

New hands take up old work,

And so, it goes on without us.

After a short time, even memory,

Struggles to keep us alive.