Saturday, September 20, 2014


I peel off the soaked t-shirt and sweats; I’m down
to socks when I look at myself in the bathroom mirror.
Again the shock of this new old me. Naked, it’s clearer
that I can’t see without assessing. I’m still wearing

stories, scars, a callus near the ball of my right foot,
a slight sunburn, a chafed spot that sets me swearing.
Parts melt like beeswax or are shirred, skin needling
from sweat. And then the child I was giggles, drowns

out my noisy old woman’s knees, my past ever present.
The young woman I was caused those creaks: shot put
and knelt kisses, jumping off huge logs dark with soot.
Reflecting, what I see: I’m worn, but incandescent.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


A Great Green Bush Cricket, a Clioniona Spider, and a Beetle

A poem is scratching at my door, waiting to be let in.
“Keats studied anatomy,” it chirrs, without stopping
its scratch. I say I’m too tired, won’t play. “Tennyson
walked 20 miles a day, or was that Coleridge?” Hoping

it’ll hush, I say I don’t know, and there’s silence. Now
my attention is fixed on the absence of sound—save
for the fridge and fluorescents’ sotto voce hum, how
quiet it’s got. I sit for minutes, ages, eons, wish I gave

in, had opened the door, wish I could turn about
and touch its spiky rhymes, hear its meter click across
the floor. …chirrup: “Physiological poetics!” It’s lost,
the poem scratching at my door, hoping to be let out.

Friday, September 12, 2014


“Intervals” is one term for it, “threshold work” another.
The recipe is simple: periodicity, intensity, and repetition
broken by small periods of recovery. The process is not.

Intervals require the mind be taught to heel and be still
despite its knowing the somatic stress to come. Emotional
memory is no friend to muscle memory in this situation.

The kindness of athletes comes, I think, from understanding
that we all suffer, whether fast or slow, and in our suffering
we’re more alike than different. This gut-sense physiology

is our bounding box, our interface, our permeable gift to
one another, and threshold work our furnace, lungs the
tuyeres for the chemical and alchemical changes wrought.

It’s not unusual for speed work to produce fits of rage or
tears. I’ve learned it isn’t from discomfort, however, just
our sympathetic system on overload. But if we’re mindful

of the intervals, the thresholds we cross and re-cross, our
bounding box becomes a bit looser, our legs faster, strides
more like skimming, emotions and motion at last all in play.

Sunday, September 07, 2014


When I was five and went to see my grandparents, the
elevator to their apartment traversed layers of odor:
the smell of cable grease and dust at the ground floor,
then the faint tang of mothballs as we rose, pot roast
then something like brass polish; at the last floor, wax
overlaid with rose petals as the door grumbled open.
Now, any one of those smells will send me back in time
to when I had to reach up to push an elevator button.

This morning’s walk: the wet air held scent, amped it up
so even our poor primate noses could tell what was what:
the acrid floral piercing made by bat guano, a sudden flash
of resinous green as I brush a tangle of rosemary, mossy rot
and humus from the soaked piles of brush along the creek.

Lightning in sheets half-hidden by virga: petrichor
chromed with ozone carried on the western wind.

Scents fade, sinking into the skin and pores of memory.

Saturday, September 06, 2014


"Door God: Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller, Expels Evil and Attracts a Bat of Happiness," in the collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum

Where we all live, in the cool, in
the dark, together, say the bats.

Where we molt and strut, peck
at June bugs, say the peacocks.

Oh, Peter. Another August has
passed, another poem of mine’s
written that you won’t read, and
I think about the house you built,
those birdhouse gourds trellised,
the peacocks in your yard and in
that James Merrill poem I’d read
to you, your dream of rocks that
smelled like peaches, how I just
couldn’t recall what they meant
in Chinese art the week you died.

Home. Where we think of our
friends, where love lives, say I.

Friday, September 05, 2014


Photo from Sankarshansen's Wikimedia page.

It’s a return trip, so the bag’s full of dirty
laundry, and tchotchkes, and one layer entirely
uncertain: an origami of jotted notes, dog-eared
leaves torn from a local rag, a drying pomegranate
flower on a sprig I plucked before I flew home.

Like an old vaudeville joke, the space inside the case
is larger than it seems from the outside. It also doesn’t
smell like socks now—there’s a moment when I turn,
and the room fills with a faint smell of fresh-cut grass.

I’m thinking about beacons: web beacons, those tiny
whisperers that hop our trains of thought as we roam
from site to site, and harbor buoys, a very different
sort of beacon, when my fingers find I’d missed a
pocket. Inside it, a contract: a few months’ more light.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Climbing Stories

Photo by Lisa Spangler, 2008

An afterthought, almost, before I left Flagstaff: if I wasn’t going to climb
the Humphreys Peak trail, then I’d at least walk up a low trail to the west
to look at things and place them in memory. Step, step again, raising my
feet up through tangled grasses until I slowed, then stopped, out of breath.
Hands resting on thighs, I saw it: a prayer stick, up ahead and half-hidden.

Near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, I took an ill-planned canoe ride with the man
I was seeing, through grey arroyos whose brittle layers shattered into flat
flakes when we used our paddles to push off the little canyon walls. Those
walls were covered with Dolomedes tenebrosus, spiders the size of my hand;
I left the water, climbed a ridge, slid down talus slopes to a highway below.

At Enchanted Rock, I learned how to tie in, how to wedge my fist into a crack
and pull up while pushing off my toes, how to keep my weight on my feet on
those granite ledges that seemed to shrink when I’d look down. My arms would
cramp, my fingers bleed, and there was nothing to do but go up, up, until I felt
my top-roper’s hand; walking down, I tripped, almost pin-wheeled off the rock.

Climbing’s a site-specific poem of motion and weather and rock. Its stanzas and
breaks, its assonance and rhyme, are co-written by the climber, place, and time.
For this climber, ascents were exhausting, descents wild and uncontrolled: yet
for all my fear and bloody scrapes, for all my awkward pitches and failed grace,
what I climbed always gave me a gift: the things I could see now, closer to the sky.