Monday, May 30, 2016


Edward Lear, "Wadi Tayibeh, Egypt," 1849

“And after we are in the new house, when memories
of other places we have lived in come back to us, we
travel to the land of Motionless Childhood, motionless
the way all Immemorial things are.”
—Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space,” pages 5-6.

I’m 14, nestled in a wingback chair, legs splayed over one
arm, shoulder tucked in tight where the other arm meets
the wing, and I’m reading Rexroth’s translations of Tu Fu.
Or, I’m 57, sitting propped against pillows in a room full
of boxes, writing this poem as the small dog makes a nest
between my ankles. Or, I’m 20, laughing with a roommate
in our ramshackle kitchen long past midnight, cheap wine
helping us fail to solve the world’s, or anyone's, problems.
Every one of these moments was in the new house, for all
houses are new to me, in this American space, this second-
generation immigrant space. Oh yes, the land of Motionless
Childhood, so like some fairytales I’ve read—lovely, untrue.
My shelters have all been temporary, the contingent spaces
ones where I could fall asleep; where, dreaming, I’d sleep-
walk through my memory palace, floorplans unfolding time
in the land of Unfixed Childhood; always moving, like me.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Amitchell125, "Sutton Hoo burial ground," 2013

The barrow is breathing out. Those past lives
we’ve cast off into a bin, onto a mud hill for
burial slowly transform into a methane sigh.
The flagger helps us pull the load off, and we
commiserate with his working on the holiday
weekend when he should be drinking a beer.
He’s our guide in this land of dead things and
I want to give him a coin for the passage, but
no time, he’s on to the next, stepping lightly
over scrap wood, a child’s ball. A tumulus, all
swollen, ripe with the detritus of our material,
man-made world—we can feel it shifting and
exhaling like a dozy pig the size of a mountain,
flatulent, grunting barrow-dreams in its sleep.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


John Brewster Jr., "Comfort Starr Mygatt and His
Daughter Lucy
," 1799

The arc made as the swing approaches apogee;
another, as the child lets go and flies away, off
a plastic seat and into the air, laughing, landing
like a circus acrobat, tumbling on down the soft
grassy hill. “Daddy, push me higher!” and how
he always would, fathers are like that. Joy in an
aerialist’s giggle, joy when tossing the child up
to touch the clouds, and the saddest joy, when
all the childhood leaving becomes real. Later, so
much later if we’re lucky, joy in sadness—we’ll
hold our breath, our tears, each other when the
daddy flies off into the same sky where we once
flew. No wind; the sky blue as a jay feather, the
daddy light as a cloud, as he gently floats away.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Wade Tregaskis, "Honeybee in a Trombetta Squash flower," 2015

Buttercup, let’s talk. In your saffron-robed wisdom, you
understand the way we apes pile on the meaning. One
end of the spectrum: Giotto painting old Judas Iscariot
in a yellow cloak (not golden nor sunlit, but piss-colored,
draped in fear-stain shame). At another end: Van Gogh’s
butter-colored rent house, his sunflowers, all purest joy.
And that’s just the West. East, past Jerusalem, even past
Mecca, further than Bodhidharma wandered, near the
Yellow River, sits the Yellow Emperor, resplendent. One
might even enter Yellow Springs, converse with all those
dead sitting there in the jaundiced light of an everlasting
eclipse of the sun, weak illumination a sulfured glaze on
on their desiccated fingers, their game boards and tiles.
Or not. The bees don’t care, long as their dead reckoning
dance leads them to your honeyed bulls-eye, Buttercup.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Uqbar is back, "Fireflies," 2015

On a trail, in the dark woods—no moonlight,
dim lamplight from far-off places. All shadow
on shadow. I’m slow, picking my way. A frog
as small as a quail’s egg, a silhouette dancing
a pas de deux with its own shadow; the black
cat, motionless, that resolves as I draw close
into a traffic cone marking a ditch. Nothing to
see here, literally, except pinprick beacons—
distant fireflies, all their micro-constellations
reshuffling, first Cygnus, then Lyra, and then
Aquila. One by one, those miniature stars of
the first magnitude—luciferin-lit Deneb, Vega,
Altair—rise and flicker past, guide me home.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Anonymous sweetheart locket, date and photographer
unknown, via Pinterest and eBay

In a thrift shop, I rummage through small bins heaped
with pretend treasure—fake gold, real silver, lacquered
brass, rhinestones, cheap cloisonné. I wonder who’d
worn those objects, who tossed them away; where did
the lost stories go, tales of an evening out on the town
with this brooch, that matched cocktail ring? And then,
a find. I fumble with the friction catch, trying it, failing
to shim my thumbnail between two halves, worrying it
until it pops open. I fumble with the crystal protecting
two faded photographs, a young man in a uniform and
a young woman. I close the locket, and they kiss; using
the thin nail of my index finger, I can reopen the locket,
separate them. Such casual sundering from a stranger.
In this vermeil pendant not much larger than a cherry,
something for O. Henry or for Chekhov, a keepsake no
more: no one’s left alive who remembers them, who’ll
tell their stories, keep those stories close to the heart.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Gherardo Cibo, "Extracts from an edition of Dioscorides'
'De re medica'
, Plantago maior," f. 50, c. 1564-1584

Spurge, plantain, sandbur, bastard cabbage holding sticky
mud in place on a neglected, dozer-massed low hill—the
ragged, scumbled parchment where four-wheelers tossed
out the empties, spinning hairpin to make calligraphic tire-
tread ayah, knotted as Quranic script. No one much loves
those plants, but I might. They’re first to take back what
we’ve skinned with graders and bush hogs, to sink roots
where they’re not wanted, reclaiming the sandy loam, the
waste dirt. Trash plants—invasive, or just a nuisance—so
like so-called trash people who were my people, clinging
to a thin soil in their goldene medina, spitting to ward off
the evil eye. There’s no pristine landscape with people in
it; it’s just all tangled, unbeautiful, beautiful as all creation.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Jacob van Hulsdonck, "A Still Life With Wild Strawberries and
a Carnation in a Ming Dynasty, Wanli Period, Blue And White
Kraak-Type Barbed-Rim Bowl, with Cherries and Redcurrants
on a Wooden Ledge," 1620

Unwinding the contents of memory—here I am, in the deep
place, having crept past the horde-guardian who happens to
be my other self. Once, when I was no longer a child, I had a
friend who understood all of what mattered to me, about me,
except my loneliness. How could he? We were so young, and
I never understood it myself. Reading Beckett to one another
in whispers over the phone after midnight, while our parents
slept and dreamt their fretful dreams; the voice of my friend
in my ear, so soft, reading, “If you think of the forms and light
of other days…” And so I do. Now, I tell myself, think of those
forms—and the light is time-lapsed, flickering over a meadow
where tiny wild strawberries grow, shadows lengthening then
snapping back with each shimmering day. I can almost hear a
bird, some forgotten bird, chirring. But that would be daylight;
and my friend and I, we were closest when hidden in shadow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Shooting Range

Arrivals and departures marked by a two gun salute in
an adjoining berm, loud POPs and a deeper BANG, the
plink of a bullet stopped by metal. In my life, a similar
two gun salute marked my arrival in the not-gone West
as I shot up dead appliances rusting on a friend’s ranch.
Today it’s a .22 or .45, magazines fully loaded, snapped
into place in the grip, safety first and on until I step up
to a line scuffed in mud. There’s a pleasure in handling
these well-made objects, mixed with dread knowledge:
that what I sight along, what’s in my hands, is meant to
rip apart flesh, bring death down upon a bird, a deer, a
person. There is pleasure in the kick, in the shock to the
forearms and hands, the memory of a forge in its warm
barrel—but gunmetal’s iron scent is too close to blood
for me to want it close at hand, as others here may do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Idaho Department of Fish and Game, "Camas Lily"

The root is what we’re after, in desire and in sequence. No root,
no effect; no root, no us. And since effects propagate from that
root cause then scatter—seeds or thoughts germinate, push out
a pale green shoot, or a bloody-minded act—it’s hard to feel for
the true source in the tangle, if there’s any such thing. A field of
blue camas, its first root hidden from itself by its effect: the lake
in the sky. The origin hidden, too, from us, as we stand near the
field’s edge—the root what we seek, but the effect a beauty so
distracting we forget all our names, our homes, what we’re after.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Seabrook Leckie, "Burr hooks," 2008

I didn’t think to check my socks—not much for being
all princess-and-the-pea, me—and so the burr made
a sharp little caltrop surprise. Proof the body’s quicker
than the mind: in the moment before the “ow” arose,
I was hopping on one foot, peeling the sock back from
the other. In the moment after, I spy with my little eye
one spiny asterisk annotating my big toe, transferring
its painful reference from toe to index finger wholly by
inept accident. Where I live, these things happen. Here,
it’s either prickly, venomous, poisonous, pointy, itchy,
droughty, floody, or an uncomfortable combination of
all, ready to set new annotations in flesh and memory.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Bahareh Bisheh, "I Have a Mother...," 2012

An orphan like me wins a place in the heart of a
family by carrying their stories, laying my pallet
down for sleep at the entry to their vault full of
secrets. “See? A little human child,” they smile,
“weak and pretty as a grass stem, hardly able to
carry us in the peristyle if we called her.” So they
let me come near, a favored pet, to take leftovers
from their hands, slowly stroke my hair, murmur
soft words in the shape of flowers, of rain. And
me, the orphan girl—I earn my keep by listening
to these loa and others like them, their tales an
aquifer, a braiding of underground streams too
deep to dowse, their breath shaping songs that
flow through me to you, hollow reed that I am.

Friday, May 13, 2016


"And he loved feathers with a passion."
From Alain de Botton,
The Philosopher's Mail,
"The Great Philosophers 13: John Ruskin"

By the time I noticed, it was already floating
up above my head, turning gently, impossibly.
Had a spider’s bridge thread caught it? No—
no glimmer of light on a line, nothing to hold
it there, spinning lento…adagio…except a small
whirlwind just big enough to carry one feather
aloft, riding some other miracle—a temperature
differential, the dance of heat rising off asphalt
kissing the air sinking cool within deep shade
cast by a bank building. Of such ordinary things—
physics, weather, the shifting seasons, a dove’s
disjecta membra—is such unlikely beauty made.
If I'm lucky, my gaze will always lift and follow.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Cuneiform Tablet, ca. 2044 BCE. "This tablet was
baked and, in this case, enclosed in another baked
clay envelope for delivery. What we see is the sealed
envelope, and inside of it there is another tablet."

The unraveling of order: a typo in the cuneiform
that needed mucking out, a wandering ox-furrow
where the boustrophedon line rambled, drunken,
falling in a ditch of proto-leading. We could touch
our words, then, fingertips on the impression of a
breath, a glottal stop in wet slab clay. Nothing so
marked could be all gone; our thoughts had mass,
weight. Now, we set them on spinning plates, ever
so mutable. We not only can’t touch our words—a
bit of static, and they’re like the cat in the box. We
can’t ever know whether they’re there, or erased.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Christine Vaufrey, "Stained Glass Dog - Brou Church,"
photo 2007

Barking dog in a fenced yard, yelling “HEY! Hey
hey hey hey HEY!” three times, four times, with
no breakdown, neither in bark nor fence. Didn’t
Joshua use trumpets to crumble Jericho’s walls?
Poor dog—a trumpet is what it hasn’t got. All it
has is boredom, and loneliness, and a persistent
hope that the next bark will be call-and-response
hollered back, or will tumble the lock on the gate
until it opens, or even possibly conjure a squirrel
down from a neighboring tree. The next bark will
surely do it—until it forgets to bark, puts its nose
into the wind, listens to the approaching thunder.

Monday, May 09, 2016


Scott Fraser, "Three Way Mirror," c. 2006

The rain glazed a mirror upon which we drove,
its silvered runoff rippling in thin sheets across
the highway. There should have been few cars,
but there was traffic, thickening, slowing, then
gradually stopping. “It must be an accident up
ahead,” I said. No sirens, no real sound, just an
intermittent brushy pulse from the windshield
wipers, muted rain. Red lights, brakes tapping
on and off through the merging lines, and then
wreckage: rat’s nests of torn wires in crushed
glass, a dissection of everything that had been
whole. Yellow shrouds as we passed. Suffering
witnessed by the slow procession of strangers
in bits of broken chrome reflecting on those we
presumed dead, their families, our finite selves.

Sunday, May 08, 2016


SplitShire, "Country Road," 2014

On a Sunday, as the clouds drop low, so do we. In
a car, on a road, out of sight of ourselves as we look
around the bend, say a wordless prayer under our
breath for a vulture lying dead in the turn lane, one
wing caught by the wind and beckoning. Churches
every mile or so, little wooden buildings with sharp
steeples, bigger brick buildings draped with vinyl
banners proclaiming good news, or a fish fry. Right
before the turn-off, along the right-of-way, a man
sits on the high green seat of a tractor in his Sunday
best, mowing before the rain comes down, mowing
in fresh-pressed slacks, suspenders, and a bow tie.
Nature is chaos with no hand on a rotary mower—
his hand puts the world into a syntax he can speak.

Saturday, May 07, 2016


Koshy Koshy, "Itr Seller," 2005

Towards the end of our run, the mélange stopped us.
A sweetness, so much of this place every May: almost
unctuously floral star jasmine, pale yellow honeysuckle,
a moment or decades carrying us as we move through
the slight wind, as we pause and sniff the air. But not
just sweetness. Woodsmoke, burnt grease, resinous
mint rosemary, each vanishing as soon as noticed. And
while we know those by heart, one more, unfamiliar:
bitterroot, pitch-dark, maybe oud? A fugitive incense—
lily-in-tar?—pierces us, leaving splinters set to burn.

Friday, May 06, 2016


Andy Melton, "Can't wait!", 2008, modified

This land’s been grazed down to loose rock and cipher,
hoof-greeking scratched on a path uphill. No angora tufts
snagged on nopal, just scat from scrawny cabrito who’ve
climbed everything that might’ve held back a mouthful
of something green and tender, something mineral and
compelling—everything but a slack-line liana of mustang
grape, anchored and anchoring a live oak stripped by wilt,
beating the goats back to a truce. They doze at the base
of the grape in its threadbare shade as it lifts up towards
sun-bleached clouds, tendrils coiling, Dionysian ringlets
piled atop each other: the Vitis mustangensis blinks open
its thousand sleeping eyes to be pollen-kissed by bees.

Thursday, May 05, 2016


nklatt, "occultation over Foot Lake in Willmar, MN," 2009

“An occultation is an event that occurs when one object is hidden
by another object that passes between it and the observer.”

Celestial bodies often play a sort of sleight of hand,
leaving astronomers to look for the absence of a star,
a galaxy, as evidence of something unseen—a cloud
of cosmic dust, a dark twin orbiting a brighter sibling,
its transit only noticed when what’s missing returns.
But here, on this thin crumbling crust, isn’t occultation
an everyday occurrence? A man steps in front of me,
hiding a peacock from my sight. A small plane passes
low overhead, and in passing, reveals a fat full moon.
A memory of heartache casts old shadows that transit
between us, absenting us from one another until the
darkness passes, revealing that love had always been.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Spartan Race, "Muddy Shoes," 2014

The way gumbo mud on your shoes balls up, too
thick and clinging to scrape, the way it grabs your
feet and ankles like a monster might, and you kick
a clotted shoe off, lose another in the suck of soft
clay, run tangled with natty dreads of retted straw,
wet dirt. I look for patches of oxalis, play a game of
trail run hopscotch—jump to the dense green mats,
crush their sorrel tartness underfoot, brush against
and pop those tiny okra-like seedpods. So hard not
to sink further, but the eastern wind pushes, blows
me a rootbeery vanillin kiss through the sassafras.

Sunday, May 01, 2016


The Army Children Archive, "Dressing Up,"
via Rachel Duffett

Not ink, but a sharp rhythm that sends all
us soldiers back to our beds. Yes, even me,
in my made-up fatigues, a broomstick on
my shoulder—I’ve drilled dance steps and
swordfights, lit sparklers, tossed poppers.
I’m ready to go to war against being good,
against keeping mud off my shoes. If you’d
bring armor (baking sheet shield, colander
helm) we could muster a fine rebellion, at
least until the sun sets, until drums beat a
tattoo tap-tap-tapping us back to quarters,
until the real wars come visit us for a while.