Saturday, April 30, 2016

If moved

US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
"Mangroves," c. 2005, heavily modified

Had the goddess been carried ashore on a shell
to the New World, it might have been on a lion’s
; had she been so borne, she might’ve made
every alligator snapper her own, not for beauty
but fierceness. Back when we all slept unformed
in the dreams of imagined ancestors, electrum
coins minted at Aegina were stamped with the
image of a turtle’s patterned shell. O Aphrodite
, if the foam that shaped you in Cythera
drifted across the ocean to touch here, and here,
along the edge of a coastal mangrove swamp—
Queen of Heaven, you’d have found our snapping
turtles to be as fearsome, as unfettered as you.

Friday, April 29, 2016


George Brett, "Weekly Journal in Fibre Quipu," 1977

Ties that bind, that make a cat’s cradle,
twined around a same-named measure
of split logs or ripped to release a chute:
add a silent “h” for music, take the “h”
back for what strings and bends a bow,
for the place where panties and t-shirts
are pinned until dry, cheerful pennants
waving when the breeze kicks up. Raffia
plucked by a no-name girl and spun into
gold with Rumpelstiltskin’s help, just like
this poem—rough fiber twisted between
the fingers, a drop spinner magicked and
calling gold ore out from earth, a reverse
lightning snaking up the distaff. You and
I, we understand how to untie tongues
and words, letting meanings out to play.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Garry Tucker, USFWS, "Alligator
Snapping Turtle
," 2004

By the time I arrived, it was trundling down
steep banks through dewberry and rain lily
towards the river, leaving a belly-flattened,
matted tangle behind a carapace knobbled
by osteoderms tic-tac-toeing three rows, its
bony ridges dragging algae and nettles. We
hung back, not wanting to see whether the
monster could pick up speed to snap all our
fingers right off, half-hoping we could touch
it before it sunk into the bottom mud. In its
wake, a cardinal, as bright an incendiary red
as the snapper was dulled camo gray-green.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Not throwing it, but seated in it: somber,
sub-umber, hiding from the Texas sun in a
pool of deep shadow. Light olive skin via
my ancestors beyond the Pale, shunning
high noon, looking for the cool dark places—
karst caves, shady seeps where maidenhair
fern uncurls. Wander close and you might
think I was a ghost I hold so still, leaving you
to wonder if I was real or a trick of the light—
an invert sun dog, obscured, penumbral.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Turkish prayer rug, 18th c., National Museum in Warsaw

“O Shaper of varicolored clay and cellulose, O Keeper / of same”
Scott Cairns, “Idiot Psalms

This is a help ticket, a message in a bottle, a parchment
scroll jammed into the Kotel by literally hired hands. O
Shaper, O Keeper, it begins, but it never does end with
anything other than an ellipsis. How could it, when our
need for assistance is infinite, unbounded? O Shaper, it
asks, strengthen the armature upon which you add what
will be reduced. O Keeper, it asks, unlock the storm cellar
and let us hide among booklets of gold leaf, jam jars full
of pigment, preserve us from the whirlwind. Protect us
that we might weave ourselves into every magic carpet,
encoding in warp and weft an invisible breath, a flight…

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Tavik Frantisek Simon, "Weather House," 1917-18

The humidity rises as the clouds lower themselves
onto the hills, kissing our eyelashes with dew. It’s
difficult to see much past arm’s length now, easier
to sit and wait. Fog, dampening sounds except for
my nervous chatter about folk art weather houses,
arguing with myself about which hair to use at the
heart of the hygrometer. You and I, within the low
thick clouds, have become invisible to one another,
hidden; but still hands will find hands, pass gifts. A
strand of fine hair to set tension on a hygrometer’s
balance beam; two figurines for a weather house;
a reassurance spelled in touch that the fog will lift.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Michelle Erickson and Robert Hunter, "Swirls
and Whirls: English Agateware Technology."

Francis Place, Yorkshire, ca. 1680. Salt-glazed
stoneware. H. 3 1/2". Photo, David Ramsey.

Those objects made to be held and handled
grow brittle when kept under glass. What
point is preservation when there’s no way
to understand the heft of this cup, no rough
palm warmed, pressing into the curved belly
of a stoneware mug? Even the lustre's false.
If it hung on a wood peg near an open stove,
smoke would have left it sooty, ready to take
a greasy fingerprint or two. A dull finish, but
love and use leaves no artifact pristine; love
and use is our provenance, not the curator's.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


For Peter

There was always a little wind at the top of
your hill—the highest point in the county, you
said, then walked with me to the bronze geo
marker that proved it—and the wind always
found something to play with. Down feathers
from your golden pheasants, fluffed in drifts
near a clump of flowering ginger; green bottle
gourds dangling on the trellis above the deck,
pendant, phallic, straight out of Marvell. I loved
to sit and drink jasmine tea with you, watch the
wind blow the steam off and cool us all down.
There were no words to the stories we shared.
We were the words, tousled by that sweet little
wind, daydreaming stories together and again,
as if we were the refrain from a song you loved,
fading, not fading, like "The Wind Blows Wild."

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Lioger, Hand-Stitched Rasps Facebook page, 2014

“The rifflers have just arrived and they look beautiful –
elegant. Unpacked one and tried it on a piece of cherry
I have been working on and the teeth must be like those
of little devils; they take off such a fine set of shavings
with little effort.”
- Vincent Gaubert, as quoted on the Liogier website

Unwrapped from its oiled leather, the riffler’s curved as
a cat’s tongue, ready to lick the neck wood down until it
smooths into a song. I’ve watched luthiers at work—such
elegant dark arts, I wondered, what midnight bargains were
made to ensure the hide glue bound not just soundboard
and back, but musician to listener, air to ear? No matter.
The bite of a rasp, the resinous dust, all of this making is
what I’ve come to see. Still, when the workshop empties
and luthiers head home, I’ll stay—listen to the wind tumble
down off a mountainside, fingering, bending these strings.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Cliff swallows, swirling from their mud jar nests
like smoke. All day long, I’ve been in a trance—
half-in and half-out of my body, gazing down at
scrimshawed caliche, up at the aerial arabesques.
I’m waiting for a hypnotist to walk back behind
me, nod to the audience then snap his fingers.
It’s then I’d see I was clinging to a lighting rig 50
feet up, not daubing clay on the concrete girder
of a highway overpass to make myself a home.

Friday, April 15, 2016


meltedplastic, "Big Thicket Trip," 2010

Down on those low eroded banks that edge
along the river bottom, bois d’arc and scrub
plums found a patch of blackland dirt deep
enough to throw all in and make a thicket.
For us, it meant we’d pay a blood price—red
thorn scratches and scratch-‘til-you-bleed
chigger bites—to get enough fruit to fill our
jars with garnet-hued jelly. So we paid it and,
hauling pillowcases full of plums no bigger
than quail eggs out over our shoulders, we
were stopped by another’s payment: deer
bones scraped clean of most hide and flesh
at the base of a bois d’arc, the tree straight-
grained, tall, aiming like an arrow to snag a
bit of sunlight, lay it down by the deer’s skull.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Mughal style, "Girl luring quicksilver from a mine
with her beauty
," mid-18th century

The Hsin Hsiu Pen Tsao laid the groundwork—
silver and tin—but it wasn’t until alchemists
turned the flame up on cinnabar, condensing
its exhalation into Shui Yin, quicksilver, that
the formulary for amalgam changed. And it
wasn’t until I was seven that I’d chase those
mercurial fascinations around with my finger.
They were slick as tiny fish, hatchling minnows
schooling on a desk in my dad’s dental office,
some so small they could hide behind a fallen
eyelash. I didn’t know they were poison, but
neither did the Chinese alchemists, who had
no one to scold them when they tipped their
treatises with quicksilver, having chased the
bright liquid metal into its glass bedchamber.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Jody Morris, "Greens and reds," 2010

Such costly, buttery jewels to fill crimped
tin tubes, so precious we’d twist the caps
too tight; the only way to set them loose
was with heat from a sulfurous flame. A
ragged matchbook from a dive bar and
my clumsiness allowed no sophisticated
gestures—strike once (dud), twice (dud),
until the relief of a spark and flare. More
than once I burnt my fingers trying to get
a cap off too soon. The oily, golden under-
belly of viridian, the joss stick coal that’s
cadmium red, lit a fire in me to see all my
paintbox gems arrayed on a glass palette,
joy warming itself under a halogen light.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Nicolas Poussin, "A Path Leading into
a Forest Clearing
," c. 1635 - 40

The empty space that becomes sunlight
within a sketch by Poussin; the empty
space that’s been sun-erased, the blank
where a sleepy rattlesnake basks in my
memory before Peter intervenes, breaks
its spine with a shovel to kill it. It’s the
empty space that’s a constant, allowing
us to take our breaths, standing with us.
The empty space, full of both figure and
ground until a vine charcoal gesture sets
them apart, rough toothed gesso’d paper
biting as gently as a lover on the artist’s
fingertips as the mark is made. Creation
needs its empty space, creation is the
constant and it will fill us, overtopping
our floodgates until, again, we’re empty.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Logan Brumm, "Milky Way Over Scholz Lake, Flagstaff Arizona (edited)," 2011

The wreckage and birth of celestial bodies leaving nocturnes
and grit sparkling above and around us. It’s been a long while
since I’ve left a city looking to be wrapped in perfect darkness.
Here, what’s strewn onto the midnight jeweler’s velvet fades
out, over-lit by sodium street lamps, parking lot safety needs,
spotlight torches in a landscaped yard. So, we go further to see
meteors—pinpricks flickering, cascading like a bioluminescent
tide—and then come to rest under a galactic archipelago. Lace
clouds of diamond dust, beautiful chemistries, the opalescent
milt of creation—I’ll tell you that sleeping beneath this celestial
sphere is a gift, and dreaming beneath it is to be made whole.

Saturday, April 09, 2016


A Zamboni pile, c. 1880, Teylers Museum

So sweet, all the ways in which invention seeks to store its own energy—a
battery of designs, but few as accidentally poetic as a Zamboni pile, with its
honey and gilding. And what if we took a bit of tissue paper on which we’d
written some dreams, sintered it to zinc foil? What if we’d trimmed those
dreams out into perfect circles sticky with honey, pressed each foiled disc
against another in a neat stack? It might be elegant, fragrant (ozone’s bite
a whetstone on which to sharpen wildflowers), but it’d store less of a charge
than we store while reading poems, glowing in the shine of a fat full moon.

Friday, April 08, 2016


Robin Stevens, "Boat Tailed Grackle," 2009

Unmoored and planted alongside an alley, stripped of everything
except for budding coruscations, these concrete and iron cuttings
waiting to root. This is how we grow hedgerows now, not with briar
that tugs at the sleeve of a traveler, but with something that lets a
traveler sidle by on foot. The builder knows no one who’d walk the
asphalt path down, but I would for this gift—watching a grackle land
then ruffle and settle, a pitch-black rose blooming on a bollard stalk.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


Image from NJ Namju Lee, "Invisible Dream," 2009

Flat, flattened, a collapsing of time and space
by a trick of the light, by some post-production
voodoo. The walls in this bedroom seem matte.
The world outside this room? I believe I could
follow a seam until I found a loose edge, then
duck behind a landscape as if it were a painted
matte. And you? Although our characters have
been shot on separate sets, the VFX editor masks
us, then sets us down in places, and times, and
stories so flatly non-reflective, matte-made that
I want to step outside every last frame, undo it.

Monday, April 04, 2016


The cats’ engines are idling, purring at lower RPMs
while the dog sleeps, having fallen into a dream of
sunbeams pausing on their way through a window
just to warm his belly and rump. We’re all idling here.
I listen to my breath, then dog and cat breath, even
your breath, however far away. A vibration follows;
a sigh—the dog adjusts his glowing scrim of dreams,
half-closed eyes flicking. Some roughness in his idle,
just like cottonwood leaves quaking in a slight wind.

Sunday, April 03, 2016


Photo (edited) by Don Bergquist, 2010

I remember this place, the smell of damp earth
and petrichor, where I’d lay myself down to hide
inside myself, small as a bug. And there’s a pulse,
I hear it rushing in my ears—is it mine? Yes. My
pulling in, of antennae and feelers, blunts other
sounds: that of a bird scrabbling in rotten wood,
playing hide-and-seek for keeps with root borers.
Lights in the house glow brighter as the sun sets.
Soon they’ll call me in to dinner, but I won't go.

Friday, April 01, 2016


Goya, "The Dog," c. 1819–1823

“And just then death came and darkened the eyes of
Argos, who had seen Odysseus again after twenty years.”

Homer’s Odyssey, Book 17: 260-327
Translation by Stephen Mitchell

The traveler returns, only this time the dog doesn’t quiver
with joy, or even recognition. Instead, the gray guard hairs
prickle and stand erect; the aged legs stiffen. Everything is
an alarm going off, to the dog—even the scent of long-lost
family carries panic, not joy. “Who is this thing that carries
the pack scent? Who is this stranger, who says I’m theirs?”
Nothing to be done except to crouch down, low and slow,
avoid the dog’s stare, gentle the breath, wait. With luck, a
warm body will lean into another, together exhaling a sigh.