Friday, May 22, 2015

Ridgetop Towns

In the east half of this state, the hills
run south to north; the start of basin/range
terrain that sweeps down through Nevada. Spills
of old Columbia basalt arrange
themselves in layered stacks, erode to rims
that frame the inter-mountain lakes in stone.
Like skirts of heavy black, they lift their hems
revealing painted clays and fossil bones.

And in the little tawny hills, the towns
that cling to ridgetops, and the tumble-down
of barns abandoned; shingle roofs that fly
at sight of storm.
            Roads can no longer find
rivers to follow. Water replaced by wind:
dry brush painting on an empty sky.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Darker Air

It is not only that my eyes are brown,
that (before this frost) I used to wear
sable in my hair.

All my life, unknowing
alike with knowing, I have breathed
this darker air.

All my songs a blacker shade of blue—
my cheeks are yellow roses. Darker too.
These aren’t colors I can choose to wear

or unwear. They’re painted on the inside
of the eyes that view,
that see me through a glass of darkened air.

Who knows me, who sees me true
and where?
I drink strong wine and fly in storms. My wings
are full of agate eyes
and yellow roses decorate my hair.
I breathe dark air.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Arguing with the Cloud-Shepherd

A path leads away through a stand of bamboo
rustling and alive to the wind
but my feet stay rooted.

A stream rushes downhill laughing
to greet the distant sea. I am
silent and reflect no sunlight.

The wind reproaches my stillness, but I have no time
to argue with the cloud-shepherd,
busy with the Friend’s work.

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Private Weather

Unpredictable, my private weather
brings me fits of chills and flares of heat,
storms of rain and thunder-growling temper.
Nighttime season-shift: my icy feet
now kick the covers off and gasp for air
because they’re drowned in sweat. A pleasant change
from always wearing sweaters everywhere—
but makes me find myself a little strange.

I know what’s causing it: the silver streaks
that frame my temples, spreading spots on backs
of hands, the wrinkles falling round my neck.
This is a tranquil time, in most respects,
but just to keep me guessing (I suspect)
there’s personal climate-change in effect.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Death Speaks to the Knight


Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948 – 2015
Quante canicula ille in fenestra est

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Friday, December 26, 2014

After the Blood, the Burning

I seek resolve and cannot find it.
A murdered boy and a city burning:
why am I always standing behind it?

There’s a social contract. Which of us signed it?
Does it condemn us to this rite of mourning?
I seek resolution and can’t find it.

I am not shackled, nor am I blinded,
not unaware, capable of learning
so why am I still standing behind it?

How many times must we be reminded
before, at the last, there comes a turning?
I seek an answer. I cannot find it.

Am I waiting around until someone’s defined “it” ?
These are old, old wheels that keep on churning.
I’m sick and tired of standing behind it

and I will not accept nor be resigned to it.
Take notice, world: you’ve had your warning.
The answer is there. I know we’ll find it.
The time will come when we won’t stand behind it.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I Did Today

I wrestled the East Wind in the Coast Range and kissed salt spray from his lips.
I counted every creek and trailhead on Highway 6.
I stood next to Bill Stafford on a cliff above the Wilson River.
I had my feet flayed bloody by wind-blown sand.
I threw a can of Red Bull into the sea to free the unicorns.
I dug agates from a cliff that rose from the beach like an oliphant’s legs.
I hijacked a truckload of Tillamook Cheese and abandoned it at the food bank.
I sat in the alders drinking sunshine and eating moss and ferns.
I hung flags from every branch in a lake full of standing dead trees because today was Veteran’s Day.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Eyes that Draw: drawing by Shelby Denham

Straight from vision to neural network—
“No, I don’t stop to think,
thinking just gets in the way.”

The clever pencil crawls across the page.

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After Winslow Homer: Rustic Courtship and The Bridle Path, White Mountains

She looks down
from her window’s height
from her white horse’s back.

She knows the men will always be bigger, stronger
make more money
have the law on their side

Not for her the powerful arms, pitchfork, place at the head
Not for her the football fame or Olympic accolades
Not for her to ride astride into or out of danger

She takes advantage
or at least vantage
wherever she can.

She looks down.

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In Response to Muriel Rukeyser’s “Ballad of Orange and Grape”

I could not tell the difference
by taste or smell—
I could not tell.

I could not tell that orange was a real color
and grape a fruit
that could be green, or red, or black.

I could not tell one flavor of poisoned sugar from another.
Both names were lies for me to sell.
I could not tell

if anyone would care about these labels
the dying do not care.
Is orange hope? Does purple mean despair?
I could not tell.

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1980s Ford Bronco, everything electric:
seatbelts, windows, door-locks, lights,
brakes, power-assist steering. So when the electrical system went out
at the top of the cliff on 4th Street in Oregon City
with a teenaged driver at the wheel of the Bronco
her father had bought used the week before—
Lightless steel screaming down the hill with four terrified teens trapped inside.

She rode that thing,
stayed out of the ditch,
made the turn at the bottom,
didn’t roll the car,
spun out in the four-way at the light and bumped the car in front of me
back into mine. Minor damage. No injuries.
Four hysterical teens, three shaken but relieved adults,
one dead Bronco and a traffic cop who dais:
“That was good driving, Miss,
damned good.”

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Bandon: Early Morning

Walking to the Barn in the predawn dark
I let myself in, turn on the lights,
move things around, set out clean mugs,
write important labels on minor things,
unlock the front doors and step out—
into the first beams of the rising sun.

The bare trunks of the lodgepoles,
a colonnade of light
etched against morning mist.

The smell of salt.

Cold air on my bare feet.

Everything else that happens today
will taste like this.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Sunday, September 07, 2014

After Lines From Stafford’s “Citizen Here on Earth”

Let me carry a bow
a bow strung with psalms.

Let me carry a quiver
a quiver of shafts of light.

Let me fire arrows at my enemy
arrows tipped with flowers.

Let them return as raindrops.

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tick of the clock
don’t look over your shoulder for the
sweep of the hands
though you know it’s there
and it goes on without you

if there really is a clock
and not just
an imagined sound

like the footsteps on the stair
when you were afraid to look
and finally looked—
there was nothing, not even
a shadow sliding down the banister
just a creaky step talking
to itself

like the strange noise in the car
that you couldn’t hear when
the mechanic had the hood open

like th sound of surf miles from any ocean
you heard it in your sleep and woke
clutching at strands of dreamweed
you heard it in your sleep and woke
salt on your pillow
you heard it in your sleep and
sailed away

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Heat Lightning

The night is shattered
by heat lightning, soundless violence.

Forks of brilliance spring from cloud to cloud
while dryness hangs like curtains between.

The night is shattered
waiting for thunder to piece it back together
for darkness to stitch itself whole
for rain to dissolve the bright edges.

The night holds its breath
in jagged sepia.

The night is shattered
by a stroke that doesn’t fall. Shattered
by the fear of a stroke.

Tense restless air
and leaves moving without relief
waiting for thunder.

The shattered night begs for rain
like a heart for tears.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Low Light Villanelle

for the first time in many months
i woke to low light overcast
there is no sun this morning

summer’s bones are grinning
out of the tall dead grass
for the first time in many months

birds shrug their dull fall-plumaged shoulders
shake off dust and look toward the south
there is no sun this morning

and they know it’s almost time
to hit that road, invisible to human eyes
for the first time in many months

through cumulus over the Siskiyous
to wintering grounds by the great bay
there is no sun this morning

i feel the earth turn under my feet
feel the road’s vibration through my soles
for the first time in many months
there is no sun this morning

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Tell me why they leap
high against the water’s face, each one
a single silver muscle, clenched like a brandished fist.

They filled the Columbia once
from shore to shore, navigation hazard:
legend said you could walk
dryshod on their backs. Now
we watch at windows on the fish ladder,
celebrate each exhausted climber,
each smolt that makes it safe to sea.

Tell me why they leap
in memory of something they know as home,
or in defiance against gravity, downstream flow
or their own dwindling returns?

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Police, Fire, Ambulance

all at the corner of 15th and Broadway
lights on, no sirens. The guy getting onto the bus
says there’s some lady in the ambulance—
points to a silver car. That’s all I’ll ever know
unless I comb the evening news for mention
that may not even be there. Who was she,
who made the call, what was the cause?

The bus rolls on and leaves the red-and-whites
flashing in the driver’s rear-view. Buses don’t have
back windows. I can’t see the mirror
from where I sit. Whatever happened
is over as far as I’m concerned. Though not for her
or her friends, family, passers-by who saw
whatever they saw.

The driver shakes his head,
peering into the side mirror.
There’s no sound of sirens. We sit
in silent rows of unknowing.

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Friday, August 01, 2014


This sky is full of shifting continents;
lightning bridges, thunder telegraphs
and con-trail crosstalk. Was I ever meant
to live this way? Will I ever laugh
at raisins dying in the sun? Intent
on work; my numbers, figures, lines and graphs
will not protect me from the sentiment
that leaps from ambush, from a photograph:

white glaciers shrinking under tropic skies,
above the heat-miraged savanna. Skull-
faced drought stands in the open doors of full
storehouses, mocking. I make no reply
but private calculus of global loss:
my heart, still hanging from the Southern Cross.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Swallowtail Summer

I captured the most elusive trace of summer
when it came fluttering on black and yellow wings
through the tangled underbrush of sleep. Before
the sweating, waking to the all-night hum
of window fans, before the ripening blackberries
and scorched dead grass, there were swallowtails

whose arabesques of flight wrought tales
of heat, tilting springtime dreams toward summer.
You texted me “It’s spring” on your BlackBerry
but I was done with migration, wings
folded for the season. Unlike a hummingbird
who flies backward as fast as forward,

I would not go back to spring, forward
again. Two shakes of a puppy dog’s tail
and it’ll be fall, rain singing and humming
in the gutters all night. No drop of summer
to waste with my head under my wing:
sleep can wait until this season is buried.

And under the tangled canes, the berries
stayed hard and evil green. Terrible forage,
fit food only for fools and wingnuts.
Unripe proceeding directly to stale—
spring leapfrogging to fall over summer—
clocks running backward with a hum

as menacing as snake-rattles. Inhuman
to watch, this fast season’s self-burial:
dear departed or never-come summer!
I should have waited for you, waited for
spring’s more measured pace, retailing
its delights under slow-spread wings.

I watched the rocking of an empty swing
as everyone left the park. I hummed
sad songs and told lost-hope tales,
searched withered shrubs for the last berries.
The sun’s banners had gone on before
me. Six stanzas outlasted summer.

Buried in Time’s tailbacks
I swing, miss, at curve-ball summer
for all the world like a mere human.

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Summer Comes on Wings

striped black and yellow, fluttering through brush
crooked, prowling the skies over water
bent blue-black and gleaming, shooting under a bridge
glass-clear, shielding round green bodies

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Sestinas up

I have three sestinas in the current issue of Festival Writer. One of them is a syllable sestina that appeared previously in Wag's Revue.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside