On Screen

November 27th, 2015

While a six- and thirteen-year-old discuss the ethics
of killing each other on screen, make promises,
apologies, and qualify accidental violences
that do occur in process of making and mining
worlds, I sit with my own little dyings,
have the same conversation in my body—
proud publisher of love and self-loathing,
only remotely committed to saving the girl—
dodge my own darts and flames, leap oil
barrels and blind panic snakes, share the battle
with a blank screen where it becomes more real,
becomes words that never heal me completely
but itch and stretch like my three favorite scars,
softened, shrunken, and often forgotten.


Beauty and You, My Son

November 16th, 2015

for Grey

I wish always to be
In some dark theatre

Where the orchestra swells
To carry your voice on its shoulders,

Raising up the love of a Beast
Turned boy-faced man.


The Myth of Singing Legs

November 3rd, 2015

On this day of the dead we found a cricket in a classroom on its back, hind legs spread impossibly perpendicular to its body, the transept of its personal cruciform cathedral. Smaller legs wriggled like Gregor Samsa’s that famous morning in bed, helpless, thinking only of duty, not the dreadful exoskeleton. Sleeping through our alarm, unrecognizable to ourselves, we find ways to roll out, open double doors to our lives with our mouths if we must. Again. Again. But not this cricket. I collected it on a scrap of newspaper print, tossed it under a cottonwood where it was buried by November wind. Brittle leaves the shape of hearts or spades scraped serrated edges on the sidewalk, an homage to the myth of singing legs.


Song of the Longhorn Cowfish

October 30th, 2015

Mysterious calcified fish,
Morbid object of the curious,
Your horned brow
Furrowed in halted effort,
Never more a forward swimmer,
Your mouth is a hole of song:

O! It comes to this!
From skiff of a watery reef
To slick of a faux wood table.
Poets, kiss my hexagonal skin.
Gaze into the sockets of my skull.
Swim into your own indignity.


Questions for the Bell

October 29th, 2015

Who forged you in the slaving time?
Who caught the wax of memory when it fell?
How many have you woken with your clang?
Were you ever full of desperation’s wine?
What battles did your death toll pound?
Whose oily hands have traced your madeleine?
In your calm, did dying soldiers hear the owl?
Did Whitman sob relief upon your final knell?



October 28th, 2015

I know nothing,
Concentric burgeoning rock.
You could be a frozen galaxy,
A halted thought,
Brain of an ancient ape,
Cross section of a tooth
Of a dark French cave.



October 27th, 2015

Behold the shifting
mandala of your wooden thoughts.
Don’t be fooled
by craftsmanship, the glinting shards.
Arrange yourself
as radiating stars upon each turn.
Press your hands
upon your own eyes. Hard!
Watch the lights
of your blooded mind explode.


October Elegy

October 13th, 2015

For my student, Nate Osburn

When fall fell, so did you.
We were not ready for the drop,
The sudden parallel.
The leaves of all your papers, crisp,
Cling still to autumn limbs
Like dreams of your green mind.
Yellow-tinged I gather them
From deep inside the screens.
From wind and loss,
Rake gorgeous piles of words
That were and weren’t you,
But, ever after, worlds.
Your pages now the only places
Left to pause and play
In thought with you—
Brave you who flat refused
Personified paradox,
You for whom the human mind
Was always god enough
Yet never god.
And wasn’t yours a brilliant,
Kindly, honest one.


Annual Work Plan

October 11th, 2015

The year is not a hill.
Push the annual work plan
Aside. Due Friday.

Fill in blanks of travel forms.
Attach receipts with paper clips.
Think meals in terms of per diem.
Not sushi, sake, miso, friends.
Forget the empty gestures
Of distant conferences.
Count miles. Cash in.

Circle words and numbers
On sixteen rubrics.
Learning must be proven
To students
And bottom-line feeders
For whom it is not enough
To assess light in one’s own
Or others’ eyes.

Out here in the dark,
Everything measured,
Ferried for a price.
Your ____________.

Fill in the blank.

Scribble conversations
In margins and hope
Against arms.

Time ticks. More work.
More work. More work.
The to-do list self-goading.
The state mule self-loading.
Note how time erodes.

Note how quickly, how often
It rings: the digital singing bowl
Of Thich Nhat Hahn.
The app you, overloaded,
Downloaded for fun, for free,
A precious boat,
Set to chime about every hour
(Programmed unpredictability)
To wake you out of mire.

When it sounds you pause
One moment to own
Your skin, your silence,
Vast mother holding the stream
Of your moving mind hands.

One second, maybe two,
You close your eyes.
No desk, no screen,
No mechanical pencil.
No end to desk, to screen,
To mechanical pencil.

Ease back in. Submerge.
Open-eyed. Swim.
Breathe beneath surfaces.
Newly gilled. Remember.
Work inside you
Without space is a stone.



September 26th, 2015

You’re parakeet.
I’m hummingbird.
This means nothing to nectar.

I’m milk thistle.
You’re tomato bloom.
Let’s build boxes for bees.

You’re cast iron.
I’m stainless steel.
Who knew the earth could cook?

I’m Russian olive.
You’re cottonwood.
Don’t believe in trash trees.

You’re snare crescendo.
I’m cello smoke.
Song is sung by silence.

I’m camera.
You’re handheld mirror.
Bedtime burns our selfies.

You’re lost button.
I’m tarnished dime.
Whose deep pocket is this?


Or plumes.

September 13th, 2015

Cucumbers too large
For Mason jars or the heart
Dream of being juice


Things to do in Morgan County

September 6th, 2015

Without aversion, sugar beet lime
And dust laden steam

Facing east, lightning—the blood shot eye
Of someone else’s bruised socket

Potatoes growing silent and large,
Red and sightless promising roots

September’s velvet palms; lambsquarters
Make December’s brittle lawn

Through crickets sawing love
In the kitchen, the closet, your head

Wake up
On the rolling prairie
Trying to mimic the firmament


Culling Achillea Millefolium

August 30th, 2015

Yarrow was long yellowed by late August.
I had over-waited in the name of over-busyness.
Pruning avoided in July and waves of heat
Produced crisp umbels tossing tiny flecks of seed.
Culling, I clipped skeletons close to ground,
Careful to avoid the living fronds that,
Given more water, might yet green through fall.
Piling dead growth like bouquets on the path,
I knew May would now require more of me:
Plucking ferny volunteers amid flagstones.
The red path, despite hidden plastic fabric
And paving sand in cracks, and beds
Of cedar mulch, would soon be riddled through
With yarrow roots, and more. That is the way
With years, fallen foliage and seed, everything
Becoming dirt and green despite us.


Town Cat Turns

August 22nd, 2015

For two years
after the bewildering move
she refused to step outside,
claimed the upper floor,
shed upon beds
before farm house windows.
Not without a fight
I finally her tossed her out
summer’s back door.
An intervention.
She ran low
to barns and shadows,
beneath parked cars.
Tom cats took her in,
taught her night-joy,
the stealthy prowl,
naps in caves of weeds,
field mice in the chicken house.
Gone wild four weeks
without a bowl, still fat,
she asked to be let in,
more herself than
all the years before,
her new face praising
our feet and shins
and doors.


Everything is Perseids

August 13th, 2015

Everything is Perseids
within my head—not beautiful.
I almost can’t ignore the beauty.
In death, master clear light.

Oh the lights
that crash inside!

For the dreamer, what is left
of the body’s habits
flashes through death’s middle sky.
I practice death eyes.

I will have no eyelids
from which to squeeze visions.

Tonight we are told to lie
on our backs with caffeine
and wait or wake for the stars’
train show before dawn.

I know I will not rise.
Not tonight, this wide.

One star is a blank stare.
Another is my hunger.
The final star is my man
driving home from Nebraska.

Come August dark at 2 am,
the sky will fall upon my bed.