Poem Sampler


I  remember clearly St. Luke:
the church, the graveyard,
Uncle Ed’s barber shop,

my grandfather’s smithy.
And Young’s General Store
where farmers in overalls

sat around on a rainy day, took
aim and spit tobacco juice
that sizzled on a red hot stove.

My way with words
was different then, I sang
songs to men around the fire,

the echo of Grandpa’s anvil
in my ear, passed a tin cup, eager
for crystal notes of falling coins.

from Osage Elegy


To my untrained ear,
the Yupik word Kalskag
sounds like gurgling, like the river.

But elbow of the river
is what it means, here
where they laid out the village.

When we return from a day
in the muskeg to a log cabin
built by Russian priests

we find a silver salmon
ready for the pan, a gift.

At 11:00 p.m., the sun
just sunk into the Bering Sea.

Out on the Kuskokwim
the blue and white tug,
The Tanana Chief, rests

on its journey upriver
past Crow Village to Aniak, anchor
light bright as the pole star,
a constant for the Yupik.

The tug’s light on the river
our last  slight connection
with whatever we left behind.

from The Ebbing Tide


I have never been there in real life.
I have been to where
the Amazon gets its start,
where the first drop of rain

from banana leaf falls
onto tropical rain forest’s
floor, where our great
river of grief begins.

You have been there, perhaps
some part of you is still there,
your eyes burning from smoke
of the conflagration, on

the great shoulder of Brazil
where you stand by night’s shore
of dreams, your small backpack
crammed with our sorrow.

Along with the great selva
with its gasping breath and ours,
we mourn charred totems
standing while we sift ashes

for skeletons of creatures past
endangered status: what we too
have become. Surely we must grieve
for the forest, so must it mourn for us.

A wraith of smoke weaves our
heartache with universal mourning
every bit as powerful as the sorrow
we feel for the forest. You stroll along

grey shorelines of reveries
stirring with a burnt stick
wisdom you have collected
while absent from our lives,

knowledge that can help us deal
with the catastrophes of our planet,
help us continue our lives
without you, without the mass jungle,

our lungs. Without breath we can’t go on.
We await your call, your wisdom.

from Lament for Us All


As he laid the peat fire
around the hay rake
did I suppose
the unrusting of teeth important?

What image in that fire?
I said teeth, did I mean
bones, the mass grave of
Killaspuglonane so near…?

I assumed the farmer
would use those parts to save some other machine,
forgot the horses he owns
no longer pull the plow, the harrow.

The reddening teeth
are loosened by the heat
and pulled from sockets.
Did I say bones?  The farmer
is bones, skin and bones, we say.
Lost his years and teeth.

*          *           *

Like the plodding steps
of the Percheron that sleeps
beneath the hill,
from foam barely visible
on an ocean three miles away,
the tide of darkness comes.

Ashes and hot coals
all that remain
of the makeshift forge…

The teeth of the rake
have become ribs
leaned against a stone wall.

Did I say ribs?  Did I say
eyes winking in the ashes,
the cold earth, the night,
the soft rain…

from At the Edge of the Western Wave


Leaving Rosslare astern
cottage hurricane lamps dim
to faltering pin pricks of light.

Over an abandoned country
stars fall like sparks
as the wind shakes out
the blanket of the night.

from Along the Flaggy Shore


In a bright red sari
she walks to the sand pile,
fills her hod, the ubiquitous
shallow dome shaped bowl,
balances it perfectly
on her head, walks poised
like a model to the screen.

But this one is
an angled wire screen
through which she tosses
sand sifting it clean — the way

at home she sifts wheat flour
for lumps or weevils.

She glances at the screen —
nothing has caught on the wire
the cleaned sand is a growing pile
she mixes into mortar
on the sidewalk.

She works cement into the sand
with a short hoe, with
the same diligence and grace
she uses when she makes dough
for chupattis in her kitchen.

from Guilt in Our Pockets


Enough blue
to patch a sailor’s pants
is all I want as

I look up
prayerful, honoring the sky
so long absent because of smoke

from wildfires menacing for days though,
to me it seems centuries.

The planet is burning up:
on my windshield ash
but a fleck, in tearful eyes a speck

the old growth forests cremated.
Cabins, mobile homes, tract
houses consumed by the dragon.
We lament the giant trees
lost, for the people displaced,
long gone their shelter.

Where will the deer run
even if they are faster than flame?

And those who can’t escape?
The air is too dangerous to breathe.

from Lament for Us All


We leave the house
kiss our fingertips, touch
the mezuzah
at the right side of the door.

During “the evictions”
the man of the house
before it was knocked,
planted a kiss
on the door post.

Each passing family
member kissed tips of fingers
traced the outline
of the missing mezuzah . . .

When the Irish peasant,
his family and possessions
were set out on the street . . .

When Jewish families
were taken
from the shtetl . . .

They must have known.

from Along the Flaggy Shore


To the seaward side of
this mesa our
throats dry as the
gaping whispering fish
mouths of abandoned caves
we came to a small cistern.

From a thread hangs
a tin dipper
in English a note:

Our only hope
on this island is rain
If you are thirsty drink
but not too much
And do not pour

your leftover water
back into the well.

Through dusty portholes
behind the heavy door
inside the washed
white Theoskepasti Chapel
a seven day candle
burns awaiting Easter.

Back up the slope
a single re poppy
bleeds a spearpoint
wound in the side
of lonely Skaros.

from Pomegranate, Sister of the Heart

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