Poetry - August, 2010


Ut pictura poesis, with eight-year-old

We drove past the darkened restaurant, early
summer, having left the park. I said "Mokehouse"—
inside joke and looking for his memory
of a burnt-out letter, the name in doubt.

"No," he said, "it's Smokehouse again, all fixed,"
and then a pause as we observed the sign.
He signaled otherwise, noticing the shared
effect of what was once defunct singly.

The storefront was dark, but in the dark
backseat a growing mind grew luminous.
Closing time opened a seam in his thinking.
"It goes like this," he decided, motionless

alert, intentional: ____________________.
"That's good," I said. "I think I see what you mean.
Silence, right? Since the lights are off tonight?"
Him: "No, that's not right." In the mirror he's seen

shaking his head. Not that? Then what instead?
"Is it nothingness? Or something empty?"
"No," he insisted. The sign's completely black.
Saying the thing's not there is like a glimpse

of its fulfillment. Lack is undercut
when "lack" divides the air, comforting the ear.
(Those, I confess, are my own betraying words.)
His answer's better, and in the rearview mirror,

was truer. Like the sign itself, still active
but less apparent. I barely saw his mouth,
emerging from the shadows. It kept moving,
to keep alive the broken functions [smokehouse smokehouse . . .]


Choosing a baseball bat

The second son, having made the school baseball team,
Informs his startled father that they are underequipped
In the matter of bats—sticks, hammers, the implements
Of destruction, the tools of the trade, the thunder lumber,
As the salesman says cheerfully. There is a dense forest
Of bats against the wall, gleaming graphite and brilliant
Maple, aluminum in every conceivable shade and sheen,
And the father gets absorbed in the names, the Torpedos
And Thunderclubs, Phantoms and Cyclones, the Patriots
And Nitros, Magnums and Maxxums, Rayzrs and Ultras,
And, rivetingly, the Freak, which comes in thirteen sizes,
Which makes you wonder. The father, a terrible baseball
Player as a boy, admires but does not say anything about
The extraordinary lean loveliness of the ash bats hanging
Lonely at the far end. The boy chooses a bright red metal
Hammer, takes a few swings, waggles it a bit, hoists it up
On his shoulder, says this'll do, and the sacramental hour
Passes, as all holy moments must. But they do happen, as
Fast and terrifying as a baseball fired right at your noggin.
The batter's job, the second son says, is to identify a pitch
As soon as it leaves a pitcher's hand. Seeing is everything,
He says, and for once we are in complete and utter accord


Carmen and Pasquale at Bergamo Airport

You stand side by side, i miei cugini,
the Italian version of "American Gothic"
bisected by iron security gates, to watch us
snaking in inches toward X-ray machines.
Your eyes glisten like the last buds of autumn.
We carry the luggage of your love.
It weighs nothing. But when the plane lifts
into the night sky, only the moon
has more luminescence, more weight
than my heart


Ecce Homo

The man in the royal blue turban stands
in a glass cage. His eyes, black rimmed halos
of hazelnut and honey, are disengaged.
He waits, as closed and silent as the doors

of the Mercy Gate. What would he ask me,
shocked and awed by his dignity, as he
is pawed by latexed hands that probe for bombs
and contraband: Are you afraid? Do you

believe your life is saved by my disgrace?
He submits, as serene as Siloam,
not creating a scene, not exploding
in rage. I avert my gaze as I wait.

But his eyes seize mine as the TSA
decides he’s harmless like me. His silence
seems to gauge the peril within my soul
as I stand before him in my glass cage.


O bluedark dream

O bluedark dream.
O heart of space,

open. O end of days.
O ending of light

that streams into the wood.
O invisible gate,

whose finials rise now
greened in doubt.

O hold and trust.
O face at the window

again, your thoughts
are prayers. Always

and O forever
the slow waters

along the edge of what
we give ourselves

to see. O peace that is
a shadow, or a grayed stone—

come word me comfort
surer than such

hurt, O surer O
deeper than song.