This Rocky Misunderstanding

I am landless. I am free. I am trying
to get away with it.

I can’t distinguish weeds
from prized flowers.

I can’t tend a garden
I don’t have. I won’t take

that community plot
in the southwest corner

of the park I call my front yard
from someone who deserves it more.

Everyone owns my front yard.
The party’s been over for decades

(for me). I am licenseless. I am afoot.
Hoping to get away with it.

If this blind tracery were to cover
my ears, I would still hear

tires screeching on pavement
in the middle of the night.

If the West Chop foghorn could be heard
this many miles and years away,

it would soothe these nerves
before splitting all that slate

blue apart—sky from ocean,
an oscillogram of my father’s voice

looping above and below the horizon.
I am not

rootless. I am a tree
that refuses to choose: Am I

planted in the wrong place
at the right time, or

the other way around? Or, secured
to some hidden holdfast.

Oh, my sea moss,
you and I have gotten away with it.


A banana falls from the sky,
lands loose and dented
at her feet on a hot sidewalk
before August has begun.

Sounds bleed into one another
on a Monday, like a child’s handwriting
that droops to the right,

each line more sloped
than the one preceding it.
The gutter does not terrify
this five-year-old.

Everything she loves
grows in the margins—wild
and entangled in the lost language

of the drum. Cattails that harbor
red-winged black bird nests
surround Loring Lake, designated
as the most urban one in Minnesota,

where you can canoe for free
on Wednesday evenings in August.
That a hole in the wooden deck

of a nearby pedestrian bridge
doesn’t cause anxiety
might mean her long-lost daughter
has always been her long-lost duende.

So what if you were right
all those years ago about the left
leg being shorter by a half centimeter?

Some game of low-level dueling
will always interrupt lifelong dreams.
Lead to the risk of late-life depression.
Translate into a series

of little lie-downs
that don’t add up
to one everlasting sleep.

And just maybe she won’t become A
is for Amy who fell
down the stairs. With a backpack
(lilting, long, and deep enough

to hold all her dirty laundry
and a few scraps of lost letters
and dignity) secured to her shoulders,

she’ll keep her balance
all the way down.
And if she does stumble,
a rope ladder, strategically hung

on the cellar door
by someone who looks like
you once did,

will appear at the last possible
moment. A handwoven lattice-lace
design remains imprinted
on closed eyes, not by choice.

And, finally, a dark August
Saturday morning arrives
with thunderstorms in the forecast.

“Rain, rain, please,”
she pleads,
“stick around long and loud
and dripping enough

to quench the garden’s thirst,
to coax Minnehaha Falls to begin
falling again.”

Were the Wraiths Ever Extroverts

A community garden arises
from remnants
of old shuffleboard courts.

The dandelion fountain
will bloom again.

I will write one more
ekphrastic poem
about a single painting that celebrates

the island in moody watercolors
with abstract undertones.

If I write a poem about an art fair,
would it be ekphrasis, or a failed figment?
Those cursive m’s I could never draw

quite right shadow dancing
in a darkened corridor. This printed word

will crush the teeth
of those ghosts wading in the surf—
or would if they had mouths to hold them.

Channels Through Wire

Your tattoos reassure me.
The way you drum your fingers

on the kitchen island
does not. One more rust

colored, handwoven rag
to soak in ice

water. Wooden

buckets. We were haulers
of things. We were the rivers

flowing backwards
between our words

on hot, humid nights
before the storm. Metal

shovels. The vessel is now closed.
A one-way spiral stair climb to nowhere

near the real city. Red buoys.

Do you punish yourself
for erasing the recording

of all of us
laughing? The joke

tucked so tightly
inside the temporary brick wall.

One more lefty who holds
a bouquet of the sharpest

pencils. We have waited
for the burdened net to resurface.

Perched & Damaged

Let’s bring back the stoop
in all its stupid perfection—
with all its social consequences
and complicated politics intact

and wrapping around
our late-night, drunken sing-alongs.

Let’s retreat to an aerie
in the mountains
where another owl leaves its cave
to let off steam.

Let’s refuse to watch the shy
kettle boil. Let’s begin again

by goatscaping the hillside
that divides us
from ourselves. Let’s
keep the drinking

fountains flowing
a lttle longer into fall.

Let’s run with a trip of them
in the years to come
while the city sighs
in the distance. Let’s embrace

the kayak covered in seaweed.
And are those barnacles beneath

the bow? Is that
how they think
we kiss? Let us be
the street after all.

What the Illustration Restores

Who invited this
body in? How did I get inside
here? This trunk

of a beast
carries me back—
back to a time when

a shining
was a person, place,
or thing of interest.

When instant karma
ruined our eyes
as we stared

directly into the midday sun.
Another apparition appears

to block the cellar door.
I would not dare
crack open

the piece of amber
I’ve been massaging
into a worry stone

over the years.
Before anyone asks
why, well, we were

so young. Too young
to understand how
the shells we collected

with his sister
would never hold
the shape

of the ocean
come fall
on the mainland.

And the memory of the waves
rendered us sweetly mute
without a trace of shame.

Some Old Crow

This morning brought
an achy rain—

the kind that intensifies
as soon as it lets up

before settling
into a steady pounding

on the treehouse rooftop
nestled in a Massachusetts forest

that holds your childhood still
and silent. And one bird after another

begins to mimic the sounds of the city:
car alarms, fire truck sirens,

a phone ringing in the distance.
You swear you can hear

an old-fashioned busy signal
in the park’s garden of the seasons,

startling its dragonflies
and purple flame grass.

Perhaps some old crow

there to remind you to be patient,
to try again later.

Derived from Hemp

She wears a shelterbelt
wrapped around her bare shoulders.

The windbreaker dyed and tossed
aside decades ago. This dream

of harvesting eastern white cedars
for roof shakes (not shingled)

breaks apart before it gains
enough momentum to reach the mill.

Not true cedars. Not a moment wasted.
She dances, rough-hewn,

with all those invasive species
just trying to survive

a long way from home.

The drama of a row
of Mediterranean cypresses

swaying at the mere mention
of a breeze. She doesn’t need to know

what kind of trees
separate Pissarro’s climbing path

from the hamlet below.
Made of sturdy cloth, she

wears her shelterbelt
as a declaration of her love

for all that palette knifed green.

She doesn’t dare touch
the canvas (legal or not) again.

A Living Together

If she could
find herself

in a secret ecotone
beside an island salt marsh
in time to wink
at the sound

tide as it drags sediment
into the estuary.

If she could confirm which direction
the wind blows

her mind. If she could swim
in the channel early enough
to witness another egret bend
down its long S-curved neck

to position its dagger
bill for spearing breakfast.

If she could convince
any of you this treading
through brackish waters
would not be worthless,

would not leave a foul taste
on the tongue.

If she could have carried
a little longer
without the body
betraying or being betrayed.

If she could pour enough sand
into her shoes

to keep from chasing away
all that ultramarine dusted
fear tucked into every beautifully
ruined littoral cave.

If she could just remember
the orange lichen’s impulse

to continue existing
on a lighthouse rock foundation
or faded gravestone.
If, then this feeling would be mutual.

Collecting Islands

This return to the mainland
puts an end
to a temporary nomadic life

traversed via planes, trains, cars,
ferries, sailboats, trams,
motorboats, buses, on foot, and repeat.

Islands that are cities. Islands attached to other islands by bridges,
or barrier beaches, or common lore.

The moment Kandinsky’s painting shifted
to the abstract. The moment before
I can no longer identify

the boat in the fog or sea serpent swimming below. Unlike Vanessa
whom I spot immediately in Farm Pond.

A peculiar rain releases
a few drops every five minutes
on the front terrace

of the NYPL flagship building.
A reading between the lions,
someone jokes. Poets raising their voices

to be heard over sirens blaring
on Fifth Avenue. Eavesdropping
in coffee bars over nitro cold brew.

Did he really say
he attended a doll’s wedding?
The bridal shower got canceled

due to a 30-year storm. There’s
the moment a young man named Otto
smiles while we wait

for the ferry on Roosevelt Island.
Some moonsick secrets will remain
forever buried beneath

the octagon. All doors to Union Chapel
in Oak Bluffs are locked when I try
to match an old poem to its truth.

And there’s the ghost of a sign
on the New Haven Union Station platform
that speaks volumes. And the haunting

of seaweed-encrusted rails
to an old boat launch
in Edgartown Harbor: Could they tell

a different tale
involving an underwater subway line
to Chappy?

Another morning, another egret
spotted in a shoreline marsh.
A rookery on Rose Island offers

glimpses between the rocks
of chicks and the adult gulls
that hatched them. Don’t get too close.

It always feels right to arrive
by boat. A rare opportunity
to slip through the Woods Hole

passage and almost touch the shore
of Nonamesset Island on the Seastreak
from New Bedford to the Vineyard.

A blur of out-of-focus photos
I take (not sure how to make)
of the State Beach from a moving bus

reminds me this island
I believe I know so well
cannot be captured—is pure saudade.

The pilot, who I’ve know
since we were six, is not a lunatic.
He knows exactly how to zigzag

the speeding motorboat through
Oyster Pond to Ripley Cove
without hitting one sandbar.

An osprey catches a late lunch
with a quick dive into the ocean
as we watch from the quiet beach.

And, yes, that is a bank of swans
with cygnets swimming in the pond
in the distance we keep.

Back in the middle,
just west of the Mississippi
among all these freshwater lakes,

I see the ducklings have arrived
in Loring Park to soften
this hard return.