Versus

A single row, a ditch, a line
left to cross. It’s another Saturday

morning. Time to turn the soil
while waiting for the coffee

to kick in. No misery lights
are sweeping across the intersection.

A stranger cries out:
“You can’t run from death.”

You keep going up
the hillside in a city park.

You never wait
your turn. You take turns

being the antihero. Strapped
to a beat-up guitar, one of you busks

on a corner in perfect view
of a garden-level apartment

window well. The other sweeps
the margins clean

at the end of the night.
Underwater watchdogs swim ashore

before the next broken wake.

You always find a gem
of a word to mispronounce.

What about Maps?

What about them? I’m looking for him
on the wrong one. The wrong one

on the right map. The corresponding
position of another lost soul
dropping a cloth napkin
in the road

flashes and flutters. I study
the imprint left in the sand and dirt.

Isn’t “What’s your favorite color?”
the question to ask without asking?
The most intimate secret
to reveal to unlock an introvert’s

leaded glass window.
Stained with evidence of course.

Of another rainstorm.
Of another bear pacing because.
Of another language failing.
Of another myth collapsing

in the retelling.
Another one of the lion’s whiskers

gets plucked to trigger
one of the six types of courage.
The bear has whiskers too—
just not the vibrating kind.

An abandoned apartment building
up the hill catches fire again.

I don’t blame the squatters
the way they say I should.

Now that you’ve seen where I learned
to swim, let’s bring the rocks
ashore. The wetlands
have been brimming for decades.

Someone claims
it’s National Heroes Day.

It took too long for me
to realize the hero will never be
a boy. Another sister to the rescue
when the canoe capsizes.

There’s no way to see the entire box
in one frame. Cardboard, or recycled

wood slats, or chewed paper,
or apples softened in the sun
at high altitude. It doesn’t matter
how many Belgiums will fit inside.

The Take No Heroes Hotel
always has a vacancy.

I found her folded inside.
How the lake and sky compete
for the truest blue before it turns
gray along the apparent horizon.

The Cellar Door Was Open; I Could Never Stay Away

Another anniversary of a death,
followed by a milestone of living

in the same place
for three decades.

Why did you think 48 years
would be enough? Everything

was too much. I urged you
to get on a plane.

I took you to the City
on a train. The Island on a ferry.

Ten more years before
I would put down the bottle.

The one we could never pry
from your hand. Why

does every poem I write
about you have to end this way?

Why can’t I invent
a happy ending just once?

We did read poems aloud
on the west bank of the Saint Croix

that one spring day—my first
Minnesota spring.

It hit so suddenly
it knocked the wind out of me.

And nothing compares to arriving
to stay in your town

after civil twilight
on the second day in October.

So many cool breezes
across so many lakes.

The U-Haul truck you drove so well.

Note: The title comes from the song “It’s a Shame About Ray,” written by Evan Dando and Tom Morgan.

Another Shy Kettle

All blinged out in
black metal mesh,
she doesn’t wait
for the bell lap

to rush out the back door
into another beautiful cloudy mess

of a morning.
Nothing left to stare at
or boil. Is it a deadlift
or a heavenly drop

empty handed onto a bridge?
She wishes she could see the ocean

or one of the Great Lakes
through the hole
in the wooden deck—
not 16 lanes of traffic.

And then she vanishes
without so much as a whistle.

There Were Rabbits

Everywhere in the rain.
No thunder. No falling
leaves yet. Wet pavement.
And rabbits. Everywhere

there are wheels
that fell off. A hill
to reckon with. There were words
everywhere in the woods

beside the street.
Stuck to stories
that no one remembers
to tell for years. Words

she would rather sing
than say aloud.
A melody gets entangled
in the branches.

Whole chunks bitten off.
Parallel grooves brand
the bark. A subtle plot
becomes a whittler’s carving.

How those fragments get teased out
remains a secret
only Sappho could whisper
into truth. Not her.

Listening to Jimi Hendrix’s version
of “All Along the Watchtower”
in a van heading to the North Shore,
she’s the one who will slice open

a red cabbage to reveal
the beautifully tragic
spiraling section. Enough
of a lullaby to calm all

those rabbits to sleep.
Or, in another compartment, residue
from immortal sweat (or,
are those tears) tames the urge to kill

off another oracle.
And bless the no-see-ums
that swarm so late
into September.

A Violent Striking Together of Two Bodies

The intensity of calm. The brevity
of long summer days. Free radical

wellness. She can’t justify using
the word oxymoron in a poem.

She can’t justify
any poem she’s written—

left, full, or ragged
right. She’s more dash,

less of a mark. More ruin, less
shame. More hypo, less hyper.

She’s a hand stretching to strangle
a throat into an interesting effect.

A song spoken first. A lullaby iuxta.

Less horizontal, she’s more
a tree not yet ready to crash.

Minnesota Point

I am going to read
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
the way you once did

for a poetry class
as an MIT senior in 1959.
Years before you would begin

sharing your birthday
with me. I am going

to taste seaweed all morning.
Run through dunes with rolled-up
flannel trousers all afternoon.

Come civil twilight,
the hour of our beloved
early December sky,

we will not hear the mermaids
singing. No, it will be a chorus

of selkies humming like giraffes,
chanting like monks,
bursting with life

beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge
to be heard while crossing over.
Salties and lakers pass through.

Ten years now since you slipped into
the horizon—the grayest of blue seams.

Anything with Wings, Dad

“I love my free spirit.
I trust my creative power.
I generate the wind beneath my wings
and enjoy the journey.”
—Michael Nash Mantra

Wielding a broken branch,
a child chases a juvenile gray duck
in the grass.
My heart hurts
to watch the bird
waddle furiously to escape.
Suddenly seeming to remember
it can fly, it glides across the walkway
through cattails to the pond.
A water landing—sweet relief.

Anything with wings, Dad.
Anything with wings.

Utter an Inarticulate Sound

An open blind casts shadow bars
on a blank page mid-morning.

They are a mask—a birch forest
on a tilted globe. You are mistaken

for a monumental stair by a robot
that thinks your ribs

are made for climbing. The takeover
has begun. No crickets or grasshoppers

within earshot to wake you
from the middle of a dream

about an encounter with that singing
curmudgeon in a neglected corridor

on the top floor
of a Victorian apartment house.

Facial expressions nearly legible
by candlelight. You’ve lost track

of what day it is.
The smell of handgun smoke

lingers on the mall
after the muzzle blast dies.

A 300-year-old bur oak splits open
under the stress of rot, weight, age—

drought the final straw.
The park has always had a bird man

who ignores the signs
not to feed the geese, ducks,

pigeons, red-winged blackbirds.
The occasional great blue heron

that fishes in the lake
doesn’t need anyone’s help.

You were once a bumper car stuck
going backwards in figure eights,

before rhythmically slamming into walls
on repeat. You’ve spent your life

trying not to become the ball
crushed into a 2D idea

in mere moments. Night fell

on national chant at the moon day
without so much as a whimper

released from your throat.
Let the howling resume tomorrow.

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.