New Poems (and paintings) 2017

Paintings Chronicles: Poems from Arizona History In Costa Rica Photographs from winter and springtime The Kafka Within, an essay Books Fires of Change Translations A Walk Along the Wash - Poems from Ahwatukee Creature comforts: our menagerie New Poems (and paintings) 2017 Night Upon Night

First Day                                              Verse-Virtual

Time is a Western Highway               Slipstream

The Road Beside the Border              Verse-Virtual

Life Goes On                                       The New Verse News

Yard Sale                                             Unstrung   KEP

The Surfacing                                     Poem

Still Life with a View                           Canyon Echo

Raining                                               Cactus Wren-dition

Tempest Variations                             Verse-Virtual

The Hurricane in Arizona                  Dissident Voice

Villages at Vigneto                              Slipstream

Border Crossings                                Border Crossings

Lost Time                                            Dissident Voice

First Day

 

A rainy day murmuration

is strung along the power lines

that run above the alley

back of the house. It’s the first day

 

and the winter branches

on the yard’s most desperate trees

against the sodden clouds.

look afraid of what’s to come

 

as all the clocks in Heaven say

it’s time to change your passwords,

travel light, and flock

together for protection.

 

 

Time is a Western Highway

 

The asphalt hums

past desert mountains draped

from low cloud where the housing

thins to scrub

and billboards offer

one last chance before the wilderness

begins.

           Thirty miles

from Gila Bend a harrier

skirts the creosote with wings

spread flat as the winter miles

around him.

                    From a rock cradled

in the land a petroglyph scorpion

turns its sting toward

the future; a ladder

leans against another century;

snakes uncoil between the ancient

and the modern age

                                 while a road

runs from hawk to hawk

to a river that replaced

the one that disappeared

                                          and two

dry driving miles away

the Mexican border is stretched

between the earth and sky.

 

 

The Road Beside the Border

 

This is the road of laughing stones

beneath the wheels of cars that visit for a day

lying quietly and close

to clouds that soften ridges

cut from rhyolite.

                             It bends around the o

in ocotillo, and thins to a whisper

near Lukeville, where traffic

bears the names of Tresguerras, Lala, Castores

and Frio Express from Hermosillo

to Baja California.

                              It listens to the music

from a radio that carries

on cold air across

the iron fenceposts, while a raven

on a Mexican saguaro barks

                                                above the noise

toward a raven in Arizona. How

insignificant the fence appears

that crawls up one slope and trickles

down another

                       from where a bobcat

stops to look. When the highway

on the other side is spurred

to hurry by an untranslatable growl,

the road to Quitobaquito

                                       is the one

that walks.

 

 

Life Goes On

 

Light in the window blinds marks a beginning

and the historians are busy.

Sparrows in the orange tree

sing morning news

as coffee water wakes up to a boil.

There aren’t enough votes

to stretch the darkness into one more hour of sleep.

The choice is rebellion

or breakfast. Waffles today,

served without discussion

over anything but music. A bad dream

sticks to the plates though,

and won’t wash away. The water swirls

around and around

in the eye of a storm.

 

*

 

A wounded train cries out to the rain

that there is still far to go.

The sidewalks are polished misery.

In the park the cormorants rest on their island

with the dripping palms

and hang out their wings to dry.

When the telephone rings

somebody speaks in Spanish, so quickly

the words fly off around the kitchen

where they can’t be caught

and understood. I’d like to be friendly

but this isn’t a day for it. It still feels uncharitable

to simply hang up

and a weak apology is the best I can summon.

There goes my voice

through the wire stretched across the yard

where the pigeons with their cold, pink claws

are waiting, whatever the weather.

 

*

 

There’s a somber warning

in the news again, and hummingbirds

flashing their gorgets

against a morning thundercloud.

Weeds take hold

of more territory each day

and legislation of hurricane force

is being signed into law

as we pull them.

 

*

 

Between the cats who show up to be fed

and coyotes running wild in the neighborhood

we’re not sure which side to be on.

The yard is eerily still this morning

 

while the sky fans its feathers

and a talon scratches the silence open.

Families have been divided, friendships

 

broken, but the homeless men

sitting in a vacant lot

have nobody left to betray them, and nothing

 

but the cold wind for company.

No use telling them

to join the crowd now gathering to make the best

of the situation, having learned

 

to laugh away our anger

and play the rain like harp strings when it falls.

 

*

 

A Fire Department ambulance blocks two lanes

next to the light rail station

where a man is lying down, too far gone

to appreciate

 

that the day’s faraway events might

have repercussions for him

when he awakens

and attempts to stand up

with nothing to hold on to. Flashing lights,

 

a siren, and the ambulance

leaves without him. We don’t know the protocol

for stopping to smell a person’s breath

 

and test his viability

in a time so burdened with violence and tragedy

that we bleed

from other people’s wounds.

 

Yard Sale

 

It’s time to purge

the house of excesses: teapots, magazines

and amethyst

that outlived usefulness. The shelves

in the back room breathe again

now their burdens are displayed on the lawn

for the taking. Here’s a set

 

of plates embellished

with faces from Hollywood, and a gramophone

that won’t play any record made

since George Jones died. Here’s

a television whose picture froze

the day the president was killed, and a newspaper

that crumbles when you turn

its pages. Take these shoes

 

worn down by worry,

vases that bloomed

beyond their time, a cabinet

filled with regrets,

eight-track tapes, videos and memories

without machines to play them.

These mysteries

 

can’t stand reading more than once

but they’re good until you know

the endings, as opposed

to the diaries which contain a family’s secrets

from the name long hidden

of the youngest child’s father

to the reasons two sisters

once close became distant and embittered.

Put this seashell to your ear

 

to listen to the arguments that drove

them apart, and if you raise this shot glass

to the light

you’ll see the friendly uncle

we had to throw out

when his politics became an embarrassment.

Look at how

 

these kettles gleam, at the nibbled

edges on the letters

bundled for storage

in a box along with good intentions

and the tickets

for a journey never taken.

Here is all

 

our paint-by-numbers past,

the medals without a cause, summers

kept in airtight jars

and winters in the ash can by the hearth.

Everything must go

 

from the steak knives and fruit bowls

to the cousins who arrived so long ago

they forgot they weren’t invited.

We have to make space for coming days

when we’ll scatter bird seed

to lure back

species from extinction.

 

 

The Surfacing

 

Fear holds its breath under water

as it rises from the dark

and wet way down, navigating

every narrow turn along

the network of pipes by folding back

its ribs to fit

in places you’re too anxious

to inhabit. It doesn’t make a sound,

surprises everyone

with its ability to swim,

and stops at nothing to appear

when least expected

with its little nose twitching

just above the water level. Here

it comes, soaked in nightmares,

where you are about to

sit, and O God, the most

surprising thing is

the sweetness of its face, the insatiable

curiosity dripping

from its whiskers.

 

 

Still Life with a View

 

Begin with an operatic

crockery item:

                     place it at the center

of the world where it

engenders fear that a wrong touch

will send it tumbling into shards

with the desert shimmering

behind it. Now arrange

some stones,

                 but with more balance

than in nature; almost enough

to tip the table to the right

were it not for the soft weight

in a peach positioned

to facilitate comparison

between flavor

                    and the solid Earth.

Make space for green

to break through: the slender leaves

that tap into air, the fleshy

ones whose world

is a clay pot, and the ones that flow

toward the foothills

                            where they turn

into light. Have the room

be a refuge for birds who accept

whatever space is given them

to animate the foreground

while in the wide expanse outside

a hummingbird

                      is perched

on the whorl of a fingerprint.

Take this moment

as a breath

               being held to preserve it,

an exercise in swift

creation with no chance

for redress should the mountain collapse

or the photograph pinned to the wall

fade when rain is all

that remains of a forest in the clouds.

Raining

 

It’s raining poison dart frogs, raining

leaves onto leaves, raining hours,

minutes, and seconds filling up

the years.

            Each afternoon at two o’clock

it rains. It begins with a few drops feeling

their way back to colonial times

and continues until

the Quakers arrive and clear a space

for rain that turns to grass

when it touches the earth.

                                   The bellbirds

have grown quiet

waiting for the rain to stop

and the strangler fig

tightens its grip.

                      Down one flank

of a volcano it rains ash,

down the other orchids, and rivers

leave their banks behind

as they race each other

to the sea.

             The rain subverts

the roots by which trees grip

topsoil for as long as the water

has strength to hold them; it softens

the ground where a jaguar walks

and washes away its scent

when it has turned into steam.

                                          It rains

nails for thunder

to hammer down, rains dance steps

on a tin roof, and beads

the strands a spider weaves between

one storm and the next.

                                There’s an antshrike

rain, tanager rain, a rain

to guide leaf cutter ants,

rain that thickens into mist

and rain as green as the macaws

that streak across the canopy.

                                        There’s a

spectacled rain that looks down

with the owl from a branch

above the river

where a caiman’s eye

is floating.

             An iguana

gives the creases in his skin

up to the rain, a blue morpho folds

its wings around the only secret

it has to keep, and on the lagoon

reflections scatter beyond hope

of reassembling.

                     Lianas are draped

between showers, while the palms

that walk, step a little

left or right beneath

howler monkeys hanging

from the rain.

                  Rainwater flows like sleep

on high ground and the low

in a nightlong rush until

the forest is calmed

with rain sliding from the foliage,

but trying to hold on

                             and inside

every drop as it falls

is an insect singing.

 

 

Tempest Variations

 

I

Comes a moment when the river

slows, the summer heavy foliage

falls silent, the city walls turn pale,

church towers shiver

against the blackening sky

while the young man in his uniform

loosens his collar and wipes

the lightning from his brow.

 

II

Thunder fills two porcelain

jugs to overflowing

where they balance on a wall

between moths drawn to the light

that is the universe

and the one whose wings vibrate above

a single, colored flower

of the Earth.

 

III

All the skyline is a madrigal

and the ruins sing of long ago

while the river does not listen

as it follows time

to the beat of raindrops,

slow at first, then

building to a gallop with nobody

holding the reins.

 

IV

Behind the clouds an angry god

is beating metal sheets

where once

he hammered sunlight

from a forge.

 

V

The first flash cleaves the sky in two:

half for the few

who own all the land, half

for the many who work it. And alone

at the roadside, a woman

weighs an empty hand

against the one that holds her child.

 

VI

The light lasts a second

that reveals a soul

inside everything alive.

 

VII

In the calm before

there’s a scent of jasmine

and a bramble with blood

on its thorns. In the calm that follows

there’s a soldier who’s lost

and a ripple in the clouds

where a thunderbolt passed through. 

 

VIII

It happens unexpectedly, the darkening

and the taste

of moisture in the air

before a drop has fallen. There is

silence deep enough for a fox’s

den, then the crack

in an ornamental vessel

is the first sound. It becomes

a glacier when it breaks.

The Hurricane in Arizona

 

Pictures of the hurricane

wash across a television screen

with a diagram revolving

in one corner

showing red and yellow

energy like anger

that doesn’t care which way it goes.

A news anchor’s voice

 

is audible from the porch at a house

in dry country, whose monsoon

season is fading to a final

rumble from across

the mountains to the south

as hummingbirds around

suspended glass feeders

are constantly in motion. The Rufous

 

are pausing from migration

and the Broad-billed preparing for theirs.

While they anticipate

the flight and water

has its way with Florida

the hills close by

don’t know the plans

to strip and drill into them, using

a billion gallons in a year

 

of prying silver from darkness

beneath the summer swallows,

oak trees and mesquite

that survive on seventeen inches

of annual rain. A six foot

storm surge is making easy work

of the Keys, weaving power lines

 

into a tangle, and taking trees at will.

The forecast is for

more destruction as the eye

steers north; buildings swept aside;

 

diesel in the air when

a column of trucks carries off the daily

waste on the once quiet roads; poison

in the water, and a monumental appetite

for minerals. In their brightly

colored anoraks, reporters

sway on their feet

 

and describe what water

is doing right now. The view

across the valley here

is almost lush in its September glow

and the streams that run there

are clean. We say

still clean, as everything is still

what it has been

for life above ground, for the Violet-crowned

 

hummingbird suspended

from the sky

like a drop of bright moisture

with wings.

 

 

Villages at Vigneto

 

Turn on a faucet in the kitchen

of a new house among houses

built close to a river that has been

redirected to serve

domestic needs, and out comes the first

Vermilion flycatcher followed

by Yellow-billed cuckoos, a Gray hawk,

grosbeaks, warblers, vireos, doves, jays,

and struggling through the plumbing

a badger prepared to gnaw through

every chair leg he can find.

It won’t be long

before the orioles appear, and after them

a Coachwhip and a garter snake.

Some turtles thud as they drop

into the basin, then two dozen

sparrow species come

back into the light

after their journey through darkness

left behind when the current

weakened and the water was too little

to sustain them. A bobcat shakes the last

moisture from his fur

as sunlight spreads its dusk glow on the window

and the bats arrive. It’s too late to turn

the faucet off. Too late

to put the river back

where it belongs.

Border Crossings

 

I

It was a sunny day between the wildlife refuge

and open range; a day on which

the sky was floating overhead while the earth

unrolled itself before us. A barrier fell

across the road between countries that shared

a great peace, where an officer slept

the summer sleep of flies. His coffee

was cold, his gun

safely holstered, and the baseball page

lay open like a flag of surrender

on the ledge of his booth. When he suddenly

stood to attention, he screamed

until his face blushed, and we,

who had nothing to declare, presented

our documents and listened

as each vertebra in his spine clicked

into place.

 

II

The border ran straight

between day and night

and the train would not stop

for darkness. Our passports were our tickets

and were taken away

for as long as it required

to verify identities

and make a list of who was going where

and when and why.

                         A dictatorship

had run its course.

                         The new regime,

being inexperienced

and undecided as to how to use the power

it inherited, treated every tourist

as a spy.

 

III

The trees changed their nationality around me:

pines, birches, spruce;

each with its roots deep in history

and me

with nowhere in particular to be,

wandering unaware

that taking sides extended

to the forest

                whose guardians

never rest, but watch from among the fallen

leaves for intruders, such as I

became. They took me into custody

and waited for reports

of a crime for which to accuse me.

 

IV

We sat in Cold War sunshine

on grass beneath

towers close enough for us to see

machine guns in the lazy grip

of border guards

to whom we waved as if

they were on our side. They waved back,

took off their caps, stroked

their brows, and tossed a smile

across the razor wire fence.

 

V

On a downslope trail

among trails often littered

with discarded clothes and backpacks

 

a family group came, wiping the night

from their faces and looking

for a cousin lost somewhere behind them.

They were ready to surrender

 

if it meant that he’d be found.

Although they all wore walking shoes

they were barefoot in their minds.

 

VI

The river led the way. Slowly and sheltered

by cottonwoods it moved

north and north again

until the blue mountain was far

away and rocking

on the slightly out-of-tune

music that played

on radios at home. The men followed,

 

cleaving to the bank

while Yellow-billed cuckoos above them

made k-knocking calls

above their whispers. They sensed

 

somebody present, and when

they saw us seeing them

they suddenly lost

the courage that had carried them

to these borderlands

where nobody can tell

a betrayer from a friend.

 

VII

At that time of year the wind

blew in all languages

across the cities and the desert

and clouds came close

to the ground where a metal railing ran

to mark where one life could begin

and another end; it all

                               depended on

choosing a moment when fate

lit up a cigarette and looked

the other way. It only took a second

for the smuggler

                      to turn around and run

back to being just

another Sunday citizen at home.

 

VIII

At the far end of a moonlit street

was a country beneath a grim star.

It drew us

who wanted to know its secrets

and we stood in line although we did not need to

for as long as it took to be admitted

 

the way interrogation lights

drew moths

on quiet nights.

 

 

Lost Time

 

My wake-up call was a request

for my password to enter the day,

following which

my rights were read concerning

the choices available for breakfast.

I forgot the PIN

for opening the door,

but remembered the number to call

for assistance, which led

to a long conversation with a recording

that knew my every question in advance.

The postman delivered a sack

containing requests for money

from candidates and volunteers

and institutions, every one

of whom insisted that the world would end

should I refuse them. I spent

the afternoon learning

my social security number by heart

and addressing envelopes

To Whom it May Concern

in hopes that somebody would know

how to log back in

to my life, and turned on the television

to watch the day’s news

but a voice announced This is only a test.

Then the power failed, the computer screen

light shrank to a dot,

and the credit cards wilted in my hand

when I was ready to pay any price

if I’d only have known

what it was I wanted back.