Poetry | June 01, 2002

Featuring the poems:

  • Brendan
  • Riffing Deciduous
  • Mystery Squid
  • A Buck’s Prints in Winter
  • Fogdog
  • New Cop


Riffing Deciduous

Summer, old bore, though we love the ways

you reduce everything to five shades
of green, one of these days


in a fall of soft tonnage, your stranglehold

on the obvious must end. We need those
deciduous farewells that reveal


from cranberry bog to hogback,

from sea grass to sky at dusk, not red
but its modulations: solferino, murrey,


minium, not yellow but vitelline and those

others nameless as the obscurer insects.
On one of those clarified mornings,


in a nest like a straw handbag

hung to the weather, in a fright wig out on a limb,
in cones of grass and false beards


precariously woven, the instinctive faith

of birds will appear to a walker’s eye.
As if to prove all things must have their time,


the textures of fox sparrows will be

no longer subtle, but flashy and necessary,
until we can trust that if we pay attention


we’ll hear the groaning into being

of things believed in though unseen–a gasp
as chives gain the air, and even before equinox


the sound of a rubbed balloon

as wings chafe cold from the winter-brittle blue.


Mystery Squid

They say it lives miles down

in that wet obsidian

we crawled from, below

Martini’s Law, down where

things, if they can, create

their own light.


All we know

of its country is an accurate

reading of our own ignorance,

but in photographs that thing

looks like a blown-back

umbrella, handle and spokes,

fabric gone, until we

recall it’s twenty feet long,


the size of a tree uprooted and

drifting sidewise where

pressure of depth

has exacted stringency,

and its arms like ten sticky

branches trap prizes


yet to be named, blinks

and inklings, articulated wisps,

eclectic pulsings, a magpie

hoard where no magpie

can live, rhythms fleshed out,

tidbits on which this living

Giacometti thrives.


Where it moves with random

taillights toward memory’s

submarine canyons, our loneliness

is as much without meaning

as silence, our disbelief is only

the self-saving doubt of a fieldhand

witnessing a space shot: “That thing

ain’t going to no moon.”


A Buck’s Prints in Winter

Three weeks after deer season, and except for

an orange flare-up in the wood stove’s window,

the hoard of protective coloring is gone,

even that hunter’s gone who waited with

Death’s patience in leaf fall

and shadow of Gore-Tex on Bald Hill

over there, arrow notched, his miracle fiber bow

engineered to drive a steel tip through cement.

Another human season survived, and this buck’s track

is stamped like three-inch broken hearts

in roadside sand again. He has run coyote gauntlets

from the high pines all the way down to the river,

though nightly now that pack

petitions the hunter Orion with faltering cries

I picture flattening out like wood smoke on the air.

But the murder on my mind’s another

Sunday-night movie plot: sex, sad choices,

and money, that left a toddler

crawling a bloody floor and brought

the media ponies to town,

flexing their famous hair and backing us

to the wall with microphones, getting it all wrong

until the body and the story cooled,

all of it irreconcilable with that buck I’ve watched

drinking in the river, tutelary spirit

of a rain-fogged afternoon, and startled

sweeping downhill as I went to the woodpile,

antlered ghost crashing through brittle reeds,

cattails he burst in passing out of sight

the puffs I thought were gun smoke.



Barely a light at all,

and seemingly without source,

a fogdog comes one or none to a fog bank,

not a small deposit

the sun makes, but otherworldly pale

as a candle held aloft in a house

they floated across this bay

from Long Point or Billingsgate

two centuries ago, as if where droplets

and damps are working on shingles

and fascia boards in these

soft November days

someone were searching yet.


I could say this place

has been storied into meaning

by its humans, but these phenomena

are not metaphors: there’s a twisted

delta-class magnetic field

above sunspot 9715

that’s going to cause explosions

up there, and send gusts of solar wind

toward us around the first of next week.


A fogdog this morning

where the river at full moon

invades the flats back of Egg Island,

and a few days after the Leonid meteor storm

briefly connected all the dots,

a black cloud drove a rainbow before it

as I came to the top of Tom’s Hill–

that moving spectrum another first

in my weather annals.


Things out here on the edge

are traveling with their mysteries again.

Yesterday while I worried these events

the wind unleashed an answer

miles away down the beach and sent it

leaping like a tumbleweed over

washed-up obstacles

to come wicketing past me

as a plastic bucket,

a cracked yellow human construct

churning out groans as it went.


New Cop

He is waxed and polished, as streamlined

from crewcut to steel toes

as this new cruiser my taxes bought him.


If he’s Before, then I’m After,

creased and spindled in all the wrong places,

what he could become,

though I doubt he can imagine

letting his shirttail hang out like this

to indicate it’s one of his better days,


or growing a white beard until

it turns flyaway and his wife-cut hair

freaks whitely from an Orioles cap

as if at the first

tingle from Old Sparky.


Should I excuse myself by telling him

how I have to exercise this left hip joint,

or say I’ve been jogging

and walking this road right here for

a third of a century, so have a claim on it?


Who is this kid, anyway? Nobody

I’ve ever seen in this town of 1,500.

It’s suddenly damp and foggy,

and I’m feeling muskrat shaggy

and a little bagged off, like I just crawled

out of that marsh down there.


Are you a Baltimore fan? he asks.

No, I’m an oriole fan, I say,

the wrong answer because I can see

it’s scrambling his gestalt.


Not a good day for a walk, he says,

watching the eyes behind my bifocals

for the Vacancy sign, waiting

for me to ask when the Pope’s

going to get here with my tuna sandwich.

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