Poetry | September 01, 1999

Featuring the following poems:

  • The Cold War
  • Bygones
  • The Anniversary
  • Cenotaph
  • Underdrawing
  • To the Magpie on the Roof of the Manger


The Cold War

My mother nods off. A lit cigarette

Elegant between her long fingers.

The arm of the divan riddled with burns.


Lightning, out of sync, preens the maple.


What is the square root of yesterday?

How did I solve for the door ajar?

There’s no end to it, my father would say.


My mother nods off. A lit cigarette

Elegant between her long fingers.

The burns like islands on an oily sea,


The obsolete map of an archipelago

Where the Bomb was tested year after year.

There’s no end to it, my father would say


And ask me to warm up his drink.

The unknown, the variable we call it.

Upholstery smoulders more than it flames.


Lightning, out of sync, preens the maple.



What is the past but everything:

The not-there between memory

And foreground, between suffering

And a moment’s hardened amber?

Still, each word gives way to silence

And I must reinscribe this scrawl,

This impermanent graphite ghost

As signature on these torn scraps.

In the end I will be voiceless.

The earth that held me down will hold

Me once again, unforgiven,

Without a plea. Once, I listened

And heard far off the fire break

Ignite with the song of crickets.

I heard a cold wind at loose ends

In the brambles and witch hazel.

I heard my brother say his prayers,

Not as rehearsed words enacted,

But with a child’s solemnity.

I heard the snap of a dog’s jaw,

The thud when the truck knocked it down.

I heard the refrain, I ain’t got


Stuck as these lines stick in my mind,

But the rest of the song was lost:

Each unsaid word driven in edgewise,

A silence etched by burin and acid.


The Anniversary



The constellation Virgo harbors a black hole at its center, but tonight I see the moon, ordained, a basilica of salt, mouthing its one secret like a saw-whet owl, and all that might be culled, collected, and classified beneath it, named as a disposition of objects, as a taxonomy, an order, a genus, or subject matter, is smeared with this salvaged and chalk-dry light, this fine-grained and corrosive distillate, this heirloom dust that gathers on the pearl button of the glove, its little satin noose.




When I said, “But tonight I see the moon,” I did not tell the whole truth, for I have not even looked outside, but have relied on the conventions of memory, and with a word or two the moon, like a body under siege, wears thin outside my window, the moon forages in the attic, the moon is hauled up like a broken whetstone from a well, for that is what I do with a word or two: avoid scrutiny, avoid measuring the lead weight of my own heart.





In the shallow domain of light’s fitful flare,

An aviary of silt and minutia drifts:

Pinpoints of citron, lilac, and sulfur,


Chips of shell-pink, a medusa’s plume and ruff,

Coral cleaved and sundered, its dust offcast,

A constellation untied from its mooring.


How close the splintered sun that bracelets my wrist.

I reach down through to the edge of my seeing,

Beyond the fan vaulting of bladder wrack,


Through eel grass, through fallow shadow realms,

But I cannot pull you back to the surface,

You who are the body of confession,


The cold weight of water that unearths a grave.




The night above you is a capsized hull:

No air finds its way through the caulked seams.

How long did the crescent moon trawl in the wake?


How long before the wake itself collapsed?

Before North and South held the same compass point,

Marked the same unfathomable distance home?


Nothing can hold the body for long.

Burned by salt’s caustic, ropes would frazzle

And a canvas shroud, rived and flayed,


Would let loose the dark matter of its cargo,

Thus I offer only provisional words:

Each a winding sheet of reef wind and white wash,


Each a tattered disguise for the travesty.




From a distilled essence of quartz and rose,

From a gramarye of psalms and waves,

From strewn stones and a hazel rod,


I have built this empty tomb for you.

Let its fretwork of shadows be your raiment.

Let thunder’s phosphor light your way.


Grief is weightless and hard-shelled

Like a seed carried on an updraft,

A seed set down on hostile soil.


I have built this empty tomb for you,

Which the tide will bury and not exhume.

Sleep as silt sleeps in its dark fall and depth.

Sleep as silt sleeps in its dark fall and depth.



The wind-brindled marsh surface,

The dunes overthrown by flood tide,

The length of Salt Island Road to its dead end,


Are now a charcoal stain burnt beneath zinc and titanium,

The abandoned gestures of a night’s edge.

Nonetheless, a fish hawk hunkers beneath the downpour:


A smudge beyond the blown rain, a ragged effigy

Of nothing I can honestly name. Yet in my idleness,

I ravel the hermeneutics of talon and wingspan,


Of updrafts, windsheer, and angles of descent.

I wipe the glass, but it fogs again. I wipe the glass,

But soon cannot see through the marks my hand has left.


To the Magpie on the Roof of the Manger

You hid each star but one in a shallow shadow box,

A relic-filled cabinet of curiosities,


And let the wind rifle the tinder. And let the wind

Refurbish the straw, the stalls, and the dovecote’s niches.


What happens to a moment held captive, a moment

Torn away, ransacked from the dull continuum?


In your beak, you hold a marble in which the world–

Shrunken, drawn long, upside down-is as round as this world


That deceives us with horizons and vanishing points,

The parallel rows of grapes that touch in the distance,


The far away where all is drawn together at last.

From here, I can even see myself in the marble-


Bent, distorted, the sky below me a blue pit

Over which I hang headfirst, confused like the damned.

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