All I Can Hear Tonight

All I can seem to hear tonight
Are Dylan’s fingers squeaking on the strings,
The quartet’s grunts and sniffs
As they wrestle with Beethoven,
Alfred Brendel humming along
With a Schubert sonata,

And all I can seem to hear tonight
Is the train rumble under the cellist’s feet,
Pigeons making noisy love in the rafters
While the sopranos launch below,
Miles Davis telling Teo to play that back, Teo,
Teo, play that back,

And Teo plays it back,
The fumbled chords,
The false starts,
The traffic noises,
And a laughing Robert Plant tells Jimmy Page no
Leave it, yeah and they left it and
I’m hearing it all tonight,
It’s all I can seem to hear.

(First published in slightly different form in Alternate Route #10, Summer 2023. Thanks to editor Michael Starr.)

Pulling Weeds

A slow turn of the wrist, the skin of the earth rips
With a whisper of tearing canvas, dozens of tiny fingers
Unwilling to let go, branching into the lung diagram
From your oncologist’s office, sometimes an earthworm
Squirming in the shuddering root ball, dying of sunlight.
Holding so much desperation, such clotted will to live
Returns me to the foggy chaos of the calving,
The vet winching clogged life from the bellowing cow
Until it plopped steaming by her thrashing legs,
Persisting in the frozen morning where I watched,
Wide-eyed, the battle of what he ratcheted to life.
“Find a surgeon to cut that clean out,”
The ER doctor drawled, holding that first x-ray,
But sometimes they resist our determined tug and twist.
I see them spawning as I pass the lawns of neighbors,
Stretching for the life we want for others,
Hunger deeper than our hands can pull.

(First published in slightly different form in Susurrus, Summer 2023. Thanks to the editors.)

I Like to Read About the Ancients

I like to read about the ancients,
Sitting in their little stone houses,
Figuring it all out:

The sun? A chariot pulled by horses.
Disease? Demons pricking you
With tiny pitchforks.
This planet? A bright coin
In the palm of a giant,
His long hair streaming constellations.

Much research remains to be done.
How do the sun’s horses live in the sky?
What are the tiny pitchforks made of?
What will happen if the giant drops the earth?

The horses falter in the flames.
The tips of the tines sink deeper.
The ocean coves tremble like jelly
In the giant’s tiring hand.

(First published in Alternate Route #10, Summer 2023. Thanks to editor Michael Starr.)

My Pretty Roosevelt

Be my Roosevelt,
My four-term President
With a new deal underneath your bright skirt,
Legs shining like US steel,

Someone whom “dapper” still fits,
Cigarette perched in
Its mother-of-pearl holder,
Clamped tight
In your glittering teeth,

And it’s okay
If your other lover
Sleeps with another lover
In your fine white house,

And it’s okay
If while kissing babies for cameras
Atom bombs fall through your head,

And if we sit knee-to-knee
With drunken ministers
And mustachioed murderers,
Plot to make Evil
Blow his foolish brains out,

The bits falling like ticker tape
On the cheering crowds
As the sailor bends the woman back
And drinks deep
And I turn to you,

Will you still be waiting
With that campaign smile,
My pretty Roosevelt?

(First published in Alternate Route #10, Summer 2023. Thanks to editor Michael Starr.)

Running Trails

Heaving lungs thick with honeysuckle, grasshoppers fleeing my dangerous shoes
in whirring clouds, disappear, reappear in repeated alarm,
Following the long beckoning finger in the grass, a shining signaling
to a compass spinning within,
An unspooling unsolvable riddle, to follow without arriving, to always be arriving,
always on the verge of it, always almost there, around the next bend
Turning to another bend, twisting persistent expectation,
heading to what I continually hope

Will be the unknown shimmering like heat in shadow, an endless reprise
of W. Eugene Smith’s “The Walk to Paradise Garden,”
That photograph which long ago drew me to the question of its light, never about
the sweetness of his children, that ball of alien bright just ahead of
The familiar darkness where they held hands, stepping into a promise of who knew where,
where were those children going, limitless openings,
Light leading to dark to light to dark in a forever of fearless inquiry,
through an eternity of worlds unwrapping like gifts,

Running away from my frantic parents on a trail in the woods,
Not one of my typical rebellions,
Simply unable to hear them for this latest mystery unwinding,
the cry of an infant universe was deafening,
Drowning out their human fears, a state park footpath transformed into
the boundless highways of the ancient roamers,
How often have I thought of them, tracking seas of creatures across a cryptic land
where their maps spoke no language,

Surely even these men, brutally organized for threat and profit, would pause,
the horizon thick with strange and surely their minds unmoored,
That fourth morning of the sesshin when the wall in front of me dissolved
into the not-knowing,
The terrible joy of leaning into the edge of the empty, then pulling back,
the wall and our names for things sadly returning,
The heaven my ego was saving itself from, my helpless struggle to resume
that beautiful confusion where all my knowledge was babble,

Heaving lungs thick with honeysuckle, even this trail countless times
over many years, still roused by the same corner just ahead,
Knowing exactly the ruined cedar that will be there,
gray bark peeling in shavings like an ogre’s pencil,
Yet also knowing that what I think will be the cedar is science fiction,
that I will be outlived by an infinity of possibilities,
My one past zipping shut behind my rushing feet, a dream I misremember,
each labored breath and step the only now, and now, and now.

(First published in Susurrus, Summer 2023. Thanks to the editors.)