The older the poem
the more uncut words
there are, the more said
the more meaning
thank god for manilla folders
and filing cabinets
for the egomania
of saving drafts

When we go back far enough
through the layers of cosmetics
past the rendering and polishing
and find the excess verbiage
we so cleverly excised that time
we were so clever with the pen-
knife, there in the heap of vowels
and consonants is a word

You must retrieve it, extract it
like a diamond from dung, see
how it pulsates, palpable
the very heartbeat of the poem
is there, the poem that became,
for want of it, a mere shell
a propped up scaffolding of bones
in the shape of something
you thought you knew

You knew nothing, thank god
you knew enough not to throw away
the pages behind the poem
you called finished
to finish well you must always
go back to the start
find out what it was
that stopped the world
and your breath
and had to be written down
what it was that you later removed
to make it all so neat

Neatness is for corpses, remember this
while you are still alive: shun neat
flail, fling, whirl, leap and turn
strive to increase, expand
take up space, fill the world with more
not less of you, use more words
that are pulsing, fewer that are
blank bones

Hva profeten ønsket seg til jul

å gud hvis jeg hadde
et hemmelig språk
ville jeg si noe her
som bare du, ja du ikke gud
skulle lese
og skjønne, det ville lyde
noe slikt: qnwzixssm
og ingen
skulle tørre kommentere
eller beundre
eller misunne
eller fordomme
det som guds håndflate
maler i fingermalingens
tydelige farger
ja da måtte jeg også
ti stille og lytte
og kanskje skjønne
noe som alle disse
vellskapte og gjenkjennlige ord
ikke snakker om
ikke skjønne
ikke sier

Found Poem

Prairie dogs
emerge from their burrows
at dawn
press their hands together
facing east
for thirty minutes

at dusk they return to the burrow
and face west
palms pressed together
for thirty minutes
before going inside

in between this hour
they are as busy
as prairie dogs

busy as a prairie dog
isn’t that a saying?
though we haven’t said
much about them at all
up through the years

now a man has dissected
prairie dog barking
into some hundred items
of communication

there is the word that means
man with gun
and the one that means
man without gun
and the one that means
woman with red shirt

it seems all this time
the prairie dogs
of which only
nine colonies remain
have been watching us
talking about us
among themselves

but when Lewis and Clark
gained a peak
and beheld them
four miles wide
and seven miles deep
prairie dogs had only
use for one word: buffalo

What Barnacles Are Not

Barnacles look like cement
but they are soft, flaky
fragile shells
that crush if pushed
inside a purse
where they don’t belong
or if pecked
by a gull
where they do

so is it all the same?
that I bring one home
from an island called Angel
though the vikings meant angle
a crook to hook a fish on

because I found it at the bottom
of the ocean
attached to a stone
on the ocean floor
one evening when the ocean was not at home
and left its shore open and wide
for me to thieve in

is it all the same
purse or gull
where the illusion of strength

The Girl Waiting for Her Mother in Gina Tricot

waits alone
in a small bubble
her fist so close
to her compact cheeks
to the little knob of her nose
this is it, all of her
right here in this little bag

she drills one finger into a nostril
over and over
but nothing comes out
it is hollow
she is empty
but digs all the same
trying to reach within
since there is nothing without
everything in the world
is right there

it is all so small
and inside the invisible walls
she is huge and alone and insignificant
wiping her dry finger along the counter
as if to leave a trace, a smudge, a smear of her slime
as if to mark a trail in the dust
but at Gina Tricot it has all been wiped away
there is nothing for her to touch
and nothing for her to reach

she rubs and dubs her nose
it is all she has
this distance between nose and fist
but it is not enough
and she doesn’t question
how the world can be so completely full
of nothing
she doesn’t wonder if it could be unlike this
somewhere else
she knows only this, it is everything
and it is

Not one, but two

We drove home talking of the
requiem of our choir in the day-
light of ten-thirty p.m.
parked cloudberry the car
still grumbling over napoleon-
sized Nils who deems himself
King Owner, Anders who holds
his fine voice hostage while
naming his terms, Gunnar
the Entitled by Nature of
his Fluty Voice, all these crumbling
cornerstones that won’t let go
of the institution they wear like badges
like we all do, the prestige of con brio
with spirit, gusto, verv, vivacity, animation,
with get-up-and-go, but they won’t
get it up for con brio, no they are the
Gods of Good Enough, a measure
set by the effort they deign to make

while the rest of us want to sing con brio
want to rattle the three-feet-thick walls
of the medieval church, want to raise Lazarus
from the dust of the crematorium
where we rehearse on Thursday nights

ah, fuck it, I’ll quit, I can retire from choir
even though it is the one civic activity
I have always done and wanted to do
starting back at Robertsville Baptist church
Peggy Mead and I in the alto section of the choir
sitting on puritanically straight backed chairs
staring at the white pages of lines and notes
as we sang led by our ears to the soprano melody
of Just As I Am Softly And Tenderly How Great Thou Art

and later it was the first disappointment
of my marriage, the young man with star blue eyes
who promised we would always sing together in a choir
but never did – con brio was his hometown choir
this is his hometown, now mine
where at ten-thirty at night it is what anywhere else
would be called day, the last sun of April gone down
somewhere beyond the mountain fringed fjord
but the only nocturnal evidence

is the moose that appears like a granular
silhouette shadow of gray and gray against
the dun colored grass, no green here yet
in fact a mound of dirty snow taller than the moose
is to the left of the mailboxes where the moose
is having a look around at the houses
like a visitor to the neighborhood trying to see
the house number of his friend he thinks lives
somewhere around here

a car coming up the hill stops in the curve
pointed like an armed tank toward the moose’s
skinny legs that hold up its Bullwinkle bulk –
the people in the car are watching it, we
are watching it, your arm around my shoulder,
me shooting ill-fated photos with my hopeless phone

a man working near his garage just down from
the mailboxes where the moose’s huge nose
is swaying back and forth scenting for a direction
doesn’t see the moose, Moose! you shout
to warn him and as if on cue another moose
trots forth to replace this one that has decided his fate
lies on the other side of the yellow house, exit
first moose, enter moose number two as if pulled
by an invisible string to the same spot

when moose walk it is a floating motion of exaggerated
ankle bends and knee lifts, the massive body perched
on these thin bone colored legs, and still the beast
floats like a dancer who has no real regard for the solidity
of ground, air is the element of moose movement
silent progress of seemingly impossible proportions

and isn’t that what song is, music as incongruous
and as startling as this sight of the King of the Forest
among our houses, a thing that makes us all stop and gasp
and listen for what we can’t hear but is so obviously there
see what we have no evidence of but know is there
moose floating in and out of our sight
leaving no visible trace
no sound

like song sung con brio
the effect of it,
the thing you try to tell people about the next day
but can’t

they don’t know what it was like the moment
a moose materialized putting an end
to your speculation about the adherence to choir
regulations by the various choral members

shut up and watch the moose with your mouth agape
shut up and sing
con brio
whenever, wherever you can

Not A Muse: The Inner Lives of Women

not a muse
not amuse
not amused
knot of my ooze

all this the interior
of a woman
rooms of a house
that is woman
all the roles
the rolls of women

read one page a day
and you will find me
at the end of one year

you will find me looking
you will find me by looking
I will be the one looking
down looking for something
hidden something lost
something I feel I lost
though I don’t know it
by name or shape
only know it is missing
so I go on looking

and you go on reading
there are many more pages
of poems, many more poems
of rooms of states of ages of eras
the book is as thick as a bible
though here there is more room
between words

the empty spaces have their own language
they are what we are not
defining, there is not
a muse to be seen in the whole place, just rooms
the interior spaces

each room a name of an age
of woman, and I
you will find me where they found
it meet and fitting to put me
among the keepers of secrets

I had not known myself
which room on the interior of woman
was mine, but when I see the title on the door
I know it is home, it has always been home

and this is why everything I say
and don’t say is a woman’s articulation
manifestation, transfiguration, transubstantiation
of what is not said, do you hear

do you hear
what I say is what is not said
and this is how you know me
this is how you hear me tell you
my name, it echoes
in all the empty spaces
between the jots and loops and tittles

where the voice resides
like a hum, a purr, resonance of a mechanism
ticking, ticking, like a heart marking the minutes
marking the words, five thousand or more
words not to amuse but to silence you
to make you listen, here

hear my heart hear me swallow hear
me not tell you anything
and everything
in the same word

List Hobbies and Interests Here

This is what they want
all those singles sitting in
front of computer screens in
rooms called living or study

When they compose
their likes and dislikes
it boils down to this:
an evening walk through a forest
then up a mountaintop
with a big brown dog
return to a hearth: candles, good wine, a fire
the sharp taste of cheese imported from Britain
swirls of foam on a real espresso
talk of literature and film
music in the background, something baroque

but what they don’t write
in their profiles, the unforeseen mark
of compatibility in outlook, aesthetic, desire
is that these two women
followed down the mountain by the big brown dog
on their way to cheese, wine, candles, fire, espresso
have each picked up a stone
the one broad and square, a solid base
the other a hand-sized paisley teardrop

the women walk down the mountainside
each holding a white stone
in her left hand
she has picked up along the way
to show the other

In Transit

finding somewhere
to put things, finding something
to say, saying someone’s
name like something
familiar, a taste
a satisfying texture
like squeaky crunch of snow
when all the world is white
and shadow free

another person would
see only clutter
in all this you call
home, all these things
covered in your fingerprints
all this that has nowhere
to go

Place Response Here

Come on
talk to me don’t talk
in teletype canned responses
corresponding in cadence and chronology
to what I said I mean fuck I feel like
a fill in the blank with a logical response on the dotted line you will be graded
on how precisely your response directly reflects the prompt

It was not a prompt I wrote
It was not a proof that needing your logic imposed
your admonitions and instructions your you should you should you should
this that this that means this means that

This is not a conversation
This is not communication
This is two teletype machines feigning intelligence
Almost human enough to enjoy the clack of their own keys
smack the regurgitated flavor of comeuppance of feed
back you think you told me something hear this hear that

so every word I breathed was a backdraft
blocked on its way out of my mouth by your word
that was bigger and better and brighter
because it was yours and you know better than anyone how to cross
the t’s dot the i’s place the full stop on all these words
we throw at one another like flares saying here here here I mean
hear hear hear me speak I am trying to speak
don’t take my words away

Making a living









The Man

The Man Who Hated Women
is on the shelves just out new release wow
last year it was The Man Who Loved Yngve
everyone raved about just had to read
after the film came out
and before that the revival of The Man Who
Mistook His Wife for a Hat onstage all the rage

Maybe it’s the same man
Maybe there is just one man
mistook his wife for a hat so now
he hates women and loves Yngve who
by the way is a man too
so no, there isn’t one man there’s two:
and the guy everyone writes about

How Snow

how snow softens
the blow
of silence

how silent bursts
of sounded rage
in unvoiced thoughts
like the wind carried
a few brown leaves
up from autumnal graves last week
and laid them on the thawing ground
saying, See, Spring again will come
there will be green warm ground
believe me

and I believed
but now the same wind
treacherously indifferent
lays the snow heavy wet shroud
over the muffled ground
the forgotten leaves
the voices
that dared to speak

Yes, but

yes but you said No
I said
Yes can mean no
I agree
or disagree
English has no word
for the French word si
the Scandinavian jo
the negation of a negative
the affirmation of what
you didn’t mean or
rather what you did mean
was wrong

count the words
tally the wrongs
go on
lay them in store
let them be
your wealth
your layby
for hard times
to come

days of roses
and pansies

The Girl is In Love

The girl is in love
can’t stop talking about
you know, all the details, the mundane
specialities, the quirks

being in love is like having
an obsession, seeing through a filter
a lens that puts everything into
the same perspective

she can’t talk about anything
not food the post the weather
or a good night’s sleep without mention
of the beloved, everything relates
everything points back to the one concern
of her heart

so there is no doubt the girl is in love
with her wedding

Walls of Water, No Door

You are controlling the ocean
he said when I said
perhaps I am too controlling or rather
I am used to being in control it is
the one skill I was taught
it kept me from growing up

what did they want those parents
who wanted a third adult in their seven year old
who stroked her hair saying we can count
on you honey

you be the good one we can count

controlling the ocean? I mused
while the walls, the office building windows,
the fake persian rug and rattatan furniture
the ekorn stratalounger the cheap
box of kleenex all went crashing under
churned in the snorting, tossing, galloping
uncorralled ocean

Coming Home at Nine

I got Marilyn in the bag
and big fat strawberry chews
and big fat strawberries covered
in chocolate
white for you
milk chocolate for me
I got nougat
wrapped in that thin
paper you can eat
and Malabar espresso beans
from India
acid-free the lady said
in the foreign food shop
No! real! she said, quite insulted
when I asked if the strawberry chews
were fake, if they were candy

they looked like candy
like cheap candy at 13.90 a bag
but she tossed the bag on a scale at the checkout
13.90 a hecto
so they got to be real

and I got a four-novels-in-one volume
of John Steinbeck, and an English reader
for Gymnasium from 1951
and a three-novels-in-one volume
of an author I never heard of
but the jacket quoted the Post and Times
saying he is an American treasure
we should know about

and I got Roald Dahl’s stories for grown-up
and The Bloomsbury Reader, a cross-reference
that says if you liked this author
you will also like that one
the same with books
it directs you through a literary
maze of must reads
a must, I thought, for our library
which is twelve or fifteen
or some such number of bookcases
bookcases in every room
bookcases as common as chairs
in our house

so when you said Bring me a present
I knew it had to be a book or two
I got five actually
and when I found the Marilyn Monroe hatbox
I had to bring her home to you too

so I sent my carry-on as luggage
with the books, and Marilyn’s got the coffee
and chewy candy looking strawberries
in her hatbox, and I’ve got Marilyn
in a big brown paper bag
and all I have to do now is decide
if you get her for Christmas
or for when I get home at nine
you said we’ll have spaghetti boulagnaise
if the plane’s on time
which it is, I am sure because I heard
the message bell tinkle on my phone
right as the woman next to me
got buzzed with a message
and the two bald men in matching blue shirts
that match the blue of the waiting lounge chairs
they both got messages and reached
like synchronized swimmers into their back pockets
as the old woman in the rain parka
and tennis shoes also got a message

all these phones pinging and zinging
so it was obvious the airline had sent little
welcome on board reminders
to get ourselves to the airport
so I didn’t bother to look at my phone
since all the others looked at theirs
and remained calm

all that’s left for me to do
is what criminals have always done:
line up and lay my finger on the pad
and they’ll let me through the gate
carrying Marilyn with her big fat
chocolate covered chewy strawberries
we’ll have for dessert
we’ll drink espresso from India
we’ll read a story at bedtime
so set the table, open the wine
I’ll be home at nine bearing gifts
all these and more I may have forgotten
just for you, for nobody else
but you