It’s heavy


Is there a name for the lie
that comes when you are still and
something moves – the bus or the
car next to you – and in your lost
connection there, for just a moment,
you believe that you’ve moved –
it sat still! – for just a moment
you broke the world
and lived an illusion.

You were a ghost,
moving without a host
in the opposite direction
from some stuck thing.

What is it called, this lived mystery,
this excitement of the unexpected
(but still so possible) game that
living plays with the sleepwalking world?

What is the word for this thing
that unmoors the man from the body
and why only forward or reverse?

Why does that never happen
with the snow? With the rain?

Why can I not lay down on the damp earth of the forest
and freeze the falling autumn leaves
to let me believe, for a moment
that I am floating upwards?
To believe that they are stuckstill
in the sky and all the motion’s mine?

I never climb.

Back at the Bakery

Never the jelly donut, Private Pyle.

My presence at the bakery usually brings down the average age by several years. It’s a crowd of octogenarians shouting above their hearing aids about Trump, gout, and the pharmacy that gets their prescriptions wrong. I’m able to be young here, which is nice. After a few minutes of eavesdropping, I get the earbuds going loud enough to shut out the world a bit.

The weather’s just turned cold enough to remind me of the poem I wrote in and about (sort of) this place, The Original Bakery. They talked me into having the rhubarb coffee cake this morning, something I’ve never seen here before. I’m glad I said yes – a thing I find to be true more and more often as I get older.


The Rally Point

At the bakery in winter the old men hold the door
for their trundling wives. The wind is urgent and
less polite and elbows past them as if to jump
the line, which would move faster if there were

labels on the offerings of the trade – the bear
claws and crullers and streusels and strudels
(and who really knows which is which?)
How, with the wind and the winter in here

and the line pressing on, are they to know
what to say? They ask what’s this and what’s
that and sometimes when they’re told it hurts
a little to not know already. They are ambushed

by names like Bismarck and Pershing because
those martial monikers patrol the pastry case
with the cold tactics of ghostly senescence.
Unable to assemble the memories they find

wandering amid the hovering chaff of history’s
dusky fields, they swallow unchallenged passwords
and re-feel the crippling fear of never finding
their way back through the percussive silence.

But here is a good place, the bakery in winter,
where old wives recount for the girl at the counter
stories of the latest hospital stay. The husbands
hang their leather bombers – worn wrinkled and

grave as their skin, on the backs of chairs. With
the wind so urgent though, and less polite, they
put their jackets back on and think about Bismarck
and Pershing and wonder if it was enough

to have your name live on forever, even if only as
anonymous dough in a familiar place that
nevertheless stayed too cold
in the winter.

I Don’t See Your Dogfish, Mary

A one-donut poem for Mary Oliver

No Mary, I don’t know what a smile means
but it would be a lie if you told me outright.

And is that what you mean? That a smile is a lie?
You sounded so cynical just then,
with your flickering and nails,
that I could believe it.

I could believe that you mean that
a smile dances a crime across the face
of the sea. That like your black sleeve
it covers so many things and only just
barely recedes. I could believe it
if that is what you mean.

I guess you want me to believe
that a smile could mean anything
and my cascading inclinations
on this day or that will be
the only way to know
whether a smile is a hopeless future
or an exploding discovery –
a waterfall of the sun.

I guess you want me to believe
that my tidal disposition is
the only way to know exactly which
kind of a smile is the story of my life
that you don’t want to hear.

You want me to believe that
that is how you can stand it
you can bear it
you can believe it
from me
the smile
no matter what it means.

As long as it doesn’t mean an easier world
because that would be a lie that I told you outright.


Parenthetical Courage


How close were you dad (here he peers
down plastic sights of a painted gun)
to the bad guys when you shot at them?

I had to say (I hoped) in a way
that would not forever break his aim,
I had to say (as hidden as the thing had stayed!)
that I never got that close.

But I was available,
I promised my apology,
had someone simply asked me to.

And that much was surely true
but that much was not enough
to burn me into some hell where
the blood of better men dried
and caked and made crispy
little cards of the sand.

That much was not enough –
as apologies never are.

Were you good at shooting dad and
should I close one eye when I aim?
You should aim I said
(he couldn’t know how blindly)
with every eye you can open.


Honor that Golden Rule

I wrote this originally in 2010. I’ve made a revision or three, but it’s still hokey and cheesy in places, especially the end. Every now and then you just embrace the sentimental, and I don’t know a better time for it than the beginning of Fall. It’ll still be Fall here in May of course, and you can expect a very different brand of sentiment out of me at that point.

At Once Against and With the World

Autumn starts for me like this,
with an evening’s cold, capricious kiss,
chiding me to stay alert
that I don’t miss my turn to flirt.

I shuffle down the dim-damp walks,
with lamps on slightly swaying stalks,
shouldering the feathered leaves –
those brittle-falling summerthieves.

And here the hub of town comes near,
with its public houses pouring beer
colder even than the air.
Because it’s close and warm in there,

I go inside against the cold,
where I like to think we’re men of old,
and on every wooden bench and stool
sits a girl – an honored golden rule.

They’ve hung their woolen coats on hooks,
the boys are warming them with looks.
A suggestive stitch, a hopeful hem,
autumn’s stockings, October gems.

In here we work with noble tones
toward a sense of coming home.
Because man is tempted to his best
when woman is so smartly dressed.

When everything to do’s been done,
we wrap the prizes we have won
as close to us as we are able,
and leave the rest upon the table.

Warm within and cold without,
It’s easy to forget about
The discomfort we’re supposed to know,
And on our brazen way we go.

Fall is where the season’s heart
Truly shows the human art
Of marching out with soul unfurled –
At once against and with the world.

Care Package


I walk, post-war, 
        with ignoble carriage
                and sheepish hunch

as if rucked-under 
        by flak-heavy packs 
                of hot laughing sands

that don’t have to 
        worry about missing  
                any of the coming fights

and drift to me like
        a sarcastic care package 
                sent the wrong way

by the desert to say 
        what comfort is home 
                and here have these

grit-bloody cookies and
        this hilarious picture 
                of me with three of your 

buddies from when you 
        were still in. Remember them?
                Guess which one is still alive.

But everything’s fine and 
        even when I really try
                I sleep alright and

the nightmares don’t come.
	But the packages do
		with fresh loads of jokes 

from a desert that mocks me
	like people telling stories 
                about a party that I missed.