Compass

The bear’s head points into the hills.
The horse clams sleep in Mutiny bay.
I drive a highway tight between the two,
I drive tomorrow into yesterday.

The boy found fire in the mussel shell.
The Thunder gifted him a spear.
I search for fire beneath my foot,
I search for Thunder in the gears.

The bullwhip kelp on the ha-ah-poos.
The whale flukes mute above the waves.
I find my fuel in their histories,
I find my future in their graves.

With some help from the Klallam story of “The Offended Hero.”

Librarian

 The orca’s tongue is tattooed in crowblack ink
 with the whole history of the Hoh
 and the names of Nisqually who hunted there
 in the sacred space between hawk and bear – 
 hung to cure in a frozen smoke.
  
 In the blackfish grin, written on salmon skin, 
 lives the library of the Lummi
 and the forgotten words to S’Klallam songs
 sung in the fog from which they’re drawn – 
 then gone like a dream’s unblooming.
  
 But the orca speaks, too, the newer words
 of submarine and ferry boat
 and the sharp dialect of high skylines
 that replace the flesh with the crystalline – 
 concrete terms being asked to float.
  
 A blackfin ripple loops cursive in the bay
 as the orca pens the Pacific tome
 and writes Sound verses beneath the surface
 in a Salish hand whose arc is perfect – 
 the scrimshaw line of tooth and bone. 

The Inward Aim

 Who out there might I have saved
 and who am I to say
 that if I had gone and fought along
 they'd be happier today?
  
 Which among them would have marched 
 before adoring mortars and towards
 their final chance to Meddle with 
 the Honor of their chore?
  
 Who out there might I have saved
 and what would that have done
 but reinforce the enemy
 on the ever-growing front?
  
 Which among them would have marched
 until their soles knew every grain
 of every dune and cratered ruin
 that compelled the inward aim?
  
 Who out there might I have saved
 and who am I to say
 that the lives I would have handed out
 were better than the graves? 

Lawful Thievery is the Rule

“Behaviour lawless as snowflakes…”

Still Walt Whitman, still Song of Myself

It’s been that part of the movie, where we’re all in the operating room, staring at the screen on the EKG while the tone flatlines and the doctor says “clear” one last time. Five, ten seconds pass, there seems to be no hope, and then there’s a blip:

We have a pulse, everyone.

The house has the heartbeat that it’s been missing. The last piece went in yesterday – I let The Boy nail it down. Obviously the baseboards still need to go back up, but the big chore is complete. And after I cleaned up and put the tools away, I had the Spring Break feeling of freedom, of vast expanses of unclaimed time laid out ahead of me. I immediately folded laundry. But nobody told me how to fold these two garments:

They have a knack for teleportation.


I release this one annually, a small revision or two each time. It’s the sort of poem that “real poets” would not “take seriously.” But serious poets are generally a sad lot, and afraid. Maybe one day I’ll stop messing with it, I don’t know. It’s a little late coming this year, but reading the “lawless as snowflakes” line from Leaves of Grass made me realize that it was time for theft:

Summerthieves

 Autumn starts for me like this:
 an evening's cold, capricious kiss,
 chiding me to stay alert
 that I don't miss my turn to flirt.
  
 Leaves come down like lawless clocks
 along no route that rules can watch.
 They’re shouldered first, then tickle sleeves - 
 those brittle-falling Summerthieves.
  
 Ah! Here the hub of town comes near,
 with its public houses pouring beer
 colder even than the air.
 But it's so close and warm in there
  
 That 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.
  
 The Boys can leave their coats on hooks -
 The Girls will keep them warm with looks.
 Suggestive stitches, hopeful hems.
 October stalkings, autumn 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 weathers we're supposed to know,
 And on our brazen way we go. 

A Song for Fog

   
 Captain, do not curse the fog.
 It is the lullaby of the Blackfish.
 It is the glint eddy at the wing of the Sbaqwah.
 God-blue, long as a Black River canoe.
  
 Captain, your horn is heavy like blood in a ghost.
 What can it do? 
  
 The fog is a child squat over a snake in the longhouse. 
 It never knew you.
 It does not hear you.
  
 The osprey tear herring over a broken cedar.
 The salmon scowl at the ladder and die.
  
 Your boats are wrapped in ancient names.
 Kittitas and Chimacum. 
 Issaquah and Wenatchee.
 Only the words are quiet on the water.
  
 The engines scare an owl from the head of a bear.
 The bear scares crows from a picnic table.
 It watches you bleed cars into the hills.
  
 All head and no flukes, you pilot the ghost 
 without much rudder.
  
 You think you pilot the ghost.
  
 Captain, do not curse the fog.
 It is the white noise of the Salish Sea.
 You are the brother of the Chinook.
 You are the white throat of the Blue Heron. 
 
 Trade pilothouse for smokehouse.
 Dance the deck from wheel to wheel.
 The lullaby of the Blackfish will be your song.
   

Apheresis

The easy part is the digging –
snowsilver spade slicing steamsoil.
 
Dirt hardly parts – but sighs!
Eucharine breath, epicene oil.
The lissome lisp of shovel slipped
into winesoftened silt.
 
The easy part is the digging –
straight-grained shaft stung
by stone, bonequiver knock
on bone and out the crown
emptied unto Heaven
with every chuck and throw.
 
The easy part is the digging –
brute-sunk shovel in soil.
Psalm-sung singing of sinew.
 
Instrument to sentiment.
Lie-less rhythm without end.
Monument to sediment.
Lie-less rhythm without end

Let’s Reflect on Heaven

Symmetry is an answer key –
kind, like a held hand.
But Love, go out and find for me –
in our infinity of mirrorlands,
some mathless magic in the sea –
a scientist’s anomaly.
 
Love, go make discoveries!
Write them in divine shorthand.
Find – but don’t bring back to me!
that sanctified asymmetry.
The matchless wing, the squareless root,
will die here in captivity.
 
Then – come back and lay with me –
show me what you’ve written down.
Fingers like a drunken bee
will trace an ‘up’ that needn’t ‘down’
and mate the palms of unlike hands
to pray like only difference can.

All the Books in the Universe

Had things been normal, The Boy’s school year would have ended with field day. Each year, a new t-shirt is designed, and the school meets at Lincoln Park for a day of events that the parents and teachers plan, coordinate, and execute with varying degrees of aptitude. Living so close to the park, we have hosted, for the last few years, most of the students in one or both of our kids’ classes for pre-field day shenanigans and donuts. When the time comes we walk them down to the park

There was no field day this year, and I miss filling the street in front of the house with a dozen screaming grade schoolers at 7:30 in the morning. But at least the commemorative shirts were still made. They were handed out with a few other items at the final drive-thru this morning. When The Boy brought it in and showed me, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I have no idea if a parent drew this up, or if it’s some stock design, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to a poem I wrote years ago as The Boy, then just a baby, was falling asleep on my chest:

The Dreamstronaut

The boy adrift in outer space alone,
His hairless pate in a glassy dome.
The awe, the joy, the dreaming soul.
A six-tooth smile in a barrel roll.

While his hands still search and his toes still curl,
Half in, half out of his old man's world.
The half that's in heaves a sigh at me,
The half that's gone starts its reverie.

With that I guess he's in the stars,
Using them like monkey bars,
To swing amidst the giant rows
While the library of his dreaming grows.

And once it's up he'll float about
In no great hurry to be picking out
His stories or his nursery rhymes;
He knows his dreams aren't bound by time.

He bobs on past hoar-frosted shelves,
And a section with a copse of elves.
With a languid pull he moves along,
To the fantasy he'll settle on.

I've always imagined him like this,
Giggling through the stacks in bliss.
The length and breadth of an innocent's whim,
His snickers and kicks propelling him.

Now in my arms he's settled more,
But he shifts a bit one time before
His searching hand tugs on my nose -
He's grabbed a dream, and off he goes.

The PVP Diaries #59

“A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it?”

– The Elder Zosima, The Brothers K.

Here’s a reprint for a day that’s simply one too many:

Soft Armor

Guard against the joylessness -
the shout
the sloganed cry.
Guard against the chanted curse
and truthful-seeming lie.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the sheepish fright.
Guard against the mirthless marches
that wilt without the light
(a truly righteous Army thrives
even out of sight).

Guard against the joylessness -
the hunt
the blue bird’s noose.
Guard against the flashing placards
that turn a lynching loose.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the textbook heart.
Guard against the low momentum
of the classroom’s faded arts
(the ivory’s crumbling fastest
at the over-polished parts).

Guard against the joylessness
my son,
my girl child,
by suiting up in Mother’s grace
and by wielding Father’s smile