No Boats

March 2020, West Seattle

You can stand at the dock
now and not be bothered much
by boats. Looking hard you can see it –
the road worn into the water where
the flat-bottomed ferries once
went up and down all day.

The islands want none of us
and won’t come. Vashon squats
with its aliens in a patch-tattered
yurt that shrouds the shore in
smoke-yellow walls – a bit put off
by the virus across the bay.

Bainbridge and Whidbey salute the San Juans
who can finally keep the orcas and grays to themselves.

From shore to shore the semaphore
warns that plagues are made on the
mainland – they’d have us keep our fevers
here. The few running boats ride high
above the jellyfish. Two tired men
throw gray ropes to an empty pier.

Life Belongs to the Morning

A Plague Diaries interlude for National Poetry Day


Light the fires     
     lace the shoes         
          follow the leashless dogs!

Put your shoulder to the breaking of the fog

Death awaits, yes!
But you can march on him -
and make him doubt -

and make him pause
THE PRAYER (1877) Frederick Arthur Bridgman

“Ah, the prayers of the millions, how they must fight and destroy each other on their way to the throne of God.” — Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat

I like to think that all the prayers make it to God, but naturally so many of them are each other’s antitheses that there must be an awful lot of uneasiness in the queue.


Life belongs to the morning, and as I came down the stairs just after six o’clock I saw a group of two and a group of three people out for a walk in the dark. One coming up the hill, the other going down. Normally there would be more activity at 6am, but it would be commuters – rote movements, made by reflex, driven and direct. A lengthy SOS tapped out in the rhythm and spacing of cars streaming off the ferry.  This morning the walkers owned the road. They did not hold any line on the first day of Spring, but moved like drunken bees, letting their forgivable concerns be confused in the carelessness of their steps. From one edge of the pavement to the other, with an odd pause now and then, hands on hips and saying things that I, also stopped but inside my house with one slippered foot not yet on the floor, was never meant to hear.

Still, outside or in, they say the plague rages on, and

The world’s first murderer
(here Cain’s dust coughs a proud mote)
breaches quarantines to meet
not the cowering flowers
of a beaten people.

Skirmishers of the timeless virus
face good bodies and strong.
What fear they carry is shared…
walked off…
drawn out and dispersed
to the bone-drumming thrum
of the empty ferry’s engines

in reverse.


               Let me first ask –
is it ok to wish for waves?
The South Sound is too calm to mount.
We see no breadloaf vans spilling surfboards
in the street. No swells, no breaks. So I ask –
is it ok to wish for waves?

Here is a good place for a mother’s reminder-
be happy with what you have.

But how be happy?
The lordly boy stands pearl-kneed
in a sea that never much stirs.
The hollow parts of his body
commune with the deep but needs must

Why so much sea if no waves come?
No rhythm, no thrum.
Though the tidal brine climbs his thighs
it recedes without heat. He knows no moon –
no salt-pound to sting his whalebone shins
and by dusk he implodes with curses.

That sacrilege calls to the altar
the long canoes of the Salish – carved here with eagle,
here with salmon – paddled up and tied to a fire hydrant
until an overfished Indian can climb out and
shout across the bike path

the Lushootseed word is whulge

Oracular, he divines a mute future
in the swirling oil on his coffee, then
scoffs as he dumps it through a drain
painted like an orca’s mouth and asks

why say whulge

That name’s as full of sound as sound itself
and yet the Puget makes none unless the storms come.
We simply haven’t here that sort of sea.

               Ten thousand years ago
a Duwamish mother with scrimshaw skin said


because it was the sound she heard
when her hollow boy imploded,
bone deep in the kelp-rot of another warless summer,
wishing for waves.

The Danger of Overstatements

Fake News!

Let us say that only Everest for the mountains
and the Sequoia for the trees
and the blue whale for the animals
(and if we must split land and sea
then it’s the elephant for me)
can be what we call giant.

I have seen the giant pacific octopus
and wished that it were bigger.


Happy to be full of it, sometimes

The last thing I ever want to do is the thing that everyone else is doing. For the purpose of this entry, that thing is playing the victim. Claiming specialness. I am not special. I am not a victim. But I am willing to observe, politely and mildly, that there is a bit of an extant sentiment in society that is, shall we say, ever-so-slightly in opposition to men. There’s lots of things we’re not supposed to be, depending on who you ask. But it’s all the same thing in the end, really. The thing we’re not supposed to be, is us.

So what. My entire childhood and adolescence were based on doing exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do. Big deal. Still, here I am: one of these men – at least in terms of biology and mentality – that we don’t seem to want much of. I write occasional poems in support of others like me because after three years in college, I learned more than anything that the most important thing to do is to celebrate and support with the greatest fervor those things that are the most like ourselves. The liberal arts world in college is a world based on the elevation of things of your own kind, and denigration of things outside of your own cultural circle. And also tolerance. Do what you will with that little contradiction.

I am aware of what kind of man I am. I only very occasionally build things, but I have an embarrassingly impressive array of tools. That kind of cliché. I fold laundry more than I hammer steel, I wash dishes more than I turn wrenches. My hands are not hard or large. I am tall but not imposing, and I am (he meekly admits) terrified of confrontations. My God, I think back over all of the fights I have craftily avoided in my life and I am not proud. But it’s still in there, that core thing, that masculinity that is called toxic nowadays. I know our need of it, and bristle at the mockery directed its way.

I am not here to argue against that. It strikes me as hypocritical in some ways. The masculinity I own and revere does not raise its voice to protest. It works and produces and creates and lets that action speak for it. It follows the cardinal rule of the writer in that it does not tell – it shows. I am here not to complain but to be a fan. To write up my support for the hard things that we are, and for the shittily unrefinable parts of our nature that I would not run from a fight to preserve.

Having said that:


Be dirty and don’t hide 
your large hands that could 
                    split timber.

They flip thin pages, too,
rattle pans and
feed their fighting heirs.


Be mean and lift the heavy thing 
and don’t mind making a little 
                    show of it.

Your beambroad back
can bear it and
won’t tremble in the least


Be hard, clumsy and cruel
and let the sneer of the timid 
                    mock itself.

You hardly can part 
from that look that
feeds you its forsaken strength


Be bare-knuckled and nude
because we need most what
                    no one wants.

The world knows and 
keeps a place 
for the things we expel.


Tell Me There’s an Artist

(spoiler alert: there is)

Tell me there’s a painting left not aiming for the earth –
A brush not tilted dirtward, swapping mockery for mirth.
Tell me there’s a sculpture left that isn’t undercarved –
A chisel dulled by shallow cuts and subjects heavenstarved.

Tell me there’s a canvas left that’s backlit by some glory –
A fabric for the telling of ambitious human stories.
Tell me there’s a poem left that isn’t ripped apart –
A song that ends connected to the blessing of the start.

Tell me there’s an artist left not driven by deceit –
A human servant building from the places incomplete.
Tell me there’s an artist left who knows his human error –
And tell me there’s a layman left who’ll view it as a prayer.