“Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose
“On the Radio”
This is how it works
It feels a little worse
Than when we drove our hearse
Right through that screaming crowd
While laughing up a storm
Until we were just bone
Until it got so warm
That none of us could sleep
And all the Styrofoam
Began to melt away
We tried to find some worms
To aid in the decay
But none of them were home
Inside their catacomb
A million ancient bees
Began to sting our knees
While we were on our knees
Praying that disease
Would leave the ones we love
And never come again
On the radio
We heard November Rain
That solo’s really long
But it’s a pretty song
We listened to it twice
‘Cause the DJ was asleep
This is how it works
You’re young until you’re not
You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath
No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again
And on the radio
You hear November Rain
That solo’s awful long
But it’s a good refrain
You listen to it twice
‘Cause the DJ is asleep
On the radio
The “Flying” Ford Anglia by Scott Smith
I Know a Man
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, — John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.
“Little Cosmic Dust Poem”
Out of the debris of dying stars,
This rain of particles
That waters the waste with brightness…
The sea-wave of atoms hurrying home,
Collapse of the giant,
Unstable guest who cannot stay…
The sun’s heart reddens and expands,
His mighty aspiration is lasting,
As the shell of his substance
One day will be white with frost.
In the radiant field of Orion
Great hordes of stars are forming,
Just as we see every night,
Fiery and faithful to the end.
Out of the cold and fleeing dust
That is never and always,
The silence and waste to come…
This arm, this hand,
My voice, your face, this love.
from “Age Appropriate”
Blaise Monluc, the king’s
lieutenant general during
the civil wars, Montaigne says,
threw so many hanged Protestants
down a well you could reach in
and touch the top one’s head. Yes,
Monluc, who was fond of saying
“When the scaffolds are full, use trees,”
knew what was appropriate.
On occasion I’ll run into a lobby
to avoid greeting a friend,
not because my mind vanishes
and I can’t remember his name,
which is true, but because I
must flee what is darkest in me.
In other words, when evicted from
a strange lobby into a stranger street,
where every scaffold is full
and bodies dangle in the long
blue sorrow of the afternoon,
without context, explanation, or sympathy,
it’s good to know, even momentarily,
how to live, among the relevant,
the passionate, and the confused.
When did I learn the word “I”?
What a mistake. For some,
it may be a placeholder,
for me it’s a contagion.
For some it’s a thin line, a bare wisp,
just enough to be somewhere
among the gorgeous, troublesome you’s.
For me it’s a thorn, a spike, its slimness
a deceit, camouflaged like a stick insect:
touch it and it becomes what it is:
ravenous slit, vertical cut, little boy
standing upright in his white
communion suit and black secret.
via Delancey Place:
“In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them. Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying.
“The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. Write a song on your lunch break. Paint a painting with only one color. Start a business without any start-up capital. Shoot a movie with your iPhone and a few of your friends. Build a machine out of spare parts. Don’t make excuses for not working — make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now.
“The right constraints can lead to your very best work. My favorite example? Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat with only 236 different words, so his editor bet him he couldn’t write a book with only 50 different words. Dr. Seuss came back and won the bet with Green Eggs and Ham, one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.”
‘Telling yourself you have all the time
in the world, all the money in the world,
all the colors in the palette, anything
you want — that just kills creativity.’
—from Steal Like An Artist
“The P.O. Box”
Every Saturday I check for a letter
from a quadruple murderer
locked up at Riker’s Island.
I never met him but feel like I should
know why he hates women
enough to kill them and why afterwards
is eyes are choked up in all the pictures
as if he’s about to stick a piece of straw
in his mouth and wail the blues.
So I check and recheck.
I’ve always hated an empty box—
the one the engagement ring
comes in after the girl says yes,
the TV that runs out of things to say,
my grandfather’s tool box.
I dip my hand in as far as it can go
to feel for an envelope.
It’s the dark hole a nail leaves
when a picture is taken down.
This goes on for months.
One day I turn my key, find a crinkled
envelope. It’s as if I’m fishing
through a messy drawer in the kitchen,
grabbing the wrong end of a knife.
X-Ray view of pentimento from Poussin’s “Crossing of the Red Sea”
Today I used the word Pentimento,
stored since 1973 when Lillian Hellman’s
bestseller of the same titles was the rage.
My friend explained in her flower-power
bedroom what Pentimento meant.
I was amazed by two things: First,
that a pencil trace can reappear
from beneath layers of thick paint.
Second, that it sounded like pimento.
I tucked that word away, one sock
inside another. Today, with the heavy fog,
I used it to describe the trees through the mist.
I resurrected that word from beneath
32 years of living. It became an example
of what it means: A shadow emerged
of two young girls sitting on a bed
to plan their fame and fortune.