From Erase | Endure (Dutch Poet Press, 2020)
So I wondered about my namesake and opened a Bible
to the Book of Joel (minor prophet, just three chapters)
and found locusts—a plague of them—laying waste the vines,
splintering fig trees and stripping the bark,
covering the moon with a rusty gauze.
And nobody was standing around with hands on hips,
shaking their heads in tight circles of annoyance,
going “Locusts. Locusts. Can you believe it?”
No, they were abject and repentant. And Joel declared
Sound the trumpet, solemnize a fast, proclaim an assembly
and cry out to the Lord.
I couldn’t be that Joel.
I’d rather be my other namesake—Yosef in Hebrew,
Joseph: braggart to his brothers, dreamer,
sold to a passing caravan and thrown into prison
from which Pharaoh would pluck him to decode
the nightmarish seven fat cows and seven lean cows.
And Joseph goes on to save the citizens from seven years of
famine—now that’s a namesake!
Then there’s me with a mortgage,
a dented car and a failed lawn, someone who can mutter
helpful facts like
the opposite faces of dice total to seven
when people argue, it sounds better in Italian
a tree stripped of its bark is still a tree
and needs to turn for solace to the ancient Joel, who said
So rend your heart and not your garments.
FIRST HALLOWEEN AFTER 9/11
They come to the door dressed as
firemen, police, rescue workers
with hard hats. They ring the bell
and stand there; no one chants
trick or treat. To those without
special costume we ask
Who are you? And they answer, smiling,
the passengers. All that candy
we bought for handouts now so
useless. Instead, we find ourselves
taking their hands, telling them
Thank you …Thank you …
This is the swirl that night offers, this is the feta you crumble
over your roasted sweet potatoes, this is the young wine
you prefer to a glass of Aged-Seven-Years, these are the hours
that confound and cling to your skin like the salt of an absent lover.
The moon, the yard with its fence leaning in spots, rotting in others,
a neighbor’s dog yipping its brusque arias. The redwood
towering over the Japanese maple like the memory of your father’s
arm around your shoulders until that fleeting weight recedes,
then there’s just the dull rumble of a medevac copter above.
Here is the noun, there is the verb—all in a night’s work:
someone is busy explaining it all in a language laced with crickets.
(Mayapple Press, 2008)
NOTE FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.
Before leaving for the airport I placed four secrets
in your sock drawer and gave each one a code-name
based on plants I’ve seen in botanical museums:
kambroo, sago palm, mother-in-law’s tongue, be-still tree
But open the drawer, try to find them—nothing,
and no ultraviolet light (like in D.C.’s
International Spy Museum) would detect them.
Four secrets: more like an invisible wish
made four times over an invisible wishbone
then the trombone goes ta-DAH
and the secrets grow infinitesimally small;
you could mount them on microdots
like the ones at the International Spy Museum.
What else is secret? How the trombonist
steathlily empties the saliva from his spit-value.
How at the Supreme Court, directly above
the great hall where nine justices sit,
there’s a basketball court!
And those monogrammed Supreme Court
golf-balls in the gift shop plus figurines
of male and female lawyers presenting a case—each
of the statuettes Made in China.
And after finding nothing unusual in your sock drawer,
you’ll look for me, but I’n not home yet
for I’m in Washington, D.C. on a chill October day,
the kind that makes you want to jump
right into bed after putting on woolen socks
and under the puffy quilt we’d start spelling
secret messages on each other’s back
using words like Love and I and Always,
invisible to everyone but us.