Constance Rowell Mastores lives in Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in The Lyric, The Blue Unicorn, Rattapallax, and many other poetry journals. She has been a contributor to The Neovictorian/Cochlea and The Deronda Review since 1996.








      photograph:  Elio de Pisa





Paris:1957          In the Beginning          Midnight Clear        Toward a Windless Autumn     After Twenty Years
Boy in the Greenery Wa
iting         Daughters        Devoured          Unhumble    Learning to Look at Winter    Goats at Dusk on a Hillside                Considerations at Dusk         To My Grandmother in Darkness            Solitary Flowers         Medieval Speculations on a Name       Chopin Between Sisters         On the Way to the Neurological Hospital       Mother Teresa Quietly Turns 87          Night Sky          Earthshine        Horses of the Night        Nostalgia      Plain Wood      Willow on Lake Michigan      Photographing Pigeons at Dusk       Briefly Summer       El Color De La Muerte         Perplexed in the Extreme        Acceptance        Spring's French Academy       Doppelgaenger     The Wideness and Brightness of Winter       All or Nothing         In Praise of      Swarming with Heisenberg's Bees          Transparencies      Muse       My Sister's Triple-chambered Heart         Dependency        Doldrums             Willow Song    among the Leonids      You, William Dunbar      Where the Spider Runs      Epistemology      Oxymoron      Slippage      Speaking in Tongues: The Eumenides      Heraldry      The Romantics      My Mother’s Heart      Of Abraham and Isaac      The Tower      Radiance      September Apostrophe      When All Is Said and Done      Angst      Mrs. S.      On a Night Like Ovid      Litany      Relievo Con Figura di Menade      High in the Siskiyou      Aperture      Winter Constellations      Witness      Musings on the Dried Stalks of Wild Anise      Night Shade      Obsequies      Dispossessed      Song      To Mother E      Recreated      Nightfall      Le Couteau du depart      Assisted Living      Formality      Vespers      The Crib      Lines after Cesar Vallejo      Separation in Gelatin Silver      Bat & Co.      Cesar Vallejo Remembers       Gathered Feather      Mrs. M.      Tea Party      Touching New Bark      The Heart in Its Progressions, Written      Opulence      Nocturne      The Retainers      Sustenance      Obituary      Once Upon a Time, My Brother      Romany Rye      Song Skeleton      Uncharted      Emptiness      Beethoven for Writers












Roses bloom in the rue des Rosiers.
The sky is fat. So's the chopped liver.
"Cream with your coffee," the owner
asks, and smiles when I say no.

"Shalom," says the crumpled man
as he enters. On his arm he wears
a flower. I exchange dollars
for francs. He chatters to me

in six different versions. Even
his Yiddish is all screwed up.
Roses bloom in the Café des Rosiers.
Everyone there wears a number.

But mine is tattooed onto my scalp
and marks the end of the war.
The owner parts my hair and blesses
it with it with a kiss. Everyone smiles

on the rue des Rosiers. The market's
black, the goods are numbered.
The exchange as good as you'll get.
And the roses bloom like no one else.


He does not write to her --
he never writes to her --
but at night he comes
and invades her like a dream
leaving ashes, hints
of madness
cold as wind on snow.

Forgive him for
he knows not what he does.
Once he'd nailed his pain
to hers,
he never looked back.
There were seas for that -
and empty vaults.


These are the diseased
We glory after,
The leprous,
The tubercular,
The wronged of earth.
What frankincense
Do we offer?
What seduction
From our own sweet lives?
In recognition we bend
Our wings and hover.
There is not enough blood,
Not enough light,
To share the difference.





The leaves grow tired

buffeted by shifts and pulls,

the tidal winds

that blow as if the ocean’s emptying

or just plain disappearing.

Who can say.


As if muttering in a saggy mood

she says: “Your soup is growing cold.”

Would that be any different?

Such tiny absences.

Supper served.

No one there to eat it.



There is nothing I can do to bridge
this absence; there is always something wanting.

The watery figure from across the lagoon -
see how he makes signs at me? -

his black foulard knotted like a hangman's
noose. He comes to me again and again

in dreams - Ich bin verrückt. Shalom! Ich bin
verrückt. Shalom!
- emerging from a narrow

passageway in Venice's deserted ghetto,
deserted by the tourists, that is, but with

the twisted charm of a De Chirico,
or like a pantoum with the first line

coming back to haunt the last;
this dream that won't stop dreaming; the black

foulard knotted over the haggard eye.
Which is more torn? My uprooted

lurch toward him or his toward mine?
What is this temple that we call the Past?


He is more shy than the leaves that clothe him,
boy in the greenery waiting for the bus to come,
eyes shifting to each person passing in a car .

Who will find him if he dares not wish to meet them?
Had his eyes not flinched - mine drawn to his, his
away from mine - he would have been forever there.

He was more tree than flesh. . .or flesh than tree -
the security of his unestablished fact
the very thing that could be preyed upon

by those whose senses hunt for weakness;
and I, in my car, continued up the hill...
the furtive glance a plea, perhaps, or a surrender .


Differences, once sought, are less sought now,
her three daughters become one daughter, brought
together in one thought - although she swears
she keeps them separate - like the Books On Tape
she wakes and drouses to, night after night,
but woven by her mind into one epic plot.

Or one conversation. About dinner and guests.
Of what to serve. Of who to seat with whom.
Things of finite nature. Homeric battle lists.
Men at a bar recounting baseball scores.
A mother trying to recall which daughter
she's talked to last - confused when she cannot.

Lists on the kitchen counter, on the breakfast table.
In the hallway, piles of New Yorkers.
What must be kept, or thrown away; what must
be passed on to her daughters. Tomorrow's worries
summoned up at night while she lies awake
wishing she could cross the next day out.

But what's it serve to argue differences,
to promote ourselves like a Regan or a Goneril,
demanding that she remember to which of us
she's spoken of a movie or a book? What does
it matter she breaks with the particulars
of Love? Or if there's need of names at all.


                  Taken off into the


                       with the unmistakable track

                                            -Paul Celan

These gorgeous holes of blue
that should be blackness
the whole night sky

the breakup of clouds
like a stormy marriage
gulfs widening;
a cloud raining down below;

but not up here
not on me, not on us
or what used to be us;
clouds dissolving

in the radiance
of the February sky;
below, dark latitudes
evolving in the cities.

meanwhile I dance and
study unmistakable tracks
and yet, despite it all,
how beautiful, oh god,

how beautiful, this moon pool,
this distance, this dropping off
this hole in the sky
that breaks like a flower.


A bandtail pigeon perches
like a dark weight
a bony eucalyptus.

He is the only bird
in the world
at dusk.

He finds himself
his winged puffery,
his plump, carnal breast.

Lesser birds
of lesser weight
move frivolously
among the branches.
They do not exist.

Only the diminishing
colors of the sky
that set off
his bold silhouette

And when he is ready,


I had to learn to make sense of you before I began,
to draw in lines and make a shape of you; to call you "Orion."
Back then, before I thought of a world beyond my own,
you were just a vague pattern of stars, a dislocated brilliance
I could see in the dark before dawn as I nudged myself
to work in what I called the dead of winter.

Now I know the names of Betelgeuse and Rigel.
I can draw you from shoulder to foot. I can bring you together
in the middle; or point to that other Arabic star: Aldebaran.
I've even bought myself a Guide to the Heavens.
It's small and usually fits in one of my pockets. And I'm a long
way off from where I used to be when stars were just stars
and I was always in a hurry and rarely looked up.
Until, that is, I began to study things other than myself.

And the breath I drew was cold as wind on snow, and as fresh
and as simple...that first noticing, that clearing of the mind.
Ashes of heaven. Stars shining by their own light. Hot stars
Cold stars. Blue-white. White. Yellow. Orange-red.
Variable super giants as in Betelgeuse. Super giant doubles
as in Rigel. Globular clusters. Protoplanetary discs.
And on and on. Certainly on. According to my pocket book.
It was a relief to know all this. Finally. To exist so far beyond myself
that I could forget about those blizzardy winters in Chicago
when I went to work in what was then the dead of winter.

Now that I am realigned and have eclipsed that distant other,
I look at its spectral being as a shadow flung upon the wind -
a cast-off husk of autumn, or summer, if you will. For winter
is the time to watch the sky where even fainter stars are seen
in great profusion. Sprays of flowers. Nebulae less nebulous.
The entire mind uncluttered and true to the Great Self beyond,
which here might be a crow at dawn upon a crusted pack,
a dark nebula, blackness rampant on a field of snow.


They prepare to bed themselves down,
a blanket of earth tones blended and breathing,
some of the Nubians striped with a coppery brown
that lifts them from the general pattern.

Have you ever seen those cheap tapestries depicting
the pharaohs of Egypt? -- the ones the hawkers
used to sell to tourists journeying up the Nile --
perhaps still do -- pieced together from remnants of old cloth
that are the color of the goats on the hillside?
Although rivulets of red run through a pharaoh's skirt
and the crown he wears. But the cobra on his forehead
and the ankh he holds are black; black as the kohl
that lines his eyes; his body, a coppery brown,
set upon the throne and stitched upon a neutral colored fabric.

The herd grows listless in its milling. One by one
they paw the ground, then gently kneel to sleep.
One of the large Nubians settles later than the rest,
its serene gaze a part of the drift toward night.

The Pharaoh's kohl-dark eyes.

Can you tell me that the kneeling down of goats
on a hillside is not the same languorous still-kept time
as the time once kept in Egypt? Shawl hawkers calling
to travelers as a boat nears Assiut. Scarves rippling
on evening breezes. Crowds settling on shore. The banks
of the Nile slipping away, unrolling like two large spools of ribbon.

What makes me want to press that and this into memory? To lift
the tapestry of goats from hills and hold them sacred
in my mind as others used to? Or pass them on, framed perhaps,
so they may decorate someone else's wall;
as I have decorated mine, with remnants of old cloth.


Exceptions have so ruled
my heart, its passions played,
then led them on with fits
and starts that I have turned
their fool and failed most
where most I took their part.

This Dante knew who heard
Francesca's woeful gale,
exalted yet condemned
the fires that fray her soul,
for love, exclusive, rules
one part; while love that loves
returns to love its whole.

At times we need to hear
discerning distances,
a mind not quite our own
to read our fever clear --
till it be blessed with scope
and, loving deep, include
the vaster fits of time.

Francesca's ancient grief
has narrowed in my thought,
made passion's impasse mean,
yet widened Dante's art.
More faintly I repeat
this tale of two made one,
more poignantly descend
through deeper shades of dark.


Now tired eyes must rest
That once were fed with light,
Though long ago confessed
To having lost their sight.

Fears of solitary
Night brim an aging mind,
Time long spent in wary
Trust deepens with the blind.

If eyes see no kind lies
To mitigate your plight,
Learn then how friendship feels
Divorced from meddling sight.

Our worrisome debates
Into each other's soul,
Clarified while death bates,
Now binds us to one goal.

My love, my younger years,
May fail to match your skill;
I watch momentous fears
And quail. You struggle still

To earn your past, pay fee,
Review your season's sum
In silent colloquy.
To this I too shall come.

Quiet darkness shivers
Where, long ago, at dusk,
A dear friend shared your tears
Of guilt, refreshed by brusk

Behavior in the past.
No false vision guiled words.
Near death we seek our last
And final truth. Lost friends

To trust appear and claim
Some final testament.
Sight memorizes time;
Effaced, mind's sacrament.

I too will come to this:
My eyes will shed their light,
Undo the tired fuss
Of time, and share your plight.

May darkness teach us faith
And trust's last will: to take
The hand of lonely death
To heart, love still, then break.


Of crocus, I say, pick out the purple-white

the ones with sumptuous gold stamens topped
by three orange

of pure spring -- albeit brief this push toward
and all.

So low they sit, uncharacteristically wealthy.
Nothing to fear
from me

peering at them, focused entirely, wondering
if I am not
of them

this flowery, mutable design, detailed
and organized
and yet so un-un

in its hard-to-grasp purple-white-yellow-orange
or un-signed

unsigned now, closed down by the full moon
assuming its own

and beyond, so far beyond, that if you think too much
it loses sense
and collapses,

is the colossal war. Gaze instead upon the moon,
its crib of clouds.
O pacifier!

Tomorrow we'll peer into the fuse of time.
Stare down those
solitary walls.


I, whose name is Constancy, have borne
the blush of time with countless variation
and little joy; have joined body upon body,
sealed each flashing eye with a flame surmised
my own, though mine long since failed to try.

With you, though hardly in my own, I never
called the choice and split the senses from
their fact. My nobler years run dry. How can
they now assail experience and turn me
back to when the body knew no tricks?

Impassive, almost wise, indifferently
pleasured? Flesh is what my mind falls heir to --
since I have come into its ruins. The walls
grow thin. The body's parched, hands drift apart.
And if your hands were on me now, what then

to do with Time that always has preferred
indifference? Or Love, whose years, undone,
return to dust? I did not want these questions.
The granite form is what I hoped to teach.
And now, it seems, it's well within my reach.


Ah, yes, we did sit
at the piano that day
in December, arguing
over a Nocturne by Chopin.

Being older, she played better
and I, of course, worse.
She had a perfect ear,
mine was less so.
She, mathematical and sure,
I, fictional and in doubt.

Later, grown old,
we giggled over a waltz
I used to dance to.
She played the right hand,
I played below --

until her operation,
then mine. After that,
the fast parts became delirious,
the slow parts extra slow.

So much to make up for,
so much to let go.


First on required list: Teddy Bear.
She: age sixty-four.
Reason: brain surgery.
A friend: embarrassed.
to be carrying this Teddy Bear --
this request, this return
to something.
No, not childhood.
No Teddy Bears in childhood.
Only a grey worn tabby cat --
left eye yanked out --
forehead shaved; red-nail-polish-
initials painted across
the middle --
my sister's initials (my mother's
unrequested red) -- greediness
in the possession of the cat
making it the rarest thing,
the gray torn mongrel.
No breeding. No standing. No future.
The most loved/warred cat
without which/whom the world
was not worth living.
Right arm eventually torn off.
What's left more necessary,
more needable than anything you can
remember of perfect.
A ferocious, uncuddly thing.
The thing my sister thinks
we may meet tomorrow
in the hospital-for-safe-keeping.

                          San Francisco Chronicle, August 27, 1997

Harmony, perhaps, or interwoven soulfulness,
this hooting of owls at dawn;
minor, sympathetic, Chopin-esque progressions
on a scale I cannot seem to reach
on my Steinway grand piano.

Phrygian. Greek. A Muezzin's call
to morning prayer that purifies the heart.
"And a clean heart can see God in each person."

How wonderful and absurd this melodious waking
to the rare harmony of loving owls.
An aubade, a relinquishing of mother night.

And then these newcomers, a song bird,
so-called, hammering out its monotonous notes --
four to the measure -- and next a squawking jay.
They have no idea how ugly they sound ...
But then did we? Lost in hurt confusion.
Screeching and railing so tediously last night.


a beautiful sky --
the wings of a dove
have spread over it --

amid such misery
such confrontation --

hospital stranded --

we always expected it --

these wings --
these last reminders.


Stayed up all night for no reason. Watched
TV -- Twelve Angry Men with Henry Fonda --
my mind not quite involved but somehow there.
Puts you in a space, those other people

acting, talking. Jigsaw puzzle not yet
resolved except for a few singular pieces.
Don't yet know who's going to side with whom.
Outside, Venus and crescent moon in a sky

bold beyond belief -- yes, that's it, beyond
belief. Tomorrow a brief stellar eclipse
somewhere between us and them. Between
the light years that divide us. The void's far rim...

Henry Fonda, like God, has done his work.
He's resting. Sureness here, strangeness there.
The dark implicated world on its lonely
way. Everyone trying to find some sense.

                                                    for Sharon Kourous

This long unsheathing like
the touch of manesilk streaming,
muscled-withered-rippling --
currite, currite, noctis equi --
into the dark seeded night.


It brushes along
the hairs of my skin this early morning light.
A spider rides the fringes.

Soft buzz, soft hum,
and then not so soft the wheeling screak
of a red-tailed hawk.

Last night a vixen
yelped for her mate. Neighbors complained.
No one slept.

Today a quiet world,
despite the rufous towhee's obsessive song,
the chattering jays,

highpitched hawk.
Night has its sound. Day has this: ceaseless
murmur in summer grass,

the snap of poppies
seeding, spider moving like a shadow brush --
and memory receiving.


                        A simple coffin of plain wood will do quite well.
                                                Vogue's Book of Etiquette,

Later, we congratulate ourselves
on a job well done -- the cherry casket
(five thousand dollars), the gaunt corpse
rekindled, the minister's kind words.
"They did a lovely job," remarks a guest.
"My little sweetheart," says her husband.

At Elmwood Cemetery, under a mauve
tent, we watch the graveyard workers
lower the coffin. For a moment death seems
real. Despite the roses. The plush chairs.
The pastoral lakeside setting. The Teamsters
crank into place what some call closure.

Back at the house after the funeral dinner,
we pass around our thoughts. "God cried
for Mary Ellen," her husband says...Quiet,
she was, wore two strands of pearls...
Everything was perfect...Wouldn't change
a thing...Looked best in the forties and fifties...
Less matronly...We should have left her as
she was...Shouldn't have touched her up...
Wonderful how the sun came out just as we
were leaving.
"My beautiful sweetheart,"
says her husband...Do you think Adimanis
will come down on the funeral cost?
Some were know, the minister...
a woman...No mention of Jesus Christ...
Didn't believe in God...Everything was
perfect...Wouldn't change a thing....Do you
think Adimanis will come down on the bill?
"My little sweetheart," says her husband.

Some say it takes a year to begin to remember.


Tonight, as I brood under the ancient willow,
the slender leaves bow down to me.
I had forgotten how compassion rules --
through each vein, each scab of bark --
although the lawn is littered with impossible
cruelties. And still this reaching down,
this covenant not to be broken.
Hours before, I stood at the edge, ready.


The pigeons are everywhere --
and though the world would be about
the same without them, they have

changed our sense of it: the greens
greener; the sun more central
to our purpose; the shades deeper,

more irrational. The pigeons layer
themselves against the trees,
the incoming fog. I photograph them

against everything I know: hills,
coyote bush, eucalyptus. They fly at me,
caught in the brief caesura of wings.


I like the wild formality,
the strict order that survives.
Dune grass, beach rose;
a spindly yarrow. In rivulets

by the roadside, watercress
and vines of morning glory.
Closer to the sea, a struggling
pine; or tea tree bent by winter,

its muted foliage rustling
as the wind passes to the east --
peacock feathers of palest
|green. No ardent color

until you breach the dunes
|and tumble into summer:
volleyball players in orange
and neon green. A Coney

Island of umbrellas. Yet soon
the season closes, its color
spent. The beach resumes
itself: bleached, shucked,

strewn with shell; in browns
and olive greens, kelp tautens
on the shore and turns to salt.
Forward into autumn the egret

stretches; left to themselves
on sandy shoals, the harbor
seals growl and mumble, earth
tones blending and breathing

as they shift about. Pelicans,
in silent flight, cross over.
Steady as a line of patriarchs,
they move from sunset into dusk.


The color of death is in a rainbow,
in the flamed winds that blow until the last leaf
drops. It blazes in reds, blues, yellows,
in purples and greens. It is alive with itself,
as if nothing but itself.

It is a rumpled sheet, a hollowed pillow,
the shadow of a shadow. It shows itself
on the side of a house where the moon
seeps in, and on the Gothic side
where the moon does not.

It is in the seeds you gave me at your wedding --
the marigold, the Aztec flower of death.
Now they blom in fields of orange
and gold. You married in the spring.
I planted them in autumn.
I have made an altar, a meeting place,
and hung a canopy of hand-painted flowers
that mirror the flowers of night.
My ancestors come down to me --
skeletons, dolls, puppets

dangling from the crib of heaven --
their bones knocking like wind chimes,
their mouths clacking.
I listen as they tell me stories
of deserts and the wild wind in poppies.

I used to think I would dress myself
in black as if I were God's last chance.
But now I take myself with a grain
of salt. Nothing more than a skeleton with skin.
And in my skull, the seeds of marigolds.


These stunted misbegotten trees
still hold the eye. How long have they endured
this Heathcliff weather,

scorned and scorning? No counterparts
that I can see. No useless metaphor. A simple
edge in time. A way of holding on.

Hold on, hold on. I, too, am stoical.
The foxes turn their eyes. They wait for bones.
I cast them what I can.

Among the small panting breaths,
wind-swept trees, is there a voice that hears me,
no matter how isolate my whisper?


The light-flood is billowing through gusts
of fog swept inland off the ocean. It moves
my soul these openings and closings --
the breathing in and breathing out; intervals
of silent grey and then the sky expanding.
Yet dusk is where we should be. It is that time.
I've checked my watch. The world seems ready.
But oh, these flashes of unearthly light:

rebellious, unwilling to concede! I speak,
of course, from the vantage point of Earth.
In interstellar space, no light is cast.
Elsewhere darkness swallows matter. Here,
as we tilt toward night, I yield and make my peace.
The evening, in its borrowed hours, beautiful.


Leaves glint in the early wind.
They show their desire for
the sky that is inscrutable.

I can smell eucalyptus
and sweet acacia.
Closer still, the white narcissus.

The brighter flowers
have yet to lift their heads.
These I await

with impatience,
as I await the storm,
out there, somewhere,

breathing its moist flowery air.
This is the time to lift
the feathery grass

from around the daffodil
and crocus.
This is the time for sacrifice,

for the plucking
of what grows too fast
and threatens,

so the solitary ones
may rise and speak to us
in wise, uncluttered tongues.


            I don't know yet, but just looking helps.
           Not pilfering. Just looking. Leaving what I see intact.

A gaze following as I write. Someone
I can't quite place. I get up and walk to the window.

One ruined look....his work so near completion

One chapter more and I am done.

Branches flowering, lyre a limb

Best not to look back.

His will was yet unstructured
to the silence deepening close behind him

Although one must.

Could she move weightlessly
and by her weight still hold him to the path?

If only to make sure.

Her steps become the air, the light,
the breathing of the moon

That the one following is not out to get you.

Looking back he saw no other footsteps but his own

Someone with death on her mind.

While Eurydice,
melting down to empty fields of darkness

Or urgency.

No longer felt the touch of silver sand
upon her feet

So scary it must be broken.

No one there he could remember

If one is to stay alive in this world.



The sun is leached of all impurity,
landscape as well.

Windows of the house, any house,
burned with the clear image

of winter.

The morning crisp and virginal
An angel, like in old-time verse,

secretly contributing

Oh praise the Lord!

But would the Lord be lucidly etched
as what I look out-onto here?

Everything in focus, photographed
so beautifully

through a Leica lens
that worships reality -

even to the way the shy gray-greens of eucalyptus
detach themselves.

Only the bay tree
with its constant source

of budding green

seems to cut the edge of purity
from underneath us.


And now, just now,
spread out on an empty limb

the red squirrel that keeps its eye on me

like the eye in a portrait
that cannot do without you - the visitor

in a stale room that hopes for understanding
or resurrection -

and follows you - what else to do? -
around the room

and sees each bone,
each echo of the heart.


The absence fled into what he had not
expected - or the sky came too suddenly -

stars biting and pecking, fiery wheels
on a joy ride, the moon in a planetary huff.

She hissed and buzzed at him,
looking for a place to exterminate -

whereas he was looking for a middle place -
a dark, unroiled space of time

without fiery wheels and ravenous stars -
without a nervous moon buzzing you

to extinction - a place of dark absence
and noiselessness - for as long as it took -

from the universe zeroing in - eager
to get on with it - desperate to fill itself up -

determined to have it all, all of the time.
What he wanted was a small beginning.

What he wanted was to get out and then in.
What he wanted was a place of his own

to curl into - with no biting and pecking -
a dark absence - a place to get in and then

out - unless he was handed his hat, period -
the sky busy with its own significant detail.


                                        after Christopher Smart

For I will consider my neighbor Dorothy.
For she is kind to those she loves and knows the art
            of happiness.
For she dances in her kitchen and prepares the evening meal.
For her fingers press buttery dough that she fills
            with slips of apple.
For she feeds the cat that brushes up to her .
For she feeds the guests who pass through freely.
For she gives them freely of her labor .
For she brings me poetry when I am sad.
For she embroiders cloth and fills it with Attar's* sweet mystic birds.

For she did not flinch though they filled her with poison.
For she did not weep though she lost her hair .
For she did not break though they cut her to the breast.
For her feet were numb and still did she walk.
For her body was tired and still did she toil.
For her heart grew weary and still did she love.
For she looked on death and asked for instruction.
For she passed the cup and bade us drink.
For she dances in her kitchen and praises the world
               in all its parts.

* Farid Ud-din Attar was the 12th century Persian poet who wrote The Conference of the Birds (Mantiq Uttair)


The bees I heard, but could not see,
made no particular sense to me.
I thought the buzz man-made
and mechanically predictable -

until I stepped into their midst,
found nothing fixed, and let
momentum have its casual way
with me. How they whirled and purled

as they flew in flux in a wanderlust
toward positions of possibility!
Then someone shouted: Look at
all them bees!
And we collapsed,

without much fuss, into an observed
and perfect singularity.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle postulates (in the Schrodinger interpretation) that a particle doesn't have a single fixed location but a wave of possible positions until the wave is "collapsed" into a singularity by observation.


Blackness into light,
into light that once was darkness,

transpositions across the sky
like white shadows

crossing the morning, morning
the dusk; transparency that scans

the universe and retreats;
a tremulous sigh in late afternoon,

when self explores its possibility,
descending into gaze,

into sanctuary, blueness,
light. A sigh, tremulous, in late

afternoon, when self explores
its possibility and moves aside.

                            after Paul Valéry

It was when she said,
"It does not matter who writes the Poem,
it only matters that it is written,"

oh, you who weep so close to me,
stilled in the moment of tears

that the page opened

leaves gathering, glance upon glance,
so near to myself in the forests
of myself, watching

It was when she said,
"Do not hasten this tender act
that comes to you like a child in sleep,"

silently stepping,
earer and nearing,
sweetness of being and of not being

that my heart opened

deep forest
in the moment of song

and dared to wait in silence.


                      For Sharon Rowell, creator of the huaca: a clay
                       triplechambered vessel flute. Mendocino, California

The forlorn sigh spreads over her as she lies dreaming
a potter's dream in shapes of clay - foghorn-sound
so different from the blasting horns you hear
off the San Francisco bay. This voice comes just to her
and makes her want to weep - round, intimate
and deep - comes just to her. And makes her weep.

She wonders how to answer him, how she will love
him back. At her potter's bench, she begins to form
a single-vessel flute. As years pass by, she expands
her love into a triple-chambered heart. And ocean-
near she plays to him, and ocean-near his song
comes back - intimate and deep - and makes her weep.


How we each need the
other to exist; how earth is bound
to sun, and sun to moon,

and moon to earth; how each
of us needs the other's
gravitational pull in the

deep space we've fallen into;
how, when the steady scheme
dissolves, we escape into

that icy reach that holds
no human legacy, no tethering
of mind, body, soul.


It's a bland, tedious night.
No clout, no bluster.

A few stars puncturing

A poem here, a poem there,
like a drab melancholy,

like a senseless unity.
I need parts, I need pieces.

Come Havoc, destroy me!
Fling me into storm-rage,

into the heart of the no-heart,
into the place with wind.


Already the burning Pleiades descend into the ocean
and night becomes itself;

from a grove of black poplars,
the huge sigh and shift of wings;

and soon the Leonids will streak across a sky
and flare in a burst of showers,

sussuration and brilliance among the leaves,
a glint of the end folded into the beginning -
Give us, love, another kiss -

as birds fly down from dark branches
and by a pool a willow trembles,
then a strange and terrible knocking -

undo my hair, I pray you,
the weeping willow shall be my garland,
this bed my marriage grave -

as the funeral song unveils itself, petal
upon petal, until the words arrive
at the core, a woman

at prayer, kneeling on silken folds,
a mere quivering;

the end burned into the beginning and then out,
peony unburdening its heavy flower until
each pale petal drops;

and the night grown terrible again
with orchestrated flowers,

perfume, rising, like a sickness
amid the ruthlessness of love and even language;

and then the song re-opened, petal upon petal -
let me live a moment longer -
Give us, love, another kiss -

the weeping willow shall be my garland,
and birds shall fly from dark branches
into the emptiness of my song -

the wind knocking at the door, at the whole sky,
owl gone from the grove of black poplars,
a few last streaks from November's fading showers.

*From Verdi's Otello.





November nears and where the hour

of budding leaf, of quince and plum?

Flown with the bee that sipped each flower.


Yet still the fear of what to come,

the scuttling leaf, the dying sun,

the angst of loss and how to bear


the weakened state, the chilblain air,

as leaves, green sap withdrawn, release

their grasp and fall upon the layered


place of duff and rot and mast;

and still the fear of what is last,

the shriveled mind and shrunken past,


and then the corpse, the pall, the grave.

Timor mortis conturbat me.






Dark spider on the warm, dry earth – what sweet

surprise!  It runs before me on a path

that winds uphill among the aromatic

residue of monkey flower, mullein

weed and sage. As yet no rain, but rain

expected. Or so they say. A few bleak clouds,

a few last husks of wild oat that hold

as a reminder. How bravely they persist.


The air grows gray and chill, and through the mist

the sun has turned to silver – poor ghost of itself

damned to dream through winter. Where now, dark spider?

Where now, warm earth and lush swarm of summer?

Look up! The sky is slate. A dark wood

where the way is broken. Even the birds are still.







A small hand on the tree

                in winter


takes a branch and pushes

                it a little--


one way and than this –

                wind of the


world figuring itself out.

                We are not


the only ones to know how

                we know.





                                   for Henry Vaughn


I would like to believe in the everyness

of things. In the universe and fiery stars.

In the warp-worlds. In the greater possibility

of that impossibility. In the huge seductiveness

burning outside my window. Every night

it winks at me. Every night, at odds, I stare at it

and write strange sentences on yellow tablets

that create their own kind of haphazard universe

upon the table. I read them like a Rorschach test.

I see windmills. I tilt at them. I tilt at the universe

burning outside my window, dare it to make me

believe, to walk right up to me and announce

itself – shake me by the shoulder. There is

in God, some say, a deep, but dazzling darkness.






If the deer that nap in the shade

of the magnolia

are beautiful to me,

they are no longer beautiful to her;


nor the velvet antlered buck

that stands on its hind legs

and samples from the apple tree;


nor the bluejay that still pecks

at the kitchen window

and tries to woo her back

with lovelorn eyes.


I have never seen such eyes

in a bird before, never heard such tender speech.


Yet, if I take her by the shoulders

to turn her gently

towards the window,

she will do her best to slip away.








That poor old wing

having a heave-ho of itself .


And I, too, having the same heave-ho

in the ho of the wing.


The edge of myself

taken away


in her broken wing.




Even in my right mind,

death is not an easy issue,


Durable Power of Attorney


coming out from my mouth as Durable Power

of Eternity


in a slip of the tongue.


Mom, what do you want? Bodily parts?

Whole corpse? Creation?

She stares at me. Incredulous.

We embrace in laughter .

(Mother, please let go)







Like that old gray mare

the sky ain't what she used to be. . .


a little sallow, a little dry.

Until clouds on a spree come rolling in


and surround a bird high on a tree

reciting its melismatic text.


The sky leans in a little,

roused, if roused is what to call


this salute to clouds gathering

around a bird in a tree.


And then, because of wooing winds

and a blackbird singing


in the leafy tongue of a tree,

the sky throws off its dullard self,


assumes the mantle of heaven,

and spring, ludicrous, all honey and bees


and tournament of roses

rings in the blue and spacious plenty.








From a window parted on the world...

that lovely


melting into mauve...into violet evening.

Towhees and grosbeaks at rest, at last.


All day they sang obsessively.  As if their life

depended on success in love...and I remember


a lovely song that scratched its way across

the needle of an old Victrola.


I was young and curled my hair.  I wore

a skirt that day and a matching cashmere sweater.



Is this what it’s like to grow old?

To not remember the word for a wild hillside flower?


Or young again?  Seeing before

there’s a name to see with?  Purple blossoms


toppling into dusk, into shady curvaceous

evening.  Doves settling.  Towhees


and grosbeaks, wing-wrapped, drowsing

to the last few notes of song.



In Paris, a young debonair cranks up his Victrola

and a tune circles its way across the floor.


The music is tender and aches with love...

His plumage?...Slick black shoes,


striped suit, maroon and silver tie...

Eyes?...Green and flecked with gold?  How


could I not say yes to him?  I was young.

I was nineteen.  When he slipped his hand around


my waist – what else is there to tell? –

no longer drab, reversible, I learned to sing.






I don’t like the way the sky is feeling tonight.

I can’t get a reading.


Dry winds blowing endlessly,

no rain in sight.


A huge yawn of a sky,

the way it holds off and says nothing.

Auguries harder and harder to come by.


Limits discernible and closing.


Lovely weather, nonetheless.


A ridge of high pressure, like a seawall,






                                                for Tom Mosher


As you stand over his body, emaciated

to where flesh is lost to bone, extubated,

dying, almost invisible on a white,

comfortless bed, and feel that in your grief

your heart can bear no more, I, who never

pray, pray for you, as you pray for him

this night, standing watch over your first-

born son, pleading not for an end of sorrow,

but a place for sorrow to be hallowed in,

even as your thoughts embrace his death,

and your hand, placed upon his chest,

receives the ebb of blood and breath.






It's like some sort of hell up here

without the rain. And nobody brings

me stories, things I can play with.

Outside, it's a desert of dying cacti.

Beetles explode in puffs of smoke.

Malay chickens strut about on stilts.

Not much else. Until the rain comes.


The tower is a drag. A virgin and

a unicorn vacuously discuss

the fine points of their relationship.

Musty. Unprovocative. Fruitless.

When they said I had to dry out,

they weren't kidding. I'd rather be

in the dungeon communing with bugs.


One of the Malays – the goldilocks

rooster – is being eaten by Rusty the Fox.

Rusty must have dug himself a sand hole.

Can God take the place of water?

Who put those chickens here anyway?

They're foolish and hysterical.

When they've all been eaten to the bone

and the fox and the cacti are dust,

I suppose I'll have no other choice

but to make up my own boring stories.


"Once upon a time there was a Virgin

who lived in a fertile land with gobs

and gobs of blood. It ran sticky and sweet

and the unicorn, terrified. . ."






Come on! Come on!

It's a gift called Radiance.


It comes once, perhaps

twice, in a lifetime.


You go to war for it,

you forsake all others.


You follow  it to freedom

or extinction.


You struggle each day

for its promise


of joy. You do

your damndest to answer


annoying questions.

You think long


and hard into the night

when everyone else


is asleep. You say you can't

go on, but you do,


your feet placed

on firm, perilous ground.





                                after Rainer Maria Rilke


Sliver of moon,

what hand deft enough

to capture in one quick stroke

your first delicate appearing?


This slimmest paring?

Poignancy that affects the whole?


The birds have flown.

No seagull’s white

to vie with your barest glimmer.


The fog stands off, banked in purple,

and the sky, in a golden flush,

relinquishes itself to you.


No stars.  Not yet.  The mind

concentrated on this minimum,

this brief apostrophe that commands the eye.


Prelude to the fullest flower,

crease of silk to the flowing gown,

your merest presence: profound desire.







My brother singles out

a single blue-eyed grass

emerging from the wet

November ground.  My mother,


wrapped in an old shawl,

her shoulders hunched, body

dwarfed, bends a little lower

to where he points.  They stand


for a while talking about

different grasses, what

to expect in spring, her eyes

lifting, once, to take him in.






The hillside floats in a light wind. Standing there

in changeling form, I watch as quail come twittering

up the slope and break the spell of silence –

or is it wretchedness? – that hangs like a shroud

at dusk, nacreous pools where doves once drank

insidious and blank. No mirror to mirror

my strange unseeming, no shimmer to dissipate

the haunted world of anguish and self-doubt.


Disturbed, the quail hesitate, drop back,

although, distilled in thought, I spread no shadow

where they pass. How heavy I must seem to them,

the unsubstantial ones that melt away

like prayers into the underbrush. A gaze

of centuries turned inward. Gravity collapsed.






We’ve arrived at the Doctor’s, all three of us,

my mother, Mrs. S, and I.  “We’re arranged

in order of our appointments,” I explain

to the receptionist (who is invisible, at least to me

standing behind my mother and Mrs. S).


“We each have fifteen minutes of the Doctor’s time,”

I continue.  “My mother, as you can see, is first.

Then she.  Then me.”  “Oh, is she in the garden, too?”

my mother turns to ask.  “Yes,” I say, touching

her small bony shoulder.  “And so am I.”







Every night he slipped the story on

like a second self, like a silk chemise his wife

once wore, like sepals overlapped around a bud,

like new bark on green skin, like a boy

in love with flowers – so naturally did it fit.

In the morning, the dream unraveled.  It unspooled

and ran like water.  His mind could not retrieve one pebble.


The sun blew over him.  He felt a chill.

Like a re-run of a classic.  Someone had sold out,

was being hunted down, was running through the streets

of an old city, hopping a tram in the nick

of time, traveling backward, changing into something

more comfortable – the body of a girl, who fled

into the same irresistible sorrow, night after night.







The last door of light now opens

on a depth of field that is trans-


personal to the eye fastened open,

to the eye that has no choice


but to see the deep field, the

violation of that Other Eye


that scans distance from such

an anonymous point of view;


an agony at first, the eye fastened

open, unable to look away


from what is insisted, from what is

imposed, unable to blink away


that Other Eye staring down the

distance in a curse of light,


lens shattered, objects trashed,

a vacancy of matter,


the eye fastened to the inscrutable,

to the unbearable, to what


is intended, to what is imposed,

to what is given...heavy lid


now opening to the first shadowy

lgiht – to shadow and light


cohering – the Other’s steady eye.






                Museo Nazionale Romano


There is nothing frenzied, mad,

or even joyous about this figure of a maenad

with her pet goat.  Instead


there is gentleness. Playfulness also.

Smiling, she takes the goat by its left horn

and pulls him toward her ,


the animal responding, leaning

into her with adoration – according to the eyes,

the fond expression.


All this in stone palpable –

the flowing gown and shaggy coat, the tenderness

and love between the goat


and woman. . .palpable.

But every madness has its interlude,

its strange calm gift.





HIGH IN THE SISKIYOU                                                                                                                                                              





Downstream, you sensed

their presence, a dark spot almost

invisible amid green water,

a near-imperceptible


roll to the surface. At night

on a high tide they came in, trading

the heavy salt of the ocean

for clear, fresh water,


the rain-sweetened

river urging

them always upward

to taste their water of birth.




To arrive at this stretch of meandering

stream, they have wasted

themselves like warriors in battle. Their fins

are frayed and torn,


their dark backs splotched with white

infection. They hover

in the shade of boulders and pine snags,

slowly waving their tails,


opening and closing their mouths.

Within a few weeks

they will spawn, shuddering out the last

of their lives to the cold


creek gravel, and their bodies will slide

downstream with the steady

current they've obsessively fought,

their ripened red flesh


disappearing into bear and raccoon,

becoming meadow grass. . .

flowers. . .

streamside pines. . .






I used to like old lamps,

the kind of light they shed, soft,


oblique, wistfully withdrawn, a hint

of modesty in intrusive times.


And when their source was struck

and failed,


I valued candles equally as much.

But then I valued


anything that winnowed darkness

and cast a flattering glow.


In the merciless glare

of bulbs nothing stands a chance –


not the stars, not you, not the slip of a moon

barely beginning to declare itself.




Today, drowsily engaged in a winter sun

and my orange tabby cat,


I watch how the pupils of his eyes

contract, revealing a luminous


sea beyond.  By evening,

that luminous sea has vanished


and what I see in them –

or what they see themselves –


is darkness opening to light.






The storm plays its dark, windy primitivo

against the old house on the hill.

Panes rattle, and high up in a room,

a woman parts the curtains to stare out

at the sky.  What she sees is a black

spider hanging just outside her window.

Its body is sleek.  It must eat well.


She also sees that the sky is lit by Orion,

that he, too, hangs just outside her window –

or that the black spider is hanging

inside Orion hanging outside her window –

and that the two now seem inseparable.

Perhaps the constellation or the spider

will have to be renamed.  And what of herself?

Has not the spider chosen to be by her?

And she by the window that faces Orion?


When Orion sets, the spider disappears.

It hates the day.  She loves the day,

but more and more she finds herself

waiting for that time of night when the spider

drops outside her window; for that time

of being when she appears before

them both and becomes part of the frame-

work, part of the scheme: Woman-Housed-

in the Winter-Sky-of-Spider-and-Orion.










I had a moon once,

I thought ideas

that ended in desire.


I was hooded

and boneless

and yet I reached.


I was a layman’s dream.

I came in curves

and implications,


but none of them

had substance.

And, then, one night,


in a small, dark room,

I saw an anguished figure

sitting in a chair.


His face was ashen,

his harvest was a thorn.

I wanted to embrace him,


ease his fear of death,

but grief had taken over

and there was nothing left.


And so I served as witness,

standing by his side,

although I, too, was terrified


and wanted more.

When I asked (his face

was ashen, I  watched


him face the void) if I

should stay, he couldn’t

mouth a word.  Did he meet


death as a substance?

Well, he faced it.

But he could not look at me –  


though I looked on.





                Tilden Park  in early Winter


Now when I walk, I see Winter’s skeletal remains of Spring’s new life and growth.

Wild Anise, you are transformed into a different kind of beauty!

Gone is your delicate green foliage,

Your golden clusters of seed-bearing flowers.

Now you have a dry linear beauty

As you stand tall and isolated against the sky.

If I could look at you with innocent eyes

Unclouded by experience from the past,

I would not label you “Dear old dried out Anise”!

For death has pared you down to your form’s essence,

Rhythmic, alternate, skyward branching,

Each branch tipped with lateral star-bursts.

And I have seen you in the early mornings –

A child’s wondrous fairy tree,

Bedecked with prismatic dew-drop diamonds

Hanging from each seed-pod cluster.

You have brought back memories of a child’s delight

In all that sparkles and reflects the sun,

And of the magic of a single drop of dew!

But tell me, Wild Anise,

Explain the mystery on which I have so often pondered,

When does your thin sere skeleton fall

And merge with the earth below?

The winds of winter play a theme of dessication

And of death upon your slender dried out frame,

But do not mow you down!

You stand there rustling all through winter,

High above the low ground cover

Of brambles, weeds and grass.

How will there be room around you

For the seeds that you have sown?

But then, at some unnoticed stage in time,

There is only new young growth of Anise

And your remains I cannot find!

April 1994

Frances Behrend Burch (1907-2005)








A last kiss and

we all move forward


The Venetian blinds opening

their gills


to the simple pleasure

of water and night


The stars breathing

our respirations as we imagine


sweet winds, sweet kisses

at the edge of sleep


Do not forsake me, I say

to my mother in her empty bed







No graves even in the mind.

We don’t do death the way we used to:

Achilles prostrate on the ground,

grief-dust crammed into each leaking pore,

neck jerked back, mouth wailing to heaven.

No answer there – except the screak

of a hawk. Here, dirt-screwed, soul-plucked.

You can’t do torture better than that.

Do you think, if you tell him to get on with his life,


to put Patroklos behind him, he will listen?

His world is spoken for, he knows exactly what

he’s born to. At an end soon enough

his brief but glorious life. Corruptible into

the incorruptible. A thing the weeping

spirit visits. Agony drowned out. We here,

on a rocking boat, my sister, my brother,

and I scattering our mother’s ashes over water.

No god-hurl. Quiet moments. Quiet death.






A small disturbance in the leaves,

scurry of rats across the roof...

then, suddenly, the stern crack

of thunder, unrelenting fire.


What had we done, or not done,

to deserve this rage? Wind

clacking at the windows; leaves,

their sharp-toothed beaks,


struggling to get in? Mind,

dissolved, put back into its cage

of terror, dispossessed of god

or ghost? What have we done? Or


not done, to deserve erasure?

This banishment from Time?

It started as a simple storm, then

suddenly it spread like fire.






The astronomer

Cornelius Gustaf Jimenez

 has heard


the sound

of a black hole



singing in B flat

but a B flat


fifty-seven octaves


than middle C


the lowest note

of the universe


Cornelius Gustaf Jimenez


a musician also


He plays the cello

and likes

Beethoven's Late String Quartets


In particular

the Quartet in B-flat major


that expresses what

he himself cannot express



of tenderness

that knows no bound


A suffering that offers

its own redemption


(the word anguished*

written over a passage

of ghostly beauty)



that illuminates

the lowest note transposed



of love



on the shores

of a great silence









I was young, so full of song, but not the one you needed.


You abandoned me. I returned the favor.


You were a huge ocean washing with sound.


I stayed and I whispered.


Who knew what lay in your heart?


The house is empty. But not as empty as you.


You are now so near.


If there is anything far in you, it must be me.


I          I cannot get over my grief no matter how many songs I write.


If I cannot write of you, what’s left for me to sing?


And yet when you, oh breath! were here I shunned you.


I cannot swear it would not happen again.







My husband’s face,

as he naps in the rocking chair,

is becoming more and more

like his father’s –

death-masked, embalmed,

recreated –


and yet I love him more

for this aging

into another’s age.


He has worked so hard

to become so different.


Before my mother died,

I swore I would not repeat her.


And yet I do.







The moon is full, or almost full,

and all around me people are swaying

in discontent. The fullness bothers;


the stars appear less numerous

obscured by the ripe candescence;

imagination less free to explore the coming


forth, the going hence; the ones

that come to you unbidden

from deep night without the orisons


and bright hosannas. . . more like embers

in a black ocean, a nearly silent

weeping. . .  umber butterfly, miles out


to sea. . .  feather fallen on blue grass. . . 

so lightly it rested on the water. . . 

at odds, beautiful, with death.







The knife of departure

drives deep into the water.


A thousand wounds!

Each one a slippery fin


angling off.  How far do they go?

As far as the South


China Sea? As far as death

from the ones it deserted?


How deep does it go?

The knife of departure?




The night cools,

the hooting owls far off


as the sound of waves

in a distant ocean. . .


I remember how you used

to look at me



if it was time to go.






Come on, you honey-muckle,

you snuggle-sniff,

I say to the ferret

scampering and snaking his funny stuff

through every orifice

and sneak-hole of the living room.


His name is Dale

and his fur smells of honeysuckle

instead of musk.


And he goes a-snoodling

and a-snockering

through conduits and couches;

burrows his head in a shoe;

takes a bite from a bag of Nachos.


What a field day they’re having!

these lonely, lovely ones,

who otherwise would stare

at nothing, watch TV.


Now they are laughing,

gasping with delight,

as he does his shimmer-shake

and runs from lap to lap.


And oh, my heart! In it,

a thousand blooms, an ocean of plumes!

For he, this hour, in his feverish lust,

hath restored to us our youth,

our fundamental joy.






They have all joined in, the jakes and sultans,

have shuddered their fans and thrummed;

puffed themselves up with the pomp of death;

displayed their wattles and snoods

to the feeding hens that appear

unmoved by the fanfare and bluster —

eyes turned not to the dance, the display,

the formal parade, nor the slow turn

brought to an end with a stamp

of wings and release of air; but to

the seeded earth and bugs below,

as the gobblers move, superb and aloof

among their chattering, dismissive harem.


And then, one day, after weeks of refusal,

my oldest and fondest — who chased

from her feed the antlered deer

and curious cats — walked meekly forward

and placed her head against the chest

of the ugliest tom and most grotesque.

I breathed a sigh, then held my breath.

The day was pure and still.

I thought of Mallarmé’s white page;

the holy sonnets of John Donne.







Venus burns low in the southwest

attended by crescent moon — Oh,

what a song is here! If I could sing it.


There’s ice on Mars, they say,

pure water ice — thousands of square miles of it — 

more than a mile thick.

How we wish the planet well.

And us. Humans could melt

the ice and drink it.


What will we do up there?

For that matter what do we do

down here. Search for life?

For meaning? Study what’s left us?

A small price to pay

for being mortal.


Low in the southwest,

Beauty sets. We wish her well.







What the sweet heart sips

is not the joy

but the transformation


and though we sense its presence

coming before it is — 


the universe un-graspable

but here nevertheless


nearer and nearing,

the mind harnessed to it


locked in a treasure hunt

giddy for the bright trinket

that unveils


torn meanings

fondest play-things — 


it is there always


dangling before our eyes.






Inhale, exhale—breathe

                and exhume – 


Ocean – O mighty fortress – 


plume and spray on fleeing

                shore. O


splendid privacy of fog,

                of birds.


Snowy plover a ghost

                in the eerie


light of dawn—so soft,

                so wing,


so love! Later, when the sun

                broke through


not a single cemetery



How little I died for you this







That's all it took that evening. A glance

over her pale, sloping shoulder ... the kind of

look Pallas Athena might throw to her mortal charge,

Ulysses, as she disappears along the rocky island path ...


Husband adrift with a book on the sofa,

cat spread out before a gold and crimson fire.

Everything as it should be this Sunday in December ...

until, with that sideways glance, she separates herself


from them, from the faithful homebodies

she had thought never to be separate from ...

until that look over the shoulder, the starry-eyed

adieu, the sweetness that partakes of sorrow. How slippery


she is: reflection in a secret pool; sand

shone-upon by water; clouds dissolving into light.

How ancient her hands ... As if made of green oblivion ...

Eyes, still turned towards them, like hindsight cast in silver.








Bat was company

tonight. Angle, curve. No slack

in his momentum ...




Bat has moved from storage

to first class. He hangs from

hemlock and dreams of Socrates.

Or Socrates of him.

His nose leaf is an organ of perception.




Today I climbed a ladder

to observe the delicate nuance

of his feet. Why would

a woman scream in fear

to have Bat dangling from her ear?




Bats in the belfry is not

the same thing. To know Bat

you must live at home with him.




Bat has lent me an ear.

It is frightening to hear

the world like this.

Forget about harmony.

Forget about spheres.




When Bat flew out tonight

I felt a chill.

My company is not enough.




What must I do to get him back?

My arms are not equipped.

My ears are deaf. Even my

mother suggests I give it up.




Perhaps she too flies

with sensitive wings;

has a new circle of friends;

has begun to forget.







Mother, you hid,

one night in July, at dusk;

but instead of hiding laughing, you were sad.

And the children of those extinct

evenings have grown weary from not finding you.

Now a shadow falls across the soul.






The moon blotted by clouds.

Tomorrow the second anniversary.


I have made a cake.

The candles number one hundred.


We blow them out

with three grand breaths.


But we are not together

at the anniversary.


We live in separate pools

of thought. So perhaps she soars


to remind us how beautiful

it is to love – releases feather.





                after a line by Zbigniew Herbert


It is in terrible taste for nature

to condemn a woman schooled

in words slowly to become

a ghost of words; she who excelled

in Scrabble, crossword puzzles,

and crushing critical remarks.

I asked her once for guidance,

on how my life should go. Two                                                   

sentences came back. I thought

her very cold. But now that I

am also old, I see she meant

no harm – merely wished to set

me straight with the fewest words

that spoke the purest faith.






Two, perhaps three times,

I thought I'd got

to the bottom of things.


I swarmed with Heisenberg' s bees – 

until they dumped me;


I stood at the sea shore

and shouted platitudes.

They all came back.


The third, if there is a third,

happened long ago:


a problem in geometry

had me stumped – 

I fell to the ground laughing.


Now I see. if I do see,

that to dismiss the world

is something like getting to the bottom

of things.


You think up principles;

you fall in love;

you throw it all away.

You play with outlines;

you are a child inventing the life of a doll.


Your eyes are fixed

On the heart of things.


It is of great concern

that all who are invited

show up.






I like the mood of the manzanita,

the way it sloughs its winter bark, inviting me

to brush away its dark furls and touch

the lucid underneath.


Miraculous exposure.  Liquid notes

of a piano piece I played

as a child.  Fingers sensing the melancholy

resolution, the holy striving,


the falling from and drawing near

to God – simple at His source

but hard to grasp, as the new bark of the manzanita

is hard to grasp, though near


and touchable.  But not touchable

in what the feel of the new spring bark

invokes: the child closeness of what the child

senses, the aftermath of a simple theme – 


a sarabande in D minor, for example,

and how it played to the nearness

and farness, how Bach searched exquisitely

the agile motions of his soul


touching. or trying to touch. an immense

longing; as today I try to touch,

in this quiet glade, the ghost of love,

elusive as the wind, and swift like a  receding dream.







may regret this night that erases the moon – a Prelude

moody with misgivings – an angst urged on by gale-

force winds that threatens to blow out all the windows,

and make one wish to forget that there is such a thing

as nature... or human nature.  Have I explained myself

too fiercely in the letter? Brutalized her with the truth, if,

indeed, it is the truth. Antagonized with no hope of...

And yet, so beautiful, so dark these Chopin-esque

progressions descending to that one chord held infinitely.

Perhaps my sister, at the storm’s still center, awaits me.






And one day

in the midst of falling

it will come to her

that her time though brief

is cherished;

as the tiny flowers

that grow on the forest’s floor

are cherished;

as the bees that feed on them

are cherished;

and the light that invades the dark

is cherished –

visibly, audibly, palpably – 

in the modesty of its grace.







Near the horizon the cold glow of rose

and mauve — on the ground a few last leaves

from late December.  Orion about to begin

his slow sweep across the heavens — telling

time by his time (no shadow on a dial

half so sweet as this languorous slippage into

evening; the sky, in its winter chill, deepening

into Giotto's dream of indigo).  Sliver of moon.

Hint of stars.







A winged and fleshless battle

plays havoc in the trees,

and we, the faithful chattel,

have fallen like the leaves;


fallen and returned to ground,

flesh darkening on the mold,

this our newly trusted bond,

yesterday the lords of old:


shadows lengthening through the blue,

tall fires in the hall,

bright spaces where the swallows flew,

summer ripening into fall.


Great battle rings of war

returned victorious with plunder,

drunken nights were heard once more,

outside a growing wonder.


Burnished mail ceased to hum,

ravens gathered through the day,

and while our breath grew oddly numb,

another quickened in his sway.


A beast unseen, unknown

devoured each night a man of worth,

and as our fear began to grow

we gathered at the hearth.


We sang of ancient boasts,

of war and Heorot’s glory,

then drank large-portioned toasts

to what we were, as in a story.


Now fleshless as our dreams

and of our lands bereft,

we hum a bit of Heorot’s fiend

and scavenge what the dragon left.





                                             after Thomas Hardy


A black and yellow butterfly, this blithe

and reckless day, has met me on a crag

atop a hill and lured me with its beauty.

See, how it weaves its wings among the dead

stalks of wild fennel?  Departs?  Returns?

Why here, my sylph, my vanishing Giselle?

No nectar hangs upon these winter relics!

Though new growth will soon re-take the old,

never will it yield the sustenant drink

inherent in the lush, full-throated flower.

Where now, my gold-silk gown, my black-edged


Why flaunt yourself in danger’s hollow? Surrender

honest love to that which would destroy it?

Come, light upon my hand I’ll lead you to

a kinder path of lily, lupine, sage, where

even the stern, commanding oak brings forth

new tender growth that welcomes and delights.

Stay awhile.  Take shelter here.  Endure.






It is an easy sell, out here,

out late, in the west: the splendid


fog.  The owls buy in.

They become more lyric,


less visible, more supernatural.

How they resonate, these hoots,


in the nights nearing autumn.

How the crickets stridulate


with no one there to see them.

The houses on the hill, for example,


are beautifully degendered.

They used to shine so heatedly.


Now they are left to themselves.

The details that so perturbed me


after my mother’s death disappear

into the distance, into the fog.


“She died peacefully in her sleep,”

I write. To no one in particular.







Don’t you ever knock, she said to the suddenly

opened door that yielded nothing;

but the wind kept on knocking,

or the theory of the wind kept on knocking,

eventually followed by little catcalls

and a whole field of May’s bright flowers;

so it wasn’t clear exactly what was knocking,

hate or its lonely corollary,


that sometimes stands to the side.

And you huffed and you puffed, Brother,

until my house became a house of bricks

the better to oppose you.  We hurled stones,

Brother, till we were blue in the face.

We salved our wounds with mud.  Rested on straw.                                                                                                                                                                                                        





There’s night and day,


both bring joy;

sun, moon and stars,


all there

for our delight;

there’s likewise,

the wind

on the heath,

the music of birds.

Life is very sweet,


Who would want to die?





                  after the sale of my mother’s beach house


That sea-flood frightens me,

good memory; powerful guardian; implacable

cruel sweetness. It puts me on edge. . .

as does this house that calls to me

and assumes that I will enter.


Let’s not go in. It stirs up Orphic dreams

this permission to return at any time across a vanished

bridge.  I advance no further,

sweet guardian; courageous memory; sad

song skeleton.


How the dream of this abandoned house

engulfs me, entangles me,

and obstructs with savvy calculation my outlets

to a dry actuality.

The air is damp and boarded up.


That flood that doesn’t know how to hold back

rises higher and higher.

Courageous memory, I push no further.

Play the black keys, sad

skeleton. Sing your pale, whispering song.





                    “Fatti non foste a viver come brutti,

                    ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.”

                                  Inferno, Canto XXVI


Let’s look at Night,

deadly and aloof,

and yet it cradles us

in a rude, archaic rocking — 

uncanny berceuse.


We long for it, the dear-starry


adrift in our memory

and hungering;

keeping an eye


on what was; what is;

on the course forward;

therefore we venture

uncharted distances — 

sweet things


ferociously far away — 

the other side of impediment.

Night like the open sea — 


unmeasured in its response.







The writing table, how empty it looks!

And how weary the chair

that can’t quite rise to the occasion.

If you sit on it, however,

and turn just a little to look out the window,

you’ll see an elderberry in flower, wild mustard,

and a hillside of inflammable Scotch broom.

Ravens fly back and forth

across the valley.

I used to hate them.

Now they are friends.


The writing table has a life of its own.

It doesn’t need me.

Although once upon a time it seemed

to need me very much.

We composed poems together.

We drank wine at night;

and every morning, over coffee,

we talked to each other

in that soft, laconic language that lovers use.


We have grown shabby.

We have lost our stimulus.

I sense an emptiness.

Like a doll house that has grown up. 



 BEETHOVEN FOR WRITERS                                      


Meditate on Beethoven.

On a rising arpeggio that is methodically

shortened and fragmented

as it repeats itself.

With every contraction

the theme gains

in coiled energy

until whittled down

into a single




Meditate on the poignant juxtaposition

of the sacred and the earthy.

The change of emotions, the abrupt transitions.

The modulations not merely from key to key,

but from mood to mood.


A theme is stated, developed, pushed out

of shape, imperceptively deformed

until, though recognizable, it has become

quite different.  Like a childhood friend

not seen for fifty years.

Like an old sweetheart at a high school reunion.


Beethoven the ossifrage, the breaker of bones!

He first fills your soul with sweet melancholy,

then shatters it by a mass of barbarous chords.

He seems to harbor together

doves and crocodiles.


His music bristles with violence;

entrances with tenderness.

It is obstinate.

It is accepting.


Meditate on Beethoven.  The

stunning suspension of time in his

last sonata, where delicate trills grow into

a shimmering, pervasive harmony--like the

Big Bang in slow motion.  A narrator about to bring

to his lips the little spoon with its piece of tea-soaked madeleine.