Leaky Poem Syndrome

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Imagine my consternation when, as the practical child of a practical people, at a very young age I began to leak poetry. Written in dribs and drabs on throwaway scraps and the margins of notebooks, verse dripped out of me like a runny nose, and every bit as awkward. I hid the result as best I could, knowing how little sense such an affliction could possibly make in this world of straight lines and tidy margins. Still, the leaks occurred, and when I ran out of fingers to plug the failing levee, the overflow nearly did me in. Here are a few I've pulled from the flotsam.

On Kearsarge Pass

When I got to the top, all the world
arrayed, the mules too high far down
I met strangers with their wild eyes, all wondering silently how it came to this
how they found themselves
gold even in shadow
iridescent in the grasp of the sun
their crowded lungs breathing too strong at weak air
clouds close
birds below
each figure taller than the earth itself,
indecently small crammed here on a scratch crossing the belly of the world
after its wild epochal thrust up to etch the sky

we are giddy or confused, chastened, stripped each to an awkward mammal
one step from a paroxysm of indelicate flight
we struggle to wonder whether we might trust these trails
that lead us unwittingly up
to lead us back down to proper earth again.

I tried to call you.
On a borrowed phone,
you disbelieved at first.
The connection was bad.
Now the press of people, at the borderlands of the wild
strained to listen surreptitiously while I grasp for words
buried beneath my days of solitude,
my weeks of driven-forward motion,
packed somewhere deep in the load I carry on my back.
Had this love stowed away with the trail mix, or the water filter,
or at the tip of the one pole that suspended my tent night after night?
Did the others, wedged together with me upon these perilous rocks, expect
they'd switched to a daytime drama on the screen of heaven?

But I lost the words to summon you on the other end of the signal.
The others might have thought the connection was broken in other ways, too.
Instead, the enormity,
the great sky
the ineffable peaks
and this surge I felt toward you
overcame me.
All this trouble, the extra miles, the climb, the audience —
only to tell you I loved you
and then I could not.

They stared, and the call dropped.
Nothing said.
Returning the phone, I turned and, inured to splendor,
ran back down the mountain in the direction I'd come
to the trail that I hoped would take me eventually home to you.
"Where is she going?" I heard follow me down the switchbacks
on my way back to the wilderness.
Let others explain.
The salt on my cheek was not perspiration.
I walked too fast, but these weeks had made
this my trail
and so my feet were sure.
I came to a lake, named for a creature who might have lived there.
I jumped in, fully clothed.
This would fix it.
This would fix how much I missed you.

Later, the press of lightning, terror, height,
glory upon glory of great high lands
stretched too wide, too vast for comprehension
would pull the cells of my body, expanding,
would put you back in perspective in my mind
one man, mine,
somehow on the same planet as mountains.

Advice to the Girl Child

About your beauty, Young One.
Know it. It flickers
and swells, a candle lit in drafty places
but do not stare too long and hard.
It will burn you.
As it is, it burns in men
it alters faces
they will approach and flee you,
according to their circumstances.
Do not mind this current,
but place your feet on rock your will lays down.
Child, i might tell you to fear it
for it can tap and leak you,
too slow to notice until some distant lonely parched day.
But it is yours, it is you,
and you should know and treasure
and delight in yourself, always.
Impossible shifts of light await you.
There is no way to prepare you, Child,
because, though you are so young,
the future is not yours. All that is
yours is the present. This will not change.
And you are terribly beautiful now.
When you blush, you glow
when you question, you beckon.
Child, hold your beauty, a fragile, fearsome thing
cup it between your uncertain hands
whisper your secrets there, and listen
be kind to those who try to catch you
and feel no compulsion to them.
Your beauty is your own.


after you've come
after all the crackling fire has seared from your haunches
expiring the oxygen inside of me
after the meat in your shoulders, back, moved boulders
aside to find your way in
and your lungs expelled all the work of your blood
in a long deep cry letting go from the top
i find you in my arms and legs, cradled, collapsed
breathing through a door that's opened
on the other side of strong

What to Do With a Monster

It abides no rope nor cage.
It goes wherever it pleases and smashes at will.
My commands may entertain, but not constrain it.

How do I slay it?

When I stand before it, or approach from the rear,
It springs and, landing, takes me down.
It chews on me. It hurts.
I grow dizzy from gnawing, or from fear?

These wise and learned men and women
Offer me their weapons and advice.
I try them more than thrice.
And still, I am destroyed.

Is this my solitary fight?
What can be added by my mate?
He kindly clears the ring of debris,
But behold, again, my fate.

I lose. I weaken. I obsess.
Repeating, as insane, the useless match.
Suspecting now my fight must somehow come
To coexistence, not conquest.

Read more about the migraine monster here.


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this unwinding Down at the ends of days or lives —
where are the soaring strings in that?
my lover walks softly from day to day,
observing fondly the plants that grow, the fish that swim,
the playfulness of an old dog.
he settles in, watching television, playing a game with friends.
he holds me at night as if there
are no wars, as if it is the only thing.
i join him, glad for something true, but daytime
brings puzzles. i grow wrinkles.
my uncertainty multiplies, becoming a thin gauze
everywhere, translucent, pliable
it binds me, it merely graces my skin
i adjust to it, i cannot move, i wear it as a gown.
when young, i had epiphanies.
now, the paradoxes prompt me to move to another room,
look for a better chair.
i am impoverished. i am happier than i've ever been.
my life is quiet, i rest, i'm going nowhere.
still, i am tired where old muscles stretched too far.
Does one ever recover from passion?

Breakup Dirge

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This is my bed. The place in the middle is my place. The table that isn't a table is my table. The song that comes from me is my song. My journey is holy. My journey is still.

My heart beats, and beats, and beats. It beat before you, it beats for you, it beats after you. Each night is a night without you. Each day is a day without you. I do not anticipate you. I do remember you.

I do remember you.
You are a verb inside me. You remain, changed.
You are a verb inside me.

You are a man outside me. I cannot speak to your life. You are a life outside me. Inside me, you are a verb.

This is not you, this verb. You are a memory. This is an alchemy. This is a current, a torrent, a muse. You are a man outside of me. I do not know you outside of me. I do not know you outside of me. I cannot follow you, I cannot taste you. You are a crucible inside of me. You are a changeling inside of me. You are an utterance, a prism, a chamber. You are a movement inside of me.

Releasing you.
This is a rite inside of me.
Grief is an embryo inside of me.

Your love straightened my spine.
Your love straightened my spine.
It was the best I ever had.
It was the best I ever had.

I need to take time with my Question.
I heard the answer was "no."
I told it the answer was no.
Still, it is perched on the sill of my heart
Asking itself of all comers.
I heard it was the wrong question.
What is not heard is repeated.
What is not heard is repeated.
It remains perched on the sill of my heart.


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they just are.
the forest makes its constant small noises
minute adjustments of gravity and growth
not so different from my lover, asleep.

there is no excuse a tree can offer at its 1,000th year
no conversation to explain its three hundred thousand days
or why it absorbed so many rivers of water
and exhaled those perfumed breaths.
not even birds scold such a tree
time is no burden to its height
it is enough, just that it lives
it is enough, just that he breathes.

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