Skipping Stones (#30)


The first time someone said
“I can make a stone float,”
You didn’t believe them.
But part of you wanted to—

Age four, five, knowing already that,
Heavy in the hand, rocks sink;
You were nobody’s fool, acutely
Aware that a trick was afoot;

We grow jaded so early!
But oh, succor, that
Small part of our brains
Willing to be persuaded—

So we watch, snapped from
The wrist, rifled, centrifugal,
The stone skips, spinning,
Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!

Across the water,
Marvelous reward for the
Willing disbeliever!
From that instant on,

As teenagers, adults,
We fall in love again, every time;
Counting each skip, each ripple,
Eyes wide as children.


Counting each skip, each ripple,
As though something were at stake.
Silly, to think how in sixth grade,
My class was challenged by our

Principal, to beat him in
Rock skipping—On the line?
A two thousand word essay, versus
Dinner of the student’s choosing.

Only three kids took him on,
And when my friend Matt won,
He requested surf and turf
With aristocratic nonchalance,

Taking great satisfaction in his
Lobster tail and tenderloin
As our principal, with teacher’s wages,
Blanched at the eighty dollar check.

So simple, to wing a stone
Sideways, askew, slipping,
Under-arcing, overreaching—
Everyone wants one more throw.


I spent my stone-skipping youth
On the banks of the Greenbrier,
Pocahontas County, West Virginia,
Where fractured slate was as

Abundant as stars,
Shining wet along the bank—
Practice, endless practice,
Smooth-edged squares,

Triangles, parallelograms,
The dark water swallowing
Each emotionlessly,
Only the smallest glub

As each stone disappeared,
Never to be reclaimed—
Never to be skipped again—
By me, I mean.


I was mostly married, once,
To a woman who took her
Stone skipping quite seriously,
Though she tried very hard

Not appear so. Thinly veiled,
Delighting in victory with a
Sinuous happy dance,
Two stepping on the muddy

Shore as she tallied each skip,
Counting thirty when I called “twenty nine”,
Innocuous, close as ripples,
Fading in the silky current.


Now my son tells me,
“Dad, did you know you can
Skip rocks along the road?”
And he shows me, this teenager,

Against a black river of macadam,
Sparking the asphalt
With tiny fires, igniting the
Atmosphere in its wake


What joy, forgetting what we know—
Kiss! Kiss! Twenty two kisses.
No, twenty three! Watch.
I can make a stone float.

August Picnic (#29)

August, all ready
Without being readied—
Only the pitching of
Peach pits,

Bruised tomato divots,
Tossed towards
The cherry trunk and
Gobbled up by grass, gone!

Gone, too,
Corn silk,
Garlic skins,
Filament husks,

Carried on the breeze
Through the red bud leaves,
Invisibly eddying,
Cooling bare legs.

A yellow-legged tree frog,
One eye gold,
One pupil-less eye

Fetched, full-handed—
Whitman’s summer,
Onward and outward,
Spread across gingham,

And death is bowls brimming
With plums, pears,
Peaches, tomatoes,
Diced garlic, and hot peppers.

Wounded Wasp (#28)

Wounded wasp,
Turning circles in the sunshine,
Hot with rage and
One warped wing—

I can’t help you,
But wish I could!
To be a surgeon
For your ailment—

Setting angles straight,
Poulticing pain;
But surely you would only
Sting me, bite me,

Passing poison
With no remorse.
Oh, wasp! Such reliable
Waspness! Bless you—

I will see you again
In tall grass, beatific,
Close to the earth,
Where cooling rains linger.

Lost Path (#27)

Twelve hours of July heat,
The workday ended weary
Well beyond dark,
Dewy stars sparkling,

And beneath my feet,
The path I’ve followed
For twenty five years
Has suddenly vanished—

Tangled in chicory,
Queen Anne’s lace,
Knee-deep in timothy,
Knit with clover,

And I understand
Suddenly that it’s
Me who has vanished,
Star-blind, stumbling—

The reliable path, so trodden,
Only inches left or right
In the corporeal darkness, is
A mile, an ocean, a world distant.

Mud Daubers (#26)

Peace-seeking mud daubers,
Lovers of good work,
Blue-black glinting
In the morning sun—

When, at age six, I climbed
The hot cinderblocks of the
Sow shed, and one brick tumbled,
Disturbing their labor—

Swarm! So many stings!
Instant admonishment,
Bare legs blistered with welts.
Moments later, in the farmhouse

My stone-eyed uncle asked me
“Why are you crying?”
For the same reason,
I now understand,

That a forty year old man
Could ask a child
Such a caustic question:
Acute suffering.

But more mysteriously,
I knew I cried also for the
Humming haste of the wasps,
Dutifully heuristic, adults whom

I respected, and had never
Intended to disturb.
The moment I fled, they calmed,
Returning to their parging,

Plastering pipes.
Pipes? Flutes!
Cylinders stuffed with spiders,
Beetles, flies. Feasts.

Look! Their waists,
Thin as bow hair;
Susurrant wings
Softly warning. Merciful.

Metallic musicians, conducting,
Near the reeds at
The edge of the marsh
Balling wet clay,

Mandibles filled with mud,
Pragmatic silence.
Futile, to proffer pain,
When grace is your language!