Ain’t Nothing Straight (v.2.3)

Ain’t nothing straight:
This farm house
Bain to masons;
The jigsawed barn
Anathema— in 2007
A one-footed carpenter
Threw his hammer over
The hill, and I found
It years later
Ensconced with rust;
In 1999, the Venetian
Complimented the fence rows—
So straight, so precise—
Ignoring the rolling hills.
The wind? Not straight neither,
Combing the fields into
Parts: left, right, backwards,
Cowlicked. What kind of place,
Where the walnuts wend
Wayward, and the spring
Trickles at turns silver,
Opaque, translucent, its
Fish free to fly to the
Shenandoah, Potomac,
Chesapeake—triangulated,
Just as rivers run straight!

I’ve seen nothing straight—
My sister, the one who
Reads Emily Post, shows me
Her her crooked fingers,
Bent now at the
Knuckle below the nail.
It’s a syndrome, she says.
I remember in 1984
When she bought a
Purple Rain poster,
Hanging it on her West
Virginian wall.
Holy, this disobedience!
Even the pious,
Bent at the knee,
Flip to the page
The priest instructs.
So much flipping—
So much rise and sit,
Fall, and arise! But
Across the open pasture,
Spiraled sunshine streams
Forth—touching nothing as
It passes near,
Around,
And almost straight through.

Two Hawks (v.2.2)

A pair of sharp-shinned hawks
Found our farm. Never
Far from one another,
Perched in the outstretched arms

Of hackberries—trees, in their way,
Probably not much
Older than the birds. I made
Rounds on the tractor, mowing winter

Blackberries, burgundy
Canes guarding thick blankets
Of dead grass—mouse’s houses—
Summer pasture passed over,

Too prickly for the delicate lips of
Cattle. They watched me, these
Two, leaning with suspicion,
Approximating my proximity,

And I recalled when, as a boy,
I raised a sheet of sun-warmed
Tin—a collapsed shed roof—
To discover two black snakes

Tranquilly coiled and watchful,
Dark shadows in the dust,
Flickering forked tongues
To taste my intent. Delighted,

I sprinted to inform the farm
Hands, only to return the next day
To find the metal thrown aside,
And both snakes decapitated.

No hydras here, their
Bodies stiff with rigor mortise,
The tracks of boot heels
Puncturing the dust, black

Blood everywhere. Bitter
Betrayal! A boy, I buried
Them in the stony, splashing
Sepulcher of my heart, left

Decades for the hawks
To find, falling earthward
To soar, winging skyward
In an effortless, unwavering arc.

The Edge of Wild (v.2.1)

The edge of wild, where
Hickory and goldenrod nod
Cobwebbed September awake—
Afternoon heat from the asphalt,
And the sweetly stinking carcass
Picked over by the black-headed
Buzzards until, sated and flown,
Timid turkey vultures approach,
Sadly hopping forth with hope.

You’ve seen this broken
Scene, the forty six year
Old man, castaway in the wreck
Of self-loathing bones—
Oh, wild! No pity, too broken
To even wash his own socks,
Hunting asparagus along the fence
Rows sprung forth from bird droppings.
Succor! Wild child! Still,

We dream of mothers
From 1950s sitcoms, smelling
Chocolate chip cookies
As we forage for fiddleheads,
Chanterelles, ramps along the wooded
Creek bottom. Unrequited comfort.
The apron strings so starkly
Black and white, and
The kitchen set straight every night.

Out on the river, the water
Gin-clear, the man looks
Over the side and sees
Not only the stony bottom but, just
Above, catfish, blue-gray shadows,
Scores upon scores, uncatchable as
Sleeping dreamers, unconscious
And floating one inch above the bed—
Or three feet below, it doesn’t

Matter. It’s a very deep sleep.
Oh, heartbroken wild,
Wracked with nodding shame!
Grief! Suffering! The man fixed
Frozen where the water is so clear,
He could reach a hand and
Pluck a fish brightly as a guitar string—
One lonely, tentative note, filling the
Autumn air with plaintive song.

Love Poem From Quarantine (#52)

I can’t hold April from
Six feet away, can’t
Smell her, kiss her,
Taste her from behind
This cotton mask.

A spring of many mouths—
Chickweed opening its lips
To the anxious wasp,
The first drowsy honey
Bees, pollen-thick thighs,

Tongues licking purple red
Buds, lavender-perfumed
Lilacs. Dogwood spied
Spectral through the
Greening forest—

All at a distance,
All a lost season where
The world is suspended
Upside-down in a sky-
Bound drop of dew,

Plashing love—don’t think
I can’t hear you,
The sound of your passing
Fingertips, caressing
The empty air,

Holy as the sun, still
Seen behind closed eyes.

For John Prine (#51)

There’s a green river never far.

At the waking cusp of sleep,
Where around each bend
I find myself looking back
As often as forward—
The paddle dripping silver—
To catch a glimpse of precisely
What I’ll never see again.

The pink moon moves,
Pushed by black clouds.
There are no contrails tonight,
No geometry of sky,
Only the winking light of
Stars whose names would
Probably sound familiar.

Sopping black earth,
Drenched with certainty, and rain.
Cherry petals cling to my
Work boots, ghostly, floating
With the praise of spring.
I carry good luck as I go,
Or as I don’t—the same.

When, at sixteen, I first learned
The Shenandoah had another
Name—daughter of the stars
I fell in love straightaway
With the world. Sweet apocrypha,
Leading to the waterfall’s edge.
Does it matter that part of me wants

To plunge, too, to perhaps see
What can never be seen?
Morning, with dew sparkling
Bright! Tender trembling of April
Leaves! The world is quieter—
Not quite quiet. Five miles away,
The river glints, green now gold,

Changed with a wave of the hand.