Sunday, November 6, 2011

What Would It Be

to be the queen of goats,
to know that the other does recognize
in the bearing of your horns,
the curve of your ears
that the content of your coat
has more value than theirs?

Sorority sisters vying for titles
and crowns, frat brothers combed
and carded after Saturday scrimmages,
their worth silently dependent
on the fleece ranging among granite
boulders of Kasmir mountains.

Each nibble of grass, each touch
of muzzle to a chilled stream,
warmth transfigured in a commercial
array of sweaters and coats, slacks
and scarves, neutral nature subsumed
in purples, magenta, and sunburst gold.

What would it be to be the goat
that year after year sacrifices
companionable fleece, intimate fibers,
to the intrusive burr of the electric
shear, naked to spring winds and rain,
not knowing the value of cashmere?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


 My Dad placed great store in his wingtip  brogues.
Paid a weekly quarter for the shine on those brogues.

Thin laces, rounded with wax, tied in  firm bows,
Cordovan, rich brown, the sheen on those brogues!

Silk socks, stretched tight in corpulent rows
Above lacey leather holes in the patterned brogues.

So many feet standing firmly  where good beer flows
Men who treasure the cut and last of their fine brogues.

 Almost a secret society whose handshake no one knows
These men who prefer the intricate design in their brogues.

What an outrage--the turns the fashion runway shows
When the dignity of design is stolen for women’s brogues.

Monday, October 10, 2011


It's all his fault!  Had Parmentier                           
not taught Europeans to eat potatoes                   
American teenagers wouldn't be fat.                     
They'd still be slender as snakes                           
slithering through dew-dawn grass          
to drink at  favorite watering holes.                                               
The Prussians played their part in this black hole
in American experience. When Parmentier,
was captured  among the leaves of grass
of the Seven Years War, he was fed potatoes,
the fare the French fed their hogs, snakes
tempting their porkers to market fat.

That captive never forgot the fat
that saved him in the dark prison hole,
not even when clerics raised their snake-like
heads and denied  the pharmacist Parmentier
the right to garden potatoes
among  his other vegetative grasses.

As inevitable as the persistent grass,
the French caught on and voted the fatty
tuber edible. Ben Franklin even ate potatoes
as the guest of this mad scientist with a holy
obsession.  Wishing to convince, Parmentier
lured luminaries far and wide, snaking

his beguiling dishes into banquet halls,  snaking
his theories into mass production.  Like the grass
that sustains herds of  cattle, Parmentier's
efforts put fat
on famine-starved ribs, filled the holes
of 18th century stomachs with les pommes de terre.

Mashed and baked, salads and soups, his potatoes
left the table of necessity to swim in vats of grease, snakes
made crispy over flaming holes
withering Whitman's grass,
adding pounds of fat
never envisioned in the dreams of Parmentier.

Now, American culture is holy super-sized on French fried potatoes.
Wouldn't  Parmentier be surprised to know that he became the snake
in the grass duping a generation to fatten likes hogs for the slaughter?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Straws of a New Order

What’s the purpose of a scarecrow
in a cucumber patch?  Does it provide
the young cucs a secure environment
to grow in cucdom?  Does it provide the crows
a centering purpose for their lives? An idol
to worship?  A place to gather, to rest their claws
before descending for the kill?  Do they hang
out boasting of the cucumbers they’ve seen,
the delicacies they’ve sampled in gardens
of the world? 

And what does the scarecrow think
of himself?  Does he dream of gardens
beyond his own?  Wish that he could select
a new jacket from L.L. Bean?  Meet a mate
on an evening date?  How would Facebook
change his boredom?  Provide connectivity!  He’d
give all the straw of one arm to be able to send
a single tweet.  He knows. Yes, he knows
that at best he is the limit of one man’s imagination,
the fragments of cloth no longer valued.

His  creator worked in the vacuum
of his culture.  He was locked into mere craft
that replicates the images of his race, incarcerated
in stock icons. He will have to jimmy the lock, tunnel
beneath the cell, steal the the key to open rusty hinges
if he is to escape.  Somehow, he’ll have to kindle
a new fire, burn every scarecrow, serrate his eyeballs,
pluck them out of the shared illusion of his race.
He must sacrifice more than a dozen crows
if he hopes to gain the edge, to broil his task 
over the flame of artifice.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


"You need a new wheelbarrow," my neighbor remarks
watching me trundle my shallow, rusting
cart to the curb, orphaned limbs and sticks
protruding like morning hair fresh
from an unmade bed.  "I've a better one
that a friend brought for our yard sale."

I'm not impressed.  He doesn't know that when
I lift the handles, the weight shifts
from my hands to those of my father sleeping
beneath the debris of a Missouri winter.
He doesn't know that this handcart
carries the fragments of my mind, the tributes

housed in the rubbish of winters turned
to spring, similes and metaphors waiting
the right poem, fractured lines
of hyperbole and hope, alliterative alleys
of childhood discards.  How could he see
beyond rust, the sonnet reclaimed? 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jeremiahs All

In almond trees and boiling pots, the word
            of poetry finds it womb.
From the imperceptible breath
            of photosynthesis, carbon
dioxide and water mystically melded,
            oxygen generated, released.
The heat of growth breathes and bubbles
            in the cauldron of creation.
Cool winters dream the seeds, fruit
            releases from its pulpy uterus
like water escaping from a cylinder in vapor.

It's the transformation that calls us,
            the energy ignited in changed
molecules, the sudden event we neither
            perceive nor understand.
God brushes our mouths with finger tips
            transfiguring halting words
into language of nuts and stews,
            roiling and frothing,
the initiation of thought and idea
            making us Jeremiahs released
from the paralysis of infantile speech.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Voiceprint of the Seer

Huldah. Huldah, the king’s trusted seer,
a mother-figure beyond any doubt.
You spoke with an authoritative sound
and set the pattern that men would follow.
You recognized a sacred source for what
it was and had no fear in giving voice

to its mandate, its insistent voiceprint
on your mind.  When Josiah needed a seer,
you were happy to provide the  king what
he needed.  You knew he would have no doubt,
would recognize the one  that you follow,
would heed  the message of God you sounded.

You had watched him grow, heard the kingly sounds
of the man in the little boy’s voice.
Your life was being shaped to follow
the one who called you out, made you seer
of things others missed. Your vision enlarged, doubt
diminished, so that you knew what

dangers lurked in Israel’s future, what
idolatry would spawn, and the sound
of God’s anger at those who doubted
the power, the violence  in his voice.
Prophetess to the women,  a seer
they would recognize and own, follow

as loyally as the men followed
Jeremiah, his sense of what
was right and just.  And you, female seer,
did you ever question God’s certain sound?
Did you immediately know his voice?
Did you ever feel a slight hint of doubt?

For us, you ease every fear,  every doubt
we have when we hesitate to follow
the muttering within that demands a voice.
We look at you and we wonder at what
we might say, what new message we might sound
to those who wait the insight of a seer.

The  voices of reason are needed  when doubted
certainty reigns, and seers falsely follow
whatever treacherous tenor resounds.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Peacock Prophet

            . . . his head on the long blue reed-like neck
was drawn back as if his attention were fixed
in the distance on something no one else could see.
            --Flannery O’Connor, “The Displaced Person”

Flannery’s peacock stalked into her tale,
his prophet’s eye evaluating the scene.
His strut foretold that he knew the crisis
these mortals would face, the descending doom
on their unwitting heads.  He knew that the death
of the judge had ushered a new order.

He had seen his tribe decrease, reordered
to fit the widow’s distaste for his tail,
its reminder of a world where death
and life sought justice in a colored scene.
His night call sounded in her ear the doom
that lived just beyond the threat of crisis.

The priest sensed the answer to crisis
in the peacock’s display, saw an order
in the green-gold pattern of deferred doom.
He saw the sacramental sense of the tale
unfold through eyes that seemed dim to the scene
of culture-embedded stagnation and death.

But the women characters, bound to die,
calcified minds lost in their own crises,
were unable to change or shift the scene
that beat a rhythm of boundless order,
a set of events that formed its own tail
like some giant chameleon of doom.

Displacement, the common factor that doomed
each character and brought on grizzly deaths
to two, was the human lot in this tale.
Each person was made to face a crisis
in his or her sense of place and order
within that space.  But the peacock had seen

more than they could see.  His vision of the scene
was linked to a golden ideal that doom
could neither understand nor reorder.
Guizac’s work ethic could never match death’s
certain visit nor avert its crisis
for his kin in this parabolic tale.

Even Astor, whose life measured the tale’s
span by the widow’s three husbands, had seen
more changes than he could explain.  The crisis
of mutation beyond his ken, the doom
of displacement was like the knell of death
to his segregated sense of order.

When order was restored, the peacock’s tail
had escaped death.  The priest, still on the scene,
served the plumed mystic of doom and crisis.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Nature of the Vortex

Richard Hartner placed his hand
on his father’s old gun broken to receive the shell
in its chamber, and thought of the life
that gun had known at his father’s side or pegged on the wall
by the kitchen door, obsessively cleaned, ready to whirl
into action each time the family needed meat in the house.

Richard longed to rerun his childhood trek to that house
the day he shot his first squirrel, its furred tail in his hand
as his mind spun with a mesmerizing whirl
of scampering fur stopped by the single shell
that penetrated the wall
separating life from life.

His father had taught him that to live
responsibly one must respect the house
of his birth, that this house was a  virtual wall
protecting all who lived within against the hand
of doubt and despair, a turtle shell
into which one could retreat when life began to whirl

out of control.  His father had plowed this land, leaving a whorl
of rich loam to incubate the seeds he sewed, the life
coaxed from its stubborn shell.
He’d felled the trees and designed the house
that he later built with his own hand.
In his mind, the land offered a protective wall

to keep his children safe from an alien world, a wall
that somehow connected him to a grand design, a whorl
akin to the print on God’s own hand.
An energetic man, he had treasured life,
but he hadn’t known that a house was only a house,
a shell

that could be crushed like the shell
of a terrapin crossing a busy street, its cartilage a poor wall
to fend off the metal monsters beyond its mind, its inadequate house
left fragmented in the road.  Richard’s mind filled with a whirl
of monsters of another kind.  His own life 
was reduced to the halting fingers of a useless hand.

That hand trembled as he slid the shell
into the gun’s breach.   His life had hit the wall,
and he could find no way to stop the whirlwind within his house.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sestina for Suzanne

Suzanne has buried husband number three
and all her dearest friends have come to mourn
the pass.   The casseroles devoured, the plates
returned for future use. The widow plans
to be a model saint and stay away
from matrimony’s snare, to die to live.

For years, Suzanne has set her goal to live
within the rule of masculinity.  For three
and more have sought her hand and took away
her will to choose by her own lights.  To mourn
the passing loss of this one man, she plans
to move beyond her first  instruction--plates

and knives, crystal and linen cloths.  She plates
intent with golden hope, a wish to live
a life fulfilled where she takes charge of plans
and determines each move she'll make.   Her three
resolves are not to whine, nor cry, nor mourn
the passing loss of former self.   Away

she says to seal intentions plot, away!
In days to come, she drops her coins in plates
from church to  church while some devout still mourn,
and others celebrate the mass of live
and die hedonistically.  Of three
new aims--to go, to see, to do--her plans.
Art galleries, plays, and symphonies, the plans
were carefully made to spirit self away.
To Asia, Africa, Australia--on  three
large continents, her photographic plates
record the camels, pandas, kangaroos—all live
evidence of cultural life for which to mourn

if lost to modern man.  She would not mourn
the loss of her own dignity.  New plans
she made to snorkel seas for fish that live
in freedom’s coves, to bungee jump away
from heights unknown, to carve her name in plates
of stone—to do, to see, to go—these three.

One day mid-mourn, she met a man.  Away
she threw the plans requiring license plates.
To live, number four was better than three.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Flight of the Hawk

A sestina is a hawk, its distance
controlled by short wings
and long tail.  It’s the sprinter
among raptors. Flight beginning
close to the ground. Launching
from fence posts, it centers

its prey, spiraling downward, the center
a target distanced
only by the pivot of the launch,
the strength of the wings.
From the apogee of beginning
to the collapse of the sprint,

it frees the sprinter
for the growing definition centered
in startling beginnings,
understanding of the wings
of doubt and belief true to the launch.

The sestina launches
orbiting motion that sprints
to the core of unknown significance, wings
of character and dialogue centering
the delight of distanced
experience, a narrative’s beginning.

Each hawk repeats the rhythm begun
by hawk-fathers, time-launchers
whose wings have spanned the distance
of infinity, wings spread in sprints
that define and catalog the center
of conquest, the descent and ascent of wings.

Word wings
rise, their quintessence begins
to shape in relief the thought-centered
impressions that fly free from launching
emotions, sparks ignited to sprint
from the heart’s distance.

And so words are feathered wings,
their distance from time’s beginning
measured by the launch of their sprint.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Faulty Fences

“Your cows are in my corn,” Turner’s voice rasped             
over the party line, when my mother                                                
answered the three longs and two shorts, our call                 
to a community that bound us, wired                                    
us to the lives of neighboring farms                                       
as surely as fences that separated us.                                    

“Hey guys, the cows are out,” mother told us
as we came to table, our chairs rasping
against the linoleum on our farm
house floor, the tang of pancakes from mother’s
skillet more important than any message wired
across morning stillness, reluctant call

to work that could wait for the higher call
of pancakes, maple syrup set for us
as we pondered the gap in fencing wire.
“I’ll bet it’s down by the pond,” rasped
my brother’s changing voice, causing mother
to foresee blame in his view of the farm’s

fence, the sections repaired,  She knew the farm
better than we, knew its persistent call
to blame and shame, the ruth of mothering
our need to lay guilt.  She knew each of us
carried burdens beyond the fence that rasped
our minds, a metaphor of our lives wired

to haunt us for past action. Our  mother
was there when everything on the farm
went sour, when a gate we left open rasped
our father from the scene, beyond the call
of warning, target of the bull that robbed us
of father and younger sister.  Our mother

learned to cope with loss, to father/mother
us through those difficult times as we wired
our lives back together.  She provided us
the strength we needed to hold on to the farm,
but she could not lessen the guilt, the call
to blame that rose in denial and rasped

at our hearts.  Our mother knew that the farm’s
faulty wire was yet another dark call
for us to confront what rasped our souls.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sestina of Betrayal

Miranda had known that Jason’s best friend
in college was the girl who lived next door    
to his parents in the small town where he     
had grown up, but the two had never met,    
and Miranda had long dismissed the threat.  
“Susan will be in New Orleans next week.”  

Miranda smiled sweetly, knees growing weak,
and waited for Jason to suggest his friend
stay with them.  Unaware the threatening
storm, he opened windows, unlatched doors.
“She wants us to know a man she’s just met,”
Susan eyed the receding hairline he

tried to disguise and thought how funny he
would look with his hair completely gone, weeks
and years of careful combing, eyes meeting
mirror, images bending like old friends.
An invitation was given, the door
flung open with no thought of  winter threat.

The couple arrived, and nothing threatening
could be seen in the warm welcome when he
stood with his wife at the wide open door.
But Jason would learn something new that week
about Miranda, her history of  friends,
and find that not only had she met

Susan’s Mike before, she vowed not to meet
him again, so serious was his threat
to her sense of who she was. Jason’s friend,
on the other hand, had been used when she
allowed Mike to come with her that week
to enter her innocent friend’s open door.
“Beware of the past!” warned the door
while the whistle of the wind rose to meet
the epiphany latent in that week.
Neither Susan nor Jason sensed the threat
that Mike posed for Miranda, a threat he
intended to fulfill with his former friend.

Mike walked through the open door and the threat
of Miranda’s past met the present.  He
became the weak betrayer of friend by friend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sestina for Fishers of Men

The village watched as Jonathan Siler            
cared for his mother, nursed her day and night.         
They saw him drop out of school, stop seeing         
May Johnson, the girl of his teenage dreams.            
While the village loved Mamie Siler, they                 
began to wish that Jonathan be freed                         

from responsibility, a fish freed
from the hook in its tender mouth. Siler
neither knew nor cared what others thought, they
were as remote from him as the stars at night.
For the first time, he could see his dreams
fleshed out in meaningful tasks, he could see

what others couldn’t, and in truth he saw
a life of ministry where he was freed
to give of himself.  Meanwhile, the town dreamed
of other goals for their young man Siler.
They looked for the stars and saw a dark night
when the fish wouldn’t bite the bated hooks they

dangled.  He couldn’t avoid his fate, they
reasoned, and there was no way he could see
what they could see.  They determined that night
that they would take matters in their hands, free
him from the curse of the only Siler
child.  They thought and thought and finally dreamed

up a scheme.  While the stars blinked, the fish dreamt
of bigger seas, Oprah was contacted. They
convinced her of the sacrifice Siler
was making, and she immediately saw
ratings rise as she provided relief, freed
this young man giving him several nights

to see Chicago, be on her show. Night
fell over this city but starlit dreams
masked the truth.  Well-meaning villagers freed
him from responsibility, but they
couldn’t prevent his mother’s death or see
what effect that death would have on Siler.

The stars in the night watched the fish as they
swam in and out his tortured dreams.  They saw 
that freedom for Siler would never be.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sestina for Shelby with Apologies to Days of Our Lives

When Shelby left home for college that fall,
she couldn’t have known she’d never return
to that house, that town, that set of parents
or her old high school crowd.  Her romantic
sense of the ideal would forever change.
In university her mind would alter.

No questions asked when her alternator
went out causing her old car to falter
before she reached Atlanta. Nothing changed
her mood, caused her to think of returning
to the idyllic town where romantic
notions had been formed,  She called her parents

and waited for her father, the one parent
she had always trusted to come to alter
every problem she ever faced, romantic
or otherwise.  She never dreamed he’d fall
from grace before he could make the return
trip to Anniston to the wife he’d exchange

for a younger model who gave him change
for coffee on I-20.  Her parents
split the cloth when her father returned
but it wasn’t the father who altered
the state of her parents marriage that fall
day.  Her mother had her own romantic

adventure going long before romance
in that happy home had begun to change.
Shelby, too had some adventures that fall,
exploits that stood those of her parents
on their ear, despoiled the church’s altar
and left the town quaking at her return,

But there was no need for her to return, 
to live again within the romantic
bubble of high school life, haltered
and bridled by limits unchanging
or fresh rules hammered out by the parent
teacher association for kids each fall.

To have returned, would have virtually changed
the romantic direction of her  parents,
alter a college prexy’s breach that fall.