So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

-Raymond Carver

A Man May Change

As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.

Marvin Bell, “A Man May Change” from Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000

No Man Is An Island

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

John Donne

Looking forward to reengaging with the work of this blog soon. Between the semester work here at the university and the general election fog, I’ve been away. I plan to develop new posts and engage with the stories of friends again soon.

Poem: “The Iceberg Theory”

The Iceberg Theory

all the food critics hate iceberg lettuce.
you’d think romaine was descended from
orpheus’s laurel wreath,
you’d think raw spinach had all the nutritional
benefits attributed to it by popeye,
not to mention aesthetic subtleties worthy of
veriaine and debussy.
they’ll even salivate over chopped red cabbage
just to disparage poor old mr. iceberg lettuce.

I guess the problem is
it’s just too common for them.
It doesn’t matter that it tastes good,
has a satisfying crunchy texture,
holds its freshness
and has crevices for the dressing,
whereas the darker, leafier varieties
are often bitter, gritty, and flat.
It just isn’t different enough and
it’s too goddamn american.

of course a critic has to criticize;
a critic has to have something to say
perhaps that’s why literary critics
purport to find interesting
so much contemporary poetry
that just bores the shit out of me.

at any rate, I really enjoy a salad
with plenty of chunky iceberg lettuce,
the more the merrier,
drenched in an Italian or roquefort dressing.
and the poems I enjoy are those I don’t have
to pretend that I’m enjoying.

by Gerald Locklin

Sunday Poem by Mark Irwin


(for Gerald Stern)

Everything stands wondrously multicolored
and at attention in the always Christmas air.
What scent lingers unrecognizably
between that of popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches,

malted milkballs, and parakeets? Maybe you came here
in winter to buy your daughter a hamster
and were detained by the bin

of Multicolored Thongs, four pair
for a dollar. Maybe you came here to buy
some envelopes, the light blue par avion ones

with airplanes, but caught yourself, lost,
daydreaming, saying it’s too late over the glassy
diorama of cakes and pies. Maybe you came here

to buy a lampshade, the fake crimped
kind, and suddenly you remember
your grandmother, dead

twenty years, floating through the old
house like a curtain. Maybe you’re retired,
on Social Security, and came here for the Roast

Turkey Dinner, or the Liver and Onions,
or just to stare into a black circle
of coffee and to get warm. Or maybe

the big church down the street is closed
now during the day, and you’re homeless and poor,
or you’re rich, or it doesn’t matter what you are

with a little loose change jangling in your pocket,
begging to be spent, because you wandered in
and somewhere between the bin of animal crackers

and the little zoo in the back of the store
you lost something, and because you came here
not to forget, but to remember to live.

from Quick, Now, Always (1996)

Poem by Tracy K. Smith

The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The first track still almost swings. High hat and snare, even
A few bars of sax the stratosphere will singe-out soon enough.

Synthesized strings. Then something like cellophane
Breaking in as if snagged to a shoe. Crinkle and drag. White noise,

Black noise. What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings
In molasses. So much for us. So much for the flags we bored

Into planets dry as chalk, for the tin cans we filled with fire
And rode like cowboys into all we tried to tame. Listen:

The dark we’ve only ever imagined now audible, thrumming,
Marbled with static like gristly meat. A chorus of engines churns.

Silence taunts: a dare. Everything that disappears
Disappears as if returning somewhere.

Source: Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)

Sunday Poem

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus but should have a couple of posts up this week. In the meantime, here is a poem for your Sunday (or any day). Paul Hoover reimagines the first two chapters of Genesis.

Have You Eaten of the Tree?

And the fourth river is the Euphrates

The first day was a long day
and the first night nearly eternal.
No thing existed, and only One was present
to perceive what wasn’t there.
No meaning as we know it;
difference was bound in the All.
On the first day, water,
on the second day, land,
on the third day, two kinds of light,
one of them night.
On the fourth day, laughter,
and darkness saw it was good.  
But when God laughed,
a crack ran through creation.
On the fourth night, sorrow,
staring away from heaven,
torn in its ownness.
No evidence then of nothing,
but worlds upon worlds,
underwritten, overflowing:
the worlds of fear and of longing,
lacking in belief,
and the pitiful world of love,
forever granting its own wishes.
Out of dust, like golems,
God created man and woman,
and cast them into chance.
And man was subdued in those days.
All that could leap, leapt;
all that could weep, wept.
First of all places, Eden;
last of all places, Cleveland;
and a river flowed out of Eden,
inspiring in the dry land
a panic of growth and harvest season.
The newly formed creation
took from flesh its beast
and from each word its sentence.
And early loves and hatreds blew
from thistle to thorn.
Each thing that God created,
he placed before man
so that he may name it:
cloudbank, hawk’s eye, lambkin,
and for each thing that man made,
God provided the name:
andiron, Nietzsche, corporation.
All speak of pain
subtle in its clamor,
as when the child, dying,
sinks into its skin
as under public snow.
Heartrending, each termination;
God-shaken, each beginning.
At the dawn of smoke,
pungent as creation,
the long chaos rises over these trees.
For we opened our eyes in Eden,
with the taste of fruit on our lips.


Poetry Magazine 2010

Poem by Karen An-Hwei Lee

Ode to the Tiniest Dessert Spoon in All Creation

In a new translator’s version of Genesis, there’s no Adam.
No serpent. In paradise, I don’t bleed. Fig leaf-free girl,
dear God, I say as we converse fluently without tongues,
joined as two spice-drenched beloveds in a song of songs,
could we please ask the gardener to plant a pomegranate grove
by a stand of non-fruiting olive cultivars, which don’t bloom
and aren’t so messy?
 Honey, I am the gardener, says God,
whose anthropomorphic footfalls caress the afternoon cool.
Wolves in our botanical garden ask nothing of any human,
eyes the hue of clementines plucked green off a young tree,
one of five in my orchard, per telltale ringless left finger:
fig, clementine, kumquat, oroblanco, and lemon. If I reside
in paradise, then I get to eat all the fruit I want, all day long.
No problem, says God, who calls me a little pouch of myrrh.
An eagle locks eyes with mine. A dove by the pool adores
the wolves as she coos, gold-amber, one stone’s throw away.
Each one carries a scent: snowy owls of shuttered skies, elk,
bobcats, melanin-rich skin of a feckless human. In paradise,
wolves and doves coexist. Once, a clementine sat forgotten
in my purse until it acquired the spots of a leopard. A world
in a lion’s eye is kohl-lined gold. Aloes and sage carve a path
through a brushy stand of Joshua trees, one which God made
after lightning struck the agave and scrub oak. Joshua trees
are chuppah arches double-wreathed with burrs, scales, fur.
Joshuas aren’t guys, so yucca moths activate their ovaries.
Wolves do not question why a male is missing in paradise.
Yes, yucca moths take care of it. Coyotes do not question
the human. Why I’m not married, why childless, howling,
and whether we’ve reached the century when God invents
a gossamer mousse garnished with absinthe-laced cherries
served in hand-fired ceramic espresso cups, a dessert to taste
together for the first time after we invent a miniature spoon
no larger than a bee hummingbird, tiniest in all creation.

Poetry Magazine  (December 2018)

Sunday Poem

Brass Spittoons

by Langston Hughes

Clean the spittoons, boy.
      Atlantic City,
      Palm Beach.
Clean the spittoons.
The steam in hotel kitchens,
And the smoke in hotel lobbies,
And the slime in hotel spittoons:
Part of my life.
      Hey, boy!
      A nickel,
      A dime,
      A dollar,
Two dollars a day.
      Hey, boy!
      A nickel,
      A dime,
      A dollar,
      Two dollars
Buy shoes for the baby.
House rent to pay.
Gin on Saturday,
Church on Sunday.
      My God!
Babies and gin and church
And women and Sunday
All mixed with dimes and
Dollars and clean spittoons
And house rent to pay.
      Hey, boy!
A bright bowl of brass is beautiful to the Lord.
Bright polished brass like the cymbals
Of King David’s dancers,
Like the wine cups of Solomon.
      Hey, boy!
A clean spittoon on the altar of the Lord.
A clean bright spittoon all newly polished—
At least I can offer that.
      Com’mere, boy!

Langston Hughes, “Brass Spittoons” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes

In Defense of the Earth’s Capacity for Production

I went out for a walk yesterday and was presented with a riot of green, red-pink, purple, blue and white. A few times, my wife and I walked though a thick fog of honeysuckle scent. I was reminded of a poem I wrote a number of years ago. It was originally published in Rock & Sling journal which is edited by my good friend Thom Caraway, the former Poet Laureate of Spokane, Washington.

In Defense of the Earth’s Capacity for Production

The scent of a bull-moose carcass might draw in a bear

from twenty miles, even upwind. 

Wolves and opossums and skunks will binge

while vultures and eagles wait their turn in the air

or in the trees, the angular beaks designed to slide under ribs. 

Beetles and flies arrive and if their tiny mouths were capable

of forming the words they might, half-drunk on moose blood,

sing the praises of a world capable of such making