Feathered Armor

if your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash


in the back room of the museum

the dusty bodies of tropical birds

lie in rows until their colors are

unremarkable, the males’ jeweled

mantles in garnet and emerald

dim to rust and moss, after hours

the female bodies are brown

and soft and folded one after another

their dull bellies of oatmeal and ecru

their curled feet, the couplings of glamour

and efficiency slumbering behind lids

closed over glistening black bird eyes

masked against the two of us

crushed like a relic in the corner

feathered anew, a jewel box bleeding

originless, immaterial, whether the flush that dyed

us with resplendent pleasure was yours or mine


The Solstice Accord

On the day after Thursday, the light will start its slow

seep back through the calendar’s gaps to our plain city

dressed this time of year in homeliest shades

of putty, oyster, moth grey.


A collaboration between Horus and Skadi,

solar advent delivered in a frozen paragon of chill.

Temperatures will plummet into polar realms

while we shiver, re-illuminated.


Perhaps we’ll also be mantled with snow,

gifted with something we forgot we wanted,

this perpetual tangle of absence and resplendence

sparkling on our weary shoulders.


We’ll insulate, examine the year’s profits and losses

chart the intersections of luck and misfortune

while drunk on the mead of sunshine

lured by the opium of grief.


This cold heaven reminds us that to glow we must

begin in the dark. The relentlessness of winter

lasts just until you find the replenishable furnace

of your open heart.


Take this light whose brilliance is only intensified

by its icy amulet. Weep over the myth-grey horse

who will never carry you over canyon and meadow

again. Exalt, that he ever did.


the jewel-box of summer’s end

offers the fastened symmetry

of flesh to flesh, fruit of the forward

gaze from cave to cusp under

the shade of an ash tree, ruby-

bright empires faceted against

tender ivory balustrades, a blood-drop

surrender, tasting the rind of lust

she wants what any of us want:

a witness for her movement between

darkness and light.

The Gryphons of Broadway

They are flightless in their still realm
of claret and glass, talons

Poised in mid-grasp, inanimate
sentinels of a lesser age, perched

In the shadowbox front display
of the austere statuary. Eagle-eyed

Observers of bus routes, bar crowds,
long walks home. Reserved

For some distant purchaser
not from this part of town,

A material expert who knows
what perfect replicas inspire

Myth-size, stone gazes divining
even now the futures of every bargain

Hunter, the dissatisfying
privilege of asking their price

And the noble loneliness they would suffer
looking out of a private window

I could not admire them through; here,
shivering on the sidewalk.

Nicholas It Was Almost Spring

for Nicholas Hughes

Up north you shut out the poems’
hunched queue behind your door.

Swaddling yourself
in the speckled bellies of fish

and the clean reign of science.
You have despair in your blood.

You’ve found this cold quiet
torpor, unhummed where

you are not tiptoeing past Ariel,
histories bloomed in a tiny fist,

but still the slender shadows
(the black stab of a waterbird’s neck)

overcome the single candlestick
she left: it finds you.

Dust and Ginger

The dogs the dogs the dogs. A friend is facing the worst thing about them…they must go, long before us. The gift of aging is that it does ease us into it as much as something so devastating can be eased into. I remember thinking it would be impossible for the black dog to grow old, to go, back when she gleamed and raced and shone. Grey muzzles and failing bones give us glimpses long before we’re ready. We are never ready. I nibble the little red and white dog’s ears – there, I said it, I take her silky speckled ear-tips between my lips, I kiss her mottled belly with its flea-bite scars, I breathe in the fur at the back of her neck that smells like dust and ginger and conjure her immortality with my hardest wishing.


You are asked some questions.
Like starlings, they roost
and settle in the eaves of your mind,
mimicking traffic’s wet swish
rainy streets and things you cannot
identify. Their feathers gleam
purple and black and every time
they rustle their wings you shiver.
They are not going to leave.

Lac Perdu

The dreams of others are always dull,

worse than slide-shows from another country.

There is no morphean travelogue where dreamers browse,

no place to map the drowned towns and cormorant castles.

The childhood home I returned to was immersed in a black lake,

the tree my tire-swing pendulumed from a wisp of a water weed.

I peered into its depths trying to find my second-story room

my red pony, my faithful terrier, my dragon trees.

The neighbors all dead, the frayed ropes their horses trailed

winding in seaweed, the barbed wire crusted with raven-blue mussels.

No one wants to hear about this flooded dream.

I whisper to my mother who skims the water in kingfisher form:

If a mermaid, I could go home. If these legs fused, if this skin

shivered into scales I could take a deep breath, and dive back.

Scrimshaw Beach

We came from cities on the plain, hippie towns and beyond the grave
teleported eastward on a train powered by grief’s steam.

The boardwalk flanked by vendors selling second chances and sugar-sanded pastry,
the air strangely cold and grey for summertime, for reunion.

We walk all together, a parade of reminiscence and seersucker, arranging ourselves
for sepia snapshots in every possible combination.

There are boulders and bleachers on the pale beach. I want to sneak away with each
of you to catch up and whisper below the hiss of sea-foam.

The ocean is obscured by a curtain, watercolored with carnival scenes, smiling
whales spouting cerulean mist onto waxed linen

As if we don’t know what steely surf lies behind it, what relentless tide pulls us
ever apart into death, into silence, into morning.

Mourning Cloak

Rich brown wing-edges scalloped with butter yellow,
pale blue like the big round droplets falling from the eyes
of the melancholy animals I scribbled in my mother’s journal:
out of proportion, crossed mouths, trembling whiskers.

She commented on my unwelcome illustrations in the margins
after explaining privacy, property, the wrongness of superimposing
my tearful menagerie over the austere engravings of unicorns:
all of her rabbits are crying 

I’d stand in the meadow next to the winding stream
arms outstretched, eyes aching with the strain
of peripheral searching, breath held as the sable butterflies arced
and dove, waiting for those dark scraps to alight on me like sadness.