THE COURIER


              for Jan Karski, the Polish courier sent
              by the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto
              to inform the world of the Holocaust​


​I am carrying the sea
In my cupped hands.
Not drops of it, not liters,
the whole dark sloshing sea.
Claws pinch. Nettles sting.
Teeth rip at my palm lines.
It hurts to hold this much,
to be so small and human,
running, running,
as the bloody sun runs –
west – carrying the sea
in my cupped hands.
The faster my legs move,
the more I try to get there,
the more I fear I spill.
Rancid fish and wrackweed,
broken shell and coral,
mark my travel like a tideline.
Everywhere I’ve been
I have sown salt.
Everywhere now, the rich
green earth laid waste.
But I do not look behind,
not behind and not above,
where the white moon
nightly is devouring
the stars, first in nibbles,
then vast mouthfuls,
bloating like a leech,
whipping storms
as cruel as history
inside my pressed hands,
these poor dumb beasts,
my hands. How much they want
to toss it all away,
to empty it in trenches,
to wall it up for good.
How much I want to fold
myself in pine boughs,
to lie on high ground

humming, to be free
of this thing I’ve been
anointed with, so
horribly, to make it all
mad fancy, mere nightmare.
It is not. Straight ahead,
fast forward, I must run,
run, as the bloody sun runs –
west – and bring the sea
for the whole wide world
to hold. The journey is
a minute. A millennium. Both.
But I do get there. I do.
I am ushered to a chamber
of telephones and chairs,
an ordinary room
of the twentieth century.
Three well-dressed men
walk in, mopping brows
with well-starched hand-
kerchiefs. I want to beg
forgiveness, to explain
I’m just the courier,
a small man, insignificant,
that the news is not
the messenger. But my words
are lost in wind. The three
stand stiffly, staring.
They smile. They nod.
And I… I let it go,
waves of salt and bone
flooding from my hands
drowning all the ordinary
rooms of this century.
And the next. From the sea
floor I start rising through
a maelstrom black as ink,
past the dead eyes of the living,
the live eyes of the dead…
till I surface with my hands,
two smooth and separate shells,
knifed open like an oyster
which can never join again.

                        from That Fall

CONFORMATION


hard chairs bolted to desktops
fixed rows in cold classrooms
the buzz of dying fluorescents


we want the same for our boys
now, nothing modular or mobile
no coddling circles, open skylights


want them to fidget as we did
lust for sun in schoolyards
know how long a minute can


last, boys who will be boys
to carry on as we carried on
as our fathers did, their fathers


sting of wrong answer
slap of disapproval, shame
like wildfire burning its way


from blush to white heat
boys who will brawl into
streets when the bell sounds


sprint to the kingdom of
tilt spin curl lift whirl, there
to crown in our own image


cruel giving way to cool
the next lord of misrule
a new king of fools


                       from Moordener Kill

SPRING EGRET


Last summer this egret
high-stepped the salt marsh


a white puff of grace
more follies fan than bird


keen eyes keeping watch
in the body’s long curves


like the f-holes of a cello
bending low to the sun


stained flats to spear a shad
swallow, cry in voice phlegmy


as an old woman in hospice
the augury of tides –


this spring’s fan of bone arrayed
in stony shallows, chill ripples


lapping leached beauty
beginning the slow, slow dissolve


                        from Sculling on the Lethe

NO SWASTKAS ARE STENCILED ON
LENI RIEFENSTAHL'S DIVING BOARD
                                 ​OLYMPIAD, 1938


syllables sprung
from distended tongue


spin tales of thought
free feeling –


each athlete dissolving
into Athlete / athleticism


somersault jackknife
flying cloud clotted


forevers cleansed 
of unctuous self –


cruciform silhouettes
pyrotechnic eaglemen


who want us to want
what they want


until we do –
in the storm high


springing rising
in the mind’s sky


soaring gliding –
heroic historic


hypnotic erotic
& evil


              from Stillwater Review, no.10, 2020