“People may be able to go much longer without a pulse than the 20 minutes previously believed. The capnograph, which measures carbon dioxide being expelled from the mouth of the patient, can tell rescuers when further efforts at cardiopulmonary resuscitation . . . should be continued.” ~Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2011
I’m a regular guy. I happened to die
at the right place at the right time,
said Howard Snitzer after he was revived.
Ninety-six minutes he spent without a pulse
lying in front of a grocery store while Mayo medics
worked on him, using a capnograph
to gauge how his lungs clung to longer life.
In that hour and half, did his soul wander
down to the banks of the Acheron River,
chat with Charon, who refused to ferry him
to the other side, immediately knowing, as he did,
that Howard was neither dead man
nor tragic hero, no Aeneas, for example, bearing
golden branch and the burden of a nation’s destiny?
When asked what he was doing there,
did Howard shrug his shoulders
and shove his hands into his disembodied
pockets, then jangle those immaterial
coins the cashier gave him
after purchasing milk, bread, and eggs?
And how impatient did Charon grow
as he counted like strikes of a clock the echoes
of defibrillator shocks—twelve in all—
rocking his usually steady boat?
Is this the story Charon now tells every spirit
he takes for a ride—how the water
throbbed beneath his feet, how in the end,
he rubbed his eyes in disbelief?
Finalist for the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize and published in Nimrod International Journal
The Conversation of Wood
Across the street, the barn,
half-razed & hanging tough
since last summer,
has come undone.
The tin roof, despite its protests,
Wrenched free while hinges
hollered, the door now
lies upon the lawn.
Beams & joists bowed
to long-winded pressure
while rain’s cruel voice
injected itself, time & again,
into the conversation of wood
once engineered with civility.
This is how it rots:
A few suspicions sour
the tongues in their grooves
& breed. Then: the rafters
no longer seem righteous.
Finalist for the 2014 Dogwood Poetry Prize and published in Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose
What the Stone Knows
Kids are in the barn, drinking.
They stagger out around 2 A.M.,
giddy in the cool air.
One of them trips,
bottle flinging from hand,
crackling on my head.
As they drive away, I hear one—
the girl—howl like a she-wolf,
her voice trailing the truck as it dips
below the hill.
Red-tailed fox wanders through
just before the sun unveils
Walking the dry creek bed
alone, nose to the ground,
its tongue licks my beer-
Beneath the strangely still-visible
moon forsaking what? sleep?
a day at the beach?
(I don’t really know),
garter snake slides
beneath my damp-dug
The farmer drives past,
his combine humming, gravelly-voiced,
rattling the brown shards of glass
against a hornet’s bulbous belly.
A blade of grass quivers
in sync with the snake’s slow pulse.
Silver cloud covers noon’s
bright eyes. I look up.
Soon to be submerged again.
The creek sings in my ear, softly first,
a low note, or two, working
its way to full-on strum.
And dusk doesn’t fall,
doesn’t trickle like water
or creep in like a cat.
Doesn’t bottle the sun
and throw it into the sea.
Dusk lifts the light
from view—I know this first-
hand—hides it like a key
beneath a stone.
Appeared in Cave Wall (spring/fall 2011)
God bless the cow in the field that sneezes.
God bless the dog who hears the sneeze,
then lunges, at play, toward the fence.
God bless the gold finch landing on that fence,
perching between barbs on the wire.
God bless the farmer who works the wire,
who woke early to heave wet soil from the place
it slid to overnight. God bless this place
as I wander through, cattails gleaming in first light,
frogs humming their last song of moonlight.
And God bless the song, welcome as grain
in the old trough, while yesterday’s rain
swells in the brook, an old hymn hallowing the break
of day, finch now flitting over the cattle, breaking away.
Appeared in Saint Katherine Review (2013)
So much depends on the fine line it spins,
how its very life hangs
in the balance between calm and wind,
between distance from the porch floor
and proximity to my door,
between the patience it exhibits in its still legs
as it waits all day to snare a moth
and the way it works up its spider-sweat
as it wraps its silk rope around the wings, lets
its venom go, and later, when the moment’s heat
has past, enjoys its meal, a hexagon then
heavy with triumph, suspended
there in the entry where I stand,
my broom in my hand.
Winner, Editors’ Choice Award, Writecorner Press, 2012
Poems From Particular Scandals
Walking along my front porch, I rub my swollen
belly like I did, years ago, when I was expecting
a miracle. I am empty, gutted
like the old farmhouse across the street,
every room pared down to the frame’s
bare bones. Even the floors have been removed.
All I want is a day when the pain
breaks. I’ve had seven surgeries now—
adhesions excised like splinters,
four rundown organs
pulled out like windows and walls.
Here in mid-life, I’m nothing but pure
ruin. And part of me would like to give up,
dissolve into dust like my neighbor’s brick.
But in the ash trees that line our road,
in flawless iambs, the sparrows chant
preserve, preserve, preserve, preserve.
And I step into our yard where bees,
persistent as repeated pleas,
poise themselves before the roses,
then bury their faces in the velvet
breasts, suckling sugar, tasting
grace as insistent as the tune they hum.
The Painted Lady and the Thistle
The painted lady alights on thistle,
its winged mosaic aflutter with brilliance
and thirst. Here is Adam again,
his brow stitched in toil,
his back breaking out in sweat.
What will the blossom, edged
with thorny predicaments, offer
as this butterfly plunges
its proboscis into the core
ablaze with being?
Of course you already know.
Every sip, a miracle, a curse
that never disappoints the one
whose instinct is to drink
first, ask questions later.
Poems From Slipping Out of Bloom
We’d expected this,
their naked, red heads
ducking deep into the flesh of a fox
dead for days—drawn to its suffocating scent
lingering like sweat on the hot road—
their ivory bills peeling back the sorrel fur,
picking meat off the bones.
It was dinner for two.
But when a car approached, their wings sprung open
propelling them around our yard. Mid-loop—
what surprise!—a red-winged blackbird
popped out of the Black Locust nearby,
hopping onto the thick back of one vulture,
screaming like a thrill rider
as the mute scavengers flew two laps low,
then landed, finally shook him off,
and walked back to their meal.
And soon enough,
only the pelt remained upon the pavement
like a hunter’s splayed-out rug awaiting the traipse
of traffic, the stench like the birds,
hanging around death
Driving beneath a rising
helix of blackbirds,
ushering in my fifth month
of impervious pain, this day
is different, not because long lines coil
around polls, not because the temperature
hovers at 60 degrees,
not even because the birds seem
to sweep the rain
up with them
so drops no longer
land on my windshield,
but because I want
to go with them,
to spiral up into the gray
like Elijah, sailing through
those saturated clouds,
shedding my clothes,
my damaged flesh, my
bones, candidate for heaven
who just leaves this world,
this dominion of skin.