I’m wading through a clearing,

knee-deep in khaki weeds and

coreopsis so yellow my eyes burn.


Over the pines a pair of buzzards

sharpen the groove

of their same circle. 


Horseflies—a nimbus—

find my sweaty tangles 

trickish as a web.


I kick the head off the blister

of a fire ant mound to open

tunnels like cigarette burns

veining through cemented red clay.


Ants pour out like lava.


I make believe you never

gave in and quit smoking;

and I never began this insect-change,

wormholing into midlife.


I conjure a dim cellar, close dive,


where beneath lazy

ceiling fans, in the haze

of circling smoke, I don’t

have to share you.


From low clouds,

the sun’s searchlight

sweeps off westward.


Summer’s on the rise.

Ride with it. 




The rain was a thousand spurs.

But I was a standing stone in the field.


I know the story of the body,

eyes like fishbowls,

yellowfilmed and flycrawling,

fixed in that wild side-stare of his.

(Freak accident, no one to blame.)


I know about the tractor and the chains,

the four locked hoofs.  No choice

but to drag him clear of the pines.


The bonfires.  Now there’s a story.

You had to burn him three times over

to get down to bones.


*  *  *


After weeks, my friend,

you bring me to this sun-scorched field

with its riffling wind.


You ford the secret network

of fire ants

to find “what’s left of Bay.”


Your curiosity is clinical,

a physician’s or a cold-eyed child’s.

You take for granted my following.


I’ve known museums

where glass fields the leathered heads

of bog-horses, Neolithic jawbones.


But here I’m out of my element.

This sun goes straight to my head.

Rumors fly:


            Your guilt is like onion in the grass.

            It oils you like good grooming.




Unmoved in the shade of your wide-brimmed hat

you scuff your steel toe

at this boy’s fort of charred logs,

the segments of spine clean enough

to belong to anything—

dog, pig, person.


Your boot scatters dried grass and dirt

over the pods of bone.

Dust rises.


I can’t keep my hands away.

In the buried heat of ashes

a shifting, a reviving.


I see the bloom, the luminous worm.

Struck, I turn into stone.






Hard drinking at the camp house.


Come dusk, we nudge each other

to the pond’s edge


where up from the muddy bottom

of twilight

the ruddy moon, a bloated pig,


breaks the choppy surface of the pines.


Netted by mosquitoes,

half-drowned in Cabernet,



we witness the slow bloodletting.


The moon, diminished,

pale as a communion wafer,



Our far-gathering shadow,


beastlike, insect-riddled,

swallows it slowly





HURRICANE: THE BRAC                          


The hurricane of ’32

laid bare the bones of this ironshore,

a Paleozoic mudpie of coral and mollusk

that shreds your best Nikes

yet preserves a kaleidoscope of flip-flops

borne over—they say—from Jamaica

on bottlegreen waves that sing all day.

Emerald parrots squawk from the sea-grape.


They say a magnetic band

stretches through these islands. 

It holds sunset for hours—

wave upon wave of salmon and apricot.


* * *


A find—this grove of coconut palms,

white curl of sand, bleached conchs, 

and one salt-rusted truck.

Two young women, coffee-dark,

lock arms around a grandmother

with dragging legs.

They sit her upright in the lip of the sea,

a doll they have to share.

They splash, singing like girls at her feet.


She includes them—no more, no less—

in the sweep of her eyes.


Old one, I’ve heard stories. 

Your soles, in the tease of froth,

 might wear a fabric of scars

from your climb to the bluff’s caves

across prickly pear and rock

sharp as the teeth of barracuda. …


Did, that night, the sea-become-sky

scythe clean from your arms

the one thing you carried?


The backs of my own legs grow heavy on wet sand.

The water—a good ruffled petticoat

ripped and ruined.

I see through clouds of cataracts

a hurricane of color in the sky. …

follow with the old one the waves,                                                                            

the flood of magenta

that ebbs at a salt-scorched sea-grape, 

child like a rag doll

snagged by a low branch.






“You touch, and they dive to the bottom.

The skin feels like this.” 

Mario slaps the nonslip gunwale.  “Sandpaper.

Now you know, you don’t need to touch.”


No problem, I think, then plunge,

miles from the Yucatan and its ruined cities,

into a blue sea hazed green with a sort of orange puree. 

Ghostlike the sharks (the size of the flimsy boat)

emerge, then ghostlike vanish.

Dominoes, the locals call them. 

Submarines, maybe, in domino-camo. …  

It’s harder than I thought, maintaining distance.

One swims towards me, veers past,

remoras clinging to snout, fin, belly.

Its spots spell out a name, a story.

I kick hard to catch up, my hands reach;

I’m driven to read. 

The fish, Buick-grille mouth inhaling plankton, 

the fish goes about its business. 


Perhaps they hungered as I do,

the ancient ones of Chauvet, Lascaux, Altamira,

when, submerged in the otherworld of caves,

they felt pulled toward the impossible skin of the stone. 

Palms flat, palpating the wall’s membrane

for shoulder of bison,

horn of ibex, haunch of cave bear,

they knew what I am only now learning—

the one language, a language of signs,

to tell by hand of this longing.

It took charcoal and hand-bloodying ochre

to midwife deer and mammoth, horse and lion. 

And the rock remembered. …

Our species—no sooner birthed than left to ourselves,

to our own imaginations.


The fish in my dreams keeps the shape of my hands. 

Palms working across gill slits,

down the vast ridged arc of the whale shark’s flank, 

I feed myself the gritty Braille of the spots.

I sucker on; we circumnavigate the world.

I read to fathom that unbroken life.





Men drowning dream of flight.

Their bones thin into stems of cattails,

their arms leaf out.  Beneath the swamp

water’s skin of sky, believing

in the rising of their changed bodies,

they mistake for storm-stripped crowns

the labyrinth of roots.  At rest

within the bottomland forests they felled,

they grieve us back into the world.


From the stumps of the Tensas, an uprush—

a dream?  Beneath the oar

beat of my wings,

a child, sprawled on a mud flat,

its eyes reflecting my yellow eyes …

a dog, its leathered carcass hung

by floodwaters in a scrub oak.  North,

towards the smell of swamp decay

and the sharp sweet lily, the rumor of a mate,


I turn the sky aside,

row to this diminished wood.

No red wolf’s song, no panther’s rip.

Only the rumor—they speak it, the living men

who disguise themselves as trees

and whisper in tree-tongue.

Like the cypresses, they stalk the river.

From them, I have learned to be sly.

Quieter now, I tear into rot-soft Tupelo

and rake the crawling meat.


My shadow falls over water ash

and buttonbush, swamp rose

and lizard’s tail, heron and hawk,

the banded water snake,

swarms of frogs small as horseflies,

and men dreaming that I am God.

The rumor of a mate carries me.

The blades of my wings

feather the sky, fan out the sun.





What stopped us en route

to Moesgaard Museum’s

Amazing Bog Man

was unspectacular—an unearthed grave:

the skeleton of a dog

whose human had taken pains

to fix its limbs as if it slept mid-chase.

The bones were Stone Age bones

from a dolmen that crouched in sea-fog

overlooking Aarhus Bay. 

A good dog—surely guard or guide—

to be honored by ceremony.


Grauballe Man was a length of twisted jerky

that took our appetite.

A shock, the tannin-hennaed hair,

clown-grimace, throat-gash,

blood poured into the gullet

of some thirsty god

biding its time in that soggy underworld …


“I miss Hector,” our daughter said

of our Lab, back in the States.


 * * *


After ten years I’d forgotten

that skeleton already ancient

when Iron Age Grauballe began his curing—

until, still unbalanced from the fall

of  New York’s towers, I watched on TV

teams searching for anything human.

I focused on the dogs

stumbling atop the debris,

mouthing what we have no stomach for.


On our walks—Hector’s and mine—

now gunmetal evenings

smother too early the sun,

I recall survivors’ accounts of tidal waves—

of looking up bewildered, mistaking

for a dark arcing cloud

the scythe that was the sea.

I sometimes stop on these walks,

bend my head to his

and whisper for no good reason

“Good dog.”  And his breath

is a warm and fishy fog.


Nights, he lays his head

like a twitching brick on our feet,

staying us.






Their time near, Delta women with no use

for doctors know to gather dauber nests

for a silty tea to ease their child

into this world.  To heal the navel,

a poultice, rust-brown, like raw clay,

that dries brittle—

a shard some keep and treasure.


Summer’s end, my daughter leaves home.

As in the weeks before her birth, I clean

everything in sight—even the porch screens

of our century-old house.  Unhinged,

hauled outdoors for their first scrub-down

in years, they reveal, clotting the channels

that anchor our floor-to-ceiling louvers,

clumped fingers of mud dauber nests.

I hack at them with a screwdriver.


I never saw the wasps at work,

welding their nests into these grooves,

toting stunned spiders

to cradleboards where larvae hatched and fed.

On hands and knees, I sweep

catacombs crumbling with leggy remains—

wasp or prey?

The nest-dust salts my eyes,

grits my tongue.





Swimming underwater,

pushing hard,

lungs burning—

that’s what it’s like to be

her mother

now she’s 18. 

In this no-gravity

my bones are bird-bones.


Climbing sunward,

I see the strangest thing. 

An inch, half-inch,

before surface, my hands,

out-reaching, mirror themselves.

Each arm sprouts a twin.

And for a split-second

I’m Alice grazing

her looking-glass self.


Breaking through quicksilver,

I choke on air as she did

when slickly born. 

I turn—just glimpse her,

clear-eyed, seal-sleek,

back-stroking away. 

I flutter at the glass. 

But the mirror heals,

holds fast.






On my brick patio

in the middle of morning

a cockroach, lacquered, buzzard-black,

hops on its back like

water flicked on a red-hot griddle,

a Holy Roller in a fit of ecstasy.


Edging closer,

I find it dead—well,  

dead enough. (One wing’s askew.)

And rivers of ants

tiny as dirt are teasing it apart.

What a frenzy over this Gulliver!

What a tug-of-war over relics!


My bricks picked clean—

a miracle

if not for the imperceptible tremors

of zealots gone underground

to feed in dark earth

their fat blind queen.





Late August downpours

leave bad luck, streets

of shattered mirrors.

Broken asphalt reflects

the edgy shut-down of summer:

clouds on the skids,

the moss-slick underlimbs of oaks,

a stream of birds (a Chinese Dragon Kite),

the moon a pallid dewclaw,

and one hawk shearing the sky’s stale blue—

the same hawk maybe that sat itself

in our backyard’s Bradford Pear,

full-flowering in May,

and gutted that fat blue jay,

working its talons like crochet hooks.



HAWKS AND JAYS (2)                                                                  

Nearly October. 

Still, heat grips.

Wave after wave, a fall of city rain—

our neighbor’s sprinkler.


The hawks won’t leave the neighborhood—

the pair that sobbed summer-long

for prey, white throats,

white underwings, slashing

the drought-stricken, strictly blue sky. 

Who-we?  He-you.  Jays chased

the rising, falling, funereal vibrato.


Plagues came:                                                                                                     

birdbath water stagnant overnight,

azaleas and twelve-foot viburnums

boiled by whiteflies down to sticks.

Dull shears

snipped the snaking jasmine. 

Its sticky milk bled out.


All summer I pictured talons

clamped around panting half-feathered

chicks, their small sharp beaks 

unhinged as though for feeding.





Behind our parents’ redbrick rancher 

where they will live forever,

my brother and I skirt the tree-fringed field

where we as children flew kites.

November sun tilts towards evening,

kindles the chinaberry trees and rolled hay bales,

deepens deer tracks and the churned dirt

of wild hogs rooting. 

Steve points through pines to a weed-choked rise,

cemetery abandoned two centuries back,

markers long rotted. 

He’s into green; he wants to feed the earth.

I comb the sky for buzzards,

spot three, narrowing their orbit. 

“A good day to die.” 

For me, smoke signals, a scattering, 

here in our many footprints.





Photograph of a Young Soldier, WWI


They’ve inverted a soup bowl on his head.

They’ve bibbed him

for his protection

with his very own gas-mask-in-a-bag.

The square sack hangs crooked

and swollen on his chest.

On his face, a slapped-dumb look.


His country is asking this?


Lungs still good, still fresh

off the farm,

he labors to breathe

the frigid air of France,

a stale crust.

Tinned horsemeat to chew—

not what he’s used to.


He is ending all wars.

Well, all right.


In the ashen print

my grandfather’s blue eyes

wear coins of white light;

his fingernails glow.


Now, years after his early death

(pneumonia in mustard-burnt lungs),

the gas mask hangs

like a chrysalis

or the mask of an alien

from an early horror film

in my paneled den.







They never reached the Nuceria Gate.

Last prayers sputtered out here,

with this mime show, shapes blind as grubs

inside a glass mausoleum.

Doomed to try not to die, the Ash People

hold out for ruah, a magic kiss, resurrection.

Why not?  Living things are drawn to them.

A snail follows the arc of a small child’s skull.

A lizard stalks a mother’s back.

Birdlime streaks the arm of a man

who never stopped pulling himself to his feet.

I breathe into the glass.

Nearby a vineyard: the whining of bees

reminds me of home.


Eight hours I’ve wandered this ghost town.

The dust of the dead plasters

my sweat to my skin. 

Where are they? 

A last-minute tourist is out of breath.

I nod.  He aims his Pentax.

Poor souls, we are no saviors.

At the horizon, a bruise-purple lump:

Vesuvius breathing?

Or the sighing of dust in the vines? …


Summers in Louisiana,

cicadas sing themselves out of body,

slit their own backs, escape with wings of glass.

Come morning, brown shells, common curiosities,

cling to cannas, tree trunks, blades of liriope. 

Like Hansel’s crumbs they litter the sidewalk— 

as if there were a prayer for a way home.