Ten poems:


I Jokes

In Nome we say I jokes
quick and deadpan
at the end of a joke. I jokes,

we say, the Eskimo
English sticky on tongue.
In Nome we say I jokes

all right. Could be a cluck or croak.
Or shyly, mouth covered by hand
at the end of a joke. I jokes

is how we poke
fun at our people and plans.
In Nome we say I jokes

because even though broken,
we've survived, a clan
at the end of a joke. I jokes,

we say, our spoken
coda, our last proud stand.
In Nome we say I jokes
at the end of a joke. I jokes.

previously published in Beloit Poetry Journal,
Nome Poems (West End Press, 2000), and
Villanelles (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, 2012)




Learning Banjo

Right hand scrunched tight
into a claw, thumb out
like you need a lift,
knock the far first wire
with the right forefinger's nail,
and knock again, brushing
strings, your meaty stub
of a thumb following to pick
that short near high G.
Bum-titty, Bum-titty,
the tick-tocka, tick-tocka
of an old pocket watch
going loco. Pulling off
a fret with your left
ring finger, hammering on
your blood like rye whiskey
bubbling in a still,
you sit yourself outside
on the front porch to twang
this strung, long-necked drum
you'll one day frail fast
as fishtails in wild drunk time
for cross-tuned and wrecked
old-time Alaska fiddlers.

previously published in Sou'wester, and
To Live on this Earth (West End Press, 2002)




Wedding Soup

Begin with dark thoughts. Add
bones, curtains, a sliver
of spiderleg to taste.
Throw in chickens without heads,
dolls with belly buttons,
toys in boxes. For extra
strength, sprinkle a few whispers,
several riddles, a sly bit
of nowhere. Simmer the mix
in factories between butcher shops
and schools. When set to eat,
assemble the world, and serve
with hunger, two spoons, a secret.

previously published in Flyway, and
And Shadow Remained (Pavement Saw Press, 2006)




Buster Keaton, Romancer

Half stoneface, half sourpuss, the dour
young suitor, dismssed by his beloved,
tumbles from the porch, a miffed glance above
as he takes his pratfall in the flowers,
his dark eyes part rage, part pout, part glower,
a huffy scowl slowly easing as he's moved
to sniff the garden's roses. By Jove
rolls on-screen to signify the whiff. Our
hero lifts himself from the dirt, brushes
clung soil off his trousers, stoops to pick
a few fine long-stemmed petals, then rushes
up the steps. His girl warily accepts, sticks
the bouquet in a vase. Six words appear:
Thus starts the lover's promising career.

previously published in Natural Bridge, and
Conditions and Cures (Steel Toe Books, 2006)




George W. Bush: On His Final Dream

I was a giant. Laura, too. We were so big
we crushed the roofs of houses as we walked
to buy eggs. We wanted to go home. Talked
about it almost all the time. My wig
made me look like George Washington. A pig
squealed, a tiny thing like a mouse. A squawk
from a small crow then. We were on the ark,
but in a drought. Our boat on dry land. Fig
trees. Little fig trees. Laura took my hand.
The boat rolled like a bus. Going home at last.
Farther south, we jumped out a window. Land
smelled better. Horses and sheep. Nice high grass
to our necks. Huge tomatoes. Peas and beans.
I was flea-sized. Laura, too. Life's so mean.

previously published in As the World Burns (Ridgeway Press, 2006)



Four videos:





After the Plane Crash

My second day in the hospital,
a nurse I didn't know came into
my room, shyly asked if I'd seen
the bright white light. No, I said,
then recalled that plane ride
through zero visibility where everything
had been white, grainy gauzy white,
and I'd meditated on that white,
found it inspiring, ineffable,
deep, was writing a poem in my head
about white when we hit,
and when I woke it was to blood
warm and wet down my face,
the red rinse like a movie scene.
It wasn't until a month later,
feeling like me, that I began
focusing in on light bulbs,
headlights, small shiny brightnesses
winking like stars. So this is it,
I thought, and looked harder,
taking every little last thing in.

previously published in Pemmican, and
Nome Poems (West End Press, 2000)



Bill Stafford

I saw him read one summer in Fairbanks,
the patter between poems itself a poem
because he was like that, fully at home
with words. That lit June night he offered thanks
for some gladness or other, and laid planks
of language that formed a lucky bridge from
one thought to the next. What might seem to some
a plainness too simple for poetry--drank
of poetry when he spoke. I reflected
for years on his writing, could hear him chime,
sly and instructive, as I connected
with my work. The voice said to make time
each morning, to begin early on task,
to learn from failures, to ask and to ask.

previously published in Chariton Review, and
The Secret Visitor's Guide (Wings Press, 2006)




Bird School

When we cracked the window,
a small crow glided to our bed,
roosted a minute, preened
and squawked, delivered
its raucous lecture.

So we removed all glass,
let in the birds--all sizes,
colors, songs--and studied.
For graduation, we took off
outside, opened wings, flew.

previously published in Yankee, and
The Secret Visitor's Guide (Wings Press, 2006)



Railroad Days
          for Scott Sparling

In the Salt Lake railyard
on what would be our lone trip,
Harp told me why he bummed
the country, criss-crossing
from Lansing to Pine Bluff,
Corvallis to Pensacola:
inside a locomotive, he died
nightly in his dreams,
and the end was like a free-
falling upward, a high dive
flight toward the stars--
and how one night he dreamed
he lay flat on the rails,
the Amtrak Empire Builder
approaching, its whistle
like something out of Genesis,
and it was that roaring
engine that called: Harp, change
your life--heaven is everywhere
the next freight train goes
.

previously published in Crucible, and
And Shadow Remained (Pavement Saw Press, 2006)



The Best Dancers That Night

They boogied for hours
to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters,
Howling Wolf standards,
her lithe hips shimmying,
her breasts snug in pink
halter top, her smile
like a super-sassy Mona Lisa,
her eyes transfixed on his
as his thick arms and hands
somehow propelled the wheelchair
in loopy maniacal spins
around the nearly full floor.
When the band played a slow one,
she eased astraddle, the gleaming
metal beneath them rocking,
wheels gently rolling.

previously published in Many Mountains Moving, and
Conditions and Cures, (Steel Toe Books, 2006)