(Years ago I saw portions of an old b/w foreign film—which I seem to remember was made in Czechoslovakia—on a small television screen with very poor reception.  Between static and blur, I was able to discern only a few images and almost none of the subtitles, so the poems became a way of finishing for me a narrative that the film triggered.  Because I’ve been unable to locate the name of a film that would match the details I do remember, I sometimes wonder if I didn’t just dream the whole sequence.)




The Shepherd, Czechoslovakia


A winged white robe wanders the fields

calling the dog who calls the sheep


Calling and calling   A man swirling

under the fog gathering his sheep


The wheels of his white-tented wagon

rest stilled in the field’s mud   At night


his whistles rise through tears in the cloth

of what drapes him  What drapes him


is the field’s fleece  What stays

with him is the sound of the dog


circling his wagon

and then circling his sheep


The bottle that keeps him is never empty

and his bed is a pillow of feathers


and wool  Night filters out through fog

stirs morning from sleep


and the man rises  wrapped in white  sets out

across the fields    his figure translucent


against the fog and the sky

and the circling waves of sheep.



The Man and His House


A man on his knees is building his house.

He climbs the steps to where his door will be,

knee after knee,

building each step as he climbs.


His world is a sea of grass swirling behind his shoulders,

and the room he builds here will be bare

except for the globed eyes of the fish he keeps

and his own low darting shadow.


This man whose legs were crushed long ago

beneath a tractor—for years now he goes on

dragging two ghost limbs behind him,

a wooden pallet tied to each knee


as he propels himself into the day

across the mud-rutted yard

and pulls open

the gate next to the horse stall,


lets out the sheep and cows,

then hoists himself

to press with a stick

the latch of the pigeons’ roost.  


The man is moving. 

His day is a prolonged slap and kiss with the ground.

The furrows of his field fill with his sweat. 

Grass sweeps to the strain of his muscles.



A Man and His Pipe


When he finishes drinking

in one long slug

the jug of fermented liquid   something

he brewed from heads of flowers

or fistfuls of grain

he found in the field

he pours oil down the neck of his hand-carved pipe

then holding it to his lips

he sounds a call into the pine woods behind the kitchen


and his is the cry of metal scraping against stone

of the harrow dragging over

the hidden boulder    it rises

from the throat of a man who can’t remember

how to sing     wheezes and screeches

up from his lungs     squeezing through

what space his throat will allow     struggling

as it forces itself slowly

into the forest’s dampest corners—

I am here, it sounds, I am here.



What Was Useful  


A little money stashed away in the basement’s red wooden box

or hidden inside the worn shoe’s lining—


a little money layered between obits and want ads— stacks of Popular

Mechanics interwoven with receipts long-forgotten.


Between the sheets, Love and Will added no interest

to a Chilton’s Catalog of Parts and Accessories;


a little money to accumulate, banked into dust underneath the bed— 

slipper to slipper—a small fleet of barges gliding the river.


But nothing useful radiated from inside her Imitation of Christ,

and the Emily D led only to anger.


What’s lost is lost among the folded, crumbling maps—how to navigate

grids of streets and the old neighborhood churches falling apart


from McKeesport to Erie, how to locate the narrowest alley, a place

where Mikula’s Progressive Czech could be traded for Warhola’s little money.


Thank you for getting me out, I want to say to myself, to whoever will listen,

for saving the tiny wads of cash like damp tissues stuffed far into the sofa. 


There was never enough little money to strike a match to, when the markets and butchers

no longer flourished, and under the garage’s dim shop lights, his brakes went on


bleeding.  Just hurry east, someone said out loud,

and I heard it.


(originally published in Blast Furnace; Spring, 2011)



The Girl with Snow in Her Hair

      for Paola, in memoriam


Here is a picture so quiet almost no one can see it. 

Inside the frame winter swirls white and fixed

at the center, a girl’s head and shoulders are held

still and straight—


seen from behind, the curve of her hair

falls to rest

against her back like the drape of a silken black veil

mantled with snow. 


Beyond her, the tips of the yard’s far trees

have for the moment shaken free

from their white

and they wave a row of tired faraway hands

toward the slanted blue-gray line of the street lamp pole.


This is the first time she has ever seen snow

here in the North,

and the picture she wants her brother to take of her

is this one—


the dark net of her hair catching the sky

as it falls

in a dazzling white to rest on her head,

each strand of hair first brushed, then smoothed into place.


It is what we have left to remember—

her face turned from us

and her eyes wide open

to what swirls silent and white,

and waits, still hidden, before us.


(originally published in ANON 6)




            a meditation on the light in the Avignon Pieta


Because even in death there are spikes of light

that radiate from you

like spokes of a sun wheel in the sky’s black tent

so that I can see your yellow skin

that is drawn tight

across bone, across thigh and foot, lit

beneath the motion of sparks from your head: the welder’s mask,

a glass eye, a bridge.

I can see wherever you are

as you wear it, the thin winter field’s ochre grasses

crisscrossed with shadows,

or a creek in moonlight, its green currents

swarming with fish; even when I stand guard

over my own ribs’ broken cathedral, I can still see you.


(originally published in Ekphrasis, A Poetry Journal; Spring/Summer, 2008)