It Isn’t Empty if There’s a Dream In It

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
A poetry teacher once said, write a dream and lose 
your reader. But, wait, don't go— lately, you were in
several of my dreams: filling a grocery cart with boxes 
all the same shape but with different colored labels,
then building a box igloo in front of the store. Then,
you were delivering people's mail, and I noticed 
you were wearing one of those ear gauges.
I wanted to ask if they were standard issue 
by the USPS, but that doesn't even make sense. 
I know the teacher meant it's easier to find 
the escape hatch in a world that isn't real. 
But emptiness hates the voids it creates. 
An emptiness leading somewhere is more 
interesting than one that's just itself. 


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Here is spangle and filigree; yards 

         clean as fresh-made beds or cake 

tops of piped buttercream. In the night,

         a sifting of cold  as you sigh through

mists of sleep.  The heart's burrow spirals

         like a snail's, crackles with residue

of reflected light. Somnambulist on the high 

         seas, aerialist on the ground. Every new 

wave gathered with foam could herald the next  

         unseen explosion.  Clear a path from your door 

to the end of the street. Keep going until the white-

         sleeved pines change out of their gowns.

They don't speak of beauty or pain, of whether or not

        they deserve the world or the world deserves them. 


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Sometimes I am a flag
of surrender, sometimes
an angry wind. I am 
eager for the moment 
to start, or straining to spit 
the bolt out of my mouth. 
Billow after billow, 
above, below. I am 
all of these or none 
of these. Perhaps I am
not sophisticated
enough to be a little 
of each. A gull 
rolls out of the sky
like a small wave 
practicing for attack. 
Tail first, an army 
of sand fiddlers 
anchors itself 
in the sand. 


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Once I thought even a small garden
could multiply my hopes. I planted

bulbs in a plot. Citrus and persimmon, purple
streaked verbena. But never again the ridged

yellow of ginger flowers, never again 
the ghosts of white-throated lilies declaring

their own thirst. Everywhere in the world,
the soil hardens with rock and tree roots 

or grows shifty as sand. We think our greed will outlast 
these cycles, as long as we rename it desire. What we 

planted in heat will flourish and perish; what we 
let go in rain, fruit and distend. What temperature 

is the heat that simmers at earth's core?  
We are not even fat skimming its surface.



holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Shaken, not stirred: how the famous  
             detective in various movies says
he prefers his cocktail. Long drink of spirits
             distilled preferably from grain and not 
potatoes; very strong, very cold. Lemon
             peel, no olive; and named, presumably, 
after the female character in "Casino Royale."  
            Some connoisseurs think stirring, 
not shaking, keeps the mixed drink clear
            and transparent, unclouded by 
the agitations of the hand or heart.  
            But growing up, all I knew of vespers 
was a service of evening prayers, part 
            of what's called the Liturgy of the Hours. 
Think of these lines from Genesis spoken in
           the rich baritone of some kind of omniscient 
narrator, who might or might not be wearing 
           a tuxedo: And there was evening  
and there was morning, the first day— 
           which means the first day  actually began 
at dusk instead of at zero hundred hours, 
           or twenty-four hundred hours in military 
time. Which means an hour still very dark, 
           an overpowering dark that might be
the Spanish mystic San Juan de la Cruz's 
           dark night of the soul, festooned with
all your favorite phantoms. In the throes
          of this dark,  you might want one 
or two stiff drinks, since there aren't   
          any vegetables on hand to roast 
and turn into Kate Christensen's "Dark 
          Night of the Soul Soup" from her memoir
Blue Plate Special. Even if you didn't know 
         the words to any formal prayer, you might 
wring your hands then, tear your hair, wail 
        with anguish from whatever pit 
of abandonment and despair into which 
        you've been thrown—But aren't these 
prayers in their own right: entreaty and 
       supplication, ways of saying Please, 
no more; not at the hour of my death  
       nor even now, so please stop? 
When he's offered another drink after losing 
         all that money at the poker table, the debonair 
detective says he doesn't give a damn; the day
         seems over. Or night is about to begin.

Cold Snap

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

I spend the day
putting paper in boxes,
ledgers on shelves; fishing
receipts out of their yellow
warp. The Christmas plates
go into annual storage: the fifth 
one is tired of turning golden 
rings over and over in place. 
The miracle of paper is
how long it stays whole until 
calculations distill as ink. 
Tap down each vertebra, 
listening for the hollow 
not filled with rubber or
ashes. You say it may snow 
tonight, though really you mean
tomorrow night. Cold shore, 
cold fog, the silence of stones 
ladled out by skittering sand
bodies. Time is a trickster 
as always: we jump 
in and out of its nets.

Leads to Suffering

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"...and as they go they loose the knot of anger.”
                                             ~ Dante, Purgatorio 16.24

All that doesn't serve, I inventory now.
How did we let so much accumulate?
We could be happy with bread,
an egg, a sweet potato on the table
at night. Coffee percolating in its pot
of beaten tin. A drawer of clean
linens, a block of soap, hard-milled,
to last and last. A feathered pillow 
and a woven mat. In the underworld, 
will we miss the whiff of verbena, the cold
plumb line of water going down our throats? 
Washed on a lip of rock under a waterfall,
we'll hold our hands up to the brilliant spray;
we'll open our mouths to take in more.

America, she was pushed; she didn’t jump—

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
What's that line you're always saying 
like a mantra? Mind your own business. 
Or, Thoughts and prayers. Or, This 
has got to stop. The train didn't stop 
for fear of being late. It's been running 
since the colonies, since commerce, 
shapeshifting, ramping up then gaining 
speed again. In subways and other public
places, there are always too many sirens
and whistles of alarm. Say what you will
but the one who pushed fell into that long
line making up the history of exclusions.
He wanted to make that little niggling rage 
his very own. There was no folded note 
in her pocket. What an ordinary day
of sun after snow or rain with wind
or a holiday around the corner. 
Just trying to make it work. What
an ordinary day it would have been. 


In response to Woman Pushed to Death in Front of Oncoming Train.

And just like that

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 there isn't much time.
You pack grocery bags
to the top with books 
you'll never read and cards
you'll never write. Do you still
want what the commercials say
could belong to you? Luminous
skin, luminous everything.
Real comfort. Real sugar.
How long have you 
been eating salt?