Bridal March, Part I: Scything

Was it love at first sight?
The process of marriage began
long before there ever was
a sighting. Before falling
into love, there simply was

falling. And that did not
require his participation,
it happened before I was even
aware of his existence. Rare
Thursday afternoon and off

of work after having worked
three double shifts already,
and out by myself in the sand
and sandstone scrub-land up
north of the city, areas now

no doubt lined with residential
communities, paved streets
named after displaced cacti,
stucco pink adobe. But then,
it was empty, at least most so,

of humans. Roadrunner on
occasion, rattler, coyote.
Tiny pointy prints of a herd
of javelina. Empty. And a day
off. And a bit of flippancy,

of arrogance. Of course I had
my pack and climbing rope. But
the face was only twenty-five
feet, maybe thirty, not more
surely, and there was a bit

of angle to it, and many narrow
crevices that promised holds
for hands and feet. It seemed
a small thing, not worth
breaking in, wasting a brand-

new fifty-foot hank of roping.
And it was the desert, glaring
bright and I too was shiny,
alone among the wild things
in a moment of invincibility.

I began to climb, finding
hand- and foot-holds plenty,
climbing slowly. Too slow.
The sky began to darken
suddenly, and fat droplets

began to hit my back, my
pack, my hat. Two-thirds
of the way up the face, so
I continued, but the going
was not so easy, the crevices

were getting wet, the hand-
holds slick. I slipped
and felt light and heavy
all at once, curled and got
tucked just in time before

I hit. Landed on my shoulder
mostly. Dislocated instantly,
no question. Rolled and came
half up onto my feet. Barrel
cactus hook-thorn like an

upholstery needle through
the side of my knee. And fifty
feet of unused rope still in
the pack upon my back. Stood
up all the way. Eventually.

Then packed my way back out
to where I’d left my pick-up,
limping. Drove in the right
lane slowly with the flashers
on all the way back into town

and down to a orthopedic
surgery complex complete with
office, x-ray, physical therapy
facilities. I walked in torn
up and bloodied, asked about

the possibility of a work-in
appointment. This was a long
time ago, not like it is now…
and the doctor saw me. Cut
off my shirt with shears, gave

me a mouth-guard to bite down
on, shoved the shoulder back
in place, then sent me down
the hall for x-rays, then back
in after to discuss. Beyond

cracked ribs, not much. Doctor
asked what happened to me, and
I told him honestly, including
where it hurt worst: that
would be my ego, probably.

But if not for that falling, cutting
down of ego, scything and subsequent
binding of the middle of my body, it’s
possible, even probable I’d still
be spending all my off-days out,

climbing hiking sleeping all alone.

after Dave Bonta’s “Little Wedding Song

Small tree gone

photo of a tree's shadow on the street

photo of a tree's shadow on the street
Tree in 2010

Two loud, indifferent men in a greasy pick-up
came and took down the failed street-side tree
by my house. Poor thing was dismayingly dead,

no question – dry-dank, blackened and mouldy.
When last alive it was a hunched, unlikely stick
that would froth suddenly into snowy blossom.

No, I never noticed when the tree began dying,
must have marched mindlessly past it every day.
Now its small stump pokes at a hardened heart.

From 2010

The tree outside my house
(municipal planting)
is a frail jewel in flat suburbia.
Its bark is shiny white
and it blossoms
and strikes me daily
as unlikely.

If She Practices Anemochory

Some sycamore trees, like
the ones that used to grow
along the road between
Jerusalem and Jericho, they
make small figs – almost
exclusively. In fact, I’ve only
ever heard of once when
a small tax collector was
picked from one of these.

Others, like the ones here
in Missouri growing around
old Hodgson Mill on Bryant
Creek, are really buttonwoods.
The fruit they make is not
a fig at all, more a desiccated
pom-pom, might once have
been red or blue or green,
something bright and sporting
stitched onto a clown-suit.

But I think your Fallen
Woman is most probably
from a European species,
a sycamore that makes no
fruit at all, only a samara,
helicopter, a seed that whirls
and twirls as it’s falling,
a seed that’s often called
a Spinning Jenny. I think
the Fallen Woman is most
likely one of this variety.

After Dave Bonta’s “Fallen Woman.” For a list of all the types of trees known as sycamores, see the Wikipedia.

Waiting for The Imaginary Man: Poem with refrain from Parra

You are late
again, the kind of late
that makes me pick up each

teaspoon from the dinner
table where the empty
plates are waiting, hold

it up to the window
and tilt to catch an ember
of the porch-light

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

When you are after
sunset, temperatures begin
to fall, droplets from

the roof begin to slow
until one stops, refuses
to drop at all, takes

root on the gutter
and all others following
after join the icicle

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

And the temperature
outside also slows the changing
of the digits on the stove-clock

from 742 to 744
each napkin on the table
goes through another evolution

refolded unfolded refolded
into two lilies, then two fish
and then a frog and turtle

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

I wrap my hand around
the glass of juice
I poured too early

find it no longer chilled,
and the mug of tea I brewed to warm
you when you walk in

has long since stopped steaming,
and I empty both
into the sink, refill the kettle

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

I open both kitchen curtains
wide so they do not
obstruct the view through

the window, the road that can’t
be seen at night until
you’ve turned off the county main

and the wet gleam
of your headlights begins
to will-o’-wisp this way

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

Every time so far
you have been late like this
you’ve come home safe

and every time you have been
late like this, there is this erasing,
this hollowness, this

what would become
of everything if this time
you didn’t

after El hombre imaginario / The Imaginary Man by Nicanor Parra


Reincarnation happens here, Mister
Cottonwood. Do not discard any
candidates. All may be re-purposed.
Laura M. Kaminski, “Give Me Your Ravaged, Your Ruined

My grandmother saved every scrap.
She pieced coverlets from the remainders
of the clothes she sewed,
although she hated quilting.
For all I know,
she might have hated sewing.
But the Depression schooled her in the ways
of thrift, lessons that couldn’t be unlearned.

I still have the sock monkey that my mother
sewed for me, although he bleeds
my mother’s old pantyhose that she used
for stuffing. The fabric of his body is too frayed
to be repaired or repurposed.

I keep a box of clothes too worn
to wear and too stained to use
for fabric art. I have no need for dust rags,
since I use the high tech pads that trap
particles with static. I use
the rags to clean up spills or to oil the furniture.

I slide my hand into the sock
and think of a not-too-distant past,
cotton grown in vast fields, seeds separated
out, fibers spun, and then loomed
into cloth. I think of slaves
and industries that rely on them,
human histories woven in our every fiber.

Laundry Poem #10: Tailored to Fit

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series The Laundry Poems


recreate from these faults
and fears, fitter selves,
as lean years follow fat
from “Into a Rightness” by Teju Cole

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe
in elves. Just not the laundry-thieving
kind. The kind for which I’ve seen

the evidence with my own eyes, the ones
that live behind the laptop screen,
those whose existence is the busy

tailoring of the fabric of reality.
Virtual, that is. The ones they
call the -bots that wake each other

up to watch the moment I sign in,
who register each mouse-click, each
virtual location that I visit, who

read the poems as I’m typing them
and offer ads to fit. Once, I’d
considered ad-blocker, virtual

exterminator…but no more. Instead,
I am amused by their vigilance,
tenacity, perceptions, by the way

they work and the advertisements
that they show me. I do not click
to visit any of the ads or sites

suggested, but take time to appreciate
the talent evident in the selections.
Yesterday, comparing tables, laws,

and tax-charts. Two windows open:
2017 calculation for what portion
of social security is taxable. 2018

tax law bill to puzzle over the new
tables. I go a long time without
pressing any keyboard keys at all,

working the numbers on the calculator
trying to find any way to make
the money reach. I sigh, then bump

the mouse to wake up the screen
in time to catch a quarter-page ad
that’s sprung full-size from some

god’s forehead: the elves suggest:
I start to laugh and cannot stop,

then stand up in full salute. Indeed,
my elvish friends. Bravo! Indeed.
So lately I’ve been writing all these

poems about laundry. And the elves
are tearing strips from the fabric
of the universe and stitching them

together into the world of my dreams:
this morning, seven advertisements
for multi-packs of socks, an article picked

for me to read on ten ways to clean
my washer and dryer (THIS LIFE HACK

a local mechanic’s business card,
an advertisement for a yard sale.
Then more socks, and green detergents,

then more socks. And yes, you know.
Amen to this personal quilting
of the internet today, this tailored

vision of the world that I live in.
No more advertisements for cruises,
retirement communities, luxury SUVs.

No more airfare-deals, no more

No more ads for fitness programs, no
more miracle solutions, no more kale,
turmeric, and vinegar. Amen.

As in real-space, so in cyber. Live
on, small elves, keep tailoring, reminding
me that I can really

change the world
around me with no more than
words and washing.

Give Me Your Ravaged, Your Ruined

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series The Laundry Poems


Oh what charming ruins
the inhabitants must be—
snaggletoothed and ravaged
from “Provincial” by Dave Bonta

A bloodied sock, a nail-hole punched
through the sole of it. Mister
Cottonwood, please leave it here
with me. While you are away dancing
two days earlier than your doctor
recommends upon that foot you injured

sweeping up after the job at Mrs.
Blattner’s, I’d like to take that
sock and throw it, with its mate
(still whole but worn thin at heel
and toe), into the laundry. It is
a myth that there are elves that

live invisibly behind the scenes
in every laundry room. They’ve never
been in mine. (Perhaps they do exist
in other people’s dryers, that is not
for me to say…I can only speak
to the error of saying “every”.)

But here in this laundry room, there
are several piles of socks:

  • socks that are half of a pair, where
    they and their partners were separated
    in the hamper, and went through the wash
    in different loads (they are waiting)
  • socks that are widowed, their partners
    worn through, no longer strong enough
    to serve as barrier between tender
    foot-soles and tough footwear (they are
    waiting too, to be matched to another
    like them, similar in style and purpose,
    waiting to be re-paired)
  • socks that have fulfilled the purpose
    of their life as socks and can serve
    no further in that role (they are
    not to be discarded, they are waiting
    for some purpose they may serve).
    See, Mister Cottonwood? Your puncture
    will be washed, then will reside here.

A makeshift glove to cover the hand
that wipes fresh creek-mud off
the puppy’s feet? A soft lint-free cloth
for applying hoof-care liniment
to the pastured horse? A clean layer
between the bag of frozen peas-and-
carrots and the skin to prevent frost-
biting when an inconvenient twist

of the wrist has happened that needs
some short-term icing? A gathering
of several members of this sock-pile
community to be entrusted, one atop
the other, to protect the outdoor
spigots in the hardest part of winter?
A mini-mop for the kitchen floor when
the salsa’s boiling becomes exuberant?

Reincarnation happens here, Mister
Cottonwood. Do not discard any
candidates. All may be re-purposed.

In response to “Mrs. Blattner’s Window” by Joe Cottonwood, title a nod to Emma Lazarus.

Washing Instructions

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series The Laundry Poems


trust us. we are mechanics
of the first degree
from “our name is mike” by j.lewis

The kitchen sink: eight cubic
feet, two each way by two feet
deep, with two outdoor spigots
set into its steel back-wall
well above the highest water
level possible. Steel splash-
guard protecting the wall
on the right side, a bright

overhanging sconce light,
and the counter on the left
side rolls away, leaving plenty
of room for rag-towels
to protect the floor. Kitchen
sink that, like most of us,
has to serve more than one
purpose to earn the floor-space
it takes up. Double-duty.

Heavy duty. Because that
machine whose job it is
to do the washing comes with
permanent disclaimers, warning
labels that proclaim:

No washer can completely
remove oil. Do not dry anything
that has ever had any type
of oil on it. Le non-respect
de ces instructions peut causer
la muerte, un explosion, o

Check. I have a thought, dismiss
it with a slight regret. Recite
one hundred times: I will not
write to Maytag asking what they
mean, “do not dry anything….”

I am envisioning asking if
a thing has been so unlucky as
to have actually had oil on it,
how is one to keep it from
eventually drying out all by
itself? And when it does, are
they seriously warning me

that it will be like in
secondary school, in chemistry,
when we thought it would be
interesting to extract
the phosphorus from its safe-place
underwater in a jar and leave
it on the steel counter?
(That was interesting indeed.)

I am envisioning an attic
filled with two-gallon
pickle jars, greasy shirts
and jeans, all safely soaking
to keep them from exploding,
an occasional embroidered
name patch pressed sad and wet
against the inside of the glass.

Wisdom from some desert father
offered up by Thomas Merton:
It is not because evil thoughts
come to us that we are condemned,
but only because we make use
of the evil thoughts.
I complete
my hundred recitations of this
reassurance while I gather up
all the dangerously greasy

laundry. Gasoline and avgas,
solvent, tractor fluid, diesel…
and for balance, one pale green
fine linen dishtowel that got too
friendly with manual spray pump
used for squirting olive oil. It all
goes in the waiting sink.

This isn’t the kind of sink that’s
lined up on a window with a view.
This is a sink that gets right
down to business, and when
the hot spigot runs for just
six seconds, the steam would
make a window useless anyway.

I begin the layering:
the jeans and shirts, the worst
of the grease spots pointed
up. Then I tear off the card-
board top of a small box
of cornstarch and distribute
the fine powder fairly evenly,
making sure to not miss any
places thick with grease.

Then I pour in two litres
of soda (don’t believe anyone
who tells you it has to be
brand Coca-Cola, any cheap
generic carbonated containing
citric acid does just fine).
Then a cup of hand-wash
dishsoap. Then hot water.

Final layer is the rack
from an old Weber to hold
the clothes beneath
the surface of the steaming
murky stew. Turn on the vent
fan. DO NOT forget this.
Walk away. Come back
two hours later when it no
longer looks so angry, use
tongs to lift the grill
and pull the plug. Rinse.
Rinse. Rinse. Rinse. Rinse.

Then wash as usual.
Tumble dry low.

Read the whole series of laundry poems.

A Great Divide

There was some connection between her and him
and an eccentric brother on one side or the other.
Unimportant, except as an excuse
when he took me along to say hello.

I’ve been his “ever-faithful” since before I could bark,
hunting, fishing, hiking, or just staring
at sand, and sagebrush and sunsets in summer,
it’s been me and him. Inseparable bachelors.

There’s a smell to humans and their feelings
as clear and unmistakable as any spoor
and it changes quite reliably with their smiles,
frowns, shouted curses, and quiet desires.
While I may not say much, I know more about them
than they know about themselves.

I heard his tone as he talked to her,
(though I couldn’t know what he was saying)
the timbre of his voice, all rejection.
But the scent that blew toward me contradicted that,
swirling bursts of loneliness, discontent, desire.
Gave me something to think about,
as far as hound dogs think on anything.

What made it more interesting, from my silent
observation point between them, was the woman.
Shoulders mostly turned away, focused on the rope
where she was hanging fresh-washed jeans without a word.
Not that talk was needed, because the shifting breeze
nearly suffocated me with her pungent longing
that snagged on, and nearly stopped at,
the clothesline dividing their worlds.

Me? I wish they could hear what I smell.

In response to “Where the West Begins” by Laura Kaminski.