Lonesome Holler

Sometimes I think the loneliness would be unbearable if I weren’t surrounded by ghosts. But seeing fireflies this early in May gives me an eerie feeling. The crescent moon is nearly alone in the sky, glimmering through a scrim of clouds. The aurora got rained out, and now the night is loud with all the voices of water as it runs off a mountain.

It occurred to me recently that in hilly country, those who are afraid of heights like me might often end up on mountaintops, because going straight up a steep hillside usually feels safest. Going sideways is scary, and downhill too perilous to contemplate. So onward means upward simply to avoid the abyss.

making the stars quake mountaintop peeper

Mothers’ Day Psalm

yours is the thorn that suckles us
the marsupial pouch in which we play king of the hill

yours is the rare orchid appointed
to a moth no one has ever seen

yours the corals whose cities shone
like nothing from a planning committee

and yours the epidemics the cancers the blights
a creativity as limitless as time and space

oh Nature soften the hearts
of all your little pharoahs
so we don’t have to overthrow them

and let those who insist you must be male
give birth through their penises

Mayday

the song comes from a long way off
slow as an old man making water

like a sort of sky
with one persistent cloud

the song brings its own weather
to a climate of fear

filling every redbreast
with territorial ambitions

until a brown thrasher
gets a hold of it and shakes

upside upside down down
get rid of it get rid of it

as the trees launch their fleets
unfurl their sails

cells vibrate in concert
each at its own pitch

a music not meant for any ears
this side of eden

where pollen still turns
our jack boots green

Brief

a sky with just one aperture
would fit in a briefcase

you’d hear it in there
clacking its beak

i miss the flesh of my flesh
lost during the pandemic

i have been drowning lady beetles
in the toilet in the sink

the oaks are dangling blossoms
before every passing breeze

green and yellow like snakes
in the old folk song

i argue all sides of a position
and call it prayer

i am sung to daily
by my followers the flies

Harrowing

an empty coal train
is rolling past a hobo camp

so many vacancies
like christ’s tomb

while the emergency room at the hospital
has no beds to spare

no windows of any kind
only an addict’s hallucinations

and a skinny old man
yelling help without the p

hell hell hell for hours
until the hospitalist snaps

out here it’s nearly easter
another winter’s worth of fossil fuels

have risen indeed
on wings of mercury

a gray fox ravaged by rabies
leaves her pelt beside the burrow

as the first hepaticas
raise their blue cups

Greens

the green of moss on an oak
three years dead

the green of greenbriar
on which a deer has grazed

the green of a bench in the woods
where vows were once exchanged

the green of garlic mustard
before it becomes too bitter

the green of ferns that have borne
the weight of snow

the green of winter wheat in the distance
when the sun comes out

the green of lichen on a rock
finding everything it needs

the green of leaves that won’t return
to a toppled witness tree

the old green of trailing arbutus
rushing into bloom for a few cold flies


Plummer’s Hollow, PA
March 17, 2024

After Life

in a thin soil of its own making
over slabs of ancient sea floor

the vacant shell of a pine
still stands below the ridge crest

gapped open like an iron maiden
with horns of wood

where branch collars
expanded ring by ring

now left behind when
the rest of it rotted out

the limbs they anchored gone
that whole green cathedral

in an afterlife where birds
can perch within

and snowflakes
fine as the hairs on a caterpillar

the squall hits just
as I clear the trees

painting us all white
in a matter of minutes

every twig and pine needle
furred with absence

and hours later when i hike
back up from the other side

following an abandoned
haul road through the rocks

it happens again
the valley lost in whiteout

and i descend through a blur
glasses safe in my pocket

telling myself it’s a spring snow
here and gone

that a glimpse is all we get
of winter any more

trees turned into
a forest of ghosts

as i reach the car
the view finally opens up

a snowy field green
with winter wheat

and a factory holding
5000 hogs they say

though nothing emanates
but a faint hum

the length of its roof pristine
in laboratory white

Canoe Mountain
PA State Game Lands 166
March 10, 2024

Mourning Cloak

moss like sadness
hiding old wounds

a mourning cloak butterfly
touches down

accompanied by a hydraulic drill
hammering at the quarry

and the screech of steel
from a passing coal train

the butterfly’s dark wings
edged in white look immaculate

after months secluded under
some loose flap of bark

all systems shut down
cells flooded with antifreeze

now come miraculously back
to green unshaded moss

waiting for the sun to open
her bluest wings
of pure grief

Garter Snake

what i had taken for a path
you knew to be home

your long striped road of a body
coiled in last year’s leaves

poised for whatever the first
day of spring might bring

to a hill scarred and scoured
by centuries of exploitation

i study your legless stance
you gaze off to the north

your tongue flickering
i hold out marshmallow hands

show me how to inhabit
one thought at a time

even if i cannot simply
crawl out of an old skin

i could hone my cravings
till they’re small and sharp

Mill Town

the morning’s only cloud
rises from the paper mill

beside the bypass
with its thump-thump of tires

going elsewhere at seventy
miles per hour

as death comes
to a white-footed mouse

struggling in a trap
spring dulled by rust

the wide-screen tv
still in sleep mode

below the old skull mount
twelve antler points scored

by rodent teeth
a hat-rack now

zebra stripes of road salt
out on his black truck

and a cracked rib that aches
when they hug

only to pull apart
gazing up wordless

as silver syllables tumble down
from tundra swans

it was just then
she’ll tell you years later

craning my neck I felt
your first kick