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

The Well

this ignorance of mine is deep
as the cloudless sky

in which a small
woodpecker is tapping

having somehow heard
the faint stirring of a grub

i follow a deer track
to its source in a deer bed

a snow-free patch of leaves
shaped like a body

in the pines in the pines
where the sun comes undone

i follow a creak
to its source in the wind

rocking an oak snag
upon which so much must hinge

a barred owl query at noon
elicits a raven croak

this too is poetry
i only have to listen

Short Mountain
February 18, 2024

Homo allegheniensis

i compose myself
for the sniper

the hundred-year flood
the flint of winter

like a mountain rabbit

i could be the type specimen
for a new extremophile

hardy as a tardigrade
tender as an endolith

the laundry basket holds
all my changes of heart

still warm
from the late Carboniferous

like the wood lice
that wander under rocks

i am crepuscular
my sky is stern

Head-in-Sand Ritual

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Rituals


uncanny heat
for the tenth of February

but the creek’s trickle still hits
the right notes after dark

the evening jets rumble
somewhere out of mind

i disturb a sparrow
in the juniper tree

that holds my house close
to its accretionary trunk

and the fluttering of wings
where a heart would beat

tells me to go bury my head
under the blankets

to bed down with the radio
dead air hissing in my ear

and dream a killing floor
of windblown sand

where pump jacks raise
and lower their horse heads

and flare stacks
burn eternally
for unknown soldiers

it’s essential to keep
the necromance young

the lovely refrigerator
humming in my kitchen
depends on it

and the space heater
and the halloween ladybugs

awakening in the walls
too early
with a burning thirst


like a bloodshot eye
with a black pupil

crab-walking across my knee
a blacklegged tick

oh lovely horror
i take three photos

then decapitate
with a persistent thumbnail

the meek are inheriting the earth
with increasing speed

last night i came home
to an old cocoon

from one of the giant silkworms
lying on my doorstep

fabricated from a single leaf
like a dolma tied with silk

long since vacated
and weathered to old gold

and now the wind has taken
some interest in it

this empty shroud
that gave birth to wings

and to think i almost didn’t
crouch down to look

where does it come from
this disinclination

to get down close
and attend to the details

where the devil is said to dwell
among the flies

forefeet coming together
like prayerful hands

that’s what will finish us off
the piety of carrion-lovers

i tell a clump of sagging puffballs
on a stump beside the trail

their blunderbusses pointed
up down and sideways

i give one a tap
the smallest gray cloud of spores

spurts out and rides
off on the wind

Plummer’s Hollow, February 9, 2024

Gone to the Pine

in the stories i tell myself
i am sour milk

good for pancakes
or a cat if i had one

sitting somewhere warm
fur shining white

i am empty-handed
and approximately dressed

but look how much pine
can be knit just from sunlight

evergreen needles
barely moving

though i feel an icy breath
on the back of my neck

coming out of the rocks
where i’ve arranged my seat

just below the crest
of a high wooded spine

the tall pine is hollow
with a stripe of dead wood

from a devastating flash
severing the present

from the past with its absence
of woodpeckers

i follow the shadow
to a seedling pine

on a small carpet of moss
laid out on the rocks

the stories shed
their owl pellets

time to hunker down and scavenge
the best bits

Rothrock State Forest above Barree
Feb. 3, 2024

This Land is No-Man’s Land

a clarinetist crossing
the country by bus

gives his instrument
the window seat

locked in its case
dreaming of a sea of reeds

old ice dull as the eye
of a dead turtle

yellow stumps of alders
carved by yellow teeth

where waterlogged oaks
grow skirts of moss

and a thorn forest reclaims
an abandoned pasture

a school bus has graduated
it sports a satellite dish

encircled by the sighs
of half-dead pines

the musician’s fingers
grow restless on his lap

caught in the clarinet’s
clear net

January Blues

shadows on the snow
stretched out as if in prayer

the sound made by a spring
as ice smothers it

news that breaks and breaks
on slow snowshoes left right

here the urgent leaps
of a white-footed mouse

there a coyote pair
taking turns breaking trail

squirrels in heat
their labyrinthine urges

skeletal feathers of frost
where a vole is breathing

all just uphill from the interstate
a thing shown on maps

and a town in the mountains
taken over by mountains of snow

in every parking lot
another white peak

the pigeons rise
become a flock of rock doves

revolving in the blue
like a stuck tire


a connoisseur of oblivion
i begin with small omissions

goodbye to the twigs of my fingers
farewell to the far in my feet

my neglected face goes feral
till i’m lost in a forest of fur

closer and closer to the color of snow
as i grow colder

away from any furrow
burrowing into the twilight

catching flakes on my tongue
that taste like nothing else


Chionophiles are any organisms (animals, plants, fungi, etc.) that can thrive in cold winter conditions (the word is derived from the Greek word chion meaning “snow”, and -phile meaning “lover”). These animals have specialized adaptations that help them survive the harshest winters.