Allegheny Portage Railroad

climbing this cold mountain
half your face in shadow

moon which daytime cloud
have you made your nest in

immense turbine blades
are rising and falling

above the trees
above the roar of traffic

where a cold hiker
can feel drawn

to a dark twist of roots
suspended above a ravine

or a cliff shaggy
with hipster icicles

along a trail designed
by the national park service

to showcase ‘a gateway
to western settlement’

i keep mistaking the sound of the turbines
for my own pulse

a runner in ultralight shoes
shadowed by clouds of breath

keeps his eyes on the ground
a steady incline

built to haul canal boats
over the allegheny front

while below the trail
in a 200-year-old culvert

for a creek that’s wandered
off into another bed

i gape at stalactites of ice
dripping into a pool

bright with late afternoon sun
the whole glowing summit

captured there
under an arch of mortared stone

the red west of sunset
here and now

no need to ride
off into it

***

For more, see the NPS website.

Life Expectancy

The average age of a car is now reported 
to be 12.5 years— Cars are smarter, meaning

their mechanics are improved by things 
like electricity and computers. Once, I read 

that an engine is like a house built to contain 
explosions. After ignition, gas fires up the pistons 

and the resulting chain of combustion creates 
enough energy for turning the wheels. In 2022,

even in the midst of a global pandemic, the average 
life expectancy of humans is 72.98 years, not counting

cryonics experiments like the one in Arizona, where
a hundred and ninety-nine bodies and heads float

in shiny tanks of liquid nitrogen, waiting for a future 
science which, surely, will know what to do with them. 

How is it possible for a woman to live past her 105th
birthday, longer than any of her doctors, despite smoking 

daily for over half her life? Someone pronounced brain dead 
after a car crash can still make a gift of their tissues, corneas, 

or kidneys to a waiting organ recipient. My mother, now  
mostly propped up in bed in a nursing home, feels 

too weak to do anything but sleep—any day now, I'll think.
Yet there are times when she rallies or quarrels with her 

caregivers, days when she confides she wants a slice of cake 
and wants to live to be at least a hundred. We know there is

an end—when the mind's engine sputters and stalls in endless 
rewinds, when the body torques more vividly into a question

without answer; when the mottled flesh and fruit of this 
life peels steadfast into itself, shedding honey for bone. 

Prayer in Aid of Continuance

          May the gods of every terrible hunger
be appeased without more sacrifice.
          May no more farmers and poets water
the soil of old grievances with their blood.
          May the names of unceded territories
fall from our lips with the reverence
          they are due. May the leaves continue 
to open their pores and soak up carbon 
          emissions. May we reward the industry 
of their green and saffron, their ruby 
          and bark. May we bring the parched  
envelopes of ourselves and be filled with
         the languages of all we love, at tables 
overflowing into the end of the world.

A Map to Fit Inside a Locket

From drone-height, does it look so poor?
            What I mean is, reduced from perspective

of height as well as distance and time?
            Corroded green of the metal gate, ash

colored cinderblock fence. Chipped front
           steps atoned for by scraps of inlaid marble, 

swayback in that part of the roof which still collects
          alms of water from heaven. I have a gold chain

from the time I used to live there. Unclasped,
          it curves in a line toward the dream of an amulet.

Frankstown Branch

a river flows through the heart
of a nearby mountain

banks lined with sycamores
limbs luminous as moonlight

and the ghost of a canal
there just long enough

for Charles Dickens
to patronise it

now it’s a rail-trail
looked after by local farmers

and in the late autumn light
it can still transport

i watch a large black ball
float sedately downstream

mergansers flushed by a jogger
fly low over the water

under the outstretched
sycamore limbs

with their summer hunger for sun
to make more baubles

i pass an Amish man
dressed in blaze orange

taking his rifle
out for a stroll

among crumbling walls
the exuviae of bygone quarries

doorways open into
what’s left of the earth

soot-darkened soil
where Dickens saw

light gleaming off
from every thing

when he took a brisk walk
upon the towing-path

and after nightfall frowning hills
sullen with dark trees

which were sometimes angry
in one red burning spot high up

colliers turning those dark trees
into mounds of charcoal

to feed the iron furnace
its stone stack roaring

enough like a volcano
they named it Mt. Etna

so much radiance squandered
on an industrial revolution

one remnant section of canal
forms a backwater

floating leaves
still in their autumn red

suspended like memories
among reflections

i pass the former iron master’s mansion
just off the trail

its gorgeous stone work
its collapsed porch

behind me in the distance
a rifle speaks

the river runs slow
and green

***

Quotes are from Dickens’ American Notes

I’m Always Being Told Time Isn’t Real

                     "...you/ must create a likeness of/
             the dark for dark/ to disappear." ~ Alice Fulton


Once we might have felt time
                    to be endless, but not endless-endless. 

For we've always known even such 
                    endlessness has limits, which is why a clock 

can have a second hand, a minute hand. 
                    The seconds clip around, miniature racehorses.  

The hours pull their slower weight across a smooth 
                    track which lights up under its crystal dome at night, 

at the press of a tiny button. Sitting next to you, our
                    shoulders touching, I can see out the window

how the early darkness makes a well into which the whole
                    yard falls: a world with its own history, a world 

that began for us even before the tree in the garden raised
                    a few last fruits to the sky like darkly leathered flags, 

refusing to surrender. In time, we say; or out of time, ahead of time,
                    one day at a time— always measuring how much we let it

have: how many silver distances burn in the cup of the porch light's
                    blinking beacon all night, how many moth bodies fade like aubades.

Gingerbread

Perhaps the worst sin of all is stuffing
your face and doing it faster than anyone else.
           Perhaps it's putting on an air of studied
indifference while floods wipe out bridge spandrels,  
stretches of highway collapse into sinkholes,
           and neighborhoods turn into food deserts. Or
perhaps the very worst of all worst sins is conveniently
looking for something or someone else to blame, 
          so as to absolve brokers and football coaches 
who start foundations but pocket most of the millions 
donated. Perhaps a wolf in wolf's clothing isn't just 
         fashion that's trending: perhaps it's really a wolf 
taking up residence in the house built in a forest of lies, 
the sickening scent of sugar dripping from every tree.

Self-Verification

old gray body
bound for no grave

for no grave
has issued us visas

and i am a law-
abiding citizen

which is to say i suppose
the law is my abode

so this carcass of mine
has standing

and grows more
and more abstract

taxed and insured
vaccinated and boosted

password-protected
two-factor authenticated

but is it bound for glory
i could use a ride

Senescence

Of waxing and growing old, of wearing down and away;
               common root of seniority and senility. Older 
statesmen sport silver hair or hairpieces; grandmothers 
               tongue their gums before they eat or speak— 
We age and can't regenerate new limbs. Our cells,
               bombarded by environmental damage and chemical
stress, don't endlessly repair themselves. Lobsters continue 
               to grow throughout their lives; so do immortal jellyfish. 
Are they luckier? When damaged or starving, the medusa 
               will fold and fold into itself until it shrinks into a polyp, 
from which new and genetically identical bodies grow again. 
               Immortal, meaning deathless, undying like gods: un-
like us, who shrink from strong and straight to helpless. Skin
               and spine rolled up, bones sifting lighter than a bird's.

After All, the Father

Early evening in the room where the many-
months-slowly-dying father drowses in his robe, 

in his favorite chair—  She's spent long 
afternoons sorting through shelves 

and drawers; finally, he's given permission 
to jettison parts of his small galaxy of papers: 

a lifetime of work with its bills and certificates, 
prescriptions and receipts, its notes and letters. 

It's the latter that she lingers over most, creasing
and uncreasing, aching to find the missing parts 

of stories. Outside, neighborhood children scrape
the beveled road with cardboard carts; peal after peal 

echoes as they accelerate, closer to the bottom, until 
they tire of their game or get called home by their 

mothers. Windowpanes flushed with heat and light 
darken rapidly as geckos begin to scroll their call 

and response. Considering her reflection in the mirror 
and the brow as smooth and broad as his, decades later

she'll wish she'd known to acknowledge the more
important things than how, exactly, she was made.