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this is a poem about nothing
the nothing of me before I was born
the nothing after my death
the nothing Cordelia inherited
out of her “Nothing”
except all her father’s love
the nothing a naughty child
has been up to
when a parent wants to know
the nothing I had on
under my jeans
when I answered the door at 7 a.m.
the nothing left of a father’s voice
of a mother’s curious glance
when you told her nothing
the nothing you can do
with the hundreds of family photos
four and five generations deep
the nothing you can remember
on the shopping list
you left in the kitchen
the nothing that makes sense
in the dark of your bed
when sleep defies your yearning
the nothing I said
when no one was supposed to hear
Light splashed this morning
in the valley
making me breathless:
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
the spring on the hillside
and the fire inside the hills.
On a bright day like today
to slip into the needle’s eye,
to construct peace, to make love—
three oranges lying on the kitchen counter,
you talking to me across the table,
on the table, on the oilcloth, hope,
letting the light in,
giving me reason to believe—
and below, the rest of our lives.
I could live like that.
I could live forever.
Your hair smells
Like the smoke
that drifts above
Summer’s end and nothing moved in that heat
except Uncle Tucky next door who was not
allowed in our yard. Just home from Saigon,
each day he fed trash to ashcan fires.
Mother yelled from the window: Move away
from that fence. Go play dolls with your sister.
He slouched on the stoop and tossed kindling bits
to the flames. I leaned so hard watching him
the chain link dented and cross-hatched my face.
I pressed my torso to the metal. Low smoke
burned my eyes. The cicadas’ crescendo
rose in the trees. He was lost in the haze.
Yet the slap fixed him to me fifty years on.
Stop crying. Just leave that poor boy alone.
The night my daughter curled up on her bed like a cannonball
and exploded into a pool of tears was the night I decided
to teach her about chopping wood. Not just how to set the log
on end in the center of the tree-stump, plant her feet, grip the ax
with one hand at the base, steady it halfway up the shaft with the other,
take aim, and swing hard enough to drive the blade all the way through,
into the stump, but also that it is less about strength, than the speed
of confidence. Not to mention there is great venting to be had.
The next day, I placed a log on the chopping block and said,
This wood is you and him, and the axehead, all the reasons for the split.
You have to keep repeating it, keep slamming into the wood,
cleaving it in two, piece after piece, until there is relief in the rhythm
and reward when you see your efforts stack up. The evening fire,
a little brighter for all your hard work. We put the ax back in the shed
and loaded the wheelbarrow with firewood. As we headed to the house,
she asked how long it took for me to stop drinking. Every day of it,
for Joe & Dale & Me
You should have seen the three of them:
sixty-five, seventy, maybe older,
pot-bellied, gray-haired, wrinkled
like God had given them skin two sizes
too big, riding wave after wave after wave
all the way in to the surf line,
giving each other the thumbs up,
then doddering back into the ocean
to catch the next wave. Shameless
exhibitionists. Acting like kids.
One of them had a ponytail, for chrissake.