After the FIshing Trip

Swayback with the weight of a child
unborn and of salt-water bass
hung by the gills on each middle finger,
my mother poses with painted fingernails
in front of an empty playpen on the grass.
Her eyes are deep, black,
and I wonder who caught those fish.
My father (I imagine)
snaps the picture and takes the fish
to slit their stomachs on the scaling table.
Perhaps he frees a lucky fiddler crab
who needs no help to find her way home.

[published in The Reach of Song, 2014]

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Back and Forth

you, with your cigarette
rough whiskers
in the Westinghouse stove light
six o’clock Saturday morning

I, with cold feet
delighted to find you
watching birds in the dawn

oh, to have understood
of your peaceful

did you dream of flying?
of dying?
did you read “Westinghouse”
over and
over and
over again?
(the forms indelibly etched
a neural pathway still recalled)

damn it, Daddy
we never talked
there’s the regret, but it’s the

born a Virginian
your mother saw to it
a long trek up from Georgia
when the time came

died a human being
in spite of the tubes
blue skin
hands that moved the shuttle
back and forth
back and forth
the fishing net as yet unfinished

[Published in Summerfield Journal, 1987]

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Morning shone on the coverlet
The near corner, fluttering:
An entrance–or an exit

Noon bared the muddy theater
The brazen crane strutted
As if on his last promenade

Green-yellow, faded now
The marsh-hens trip like debutantes in the fringe
But fear a miring in the middle

Come night, great equalizer
Bring easy honesty
When entrances and exits are the same

[Published in Georgia Journal, 1989]

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Elegy for One Aggrieved

Yours was the sin of age.
Sedated in your easy chair
you had the eyes of the wild raccoon
on the screened-in porch
when the children blocked her escape.

Taken for a walk on forgiving ground
you suddenly knew what to do.
I tightened on your forearm to keep you
from lying down in each leafy depression
to die.

Later, in an unholy place,
people scurried to preserve your pulse
while you stared, leaden
at the silly tins of peppermints
and would not eat.

Mine was the impotence of youth.
Now,on fall afternoons
I lie in those leafy places
and cradle your grandmother bones
and softly, to your spirit, sing.

[Published in Habersham Review, Piedmont College, 1991]

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Beavers have dammed Walker Creek.
Now, where Woody Creek flows in,
a waterfall.

Every day, crossing their confluence,
I look for blue herons, the faithful kingfisher.
When the water runs clear, the palette of polished stone
suggests subtle shades of the desert mountains.

Eager bulldozers flatten our mountain town,
Scoop up hills and drop them in valleys.
No waterfall marks the change.
Only red-running creeks, gas stations, and signs:
“Will Build to Suit.”

Trees felled are not replaced,
nor are we.
The world goes on without them,
without us.

[Published in Stonepile Writers’ Anthology, vol. III, 2014]

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The dogwood shines in the early light,
practiced from a night of bright moon.
The yellow-breasted chat is back,
repeating its repertoire.
To the east a pale orange glow
lies across the hills like a promise.

While some make last-minute trips for eggs,
you will think of “the old man,” twenty-six,
flying over Poland that Easter, 1944,
the day that twisted his future into a new shape,
that made him the father you knew:
wounded, sober, uncomplaining.

He is falling, unconscious, thousands of feet
to a Danish beach,
ribs and ankle broken, and waking
to the mercy of strangers,
the offer of boxed chocolates
to make up for his missing arm.

Somehow he rises through all that dark
to find the stone rolled away,
an ordinary life awaiting.
Patient and peaceful, he abides
until his soul is freed, a calling shrike,
circling in the blue sky.

[Published in Poetry of the Golden Generation, vol. IV, Kennesaw State University, 2008]

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Spring afternoons at home,
I like to sit in the glider on the deck,
drink a beer under the wide blue sky
and watch the dogwood open,
my heart drunk with love
for the way you can’t wait
to show me the buzzing redbud
shimmering with bees and skippers.

You lead me to the top of the hill.
The black cat slinks nearby,
feigning interest in the moving grass.
Amazed, I suddenly want to contain that tree,
to feel the hum in every blossom
of my being, every pore electric,
to be lifted over the field
by thousands of tiny wings
beating to the rhythm of my heart.

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The trees are baring themselves
Yesterday a bit of sleet fell
I am feeling the urge to hibernate
The news gets worse every day

Yesterday a bit of sleet fell
I don’t know where to put my sorrow
The news gets worse every day
Today I will see you for the last time

I don’t know where to put my sorrow
You are moving back north
Today I will see you for the last time
I want things to be as they were

You are moving back north
You will never again see spring
I want you to be as you were
When everything arises from the dead

You will never again see spring
I am feeling the urge to hibernate
When everything arises from the dead
The trees are baring themselves

[published in The Stonepile Writers’ Anthology, Volume 2, University Press of North Georgia, 2011]

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Holding the Tension

Both-and, she tells me
For the umpteenth time.
I have taken a place in town,
A playroom
For poems, water, fire.
I want to make it mean something.
(Must everything mean something?)
It makes me happy.

Mad for closure, for an answer,
I am a rubber band stretched
Between either and or.
Coming down on one side today
On another day, the other.
Yet I know in the not too distant future
I will lean into the stretch like a cat
Luxuriating in the sun.

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Maybe it was the wind chime tinkling or music
drifting up from the square. Maybe it was
the barking dog or the laughter of creative women,
the siren or the voices or the fountain gurgling.
Maybe it was the motorcycle revving below the window
that rumbled through her bones, that felt
like company and comfort. Maybe it was the tuning fork
of her body, an echo of belonging
from deep within.

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