2015

LIFE GOES ON

Streetlights lean through clouds of starry faces
dissolving under a steady drum of rain.
Life goes on between scattered papers and fixed clocks.
Forgotten messages are wrapped in the cold room of her heart
She looks for a secret edge where she imagines a door might appear,
or a word, behind her unwilling lips
curls into ashes where thin fingers of smoke squeeze
a delicate pain through her ceramic nerves.
From a distance, the first star flairs above glassed roof tops
and moonlight wrinkles the steps of sleepwalkers
their waxy shadows of lost moments
slowly falling apart
through a forest of curtained windows.
Here life separates a kingdom of memories, patiently waiting
Here the future sheds its skin in public,
when each heart beat least expects it, you can almost hear each life
sound an alarm after years of waiting
while the universe of a day, short-termed and long forgotten
waits down avenues of dawn for the simple grace of human touch.


2015

BALANCING WORDS BEHIND CLOSED LIPS

The tongue tiptoes with sober breaths
drawing ghosts from the weathers
of worn furniture and always alone
the fallen conversations of inquiring hands
the approaching dawn on the quietness
of remembering past moments
possessed with accusing shapes
erupts into iridescent migraines
leaving blank spaces across a frontier
that winks out a nervous summons
and waits to be fulfilled
where the lips reclaim the edge of delicate hours
life closes in and waits
to be fulfilled


2015

BEDTIME IN AMERICA

Windows take a deep breath,
Reflecting the moon
From their dark eyes
Like dice held captive
Inside a fist of soundless space.

I live in a cosmetic land.
I feed on the insomnia
Prowling the air
I sink between the sheets.
Nights go underwater
And the lights of the city
Limp as cotton hurl
From the heavens
Just under my skin.

Ambition haunts the air
For signs of dawn. I hold
My breath and wait
For the rooster’s crow.
I climb shadows of dream with invisible fingers.
My face clocks seconds of silence
On each numb wall. And one by one
My eyelids open
Like store front windows
Where I will try
To pawn all I have
For another day’s breath.

Published in: THE MIDWEST QUARTERLY


2015

FRESNO 1954

The factories on Van Ness and 55th streets
bend their crumbling walls like old men
who sit all day thinking they have somewhere to go
On the inside, frames of pictures hold only dust
and the dark shadows of their once lean bodies melt down the once virile concrete
that shouldered barreled frames of working men sucking on cigarettes
and whispering their dreams for Saturday nite when payday weighted their pockets
and the hipped girls on East Fresno Street called to them like sirens
and made them smile for the week….
In those days the hours seemed never to end
and for one day in the week each man was a King
as he spread the dollars for each hand and bill that reached out…
Horrified faces of all kinds speak to me forever like children who never grow old
My hand stretches, like the end of a rope, to pull each shadow out of the darkness
and into my memory, my voice vapors into fog,
as each word stumbles, like drunks on a Saturday nite, one over the other.
The children lose patience waiting at the dinner table…
their glass slippers break against the factory walls and windows,
their voices grow silent with each passing year,
they feed on their own depressions remembering days past,
and inherit what is only make-believe.


2015

INNOCENCE

The rain marches outside the door
unfurling shadows from dawn
as the wind turns a shoulder
and weighs what is said
among crafty wolves
eyeing the motions of hungry children
whose words hang on hollow branches
and fall each day like blackened fruit
the wolves with no hesitation arrive
bared teeth drum the ground
as they circle in a macabre dance
The children, sleepless, push out of sleep
looking at silhouettes of hunger
in an ecstasy of suspicions
Their arms suspended like a clouds
while inheriting blank faces of fear
through the moon’s shadowed
and quartered eye


2015

HUMAN PASSPORT

After all is said and done
the eyes find it harder to look up
as they bow shyly to discover silence
behind a curtain of boredom
or how after hours of refusing reflection
they harden into dark planets
and pretend orbit

After all, we all end up
crawling deep into corners
of the surgeon’s bed
our wrinkling flesh numb and red
fussed over with plastic gloves
explored with sterilized instruments
We invent a space from beneath the ashes
of fragmented omens
with nothing asked
and nothing said


2015

GETTING THERE

Uncertain of an ending he scatters ashes of another life before our eyes
Handfuls of rain press the silence of the afternoon into water proof dreams
Umbrella shadows crown their regret into dark breaths
at the door way to his forehead
His vocabulary indulges frightened discoveries
looking for ways out of this heaven
where a vacancy sleeps unclouded with each embrace
and waits on a dream to unfold
Perhaps it’s a turning point, where betrayal arrives late
demonstrating each moment controlled with unsaid words
where he grows darker “as if he were nothing more
than this man or that man”
Where the power of poverty concealed in the wilderness
of his own shadow passes from one hand to another
and words are no long necessary


2014

Zora

Zora Bath

Her mythology sings
to a lifeless world
a symphony of the sea
from her rock-tiled balcony

Leaving traces of sunlight
through candles of narcissus
her hands flower morning glories
and nasturtiums
over the concrete environment
where birds slide
along the shadowy arms
of telephone wires lost in fog
where twilight filters through
like sand that rises under white-hooded waves
she trembles with curiosity
and unshed tears

A halo of salt reflects the
veils of mist
in her watery hair
as she rises
in a clear voice
from the chalice of the Pacific
awakening the ears of a silent planet


2014

When You Wake a Child

Zora Nap

If you look long enough
her breath lifts and falls
like the wings of birds

You are frozen at the doorway
by the quiet movement
of earth each year
in shaping bones
or filling in the illegible
wrinkles on the palms
of her hands
or the sky
of her voice

Her voice tickles the leaves
like a summer wind
crossing and recrossing
the delicate paper of sea
on which the maps
of her life are spread


2014

In No Other Life

hands

In other lives despair is less simple
dampening the earth
with the wisdom of uncertainty
hunger sits at an empty table
waiting for the doors to open
into a great room where each secret life
turns into a galaxy of grass
and a child waits, learning to open her hand

Littered and loitering, other lives
hide among abandoned things
wearing wintery eyes
and the coats of scarecrows
their fierce intolerance
grinds handfuls of dust
into landscapes
that are not theirs

I believe we leave behind
what is inherited
touching each moment of life
before it’s forgotten
like a dream at the moment
of waking


2006

NOTES FROM A DIARY OF A WORKING MAN

Along the road
dawn pushes
through the orchard
barns fade red
through crooks of oak
An old man dawdles
in turnips forgetting his age
A cauldron sun nets the far hills
where vineyards roll down
into the machinery of earth
and night endures tireless faces
heated under the dead lake
of an enameled moon

Spiders weave webs
among the small fortunes of flowers
thinning the unsettled hills of suburbia
eating the dust of heaven
in corners that go nowhere
Under the city’s cinematic skies
rackets of labor drum
in a sandstone dusk
cold washes of beer
harbor the air of swamp coolers
Men line boulevards
lowering their hats and hands
like secret agents
Trees talk to air
and children wave ragged coats
to ships that go by
pulling the horizon behind them

Without hesitation something visible
shatters to the floor like a truth
waiting to be picked up and eaten
I imagine a wife
small farm
a cow full of milk
all day in the field
in the hive where a queen
in triumph directs the wind
pouring in overhead

Clouds edge the world
Birds on imaginary winds
with some vague urgency
of direction press forward
into rhythms of boredom
Their wings refuse to move
and the clock’s silence
is a white tablet hidden
beneath punctual tongues
Leaving this wonderland
is so hard
I lose everything
to dark bags of crows
trailing behind me
and their dreams are not
strong enough to endure
the distance between
breath and departure

Every passage is fossilized
Squalls of light perch like small packages
on a winter clothesline with bitter tongues
The shape of things to come
twists in the wind like a hanged man
Wearing through what I can not wee
each day dissolves
into fragments upon a butcher’s block
dragging me into its trance

I begin work
my terrors knotted
around my neck
like conquests
The road that has dragged me
this far still has my grin
on the bottom of its shoe
I collapse
like a puzzle
to fitted anyway
I choose.


2011

1956

In lemon-colored photographs
the wind blows whispers of wheat
through my ancestor’s hair
Before the rain
shoes untie themselves
and run from the children
that inhabited them

All is windless and sky
There is a roaring in the air
that chases our lives
into backyard shelters
while Eisenhower calms
the static air waves from a hospital bed

In the streets scarecrows
have lost their shadows
I see them make their way
to the next day
folding into Dali images
or the shadows of unread letters
trembling in the hands of winter trees


2011

THE WHITE KNIGHT / TO WARREN G HARDING

1920. His words stalk the silhouettes of Wall Street
a dark encumbering sea of desolate meanings
in shoes that refused to move the tumbling hopes
of the Republic

He looked for something
he forgot to remember
remembering only what to forget
A hypnotist’s oracular tongue
in a house ceasing to dream
A grift in a silk suit he held
the country’s heart with his “hollywood looks”

He counted words
daily in a different voices
memorized their bitter virtues
in the hours drunks lament
a childhood of broken mirrors
He charted maps across

a park of fallen trees
where premonitions poked
up from a gray earth
where the echoes of wrong
became right
His white hair a silk flag
his public saluted with reverence
blackened into a Tea Pot
assaulting the abstract democracy
his worshipers could no longer
drink from…He procured a girl
to bolster his innocence with faithful emotions…

His days began to winter
like his hair
into a snowfall of pigeons
on a park bench
in the dawn of 1922—San Francisco
his luck fell to its knees
in a plate of King Crabs and mistaken identities
still pawning America
little by little
into an empty room
of promises
for the price
of a lifetime


2011

DAILY BREAD

I find her absence mapped in lines on my hand.
The mirror never lets go.
I mistake my reflection for her shadow
and the trees move towards winter.

I keep her name beneath my tongue,
pace the avenues of the room
where her heartbeat echoes in the teeth
of the clock.

At the window I watch her face freeze
to the landscape, refusing to move
into the white glove of the moon.


2010

PREPARATIONS FOR WORK

Weeds stand erect
on the roadside
Through the squinting heat
of motel curtains
three-day stubble
of dreams close behind me
My shadow outruns me
only when I pass under a light
All these days
snapshots of the dead
in the lining of my coat
and what to show for it
My face contorts without command
My tendons like old gears grind
dry and flake away


2009

SPIDER

A spider hides in my heart
sleepless working night & day
on the shelves of my spine
tending a menagerie of petrified wings
I try to name the unforeseen shadow
between words
but everything around
me grows smaller…
an empty boat on a silken sea
My memory is a cloud
through which the rain falls
on the edges of insomnia
Everything I consume
makes me thinner
During morning hours
he comes across the desert of my bed
his smile drips with tiny bones
his whispers offer everything but love


2008

LETTING GO

Absence points me like a compass
through streets
where memory prowls the air
to keep the dark from dream
night seeks each muscle
a constant companion
between the sheets

I’m awakened at dawn
surprised to find my poems
roosting in the window
calling the wind to inhale their sail

My voice retreats into echoes
only stones understand
At noon I twist like a weather vane
over a blue dance floor
a man growing older
refolding the shape of his life
into the glass of the sea

The sun slows
and the boat begins
to drift as I take form
I guess no one
ever let’s anything go
without a fight


2007

IN THE SAN JOAQUIN

The warm tropical winds have finally
pushed a high pressure system
over the valley and suddenly
the idleness of February and March
shatter into telegraph rain

Weeding, spraying, planting, tying and suckering,
irrigating, tractoring under the ghost of the Great Bear
awakening
bumping his head
in the dark cave of stars
And each moring
through his transcendental cave
pokes the eyes of the Sun
woken earlier
on the gossip of birds
sitting in the black/blue
notes or a morning prayer

North coming
the sweetness of orange blossoms
cool evenings and summer mornings


2006

REVELATION

Machines of war
shed their parts
and the world goes dark.

Threadbare on the outskirts,
a child bites knuckles,
finds no blood,
fills his stomach with cold fire,
hardens lips,
knots his throat into a truth–
a revelation.

Women on street corners
gather themselves
into bouquets of seedless sunflowers.


2005

WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE

Someone is walking ahead of himself
waving his ragged coat to ships that go by
on the sea of his loneliness
Darkness unfolds an apricot sun
chilling edges into the color of brass
My expectations simmer
into tongues of dust
arranging themselves
into last night’s ashes
The sun erupts
with bleeding hands
I shrink from a day’s work
like a match that won’t light


2005

HOMELESS

The roads all came back
bringing with them
the gray weather of old coats
A flammable moon
wrinkles the landscape
into blacks and whites
Winter wanders in
on the breath of an empty page

From an old photograph
I listen to a black man
play clarinet to crows
silhouetted into musical notes
between telephone wires
My feet turn the earth
as I try to keep my head
from the wind’s inevitable noose


2005

HAIKU

Between the ticking of the clock
as dark blurs into dawn
I enter the mouth of a dream.


2005

WORK SONG

I count my failures
like loose change
or prayer beads,
reciting the liturgy
of empty spoons
and methods of sin
that are unexplained seeds
I would rather feed
to pigeons on a cold day,
listening to the wind
scissors through a cathedral
of dry leaves and over dark tables
of freshly plowed earth.


2004

DESERT AT DAWN

We cling so fiercely,
sacked in our flesh,
shapes who do not
own our shapes.
Black night.
I leave a foot in the door.

Dawn.
Children hold out their arms
to the slow return of light,
the wind, and whatever is coming
whatever is at hand.


2004

MEMORY

I step outside
and inhale the earth
with its blue echoes.
I lift an orphan
from a crowd of crows
and carry her like an urn
of sweet water.
In the distance
the brown rhythms
of farm workers hunch
in a field of flowers
gather the last light
into the basket
of their arms.

I am worn from the inside
like a pocket. Wandering
in circles, I make dancers
of the birds,
weaving the wind
with wings and words
that refuse to shake
the earth from their skins.


2004

DAYS

Foot beats on the street
where memory hums to itself
on wet tires and in the dark rooms
of empty pockets where voices
slow through a sea of fogged windows
and into the next world.

Awakened, I crouch in a city of dry leaves,
hunched and hungry, unhurried, and drinking air.
An electrical fever of streetlights yellows
the weather; hours run like ink
into a hole beneath my feet.

The sun bullies up like a battered fighter, balancing
on the dull patience of a razor. This is how it goes
day to day; shadows sink into pavement, and the sky,
stiff as iron, is a knotted sheet each hand grapples for.

One day lends itself to the next. Workmen line boulevards
like prayer beads, awaiting the final justice
their lives have struggled to become. Above them the city rises
and the word is made flesh before the dust of day
settles like a prophet into the pit of my throat.

I bicycle winds whose echoes
mock silence with sawdust smiles. This is how it goes
in a life where love wakes behind doors it does not recognize,
tapping out random rhythms of loneliness
that sweep one hour into another. All around us
the landscape holds up straw arms and sings,

believing hands that once held stars
always lead to heaven.


2004

JOBLESS IN JANUARY

To Donna

Where shadows fold one by one across a seamless sky,
I wait in the doorway for a new year
frozen by the wheels of the factory clock.
Wind whitens my ears into porcelain seashells
with words that are no longer necessary;
a promise drifts up in yesterday’s ashes
from the bottom of a 50 gallon drum;
I flip a coin in a climate that remains
fixed, foreign, and under glass.
Punctually, I desert any miracles by midday
for those less fortunate, and empty my pockets
slowly into the hands of a snowman.


2003

INVITATION TO AWAKEN / to Cecelia

I pack each reflection
balancing the horizon
as the invisible cold
warms slowly my face
from an endless field of poppies

I hide in the darkness
of your shadow
My arms reaching
into the distance of your sleep

Fingers walk along
the white rapids of sheets
surrounding the lazy freedom
of your body
I bend like paper
to ink this moment we are breathing

And in this moment
I find possibilities in the landscape
as we get older
like a farmer luminous at dawn’s light
knowing the waters in the furrows of his field

will last a lifetime


2003

SLEEPWALKING

The broken stairs rise
for the moon to step
as you turned
and walked away

And there is little
to remember
among the omens
looking for your shape
among the broken hands
of statues holding
schedules of trains
in their timeless palms
I look for your likeness
in the frozen current
underwater where winter
swims up to catch its breath

My name disappears
whispering through cracks
in the wall
I never understood this hunger
diminishing life from its roots
like pages torn from a book
like the heart of a star
growing smaller
as I grow near

I have often dreamt
myself awake and bothersome
like dust in your eye
listening for the stale note

that calls my name
each morning from a doorway
that isn’t there


2003

AFTER HARVEST

I know places
where cities of the heart
create themselves into the hours
and addictions of a day.

I know outside each door
a precipice waits
holdings its breath,
humbling feet and hands
to the fragrance
of what is unspoken.

Winter sinks into an unmade bed
unfastening her dark highway of hair

The last apples shiver like stars
in a sea of skeletal trees.

“Come,” said the Reaper,
“My hands are cold
and the world is still.”


2002

THE HITCHHIKER

Is he really
looking for diamonds
or just the next town

That was yesterday
I watch
how the earth
closes like a hand
around him
and leaves no trace

He shapes life
into the soles
of his shoes
whispering
to the road
like a pair of dice


2001

IN THE WOODS

Your delicate wingmarks
tell how days are made,
until the last one vanishes
into shadowy weather.

Your hair embroiders
the wind with kind words
and yesterday’s promises
hang by a thread
under the dark fist of a spider.

I touch the branches of a tree
like the keys of a piano,
arousing the leaves
into a green dance
in the palm of your hand.

As my words unlock
the letters of your name,
we eclipse
between folded hands
unable to hold
the dream we
keep reaching for.


2001

THE WOMAN EATING SAND

My hands grumble with bread,
and I wonder if all children
disappearing between
the yellow lines of morning
go to the same place.
When it’s dark, feet bare as my own,
move towards a heaven
where water slips through my fingers
and love empties out of me
into wrinkled dunes of desert.
My tongue is dust. I answer
questions with it, so all can see
what it is made of.

Something invisible falls to the floor
to remind me of a way back. My legacy
weathers into fingerprints of sand,
and eyes burn a hole in the dark
that leads to the next dawn.
I hasten from a life of quick endings
learning to cultivate
what others leave behind.
My hands hold wind nightly,
like a prayer, expecting
no miracle or god to appear,

only the breath
I will be allowed to keep.


2001

CHANCED WORDS

The day grows white with black looks.
A phantom wind bandages
the mouths of broken windows
with newspapers and leaves.
I dispatch messages, but only grass listens
before claiming a part of me.

Between breakfast headlines
and a bowl of grand illusions
I forgot how much I loved you
as you walked among the purple laughter
of thistles in a landscape where nothing
lasts forever. Here our words are unclouded;
they go on dancing after we have gone,
distilling dreams from the ashes of disbelievers.
Here among fallen school yards,
voices of children find our names
one by one

becoming their own.


2000

MORNING

From the orchard silhouettes
of night run from the dawn
The bat covers itself with wings
upside down
a dark fruit never picked

Voices from the field shift
from north to south
In the east a silver incandescence
in the dark begins to filter blue
Mountains appear
like ancient castles
in a vapor of blackness

Dreams ghost into high clouds
and preparations for morning
untied shoes and eyes shut with dream
Voices out of empty socks
hatch into visibility

Outside
lights fade into a blue wall
and the smell of coffee
on each breath
replaces a question
scratched into the path
of each calloused palm

I turn
to the silent growing
of seeds
no one hears


2000

I AM WALKING INTO MONDAY

Under the rind of moon
a foghorn raises
the sun
to stuff me into my socks
twelve hours a day
leaving no proof
in the yard

Across the street a suit goes to work
In his pocket his final possession
gulps its breath
a morsel of faith
rises like steam
clutching a kingdom of keys

…at the curb a get a way car idles


2000

Awakening at 60

I surrender to the passion
Between two branches
Listening to a flame
Choke in a lake of wax.

The sun sets on
What I have left of life.
A child glitters
From midnight windows
Behind my smile

The hard edge of hunger
Goes from my plate
To his and we pick the street clean.
I am an accomplice
To gulls, beating their wings,
Refusing to go south.

I watch the path in front of me
Vanish among the dry words
Of escaping leaves.