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Forthcoming: poetry in Stand Magazine (2020) and in High Plains Register (2019) and in Pilgrimage; prose poem in Artists Field Guide to Yellowstone from Trinity University Press (2019)



The Figure on the Bus

For Leslie Smith, who writes beautiful songs


I used to be that figure on the bus,

the one who hated the four rides

two each way each work-a-day day


of the year. Now I have been turned

into The Mom, the one who is expected

to hand out compliments, and, as necessary,


The Look. Often the same young woman

sits beside me. Buds to ears, she sings perhaps

only for herself, but I like to think for all of us,


a beautiful voice making me feel not so old,

or perhaps, because like the driver who takes

his time to close the doors behind us, we are tired


of the slow rush of things, and so little more than

the words hello goodbye hello can lift us both

dawn and dusk. We lean into what ordinary grace


we find: a cityscape streaked and smudged,

bus windows fractaled by sleet and rain, the flash,

the pulse of artificial lights carrying us home;


the haggard faced young man who never gets on

or off; those two hatless girls shouldered together

whispering into book bags; all of us without name


tags or the address cards parents once pinned to

our jackets because they knew we would be lost.

Is it enough now that I watch out for all of them?


--Appeared in Stand magazine, volume 16(2) 2018


The Reliquary


I am thief to the green

stalked sage, sun-scented tassels

worthies burned to smudge inside air clean

or sneak into another kitchen wreath.


I am thief to goldenrod fall dry buds,

their old greenness I pinch, a fool to think

this talisman will hold off yellow jackets.

The afternoon will not miss their urgency

but know what has been taken:

the goldeneye's dull brown center

that petal curl twisting inward

like paper once used early mornings

to light the trailer's oil stove, my family still

sleeping. Of these I construct a reliquary,

the moments that won't leave me behind.


The flat black round stone I move

further along the beached bone:

a dead-fall tree twisted around

its older self. Its mossy pockets I leave

to the ants and small spiders, the eggs

never more than eggs.


A sudden scratchy scatter of sound

from the shadows beneath the spruce and pine

stops me, a thought of what might be

urges me to the thief's caution

but there! only that pair of squirrels

running. Call it play. Call it work.


I am thief even of dust

the stone that is not a stone

the scarab that is not glazed amber

but only the polished scat of what I do not know.

I set it beside the path

a leaving for the ants the pine needles and snow.

Later I wash my hands.


--Appeared in Whiskey Mountain, 2017


The Slow Road Home


1.

Cousin Karen's Mason jar glimmered and jangled

pyrite nuggets, prismatic quartz she claimed

panned from midnight gravel, street gutters

after the flash of rain. Everything looked like gold

that summer, James and I slipping, side-stepping

the hills above Last Chance Gulch.

Awkward adolescents, brother and sister, hell bent to find

the lost mine, the mother lode missed.


Our sneaker toes nudged the rusted

spikes, ruined boards, danger signs trapped

by the years, gone-to-seed Canada thistle.

Rattlesnakes crackled the sere grass.

Grasshoppers scattered castanets of alarm.

They fell in heaps. Sometimes we crushed them.


Behind us wings flapped and hissed.

We screamed and jumped.

When I say jump, only ask how high.

My father's words tailed us.


We carried long sticks, tucked

our pants into tube socks.


2.

A Greyhound was carrying us the slow road

home to Seattle. My father had tanked up

his baby blue Dodge the opposite direction.

The Dakotas, the crescent of missile silos.

Gone wild, you and your brother.

Nothing we said ever changed

his mind. You'd think we'd been doing something

worse than bare-ass swimming with our cousin

and her friends at the gravel pit pond,

flashing boobs and dongs at the distant lights.


Your mother. Nothing to be done

for it. Nothing about not finding work.

Nothing about the hell of child support.

In this country somebody's always been

rushing to be off. Down the road. Out of what

they think the best forgotten life. The smell

of weed my father never caught.


The truck-stop asphalt glittered with late day

eastern Washington sun. My brother nowhere

to be seen, the driver determined to stick

to a schedule. Hydraulic swish. The bus door snapped

and latched. Low gears rattled. Exhausted

diesel fumes fell to the ground. James swung out

slow motion free of the cafe's doors. The Swedish

girls, the black guy from Tennessee

windmilling arms to keep up, waving bottles

of Coca-Cola, bags of fries and donuts,

the only prayers they had

flagging down the dust-devil wind.


-Appeared in Stand magazine, May 2016


My Great Aunt Learned


to live without children

great aunt Anita threw away

her glasses

seven years without

man or meat

a drought

of laughter


in sleep

she had no dreams


her nephew's children listened

for her snores and silences

filled the trailer walls

with conspiracy—

imaginings, things they thought

they heard

their parents say

and outright lies


what meager comfort

she tried on

they laughed away—

serpent beliefs

stone crosses

orange pekoe tea

leaf turnings

chiropractic

vitamins


every day

she buttoned up

the same black dress

shaved her face

locked the jewelry box

wrapped a key in fretted cloth

the third tit that wormed

her heart

a moth without wings


--Appeared in Owen Wister Review, Fall 2015



The White Horse


If the white horse had arrived one moment sooner, one moment later, it would have arisen just the same—left flank, head, shoulders and mane, single eyed, unblemished or blemished—and just the same, if it had been another horse altogether, say, appaloosa gray, galloping to beat the thunderheads transforming the stubborn day, here on the Wind River Indian Reservation, here at this very corner, here on this very bridge, here in Wyoming, here, where what we say and think on any particular 65-mile-per-hour highway—that, of course, we drive faster than the posted limit—the painted lines retracting one no-account place from the next, and it would not have mattered, whether the white horse’s quick-twitch body had swept out of the willow bottom, whether its white hide had not been flayed to the car’s grill or across the asphalt’s hard canvas, whether the Shoshones chasing the white horse had been drinking or not, this slow suddenness stopping us would not have mattered—akin as it is to counting coup, loss and death—and still.

*

What it is that cannot be said about the one-way mirror that lies between you and the reservation when you report the accident: that you looked into the glass with just the right angle and saw moments being passed like notes between classmates who once threw darts at your adolescent and pimpled face, at what was unfashionable about your dress, hem safety-pinned or scotch-taped, making you wish you were someone somewhere else, instead you were white-skinned and extraneous here as well—the language being spoken though the words sounded the same, that when later you asked for it, the report, as nonexistent as the BIA cop who'd investigated the scene and carefully filled a yellow ruled legal pad with names and addresses of victims, now nowhere to be found, the cop transferred out of state, that when asked to, you believed the Indians never drunk, the horses harnessed to a 4 am dream, their now-clumsy carcasses never dragged through the tactless grass, and the whole incident confused with an emergency videoed for TV.

--Appeared in Northern Lights, 1989