Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ghost Tree

All night its ululations rave
through its hollows. I fear
it will uproot and stalk the last
mile to my house and press
its grimace to my bedroom window
and demand I awaken and ease,
somehow, its stale desperation.
I don’t know what killed it or why

it has assumed this countenance,
but its oval gaping troubles me
the way the wind troubles whatever
remains of its pith. Last spring
a few buds exuded, a few leaves
trembled on the tips of branches,
but they fell early, leaving the tree
agape with that terrible grimace.

Now its warped geometry howls
with a grief I haven’t felt since
my oldest friend died of whiskey.
Awoken from a dream of unloved
and unfathered children, I loom
at the window and dare that tree
to present itself. The cry
of winter fills black and white spaces

etched by the glow of a planet
sinking in the west. The moon set
hours ago, and cold dawn plots
to cancel whatever the night owes
people like me. Back to bed
to cuddle with a purring cat,
the shriek of the ghost tree fading
as the wind shrugs out to sea.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Apples

Jefferson’s Variety

Still on the trees, apples tough
as knuckles absorb the gloom.
The light over Fall Mountain
looks like the marbled endpapers
of a nineteenth-century book..

Biting into a wormy apple
called Thomas Jefferson after
its original grower, I taste
something cosmic, a distance
both sweet and bitter and only

faintly sour, a place far away
yet too familiar to fear. People
chat among the trees, swapping
hybrid apple stories, tasting
various non-forbidden fruits.

Pears and peaches, one plum tree
share the orchard plot. Chewing
Jefferson’s hybrid by myself
in the lukewarm atmosphere,
I lean against my shadow and trust

the shaggy grass to cushion me
if the light shifts and I fall.
The voices approach. Two friends
round the path and approach me.
I look as blasé as possible

and toss the core in a weed-pile
to compost for the future.
The orchard-keeper asks if I like
his favorite old variety. Yes,
yes, I like the way it complements

the sullen mountains, the sickly
but apologetic sky, the smell
of approaching rain; and the way
it nourishes a sense of loss
ornate as the laden trees.

The apples came from Morningstar Farm in Rockingham, Vermont. The photo overlooks Morningstar's pastures toward Fall Mountain in the distance.

Mushroom with Tiny Slug

This scene isn't as dramatic as the one Robert Frost described in "Design," but I thought it a pleasing composition.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sonny Rollins at the Macdowell Colony.

Sonny Rollins speaking to the mob after receiving his Macdowell Medal, August 2010.

Somewhere Among Us a Stone is Taking Notes

Charles Simic's collection of poetry with this title was an inspiration to many of us in the early 1970s. This may be that stone. I'm sure it has been taking notes on me.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Such an Infernal Contraption

A heavy but graceful steel frame
supported by four tiny casters.
A single big clockwork gear

and something like a ship’s wheel
of equal size. I dare you
to turn that wheel and engage

this rusty but potent machine.
What does it do? You don’t know?
Turn the wheel and the planet

shifts on its axis, tilts more
to the right. You’ll hardly notice,
but the winters will get longer

and the summers will shrivel one
or two degrees. New Zealand,
however, will warm a little,

and the Antarctic icecap shrink
by several million cubic yards.
You think this antique device

doesn’t work anymore? Try it—
go ahead, risk our grandchildren’s
future by changing the climate

with a single turn of that wheel.
You claim it won’t budge because
the rust has lingered for decades?

I’ve a quart of oil in the trunk
of the car. Let’s douse this thing
and get it working fluently;

and maybe by turning the wheel
the other way with heroic
grunts and groans we’ll reverse

the industrial revolution
and undo some terrible curse
we hadn’t known applied to us.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Zombie Jesus

As we pass the Jaffrey graveyard
beneath a thunder-knuckled sky
you note the lime-white statue
of Jesus lurching across the lawn,

marauding. He must be looking
for a fresh grave, you insist,
one with the brain still edible.
You think Jesus is a ghoul?

No, a zombie, and besides,
that statue isn’t really Jesus
but a zombie neatly dusted
with cake flower so he can hide

in sight until conditions ripen.
Lightning impales a hillside
a mile away. Thunder rocks
our little car. A sheet of rain

drags across the view and occludes
the clumsy figure prowling
among the overpriced monuments
grim towns like Jaffrey prefer.

At the stop sign I check the mirror.
Jesus stands in the road staring
with blank white eyes. Can he see us?
I turn north and drive as fast

as the baptized highway allows,
past D.D. Bean and the bridge
over the Contoocook. Jesus
won’t follow us. If a zombie,

he’s too sluggish and awkward,
and if a ghoul he’s a necrovore,
and won’t come after the living—
even those tenderized by sin.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


At this junction, railroads crossed
before the ’34 freshet
collapsed a couple of bridges.

One remains, unused but intact,
curving toward the Bennington
paper mill. The other’s a path

by a marsh of beaver lodges.
We note one large pine felled
by excessive overbites, many

saplings trimmed to handy size.
In a daze of vicious deerflies
we turn back along the abandoned

roadbed to find the car we parked
half a mile away. Nothing to say
about the horrors of the world

today: the threat of nuclear war
in Korea, oil spill in the Gulf,
the shooting of relief workers

off the Gaza coast. We slog along
with silence masking our faces,
plowing the plush air ahead of us.

When both railroads still functioned,
trains ran from Keene to Nashua,
looping around the Dublin ridge

and crawling through these marshlands
to pause at a station here, then pass
a ball signal and trundle east

toward Greenfield. You don’t care
about the geography but focus
inward, on grief you won’t share

because no man understands.
The roadbed we’re walking ran south
to Peterborough. You don’t care

if it ran to Moscow and Kiev,
the spangles of deerflies jewelling
your regal but gray-streaked hair.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Santa Fe in Vermont

At the Bellows Falls crossing
a leased Santa Fe locomotive,
blue and yellow, backs a string

of cement cars across the river
toward the North Walpole yard.
You would enjoy seeing this stray

machinery from the Far West
groaning across the rusty bridge.
It invokes your California years,

the dust of the Central Valley
inflamed by the Santa Ana winds,
the Mexican pickers sweating

in fields that stretch from one slab
of mountains a hundred miles
to the other. Did you feel the land

tremble where one railroad crossed
another, subtler than earthquakes?
Did you admire the gray and red

Southern Pacific diesels cruising
from Oakland to Sacramento?
Maybe you don’t find railroads

as interesting as Thoreau did—
the hoot and stammer inscribing
the spirit of commerce on the green

silence of Walden. Sometimes
he hated its vibrancy and greed;
and sometimes I think the etching

of railroad on landscape ended
Jefferson’s agrarian dream for good.
But today in cloudy Vermont light

this alien diesel engine smiles
with effort and I smile back
at it; and maybe you also,

as you crouch over powerful texts,
are smiling with intuitive glee,
amused by what’s so childish in me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Old House by the Lake


That shabby old house by the lake:

green flaking paint, trees tucked

so close the trunks shoulder up,

the roof encrusted with many

seasons of leaf-fall. A nice lot—

two hundred feet of lakefront


behind that fringe of brier and shrub.

Of course it’s haunted. Why else

trespass in those dank gray rooms?

Look at how the sofa slouches

below that amateur painting

of sheep mowing a bristly meadow.


Sniff the thick air and appreciate

the mold and mildew that smother

the reek of excrement. You shudder

because in your native land one

expects to find a corpse or two

brewing behind the furniture.


Here the dead keep their distance

and only their stories remain

to bore us. Yes, that’s a face

peering from the dark at the top

of the stairs. We won’t go up there.

That face has retained that fixed gaze


for many years. Maybe a ghost,

maybe a living person annoyed

by our presence. Let’s go outside

and consolidate our psyches.

The stink of this interior

both depresses and exhilarates.


Look back at the upstairs window.

Note how dark and smoky it looks.

Good thing the trees fence this house

so closely. We wouldn’t want it

to drift even a few yards further

for fear it would poison the lake.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Slow Depth Plotting


On my birthday snow has buried

my favorite junk car in the woods.

Naked seat-springs glower with rust.

The steering wheel, black cracked Bakelite,

looks futile. The overall slouch

of the ruined vehicle suggests

that “rendezvous with destiny”

New Wave filmmakers adored,

although they never convinced me.


Meanwhile I’ve missed my rendezvous

with you, a glancing blonde presence

in the corner of my eye. Even

in the woods beside the river

I catch a flash of pale blue dress,

too flimsy for upcountry winter.

Your love of mime exposes you

one sly gesture at a time,

each imperceptible, ill-defined.


The river looks solid enough

to support an armored division.

Its snow-smoothed trough bears prints

of a dozen modest animals

busy with animal business.

No black hint of current betrays

the slow depth plotting. The dam

five miles upstream at Bennington

stalls ambitions rivers sometimes

allow to overwhelm themselves.


The junk car has rested here forty

or fifty years. It came to rest

with sculptural integrity intact.

The car in which you died, however,

crushed itself so humbly nothing

of its original form survived.

Do you remember the slam and smash

that collapsed your skull? You dodge

and feint in the corner of my eye

and your presence on my birthday

explains our divergent lives.