Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pastured Bison

Pastured Bison

Roiling up a dust storm to rid
themselves of flies, pastured bison
look prehistoric, huge plush heads
bobbing as they writhe on the ground.
Their hides look bulletproof yet
men on passing trains wasted
entire herds by shooting them
and leaving the carcasses to rot.

These look relatively pampered,
but will become buffalo burgers
on a thousand backyard propane grills.
Bison don’t belong in New England.
Clouds of deerflies, horseflies, greenheads
madden them, while the range
lacks the distant horizons
bison evolved to exploit.

I want to touch their bulky faces,
stroke away the insects; but creatures
like these resist becoming pets.
I want to write their history,
but they wouldn’t want to read it,
nodding over the largest typeface
with boredom gruff as a snore.

Back in the car and driving north,
I glance in the mirror and catch
one bluff critter sticking its tongue
into the humid air to taste it,
but also razzing me goodbye.
The morning seems a little riper
for having featured bison.

I drive that much more firmly
on the narrow country road
to prove I can’t be herded quite
as easily as bison. The light
simpers with half-suppressed humor
and the stony look of pastureland
ages toward a change of season
that’s creeping up from my knees.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

At the Foot of the Harbor

At the Foot of the Harbor

At the foot of the harbor the fog
settles in wispy strata. Gulls
pick at the littered tide line
where shell-wrack and beer cans
cohabit in a common texture.

I’ve breakfasted on oatmeal
and half a gallon of orange juice
and feel as health-ridden as a squid.
You should see me setting forth
waving a white foam coffee cup

and singing a Buddy Holly tune.
A few yards ahead a duck pond
embraces a little flotilla
of green-capped or dull brown mallards,
a family already grown enough

to risk the long flight south.
We never took such risks. Childless,
we settled at the vanishing point
where perspective no longer applies.
Ducks and gulls mingle with no sign

of conflict. Neither species fears
my coffee cup, my singing voice,
or my swaying faux-sailor gait.
Pickups rumble past with young men
surly at the wheel. They resent

the summer people who pay them
to repair their leaky cottages.
I should resent someone, something,
should toss my coffee in someone’s
arrogant face. Maybe my own.

The ducks murmur in a language
that makes more sense than mine.
The incoming tide rattles the shells
and beer cans, a stark indifference
that like you evolves from the moon.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ocean Point Again

Ocean Point Again

Stumping from ledge to ledge, surf
creaming a few feet below,
I find I’m not as agile
as the Vinalhaven summer
we wasted on each other
decades ago when the ashes
of Vietnam circled the globe.

Looking into the sunstruck water,
I detect a thousand shipwrecks
clinging to the weedy bottom.
You’ve named half of those sinkings
after yourself, half after me.
Shingled houses overlook
the point. People who live there

can taste the surf every day,
“healing, illimitable salt”
that couldn’t heal the mutual
lobotomy we attempted.
On a tiny pine-trimmed island
a lighthouse I can’t name lures
the eye. Through binoculars

I watch a man stroll up the ramp
to enter the forty-foot tower.
On that island I could pass
the rest of my life on crosswords
and boring old novels no one
in this new century should read.
The rocks try to break my ankles,

but I’m still too smart for them.
I avoid the slippery tide-smut
of rockweed and plant my steps
firmly on grainy surfaces
so I don’t fall the way you fell
into the worst kind of wealth,
all surfaces polished to kill.

The Tide's Gone Out Forever

The Tide’s Gone Out Forever

The harbor sinks under the weight
of too many motor and sailboats.
The little island pops like a wart.
The tourist hordes wash over

and include me in their pastel
and primary colors, one man
crossgrained against the flow.
Remember when you sunbathed

in your modest two-piece navy blue
swimsuit and braced your feet
against my bulk? This crowd
en route to a whale-watch cruise

also braces itself against me,
unaware. I’d stop for a drink,
but my favorite bar has grown
a second story and raised

ambitions as well as prices.
You never travel north anymore.
Your law practice, your husband,
and Brooklyn townhouse anchor you.

Remember the motel that sighed
with honeymooners busy
in rooms to either side of ours?
It bills itself as authentic

1950s kitch. The tide’s gone out
forever, the whale watch canceled.
After receiving its refunds
the mob departs, leaving me

skulking through the little park
where adolescent girls in swimsuits
far less modest than yours deploy
as if dumped from a wheelbarrow.

The harbor’s mud-bottom coughs
little gouts of decay. Fifty
million dollars’ worth of boats
lie on their beam-ends. One stray gull

flusters overhead, puzzled
by the fish flopping and dying
and the mussels clacking like dentures
in the terminal August light.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Yellow Orchid

A yellow orchid shivers in wind.
One of a pair, it quivers
with excitement, shaking off the rain.
I’d kneel and photograph it,
but a glacial boulder looms
and threatens to roll over me
if I drop my guard for an instant.

It has rested here ten thousand years
but looks unstable, slightly insane.
The orchid, too, looks unsteady.
Its gross sexuality insults
the casual bystander, whose life
no longer depends on indulging
raw pubic impulse the color

of sorry old gym socks. The light
also looks unsteady, too tepid
to generate a vivid snapshot.
I should return when wind and rain
retreat to sea and the boulder
snoozes unaware of me. Maybe
Saturday, when the orchid yellow

should reach its peak intensity.
Despite the law, someone might pick it
and risk the boulder’s outrage.
If I return and find it has shifted
and flattened someone under tons
of satisfied granite I’ll wish
I’d photographed the flower now.

So I kneel and focus and press
the right buttons and an image
of pure digital gloss appears
on the tiny screen. The boulder
doesn’t react, but it’s tempted
by my vulnerable posture,
easily converted to screams.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sleeping in the Ruined Mill

Sleeping in the ruined mill,
night-wind slipping through windows
blinded years ago by fire,
I dream that you arrive with food
in a plastic cooler and unroll

a sleeping bag and drift off
and dream that I arrive with wine
in a paper bag and uncork it
and pour it on your shining body.
You awaken from that dream but still

in my dream lean over and slap me
awake. The wind has died. Mice creak
in rubble of brick and charred timber.
Alone with the dapple of stars,
I rub the cheek you slapped but

feel nothing. A red and white
plastic cooler rests beside me.
Maybe I brought it here myself.
I pour wine in a paper cup
to rinse away the sleep-taste.

A few yards away the mill-race
snores along at terrible speed.
Even to dip a hand in it
means an abrupt and icy death.
I’m not fool enough to believe

you dropped by and left this cooler.
The wine bottle is almost full.
I haven’t poured it on anyone,
I swear. Something larger than mice
or rats moves in the rubble:

someone as homeless as I feel
at this moment, the last tatter
of dream-life snagged on broken brick
and a shadow overlapping mine
in a snarl of useless gestures.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Removing Your Earrings

Removing Your Earrings

In Turners Falls a ruined mill
gapes like a skull in the desert.
Fire unroofed it and toppled

most of the upper floor. Bricks
pepper the weeds on the shady side.
The sunny side abuts the mill race,

a mile-long trough of river shining
with confidence in its depth.
That’s the kind of confidence you showed

the day you dared me to photograph
the sky above Tremont Street.
Later you asked me to remove

your earrings from your pierced ears.
The intimacy thrilled me all over,
but after that moment we faded

like brown old albumen prints
of people who lost their names.
Photographs of this ruined mill

won’t fade because postmodern,
digital, they aren’t works of art.
You aren’t a work of art, either;

but unclipping those earrings
moved me like a trip to the Louvre.
In digital form neither ruins

nor human events retain depth
but only measurable dimensions.
The mill race, smug in its rush

from north to south, accepts
and conceals all sorts of debris.
The bricks that fell into it

the night of that massive fire
won’t emerge until Doomsday.
You’ll turn up long before then,

maybe this time flashing diamonds
in your earrings; and maybe
you’ll again dare me to photograph

clouds mating over Boston Common
while the subway groans and trembles
to underline our common fear.