The Package

The bedspread
has animal dialogs
It shudders and sweats
spreading its fretwork
across the cordillera
The smooth places are made
into mussels and rock crabs
and the hard places are made
into deer and antelope
Leather, pine and sea salt
join with resin and marsh hawks
to make the world we see
From scuffles under the window
comes the light above the hemline
and the occupation of Paris
and Lascaux cave art and the sphinx
tongue as thick as a buffalo
Painted stick dancers
clothed in blood and teeth
and ocher and foam
brought us today, delivered
in a Fedex package:
a dish of blue eels
and ammonites
and slave songs
and mile-deep diamonds
and the lungs of kings

On Breast Tree Road

The truth is, when his heart stopped it was like a cricket going silent
inside a down jacket. In the blue grind of his sinking house trailer,
wheel chocks barely holding in the bristle patch above the river,
time changed into an overpass stuffed with steel wool.

Dressed up in time, the world was like a great wing of doors,
each lubbing the light into church rows. Particular and tall.
And nothing changed. The melon fields still crowded the road
& all the talk at the Sizzler of jobs at the new windmills.
Look around, he said. It’s all paved with fire, water and smoke.
No. Look around. It’s just the spatter of goose shit-size rain
on Breast Tree road. That’s what’s left. Nothing’s changed.

The stillness was stacked beside the fields, like aluminum pipe
after wheel irrigation is done. A rash of cut-over tree farms,
each with a sawdust pile, soon to be lit with a road flare.
The One Bird Road samaritans, the heated pool boys in blue fescue,
the fallen hero double wides where everyone’s heart beats at half mast.
All wrapped in pale pieces of evening.

To a drunk guy hanging sheet rock when the body isn’t there,
to the horses in the lost farm corrals, to the line of pink Porta potties,
it’s all just a dropped signal. One whiff of their mortal decay
and you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself.
Ask a pipefitter or a grave digger what happens
when the three-strand Jesus frees you from sin
in the white gristle church by the fairgrounds.
“OK. What’s in the Full Hot Breakfast?”
he asks the tall-boned preacher woman. “What’s comes out of the coffins?”
In the smelting rain, the answer comes from a row
of red osier dogwoods by the diner:
“A line of traffic cones and miles and miles of hair.”

Under the iron dog antenna, like a groin kick, comes the sound
of the great wing of doors brushing his trailer. His chest is full of stones.
He takes his comb out of his back pocket and slicks back his hair.
He walks to his day job at the Casino. The light comes down in pentacles.
He walks to his swing shift job, spraying foam liners into truck beds.
The light comes down in strings of seed pods. He walks home to the trailer
on the 5% grade, still holding the hill above the river. The light comes down
in 5/4 and 8/4 laminated sheets. Each one ready to fly out of the bed
at a moment’s notice.

Mùirnean (Beloved)

Henry mourned his wife Libby for seven years after she died in childbirth. Following the custom in Richmond, Virginia in 1910, he wore a black armband in public and even at home. Hattie, a cheery head warden of a woman at the first baptist church, was eventually able to entice him out of his melancholy long enough to marry again. But his despondency soon reoccupied the tall corner cabinet in his soul. Some nights Libby joined him on the nearby granite bench where they toasted the stars with windfall crab apples and ether from the pharmacy.

Declan’s dory boat wallows through the grabby and foul Irish sea working its way towards the island of Iona. He is one of six waxy faced pilgrims lining its open hull like grim Christmas ornaments. A talon-hard rain tries to claw away their faces. “I would see Iona in hell on a day like this,” says their boatman. His tiny outboard motor echos his discontent as it skips clear of the sea on the upward roll. At the crest Macbeth’s funeral boat is visible gaining seaway behind them. Mainsail straining wildly. Long sweeps clawing like an Orkney lobster.

Mary Catherine is driving home from visiting a medicine man on the Yuma reservation in Arizona. He has entrusted her with a torn eagle skin pouch to repair and care take for as long as she needs it. The beaded bag sits beside her on the seat of her sagging red Toyota truck. The dashboard glows soft gold in the lowering light. Her late stage breast cancer burrows in under her ribs. Venus begins its slow rise in the ragged paper sky in the west. As she crosses the Nevada border into Oregon, she looks up to see a set of fiery rings igniting the sky, rotating slowly over the Alvord desert like a festival of eyes.


After my mother died, I went to the bank to clean out her safe deposit box. When I raised the lid on that narrow steel drawer, it looked like it was full of things a squirrel might bring to back to the nest. Some inexpensive rings, a few coins, some old soup spoons wrapped in grey velvet. Things with the faint rosewater smell of death on them. Things that found their own coffin years before she did.

If you take any object and try and make it yours–dust it, polish it, keep it for decades, stand it up in the hall or move it from favorite drawer to drawer as the houses and years go by. After a while, it will gain a patina of you-ness. Then one day it calls out to your lost-dog heart or your seven-year mean streak. And you reach for it and your hand passes through.

Once I took some hand-planed walnut bed rails my grandfather made and used them to make a mandolin. I spent long winter nights in a cabin in the mountains steaming thin strips of wood and bending them over a form while I held my breath. Most of them broke. But just enough were able to hold the compound curve I needed. As winter turned into spring, I became impatient to complete it and I put the wrong kind of wood finish on. I started to sand it off but noticed I was sanding through the beautiful crisp bevel joints that made the bowl of the lute-shaped back. I stopped working on it. It looked terrible. I had ruined my grandfather’s gift to me. But almost as an afterthought, I put strings on it. The tone of the instrument was incredibly beautiful. Like a coronet in a stone house by the sea. I played that mandolin for years, carrying it around in a sack. I think, if I had gotten the finish right, it would have quickly found its own graveyard, on a high shelf in my living room, next to my grandmother’s mandolin.

Pull Harder

Stupid thicket!
Trying to reach through time

Spots in it are sticky
like warrior ants on old jam


Happiness runs
People in the house
resist clocks
saying the soup is cold
and who needs
to sweep the driveway
The mosaic insect eye
begins to focus
Retinal cells stop wondering
how starlight got in
under the doorway

Red Hot Candy Mountain

Portland is desert
hot this week,
making the rubber radials
weaken and dance
like woozy cannibals.
My bedroom window
throws prison tattoo
shadows. Men wear
shirts of blue clay
and women carry
hand bags of creosote.
The street candy
from the Rose parade
is smeared on the asphalt
like bad lipstick
on the face of a dead mayor.
In No Po they are bringing
the chickens indoors.
In Idahna, they
are hosing down
the horses and hoping
the forest fire will only
burn to the river.