Long Western Sun

morel mushrooms are underground
grief folded in long bolts
the women the shawled lanterns carry digging sticks
their caresses walk behind them
leaving albumin circles

behind in winter camp with mitered eyes
the children die like uncles and slaves
their cries hold bruised roses
in paper thin wonder
they are whelks, tiny mussel feet
reaching below the waterline
dragging the clouds over their arms

tire tracks cross the North Dakota badlands
dragging a harp we can no longer carry
I watch from the midlands
somewhere next door to behind and away
a chinook wind melts the snow
in the box canyons
wanting nothing becoming near

christening a hand a tendon
in the small wooden church on the ridge
after the rinsing the wheezing
the organ sounds like tin fish
swimming under the river bank
the leaves of the longest branches
the photons their crossed swords
the thousand watt radio station in Billings
making a mist of falling wheat prices

it is seen in the dry bunches
marooned along the highway
the bystanders torpid as warm tar
from a night of drinking in tight heat boxes
giving each other pieces of warm weather
draining the trees
it is more visible
now that the county road workers are gone
the way they tilt away from your eyes
it comes in bursts
more bitter more sweet more gone now
the might and the wasn’t
the strings are drawn taut
in the long annealing sun
in the slanted light leaving

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Silver Mine

they have reopened
the old silver mine
at Indian Falls
and set a long-horned Sybil
to stand guard

the lone cafe where
everyone wheezes
over braille cakes
the three white
monarch bars

the nitrogen mallard eyes
peering out from
the squat box houses
along the cliff

the hotel with the miners drill
mounted on the lawn–
a quilted silence like a
a poison sofa

Belonging

a lamprey
under the waterfall
grips the stone
with its mouth of all eyes
shadows making new rocks

how hard it is to climb
to the top of the water tank!
the steel ladder pulling
a ground skirl of smoke below
an impaling cushion

a wind farm walks over the horizon
grinding and scissoring
the close-cropped land
with its dry sunken creek veins

a moon the color of a calf’s ear
the long harrowed fall
as close as your thigh bone

The Last Circus

I am five years old, sitting in wiggly anticipation
under the circus bigtop. Barnum and Bailey
has come to Sheridan, Wyoming.

The crowd is a hot smear of Saturday afternoon faces.
The room smells of animal dung and buttered popcorn.
I have the surprisingly intimate feeling of being
let in on a secret — there is a world where the rules
are suspended and even run backwards,
where people fly and elephants walk on their hind legs,
where women wear spangled, skin-tight suits
and swing on swing sets the size of tall buildings,
where people are sawn in half and then reassembled,
where the polar axis shifts and time runs in a bright
circle with a man standing on its back with a whip.

Of course, I have no way of knowing the conjuring
has a cost. And like a broken foreign correspondent,
I have wandered ever since looking for what is conjured
and what is constant.

Last week, a man in Estacada Oregon cut off his mother’s head
and took it to a convenience store. There among the growlers
and Monster Tea and paste food and rows of cigarettes,
he tried to begin the second act of his show
but fell before he could bring more of it before the world.

Today, the last Barnum and Bailey circus show took place.
After 146 years, the medieval review and spangled
swirling together of what can and cannot be done has closed.

It is is being replaced by the grim theater of small, lonely, suicidal men in Oregon and the U.K. and France.

This time the roles are reversed.
The actors bring forth into the world
what is rarely seen, but is all too real
and we — all together now —
will conjure to make it disappear.

Donald J. Trump’s Inaugural Address Under Erasure

Today we became the rulers
the public, rusted-out
and scattered like tombstones
American carnage
This sad depletion our country
disappeared over the horizon

America first!

The ravages, stealing and destroying
will lead to great prosperity and strength
I will never, ever let you win
Radical Islamic Terrorism
the bedrock of our politics

Total allegiance
open your heart to patriotism
Now arrives the empty hour of action
Our soldiers will bleed
the same red blood
and be ignored again

Thank You and God Bless America.

The Hunger For Getting Things Right

Sound investments panic and fail.

Cars grow winter mold and must be cared for.

Witnesses misremember.

Countries hallucinate.

In Zen, the fervent desire
and the stone footbridge are interchangeable.

In poetry, the sound
finds the echo canyon before you do.

In navigating the old way,
the shape of surface waves is everything.

Strange Fish

I saw schools
of articulated fish
sailing through
serrated oceans

making monstrous alliances
like promiscuous molecules
of sharp-finned molybdenum
and stickle-backed mercury.

They formed
flying sea scarves
and inside them
grew constellations,
Picasso-like,
with deeply
creased brains
and the hint
of a downcast smile.

An Egyptian blue nude
reclined on a painted chair
appearing and dissolving
in leafy splendor
while a tiger and a gibbon
peered out behind her
through the fronded sunlight
with their fishy faces.

I gathered up some
of the strange chum fish
we eat every day,
and sat down on the shore
to bait my hooks
while blue heron
and achingly white egrets
easily speared their dinner
in the outer marshes.