Poems grow out of me like porcupine quills,
a protective layer between me and the world.
They are reverse splinters,
stabbing up through my skin like springtime saplings
bursting from the seeds of my thoughts—
but it hurts to dig them out
or cut them down
and work them into
the fence surrounding my life
(and I’m not even sure I remember
what I was walling in or walling out).
I have to find the right places to put them,
somewhere they can protect or grow,
and hopefully get under someone else’s skin.
They itch like a sprouting beard.
They grow like grass, like weeds, like thorns.
I am a farmer who planted a field and then let it go fallow.
There are weeds in the furrows as tall as the wheat,
and cattle have gotten in through the unfinished fence.
The tractor has sat idle on the lawn for so long
one wheel is flat, with plants spilling through the spokes;
there are flecks of rust on the red engine cover.
Underneath is a patch of dry dirt stained black with oil.
I opened the hood once to see what it needed.
A frightened bird startled me as it fled,
leaving its blind, chirping chicks behind.
There was a network of mice nests
with little pieces of egg shells scattered inside them
and the headless fossil of a mouse on the engine block.
I closed the compartment and walked to the edge of the field.
I flicked a grasshopper from a golden stalk
and saw that I was too late to save it.
I thought about burning,
about changing professions.
But the hoarse whisper of the drying stalks haunted me.
Today I walked right past the moldering tractor
and into the field itself, ignoring the whine of the crickets
the dripping of water,
the scratch of the nettle
and listened to the rustle of the leaves
and the rattle of the grain.
I knelt and clutched a handful of dark earth.
It smelled like fresh rain
and left a dark spot on the knee of my pants.
I wrapped my fingers around a solitary weed and plucked it out,
leaving a wet wound of fertile ground behind—
though the weed told me something of how dear its life was
with a few lines of poetry it placed into my uncalloused palm.
I plucked them out one at a time
and placed them on the fence
And then I pulled another weed.
I hop the fence to walk the track
then pace clockwise—inside the lines.
Moved by an impulse like the migrating birds
I began to molt
and preened and plucked off one by one
and placed them in the path
with nothing to distract
but the wind in the trees
and my thoughts.
You’ve seen a lot of things, I’m sure
the land of Flarmp, a wandering dellacur,
but have you ever seen or thunk
about the purple punk-a-lunk?
The punk-a-lunk, they say,
eats 14 jibble cores a day
(but only ones you’ve thrown away).
It slurps them up into it’s trunk,
that tiny little punk-a-lunk,
then yawns contentedly and flies away,
or that’s at least what experts say.
It has orange stripes upon its side
and pinkish eyes 12 inches wide.
Its tail is green and full of scales;
its wings stretch out like flowing sails.
It snuggles with you while you sleep
and is as soft as a lurpa-sheep,
though if you ever try to peep,
the punk-a-lunk will start to weep
and will not stop its little cry
until the sun is in the sky.
But should you be content to wait
with jibble cores laid out as bait
and never even move or peek
the punk-a-lunk will kiss your cheek,
and in the morning you might see
it roosting in a nearby tree.
It will not grant a wish or speak
but should your way appear too bleak,
fear not, little one, though your path may wend,
or the whole world seem ripe to end;
all wounds of life belief will mend,
so the punk-a-lunk is your best friend.
are poems ensconced somewhere inside my mind
like some hidden treasure I’m trying to find
or demons we summon with blood sacrifices
an addiction we feed with the rest of our vices
from erudite sex after months of gestation
or some kind of socially safe masturbation
are they sculpted completely in only a moment
or are we shaping slowly and don’t even know it
is a poem a seedling becoming a tree
or some captive bird that we have to set free
for some, I suppose, it’s a source of contention
but I think that most poems start out as a question.
First you take a giant pot
Then fill it with water, piping hot
Combine with two whole ears of corn
And half a t-shirt that’s been gently worn
Taste with old can on a broom for a ladle
Then mix in tomatoes smashed flat on a table
Add orange and apple pie juice to the broth
Then stir the whole mess with an old stiff washcloth
You throw in you sister when the water is cold
Plus three-year-old cheese that is covered with mold
Then spill the whole gwiggle pie soup on the floor
Take the can off the broom and sweep it all out the door
Then sit back and relax, my good chef, you deserve it
Your work is all done before you even serve it!
For you know the best part about gwiggle pie soup?
You don’t have to eat it—because it eats you.
This was a fun poem to write because I didn’t do it alone. My silliness rubs off a lot on my kids, and my three-year-old started telling me about this crazy idea she had for a thing called “gwiggle soup.” The “pie’ part came later, as I egged her on, asking her questions and taking notes of the ingredients on my phone.
Two little girls went out for a walk
in the chilly autumn air,
and they gathered handfuls of leaves as they talked,
and the leaves were as gold as their hair.
They followed the path that cut through the park
and wound with a slow little creek.
They never minded the frost on the bark
or the cold wind that bit at their cheeks.
They fed the ducks leaves from the withering trees,
but the ducks didn’t seem to care
I said with a sigh that ducks didn’t eat leaves,
but the girls only wanted to share.
Drugs clear bloodshot eyes
for work but not tears in the
eyes of those I’ve hurt.
Seven years of pictures and videos—
senior year in high school, backpacking.,
two year mission, away at school,
engagement pictures, honeymoon travels,
first home, moving in, a floppy-eared puppy,
the pacific coast, camping in redwoods,
snorkeling in the Bahamas, pregnancy,
firstborn child, first steps,
hiking, public parks, reunions, birthdays,
second child, first words, evenings playing at home—
two hundred and fifty gigabytes of memories
meticulously backed up to the hard drive
whenever a device filled up.
If it had only 3 megabyte pictures
it would have held eighty-thousand of them.
Twenty-two straight hours
of seeing through lenses—
if it only took one second
to realize each moment,
put it on hold,
raise the camera,
and take the shot.
To watch it all in a slide show
would have taken days.
Days of the choicest moments of their life together,
times when they interrupted what was happening
to record a piece of it, trusting
they would always have the piece.
Seven years of life
perched treacherously on the piano.
little feet climb the bench
small hands find the hard drive
curious fingers fumble.
it falls to the ground.
It looks unharmed, but it’s not working.
They ship it out, they get a quote.
“Fourteen hundred dollars?!”
They think of seven years.
“We won’t miss the money,
but we will always miss the memories.”
And they’re right.
A tax return comes through.
and give the go-ahead, hoping,
willing to do without to resurrect
Weeks pass, an email comes:
the drive is broken beyond repair—
and seven years go out with the trash.
My task is not to give you
the answers of the soul
but to plant in you the questions
you must answer on your own.