Poetry | June 01, 2002

Featuring the poems:

  • Comparisons
  • Instructions
  • From the Book of Rope
  • One of Those Days
  • Aunts
  • In the Neighborhood



In the middle of a river, I listen

to the businessman comparing business

to an orchestra, each instrument


properly contributing,

each part a part of the whole.

The orchestra, however,


compares itself to a river–

flutes of light, cellos bubbling along

in the push and flow


of adagio, crescendo,

allegro–in rushes and deep swirling.

But this current river


compares itself placidly

to a business, all its appropriate

liquid departments


working in unison

toward singular goals, closing up shop

here, opening there,


reorganizing itself now

through a downturn of driftwood,

so the two of us stop


humming our various tunes

and backpaddle furiously in order

not to go bankrupt, get flat, or wet.



Someone knows how to do everything.

I mean some one person knows how

to do some one thing, and draw

a diagram, such as making a bomb,


etc., but in this case to cut

flower stems with a knife

underwater, what this picture means.

I could be in Russia with these daffodils


and know to cut them underwater

with a knife. So someone knew that,

and someone knows how to cultivate

varieties of daffodils. First, someone knows


there are different names. No,

each person knows one name apiece,

so it takes a lot of them to run

the daffodil company, and one to know


it comes from the Latin asphodelus,

the asphodel, flowers akin to Narcissus

said to cover the Elysian Fields although

no one remembers that species. I run the water,


cut with a knife, someone else knowing

why water runs, knives cut, only you knowing

what you’ll think of them when you arrive

down the one street someone built


and home into the marriage we have made,

both of us, in this case, knowing it, following

the instructions we momentarily concoct,

giving it whole varieties of beautiful names.


From the Book of Rope

First, there is love. Secondly,

the square knot, a perfect binding

of two equal loops, useful


for fastening gifts to each other

or, in the extreme, for closing bandages

over wounds, expected or not.


The sheet bend hooks unequal partners,

originally a rope to the twisted end

of a sail, something fastened against wind.


The bowline’s loop won’t close, good

for saving yourself in mountain climbing,

or, in general, being lifted up, lowered.


Hitches bind us to things, thwarting

our drift, boat to tree, a horse to any rail–

two half hitches, hundreds of half hitches.


In the book of rope, three tests

for every knot–is it easy to tie?

Will it stay tied firmly in use,


and will it be, finally, easy to untie?

Which knot have we chosen?

And what else sadly should we know?


One of Those Days

Each day I am in love

with something, in full

wonder at what’s given.

Yesterday, it was partly

some sparkling Mozart

but mostly, five minutes

earlier, the announcer’s remark:

“Mozart’s coming up

in five minutes.”


Today it’s the beginning

of a sentence in a book

about Tu Fu–“In the spring

of 761…”–regarding several

short songs, an ancient fresh breath.


I realize the museum next door

is chock full of bones and the perpetual

birthdays of rock, that millennia

shift only a few pebbles, and that mostly

everything is utterly forgotten,

but I’m enthralled with the spring

of 761, hold it in my arms all night.


Although Mozart dies young

and Tu Fu’s hopes turn out false

always, I can’t resist singing to myself

the knowledge of unknowable springs,

musical as arpeggios of cherry,

those immortal blossoms, and, above,

those particular clouds passing away.



I remember one aunt with long red hair

who laughed, at least that one afternoon.

The other, subject to some frailty I wasn’t told,

kept pillows on the phones to soften

any potential intrusion. So who’s to say


I don’t remember the aunt who shot

clay pigeons from horseback in Cody’s show,

grit flying up, the smock-smock of the rifle?

Or that I couldn’t remember the aunt

who wrote a long Victorian novel

or the aunt who married Lot

or felt afterward, she said, as if she had?


I remember the aunt with an aureole,

the aunt with an aura, the aunt colored

like an aurora with rings on her auricles

who walked au naturel through the forests,

leaves imprinting a network of lace on her flanks.


I remember the aunt who left no diary,

the one who did, the one the diary was about.

I remember the aunt who made night,

and the aunt who put the stars to flight,

the aunt who traveled into the darkness,

and the aunt who traveled with the darkness.


I remember the one who discovered gold,

the gold one who discovered death,

the dead one who discovered the light,

the light one who discovered electricity

and writing and hair and gunpowder,


and I remember the aunt who brushed her shining red hair

and laughed one afternoon in the pines of the mountains,

and the aunt in the city who moved gently and mysteriously

through dark rooms, none of the telephones daring to speak,

while I invented my families, darkly concocting myself.


In the Neighborhood

We are similar this spring

I see, walking a walk, all

our tulips splitting brightly

open, cups of sharp flame

lined in front of our homes


and, by our back fence lines,

dry stacks of limbs the size

of limbs, the little woods

standing and standing

in their regular pyramids.


After the tulips eat away

into ash, and summer,

that steady green hum,

and leaves flared and fallen,

we’ll go inside our white houses,


and set the houses of trees

afire into red and yellow petals.

We own our home, our tulips

announce. Nothing, the blossoms

hotly crack, nothing is forever.

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