My Old Man’s Homemade Dagger

In a battered desk in the feed room of my grandfather’s store,
I came across a knife
my father had made – high school, I’m guessing,
metal shop – a dagger with a bone handle,
blade cut from a metal file.

It looked ugly, dangerous.

“Put that back,” he told me
when I brought it into the store. He hardly glanced
at the two-edged blade, good only for murder.

I was young, obedient. I put it back
but have held it years in my memory,
just as he must’ve held it
in that desk drawer of rusted sockets and wrenches –

An Old Enemy

Just past midnight when I walked out back to piss in the yard

I saw at my feet
in a patch of moonlight

the old enemy coiled on the root of a cherry tree.

It didn’t rattle or move, and I thought it might be dead,
then the fat tail twitched
as a slight wind washed the root with shadows.

I backed away slowly, looking for the shovel
I kept leaning against the fence.

It wasn’t there.  So thinking omen, I left the snake
and walked back into the house.

Young Nurse, VA Hospital, 1945

Innocence, perhaps,
caused her to gasp and hold that memory for seventy years:

her leaning against the desk at the nurses’ station,
going over meds
with the head nurse,

then a young sailor rolling up in a wheelchair.
Could they give him something
for his pain?  His legs and feet are killing him.

She looks down at his scarred face,
his narrow shoulders wrapped in a khaki shawl,
his hands folded in his lap, then . . .

But I always knew what was coming, even the first time
I heard the story.  Her grimace tipped me off.

All Beggars Would Ride

for Jane Hirshfield

Last night the beautiful horses of my boyhood galloped again

into my dream.  I especially love the sleek black mare
with the white star between her eyes,

and remember her grace as she’d trot
across the pasture when I stretched my arm over the fence –

corn husks, an apple core, such small things, such large joy.
I’ve often wished I had a heart like that.

Ah, says my mother-in-law, if wishes were horses . . .