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What We Told the Children

But are some acts so egregious as to be immune from the profit-motivated incentives to perpetuate them?
                —“Money to Burn: Economic Incentives and the Incidence of Arson”

Just five words spoken through a tensed jaw
for Orpha Holzapfel, who still lives here,
who called each horse and held each muzzle near
to feed them mints before she lit the straw,
for the duty officer (her son-in-law)
who reached the stable first so he could clear
the scene and bribe the fire chief who, we’d hear,
would overlook the charred oil cans he saw
and click the Act of Nature box without
approval or reproof but as one of us
who’d pass the paddock stacked with black barn-poles
on our way to pay respects with casseroles,
who’d chorus “Like a River, Glorious”
and tell our kids the horses all got out.

Afterglow: An Appreciation of Robert B. Shaw’s What Remains to Be Said

A volume of “Selected” poems can be a way for a poet, long working in the fields of the Muses, with an eye on the flat surface of the page, the lines underfoot, to climb a hill and get a clearer view of the work. And it is a way to shape that work by framing the view: letting some things drop away and bringing others to the fore. For readers, a “Selected” represents both an overview and a convenience—an assurance that we have the greatest hits at the ready in one handy volume. Individual collections, even if they have won prizes, have a way of becoming ephemeral, of dropping out of print and critical attention within a year or two. A “Selected,” which is to say a poet’s anthology of their own work, aims to dig in its heels.

Whiskey of Life

I could love too much too much
whiskey. Better than I have loved
too much too much, but I love just
enough, or maybe a little more.

With six or seven water drops, rain
through wildfire smoke. Otherwise
neat, no otherwater otherwise.
Could love too much too much

smoky water in my wishkey.
I wish in the key of the water of life,
and love too much too much
living for water that is the whiskey

of it. It almost sounds too much like
tomb much. O poetry, O auditory typo,
homophonic errancy, rum dumb
death whiskey, water, fire, waterfire life.

The Artist Is Reborn

“The time has gone by when a man shall be born without being consulted!”
                                                          —Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born on July 10, 1834 at
Lowell, Massachusetts, in the The United States of America.

So your first biography begins. And were it possible
that we could meet, I might begin along similar lines,

like another American, who spying your signature
appearance in the lobby of the Carlyle, said:

“You know, Mr. Whistler, we were both born at Lowell, and at
very much the same time. There is only the difference of a year—
you are sixty-seven and I am sixty-eight.”

The Chelsea Girl

“The sketch of an afternoon”
wrote Whistler, which is still more time
than any gentleman would pay
to a costermonger girl—
unschooled, guttermouthed urchin
orbiting like a comet from the family
fruitbarrow, screaming up a sale—
bugle-voiced and fearless.

In the center of the Empire,
she lives on the edge of it,
accosting the fine-cloaked
Londoners, cheekiness gauged
to the length of the leash
of the law—constables she’ll dress
down in words as choice
as any rotten, heirloom
apple flung at its mark.

Autumn Pass

I slow the car for copper turkey tails,
their bob-run up the road
obstructing country traffic.

I watch them jog. If I were in Ohio,
these might be enormous geese, but just as slow,
and obstinately loud, and I would relish them

for detaining me to listen to their noise and watch
them strut. Here, as in Ohio, birds turn
off the road in their own time. And here, an avenue

of crimson maple trees along a farmhouse drive
is losing all its slowly drying leaves, bright color
cascading to the ground in synchronized retreat.

Brother / ICU

Eventually he would come around
with a gift and indicate the value
as if he were the cause of my violence.
The voice seizes up in that situation
as the thing is flung against the wall.
In the wake of the smash, nothing can be heard,
as after a train passes an open window.
It was that familiar. Which wails the loudest,
the wall or the thing? The calm after the question.
What made him sullen made me savage.

*

Indonesian Corpse Flower

As a Juggernaut of Blooms,
this Amorphophallus looms above
the Huntington’s milling crowds,
an equatorial cloud of putrid odor
spilling over the heads of its viewers.
We mill around its towering spadix,
clicking furiously on our shutters.
What a marvel at this despairing time:
hourly traffic jams to see this spathe
unfurl like the beginning of the world.

Gone

Oceans rose
And rivers went dry,

Bright birds fell
From withered trees,

Bees flew backwards
Into the past like arrows

Missing their marks,
So pollen turned to ash

While time ran out of
Clocks, or else stood still

Long enough for people
To see everything vanish:

All this world’s beauty,
Its plangent mystery,

Its radiance, sanctity,
Even its memory.

Studying the Anglo-Saxons

This summer let me end this summer young
Knowing less better than I now know more
And all my summer learning be your tongue

This summer let me        sing as I have sung
But like a child who has never sung before
This summer let me end this summer young

But old enough that I would still feel stung
And guilty at your        slammed then silent door
Let all my summer learning be your tongue

And let me speak as if my words had hung
On branches from which blossoms lit an or
-chard once with solid light        I am not young