Tabula Rasa Revisited

In college, at a lecture on John Locke
On newborn minds (Locke judged them mere blank slates
Awaiting information from the senses)—
With rain that evening, after a hot May day,
Pouring damp scents of earth and flowering trees
Through classroom windows cracked an inch or so—
I thought of my own sister, just turned two,
And of My Lai, then still much in the news
(There’d been the Calley trial and photographs
Bleeding unstanched into the public eye),
And saw the My Lai children, soon to know
Bullets and bayonets, babies like buds,
Clinging to mothers or to older siblings,
As even household bangs make babies do.
(I’d felt my sister’s ordinary fears.)

Mimnermus 2, from the Ancient Greek

Mimnermus 2

We are like leaves born in the teeming spring,
basking in sunlight, swiftly burgeoning;1
like them, for an arm’s length2of time, we live
happy and young, and what the gods will give
we don’t suspect. Presences wrapped in gloom
are always near, one holding out the doom
of age, another, death. And youth won’t last;
its fruit, like one day’s-worth of sun, dies fast.
And when this season dwindles and is gone,
it’s better to be dead than to live on.….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. 10
For troubles swarm the heart: one man will drain
his house, and live in poverty and pain;
another man wants children most of all,
and, wanting them, goes down to Hades’ hall;
disease destroys a third. For Zeus the king
gives everyone a share of suffering.


After a dream of Italy, I wander,
gaping unsweetly at a garden vine.
I should unpin and carry in the laundry
before it rains, but Italy unpins
time: a tendril roams in dopey motion,
a half an inch an hour, blind and slow,
unfurling towards a thing it doesn’t know
isn’t there. I sleep, I wake, I stare,
seeing, somehow, the Ponte Vecchio,
and seeing you, my susurrating satyr,
my incandescent glossolaliac,
seeing again your hieroglyphic face—
the rain unlocks its petrichor and patter—
the vine and I grow wild into space—

Song for the Women Poets

after A.E. Stallings

Where do you go from here,
eyes wet as the weather,
kid slippers coming unstitched
as puddles eat at the leather,

soles scraped by stepping stones,
scalp sore from brushing;
where do you go from here,
limp-limbed and flushing?

Having left the raveled stockings
tied to the darning egg,
having left the hopsack apron
sagging on its peg,

having left the mixing bowl
loaded with rising dough
and the flour spilled in a farewell note
on the counter, where do you go,

Five Poems


The name of an unsought future comes to this young girl,
Soundless and formless,
With power gathered from her uncertainty.

At first she compares it to a flower unfolding,
An image her innocence approves,
Yet maybe it is like a sweet and silver wine
A spiny season of the moon may turn to poison,
And they will change together, she and her first love,
And the moon will curtail the seasons of her every love:

As the colors of one love tint all other colors,
So the first new tentative kisses cannot cancel
All her former ecstasies and their attendant sorrows.