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Three Poems
Self-Portrait in Winter

Finally, how to carry the sky
at twilight? A rose so cool

its beauty seems now in moments
less quiet inadmissable. 

What surety there is manifests
in the waves, colorless

and roaring, one knows, simply
by gazing on the scene mid-ocean,

where opposing winds set two crashing
into each other, sending up tremendous

spray wrestling for space as do brothers,
giving no quarter, and in the sand,

described by a hand attendant 
to the intricate confluence of lines

comprising the illusion of one body
as achieved by its many, many small

parts. It is so dull to contemplate
the infinite like this. I remember

nothing of that night but the sky:
no one marveling at the mussels

who know no life beyond the stubborn
attachment to the algae-slick rock

in the shallows, no weathered white
beach house peeking out from between

the pines trees off to the left
on a rocky bluff, no graying shore,

no ocean. Only the sky, absence,
and the vanishing point.


The Needle

As penalty. That whosoever cuts down
any tree growing in another man’s

ground. A trespass. A cup of poison.
That whosoever pirates sacred vestments. Who

tightens the boot and who makes the boot
beautiful, in extremity, the final stroke.

An awful tree is growing
in my neighbor’s yard. Who tightens

the boot, its limbs bound and knotted, housing
a caucus of uneasy swallows as at dusk

you approach with a rose. The quiet birds
rustle. I was frightened and so I let you

in, knowing how the body accommodates, which is
poorly, which is you, and you

christening nape, clavicle, and you
are most on the hip, and closer, where I want

to be touched. See, I am willing
and sick with the burden

of wonderment. Was I unhappy? I imagined
you carnal and feasting. Beaked

and sucking. What pink tongue. What wine
and color, and the tapestries

hung one after another, baroque, scrawled
in old tongue, and the bodies, and the gold

instruments, and he said, you are
always sexual
. I would you conduct me

in. I would not run, I would
the lion bound and shaved

on a rude stone altar for entrance. It is to say
I am. I am right here. And it not 

because the stars are looking. And it is not 
because they come to the ceremony

wound in braids are looking. Who tightens the boot
makes it beautiful. Their hair covers their faces 

and I do not know if they have faces.



—after “The Poet Goes About Her Business,” by Linda Gregg

In the village where my father was born
son to a dairy farmer
and a dairy farmer’s wife, an orchard
grows from a hillside. For years weary
men have been crossing an ocean
to set ladders to its knotted trunks
and take the fruit with as much quickness
as their exhaustion allows. A quickness
my father reminded me not to confuse
with kindness. Here, one of the mind’s hulking 
darks thins to shadow, a kind of mercy, neither dead
nor alive. Sweet Eve, I have seen
what the men would do to you. For this greed
in the twining creepers. What fluttering
dove the breath. It is unfair to blame the dead
for the vaudeville they become, and so I keep a photograph
of my father taken when he was young
standing outside of the orchard with an animal
he loved. The other mercy is simple: all strangeness
in ink and no one speaks of what was
frothing in the water. There are so many
tender phrases, and many of them pass for bravery.
It may be the skull loves the dark that swells it.
But the fruit we are not allowed to gather
is not wasted on the ground, 
just as the deer without their skins were all sinew
and rose. Their upside-down bodies
swung through the dust kicked up
from the cider press floor. The smell
of meat and apples. That motion 
so brief, so gentle.