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Selected Works

How Fragile Is the Peace

 

If somehow I have managed

to focus my philanthropy

on creatures that get stepped on,

shot at, struck by someone

speeding to the package store

before it closes with a sign flip

for the night, which draws

the deer down to the yard’s edge

where I pile cracked corn

like a traitor to a cause

my kind has championed

as necessary for the good,

I do not mean to seem unneighborly.

I wave before I’m waved to,

and I only use the chainsaw

to make cordwood after leaves flare

in what light is left these afternoons,

although there is an ordinance

that says we’re not allowed

to leave out food for animals

we do not formally tend,

and this I have ignored

with an insurgent regularity,

which bothers Henry, I suspect,

although he has not hailed me over

to the shrub- and pine-lined boundary

where such matters in the past

have had their airing

in the small talk that we speak,

like diplomats, in code, aware

how fragile is the peace.

From Isn't It Romantic?

Originally appeared in New South

Toward Purity

Sitting in the evening at his desk,

the first Victorians not born yet,

Thomas Bowdler expurgates another

Shakespeare play and rolls his eyes

to indicate such genius should have been above

such double meanings and such expletives.

He does not countenance the groundlings,

grinning skeletons in common graves,

who used to hurl their rotten vegetables

upon the stage when unamused,

demanding their diversion in the style

they had long since grown accustomed to.

His audience does not weather plague

as often, does not need the theater

quite as dearly for catharsis,

does not crave Elizabethan bawdiness

to mitigate Elizabethan woe,

which ceased two centuries ago.

It wants the rough-hewn edges of the world

smoothed down by men like Bowdler,

perched by well-snuffed candlelight, a scribe

with an agenda, patiently rewriting

what is vulgar in the record, mortified

by how much dirty work there is to do.

From O, Captain (The Ledge Press--Out of print)

Originally appeared in The Ontario Review

 

Evaporation

The romantic business of entwining two lives

seasoned by two very different places

and by probably unlimited dissimilarities

between the catalogs of their experience

can catch the ardent realist off guard,

convincing him he wasn't meant to be

a solitary bachelor in a world

in which connection figures prominently.

In parks, in bars, in markets he is one-

half of a metaphysical equation

that he fears will not be solved

and so tries everything to find the variable

that he has no distinct conception of

and must rely on intuition to discern.

As justifiable as reason, it will lead him

to the one that he will love

as absolutely as himself and he will feel

that long odds have been beaten,

that a new law has been proven

to invalidate the old.

The sticky subject of possession

is eliminated with a platitude:

What's mine is yours.

His clothes and toiletries accrue

in her place, hers accrue in his,

a more or less commensurate exchange

implying the irrelevance of place

as long as they are linked together. 

Whether it is the eroding force of time

that splits them or a comely other

introduced by an acquaintance

in observance of a moment ruled by etiquette,

they will at some point be impressed 

by the relentlessness of frailty.

He may find himself supine

in his recliner, gazing

on an article left uncollected

for a reason he tries vainly to divine,

or she may find herself

before a tombstone with an epitaph

that she picked out herself,

the dutiful tears like paratroopers

on their way to scout the new terrain.

From A Brief Eureka for the Alchemists of Peace

Originally appeared in The Louisville Review

Predisposed

Apparently left fallow by a man

purporting to have been

an obstetrician for about a year

before resigning to become

a meter reader for the water company,

my mother didn't know exactly

what to make of my conception.

In the battle to distinguish

inner peace from outer,

she had let him hold her hand

as he explained that to reduce

her water bill by up to

twenty-five percent she should

replace the washers

on her leaky taps like so.

Because he wasn't like the cable man,

who said that the imagined life

was one big pornographic film,

or like the telephone repair man,

who insinuated that

my mother's voice was tailor-made

for phone sex, she just fell in love

with this conservator of water,

who confessed to her that he could never

father children, which was why

he left obstetrics in the first place.

I cannot bear the thought

of making love when I am sure

that it will come to nothing

I can cradle in my arms or coach,

he sobbed. My mother said, Please try.

When her conservator of water

left her for a motorman 

position on the New York City subway,

mother never let another man

restrict the dripping of her faucets.

It is easy, then, to see

why I have always thought the washer

more symbolic of eternal union

than the wedding ring and why

I spend my middle age surrounded

by my train set in her basement.

From Contemporary Martyrdom

Originally appeared in 5 AM