Selected Poems from How To Grow Up

The bag I carry

No metaphor here,
I’m actually talking about the bag I carry;
far heavier than it needs to be,
terribly large, making my shoulder throb.

The bag I carry all over town
has the word ‘Poetry’ on it,
and an image of Pegasus,
and you must know
how much I like that.

Plenty of dimes and nickels
but no real cash,
a bottle of water for me
and a sippy cup for you,
three notebooks, gum wrappers,
hand sanitizers, crayons,
Happy Meal toys,
lip balms, sunglasses
and bags upon bags
stuffed full of pretzel goldfish
and vanilla wafers.

I also carry all that empty space;
the heavy cumbersome wishes,
the absence of objects
we could pick up on beaches,
the heady possibility of mountains.
These things,
like invisible elephants
in the universe of my tote,
like play-dough cut-outs
of things we cannot yet touch.

You at the stoplight

I wonder about you
as you sit in your car
staring with such
attention at the light’s color,
revving your big engine
waiting for change.
How dire is it,
your destination?

I wonder about you,
marvel, actually,
at how I can grin at you
for no reason
in the shampoo aisle
and receive no return souvenir,
not even a quick nod
from your gleaming bald head.

I think about you, a face I recognize from long ago
and the vintage Coca-Cola
machine in the back of your truck,
(the eBay win of a lifetime,
that thing you always wanted)
and I wonder if you know
you have an ex-wife
living only four miles away
you haven’t seen in eight years?

I wonder
about every passing car,
why the laughter at that moment
streaming out the window,
whose mouth? What joke?

I wonder about you,
if motherhood means as much to you
as it does to me,
if you’ll notice we have the same
leopard skin patterned car-seats
when you come back from the playground
to claim your mini-van
parked next to mine.

Do you wonder,
because I certainly do,
how the world
all of us
can keep spinning,
dodging the bullets
or catching them,
tending our gardens
whether for pay or for love,
doing everything we do
with all this
heart-breaking beauty
at every corner
shouting at us to come see
and see and see?

This is how

it happens
sometimes, maybe tonight,
maybe to you
and god damn that would be harsh.

He calls, he’s ten minutes away,
just left the drive-through
picking up your prescription
or a pizza, or a movie.

So you sit at the window
and look for the headlights that will
any moment arrive, the table set,
the chilled mug in the freezer

reading the child a book
and you wait and
you wait
and he just

His departure
an unworded
fusion of goodbyes
you’ll recognize later
in twisted metal,
papers to sign,
flowers and phone calls,
the child’s unwashed hair
smelling of sweat and sunshine
and all the rest
that comes
and goes
with or without him
for the remainder of your days.


When we want to escape the city
and unearth enchanted
lost time places like Gonzales,
where we met an albino donkey
on the wrong side of the wire
casually chewing desert paintbrushes
smack-dab in the middle of the quiet road,

we 'Rent-a-Wreck' for thirty bucks a day,
and I drive while you stroke my knee
in that new and proprietary way.

Duhland, Fayette, Gruene, Buda
and downtown Graceville,
population 652.

Rock shops, cow pastures, the estate sale
with the Baccarat crystal goblets
for fifty cents a piece
and above us the
scissor-tailed fly-catchers
working the air, tails
forked like shears
slicing the sky.

On dirt roads
we watch the turkey vultures
circle then settle onto
the rabbit,
the headless armadillo,
the flattened skunk.
And we will open the trunk,
drink the warm orange sodas
sitting on the hood
and watch until the road has
been cleaned
as if by ravenous house-maids.

Cultivating Sense

In our homes plugged into
a perpetual tide of images and ideas,
can you remember when we
cultivated the curiosity of the inner life?
I certainly can’t, and know that
Emily Dickenson would have found me
a most disagreeable next door neighbor.

Here we are not crushed by isolation
or general lack of support.
There is no solitude, the air itself
crackles with energy and information.
There is an uncanny sense that,
at any moment, the world itself
is poised
on the verge of speech.

In that crisp air I hear a voice saying,
“It's simply a matter of trying everything you can try,
just to see what will work for you.”
So sit. Relax,
prepare to receive
whatever the imagination brings.

I know what I will whisper into
thick air and your ear is this:
You can escape your own time,
your own sensibility,
your own narrowness of vision.
Just try everything you can,
just let yourself find out
what will work
for you.


Ever try to get a dog to look at itself
in a mirror?
Dogs and poets both
wisely and intuitively
avoid examining themselves
too closely or too often.

And while it is true
that poetry is the last preserve
of honest speech and the
outspoken heart,
it must also be said
that the glorifying of
the smallest things;
specks of dust on windowsills,
the thigh bones of mice,
the bread’s rising, the flower’s decline,

these things can keep certain
people from paying electric bills,
planning balanced meals,
renewing expired licenses to operate motor vehicles
and making certain there is not
a random kiwi seed or two
planted in between one’s front teeth.

Perhaps I will next go blind

I don’t know what it is
but, bit-by-bit I seem to be losing
my grip and I’m not talking about reality.
I mean my ability
to hold onto objects;
medicine bottles, little glass elephants,
pickle jars.
It scares me but I won’t see
a doctor until it’s too late
to do anything about it.
I’ll just keep on,
the way I always have until
my body makes me shift my orbit.

But the larger things in life, for instance,
the way I can’t keep a linen closet straight,
or the books I buy and never read
will stay just as they are,
like all the things I want to tell you
but think the time is never right.

Palm Reading

And it occurs to me
that no longer will any of us
feel estranged from one another
if we look closely enough
at the palms of our hands,
placing close attention
on how short the journey is

or how when time has taken all
we called our treasures
and gave them back to the water,
the air and soil,
there was only you and I,
after all
and the sound of the birds
as they began the day anew.

The Day Everything Changed

Walking through the hospital lobby
back to where his wife sits waiting,
he notes to himself that
coffee in plastic cups
has an air of desperation about it.
He imagines tea is even worse.
The walk back from the machine
and through the corridor is eternity.

The doctor seems efficient, if a little weary.
Maybe he’s got it completely wrong.
Maybe he’s got the wrong file. It happens.
They drive home not speaking.

The fridge still makes the same sound.
The dog still needs to be fed,
the children called,
the cat’s litter box attended to.
There is a case of summer wine
she bought waiting in the garage
and summer is still eight months away.

He twists the ring encircling his finger,
smiles a little at its symbology.
A good concept, totally unworkable.

A car drives slowly by, an elderly neighbor.
She doesn’t see him standing in the doorway,
his hand on the dogs head,
‘World’s Best Dad!’ mug in hand.

And everything has changed.
The way he moves the garbage cans
to the curb,
the empty cereal boxes,
the way shoes feel.
The sound of the air-conditioner
as it turns itself on, and off.
The sight of the bagels in the freezer.
The dirty glass.

Moving To Portland

It’s just going to keep happening,
all of it, with or without us.
In the world or not,
the sprinkler will be heard,
though not by you, not by you
as it whirs and spins
sending silvered droplets
onto the earth.
The low hum of the passing plane,
the people reading magazines,
looking out of windows,
the dog barking a block away
that used to keep you awake at night.
All of it, all of it,
with or without you.

The best things;
a sky filled with a thousand birds moving as one,
the clink of the chain against the flagpole,
the overwhelming scent
and staining orange silt
of the star-gazer lily,
all of it and none of it
stops when we do,
though we will stop for you
and holding our breath, never move nor touch
anything again in quite the same way,
with quite the same pleasure.