The Lyre: First Voice

First section of “The Moon Is Always Local.”

Early lyric poems.

The Dolphins

Whatever they know,

the water taught them:

Speed. Silence. How long

one breath keeps

them hurtling through

shifting currents.

Lithe, gifted,

they arch above

the horizon, defy

the stunned air, and


into the sea.

Easy in either element,

they return to water,

give themselves

back to it.

So much to learn,

and only so far

one breath will go.

Milk Ghost


I can’t find a single aphis

under the Moon-catcher.

A curious flower, it blooms

wherever you wish.

A loved one’s palm

or upturned face.

Or in the ghost-bud

the child’s breath blooms

against the cold night window,

while the train’s drone

lopes across fields.

He hears it. He’s haunted.

Clarity, that crone,

will be forever at her loom,

weaving her threads into couplets.

One line, forgetting. The other,

every bit remembrance: Smoke rings

Father blew on request.

He puts his finger through

one and says,

“I’m married to a ghost.”


They meet at the river, city boy

and sharecropper’s daughter.

Step carefully out into the current,

crossing barefoot on rocks.

On the other side, he takes her hand.

She says nothing, and he thinks

she’d run from his words.

The falls are loud

and draw them inside the roar.

They lie on grass made elegant

by the moon’s pale shine.

He won’t forget the shapes

his hands cup. The rhythms

of their rock and thrust. Or her scent—

like a child’s tears.

Lightning flashes a stark frieze

of their embrace.

Thunder rumbles over,

covering their shudders.

They lie still, inside the sound

of the falls. Cowled by

the star-pocked dome of its roar.

Beneath them, roots flex.

Finding the way to water.


The curtain falls. A little worn.

A little frayed at the edges of the stage.

House lights brighten. The eye sharpens.

Hones in once again on Clarity

with her off-rhymes and her slanted.

Along comes night again,

doling out shadows.

Wind joins in and sings along through the

high throats of pines:

The first face of terror?

Sheer beauty

And an old song from another time:

The moon’s thin milk clings

to leaves. To grass blades.

That Moon-catcher hums

a newer number, and hard-earned:

Any face, most loved,

can turn away from a touch.

After that, it’s all relic.

Dreams. Open mouths and smoke.

One could do worse than embrace another,

hold tight to that body.

That’s the rub of that message.

And it gets to me every time:

A kiss, a touch, even

a finger’s gentle tapping code:

remember, remember—

what we can’t put our hands on

we’d better say yes to.

Message to Father in Pork-Pie Hat, with Cocktail

Twenty dollars is a lot of money to me,

is what you told me once in

our carport about a baseball glove.

An ice cube popped in your glass.

A quinine memory: you leaning

against lattice-work. Creased chinos.

Beefeater and tonic swirling

between thumb and forefinger.

I stared at your desert boots.

The oil-stained concrete floor, and

red station wagon’s grill,


I made do with the other. And you

barked your shin on the bleachers

when I legged out a game-winning double

that slipped past a third baseman.

I made do with the other….it comes down

to me as bites of steak you’d bring me on a fork.

I’d lie in the top bunk and chew and suck until

they were as tasteless as old gum,

the Mantovani, the Tijuana Brass.

You made do, Father. Your voice ill-suited

for tenor lead. Your courage blending

cracked notes with true ones.

Sunday morning solo in the choir loft.

Together, we made do, hymnal held

between us. Singing full-throated

the old hymn:

Come thou fount of every blessing,

Teach me some melodious sonnet

Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it,

and it’s veined with white, unbroken fire.

Making do, Father. Making do. Reminded now

of you like something I forgot to love.

Saint Mary’s Breath

Two nights before,

she’d gone home angry

with a bunch of blooms,

stolen flowers from

a rich man’s garden.

She tossed them on a pile

of straw. Burned

them on the clay floor.

Sudden flames quickened

Shadows. Antic dances

about the walls.

She sat through the dwindling

smolder of the ashes.

Wept all night

for bone and footfall.

Now she stands here,

of all places. Bare feet

on wet grass. The morning light

as fragile as the open

end of a promise.

What else could he ask of her?

Here, in the mist of such a blue dawn.

And what of her answer, with

early sun the color only

a lover sees?

Still as simple as a word.

As easy as her next breath.

The Moon is Always Local

She woos with names: Jessie Ann,

Amicalola. Place or person, her words

unfurl song across all distance

until I sing my way back to her music.

Faithful or not, I live my way

through towns, Sanford and Jasper.

If I count on those words, if I lean

on her singing, she changes her tune.

Whispers in another tongue

at once removed. But no more distant

than her hair, combed by long fingers of

breeze. Her cheeks flushed with

a faint blush of apples

in heavy autumn grass.

All along, whether by sight

or by sound, she stays true

to her ways.

Even now, I see

enough to keep listening.

During those pauses, dawn

and dusk, it’s her I listen for.

It’s her I hear, when

Shine! the sun calls out.

Soon, the moon murmurs.

Such ways.

Such a wooing.

II. Alembic


Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn,

the silken-skilled transmemberment of song.

Hart Crane–Voyages


Hometown Saturday night.

Gym dance for harvest moon.

Huddle in dark bleachers.

Sneak shots of bourbon.

Spot the girl called Sadie.

First slow song,

Toss off one more.

Set out, eyes down,

straw scattered

over hardwood floor.

Wanna dance?

all I can manage.

But her wrist is sweet

and high in my hand.

Her cheek against mine:

a thawing floe.

Next morning, up early,

my jean jacket looks good on her:

The air, crisp and fast

through pick-up’s open windows.

We pass a pumpkin field,

fat with orange grinning

from thick vines and leaves.

Blonde hair tied back,

she lights a cigarette.

Rubs her hand on my thigh

And laughs:

We’ve got all day.


How the fountain sparkles

under town square streetlights.

Come closer.

Sing me those heart-felt

Wrong notes.

Then pull my head

To your breast.

The waterfall


above our bed.

And in my ear,

I swear, with water

As my witness,

your heart

is a hot coal,


close enough

to hear.


She said she was haunted by her

childhood fantasy of marriage: Playing

long after dark. Running barefoot

on pavement and wet grass. Sleeping late,

after finding the way home, still she dreams:

Tall reeds click overhead against a high sky.

The basket drifts as if guided.

She peeks over the side. Up ahead, in a cove,

young women laugh and bathe

in the river shallows. She moves closer,

anticipating surprise and delight.

And then she remembers how she got away.

That boy who pushed her off—-she tricked

him. Left him behind. Even now,

she sees him. How he watched as she floated

away. How, standing on the bank, facing

the sun of that morning, he lifted one hand

in a brave, faint wave. While the other

trembled against his brow. Shade for

his dark eyes. Those windows into sadness.


I call you friend, Blue,

and you turn to go.

I know. Lake always

holds you close.

And Sky might take you far away,

but then Blue, you’re back in

her eyes, seeing through me.

Some colors change. Trade

one hue for another.

For them, that’s

a true way. As for you,

I say: Stay Blue and

keep me as close in

her eyes as she keeps you.

O Blue: At home high

in the sky.

Deep in the lake.

And in her eyes.

I like that about

you, Blue, the feel

you have for what’s inside.


A match flares at bedside.

Her small shoes, left behind,

remind me all of this world

mirrors that one: two nudes

fire arrows at the midnight sun.

Her profile nods in the eye’s

hearth: midnight, cornflower.

A match flares. Her shirt is

her scent, her scent reminds me

we were here, once. Again her eyes

spark. Again fingers curve

to faces. She and I touching

solid, tangible things.

Cheek. Lips. Purple flower.

Rose of Sharon

Whenever she appears,

she charges this valley

with a lover’s peril.

Flushed by mid-day

thunder, all wings hover

above her petals.

When she lifts her veil,

even desolation

flowers, harsh and stark

with clarifying light.

I wish shade for her.

That hill’s shadow

a ship’s sail billowed

by the same wind

that cools her.

New bloom. Old meadow.

Valley now colored

by her love. Her color.

Watch her, how

she bristles thorns. Until

those other flowers

just want back under.

That teaches.

That shows danger.

Wild-eyed wonder,

when you bloom out of the dust,

my every lie you set on fire.


She steps from the shell.

The wave pulls back. Returns

to undertow. Leaving pearls

of foam ringing her ankles.

Whitecaps trouble the big sea.

Beyond them, the horizon

gazes, steadfast. Salt crystals

her lashes. Her breasts dried

by breeze. Fine hairs glisten

on her belly and thighs.

How content she seems, touched

by such a glow as the sun

smiles at the bright news that

its rays have just kissed gold.

She gazes inland, her back

to that vanishing point. That horizon.

As if she doesn’t care

how long she stays. Or

how far she had to

travel across the miles, out of the

absolute fathoms.

Thumping the Melon

The meat of the matter:

Heavy weight on the mother plant.

To bust it open spills out

all the fruit-stuff soil, seed,

root, vine and stalk call up

from underfoot. Its nascent taste is

an echo inside a globe you spin

and put your finger on, looking

for a new place to live. Inside

the thick skin, the rind relaxes

its grip. The pulp sweetens

from the inside out. Until

taste sends strange, wet whispers

to my tongue. I cock my middle

finger behind my thumb. Flick it

nail first. Strike the globe.

The dome that mimes a planet.

And give a listen.




All answer back:

Not ripe.

Not yet.