The Monster/Jailer Speaks

The Monster/Jailer Speaks,
and from the Prison of Our Sorrows, I Respond

1. The Virus Speaks:

I am everything you needed but hate.
Your unmet needs were sore
before we met
yet now you need forgiveness
asked by me for wrongs
and crimes against humanity;
but these pardons, that like the guilty I request
you may withhold when knowing my bequest.

Forgive me for the deaths
but they were fated
one way or another in the end.

Forgive me for the suffering
but did it not make
the sweet release of death more welcome?

Ah, what of those who suffered yet did not die?
Yes, forgive me them as well; but
think of all the character so built!

Forgive me for the isolation I have caused
but you have learned to live
so much more independently
as death makes all independent at last.

You need not forgive me
for the suffering children —no stanza break—
because I mostly spared them, did I not?
Ask forgiveness for their loneliness?
Their loss of education?
Ha! I taught them all
to long for what they have whined to be free of
through the ages! They have learned
more from me
than you have taught them in a thousand years.

For what else then can I apologize?
The loss of time at your jobs?
Your home is now your work and work your home.
I have integrated your lives!

The loss of all your mindless social glibbery?
I have digitalized, universalized and doubled-up
your lists of so-called friends.

The world is better for its fight
through my pandemonium.
You are stronger now.
Forgive my pride in having made you so.

Forgive me then for not being sorry.
I am but biology, mere essence
of life itself. You made me. Now we live
and die together
as live and die we all must ever on.

This is nothing new. It is you must need
forgiveness from forebearers for believing
your time and your precious selves so special. —stanza break—

2. I Respond:

Ashamed of my cowardice in your face
now that I am inoculated
against your snide pride
your bellowing, bloated biology of wheezing death
I can both be grateful
and say begone!

I am grateful for the solitude
you gave me
but begone!
I want to seriously, frivolously socialize.

I am grateful for the time
you have forced me to take
but begone!
I want the night to end!
I don’t want to need my Ambien.

I am grateful to have noticed
what I may otherwise have overlooked
but begone!
I need sometimes unfocused gaze
to feel warm nothing in a familiar room.

I am grateful for new friends
and the e-connect that makes them possible
but begone!
I want to rub sweaty bodies with strangers in a mosh pit. —stanza break—

I am grateful for exquisite new music
your long, slow meter has allowed
but begone!
I want to hear the off-key notes of sincere amateurs
over a bad sound system in a cheesy dive.

I am grateful for the newfound
love of nature all around me
but begone!
I want to see the seedy cities of the world again.

This damndemic shutdown
has opened up my time;
seconds become minutes
become hours, days to weeks and months
all sometimes in a single night.

This pandemnation sheltering
exposed compartments
where I stored the disparate
parts of me
that were in fact the same.

I see them more as one now:
singing, playing, writing
work and art,
love and loneliness together
things with thoughts and feelings
people with heart.

Without shame or blame
we may know the heart —no stanza break—
is strengthened by its scars
when torn and broken, but we cannot
wish others pain to make us strong
by proxy, we cannot
dismiss these losses as lessons learned.

We cannot pass our heart-scars on
like original sin, like carnal
knowledge to spotless youth;
we need to let them live to earn their own
and in so doing save them from the cold.

So, no thank-yous or forgiveness, viral scourge!
Our unmet needs be-damned!
Your lessons we could just as well
have met out to ourselves
without the lonely dose of pain and loss.

Teacher Dreams Again


Teacher-dreams resume as I plan to sub.
Schoolhouse Rock with vegies
students staging Okrahoma;
biology with broccoli.
In the audience I rip frantically
through the Playbill teacher’s text
to match personas dramates to class-lists,
look for scenes and lessons to direct,
but the room’s too dark to read; the action
builds, the song-and-dance an improv jumble,
while serious critics,
real educators from the NEA,
tisk frown and shake their heads in front row desks
looking for me to stop the madness
as if I were in charge, their reviews
appear like cartoon thought-bubbles flown on wires:
This is not miosis and mitosis!
We will not countenance such tripe!
This travesty will close at intermission!
But the show goes on and on anon
as wave on wave of smiling adolescents
shuffle across the well-waxed classroom floor,
cardboard carrots and tomatoes dip and swing
wide-open mouths sing through stagey smiles
innocent pure and out of tune
fresh new teeth resplendent in the glare
of lights, backed and framed by cheesy
farm-scene cut-outs drooping from the chalk-tray.
At least this dream is not on Zoom.



I heard the evening diesel whistle song

a mile of suburban streets away

distilled by distance in the quiet night

the roar beneath whistled air a harmony

denatured of its iron violence;

fundamental pulse of undercarriage

on the ballast, full-throttled baritone

of the engine, tenor groan of timbers

contralto clanging cars and ringing clear

soprano of the steel wheels shearing

at the rail’s endless edge, and knew

that I was home.

On My Mother Being a Grandmother


My mother danced

slowly —— softly

only when she thought

she was alone.

She sang.

I listened but I did not understand.


As a child then a man—


far from one another—

I saw things

only in relationship

to my needs

she was not meeting.


When she showed little

interest in her

two grandchildren

I took offense. I mean,

these are your son’s children!

Pay attention!

Put away that book!

Adore them!

Give your time

your thoughts

to them alone!

Sing to them!

How rude to do otherwise!

What life have you

that supersedes this obligation?

Defer to me, your son,

by making them

the center

of this ending to your life!


I am sorry I ever had those thoughts

but glad I never spoke of them to her.


Like other male toxins

exiting my body

until I die

these oppressions made me sick inside

but at the time the infection was still


the symptoms

swollen hubris

bloated pride

I celebrated in male rituals

of casual violence

weaponized humor.


I feel now the symptoms

of shame

like a yellowing bruise

a low-grade fever

that rise when memories strike

of being part of this disease

and take the purgatives

of listening

and quiet reassessment of the heart.

The Opposite of Worry


Before I deal or receive a hand

29 flashes in my cribbage mind

and every poker hand’s a royal flush.


Before I throw the covers on the bed

I think it’s possible for them to fall

exactly into place. They never do.


Each game is perfect until a batter

reaches first in one of those seven ways

or doubles, triples or touches ‘em all.


Every swing’s a hit if not a homer

in my mind before the pitch. I think of

“Prefect rice. Every time,” a mother’s love.


Our love is perfect even when it’s not

because I feel it so. I know why not

but feel what could be. Why not expect it


if I’m not upset when the usual,

the mundane, takes its place in the present

and let its pre-glow infuse moment?


It’s not the same as confidence; I know

the sheet will never fall in even squares,

the 29 will likely go undealt,


but how random it will seem, not really mine,

when that Perfect Thing comes along and I

have not foreseen, foretasted, forerelished?


When perfection doesn’t happen, as it

almost always won’t, that hopeful vision

is not erased by disappointment.


It was there. Felt as if the miracle

already had occurred, salving the burn

of truth, as I anticipate the next

Great Moment of Impossibility.



Finches Through a Window


The finches are back in the swamp maple

yellow sharp among the rusty ‘copters

Where do they go?

What do they know?


looping in & out of its springy ‘do

grasping purchase on diagonal twigs

spy-eyeing what I only imagine

What do they see?

When will I see

beyond this frame?


I joined an online photo group this morning:

“What do you see

from your window?”

Portuguese beaches, moose in Norway snow

vineyards on Carolina’s outer banks

fall in Tasmania, Moscow sunset.

Where am I?

What do I know?

What do I see?


Spiderweb around the edge, a pasture

there beyond the lawn, the street, barbed wire

fence then ridge above the river willows

jagged line of redwood green on blue.

For who? Where?

For you? There?


The one I know and love is here, her hum

throp-drop fabric cutter, foot, her bobbin

spins, the warm dry scent of heated fabric

fills the hall between us, pieces of heart

snipped, stitched & quilted all for Linus kids

her offering to me upon the bed

below the window pane where finches fly.

Where else is there?

A billion billion places

not to be.


Yo! Spain! Like Hoyt Axton, never been there

but you might like a distant redwood tree.

Romanians in the Carpathians—

Look! Here it’s the western edge of the world!

See egrets ply the wind among the fields

then count the snowy plover on the dunes

and pull the purple ice plant from the marsh.

Is this enough?

Within this frame?


In Capetown there’s a southern sea of hope

a friend in Rio pines for cool north wind

another caught in South America

struggles to return home to Murry Road.

Vermont may have the real sugar maples

but there are steelhead in the Batawat

across the field and redwoods on the ridge

swallows swoop and yellow finches frenzy

the day-bed’s made, the cider’s in the fridge

I hear a pause in her machinery

and we are here

behind the edge of dunes

beyond the web of frame

time to shelter

safely in our own warm place.

Bats Above a Shallow Lake


Bats dip and flit like chubby butterflies
dark with deadly aim at unseen prey
above the glassy surface of the lake
tattered skin-wings soundless in their flight.

Late in evening gloam the mere reflects
distant cerulean-sienna sky
amaranth embers of the fiery west
and dusty burnt umber of watching woods
carmine coral shadows in its shallows.

Swiftly scribing angled lines, capricious
curves, cursive unknown languages of need
that nearly intersect but never do;
instinctive calculus of sonar sense
and deft abruptions avert collisions.

Membraned hands’ inter-webbed mercurial
claws form skin-scoop deathtraps for insects
cup-to-mouth dippers for quenching thirst
and touch-points with the mirror of the water.

Reflections cast in smoke-red twilight tarn
are brighter than the silhouettes that fly
in tandem with their water-selves below
separate as they rise, then reunite
in single shapes at the instant they swoop
and touch their tail-tips to the water’s face
so solid-seeming when so still, yet soft;
water-skin disturbed not penetrated
as twin semicircles, kiss-print ripples
flash and fade in a single beat of wing.



Sea air shallows

rain sparkles the morning

night’s deep millibars

throb below brows

yesterday’s air stagnant

around my eyes

presses pocketed mucus

folds swollen

by pollen and dust

within unyielding

bone that shapes the face

it cannot escape

enclosed pressure

capillaries constrict starved

neurons release chemical

pulsars of pain

up dendrites down

generations of sisters

to mother-stem stars

galaxy of neurons

primeval code.

The weather has changed

fall upon us.


I Don’t Know Why


I watched my mother die, but did not cry.

I am usually quite a weeper.

Before, not long after my father died—

my tears for him had long before been shed

held firm grim and stoic through his funeral—


I saw Nelson, our good-natured cat

stretched out on the patio in the sun.

I bent down to stroke his tabby fur

and in a moment so instant I think

some other senses were at work

my arm recoiled with a breath

that powered forth a keening cry

I did not anticipate nor understand

but that pealed through the neighborhood

as I fell apart and wept.

My children and my wife

were more upset by my wailing

than by the loss of our loved one.


I once had a large, lop-eared rabbit buck

an albino research rabbit rescue

I naively thought would spawn a herd

of salable meat for our urban farm

but became a pet, and when the neighbor’s

dog did the natural deed that I could not

I did not cry over his stiff body

I got mad and moved away in angry spite.


The cat put down by poison at the vet’s

had been abused before we took him in—

a doc had found a .22 slug lodged

next to his spine, the x-ray showed in scars

a miracle path through tangles of gut.

Lucky. His name was Minus. He was Manx.

He quivered in my arms as the plunger

infused his sleeping body with release.

I sobbed as if some small portion of life

that warms the world had joined some larger place

of which none huddled here can really know.


Moved more by the deaths of my animals

than by those of my so-called flesh and blood,

I don’t know why.

I don’t know why

I don’t know why I don’t.



Fewer now, farther away

or so close they seem like walls

higher with more surface seen

everything on it smaller.


Seeming infinite

but finite. Each place

reveals in all directions

unique horizons in intimate arcs

of light from zenith

to the edges of the world

every parallax

makes its own; all

horizons finite, all

zeniths infinite, all

views personal.


As vision rises horizons lengthen

distance shrinks

features beyond

the limits of sight; risen

even into outer space we see

only bodies to their edges not

their other sides.

Both sides of the same star

cannot be seen

though can be known.


Horizons are illusions

of opacity and place

verticality and gravity.

Transparencies have no horizons.

Photons scribe their curved-straight lines until

deflected or absorbed by bodies

in their paths. If bright

their journey of a billion years

may end in naked eyes;

within an arc of sea

three miles.


Where is the horizon in deep forest

the bottom of a well, a cave

in sleep, in a crater on the moon?

The illusion of perspective lost

at distance, those close at hand

loom larger than the stars

yet seem just as near and far.


Now with little in the offing

no objects to obstruct the view

I do not know how far away

the terminator edge of dawn, how deep

the depression into which I fall, how high

the mountain I must climb without

the planetary ground

to block the stars that suture

empty space.

Soon nothing will be far

the only horizon

a rectangular hole

the zenith close.