The unknown is known
and then becomes forgotten.
I’ve seen only so many rainbows,
only so many rainbows
have ever been,
and this one fading now
will soon also be forgotten.
I will forget my mother’s face one day.
I could take a picture—
I took a few of her in our time—
forget that I took it but maybe find it later,
part of the electro-digit, silicon
world in my pocket,
or never see its pixelated trace again.

Nothing was ordained or any more solid than itself
about this rainbow moments or lifetimes ago,
about me being here to see it as it blooms and fades,
about me being here at all.

All rainbows seen and unseen
are certain, in a certain way, for having been,
though gone, forgotten or unknown.
Rainbows yet to be are premonitions,
their phantom flash in future time and space
no more certain than the sun and the rain.

So town-cry the rainbow alert!
Let none in the geography of its light miss out:
this brilliant ghost of colors dispersed,
collisions of stuff and star in motion,
essence of the sun
stretched and separated from itself by the earth,
absorbed and changed, reemitted
by droplets of coherent O and H
blasted like pollen from some long-dead star,
now held by and effusing static charge,
merest parts of this squall that mounts the hills,
themselves the pot of gold.

So ring the rainbow bell!
Awake the sleeping masses!
It’s happening again today!
Here and now as elsewhere then and everywhere in time,
but we are here and this is now and we could miss it.
This particular array of wavelengths
could fall on the eyes of other animals
who will not stand in awe at its passing
who will not think of moments past and smile
who do not know of miracles or aesthetics
who do not have a vision of some eternal
power of creation within which to enshrine
this common chance formation of sunlight.
Oh that there could be arrows
of lightning and horns of thunder
around and through this rainbow as it shines
to match the bolts of joy within my mind
and elevate this time above the rest
ensuring it will always be remembered.

But then, where was it
first I saw my mother,
heard her singing voice,
felt her touch,
was nourished by her body,
first knew her to be who she was to me?
Even things we know to be
are at the last uncertain
as the most solid things are made
of space we ever on contrive to fill.

Prayer to the Sea


The sea dissolves the bile of battle,
the effluent flow of human soil:
from every starving village on the mountain,
crying in her weaving for her lovers,
sons, and fathers, burying tears
in steep, blood-salted ground;
through every teaming valley, writhing
in fits of angry knowledge,
tearing at itself, clan on clan,
blood to blood, manhood to nationhood,
to genocide,
until a billion strangers’ bones
commingle, their essence
ever added to the stream;
to the sump of the cities, seething,
peristaltic, birthing temples ecstatic,
eroded by grief and drowned
at the hands of their own
impatient progeny, sickened
on the distillates of war—
from all these yearning orbs of birth
and death, into the sea
and absolution.

O, dolphin, sweet endorphin,
orphan soul,
enfold us as the fray is joined,
and bear us to the surface of this night.

Painting the House


This is the last time we will paint the house.

Up a ladder staring into sun
back bent back
hanging on to asphalt-shingled edges
in one hand a loaded brush drips grey
the other grips the apex of the peak
where two long rails come together in a seam
a place of lichen moss desiccated
wood and curling paint chips, a warm black-tar
breeze wafting up the roof-pitch blasts my face.
I feel the house breath, vent stale attic air
dry heat on my groin
the sun on my neck
the sweat of my fear
the ladder leaning slightly as I work
I see children in the neighbor’s yard
the street parked cars the pastures beyond

I cling I daub I make no sudden moves
another spider parachutes by
swept from her crevice
covered with paint and doomed
I imagine falling to the concrete
my injuries
the ways I could land I would survive
the ways I would not
wet fear washes over and covers me.
I will never paint this house again.

Now the primer coat is drying.
Twice more I’ll climb the ladder to that peak
then easier jobs
Deborah to her prep and me to siding
but one more peak awaits me in the front
dread drips down upon me

I accept the fact that I might die
painting our house. I see it in my mind
yet climb that ladder again and again
each time feeling my unluckiest fate.
The clear images of my destruction help
keep my footing reach and breathing mindful
center of gravity unextended
balance held with an outward squeeze of calves
shins and sides of feet against the runners
firming my purchase. Our house

built of boards milled new in ’72
scraping gouges show just two coats since then.
We attack what little rot we find
so it may live to see many more hues
before the quake the fire and the flood
but not by us.

This death defiance is a suburban
testament to how much homeowners
love their partners
I guess I really would die for mine
I’d do the same things as a widower.
If never wed perhaps I’d have no home.
I know of two men who fell from ladders
doing house repair
one died on the spot from his injuries
his wife destroyed
the other is painfully disabled
now on opioids
yet up I go and go again until
our home’s renewed with colors trim and eves
the wood preserved. Surely I would help

paint the house again if we were younger.
Not that my fears will get the best of me
that I will put my foot down and refuse
it’s not that we will come into money
and no longer feel the need to save
by doing it ourselves
it’s that we will either be too feeble
or dead by the time it needs doing.
Some nights we feel almost there already
but now we’re nearly done.

We prop each other in our waning strength
proud of our deeds and dedication
in this seventh decade but we dead ache.
Pride and the beauty of the finished job
do not smooth the stiffness, clear the bruises
only serve to make them tolerable.
The life within upholds this roof these walls.
So we laugh.
We let the ache of bones give way to mirth.
There is no better way to see this task
begun before our time and never done;
Sisyphi who will never see the top
will never be rolled over by our rock.
We will roll on its floor in drunken glee

but we will never paint this house again.

Elegy to My Grandmother’s Husband


Since I’ve heard your voice and seen you
Grandpa most of my life has passed
and though forever out of reach,
a long-ball gone beyond the fence,
I feel your presence still, with me
like the cryptic scent of neatsfoot
leather on my glove hand, red dirt
beneath the nails of my right, grass stained
knees, and the easy feel of a clean hit.

It’s true I was afraid when you were drunk
on Early Times, shot straight in the morning
highball glass on your TV tray at night
with me in Grandma’s lap as darkness grew
but that is only shadow at the edge
of light that is my memory of you.

I remember how you gave my catcher’s
mitt to me. You bought it new, but I could
feel and smell you’d rubbed it up, worked it in.
I see now when you held it in your arms
like a baby just before you placed it
on my hand and taught me the signs,
how to make a pitcher trust his pitch,
catch a curve, marshal the infield, showed me
the heart and head of the catcher’s job
and how you loved the game. I never saw

you catch, throw, field, or hit but I feel now
as if that mitt was old and yours, that when
I nail the runner stealing second base
or snag a wild pitch to save a run
or block the plate and tag the runner out—
sweat the work between the lines of life
on the last road trip to end the season—
I am finishing up the game for you.

A Marriage


Creaking, groaning, both as one,
a howl of laughter, crack
of sudden grief, a deep exchange
of growling sobs, an argument of ringing
timber strings, soaring high-hoarse
baritone, then rumbling
bass to shake the ground—

the two madrones had long ago caressed
away their paper bark and pressed
their human-shining skins until
they strained against the heartwood at their cores,

their separate paths to light
a century in mute acceptance
of their intertwining lives, now grown
together at the mid-point of their trunks,
and joined in joy and pain, they bow
as one before the virtuous winds that bow
them each against the other’s inner grain
in spires of ascending song,
the children of their roots.

A Laurel Tree for My Sisters


I climbed the rough-cut stairs to the tree above the spring.
I took a trail I had not known. It may have been there
all along. It will be there when I’m gone.
The spring flows day and night, whether or not
we hear its trickle, or capture its water
to run through our bodies—sun and soil
will turn to fragrant sap, sweet and strong.

The tree had fallen long ago across a scar of earth,
a seep of spring, its shattered body held in place
by its own dying weight, old soil and young brush,
the moss-claimed surface revealing nothing
of the ancient bark, and though moved
by its resting state, and by every element and earthly cycle
to that end which is the only new beginning,
the tree resisted.

From the curling green grew shoots—not shoots
of germination, but of wise new growth,
of all the laurel oil that ever coursed
beneath its woody skin—and one that rose
and thickened to a branch that would be trunk and tree,
dislocated from its own true roots, but connected
to the earth as surely as clouds come from the sea.

My new path ended in a cul-de-sac—all routes
turn back to home in time—but I saw the tree
anew across the crevasse of the spring: it looked
like any other tree, and if you did not know to look,
to see it was not rooted in the ground, but sustained
in the air by the trunk of its previous life,
you would not know that every nameless day and night,
and into all the unseen moments of its time
it was a miracle.

Jolly Giants


Children play and slap mosquitos along
the creek. Concentrations of complexity
internal infinities inclusive eternities
each unique a specific entity
yet each embodying the reach of roots
the trees’ faith in the future the splaying
of ferns to horizons of epochs and eons
connected in time     separated in space
each all that limbs and leaves can offer,
all that fronds can teach
while mosquitos hum in twisted helices
feeding on the blood of ages
red the sap of the trees’ long-distant kin.
Fractals of fractals of stars.

In the Sailors’ Laundromat


Was the leopard-skin leotard really worth
the twisted, battered toes,
plastered in Paris, breaking
down to piece and powder, blood
blistered and bone spurred thorn
of calcified remorse and disappointment?

Your own proscenium arch, your breached
monarchy perineum pushed you on
to toe the point and hit your mark below
the lights, while your cavalier set sail
and left you in the company of bleeding
swans and stage-door Johnnies, peeping
in the green room, missing all
their cues, and never there
to catch you when you fall into
the pit, as neither ever now am I.

And so, before I wash my clothes
I have to smoke and watch a fight
and hear the music, dancing
in the mirrors, move the picture
on the bookcase to the wall above
the desk below the portrait of the sea.

Then leaving trysting sailors with my clothes,
I run upstairs, a hard-on coming, pull
the mirror off the door and lay it
on its side upon the chest I’d stolen
from my father’s younger sister, beside
the barren bed I’d stolen from my mother,
and see me in the middle of the mirror
smeared with mucus neither mine nor yours
and tend myself, transcend myself,
in visions of our love and thoughts of you:

not thoughts of wine and skyline
fogging window breath,
now stopped to hold the moment
and the words we both remember,
now panting to the next
in burning faith and disbelief;

not thoughts of what the world
in us would want, when
we had what the whole world wants,
now hidden from us by our fear;

not thoughts of railroad bridges
rising in the siren night,
now flashing with improbability
that we should be the chosen,
now feeling all is as it must be
for the sloop to tack the ebbing channel;

not thoughts of sand and salty
waves of cold and crashing
want of you defeating fear,
now flowing like the tide that we embraced.

I Thought That Poetry


I thought that poetry
was not enough, soldering sound
into the circuitry of meaning,
a soldier of the soul’s campaign to know itself
pressing my flowers in the folds
of other people’s brains—an anti-thief
stealing in to pollenate their thoughts
with grains of my embattled hope—
mining the ephemera of minds
smelted and cast into ingots of image,
a sculptor of subconscious pain and pleasure
peening inner surfaces to pebbled
textures of thought—a vandal-artist
spraying Guernica on your mother’s wall
with stolen cans of PBR;

not enough that it could be
the end of all, the story of the story
never told but felt and lived,
the author in absentia on permanent retreat
sending coded messages to warn
the generation next—a propheteer
auctioning the truthfulness of death
with metaphors of holy lies—
giving the ascetics emerald alms
to swallow and enlighten from within,
a savior of the script, a prompt in the nave
whispering lines before they are forgotten
scrolls of dust—a future-critic
closing down the show before it opens
with spoilers in the final verse:
but no, enough itself is not enough
to hear the song above the clang of chains,
the keening of the sea.

I Dreamed About Your Father


I dreamed about your father,
you and me on a streetcar,
gummy floors of hot
black foam, soft between
the shiny skids,
not knowing what to do,
get off, sit down,

nor who should know.
He looks from me
to you, you look at me
and out the window
I can see the red rock
hillside and the streetcar
seeing us seeing us,

and his hair is high
and white and he implores
us with his eyes,
you with his eyes,
mind, and heart,
and wonders where
to lead us or be lead,

while you and I
and he roll up
the red rock side
within the green
and gummy dreamcar
without asking
or knowing.