As My Father Dreams in Circles

smooth gray sky hovers
intent on rain
somewhere else

the warm breath
of the day
a faint, steady stirring

no shadows
fall from houses
or trees

but the sameness

yet this poem
forms, moves
flows in rivulets

a longing
for resolution

the sky
and weeps

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the bones of the day
rattle down the street
all night
and I am restless
until dawn

I share the woods
with everything
that runs away

the wind
curves around
her absence

edge of morning light
lost in gray wisps

the interesting life
I can’t remember

in darkness
we see the farthest

all the old heroes are dying
replaced by new legends
whose names
sound foreign
on my tongue

I push my worries
down a flight of stairs
shut the door
and write poetry

rituals of loneliness
the distance
between our words

ever more forceful
our words splinter
against each other–
I mind the sharp edges
as I sweep them up

all these thoughts
braid together
a ladder I climb

distant friends–
eyes and ears
for the places
I’ll never go

he wants to talk with
is already dead–
walking slow
through the cemetery

in this digital age
I am the king
of smoke signals

the creek shadowed
and frozen–
days nothing changes

leaves blown
down the road–
loneliness turned sideways
pushing away those
he wishes were closer

burning brush
a mouse flees
into the empty field

winter grave
the backhoe doesn’t care

as time
in the dark

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a glint in the eye
of the bird who flies–
he knows where he is
though we lose sight
of his wings

buzzard circling
I check
my pulse

gather stars
from morning dew

in the past are
closer than they appear.

I bend
to belief
my raging

The moon let itself in
but stayed in a box
on the floor.

the sun can only stand
to look at us
for so long each day

old friends
found again
this library
of typeset souls
page after page

grown men

crisp edges

the day bright

soon folded
in the cedar chest
of memory

warm december
waiting for the world
to bloom at christmas

running fingers
through forever
carved in stone

all their faces
bend toward each other
as I stare back
through the tunnel of time

bare tree
filled with
starling leaves
it sheds upward
in one great burst

The vibration of waves
crashing on the shore
reaches us here
at mid-continent–
fluttering grass.

when I dream
and sometimes cease to be–
uncharted journey
into morning

I judge myself
by my reflection
and get it all backwards

on the bank of the Yangtze
in thick fog
nothing to photograph
yet I remember
like a snapshot

I saw all my yesterdays
rush into the woods
I follow them, lifting leaf
after leaf to find
only this moment

a poetry
of broken words
lacerates my tongue

vulture’s red head–
in the winter wood

the most broken
people think
they aren’t

a dance
between memory
and imagination–
they trip over
each other’s feet



The only image of the old farmhouse
hung for years, small on the living room wall–
a hand-colored photograph framed in wood.
This profile view of weathered, clapboard home
breathed ruin. Orange tongues traced the roofline,
shot from every window, tumbled through walls
already gone, roared out open-mouth porch
overhung by attic lip. Smoke billowed,
beams borne away as gray ash. All lost: home
forever standing, forever burning.

[The farmhouse burned down 75 years ago today (19 October 1940)]

A Welcome to America Party

I telephone to let my family know
we are back home in the States:
Our new daughter as awake as we are tired.
A voice replies saying Jamie is dead.

A daughter gained and a nephew lost.
Such is the dreadful economy
of fate.

I pace around the empty,
darkened hotel ballroom with a roaring tiger
of a girl cradled in my arms:
seven months old, fifteen pounds heavy—
all lung from the neck down, it seems.

She is no conflict of emotions, my daughter, she is distilled
rage pouring out at me for daring to believe
it is 11:00 p.m. instead of noon.
So we waltz.

Actually, I waltz.
She marches to John Philip Sousa—
heavy on the trumpets and piccolos.
Ignoring her counter-melody, I continue to waltz lightly
and sing her sweet songs.

The lighting is dim, the carpet plush. The chairs are waiting
at the side.  We walk mournfully in a slow circle
around the ballroom again and again.  My newly
American girl screams in the night at what she does not know.
I also do not know or understand.  I scream within.

Her purple-faced, curled-tongued fury becomes my own,
touches another pain.  My  voice is the echo of hers
off the walls of this hollow room.   I rage at other,
much darker forces than she can know.

I was at the baggage carousel, hunting
for two bags among so many—grab the handles
and draw up our store of memories
and treasure—waiting to be welcomed back home,
when you melted down the highway, Jamie,
parting from yourself.  Parting from us.

As your body cooled
we had little to declare.
Customs waved us on without a search.
Our girl was approved for permanent residency.
The tedium of ignorance.

Fourteen and foolish,
the last lost boy staggered into neverland
reeking of gasoline, gunpowder, and hormones—
walking wide-eyed as a deer

out of time, walking out
of night, walking past his blood
on the road. Walking with others he met
only in death.

I travel from dim light to dim light, again and again
in this room.  Each time my daughter’s face is
illuminated, then swallowed up in black.
She is beautiful, even in wild anger,
and I remember that face as I wait for the next light.

So far from what she has ever known, my girl grows limp.
Her wailing slackens to a light slumber,
interspersed with gasps and shudders that remember
her former torment.  Slowly she surrenders to the quiet—
like another young soul who raged his way to rest.

Southern Illinois Spring

The pond I fish
holds an offering of sky within
the water. I cast into clouds —
draw them close on the
ripple of a wave.

Geese warble
silently past my boat as
they fly at the waterline.
In the depths fish lurk, hidden
by a thunderhead — their darkness
masked by the gray, moving
forms rolling, building above.

Water spiders dance upon the
mirror surface flecked with dust
of protozoa. A breeze kicks up.
I pull on the oars, slicing
through steely sky. I draw
to shore as the rain begins.

Millions of ripples intersect
each other, unbroken as they
expand, dividing the sky among
themselves until the choppy water
arises in petulant waves. Fish
surrender to the moment
of anarchy, thrashing, striking
wildly at the line I cast again
and again. The sky takes
back itself and returns


I’m not sure how many years ago I wrote this, but it’s in one of my chapbooks.

All in Perspective

rolls through
the tidal pull
of the moon;
ocean rises to
and eases from the sway
of her lunar love.

The planet plows
into the mirror seasons
of its hemispheres
on a tipsy, spinning,
elliptical path.

We forever fall
as an autumn leaf
past the sun,
all of us
twirling and arcing

or with equal truth
each holds a central point
hidden within, around which
the universe dances
at our whim.

After Everyone is Gone

Fireflies of memory
in the darkened rooms,
greet my silent passage
with light from unexpected angles.

The past made new
each moment,
a startling shock
of the familiar—
which also grounds me.

Another green ghost rises,
illuminates my face
and disappears
into a darkness
greater than before

while I navigate
the old familiar rooms.

From the Grave

Countless days
we walk together
in the gray half-light
to both ignore and reclaim time.

Sometimes it is dusk,
sometimes dawn,
and I can only tell
the hour
by whether I find you
young and beautiful
or frail and fading,

yet I am always
what I’ve become:
time weary and distant
from any touch.

It it an illusion,
a trick of the mind,
that calls you here
and more and more
I see only
your youthful gaze.

I fall further
into a sepia toned past
where I dream
all was safe

before the fire and falling
before the hard exile
before time separated me
from everything.