We each have our own crow stalkers,
sooty angels every morning to remind us
of our failures, pick the scabs off regrets,
goad us in no uncertain terms as we wake
that it’s one more day past redemption o’clock
and that, yes, it’s probably too late to change.
Crack the bedroom curtains and venture a peek:
They’re still staked out downstairs, loitering on
the sidewalk across the street just like yesterday.
Admit it, they are the truest mockingbirds, know
us better than a pushed-beyond-the-limit spouse
delivering an exhausted ultimatum, bloodless
surgery before packing up and leaving for good.
It’s beyond prayers now—it’s crow time.
Joshua Tree: Observational Philosophy and Desert Geopolitics
Out here in the Mojave, a ways past Little Hombre Road,
the native plants are restless. Reversing the sunbelt trend,
flora is migrating like monarchs or spawning salmon,
moving whole communities north and uphill, abandoning
the arid valleys to newcomers in pale petal headscarves,
low basins becoming jam-packed and as vulnerable to fire
as ramshackle motels/gas stations/Quik-Marts on 395.
Red brome has invaded, too, making a clean sweep of the
locals, aided and abetted by a recidivist wind gusting in
from the coast that Bogarts lungfulls of L.A. sky, shoulders
past ridgeline turbines/high-rise casinos/outlet malls then
exhales hard, the meteorological equivalent of dumping
full nitrogen ashtrays on the living room rug. Mammoths
and giant sloths sure knew when the gettin’ was good.
And, yet, this is the year for golden-feathered nolina and
globular orange oak galls. And it’s a terrific year for
“belly plants”—you have to get down low, lie prone, go
eye-to-eye with wooly daisies to refine your perspective.
Sometimes in spring, when wind scour goes easy, the
landscape sleeps like a closed door or, taking a cue from
that distant dark volcanic peak, lies dormant…for now.
Dozing on a Chaise Lounge in a Geneva Backyard
early autumn sun oblutioning my face,
when I startle to the rustle of feathers low
overhead, the labored flapping of stubby
wings attempting to elevate and transport
a rotund body from fenceline to fenceline.
When I ask if the neighbors have any,
my Swiss ex-brother-in-law, he of the
inexhaustible recipes for them, who chefs
them so myriadly at his table—roasted,
fried, sautéed, poached, boiled, broiled,
sauced, in sandwiches and in salads—
replies he doesn’t think so. But I know
what I heard, remember the unmistakable
chuckling of the child’s wheeled wooden
pull-toy I used to drag behind me across
our apartment floor’s uncarpeted fringes
and down Hyde Park Boulevard or there-
abouts where signs hand-painted on white
butcher paper were taped to shop windows
boasting sales on “Legs, Thighs, Breasts.”
I have known a few personally; the
adolescent one we nicknamed Godzilla
immediately pecks to mind who curled up
on my bare foot beneath the patio table
and slept soundly while we toasted sunset
with Negronis on Moorea. My friend
Marcia has a clutch in her garden, robed
in Klimpt gold and black, freely ranging.
They’ll sit in your lap, eye you sideways,
sweet and potentially nasty at once.
They could fill a tasty concert hall,
clucks drowning out the orchestra,
all the chickens, fully-formed or pre,
I have eaten.
Sweet Home Chicago
My home town is the smell of El train wires in winter,
orange sparks crackling under flurrying skies, brakes
screeching around buttressed curves like rutting cats
in alleys behind fatback brick apartment buildings, it’s
graffiti on wheels, your tongue stuck to the third rail.
Overcast cinder, dinge, and russet dominate, the same
peasant palette as Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters”;
streetlights play the angles of battleship-gray porch slats,
peeling stairs glazed in hip-breaking, shoulder-wrenching
sheet ice. It’s a smell that coats the throat in ozone,
that roils up chimneys of nostrils, soots the ceilings
of sinuses, permeates your heaviest clothes more
than blues bar cigarette smoke, guitar-lick midnights,
the rush of stale beer and fumes of disinfectant reek when
the joint’s front door cracks the brittle shell of morning.
My home is frozen footprints and the caked corrosion on
sagging bellies of GM hulks, the shudder and grind of
sluggish pistons, iron engine blocks left running to thaw,
spewing blue exhaust perfume while hard water streams
down plastic shower curtains and coffee filters drip.
It doesn’t matter what you wear crossing the Michigan
Avenue Bridge in January, the river below cabbage-green as
a bowl of revenge served cold. Coats stuffed with feathers
of geese and ducks become helpless prey, carcasses left
after the wind called “The Hawk” picks them clean.
The smell of my home town penetrates, pervades like red
stains on butchers’ aprons, a meat locker’s chill. It’s sodden
brown shopping sacks, babushkas, boots, and gloves soggier
than the buns at Al’s Beef Stand, the fries at Carl’s Hot Dogs,
yellow mustard, sour pickles, pepperoncini on the side.
The smell is chronic, a phantom ache from lugging
50-pound bags of sidewalk salt, shoveling too much
wet snow. It’s a heart attack waiting to happen and it’s
to the bone, baby, to the bone…
Sometimes it gets to me the sameness
pointed pointlessness of it all the atrophied years
numb comfort of routine the mind- emotion-
inspiration- motivation-quelling linked moments
Challenged to get out of bed and upon rising
I churn who what where when why
Still the cat has to be fed water boiled
How many reasons do I need beyond that
Please help me observe the river of memory
trace its windings at safe distance of revery
Help me see with my father’s eyes my mother’s
before the banks cave or bed dries up completely
Help me hear wordless music in the mundane
standing on the bridge looking down at the current
Watching not jumping inhale belly deep hold
then slowly let it go