The best dancers are not
the slender young women
with lipstick and scarlet ruffles,
nor the young men who fancy themselves
latent toreadors stamping faster and harder
than rain on a cave roof.

The best dancers are
the leather-faced old women,
black-shawled, with castanets and fans,
strong as bulls, barrel-chested,
big-breasted, with heavy legs, fleshy
arms, and kohl-penciled eyes
dark as dying planets.

Their grandchildren have picked our pockets
on the buses near the Alhambra,
and now we pay to see them dance
in the caves of Granada. They lift their skirts
behind them to show clicking heels,
calves marbled with ropey veins.

The tourists are herded after the show
into a night of cobbled streets
and white-washed hotels, leaving the gypsies
with hands burning from synchronized clapping,
their ancient guitars silent. They drive home
to paint-peeled caravans in the field
beyond the mountain. Before sleep,

the grandmother sifts her hennaed hair
from tortoise-shell combs, spreads it out
on the pillowed moon. But first,
she counts the coins she earned tonight.
Her feet have turned to rock.
She never dreams.

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god is


god is

a pitiable thing,
a rabbit limping in the garden,
collapsing into the sedum.

god is a reminder
of what heaven forgot–

god is the space under the stairs
where one hides from tornadoes,
or bombs in wartime.

god is the trampled leaf,
the frosted nub of bud,
alive and dying all at once.

god is a mirage in the desert,
where the camel comes to drink
and finds nothing but sand.

god is a way of being alone,
of reading a poem while dreading
the distance ahead.

god is the footprint one follows
to find the old aunt, the dead uncle
in the photograph.

god is the Acheron boatman
who ferries passengers
into the flaming dark.

I have waited all summer
to don the dress I adore,
the one with the yellow flowers
spelling g-d.

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What if sun and moon
were to collide in space,
spawning sparks of gold and silver,
little gods and goddesses falling to earth
to make everything right?

The rich would turn their pockets inside out
for an old man shivering in a basement flat.
He needs warmth and bread,
but wants only his wife back. He has saved
her blue sweater from the hospital,
keeps it under his pillow, smells it
when he is too cold to sleep.

What if the eight women bombed yesterday
while gathering wood could return,
scarved and gossiping, arms full of twigs?
What if their broken children could be sewn up
like dolls, resurrected clean and desert-pink,
arms and legs where God put them, shrapnel
vanishing like light to bless an invisible sky?

What if truth popped like firecrackers
from the eyes of politicians, if bankers
ate of a golden fruit that made them
un-Midas their vast incredible coffers
for hospitals? What if the poor
had homes, shoes, books?

What if the four seasons
could follow a gentle sequence:
snow, blossom, leaf and warmth,
moderating all desire? Even if death
remains inevitable–what if
chrysanthemums of joy could fold us up
from our sickbeds as we slept, suck out
all breath before we knew what was happening,
to leave the living gasping in surprise, not grief,
holding a white flower to the heart?

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Ash Tree Elegy


Ash Tree Elegy

Ashes to ashes,

the children’s rhyme

no small irony here.

The emerald ash borer

has chewed its way

into the hearts

of trunks

lining Midwest

suburban streets.

A parade of death,

orange township trucks

bring graceless


to a dying breed.

Hearing the arrival

of saws and chippers,

we remember

the elms.


there will be

too much sun.

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The Long Hill


The Long Hill

On the brow, briefly abandoned
by golfers and dogs, the war monument
rises in the distance.

Just twenty minutes ago
we were there. Our phantom
presence hovers overhead.

The foggy brambles
become open fields, lambent-green,
moist underfoot, and below,

cows graze at a thumb-sized dairy.
We tread the narrow lanes,
muddy gravel crossed by runnels
and a stile or two, then whisper

into the woods where oak leaves
spread their ruined gold.
Winding up the ribs of the hills,

we emerge into the sky itself,
which holds the many years
we’ve plodded here.

The pub at the top has closed,
a ghost of wattle and thatch.
Up here among the hedgerows,

dry stone walls, barbed-wire pastures,
the glow of a light in a far-off cottage,
red double-decker buses

wobbling through the village below,
what’s left to say about
the passage of time?

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At Church


At Church

Well-aware that religion
spawns wars, I’m up early today

seeking the peace
of something named “god”

in stained glass and old stone.
It’s a service for healing.

The weak and the wracked
process to the altar rail for holy oils.

The sick and lame, the deranged
and debilitated, emerge from every corner–

one with Parkinson’s, two with violent children,
men with wives who no longer

recognize them, a broken shoulder,
a crumbling jawbone, and cancer survivors

trying to forget the baldness
and the chemicals. They light candles

that nearly set the place afire,
the flames of superstition and faith

smelling of melted wax
and the smoke of old hope.

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While waiting


While waiting

for the night, we decide
we must leave now
while we can.

New York is sinking.
We go to Pompeii, itself a reminder
that nothing is permanent.

Vesuvius erupted yesterday,
volcanic ash blanching
the air above Naples.

At the airport, we rent a car,
and suddenly we can smell
the sea, feel distended light.

We seek God in the vortex
of ocean and sand, find
grandmother’s hills.

Twisted olive branches
twine with chestnuts
in the valley, arcing

to the sky. The disc of sun
falls from heaven
into the city of ghosts.

Like us, the horizon moves
but never really disappears.
We finish where the sky begins.

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