Above the clouds above the pine
The haloed moon rides high.
Or clouds cavort unseemly while
The moon stands idly by,
Just as it did so long ago.
The moon was just the same.
The same light filtered through the pine,
Whose needles made no claim.
Tonight the wind is just as brisk,
The air is just as cold,
And everything is much the same,
Except that I am old.

This moonlight metaphysics works
While Luna rules the sky,
But everything looks different when
The solar bark sails by.
The philosophe retires indoors
To wrap himself in gloom
And there await the fall of night
When icy winds resume.
Set candles up in every sconce
While servants draw the blinds!
We’ll while away the daylight hours
With songs for simple minds.

As sunrise on the canopy
Sets golden bark aglow
A tranquil chill of morning fills
The silent world below.
A frosty stillness claims the pine,
The dead grass even more,
Each waxy needle lightly rimed,
Each blade white-shagged in hoar.
The springhead froze last night. Today
My winter’s tale is told:
By light of dawn all things have changed,
Except that I am old.
  May 29, 2019
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The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

— W.B. Yeats

Escaping from December’s cold
You flee the sleety street,
Push past a door of hammered gold
And there your footsteps meet
A carpet marvelously made
As if with precious stones inlaid,
Sapphires and porphyry and jade
Winking beneath your feet.

The foyer just inside the door
Makes winter disappear.
The glow of warmth, a polished floor—
The arrases draw near.
A mirrored ballroom lies ahead,
The fabled place where all who tread
Anticipate with awe or dread
A blazing chandelier.

You gaze up from the door to see
What no one could forget:
Gold leaves where no tree ought to be,
A branching coronet
Whose whorls of burnished light ascend
To meet and blur and meld and blend,
And from those wrought-gold arms depend
The jewels of Indra’s net.

Refulgent webs of nothing twist
Above the startled guest.
Copies without a copyist
In multiples attest
That every winking bauble there
Suspended in the very air
Transcribes the glow of everywhere,
Reflecting all the rest.

You enter brazen, unafraid,
That place of great renown
With underfoot baroque brocade
And overhead a crown,
To find behind the tapestry
A window where no pane should be,
And there on tiptoe stand to see
The nothing sleet come down.

Out of time and out of mind,
Excited and annoyed,
In lieu of what you came to find
You contemplate the void
And interlope in fancy dress
An opera of emptiness,
A dénouement no one can guess,
With absence fully cloyed.

Perhaps in all these phrases lurk
The hard truths of our time:
That nothing lies outside the work
Nor aught outside the rhyme.
A skein of gems encloses all
While earthly kingdoms rise and fall
And mirrored creatures flit or crawl
Through luminance sublime.

You who would reflection make
Must all reflections send
Till every bone within you break,
Refractions without end.
A mnemonist may learn to face
The subjunctivity of grace
And be Curator of that place
Where bones and memory mend.

At last the time has come to quit
The well-appointed room
Where from the bench on which you sit
A waft of rare perfume
Leads you to one last place to see,
A courtyard where no space could be,
To find in fragrant unity
The nothing tree in bloom.

Kingdoms come and kingdoms go.
You keep an open mind —
An organ lately loath and slow,
By death of sense refined.
Enraged by truth, inflamed by doubt,
As one by one the lights wink out
You find the strength to do without
The work you leave behind.
 September 7, 2018

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Through sunlit hours the day went well,
A bright-hued swirl as the leaves fell.
Then on the road the clouds moved in,
Cool and grey in a fading sky.
I watched the night and rain begin
As leaf-soaked streetlamped curbs flipped by.
Lights in the trees. The leaves came down.
A rainy night, a rainy town.

Through the wet night a box office glow
Patterned the rain-slick street below.
Ticket in hand, a seat in the stalls
For a parvenu with an open mind.
From overture to curtain calls
I hoped the night’s five acts might find
The larger structure of the day,
But all the hours got in the way.

The curtain rose. A spot came on.
A backlit backdrop mimicked dawn.
The cast filed in from either wing,
Each in turn to strut and fret,
Each in turn to stand and sing,
Repeat the words and not forget.
The stage was lit, the house lights down.
A diva sang in a sequined gown.

A six-week run. The seasoned cast
Consigned old tensions to the past —
A firm resolve to cauterize
The one who loved and one who spurned,
Cool and fey with her lambent eyes.
And from their lines I might have learned
The larger structure of the play,
But all the weeks got in the way.

Lights in the flies. The play went well.
The heroine stood where the spotlight fell.
I watched the leading man glide by
And kneel before that icy back
In a pleated shirt with tails and tie —
A sad tableau in gold and black.
How often was this seen before?
And here again, yet one time more.

And which was drama? Which was fact?
The question haloed every act,
And every season, year by year,
Through bright-lit day and howling night.
Each in its turn must disappear.
A raging dawn might bring to light
The bed wherein the structure lay,
But all the years got in the way.

The stage is dark. The cast is gone.
Audience members stretch and yawn
And file out under the bright marquee.
Yet one more time the night must come.
The leaves must spin from a sodden tree
To pattern the continuum.
The past outside rages and storms
While here inside the future forms.

Yes, all the years got in the way.
What else is there left to say?
The trees were lit. The rain came down.
Leaves and hours went drifting by
In forty different shades of brown,
Cool and slick in a borrowed tie.
So what else is there left to say?
Ring down the curtain on this play!

  December 9, 2017

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Leaves by the door on these our wintry days
Ascend a windswept stairway and assail
The traveller who comes but never stays.

The rising sun sets icy trees ablaze
And lights the drifted snow a morning gale
Leaves by the door on these our wintry days.

Filigreed windows mark a change of phase
For one who pulls the curtains back to hail
The traveller who comes but never stays,

Whose vagrant footprints leave the path and raise
Festoons of paler snow among the pale
Leaves by the door on these our wintry days.

A pair of shaken boots sheds melting glaze
And puddles in the entryway that trail
The traveller who comes but never stays.

Bright warmth, a moment’s rest, the urge to phrase
A plea to linger, all to no avail:
The traveller who comes but never stays
Leaves by the door on these our wintry days.

February 17, 2017

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The coffee shop of things we have not seen:
All those fragrant surprises new and old
Invite the feet to step in from the cold
And rainy street, with just the door between

A roomful of people, those who are there,
And those who are not. Voices fill the room,
Bright over there, while here we find the gloom
In conversation with an empty chair.

Close by the window, something hot to drink.
And opposite — is that a second cup?
A plume of steam is curling gently up,
With no one there to cause a spoon to clink.

A faint disjunction in the ambient light
Outlines an absence in the curling air
Between the table and the present chair.
Someone sat there before, or someday might.

A truant tablemate can only shrug
At what we might not see, or might forget,
Disdaining any need to be, and yet
Nothing is realer than that steaming mug.

Drain the last drop and then out to the street.
Close by the doorway stands a dripping tree,
A shelter from the urban lunacy
And weary rain that puddles round the feet.

Turn back towards the window — could it be
Someone has occupied that empty seat?
No: only a reflection turns to meet
A rain-blurred face, and nothing else to see.

How shall we parse this day of absent friends?
Inside, the shadows fill a truant’s cup.
Outside, the morning wind is waking up.
The branches move, and then the movement ends.

January 23, 2017

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When nothing here is certain
but that time is rolling on,
ring up your eyelids’ curtain
and greet rosy-fingered Dawn,
and ivory-footed Sarah
in her floor-length purple gown,
tapping time on polished floorboards
waiting till the sun goes down.

Let’s forget the slings and arrows,
and we’ll rosin up the bow!
Call the tune and pay the piper
so he’ll play a song we know.
Pay respect and pay attention
when you pay a living wage
to the slatterns in the kitchen
and the yokels on the stage.

If you’ll be my two-bar pickup,
I’ll play rhythm to your lead,
and we’ll truck across the ballroom
as our righteous feet take speed.
Cut a rug or cut a caper,
if you’ll just cut to the chase –
get your picture in the paper
where the footling folk embrace.

You can cross my palm with silver,
since I’m easily led to gold,
and I’ll be your major miner
till the Kingdom’s keys are sold.
Here’s a penny for your thoughts
and a dollar for your day,
but that’s what you get for thinking
when you dance the night away.

March 28, 2006

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The floodlit fountain in the winter pond
lighting the water from underneath
lifts a plume of chill spray into the teeth
of a sleety wind across the trees to the road beyond.

The same road, the same sleet, and the same night
unroll before the wheels of your decrepit car.
The radio is on. You’re content where you are,
with a hand on the wheel, at the edge of my sight.

The lighter flicks to a cupped cigarette under
your face, and the smoke blows out the window vent.
You turn and grin. It makes me wonder
how you could be gone, and where the years went.

The words will come, but words are no good.
You were patient and loyal and good and true.
The heart must go where no words could:
on this side of the veil is no likeness of you.

The ground has been closed now, and there you lie,
breathing the sod from underneath,
while above you grass blades bend in the teeth
of a chill wind, with a few flakes flickering by.

The ground has been closed; the world waits for the sun.
Some have tomorrows. Some must wake
and roll away the stone. It is for their sake
the verses continue, the song not quite done.
February 28, 2006

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The early leaves must steal the sun;
the roots must drink the rain.
So call the tune for everyone
to sing the sad refrain:

As prescience in retrospect,
the seasons must unfold.
The Word devolves to dialect;
the new brings forth the old.

As footprints to your snowy boot
your wandering steps precede,
noble events along their route
the churlish moments lead.

So things must be the way they are;
there is no other choice.
No use to wish upon a star.
No need to raise your voice.                                        

Decide instead to make believe
what freedom would provide.
Decide to practice to deceive.
Pretend you can decide.

February 28, 2005

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I vow that I will learn to love Dysphoria:
You surely will become my latest craze!
The question must be: How do I adore you?
It’s too much work for me to count the ways.

So here’s to misery! I salute you,
A succotash of suffering to behold,
And pray that no morsel of joy pollute you,
Nor ever turn my woeful lead to gold.

Bring on the armies of lugubriation!
Each gloomy foe I will embrace as friend,
And so await with dread anticipation
The melancholic dirge that knows no end.

My head is in the sand. My ass is in a sling.
Discomfort, ‘tis of thee! Of thee I sing.

February 23, 2005

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Look back at one whose whole life lay ahead,
the tolerant master of unfolding time,
a future locutor of words unsaid
not yet supine in any unmade bed
nor revenant to uncommitted crime.

Look back and claim a prize now judged complete.
See, instead of a looming ouverture,
an oeuvre borne by an oaf on stumbling feet
headlong downstairs to crash into the street,
a fallen egg past any hope or cure.

Will men and horses put this puzzle right
here on the table? And under a chair:
the missing piece! A wedge of summer light
slips into place. Observe this gorgeous night
and depart, to take refreshment elsewhere.

October 15, 2004

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Of the many who knew the many of you
there were few enough who knew you well,
and of the stories that are ours to tell,
a myriad versions, and all of them true:

A gutsiness of life and love,
an eyebrow arched, a toss of the hair,
the level gaze and the withering stare,
a fist of iron in a velvet glove.

Mother and daughter, sister and friend:
how shall we cope with your laughter gone?
Too lately begun to have reached this end,
a spring afternoon on a shaded lawn.
Accept if you will this bitter rhyme,
and be with us here this one last time.

May 8, 2003

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Translucent gold in the canopy;
raspberries and cream at eye level throughout the woods;
damp underfoot and damp overhead;
the necessity of a verb:

A newly-awakened tree frog
balances on a flimsy branch, while below
the coil of a black racer unwinds
an iridescent rivulet across the asphalt
in search of the warmth from
a newly-emergent sun.

                                     Just down the hill
the scattered petals of peach blossoms
eddy in a placid pool before draining
in a trickle between twin banks of new growth.

Read it from the script; chant it; shout it;
celebrate in counterpoint with the wren
all the secret blessings of the light!

April 10, 2003

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