Archive for the 'prose poem' Category


We were in flight, you and I,
turning in the darkened room.

We know that men must die;
we were the living.

Cutting away disease, compassion,
fatigue, this compass spins in quiet rooms.

Important gestures are lost,
some causes are just, some flights

Justified. We were the living.
We know that men must die.

Even as we dance with shadows,
Warm shadows, red, thrown by flame,

Smoke signals come from god, simple
as candlelight. These too are whispered away.



The first Sunday after the first full moon after the autumn equinox is recognized with fire, with the roasting of nuts and the drawing of drapes. The windows are lighted, the evenings grow short. The children stare into flames and their cheeks are ruddy. The mothers and toddlers sit closest to the fires, cracking nuts, putting sweet meats into shallow wooden bowls. The dogs are subdued. The cats work feverishly through the night, catching the mice who come in as the evenings cool. The beeswax candles are fresh. The nuts and the squash and the onions are still new, waiting for the beatitudes of those first autumn celebrations. The elders sit gratefully in their bent wood, feet warming at the fire. The crackling fire marks each evening, first long and slow, then short and thankful. For this we are about to receive. Cold feet are pressed against warm bricks, the evenings count hours, then minutes, then seconds, then a moment’s sudden puff against a frozen window. Done, for children, for chickens, for sleeping bulbs, breathing in the cold air briefly. Not yet, they say. Not yet.




Once upon a time, an ancient Japanese ghost banged a cherry tree and lo, in the resultant pink and lucid blossoms, the American constitution was born. Aaah, says the Japanese ghost, I knew that these pink blossoms would bring reason and truth to America.

“America, what is America?” said the eagles, said the wrens, said the multitudes of birds who rode the air like water, their currents and circulations bending the stories of America and its conceptual underpinnings even as the ink was still wet.

The newspaper was the first dry message of America to Americans. They wrapped their meat and their fish in ink, they relied on stained and rumpled stories. What is American truth? said the halibut column and the features of cold beef. What is American truth? Said the bunches of flowers in the early undelivered morning? What is American truth? said the satori of tuberculosis and the crushing of children in dark heavy factories and the sudden brief enlightenment that burnt bright for 50 years, that threatens right at this very moment  to gutter and expire, here, in our very privileged lungs, gasping like dying fish, like first responders, like Massy men, waiting for someone to breathe deep, speak the American truth out loud, to bring the coral reef and the constitution back from the brink, bring air back into the discourse that fills each one of us, a gasp, a sigh, an exhalation, a prayer. 

Belva Sparrow

(Prompts: taken from six books, chosen randomly. Write for 15 minutes.)

Grammar of justice, syntax of mutual aid. Drawing us from tree to tree toward the time and the unknown place where we shall know what it is to arrive. Not one by one, but in passionate clusters, we pressed the grapes to our lips. The room is small, the table plain.Later and older, now we had supper, a little. A grayish bird, the size, perhaps, of two plump sparrows.


Two plump sparrows sat on a limb on a tree on a cold winter day. The first sparrow, a philosopher, mumbled continuously about an unknown place.

An unknown place, he grumbled. An unknown place.

The other sparrow, whose name is Belva MacDonald, is given to homilies and humming.

“We shall know what it is to arrive,” says Belva. She sings a soaring and ratcheting song that tells all the songbirds where she is and what she is about.

In passionate clusters, the birds gather in the winter air, feathers inflated and steaming with fast, hot bird circulation. With an average resting heart rate of 500 beats per minute, the finch, the sparrow and the towhee compete for craving; which small bird wants the rose hip enough to take it out of the mouth of others?

Inside the small grey house, there is a window. In front of the window is a small table with two chairs, a salt shaker and a basket of walnuts. The walnuts smell musty. Belva pushes a walnut across the table with her beak, making a concentrating sound, click-click, ticketa-tick. The walnut falls to the ground and she lifts off and lands on the floor with a rustling of wings. The walnut, stubbornly remaining whole, rolls easily but does not give up its fruit. After a while, not very long, but long enough in sparrow time, Belva gives up on the walnut and returns to the table and from there to the window. She looks out the window, which has been closed for an eternity, or it may have been 15 minutes, in the life time of a small brown sparrow in a winter house with drafty corners. She sits, alone at first, but gradually, as the day warms, the other birds stir and join her, up there on the window sill, with the grey winter fields and the slash of mud where there’s been a frost and refreeze not three weeks ago.



He slept a few times with an introverted nun, and even once wth a pope. I leave it to you, he said, to decide if a pope is more likely to be an introvert or an extrovert. Cuál?  What kind, flavor, type of temperament wants to change the very earth on its axis, the tides as they approach and recede?  I learned so much about the moon, he continued. Yes, I did. I learned also about discretion, about the stories that need to be told by history, rather than by their immediate narrators. 

He came from a long line of questioners, not quantifiers, and right away, that made him suspect. If you do question, if instead of counting you dance or paint, or live somehow in the world that is spun like a paint mixer or an aerialist, then the question of concrete, linear narrative will sometimes be thin and untenable, thin and burnt like sugar at the state fair, and sometimes the attempt to organize, quantify and justify only makes our aerialists dizzy. Of all the places to be dizzy, hanging from a rope over an unknown abyss is absolutely the most dizzying.

He had a spider once with a thin web and a very tall building and a day that was bright and sunny but with wind. He and spider hung suspended from the question of gravity over a tall building in a clear blue city, and they did not know what to do, only that up there in the air all was high and thin and wild, and that falling would be antithetical, would shock their little spider skeletons long before they ever touched down. Spider and he held hands, held hands and made a web of silk and longing, of silk and human hair, of silk and handprints reaching one to one to one to one down the side of the very tall building, all lit with green and violet lights, and when earth came up to meet them she was gentle as dandelions, soft as kiss, almost as imperceptible as hope itself. 



Me and my downward dog have some serious stretching to do before the market wakes. Before the market wakes, we open our eyes and stare out the window, where morning has not occurred to the mammals but the fowl are restive already. Craking, clicking, clacking, honking, chittering; beating sounds rise from the morning twilight and hang in the air, clack, click, honk, chitter. A bitter cold hovers above the warmth of sound, pressing down, cold ground, old ground, rolling over in the comforter, covering the mountain shoulders, shuddering back into the warm down spread. The warm dawn spreads slowly at first, after the snow showers, after the winds, and rises like a surprise resurrection, like an unexpected birthday party, and there the show of hands, of delphiniums, of daffodils, rise up again, tentatively answers a question that has not yet been asked.

Downward dog and me stretch and roll through the belly, the spine, on the gritty floor in front of the fire and then lie flat, staring at the ceiling with arms held out, ready for crucifixion or the shining oil of loss on a puddle in the middle of some pitted street. Downward dog and me stretch and sigh and rise up into the future with cobra, hang silently in trees, unseen. The weather waits, coiled, until we forget, then brings us down again, too soon warm, too late to hibernate. There is a bell that rings in the changing woods, a deep bell that rings, calling the birds, the seedlings, the writhing pink worm to keep moving; athetoid, it turns in upon itself until suddenly a reaching branch turns white, blush, and bleeding green. Time for market, time to pull on socks and drink tea, time to watch the spring birds rise up and leave the wintering fields.

Care package

I would like to dream about a building with a long hall and many doors. Every door opens easily. There are no locks in this building, but there are windows of many shapes and sizes. Some of the windows have glass, some are open to the air, some have curtains that blow in the breeze. The curtains are yellow, or purple, or a tangled vine and flower pattern. The breeze that blows through the open windows is warm but not hot, and there is a cat lying on a bed in a sunbeam in many of the rooms. In some of the rooms there is a rocking chair and a small table set with tea and cookies, or maybe gin, ice and a shaker. In some of the rooms there is a piano and around the piano a group of beautiful thin people stand, posing in clothes with long silky lines, and they sing together and turn their beautiful chins and noses in profile so that wherever you look there is an angle and a song and someone is leaning to look at someone else. In some of the rooms, there are bowling alleys and crashing sounds and lots of high fives, and a mingling smell of beer and shoes, not too strong, just strong enough to smell like a regular event among friends. In some of the rooms, there is nothing at all, just an empty room painted in a strong color, like a deep rain forest green or a pomegranate red. On the other side of these are rooms full of plants and the odor of dirt and bird sounds, birds just out of sight but shaking the leaves and calling, calling racous and ribald.

I would like to dream about a building where the ceilings are high and then low again, where the cold winds are kept out by the hearth and the short doorways and the thatched roofs and the calling of goats in the pasture nearby. I would like to dream about a building stacked high as a fortress with books and many nooks and hidey holes where reading might pretend to be private (as if it could be) and where I might take a nap or meet a stranger or write a letter to someone I haven’t seen in 14 years or more.

I would like to dream about a building made of nothing but elevators, and another made entirely of marbles, and another made of string, that wobbles and breathes with every wind from every continent, and there would of course be hammocks in this building, and drinks served in coconut shells, and there would be a resilience in that string building, stronger than stone, stronger than steel, stronger than the shattering earth itself.

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October 2019
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