Shouting poetry above the roar

After the Flood

I slide the patio door shut
and emerge for the first time this year
barefoot. I run my toe across
the bristling moss that mortars the wet brick.
The air holds everything.
With one damp breath I taste warm tea
swirling with milk and sugar.
The next breath brings an acrid whiff
of nineteenth-century lacquered
museum bones. I close my eyes
and see the dance of paper leaves
on a schoolroom window,
an oaktag choreography
I never could follow. 

I turn to see the river, high but ebbing.
Yesterday I watched it rise to meet the road
and told myself to think about it later—how it bathed
the birches’ swollen knees, how it widened before the road,
how it tried everything before spilling over.
Now, this morning, the sun’s not breaking through,
though it might. Beyond the river, a fallow field
luxuriates in its muddy stubble, cradling chance seeds.
What will the summer bring? Club mosses edging the path,
grassy stretches salted with dandelions.
What joy those days will be,
now that worry nearly has left me.



All’s at rest, nothing is happening here.
Yellow grasses crows carried
laze and shimmer in the animated
still life of a disused wheatfield. 

All’s at rest, except the red worms
weaving their lattice work,
the pill bugs scattering the soil,
curling like armadillos at any small threat. 

Nothing’s happening here, but the red and white clover
stitching the ground, fixing
nitrogen with a saint’s patience:
Clover, trifolium, trinity; rhizobium, root of life. 

All’s at rest, except the ant scout’s curved antennae
ground-bent, divining intelligence.
Inches and a world above, the bees
hum and dance, skim data of their own. 

Nothing is happening, as the nuthatch
plucks the pokeweed’s acrid berry:
the land is dreaming with even breaths,
its mind washed in the milk of sleep.

All’s at rest; nothing is happening,
but the earth fixing its memories
of touch taste smell sound sight
and of all the other senses not yet named.


drove through the host
of ground apples, each a fistful
yellowgreen halfglobe facing
skyward, spring hue razzing
the heavens’ impermeable grey 

but the earthward hemispheres
would be pulpy brown
worm-stitched and mealy
liquefied past sugar
cider aged in the rind’s winesack

weekly yardsweeps taught me this
balancing three or four boozy
apples in each gloved hand I’d
stumble a dozen clowning
trips to the compost bin

I thought of tales of elephants
drunk on spoiled fruit and
musth charging villages
but my backyard fauna teetotaled
raccoons nibbled only the good side up 

then December I saw into the tree itself
which held a lone apple decayed
to soil’s verge but dangling still
on stem defiant drunk
still on his feet refusing
against advice to call it quits


Plump stuffed sack of guts
and sundry fluids,
eyeless mystic ever
questing for that perfect
(A drop is never enough;
a flood, a curse of riches.) 

In the backporch gloom, I struggle
to sort you from your size:
apple twig the wind
brought, clump
of sodden grass cast
in a shoe cleat, careless
cigarette end. 

could never serve you whose
hermaphroditic accoutrements
you pack along against
apocalypse or the odd dry spell.

Drink deep but not too deeply
at life’s wells, you teach us,
your flesh a humped
finger of muscle, fleeing
with exquisite leisure
the groundwater’s swell.

A Curse upon Leaf Blowers and the Men who Love Them

In all their zeal for smoke and rattle,
the Futurists never envisioned your leaf blowers
pounding the geometry of row houses.
Yesterday, I cast a spell to charm
the throatwhistlers’ roar
to silence if not wonder,
but once more this morning I hear
their tintinnabulation. 

If not a charm, a curse then:
To all who handle leaf blowers,
may dust enter your eyes
in ounces not in motes.
May you blast away wanted objects,
family photos, bills of medium denomination,
W-9 forms, eyeglass prescriptions,
cards addressed to grandmothers and elderly aunts. 

May the allied evil of lawn trimmers
flay your calves like the self-scourges
of an ascetic monk. May humus turn to ashes,
your golf shorts to sackcloth. May the starter
cord wrap around your neck in dreams.
May your dinner reek of gasoline.
May you some day learn
the meaning of rake.

The Scientist and the Poet

paddle their kayak in reverse unison;
from above they are dragonflies mating in flight,
from below a sea-mammal’s blubbered white keel. 

The scientist has not finished her dissertation,
but in her mind she takes the world apart
and replaces the pieces carelessly lost,
so she is a scientist. The poet
has not finished his book, but he scribbles
on scraps of paper all day, mouthing
the words to the air, so a poet he is nonetheless. 

She reads the temporal maps of tides
while he steers with his feet and spots bald eagles.
They both dream of whales they won’t see. 

Cabbage Island is best approached in a manner
other than the route they take, scraping
the fiberglass hull, cutting their feet on sea rocks. 

Cabbageless, the island shelters everything else:
puffballs, bandit raccoons, thicket-fringed oaks,
deer with sapling legs. And the remains
of exiled Salish men, BC Parks’ sore oversight.

The waves patiently unpack the land,
loosen bones that bring the sleepers strange dreams:
the poet opens a door in the earth; the scientist
sees raccoon people cleaning skulls.

The visions stay with them as they cross,
barely, Boiling Reef, where they shout
above the spray and learn to trust
their arms all the way to Narvaez Bay.

At Saturna Island, poet and scientist moor
their kayak by the brass fittings of forty-foot sloop.
They slick back their saltspray hair, trudge past
sloping vineyards, photograph their winery lunch.

Purple starfish mottle Pender Island’s passage
where the two uncork new bottles
across from the tony docks of Poets Cove Resort. 

Lets go there, pirate-style, the poet says
at dusk, demand a sonnet or make them
walk the plank. She replies, I’m glad
it’s not called Scientists Cove. 

In the morning they float past far rocks
where birthing seals heave sprawling.
The scientist sees genes unfolding,
the poet stanzas shaping themselves.
With their paddle each makes a farewell sign.

Love, the seals answer in expectation;
love the finch sings, as it flits branch to branch; love
the hummingbirds sign in a barnstorm of wooing;
from his eyrie the eagle surveys his prey with love;
the raccoon pair dream of beloved
night when they clam in the bay; love
rubs velvet from the deer’s startling antlers.

A Naturalist’s Prayer

That Francis Galton ran the numbers
and found those names the laity whispered
when they bowed in nightly prayer
—the Royal family, Archbishop of Canterbury—
fared no better than the masses
(so sad when thinkers we despise
conceive an idea that delights)
says nothing: we need prayer
more than prayer needs us. 

A life-spark animates all things,
charged Bergson. Counterswirls
in matter’s wasting breeze, we
organize ineluctably
(so sad when thinkers we admire
sift to historical footnote).
But who’s to say what’s tidier,
windblown ridge or Temple Mount?

Be honest; no pure thought
will move those whose living
is moving mountains. Valuable
by tons, something’s surely hidden
beneath the upright pines’
penetrating roots, or houses
could be stilted on the slope.

Faith never made us kneel,
we kneel to court belief,
and murmuring mouth our intent.
On your knees, then. Praise
all untouched by human hands
(or even the lightly handled);
praise our oversight, our scraps
and leavings—even what the fire
may take before we desecrate
the mapped and calculated acres.

Or, better yet, confirm
that bent close, the needled bough
still trembles when you hold your breath.