I hold the swaddled package
of my hour-old grandson,
hands and arms golden
in the aura of his
Though hospital protocol deems him
a biohazard—vernix and birth goos
not yet removed—
I feel the tendrils
of our hearts
I moisten these cords
(No. 57 in a series of responses to Han-shan’s Songs of Cold Mountain)
The poet, a Zen priest,
affably warns that his nineteen-foot
an apparent query into how
anything for sure—
has never been read
to an audience in its entirety.
Forty minutes later
he pauses to ask how we’re doing,
acknowledges tiring and skips ahead.
I leave the bookstore,
not knowing what
to make of this performance.
Walking toward a bus stop,
I cross a side
lane, where a driver waits to enter
North 45th Street. Thinking he sees me,
I step in front
as he accelerates.
I leap onto his car hood,
screaming. He brakes, and I land
safely on my feet.
He speeds away.
I have just the strength
of the utility pole I lean against,
and the cool night
(No. 94 in a series of responses to Han-shan’s Songs of Cold Mountain)
“Eight stars of gold on a field of blue—
Alaska’s flag. May it mean to you…”
from the Official State Song of Alaska
After my stepfather’s sporting goods
store went bust in ‘55, my mother’s
school teacher salary barely supported us.
Dick finally found a bookkeeper job
at the territorial TB sanitarium,
north of Seward.
We moved from our trailer and shed
into a cramped staff apartment—
the arguments and shouting
My room was a closet
with a door
I’d close at night.
Radio to ear,
to Frankie Laine, Teresa Brewer, The Platters,
until the town’s only station
signed off before midnight
with a choral rendition
of the territorial song—
“The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow’rs nearby—“
I’d sing along, fly
amid delta clouds
of widgeons and pintails,
climb high ridges
to whistle with marmots,
nod off in fields of glacier lilies
Eyes worried, my former co-worker
the county building.
He bemoans the budget, continued
of old friends.
Fluffy flakes begin to fall.
I lean to catch one
on my tongue, stop short—
they are down feathers.
We glance up,
spot a peregrine falcon
on a low tree branch.
The raptor clutches
a pigeon in its left talon, rips
flesh with hooked beak.
There are young to fledge
on a tower cornice.
When my mother and new stepfather
moved from Nashville to a southern Alaska town,
I spent fifth grade trying to make new friends, rid myself
of Southern drawl, and avoid
getting beat up. And so,
my classmates decide
which candy bar to eat first,
I suggest, Eeny, meeny miney moe,
catch a nigger by the toe…
No one has heard the word.
My accent quickly disappears.
I soon learn to feel
smarter than the tough native
kids with parents in the TB sanitarium.
Living with your exuberance
near the southwest corner
of my small porch
calls for ongoing negotiation,
understanding of boundaries—
a task made difficult by your beauty.
Even now, in late winter, you are irresistible.
Your naked limbs, titian and sensual, hold flocks
of wandering Black-capped Chickadees
and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. You must know
I can’t resist, though your medusa
ringlets curl my railings,
push away competitors.
As usual, it would be easier if I spoke up
earlier. Eventually I must stand
my ground, reclaim my space.
But for tonight, maybe I’ll just
cut one lovely stem
to cheer my dinner table.
My frayed black leather Day-Timer,
standard size, used to be
the Cadillac of business calendars.
Now, placed in front of me
on meeting tables, it’s surrounded by
colleagues’ sleek, intelligent devices—
purring and synched to company
calendars, email, Twitter, and GPS coordinates.
The pages of my archived monthly inserts
turn like dry leaves, their veins and spots
evidence that I had appointments,
kept notes, squeezed in a few poems,
came to love this work
and its people.
(No. 67 in a series of responses to Han-shan’s Songs of Cold Mountain)
My woman friend’s two kids
are having babies.
So are my daughter and her husband.
We will be surrounded by gurgles
burps, and frets—unrestrained
The effect on us seems
comparable to a regimen
of horny goat weed
and toad shade supplements.
as she released me
to the world,
my sweety stood
a beguiling siren
at the hand carved
entrance to her
(No. 43 in a series of responses to Han-shan’s Songs of Cold Mountain)
My wife and I pack our open canoe
after five nights of camping, head back
to Lund in a rising wind.
We dodge whirlpools, ferry across
currents, break out of eddies. Far ahead
through white caps and heavy swell,
is the rocky point
we must round.
Portage Gap is closer, offers an easy land haul
to a quiet inner bay.
We’ve heard the owner of this old homestead
is testy, cusses canoeists and kayakers.
We pull ashore, I walk to his cottage, knock.
Through a window I see
an empty bottle of Jim Beam
lying on a table.
A bleary figure stalks
from the back room, cracks the door.
He silently listens to my request,
nods his head with effort:
Desolation Sound, British Columbia, 1978
(No. 48 in a series of responses to Han-shan’s Songs of Cold Mountain)
The sealed jar of artesian water
near Kwan Yin’s right hand
has rested on my altar for nine
years—since Dane and I were whited-out
south of Marmot Pass. We traversed
a wrong ghostly spur.
It was late, an uncomfortable
A quick compass reading
through opening fog
pointed to a trail trace
We came to the spring we call
The Source, drank deeply, filled bottles,
walked to the truck by flashlight.
Five long miles
in dark rain.
Big Quil watershed, Olympic Mountains, October, 2000
(No. 69 in a series of responses to Han-shan’s Songs of Cold Mountain)