Published July 2014 | Parallel Press | Madison, WI | 42 pages
Yes is a chapbook, though a comparatively hefty one with thirty poems.
The title tips its hand in terms of content. It seems so often that poetry wishes to brood on the broken. Conversely, poems that explore positive themes are viewed as trite and dismissed as doggerel. But for me, it’s wearying to be constantly wallowing in the dark. Yes explores some of the old, familiar topics–love, family, faith–while attempting to show they don’t always have to be shattered. The old cliché is “happiness writes white,” but these are some of my favorite poems I’ve written because the acknowledge they complexities of what actually make us happy.
I’m grateful that Yes won an Outstanding Poetry Award from the Wisconsin Library Association in 2015. Several poems are below, and you can read all of Yes online.
* * *
they stand like chessmen in the field
shorn down to stubble, and soon they will slide
across the troubled checkerboard of october:
early frosts slashed through by night.
they are gray and austere as dolphins
etched onto the lid of a coffin, as a tin bucket
filling with a truckload of snow.
this pair of downy candleholders, it is said
they mate for life, relighting their red crowns
again and again. it’s true: my wife
and i made our moves long ago: queen
to knight, cheek to chest, bird to bee.
now, when i stand cooking eggs
in the rookery of our kitchen, or i’m there
reading field guides in the rocking chair,
sometimes i feel grace sweep my neck
like a feather. i expect her to be behind me,
but no: she’s ironing, the fat silver tongue
grooming her clothes like a cat,
while she hums songs she’s made up
about mothers, flying, the weather.
* * *
knocking down icicles
they hang like new hayforks,
ready to pitch grass, ready to spike snow.
the pole for my purpose is long
as a lightning rod, daring in its gleam,
and soon i’m washing those watery windows
and shattering every one. i’d just as soon
let them touch down like ray beams,
lock the house in a delicate prison.
but my father warns about ice dams,
how they roost on the eaves like silver hens,
kicking their cold eggs into the attic,
where the yolks break and bloom brown
on the bedroom ceilings. water
is sinister, he says, serpentine and soulless,
and it’ll pop rivets from the rafters
if it wants to. therefore, i’m a surgeon
with my ridiculous scalpel, breaking
all the bones, the wounds still weeping.
beneath my boots, the snow squeaks
as if it were crying. it will heal, he says,
meaning spring, meaning crocuses like debutantes
with their fancy necklaces of rain.
* * *
sudden prayer for the climbing tree
halfway up, you relearn the world
is, finally, air: the west wind finger-paints
the lake, smudging its black puffs;
the chickadees navigate their crazy maze
of limbs. the pine needles seem astonished
at their own explosion: shooting to suck sun
and old sounds. my friends all agree:
we’re getting too old for lots of things,
now: sunrise after the sharp blink
of night, girls with tattoos that leak
down their backs, songs that use the word
love. climbing you today, tree,
my shorts ripped at the thigh, showing
the scar of underwear beneath.
my arms scratched like someone struck matches,
my hands sweet and sickly with sap.
someday, god will wash your hair
with spring rain, then split your skull
with his electric white drill. he wonders
what he might find: toothpicks and pool cues,
heart attacks emanating in rings,
the vow from a drunken pontoon boat
when you were only knee-high to his knee.
—i hope our splintering is gentle.
i hope someone writes some new songs.
the world, finally, is air:
somehow, i’ll have to climb down.
* * *
when she asks me if i believe in god, i say
yes. when she calls me a liar, i say yes.
i’ve been trying to say yes to most things lately:
another beer; a broom that wants to kiss
the floor, coughing its tempests of dust;
the winter light that comes in all slanty;
the old pear of my guitar which i play
so poorly it scares the cats. watch tv?
yes. an antique tin with a golden woman,
fan, kimono? heavens, yes. waiting five minutes
until the taco shells are ready, hot little envelopes
of corn? yes, yes, yes. when she asks me
if i want to see her tanning-bed sunburn,
i say yes, and suddenly the seven inches of snow
to which i said yes are erased
by a parliament of cardinals calling yes from the pines.