AFTER THE ELECTION
--for Zev Shanken
My Jewish friend asks, What's the difference
between a joke and a poem? Rabbi Joshua says,
A poem is a joke that needs no punchline.
Rabbi Naomi says, A poem is a joke
with a different punchline each time--
it's silent. Pastor says,
The stickers only stick if they mean something.
These Jews, see. Christians have Flannery O'Connor
and Hazel Motes, but can't use them.
Too dark for polite conversation.
Haze starts The Church of Christ without Christ,
says if you want to get ahead in religion,
you gotta stay sweet. My old pastor
feels bad that he feels so bad.
Christians feel guilty about their guilt.
Christ is a stumbling block for believers
who would rather it be of no consequence.
Rabbi Rebecca says, You wish your uncle
knew jokes; you wish your grandfather knew poems.
Christians wish there was more to them
than Ole and Lena. But they don't want
Hazel Motes. Right, and what to do
with bumper stickers and guns.
The trouble with Christians
is they can't laugh, don't know jokes.
Jewish writers have the rabbi.
It's ok for Jews to be poets.
Luther was funny. Only because
he was constipated with loud farts.
He had problems with the Jews.
Not funny. No.
No Christian poets? Only Catholic ones.
No protestants? The odd thief
and the unbalanced way.
My Jewish friend goes to dinner
with his wife, talks over her while she's talking.
You're just like Donald Trump! she says.
Stop the car, he says, gets out, and walks home.
Christians don't do those things?
Christians in pews voted for Donald Trump.
Pastors have or half their tears,
halving their laughter, sweep, sweep.
10 January 2017
FOLLOWING CHILDREN DOWN THE MOUNTAIN
On skis, watching their snow lines
falling, each of them with their own dance
and way forward, knowing they've found this
with no language. Their rhythm
born from their eyes and pursuit of the other.
No one has told them, Set your edge, release your edge.
Roll your ankles means nothing.
Find a steeper line and down up down
doesn't sound like song to me. Only this,
Have fun. How can you ski
if you're not singing? Find the music.
Turn and go is what we do. Over
and over. Turn and go. Children
seeking bumps and trails through trees.
11 January 2017
WHERE EVERYWHERE WAS FAR
We went out of bounds twice
East then West, a quick duck
under the rope lifting it with a ski pole
as our skis slid into the pristine.
Still in solstice light, side swipe
of altered space cast shadows
of alpine trees. We had come
for these shade-lanes with our tiny
cameras, eyes behind
solar lenses aiding distortion.
Our hands, clumsy in gloves,
could only pretend to compose.
Wind caused flurries of crystal
storm and clouds hid the sun
at will. We gave ourselves
time to be this blind,
unmindful of shutter speed
and focus, recording light
we only guessed at,
two steps into wild.
31 December 2016
WET WINTER EVENING IN THE NORTHWEST
She reads to her husband in the living room
of Emmett Till, and I hear of it
when his poem arrives in the mail.
Where we live, Emmett Till
is a household name, but details
of his long night before the hanging
get murky. The poem in my mailbox also
praises a Danish teacher for his quiet
resistance and courage. So much
has been lost we thought we had won.
Strange fruit hanging from poplar trees,
for crows to pluck, Billie's song.
Reading aloud is a Victorian rite
freezing our accounts and computers.
24 December 2016
in and out of notebooks
the day unfolding in paper
leaves fallen ones bound
in and out in and out
with no purpose
and then with purpose equally
at odds a kind of windlessness
no purpose being
where words found
bring with them something
no news can carry
but what we come for
I know this has nothing
but everything but by God
it's hard it is and it isn't
courage it's outside
of the dreaming known
to go there
never mind to get there
5 January 2017
I settle on a letter
a kind of platform
the kind of thing
one does leaving
the office to those
left behind oh yes
a letter to a writer
of columns relatively
famous with a father
who asked for no quarter
other than learn a language
and a brother on a boat
this woman speaks to me
and I want to say thanks
with all that can be mustered
she lives in the city of politicians
and willfulness and this is all
what I give myself to
writing her trying for nothing
more giving it my all
I tell her what
I found there over time
5 January 2017
READING W.S. MERWIN'S GARDEN TIME
WITH GRANDMA AND GRANDKIDS
ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL
Temperature in the car
reads -6 degrees outside
but it's tropical inside
surrounded by generations
ancestors we lost track of
music entering the right ear
where I'm placed in the trees
of being, the boy who is me
years and decades ago
walking the gravel road
just outside of city limits
in the North Dakota town
BB gun in hand
just past Shit Creek
and that yellow Meadowlark
on the fence post singing
This morning Karen driving
sun coming up on snow-covered
hills the purple sky behind us
me with the Merwin poems
in the passenger seat
accompanying all this
I read one line aloud
turning to the children
but happiness has a shape made of air
Karen saying, Explain that one,
it was never owned by anyone
it comes when it will in its own time
Me trying to hang on to just this
for now it doesn't matter
without in fact getting it
or not surrounded as I am
6 January 2017
WITH MORE WAYS
God isn't through with me yet
we say in Recovery.
My friends send poems.
My defense shield has failed.
19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei,
indeed, Eliot Weinberger.
I've just been presented
with 18 ways by God to laugh.
Don't you dare, I say,
as he brings mother
into the room
sitting her before me.
16 November 2016
AFTERNOON IN THE GOBI-RATTLER ROOM
22 DAYS AFTER THE ELECTION
So many possibilities for distraction
following everyone I can.
30 November 2016
AT THE SHELTER
I ASK THE NATIVE MAN
IF I CAN HELP HIM
PUT DOWN HIS MATTRESS
No, I ain't sleeping
next to no white man
They snore and fart
He waves away the room,
Ah, I'm only kidding
2 January 2017