Back to the Classroom - Poems


I stood between them,
the one with his traveled intelligence
and tawny containment,
his speech like the twang of a bowstring,

and another, unshorn and bewildered
in the tubs of his wellingtons,
smiling at me for help,
faced with this stranger I’d brought him.

Then a cunning middle voice
came out of the field across the road
saying, ‘Be adept and be dialect,
tell of this wind coming past the zinc hut,

call me sweetbriar after the rain
or snowberries cooled in the fog.
But love the cut of this travelled one
and call me also the cornfield of Boaz.

Go beyond what’s reliable
in all that keeps pleading and pleading,
these eyes and puddles and stones,
and recollect how bold you were

when I visited you first
with departures you cannot go back on.’
A chaffinch flicked from an ash and next thing
I found myself driving the stranger

through my own country, adept
at dialect, reciting my pride
in all that I knew, that began to make strange at the same recitation.




Time’s going has ebbed the moorings to the memories that make this city-kid part farm-boy.

Until a smell close enough to the sweet-musk of horse tunes
my ears back to tree frogs blossoming after a country rain.

I’m back among snakes like slugs wedged in ankle-high grass,
back inside that small eternity spent searching for soft ground,
straining not to spill the water-logged heft of a drowned
barn cat carried in the shallow scoop of a shovel.

And my brother, large on the stairs, crying.

Each shift in the winds of remembering renders me immediate again,
like ancient valleys reignited by more lightning.

If only I could settle on the porch of waiting and listening,
near the big maple bent by children and heat,
just before the sweeping threat of summer thunderstorms.

We have our places for loneliness — that loaded asking of the body.

My mother stands beside the kitchen window,
her hands no longer in constant motion.

And my father walks along the tired fence,
watching horses and clouds roll down against the dying light —
I know he wants to become one or the other.

I want to jar the tenderness of seasons, to crawl deep into the moment.

 I’ve come to write less fear into the boy running through the half-dark.

I’ve come for the boy



Four nights in the full moon, and there was peace in the valley.
I cast a school of shadows like slippery fish, incandescent
The speakeasy, half in depth, enmeshed was a hot gravel rally.

August 1937, the morning of the Great Depression,
Like phosphorescence on the Southside of Chicago, oysters, clams
Coltrane live from Japan in the Baptist Convention,

Half mad, we took a great spiral of dripping song
And with gold folklore lit our torches flare and flicker;
the Killdeer feigned a broken wing, kept others from exhaustible sins.

Then Gospel. “Must He Go Alone? Take My Hand Precious Lord,” slicker,
Rang out like Selma, there must be peace in the valley,
The white-diamond concrete in the Chicago summer.

The remaining packinghouse worker’s billowed in the rally,
Killdeer, and urban shorebirds like men, gave a circumspect Amen.
In the white buildings among the white towering trees, there will be peace in this valley.