Three poems from Broken by Water: Salish Sea Years,
now available from Turning Point Books, and in Friday
Harbor at Griffin Bay Book Store.
Lullaby of the Sea
Inside the blacked-out globe of this night
without the moon, without a hint
of stars, the sea—the Salish Sea—
is the only fact our senses trust.
Its surf, thrumming as soft as our hearts
through sleepless nights, its salts in air
so clean against the reek of debris
in the kelp and seaweed of the wrack.
This skookum night of sea everywhere—
sea in our eyes, our ears, sea in
the shapes our minds name to damp
down fear. This place where land and sea
are nearly one beneath a black dome
sky—how can this be home, our home?
The Question of Who
owned the land and who
got to live where
on Puget Sound
was settled in the mind
of Isaac Stevens
when he bullied
the chiefs into treaties
that left their people
little to live for,
though Sealth, chief
of the Duwamish
“Let him be just
and deal kindly
with my people,
for the dead are not
But live they did,
those Salish tribes
or else Sealth’s dead
rose from the other world
when the question of who
owned the salmon and who
got to fish where
was settled in the mind
of Judge George Boldt,
based on the premises
of, and promises
in, those forgotten treaties
bludgeoned into law.
Man with Apples
My earthly efforts, small as they
may be in this cursed year, amount
to thirty-one comely apples, not counting
a few the storms knocked down
and one the birds got into
at picking time.
This espaliered apple
with hardy Northwest varieties
grafted to disease-resistant stock
is practically fail-safe
the nursery claims, but what
can that mean in this autumn world
so blown apart
by wind and bombs and quakes,
and what should the world make of this man
standing at his back gate,
holding out a peck of shiny apples?
Two poems from One Thing After Another, 2013:
Not Enough Sleep in the Face
I say to my mirror-self, deciding
not to shave. It’s my birthday,
a cusp day on the astrologer’s
chart. Aquarius or Pisces?
I pick Pisces and read: “The world
is your oyster”—what can that gem
of Shakespearean wisdom mean now?
No one past fifty should dream
that fiercely. These eyes are muted
green and these cheeks are roughened
on the bone, but the shower
steams the wispy bathroom air
until my mirror-face disappears.
I touch my face—yes, oyster.
they were almost never wrong,
the senescent lovers who kissed
for no good reason except kissing
exists, and they still could.
How well they watched their friends
dwindle from couple to single,
seeing each memorized face and gesture
fade from the mirror of daily life.
And how they watched themselves
in that same mirror—Audenesque
crevices, splotches, a befuddled gaze—
yet how they kept on
kissing, not expecting better days.
Two poems from To the Archaeologist Who Finds Us, 2008:
To the Archaeologist Who Finds Us
We used language
up. Words broke
or collected decades of dust
and had to be trucked
off to the dump
with the rest of our refuse.
Candescent Doggerel Eden
from our literal lives—
Fickle Grace Happenstance
Even our children stopped
finding fun in names—
Ignoramus Jubilee Killjoy
Lummox Molasses Nincompoop
words quit speaking
to us. They tip-toed around
like despondent lovers
stuck with faithless
Quagmire Rutabaga Stormtrooper
Trample Umbilical Verisimilitude
In the end,
we were simply too busy
They shamed us
into a crystal night
of silence that seemed
darker than history—
Waxen Xenophobic Yankee Zootsuit
Note to Keats
There isn’t much to say about beauty
these days, except that it isn’t truth,
unless truth is glossy
and monthly. This is America
the goddamned beautiful
in the twenty-first century,
not Hampstead Heath
in the nineteenth, and we know
the bride is ravished
long before the bridal shower, the tree
logged off before autumn even comes.
Beauty is money, John,
and you know what urns are for.