Death Toll

When the snow comes we stay in the house
with mugs of strong tea and honey,
fleece and flannel, buffalo plaid and log-cabin quilts,

The fire burns steady, kettle set to simmer,
it mists the air like hot breath against a pane of glass
jackfrosted opaque.

We press our fingers to the frozen edge, co-mingle
our heat with the last light of the day.

In the quiet golden corner El Tio sits before his ledgers,
turning a pale green page to scan the names
of all who asked for one last solstice,

one last feast of Epiphany, scheduling payment,
sending invoices, tallying his bottom line by candlelight,
he calculates the weight of souls and payroll

for the psychopomp, holding out his cup to us
that we might fill it from the kettle one more time.

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Reading the Leaves

She sat with me on the porch and we shared tea
from an earthenware pot, a brew of gathered leaves,
long years of careful selection, berries dried on a tin tray,
saved in a paper envelop, their hard little tartness intact,
rosehips culled from long dead flowers,
we drank from small cups while the bees scuttled
over the tops of pale coneflower.
The days are long, she said, but life is short.
Or is it the other way around?
She laughed and drank her tea
as the leaves fell from her shoulders and scattered
around our shoeless feet, brilliant autumn red and weightless,
fading at the edges like stains on an old ledger.
I showed her the damp dark remnants at the bottom of my cup.
Long, she said. Or short. It’s up to you, little one.
It’s pretty much all up to you.

Alas, Just an Asteroid

Moments after the words were said aloud
for the first time, and the tides turned
and the waters parted and the dark
was at last an entity distinct from the light
and the light could at last illuminate
the vastness of what had come between us,
light years and galaxies, time and space,
the cosmos of heat and frozen rock,
you were as distant as a thought
from the mind of an alien god, two moons
circling what we thought was our home world,
alas, just an asteroid, mineral and mass.

February

It would have been kinder
if you had died in mid-summer,
when the Earth is warm and soft,
and the rains have subsided
and the water table is low,
the mounding soil slow to collapse,
the bones beneath allowed to rest
in the dry heat for just a little while
before dissolving into the hedgerow
and the holly tree,
so many roots so hungry
for your leftovers.

Love Like Water

Perhaps it is too much to ask of love
that it surround us always, that it permeate
our days and leave its watermark on all we do.
Perhaps it is more of a privilege than we care to think,
to love the world and all of its daily obligation,
to rise and meet the cold concrete sky
with the same face we offer to the gilding sun.
Perhaps it diminishes love to expect so much of it,
that it solve all our conflict and soften every hard edge,
love like water, carving landscapes we cannot
always fathom, canyons we cannot always cross.

Poems Like Butter (& Honey)

I suppose it’s on those mornings when I
don’t want to write a poem that I most
need to write one.

To make my way through the words that
don’t come easy. Do I need them to come
easy?

Sometimes when it’s cold in the kitchen
the butter is hard and the honey won’t pour.
It’s like that with poems, too.

Christmas Eve 2013

Never mind the ones who live as though this world
doesn’t matter, the ones who wish it to be a throwaway place,
terminal, terminus, the blood-washed stage upon which
the battles of foretold conclusion must evermore be fought.
Never mind. You are not one of them.
That is why I like you.
I like that you see a world that is not tableau,
a world that is not a set created on the back lot by some
skygod cineasté with a penchant for disembowelment,
not a killing floor, not an abattoir,
not a terrible failure of imagination.
That instead you see a world that defies human logic,
that resists dominion and outsmarts our analysis
as though it were a thing alive,
a thing that could love and be loved,
and I like that you are willing to believe it is
just such a thing, not exactly but inexactly,
for it is the world, and it contains multitudes,
its powerful play an interplay of every atom,
every molecule, every wave of sound and light,
all that is alive and all that holds itself
aloft in the frolic of cosmic dust.
I tell you this because I see your sadness and I know
your despair when things go dark and you are encircled
by the surround sound of drums and the floor
beneath your feet is slick from too many dress rehearsals.
I tell you this so you will remember even in your darkness
that you are born of that frolicking cosmic dust,
you are those atoms, you are those molecules,
you are carried on those waves of sound
and on those waves of light, and if ever
there was a world that needed you to remember,
and if ever there was a world that loved you back,
this is it. This is that world.