On the way to work

The usual. Cows’ mouths suckle grass,
while a horse necks hay. From a distance,
they are so still, like a portrait of themselves.

Then, in the foggy dawn,
a fallen stop sign crumpled on the road
is a pool of blood.

Fresh tread marks
and the hulk of an elk barely
dragged off Highway 101
seem a mystery solved

on the face of the doe
tapping unflappably across the road
with a look I interpret as disdain,
or possibly resignation,

but surely it is not too much of a stretch to say disregard
for those of us speeding by
her mate’s gravesite.



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A man’s pain

A man’s pain

I measure pain
because it counts.

Men crawl to me
on broken knees,
withhold tears
that worry brows.

I can’t fix them
though I honor their wounds
and words—
girders, cranes, splitters.

For them, I hold
the image of a pine plank
carousing out of control
smashing against a breastbone.

I compare my pain
with theirs. Is his worse?
Does mine count?

When you finally crawl in
to tell me about your pain
you will break down.

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What will come

What will come

—for Misha

From my perch
at the nurses’ station
I see them on rounds—
the bright ones

as they trot like puppies
behind the attending
sprint stairs
rehearse cranial nerves
believe they are special
—some are, some not—

They’ve yet to sum tolls
the years
the molds
how they will replace themselves
misplace themselves

I’ve had to tell one
my son
medicine is a business
you can’t spend so much time listening
to stories

while two boys
who scramble like kittens
miss you at bedtime
will need tuition before you blink
and you

my creative one
haven’t written a poem
in decades.

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Jojoba, citrus and lavender
waft me awake
to receive another day.

These extravagant liters and ohms
should elicit guilt but don’t. I don’t judge
your excesses.

The fact that I haven’t had
a sexual encounter in years
doesn’t mean much. These twenty
strangers who walk in and out
of my exam room each day

with their bundled needs,
and foolish trust, expecting my touch

have taught me
to lavish in this lone pleasure.

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Bird’s Nest 

One day,
I discovered this small knot

beneath my collarbone—
a gritty slippery knob, a bird’s nest,

twisted through strata of tissue
girdling bone, surrounded by vessels—

arterioles, capillaries, lymphatics.
She rolled it under cold fingers

over and over, kneading
searching, murmuring a professional hmm,

asking, isn’t it just like this lump
here? guiding my hand with hers

crossing the sacred sagittal line
to finger another node, smaller, but similar

in texture, and what law does it violate,
allowing a reassurance

that cancer does not cross its trope.
I thought: hurricane 

knowing I will die of something someday.
In a hurricane, you inch towards center

where you reach through terror
grasp nothing but this empty cup.




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So messy, so embarrassing,
so unforgiving of necessary distance.

The only remedy is refusal to speak,
spiraling inward—
a movement that could freeze
into a pose of catatonia,
a breath-hold forever.

This existential wish
to never more shed public tears
is suspect. Shouldn’t the globule drizzling down
the cheek be prized? Doesn’t it resemble mercury—an element
that expands vastly with small integers
of temperature? Hot planet, swift messenger
of pain or heat.

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April 24, 2012


Mom said scat
to the cat hunched at the screen
door, seeking scraps or warmth.

Maybe she said scram.

These musings on my morning walk,
side-stepping, trying to guess
what sort of creature had left
its droppings on the footpath
—seedy, wilder than a dog’s—
marveling at how words
merge memories, my childhood
still longing to let
the cat in.

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