Poetry and essays

From time to time I’ll post poems and essays here. Sometimes my own and sometimes by other writers I love. Here are a few of mine from Long Way Through Ruin, a collection of poems published by Blue Begonia Press in 2013. Dorianne Laux selected “Josephine, 1905, Winlock, Washington,” a poem from the book, for the 2013 Argos Prize. Thanks to Danielle Sellers at The Country Dog Review for publishing it in her journal.

This is what Laux wrote about the poem: “Love the language and image of grief as a woman with a hoe. And the details are so startling and clear. The final statement devastating. A lot said and seen and felt in fourteen sonnet-like lines that boast internal rhyme: talk,  thocking, rocks, god, knocking, robs, loves. Beautiful. Quiet. Strange.”

Josephine, 1905, Winlock, Washington

Each day the day starts out the same, the scatter
of some crumbs under the trees, the talk
she talks to birds. That thocking sound inside her hat
that drowns the rain. A certain kind of madness
can be comforting. She lifts her knotted
frame, strikes her hoe against the rocks
to salvage singing what she can. To hear
the apples growing. Even God would
understand—the One who took her child,
and then another. Once she sang at a revival.
Now each night starts out with moonlight
savaging the orchard, the knocking at the doors
that robs the lanes. Love is mystery and pain,
who loves a child growing marvelous under stone.

“Credo” was published in the Alaska Quarterly Review. Filmmaker Peggy Case made a short film based on the poem. Aaron McKnight composed the music.


I believe in the shining coins of rain
falling and falling on the garden, the fierce
good luck of that, the garden with its
sated roots, that scent. I believe in the hives
of rooms beneath the soil, insects toiling
in the dark among bones and the dust
of bones. The silvering clouds with their luster
of honey and despair, the young deer
watchful in tall grasses.

I believe in my mother who kept
two sons from war and the Purple Heart
she left in her drawer with her costume
jewelry. I believe in the halleluiah of time passing,
the strangeness of that. The way you
climb out of a dream and walk slowly
back to yourself, something beautiful there.
It moves among us like the wind moves
but is not the wind. It lives in our blood
like fear or love. I believe in the door
left open as the rain begins to fall,
and in the way, no matter what,
we’ll ever know.

Dance, You Said

After Suzanne died even the bees
were gonzo. Chill-tranced, lost,
unaccountably far from home—
one bee took refuge in my shoe.
I carried the pain of its fire
as I walked down the hill.

Never once in that brief day
did the shadows leave the trees.
By four in the afternoon
it was dark again.

Dance, you said, when I found you
standing at the sink, by which
I think you meant the wild
dumb stirrings of the body
are the cure. We held on
and swayed like teenagers,
taking fresh trouble for granted.


Summer is not lost to us, not yet,
though a certain coolness clings all day
to the lilies and the soil,

green hoses scrawled across the yards, trees
that remember August’s hard shuddering rain,
and out there, behind the reticent blue sky,

stars in a pale wash of light that bathes
even the undersides of leaves—stars,
a planet or two, the plump moon with its silly

predictable grin. Stony, fire-braided bodies
spinning along unseen, escorting us, that we,
in our bewilderment and fear, not travel alone.