Combo Lock

There was a story I was supposed to tell 
about you,

About the candor of your fingertips,
their dampness on my skin, like vapor.

Instead, I walk outside – pigeons coo
in chorus from a hymnal of trash,

Rats run touchdown plays
heading into the season finals,

The grass is panicked, white faced, chalky,
at the approach of winter,

Trees gasp for oxygen
as their leaves dry up and drop away.

What did you open when you tampered
with the locks, thumbing the dial, listening

With your ear on my chest
tumblers falling in place one by one?

Why did flocks of birds fly from me
heading south, leaving me without their voice?

Gusts whip cold off the river, I am wordless,
a windsock gag in my mouth.

You are thief, lover, explorer.
Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

For Shay’s Word Garden & The Sunday Muse

Notre Dame

Like you, I watched Notre Dame burn –
a thousand years of prayer in the rafters
feeding fires hotter than devotion, 
a millennia’s fervor of hands and fingers 
pressed together like a flame.

“Our Mother” indeed. Though not mine.
Nations did not watch, no helicopters overhead filmed
what burned in her, how her brilliance 
consumed and engulfed the prayers of my family,
all the wreckage once that light was out.

What part of the flame, what color, what heat
is insanity? The blue? The white?
What raging fuel in the mind – 
timbers and rafters of the past? Gargoyles 
like whispering gas jets?

They said when she was a girl on the ranch
she built a shrine in a corner of the chicken yard
and prayed to Jesus every day, on her knees in the dirt,
before her brother honked the horn 
of the school bus he drove at 14.

And we mourn. And for a moment together
we all pray for something holy to rise back
from the ashes. If not our souls, that the stones
holding up our walls
might be saved.

Originally here.

“The White Knife” – Emily Dickinson and the Apotheosis of Certainty

Poet and Philosopher Akira Dogesawa. “The Homestead” – Emily Dickinson House, Amherst MA

(Translated from the Japanese*)


Like you,
I have the gift
Of scent beyond the grave –

How your garden
Just here –

The stilled wingbeats
Of the fallen thousandth daughter
Of your hummingbird.



*Akira Dogesawa (aka “The White Knife”) b. 2013.

In Japan, Shiba Inus were traditionally bred to hunt small game such as birds and rabbits, and write Haiku.

N.B. Although rigorous honesty in poetry does not demand full disclosure, Akira was in fact born and raised in the United States. We are certain however that Japanese is still her first language, as her responses to even simple English commands are inconsistent, and she exhibits a strong preference for sushi.

Finding Billy Collins

You can take the A train to Harlem, said Duke Ellington,
although no one plays much jazz there

If you are looking for Bobby Fischer you take the E or F
to Washington Sq. Park where the chess hustlers
are still playing, even today, in the snow.

But I’m looking for the poet Billy Collins
so I need to take the 4 up Lexington Ave
into the Bronx, where I read that he teaches.

I get out at the station and cross 195th Street, 196th,
getting up in the count. Do they ever run out of streets?
There is a newsstand. I should get something for Billy.

I decide that he is probably a peanut M&M
kind of guy. Not plain, and not Snickers.
Definitely not Skittles.

I show the man behind the window a picture of Billy
from the back flap of Billy’s book, and ask
if he’s ever seen him.

He probably doesn’t understand English
but seems to know what I’m saying
and he shakes his head “no.”

Then I show him a picture of a statue of Virgil
on the back of my copy of the Aeneid.
He smiles, laughs, and shakes his head “no”.

I do the same with the picture of Billy
at the Lehman College security desk.
They are unhappy with this so I leave.

It would be a four hour train ride to Boston, then
30 mins on the Red Line from South Station
to Harvard Square, then 10 mins walking if I recall

to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
where Billy is a Fellow.
Maybe they know where Billy is.

Instead I step into a deli, where they have
rows of food on steam trays and you load up
with whatever you want and pay by the pound.

I buy some scrambled eggs and hash browns,
pay, and find a table where I can sit
and think about Billy.

Billy is always talking to salt and pepper shakers
and teasing out magic from them.
But the deli only has those little paper packets.

I play with the packets, toss them up
and they land on the table like yarrow stalks
that I might read like the I-Ching. But no.

A storm is building, I should make my way home.
I shake out the contents of a packet on the table
like snow maybe, or de-icer.

I touch some of it with the tip of my finger
and bring it to my tongue.
Yep. Salt.



For Feedback Poetry/Billy Collins Writing

Run Fun Run (After Billy Collins)

I read that some scientists, somewhere,
(it is always that way, isn’t it?
Anonymous proletarians of the laboratory
Without so much as names
Stitched on their lab coat pockets,
All living south of Somewhere, Nebraska,
Driving to work back and forth, back and forth
Like lab mice running in a maze?)

Anyway, these unsung scrabblers of science
Installed hamster treadmills in sheltered places
In city parks, suburban woods,
And far out in the country.
Creaky little wheels of anodized aluminum
The kind kids have for gerbils and mice
When they aren’t allowed a dog.

I wonder did they predict in advance,
That all night long legions of
Chipmunks, voles, rats, squirrels and ilk
Would come in from their trees and burrows
And run and run on the wheels?
All night, for hours on end.
They would even fight over whose turn it was
Like squabbling children.
Apparently they thought it was a lot of fun.

I can’t say how a Country Mouse
Knows to become a City Mouse,
That moment we decide it is obvious
To jump aboard a unknown contraption
And take it for a spin.
(Do I understand better when I see
A fireapple-red Maserati stuck in traffic?)
Is there any hope for us
If we must love our treadmills
So much, just love them so much?



For Feedback Poetry/Billy Collins Writing