Word List – Ahkmatova

I am generally obsessed with Anna Ahkmatova, probably because nothing in my life has anything to do with firing squads, Gulags, or having my statue stare across the Neva river at the gates of Kresty prison in St. Petersburg. (Leningrad)

After the secret police executed her first husband, they arrested her second husband and son. She spent 17 months standing in front of the prison with other wives and mothers, waiting for word of either their execution or exile to the Gulags. What holds me there with her is when she wrote how someone in the line asked her “could one ever describe this?” and after a moment, she replied “Yes. Yes I can.” What astounding confidence, how sure her belief in her skill and her will to give voice to the unbearable. To which she wrote: “Mountains bow down before this grief…”

When I think of how necessary it is to write fearlessly, to stretch the fabric of my words until they tear, I think of Anna standing before the gates. “Yes. Yes I can.”

Here is a word list from her poem “Requiem” If anyone randomly sees this page, feel free to write something and put your link in the comments.



When Lorca held a dagger
to his poem's throat
and demanded angels
forsake their voice of haiku,
but must crow in telegrams
inscribed on carnations,

Those red roosters of heaven,
(you said only that their host was feathered –
did you not notice their craws, their combs,
Gabriel's stud-strut across the yard?)
crazed by their silencing,
voices locked forever on wax cylinders,

Like heavenly accordions
playing dust polkas,
like a cricket whose chirp
cannot be found in the wimples
of a nun, the mad search
and beating of sacred cloth with a cane –

Then oh Lorca, oh Basho,
outside, the smell of fruit trees
in Valparaiso:

The lemons, so sour –
Transubstantiation drinks
Scent of angel skin

Fussy Little Forms: “Slough”

A “Slough” is the poetic form of a muddy bog, or shedding dead skin, or stuff I say to my wife as we drive.

Small dark globose astringent fruit of the blackthorn
ZoroasterCan you say “Wickaboxet?”
Come visit the museum of spores
The tater-tot world of the arcane
Fetch the fiddle Mary!Vacant lots: vacant are our lots in lifeMadman mud man, grave digger with a trowel for your mouth
Drear, drear, the sheep do shiver in the rain
Willows weep as weep they must, their draped shrouds prepare for us the wayYarmouth
Mayfly may be the maybe-fly could would should fly, the can-fly, can’t-fly, will-fly, won’t-flyShooby-Do
For Slough Sunday

The Sunday Muse

The News

April, early morning, birds have the microphone –
the squawk box in full dither – I scan up and down 
the sundial sniffing for signal with my beak
as if some frequency of light and shadow on my face
will clear the static.

The Byrds – classic rock, no,
"First known use of 'chugalug' was in 1945" – talk radio, no,
A woodpecker's twhack knocks on my bones:
"Hey old man, I'm tawking to you!"
and each tap bends another creaking nail,

Filches in the bark of my tired muscles for grubs or honey
or whatever leaves me flightless and famished 
in my walk down this dirt road every morning,
octets of birds and peepers a Met Opera 
broadcasting Tosca on public radio,

Those strings of my father's Puccini and Verdi 
lifted from vinyl and woven into nests that spiral outward, 
my mother belting "Praise the lord, and pass the ammunition!"
waking us with her birdshot voice – 
are those notes or holes in the sky?

Sun comes on the loudspeaker, it must be recess.
I hear you say "hey" and finally I'm here, present,
your hand, feathered in mine.
A quiet settles in.
I get the news.

The Sunday Muse

Diner, June 13, 2019

The caller said your father had died.
We were sitting in a booth
at the Greek diner.

Who better than Greeks
to know Tragedy?
Our waiter is from Guatemala.

Maybe who better than 
to know tragedy.

The restaurant is empty.
Who better than empty
to know loss.

His wife will burn him.
She can send the box 
if anyone wants it.

If anyone wanted forgiveness,
I would tell you
a burnt heart 

closes like a door 
as the last customer
leaves for the night.

We pay the check 
and leave a tip
in the jar.

After we are gone
the waiter will spread our coins
like ashes.

First published Sept 2020 in the I-70 Review

The Sunday Muse

Rags and Feathers

It is snowing dead angels, 
a blizzard of choir robes 
and feathers 

Bombs and tanks 
and guns do that, as Suzanne 
told you long ago 

Her voice an echo 
from the harbor, 
now you finally understand her 

There never was 
such a thing 
as a Salvation Army 

A song blown out of the sky 
by .45's 
with a clip of sorrows

For Shay’s Word Garden

(Song for Randy)

My breath was hissing sand in a dry arroyo,
Joni Mitchell sat at our campfire, toasting butterscotch s’mores
as I was dying, the sulfur taste and smell of dried apricots
tying my throat closed with laces of fruit leather

Anaphylaxis in the New Mexico desert the night
cold, the stars cold, the cold blue lips 
of the Milky Way trying to shout no, no Joni, I'm
not going to be a free man in Paris unfettered and alive,

Not a free man even back in Taos or Denver or in the car 
10 miles down the trail since I'm not going to be alive
in a few minutes please conjugate "hejira" in the Arabic 
hijrah "departure," from hajara "to depart" because 

I'm departing all right, the wolf of your song circling the fire 
with silver smoke in its teeth, Kevin trying to make me sing 
"Both Sides Now" which was a sick thing to do if you think about it
but he must have decided better I die laughing 

except singing along with Joni Mitchell saved my life,
can it save yours? Try it. Let the words form up in your constricting heart:
"No regrets Coyote. Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
and the lips you can get." Do it. Save yourself if you can.

For Shay’s Word Garden

A Donald Barthelme Reader

Where An Online Hot Tub Buying Guide from Popular Mechanics
Is Dazzled by Hollywood's Bright Lights

Cup holders, multicolor LED lights, and removable headrests – budget aside, 
when in the market for a hot tub consider the features most important
for actors to play submarine and avoid their unpaid agents.
The first thing to nail down is how many people 
you’ll generally need to accommodate, including
her bodyguard and Natasha in her gown and streamers.

The majority of options out there are for four to five people 
or six to seven people, so yes, bring the man from accounting
with a face saddened like a porcupine.

But there are a few large models 
that can accommodate eight or more adults:
a couple of cops, the fire chief, the mayor. Maybe you are Gatsby!

As well as extra small hot tubs ideal for two. 
Square inflatable hot tubs
for blackbird-boned lovers who want a quick coo.

Next up is the number of jets. At least 100 jets.
Or should have at least 170 jets. A lot of jets.
Jets are as necessary as a good hero role.

Always check the number of jets 
to ensure you'll get the experience you want –
the shocking welter of water, so peculiar and wonderful.

Check water capacity (measured in gallons) and overall dimensions.
Remember, size is important! 
Please do not gape at the pool boy.

For Shay’s Word Garden

This Little Piggy

let's play footsie with death again one little piggy two little piggy
hickory-dickory TikTok rockets doomsday clocks ten seconds to midnight
ten-nine-eight-seven-six little piggy how many nukes can a nuke-chuck chuck 
little piggy little piggy blow your house down I smell roast pork little piggy

The Sunday Muse