Winnowing the True
Imitation pearls drawn across the teeth
feel smooth. Dyed fur resists when blown.
When out for butter, shun bright yellow.
A knot that moves on its branch is not a knot.
A word thrown over the shoulder is not a discussion.
A brick is not a personal flotation device.
A father will cover his sleeping son
but leave his dreams alone.
A jeweler will cut the extra face and risk the gem.
A Master will tell you he plays, a little.
Spell for a Poet Getting On
May your hipbones never die.
May you hear the ruckus of mountains
in the Kansas of your age, and when
you go deaf, may you go wildly deaf.
May the neighbors arrive, bringing entire aviaries.
When the last of your hair is gone, may families
lovelier than you can guess colonize
the balds of your head.
May your thumbstick grow leaves.
May the nipples of your breasts drip wine.
And when, leaning into the grass, you watch
the inky sun vanish into the flat page
of the sea, may you join your lawn chair,
each of you contentthat nothing is wise forever.
For the daffodil’s horn that blazes spring For the hooting
taxis that don't give a damn whose door they crunch For
the Levis of New York City, out at the knees
For the shadows between hardwoods that hint of zebras
For the zebra's yellow teeth that will bite if she can For
the way her stripey neck can twist itself towards your arm
For other beauties: the peacock and his unpleasant voice
For vivid violet lightning that won't stay put For the sound
thunder makes after love, the bang that makes you jump
no matter how you steel, no matter how you want the flash
to be enough
For the jittery innocence under the skins of rivers the clear
way they skip over rocks as though the rocks' indigestibility
were of no importance For the stones women swallow
when they marry For the operation that removes the stones
so they can be kept as specimens or set in rings
For the way the birds do not realize they are flying For
the baby who hums himself awake For the cat in hero
range disregard For the moment just before we understand
what the promised little talk is all about
Django in Hang-Zhou
He is waiguo ren: foreigner. When he walks to
the market his dark head sees over theirs as if
he were a child, held on his father’s shoulders.
They point at him and stare.
He is twenty-one,
and empty as a thousand-years old wine jug.
He is also in love, not with what is foreign
in Hang-Zhou, but with what is most himself--
the cold and ancient lake, the blue mountains,
and in spring with the puffs of dust that followed
the galloping carts of emperors. I think he was
among the watchers that lined the streets when
these trees were small.
I asked him once,
Why is it that Mandarin’s so easy for you?
Because I’m a musician, he said, which was
like the doll, that still has many dolls inside.
How I Learned
For years I made you purple presents.
Mauve blouses, lavender skirts,
fuschia scarves that flowed.
For each occasion, another shade
of bruise, sweet as the fumes of
Daddy's disappearing Buick, achy as
the strokes of tight-lipped Mommy,
brushing my hair. I thought you'd
wear them. I thought they'd become
you, being blonde. But you put them,
all my purple gifts, in one deep drawer.
And now, grown, you take them out.
At first it pains, how new they are.
Then you smile. Let's give these
away, you say. And the spring sun
back-lights your hair. You look
like some kind of angel, standing
there in your bedroom, the shine
of what to keep, and what to let go
falling through both our hands.
-all poems previously published at 3rd Muse Poetry