I’ve been left alone on my third wedding anniversary

until you return to my stoop with your payload,

a radiant caterpillar gripped in your mouth, clinging

all along your belly. At first I thought it might be

attacking you. You dove loud and low, almost hopped,

as if trying to shake it off. Those million legs

kept flipping you. Yesterday I watched you push against

each other on the steps until tumbling into a spider’s web.

While you thrashed and freed yourself, the caterpillar fell

limp, maybe knowing to save energy for some fragile version


of the afterlife. And today when you hum in from the river,

I can see right away the caterpillar is finally dead, although

you are still wrapped in full-body embrace. I forgive this

deception: this morning I allowed a fly to crawl the length

of my leg because I wanted to be touched, and a perfect

stillness sometimes feels like something’s coming.


The two of you make a remarkable creature, your glossy body

and violently blue belt, that corpse a flush berth beneath.

In fusion, you have altered each other, and my heart,

a nucleus, splits and splits. Its next punch could be its burst.


With four of your legs, you draw the weight you carry close,

a final cradle, and—bomber that you are—you spread

two dangerous wings, lift off for the river. Wasp,

we are not simple vessels. We are blistering atoms seeking

to be cracked, our bodies expanding into a cloud.

The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem WHERE YOU FELL

The snow held your shape like bedding,

the shadow of your hand over your head ruined

by the feet of the men who found and carried you.


I stayed in your house for a day, following your habits,

coatless to the shed and back. I finished the wood

you’d begun to split, feeling the heft of the axe


as you felt it. We are always becoming what

we lose. They will say they saw a fox whisper

into your ear. They will never come back.


I pawed the snow to form your hand again,

your sleeping profile. Then I pressed my face

to the mold of your cheek and I became you.


It’s not

the kiss of coffee

or the glancing touch of feathered down,

or first sunlight shared

like sections of the newspaper.


Yes, I’m through with that.


It’s not

about the sweet kingdom of cantaloupe,

or the curvature

along your foot or shoulder bone.

Our planet is flat,


And we shall never go to the moon.


It is

exactly what it is not.

The skillet sings a backward tune,

the toast unburns

and the yolk becomes it singular self

once again.


Please, pass the salt


for the wound.

Serve me up

all the reasons why we should,

and I will make an entire meal

out of veto and


Let’s not.


The girls hold each other up.

Cameras blacken and turn the fire

engines quiet.

                            An ambulance stalls.

When I see the yellow tape cross the stairs

into the station, I become part of the tallest building,

steady the sun on the sidewalk. Moths rummage

the stomach. The eye strains

sand from water. Sounds

                                                 come from boys

braced against a blue mailbox.

I almost do not believe. They are whispering

about me. They are saying something

about the devil. And not a word

about the boy who dared to climb a train.


The wide range converges.

The moon dilutes itself on the plate.


A blue shape, a coat of sorts, wears itself out.

They drift now, as if laced together,


into the long distance. The path to the bridge

now farther away and beyond recognition.


The monument of want cannot predict this mapping, and they,

running tonight, shelve the directions.


As though following up wood stairs, their ears move

back, swiftly, bathed in salt.

The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem THE VOICE BEFORE

Echoes uncurl down this canyon

     like patient honey rolling. Rocks repeat

everything I say. A tree falls

               as many times as I can hear it.


My body in shadows—misshapen

     echoes of light thrown

through cedars and ivory birch.

               You are the body in my throat,


pitched into this low vein of earth,

     cast over bald stones, pierced

on tentacles of aloe, and gummed

               in their heat-split stalks.


What was that voice before the voice released,

     the unheard body, the naked, shivering

idea of sound? What are you now, climbing toward

               my mouth out of the canyon mouth,


surrounding me with screams of torn

     clover and broken shale, a body broken whole

from my teeth? I would lay out

               the prairie of my tongue, my throat,


but you do not want return

     as I do. You have grown too thin

in the shape of air, in the sound of yourself,

               for bodies anymore.


               The first sound was an emptying.

The first return, departure.


The blue river is grey at morning

and evening. There is twilight

at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark

wondering if this quiet in me now

is a beginning or an end.

The Courtney Holley Literary Award BIG MOON OVER THE NEIGHBORHOOD

The herd is strong in me. It steers me when I think.

I feel it grunting in my stomach when I sleep.

I walk with my herd invisibly around me.

All my confusions are forms of loneliness.


But you keep your distance as if it were money

and smile on all roofs with superficial light.

Remote therefore happy, you swing

above the neighborhood’s dust, rumble, and gas.


Anyone looking up admires you.

And how we do look up, all together.

Our guts and throats silent as scared crickets,

we cease for a long moment our chewing.

The Amon Liner Poetry Award SEPTEMBER

A tropical storm grows in the Atlantic with your name.

We listen to warnings on the radio as we drive to the shore,

passing boarded-up houses and closed storefronts.

The tourists head west, crowding the highways out of town,

and we move through the empty streets faster than

we have all summer, arriving at an abandoned beach.

I watch you smoke a cigarette without using your hands,

your lips holding it in the corner of your mouth, the same way

your father smokes. You wait for what the storm brings in,

schools of baitfish and the bigger fish that eat them,

while I walk the tide line looking for unbroken shells.

When I stop and look back, I’ve wandered so far away from you

that I wonder if you have noticed. I am so far away

that it looks like the waves will eat you before I can get back,

but with each step you are still there, your hair tangled with sand.

The heron we feed returns, but the hermit who lived

in the army bunker back in the estuaries is dead, killed

by a group of drunks. We can see his boat from here,

tied to the dock, resting in the bay. I don’t know if anyone

will bring it in before the winds come. The same hounds

always ghost on my corner, but I can’t tell the difference

between instinct and anxiety. I find salvation in these mornings,

waking with you on threadbare sheets, returning to the water,

but we drift away from each other. I think it is a problem.


What do they say about the land of the dead?

About the ceremony of the body?

About women in long dresses?

What do they say about the innocence of the flesh?

What about the endeavor in nature

at ease with the dance and music?

Long ago, beyond graves, are worlds in state.

The cities still there in ruin. The neck of the ibex.

Walled gardens surrounded by desert.

Imagined lions guarding the gate.

All as it was before.

Worlds out of time still exist.

Worlds of achievement out of mind and remembering

just as the poem lasts.

In the concert of being present.

I have lost my lover and my youth.

I want to praise the meadow, the horse

rolling over in the river with me

as a girl underneath it. Surviving to see

the ferns in the woods, sunlight on blond hills.

And the aged apple trees

in a valley where there used to be a cabin.

Where someone lived. And where small inedible apples

grow. That the deer will eat.