for Ms. Oliver


What am I doing
when you look over and catch me
and a scrap of laughter finds its way out
as you ask me

This isn’t exactly rhetorical.
And I know I usually answer
“Just thinking.”

But what happens is
we fall for someone,
and even if we don’t admit it,
we notice

when they read a book
and the morning sun filtering in through the blinds
gathers in their hair
like light illuminating a marble sculpture
as their eyes drift away from the pages;

and they have their own little sounds of contentment
that exit and dance in the air
as they spread butter or twirl spaghetti;

or there’s that thing they do with their face;

or whether they talk or remain quiet in the woods-
whether they know of wisdom or of reverence;

the way they say exactly;

and their endless ocean of silence
made up of every word they never say,
and the why;

and islands, as well-
those secret islands we might bring each other to,
and the maps only each the other holds,
will ever hold…


the bird’s feet run, stop, run, stop, run across the sand.
The bird is looking for something,
and the spray and flowing crawl of the sea
whispers the tracks away.

The dog lopes along the snowbanks,
breaks into a run, cuts to the side, stops, turns,
runs back and tackles you.
You have forgotten that he loves you
and so now must be reminded.
It’s not your fault. The dog knows you’re only human.

The horse is stretched out
and running freely into the wind,
which does not slow her.
The fields are deep in green
and the thunderheads are dark of blue,
and she kicks at the striking lightning.
The horse loves the storm, you see,
as the storm loves her back.


that I have buried many dead things,
yet have unearthed my own heart every time.
Consider all the times we’ve each done so.

So in all honesty, when you catch me,
I’m not “just thinking”
(even though that may sound better).

As you’ve noticed, I like to pay attention.
Must pay it, in fact.

If I could offer a thing more precious,
then please,
tell me.

That’s all I’m doing, my dear.

I’m just paying attention.

The Demon Rose

And her demon rose out of the shadows behind,
unfolding in the night,
twice her height,
his breath a pale fog of nightmares.

The monster stopped in shock.

She stood.
The weight of the darkness she had labored under,
years ago born,
now watched. Waited.

The monster’s eyes widened
as the demon hunched down over her,
pillars of arms knuckled into the pavement,
pinpoints of flame deep in the eye,
jaws in blackness dripping onto the ground.

The monster’s mouth opened.

“Not possible.”

The demon’s voice rumbled in the ebon air.

Many things are impossible.
Yet they are.
Is it possible that you will exist tomorrow?

The monster froze.

Deem it death, little brute.
Deem it what you will-
for thy soul smells like a tasty snack to this one.

The monster smiled.

“I’m already going to Hell.”

There is no place for you where this one comes from.
There is no place for you

Not among the eons and spans of distance
into the ink of heaven
and the worlds between worlds
is there solace for one as you.

The monster looked at her.

She met his gaze.

The demon faded through,
re-forming in the space between her
and the monster.

This one’s eye sees farther than you can fathom.
This one’s sensing reaches past dimensions.
This one does not sleep.
This one does not dream.

The monster looked up into the demon’s face,
and opened his mouth to speak.

The demon’s fists left the pavement,
embracing the monster’s head.

This one hungers.

The demon leaned his face in close to the monster’s.

His voice was the thunder of death.
The monster wandered off into nights of half-sanity,
broken further than the word itself allows for.

The demon turned to face her as she dried her eyes.

“Thank you.”

This one has seen many strange things
in the world of men
since you called me into being.

This one cannot tell you all he has seen in others;
yet he believes humans
to be among the most fascinating.

You invent shades of darkness
we never thought to create.

“I suppose… we’ll never be quite parted, will we?”

He smiled.


Her mouth twitched into a smirk.

But this one is learning not to feed on you.

The stars danced in life and death over the city.

She breathed in, and out.

He held out a nightblack rose
plucked from the vale of worlds beyond.

I am here when you need me.


My dear,
a dog, you say?

and that’s how you might come off,
if you want to.
I do the same, you know.

Nothing wrong with that.
They teach us how to be better humans.

All life is an unfolding, though-
from the penitent,
the servient,
the agreeable,
to the undormant,
the lost,
the restless prowl;
and perhaps,
back again
in that long hunt for the pack,
for a kill of your own.
And even then, back again.

I got quite good
at holding in my howl too, you know.
They want nothing more
than a helpful bark.


Who can see what lies hidden
in the secret fires of your heart?
Who can see your eyeglow
at the scent of blood?
Who can hear the sinking sun-chorus
fade into nightsong,
or feel the rain cling to their coat
as they slip through the deep-wood?

The very same lies in wait,
inside the faithful one
curled at your feet.
This you’ve seen.

They do teach us, don’t they?

It’s the same for anyone like us, I suppose;
it’s all in the way your soul walks the earth,
in the tracks you leave,
in the scent you follow-

je suis cage,
je suis libre,
je suis chien du maison,
je suis loup du bois

Feast of Light

(the song my mother taught me)

Yea, though I walk
through the valley
of the shadow of Death,

and you lament your simple self,
and shed tears in your unadornment-


for I too have cursed my own shadow.

So let us instead consider
things that carve and pierce,
let us feel the ground
upon which we stand,
for you only know the walking dead
by their tranquility,
and the truly content
by their graves.

Speak to me your nightprayers.
And watch.

We will learn of knots
and grindstones,
of prows and lathes,
of ecstasy​, of aurescence,
of momentum.

Let me then become
the bride of the earth,
and the groom of ships
that plow the rising waves;
let me be as one
who stalks and slays fear,
who preys upon the darkness,
who bathes in the falconfall
coup de grace of our prisons,
who devours
the terror in midnight
that chews and rends and swallows
your soul.

Let me sit then at the table
with your demons-
see how I’ve prepared a place
for them.

pay attention,

for the night is flayed open,
and the maw widens in hunger.

Can you learn to tack into the wind?
Can you sail into the storm’s embrace?
Can you carve the roil,
and bring your sails unfurled,
riding this deathsong
to strike through thunder’s inertia?

This is the only way I know
to cut off the black hand
that holds your heart,
for I can see your song;
it carries out
past the edge of lightning
sunset into glory.

My dear,
your heart is a spear,
and a compass-needle;
your soul is a sailor,
young and bold,
come to spit in the Devil’s eye;
you are Incarnate,
you are Destiny.

From here, the stars.
From here, the stars.

artist credit requested

It’s like

listening to cicadas at night,

a child
reading by flashlight under the covers,

a dog,
resting its head on your lap,

the first touch
after time, distance, pain,

the moment between lightning’s flash
and thunder’s crack,

the spaces in between,

the difference between the sound
of a spring rain seeping
and the scent
of a yearning earth,

the hopeless and hated assignment
handed back with an A,

the sound of a wine cork
leaving the bottleneck,

the smell of coffee,
the creak of hardwood,

your feet in a summer creek,

the body
pressed close
on the dance floor,

the tuning of a guitar
before the opening chord,

chalk on the sidewalk;

and now that i think about it,
loving you is very, very much like
a barn, with a hayloft
and a rope-swing.


Is that your wish, then?
To break bread, as they say,
in the clearing
at the end of the path?

You wanted the words of Christ
in red,
and they were written in blood
across these lands.

So if two or three are gathered
in your name,
who is there
in their midst?

No matter.
Sins of the father
need not pass on,

and grace is still sufficient.

As I’ve seen two or three
broken by a word
or by deceit or by things unsaid,
I’d yet give some years of my life
to have them all here;
aye, to have you all here…

You’d be surprised how much you forget,
how it all falls away like rain
off a barn roof,

if you’d stop to find yourselves
again, close as you can,
in your mother’s kitchen,
in the field with your dog,

or sharing a basket
in sunfall
under the cottonwood.

So then,
will ya not wait for me,
and I for you?


“I’m gonna get my mom flowers for her birthday.”

The little one I’m watching for the evening
is telling me her secrets
as we drive home in the summer heat.

“From where?”
I’m curious.

“From my garden.
That’s where the flowers grow!”

“They do?”

“Yes! And love.
I’m going to give her love.”
She turns her palms up, imploring.
“That’s where the flowers grow.”

“I had no idea.”

She brushes the bundle of peonies
against my ear;
the scent of a mild sweetness
politely invades my nostrils.

“Where is my grandpa?”

Her grandmother
continues gazing out the window.
She was born on the other side of the world.
“He go to see God.”
As if it were a road trip.

The little one
looks out her own window.

(A day before he passed,
my own grandfather opened his eyes,
searching for a window.
The blinds were shut.
“I don’t want to go.”

“Why not?”

I know I’ll never see her again.”

She had passed
a few years before.)

We tell our children
there are no such things as monsters.

The little one clears her throat.

Raucous stormclouds gather in rising fists
towards heaven.
The heat outside is hell.

“The storms are spirits!”

I wasn’t aware of this.

She leans in to tell me her secret.
“The storms… are all made of spirits.”

She points
at the approaching immensity
of water and air
bringing gifts of life and of fire.

She whispers,
That’s where the thunder grows.”


Shackled to rock
above high cliffs of white,
where clouds gather in the shapeless dark,
thunder growls
and spits lightning
on her head,
rains that fall down her face,
mixing with tears
that flow around her smile.

Each drop is a moment.

When the air is still,
she lights what incense is left
in this nameless place
and prays,
making music without instrument,
holding the lock that binds her,
watching the flame dancing across feathers
torn from her wings.

There is a key.
I have seen it.

if you have ever wondered
how a star can die
or a diamond can form,
why beauty has no age…
if you have ever seen
a bird in its cage,
you will know why she sings
the way she does.


Hush, now;

the sun is spilling over these unending pastures,

and she is standing at the end of the field,


the coupling and the uncoupling,

the warp and the weave,

the sky and the soil;

and, holding a handful of dirt,

sees light race to the edge of the prairie

where it drops off into space.

There is a voice, here,

a scrap of sermon remembered:

“…let us reap this rampant harvest from the firmament.”

She stands, letting the stalks brush her hand-

some are bent,

some are broken,

some are painted with a swath of morning,

and some are spattered with a thin trail of blood,

as tails of air uncoil in the wheatgrass

over miles of root woven to the earth,

pulling at the groundwater;

something moves, a pulse

insistent as the creak of a wooden pew,

in this place

unleavened as the bread

cooled upon the dinner table.

Hush, now;

she stands at the end of the field

as the wind stirs behind her,

and, for a moment,

picks fragments of ash

from a naked foundation.