for Lawson Inada


        You'll have to visit your Hometown dentist

                after a month in Europe.

                        At a Montparnasse cafe

        passers-by wouldn't avert their glances

                when you peeled the paper wrapping

                        off a long, white lump of sugar,

        launched that solidified sweetness

                        slowly with thumb and index finger

                from the edge of your cup

        and watched it siphon up the liquid.

        You were tempted, in that moment,

                to taste of self-destruction

                        before foreign words

        sank into your laughter.


        (That week, almost undetected, French secret-service

        frogmen tapped the Rainbow Warrior.)


        So we have to face it. Over here

                I've been assiduously flossing

                        and listening to pizzicato

        ever since the November

                lecture on the life of F. J. Haydn.

        I guess by now we've both

                had enough culture.


        And who can afford a dentist

        when tourists surface in their millions,

                        dissolving dreams of Paris

                and sweet sounds?

                                          from Searchings for Modesto (1993), first appearing in West Wind Review (Spring, 1986).



On Photos From My High School's 20th Reunion



Who are all these tired faces?


They smile out of defiance,

Mostly coupled and leaning

For the camera, as if life


Were nothing but a practical 

Joke you might play on

The kid next to you on the bus,


Or later the same day, at school,

United as a class,

Against a weak-willed


Substitute teacher.



For forty-two years now


I've looked out of these same

Two eyes, never really seeing

The ageing of my face--


Except in a kind of opposing view

Encountered in my bathroom mirror.

Without the shock of seeing


These faces, my inner world

Of photographic impressions

Might have been eternal.



But tonight is New Year's Eve.


Tomorrow marks the beginning

Of the end of the Eighties,

Which I only note here with glee.


Nothing really changes! Someone

Is bound to play a practical

Joke at a party--maybe one


Of our leaders, the ones who

Organize reunions, pre-emptive strikes

And photographic sessions. They were voted


Most likely to succeed and must prove it

For the camera, again, each morning.

                                                from Beyond Modesto, first appearing in Calapooya Collage/13 (Summer, 1989).




                                                                                                                                for Bengt at four years old

                                Peer pressure can't do it.


                                It takes a large, blue pool,

                                                and the right teacher


                                for you to bob your head

                                enough times to forget about the water in your eyes.


                                On Ted's suggestion, "How 'bout a beaver dive?"

                                                   your hands join above your head,

                                then fall to your sides as you jump in.


                                "Quite good, but remember to hold your breath."


                                And the conversation swims out toward big-arm strokes

                                                and castings into deep water.                                 from Beyond Modesto



If I Were in Besanc,on


right now I'd rent a car

and drive as far as Klamath Falls, Oregon,

and that would be Geneva; up to Bend,

and that would be Heidelberg.  With a little more gas

at rather high prices, I'd show you the Basel Zoo for

the first time

not far outside Chemult.


Following the Belfort Gap past Crater Lake

might stretch our minds a little:

forty four and a half years into our century,

the American Seventh Army landed near Marseilles, 

followed the Rhone, the Soane, the Doubs,

climbed toward Strasbourg in the Rhine Valley; then,

the war ending, settled near Stuttgart.

Today, after another forty four or five years

(and the Twentieth Century still ticking away),

U.S. troops are finally coming home.


That sort of thing can happen

at any divide

of waters heading toward different seas.


Out in the far Far West, it's all open spaces,

a monotonous wilderness, but clear breathing;

monolingual highway signs; fundamental asphalt;

perilous foundations for many endless trails.


But free wheeling as I am

and still with an eye for travel expenses

and fatigue,

I'll simply mention biodiversity,

and drop you back in Ashland.

                                                        from Beyond Modesto, first appearing in Calapooya Collage 



Response to Patrick Coleman's "Bell Curve and the Body"

                                                                                                    for the "Unknown Poet"


                Ageing complicates ad absurdum. A few of those tangled fibers

              started rotting inside and had to be manhandled

               by a surgeon, then extracted, then nuked,

               with a phalanx of nurses to notice you were awake

               and to suggest: "Try moving your toes."


                The point became not what's inside, not volition, not free will,

                but when and if you could enumerate in a timely fashion

                the panoply of pains that body had become,

                that ageing corpus watching the statistics of calendars now,

                not counting on umbrellas for minor changes in the weather.


                If we are talking bell curves, it is at the farthest end

                of that downward slope after a brief era of frequent climaxes.

                If we are talking probabilities, it is the asymptote of Death

                and actuarial reports to insurance companies.


                The Greeks said, "the body is a tomb," a case of consonance:

                to soma sima. Eventually they claimed miracles

                with Jesus: "Pick up your bed and walk--preferably on water!"


                Let the nurses keep the charts, doctors discuss

                your statistical chances. That near-hand glass of water,

                full of ice cubes, slakes your dry mouth after anesthesia

                and long afternoon naps, while you gracefully wear

                your former body in a dream and use it

                as that passionate lover you might become again

                in another life.                                                                          from  Beyond Modesto




Poetry Slam, Uppsala, Sweden, 2 April 2003

                                                                                        for Lars Nordstrom



                Nothing better than to hear a poem aloud

                you have already read on a page in early draft

                in your own native language, but spoken now

                in the writer's, which you have studied,

                translated, and restudied, but never mastered.



                Your connections with this writer are a bridge

                of words, ideas and phrases. They surface again and again;

                you remake the effort to catch them off his tongue.



                That's the way it ought to be with any

                poem. You never know its language well enough;

                you will never know it better than you do right now.



                Relax!  Most people, on the other hand,

                when they hear a ring, think they always have to

                pick up loose ends of cell-phone conversations.

                                                                                                                              from Beyond Modesto