Eye Exam

                                                                            after Donald Justice

            I ask if you are comfortable, but the white Phoropter

                    is falling toward you soberly.

            Two holes burrow against your eyes. There is a

                    conspiracy of dim lights in my favor.


            And straight ahead my charts illumine the order

                    of unclear letters, of lines that diminish elsewhere.

            I know the calibrations to set here.  I

                    am clicking back lenses meant to improve your vision.


            This is the election, if not the solution,

                    number one or number two. My hand

            dozes off in the vagueness of your astigmatic choice--

                     large, fuzzy Democrats or Republicans sharp and shrunken.


            You vote. The charts disappear for now.

                    The Phoropter rises smoothly out of sight.

            The light in the hall, the prescription in your hand.

                    You are finished. You remember my breathing.


                                                                                                    from Beyond Modesto


At The Pool

                          after Donald Justice


            Six or seven bodies surface here, moving to and fro.


            And on the fiberglass board over deep water

            That one all morning has practiced flopping his hairless torso

            To the sound of fast limbs repeatedly slapping.


            A handful of the devoted, dressed down to narrow trunks,

            Crouch on the edge near choppy water--nothing to do

            But watch us break down, gasping and soaked, in webs of light.


            The lifeguard tower is empty; on its side

            A huge clock is ready for tomorrow's race. But I

            Am impressed today by plastic goggles, O strange and bracing!


            Diving under, we pass a border made transparent

            By aquamarine walls strung with black lines

            Like nets dropped down after a short ocean cruise.


            Recreational Swim: Twelve:Thirty to Two.


                                           from Beyond Modesto, published first in West Wind Review (Spring 1984)



           Slick This Evening


        on our bodies,

                the water oils our limbs

                        as we thrash out forty laps in the pool.


                I am watching

                        through plastic goggles

                                the buffet of your legs against the surface,

        the squirm of your hips--

                your hands arcing for a place

                        to slap,

                                cup, and move on.


                                        Or if you're wriggling back,

        passing by me in the other lane,

                I am half-looking

                        at your torso

                                lounging its weight,

        staggering is propulsion and momentum

                to the shallow end.


                                But when I lean against tan tiles,

        standing up, refreshing my lungs a moment

                before another round,

                        and your right hand touches my left

                                along the scupper,

        arriving and departing with a roll,

                I think I could inhale without drowning,


                                expelling breath in underwater words.

                                                                        for Steve Hendrix, poet, scholar, stock broker, and triathlete


John Unterecker: A Conversation, Even Now



        "Amplify," he said, "the imagery embedded

        even in abstract language; it's there

        under the covers--between fresh sheets--

        and etymology can often hear, smell, see,

        taste, or touch it."


        "Look into a teaspoon, for example,"

        he added, "Your mirror image is upside down."


        "A poem might start off like that," he reflected

        further, "then run out of steam. Every line should build

        on the preceding, or on the proceedings."


        He laughed.


        "Until the kettle starts to boil?" I asked.


        "No, until it starts to sing!"  



Boy Undressing in the Second Grade Cloakroom

          after Theodore Roethke 

        Jackets drooping over brass knobs and hooks,

        Cardigans snagging along the splintered wall,

        The yellow-waxed floor accusing our scuff marks,

        In that cramped corner, loud light from the transoms,

        A few boys running in from the hallway,

        But one, half asleep, unbuttoning his shirt, unclasping his suspenders,

        And the girls next to him pointing and giggling.



At The Terminal

                                                                after Eugenio Montale

        The baggage conveyors squealed

                to the clatter of wheels rotating,

        the plates flattened

                into their geometry of voracious toothmarks.


        A glare,

                a bus,

                        stopped outside the glass door

        as a shout of a lifting skycap broke through,

                frazzled by his trolley-hauls--then, a jet took off.


        Harried and breathless,

                I was beclouded

                        by you. Your silhouette

                was my open grasp, your arms

        joined with my waist, and the red


        essence of life rose up

                inside fitting cells, in human

        noise, in spontaneous grins,

                   in extended lobs from hands--

        on me, on you, and onto the baggage.          

           from Beyond Modesto, published first in West Wind Review (Spring, 1984)



Continental Drift

                                                                            for William Stafford


        The straight man on the panel

        lets the other guys' mouths

        flap on for a while.


        These seaside townsfolk--

        Seattle, New York, L.A., D.C.--

        may call the shots in spicy

        language, the sun rising or

        setting on their defenses.


        So many waves collide on their shores.



        It's '69. And many have gone

        surfing in turbulent waters

        near our college campus. The bigger

        the swell, the greater the danger

        and exhilaration. 



        The straight man on the panel

        lets his eyes drift; there's a half

        smile, a half blush. Now

        he clears his throat.



        Then, for a while, I'm no longer

        fleeing the draft, reminded

        that the world, though still at war

        is also expansive--

        warm, indoor places, a mythic

        Kansas of second cousins, great aunts

        and uncles who always ask you "to set

        yourself down" in their upholstered chairs,


        whose consonants drift on

        flattened vowels, slow

        plains-crossing rivers

        and well meaning.



        That language still holds me

        up, flips me over

        even on this edge.                          

             from Beyond Modesto, published first in Oregon English Journal (Fall, 1995)


The World Wide Web Like That First Frisbee Twirling At You


            A round slice of white plastic, the lid of some alien object--

            horizontal with folded-down edges, positioned on fingertips


            (a right arm lolling, then swinging loose with the flick

            of the wrist)--airborne for a spell and twirling at you,


            then cleverly curling and bouncing on the dry grass, where

            you lean, thinking, "How on earth do I catch on to this?"         from Beyond Modesto


What God's Finger Actually Touched

                                                                               "The Cone Nebula resides in a turbulent region

                                                                  in the constellation Monoceros. It's located

                                                                  2,500 light-years from Earth."  Caption with Hubble News Photo, 2002


            Not only must the Roman Catholic hierarchy become "more catholic"

            (Meaning more expansive, more universal), now they must also

            Make extensive revisions to the very-recently-restored ceiling

            Of the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo himself would insist on.


            Let's face it: half a millennium of recanting infallible errors

            Is small potatoes compared to five times as many light-years.

            True, that means God's own right-hand index finger

            Might have to stretch a long, long way: instead of Muscle-


            Bound Adam, semi-somnolent, reclining on his elbow--but

            Still responsive to live performance--He now touched

            The Cone Nebula in Monoceros, that, like a sea anemone,

            Was already opening red and white colors atop one


            Column of gray gases, and then appears, eons later, to close.

            Future artists may make further constructions concerning

            The evolution of Tadpole Galaxies in tandem--millions

            More light-years afar. Movements in Art often seem crazy


            At the moment. Fortunately for us all--stars, creeds, anemones,

            Tadpoles, humans--opening and closing has become a constant

            Habit of deities, hierarchies--boldly embodied in space and time.

                                                                                                from Beyond Modesto


L. A. 2001


            I wanted to frame a grief again,

            And already the decaying reek from French publishers' mucilage

            Has wafted [E]Quality out of doors, banished with cracked

            Leather binding forever by dry desert winds--searing Santa Anas--

            Once thought hermetically-sealed piece of Montparnasse,

            Definitely Rive Gauche: La Cite' des Livres, now closing February, 2001.


            Gone the volumes of Proust, Balzac, Camus that, likely, rarely

            Sold, but insulated the walls from long-gone Spanish,

            Longer-gone pre-Revolutionary Russian neighborhood bookstores,

            Created ample space for stimulating Langue et Parole, happy European

            Modular moments with a civilizing mission among a nation of limitless

            Storefront sets that movie Los Angeles at home and at work.


            Now with the Santa Ana still howling I think of Ginsberg, ne' Walt

            Whitman, and his barbaric yawp: The Museum of Contemporary Art

            Has hired billboards and written up descriptions of local objects trouve's.

            Everything pieces that movie at much more than twenty-four frames

            Per minute, even the unlabeled, homeless Mother Courage pushing

            Her Vons or Lucky shopping cart and her few remaining possessions

            Therein contained.                                    from Beyond Modesto




Lot's Wife

                   after Denise Levertov


                She watched on too long.                


                Now she turns around

                to face her past reluctance

                going up in smoke. Rigid, she gasps, knowing

                that curved buttocks--formerly so smooth,

                so supple, so determined in their motions

                toward her daughters--are burning--literally burning--

                unlike the lambent heat of their unquenchable lust.


                Her daughters don't give it a second thought.

                No looking back--even at the salty statue

                that is still their mother--

                no looking back at all.

                Eyes closed, they enjoy

                whatever comes their way. There are people

                like that wherever you go.


                But Lot's wife, ever transfixed,

                had imagined copulation. She knew ripeness

                is tasted or is lost and lamented.

                Regret is a sea of salt filling a desert valley,

                buoyant but Dead.


                She just missed her last chance.               Beyond Modesto 


Entitled or Not


                Me standing

                        inside your front door,

                                you holding

                                        a bowl of half-eaten oatmeal

                                between me and shapely slabs

                        of inflated sculpture--everyday parts

                                of any body

                                        become hyperbolic,

                persuasive devices

                        suggesting potential,


                                        determined effort,

                                                but soft, massageable to the touch

                                        like our conversation, ranging

                                through past and future,

                        touching transformation,

                                transition, flexibility, renewed effort:


                Sisyphus bracing his wrought-iron weight

                        ready to roll the rock

                                back up the mountain

                                        always knowing

                                it rolls down again to the bottom.



                Having little to add here

                        but far-traveled words--

                                all my years of study--

                                        I am pressed

                                to leave and not to leave;

                                        I grip

                                and am gripped

                        tight in a hug,

                embracing a moment of that creation

                        you have worked

                                continuously to impress

                and to keep impressive.



                In that other world,

                        where all arts are respected,

                                you'd have a right to demand

                                        life support--the memory 

                                of past accomplishment enough

                        to be entitled a "state treasure,"

                and, since you put down the bowl of oatmeal,

                        I can't release my hold

                                in that brief contact

                                        where we are both still standing.

                                                       for Shannon Geariety, Mr. Oregon 1990




Bianchi's Out of the Studio



        Left alone on the beach, we

        might never discover

        those lively dancers

        out of a dark room:

        aftershock of sunlit pools

        and contortions

        of lithe, water-slick, muscular

        bodies in entangled gestures,

        both liquid and firm,

        hyperinflated, youthful

        maleness, continually

        stretched and swollen

        into kinetic ripeness,

        then arrested and extracted

        from a moment, and plastered

        on a page.



        Having been programmed

        for relaxation and assertion,

        then suddenly directed

        Out of the Studio, maybe

        we'd rather get back in,

        take off our tinted glasses,

        and stop squinting,

        adjust again to the dimness,

        inhale the emulsions,

        rub the slippery enlargements,

        pin them up to dry.



        Then we might remain

        wide-eyed watchers,

        voluntary gawkers,

        having the leisure  

        of shiny deception,

        pulling ourselves inward

        toward a complete, perfectly-

        bronzed image--



        better than anything you'd find

        outside among the tired,

        sweating bodies on our hot,

        frenetic beach.                             Beyond Modesto