Ken Craft

721 posts

Ars Poetica Hunting: An Inexact Science


I’ve written before about that rite of passage for poets, Ars Poetica, by sharing this Archibald MacLeish entry by that same Latin name.

“The art of poetry,” it means, and lucky for us, there are as many definitions of this “art” as there are mosquitoes running blood banks.

Today we start with an exchange between a teacher of poetry and her students in Elizabeth’s Alexander’s “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe.”  Right out of the gate, Alexander lays it on the line: “Poetry… is idiosyncratic.” (Gee, do you think?)

Let’s listen in on her class:


Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
by Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I'”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?


First of all, I haven’t a clue who the opinionated Sterling Brown is. I DuckDuckGo’d him and found an actor. Could be the right one, as actors make their “I’s” dramatic for a living (giving their “you’s” a rest).

The way this poem “finds” poetry in mundane places is a well-worn trope by now. Some editors love poems about poetry. Others steer clear. I once read, in the writer’s guidelines of a poetry journal something to the effect of “please, no poems about poems.” Elizabeth would have been left at the gate at that journal.

Still, I endorse the sentiment designed to break beginners’ hearts: “Poetry (and now my voice is rising) / is not all love, love, love / and I’m sorry the dog died.”

As for the last line, it brings us back to the oft-mentioned tree falling in the wilderness. “Poetry… / is the human voice, / and are we not of interest to each other?”

Man, that finish is just asking for trouble, because, truth be told, the answer is more often than not “no.” You need “voice lessons” to be interesting to others, especially in a world of poetry-phobic readers.

It’s the gist of the creative battle. It’s the eye of the beholding reader / editor skimming a tsunami of submissions. The pool of possibly-interested eyes, in other words, is dazed with distraction known as the competition and already-established poets eating up an already-thin publishing bandwidth. And that’s not even getting into the distractions of the internet and social media where everyone’s creative spirit becomes passive. (“What? Hunt for poetry? Me?”)

For similar “ars poetica” action, consider Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Valentine for Ernest Mann,” the second and fourth stanzas in particular:


Valentine for Ernest Mann
by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.


See a trend here?

If you are inspired to write an ars poetica by looking in all the wrong places, you must also contend with the fact that the “wrong places” have been written up in the press and have now been overrun by tourists (read: a large posse of poets) as well.

So, yeah. The beauty of writing an ars poetica lies in going where no man or woman has gone before—even those obscure places which have been made famous by poets who preceded you.

Solutions? That’s your Rubik’s Cube assignment for the day. Devilishly enough, the answer might even be hiding in a blanket of love or a box of my-dog-just-died. It’s the Muse’s trickster spirit (where Loki reigns over Odin).

Known or unknown, clichéd or unique, the places for a brilliant ars poeticas are everywhere and nowhere at once.

Confused? Good. Now you can get cracking and start looking. Once you find poetry in quirky places unique to YOU yet relatable to US, you can take up the pen and begin. Good luck!

The Sea as Healer and Muse


Something there is about the sea and its curative powers. Physically, the salt is credited with doing many a skin ailment and wound good. Spiritually, though, its force is even greater. Consider Herman Melville’s famous lines from the opening pages of Moby-Dick:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

It even affects landlubbers like Emily Dickinson who live far inland (read: Amherst, Massachusetts) from any ocean surf. Consider this Dickinson poem, connecting the sea’s powers with exultation (no small emotion, that!):


Exultation Is the Going
by Emily Dickinson

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea —
Past the houses — past the headlands —
Into deep Eternity!

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?


In our ways, we are all “inland souls” who often conflate place with all manner of problems — misery, boredom, social turmoil, failure, depression, etc. What better solution than to move away, start over, make of ourselves a tabula rasa for complete restarts?

But moving from Point A to Point B on land is nothing compared to going out to sea. There’s something about the sound of the ship on the water, the seagulls calling overhead, the sun glinting off the water, the smell of saltwater, the silver backs of dolphins playing catch in the ship’s wake, the wind tossing our hair.

Even better, there’s something about land growing smaller and smaller as we deliver ourselves to Mother Ocean’s understanding arms. That promontory or lighthouse back there, we tell ourselves, is us. What we were. What we will never be again.

Out here? Out here is complete freedom. Nature in its most raw form. Forgiveness. Love. Exultation.

Of course, in Miss Emily’s hands, the whole “going” can be read as “going for good,” but it still flies. Death and the Sea as co-conspirators of liberation. Anyone with a terminal illness or debilitating pain can relate.

Even people who have never left the confines of Nebraska’s landlocked prairies can sense all of this. There’s something mysterious and lovely about the sea….

Political Poems Big and, Better Yet, Small

shihab nye.jpg

Political. It’s a big-tent word, all right. And these days most folks focus on the “big” as in bigmouths that crowd the field we should call “government” but instead call “politics” because there’s more politics than government going on by far.

You can write a political poem about this bigness, sure. But it’s a tricky business that walks a thin line between proselytizing in poetry’s chapter and verse and art-for-art’s-waking with a bit of mind-shifting meaning. Me, I prefer the “small politics” strategy, wherein you write about an everyday topic that takes a stand and demands a soap box. One that does not fit into the narrative being writ large on Washington D.C.’s gluttonous stage.

Materialism, for instance. Or raising children. Political acts? In their way, yes. And what better vehicle than poetry to prove the point? Today’s poem is from one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye–her name itself a poem. It’s called “Rebellion Against the North Side” and, like any rebellion, can be considered a “shot heard ’round the world” to its readers.


Rebellion against the North Side 
by Naomi Shihab Nye

There will be no monograms on our skulls.
You who are training your daughters to check for the words
“Calvin Klein” before they look to see if there are pockets
are giving them no hands to put in those pockets.

You are giving them eyes that will find nothing solid in stones.
No comfort in rough land, nameless sheep trails.
No answers from things which do not speak.

Since when do children sketch dreams with price tags attached?
Don’t tell me they were born this way.
We were all born like empty fields.
What we are now shows what has been planted.

Will you remind them there were people
who hemmed their days with thick-spun wool
and wore them till they fell apart?

Think of darkness hugging the houses,
caring nothing for the material of our pajamas.
Think of the delicate mesh of neckbones
when you clasp the golden chains.
These words the world rains back and forth
are temporary as clouds.
Clouds? Tell your children to look up.
The sky is the only store worth shopping in
for anything as long as life.


I don’t know about you, but I smell poetry in the lines “We were all born like empty fields / What we are now shows what has been planted.” Also: “The sky is the only store worth shopping in / for anything as long as life.”

Only a poetic politician could pound her fist on the lectern and say, “The mall? It’s in the sky right above your noses! Look up! Look up!”

Does it preach a bit, like every political poem, to the choir? Yes. But “small-ly,” to coin a word from you-know-who’s “bigly” life. And if it convinces only the already-convinced (read: parents) more than any can’t-be-convinced teens, so be it. The point is that small political poems can be bigger than any two-party, power-grabbing, ego-massaging big ones. Easier to write and read, too.


Snapshot-in-Time Poems: A Mix of Concrete, Abstract, and Economy


For a successful poem, sometimes a snapshot in time is all it takes. You don’t even need to get into narrative beginnings, middles, and ends, because your poem is that brief, almost like something you’d drive by, briefly take in, and draw your own conclusions about.

In a way, writing about a brief moment in time is akin to ekphrastic poetry. Recalling the picture from memory hits you emotionally, so you ask yourself, “Why?” Answering that “why” is the trick.

For starters, the first line has to jump right in. No needless exposition, thank you. No clearing of the throat before you get to the important stuff. This is a snapshot in time, after all. Just get to it.

Then, the necessary details. The descriptive elements you have taken the time to trace to your own emotions. Concrete is always the driver of abstract, after all, but connecting the dots requires both honesty and careful thought. It also requires deletion of superfluous elements as you revise your work.

Here, in Joseph Mills’ poem, the opening line provides essential information to the meaning of the last. That’s economy. It also bridges the man’s situation—a wife with a terminal illness in the hospital—with the snapshot described—a quick game of catch with the fatherless boy next door.

Keep your eye on the tennis ball they’re tossing, though. It’s more than a tennis ball, and because it’s more than a tennis ball, it’s a poem. A successful snapshot-in-time poem.


Joseph Mills

She’s been in the hospital a week,
this time with no improvement,
and I’ve come home to shower,
change clothes, and feed the dog.
As I’m about to get back in the car,
the boy next door, whose dad left
years ago, asks if I’ll play catch,
and I agree because it’s something
I can do. We toss a tennis ball
back and forth in the driveway;
after awhile his mother comes out
with two beers and a juicebox.
She watches, without speaking,
because we have known each other
a long time, and, as it gets darker,
the ball seems to become lighter,
floating through the gloaming.
Maybe I should say it looks
meaningful, like a radioisotope
or a pill, but I’m not thinking
anything like that or about how
we probably look like a family
to passersby. I’m not thinking
at all. I’m just swinging my arm,
grabbing and releasing yellow,
slowly becoming indistinct.

Spinning Gold with Navel Lint


There’s no shortage of “poet’s workshop” books so, instead of buying new ones as they come out, I occasionally dip into old ones. After a few years between readings, the old becomes new, proving once again that the author of Ecclesiastes (“There is nothing new under the sun”) knew of what he spoke.

This week I’ve been poking around Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop. Portable workshops are good things for a guy who’s never attended a real one (hand in the air). Cheaper, too.

One chapter that caught my eye was the one called “Flying Into Oneself.” In an earlier chapter, “Awful Poems,” Kowit cautions against “navel-gazing,” or self-indulgent writing that really interests only you and yourself. But in “Flying Into Oneself,” he assures us that the navel-point-of-view can still work IF it takes its lint and weaves a creative cloak.

Ordinary (your world), meet surreal (an “out there” world), in other words.

As an example, and we all love examples, Kowit gives us David Ignatow’s poem “The Bagel.” You don’t get much more prosaic than a bagel. Ho-hum and pass the cream cheese. But Ignatow takes his self-indulgent, perhaps daily ritual of bagel-eating and takes it places the reader would not expect. Suddenly, self-indulgence gets off with a warning because reading police officers are intrigued by events. Witness:


“The Bagel” by David Ignatow

I stopped to pick up the bagel
rolling away in the wind,
annoyed with myself
for having dropped it
as if it were a portent.
Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.


If the prompt were to write a poem about dropping a bagel and a classroom of workshop students went to work, the results would be rather crumby. Yeah, you’d have variations on a theme: cream cheese, butter, jam, even lox, but overall, it wouldn’t get much further than the 5-second rule.

Ignatow’s example can be liberating for writers who think they lack for novel subjects. If you feel stymied by the quotidian obstinacy of everyday life, consider breathing new life into the ordinary. For starters, don’t restrict yourself. Forget the laws of physics. You’re not Isaac Newton. You’re a poet. If you want to have fun by somersaulting like a bagel chasing a bagel, be my guest. Readers will be happy to laugh at you, be charmed by you, cheer you, even.

Kowit sees some parallels between thinking like this and using dream imagery, but you don’t need a dream journal on your bedside table to engage. Day dreaming is much easier. And escapism via fanciful notions may just be the charge your “so what?” topics need.

Give it a go. Is it self-indulgent and ordinary? The answer’s no. It all depends upon the angle (and the spin)…






14 Rules for Writing from Tim O’Brien


In Dad’s Maybe Book, author Tim O’Brien spells out some rules for writing intended for his sons, Tad and Timmy. They are equally intended for the reader, who is serving as a vicarious child of the O’Briens reading along.

Below are 14 Rules O’Brien shares, directly quoted from the book, and though he says “story” now and then, I daresay the advice works for poetry, novels, plays, and essays as well.

See if you agree:


1.  Review the difference between “lie” and “lay.” A good number of TV personalities, politicians, poets, recording artists, newspaper columnists, pediatricians, and crime writers should do the same.

2.  Do not be terrified of emotion. Be terrified of fraudulence.

3.  Stories are not puzzles. Puzzles are puzzles.

4.  Information is not story. Information is information.

5.  Pay close attention to the issue of simultaneity. In life, as in a good story, numerous things occur at the same time, even when your attention might be riveted on a rattlesnake coiled to strike. In other words, when you’re writing stories, do not juggle only a single ball. (Single ball jugglers rarely get hired twice to entertain at birthday parties.) Fill your stories with “nice contradictions between fact and fact.” Fill your stories with food and drink, the weather, tired feet, dental appointments, phone calls from out of the blue, upset stomachs, flat tires, pens that run out of ink, undelivered letters of apology, traffic jams, swollen bladders, and spilled coffee. These and other intrusions must be endlessly juggled as we make our way along the story lines of our lives. Therefore, don’t insulate your characters from the random clutter that distracts and infuriates and entertains all of us.

6.  Similarly, do not let excessive plotting ruin your story anymore than you would allow it to ruin your life.

7.  Bear in mind that stories appeal not only to the head, but also to the stomach, the back of the throat, the tear glands, the adrenal glands, the funny bone, the nape of the neck, the lungs, the blood, and the heart—the whole human being.

8.  You are writing not only for your contemporaries. You are writing also for a seventeen-year-old student who might encounter your story two hundred years from now, or for an old man in Denmark in the year 2420, or for a lonely widow sitting at a futuristic slot machine in the year 4620.

9.  Also, believe it or not, you are writing for those who have preceded you— for Thomas Jefferson, for the children of Auschwitz, and for a father who may no longer be present to read your story.

10.  Surprise yourself. You might then surprise your reader.

11.  Do not fear (or deny) your own ignorance. It makes for curiosity.

12.  Do not fear (or deny) ambiguity. Though the prose itself may be crystalline, good stories almost always involve people snagged up in confusing moral circumstances. Think of Raskolnikov. Think of Charles and Emma Bovary. Think of your dad.

13.  Pay attention to every word. There are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, plus a few punctuation marks. Those twenty-six letters, if poorly arranged, will result in mediocrity, infelicity, or plain gibberish. But from those same twenty-six letters, well arranged, come the sonnets of Shakespeare. The letters of the alphabet can be likened to the four chemical bases—adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine—that constitute the building blocks of all plant and animal DNA. The precise sequence, or order, of the bases determines whether an organism becomes a polar bear or a dachshund or William Shakespeare. Therefore, along the same lines, I suggest you do all you can to arrange the letters of the alphabet in exacting sequences.

14.  Read your writing aloud. Does it make sense? Does it make music?

The Pronoun “I” and Poetry


Two cheers for the pronoun “I” in poetry! OK. One cheer, maybe? The upstanding pronoun has been under attack in some quarters because it seems to make poetry less universal to the reader and more of a diary delight exercise for the poet. But is it, really?

But what’s terribly wrong when the “I’s” have it in poetry, anyway? Is it that difficult to identify with the author if it’s all about him or her? In prose, the opposite is true. First-person point of view, a standard from way back, is considered the most intimate, hail-fellow-well-met of all the POV’s and the surest ticket to winning readers over. In fact, after a while, the readers adopt the “I” as themselves. Writer becomes reader seamlessly!

So why should poetry be any different than prose? Is it because first-person poem are so overwhelmingly popular? Is it the hipster syndrome, wherein you rebel against anything the masses take to?

It should be pointed out, too, that “I” isn’t always as simple as it looks. Readers tend to assume the pronoun refers to the poet, but not necessarily. It of course can be a persona poem, wherein the “I” is actually a character of the poet’s imagination, the same kind readers are more used to seeing in novels and short stories. Thus, you would not refer to “the poet” in the poem, but “the speaker” in the poem.

That’s how beguiling the “I” is. It charms, it confuses, it leads you down unexpected turns once your assumptions are challenged.

Hey. My philosophy on poetry is big tent. Want the first-person point of view early and often? Be my guest. How about the present tense? If it works and makes your words more immediate, you have my blessing. A form poem? Very mathematical of you in a poetic way, but it’s a free country. I’ll be cheering from the free verse sidelines! “I” as yourself? It’s legal. As another “I”? Also within the parameters.

Maybe I’m laissez-faire about “I” because of this blog, an exercise in solipsism if ever there was one. Each of these posts is riddled with the pronoun “I.” Were I to count them in this entry, for instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were dozens.

That said, nothing surprises me anymore, including criticism of poor, innocent pronouns with simply complex backgrounds. In poetry, a prodigal “I” is cool.

In self-promotion, even studiously undercover, though? Less so. Your poetic license doesn’t cover marketing, but we all have to make a living—or, as they say in poetry circles, NOT make one.

The Only Tool Needed To “Get” Poetry

why poetry

When I read it, Matthew Zapruder’s book, Why Poetry proved memorable. For instance, I give you Chapter 2, titled after the Marianne Moore quote about poets: “Literalists of the Imagination.”

The chapter title itself is poetic. It should be, as it’s taken from Moore’s famous poem, “Poetry,” which features “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Using Marianne as his inspiration, Moore or less, Zapruder begins to riff on layreaders and how so many of them shun poetry because they find it difficult or mysterious. In short, they throw up their hands because the meaning is hidden and wonder aloud why poets have to play hide-and-go-seek with their purpose, anyway.

The damage is done in school, chiefly (schools, after all, are the scapegoats for most all of our woes… remember Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos?). Darn those English teachers who constantly ask students to divine the meaning, the theme, the purpose, the symbolism, thus ruining a perfectly good poem. In Zapruder’s view, poems should be read for (brace yourselves) fun.

Of course, poems can’t be fun unless we know what the heck’s going on, so Zapruder recommends one essential tool to understand poetry: a dictionary. (You were expecting Siri or the dreaded Google search bar, maybe?)

“The portal to the strange is the literal,” he writes. Thus, as a teacher (most poets need full-time jobs, after all), he has students choose a word in the poem to investigate big-time, as in right down to its multiple meanings and history, or even, maybe, down to what it might have meant at the time that the poem was written.

Zapruder adds, “…the exercise of getting as deeply into the words as possible has the effect of showing them that this is the way into a poem, and that meaning and possibility come from that act, and not from some search for an interpretation someone else already made of the poem, that they have to figure out to get a good grade… It turns out that close attention to definitions and etymologies can be a portal to the power of poetry.”

From this paean to the literal’s eminence in an unexpected place — the genre of poetry — Zapruder goes on to say that many beginning writers of poetry get snared by the same misconceptions as layreaders. They purposely write in abstractions, mysteries, double meanings. They forsake the literal for the “deliberately obscure and esoteric.” It is, in short, a recipe for failure, just as reading poems strictly to interpret their coded language is a recipe for alienation.

Three cheers, then, for the literal and for taking poems at their word, both as readers and writers.


“A Silver Tear, A Tiny Flame”


Every so often I poke around my copy of Li-Young Lee’s 1986 outing, Rose. The second poem in the collection — “The Gift” — is one of the more well-known ones. It showcases Lee’s knack for stylistic hybrids. The poem appears mostly narrative by nature, but there’s more to it, as the poem’s speaker pulls back from the story and looks down on it from the sky, if you will, giving the reader a bigger picture to play with. First, the poem:


“The Gift”
Li-Young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.


The opening stanza sets up the poem by taking us into the past to a moment when the speaker’s father removes a splinter from his palm. The child’s perspective is emphasized with the words “he’d removed / the iron silver I thought I’d die from.”

The second stanza reflects on the moment. Using metaphor, the speaker recalls first his father’s voice and then his father’s hands — each key to the successful removal of the splinter.

Stanza three bends hypothetical. What if the reader were there at that moment? What if the reader followed the trajectory of that boy’s life, all the way to the moment when he is a married man bending over his wife’s right hand for a similar reason?

The fourth stanza echoes the first. The apprentice child is now a small hero looming large, too, like his father in that he repeats the same magical moment, offering the same small gift.

Then the negatives. Through contrast they sharpen the neighboring positive all the more. The speaker says:


I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.


Then the second negative wave: “And I did not lift up my wound and cry, / Death visited here!

Followed by the positive: “I did what a child does / when he’s given something to keep. / I kissed my father.”

That something to keep is the gift, but it is not a physical one wrapped and bow-tied. It is a way, as Lao-Tzu might describe it. Something passed down but not held, evident but unseen, and warm as a pair of hands when they hold each other.

“Wagging My Feet Above the Abyss”

jim harrison

Sometimes the image is everything, especially when it is an unexpected image, strange to the reader yet familiar—an oddly endearing combination.

A good example of poet conjuring a bit of what used to be called “magical realism” is Jim Harrison in his poem, “Bridge.” In it he imagines a bridge to nowhere that extends unfinished over the “continent” we call the sea.

Imagine that vantage point on life! It’s what poet’s do, and it creates what John Gardner, in his book, The Art of Fiction, dubbed “the dream”:

“In any piece of fiction, the writer’s first job is to convince the reader that the events he recounts really happened, or to persuade the reader that they might have happened (given small changes in the laws of the universe), or to engage the reader’s interest in the patent absurdity of the lie.”

It’s the same effect you get at the movies or watching TV. The viewer willingly offers himself up as hostage, saying, “Take me, please, into this fictional dream so that I can forget the here and the now presently sitting on either side of me.”

This technique belongs as much to poets as to prose writers. As proof, let’s walk out onto Jim Harrison’s bridge:


by Jim Harrison

Most of my life was spent
building a bridge out over the sea
though the sea was too wide.
I’m proud of the bridge
hanging in the pure sea air. Machado
came for a visit and we sat on the
end of the bridge, which was his idea.

Now that I’m old the work goes slowly.
Ever nearer death, I like it out here
high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred-foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like
the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music
over which you can hear the lightest music of human
behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.

So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above
the abyss. Tonight the moon will be in my lap.
This is my job, to study the universe
from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea, the faint
green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.


I love job descriptions like “to study the universe from my bridge.” It brightens an otherwise boring résumé like nothing else.

And the allusion to Brazilian writer Machado de Assis, I think, is a nod to the foamy waters between Realism and Romanticism. A gray area. Or green-trough area, maybe, where one can enjoy the endless feast of sky, sea, and “faint green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.”