Talking Animals

Above Celilo

Barges move
above buried rapids.

Your camera follows
the sound of my voice.

A simple poem
whose meaning depends on
the reader's focus. Published in
The Beacon Street Review.


Two sons,
one the more resonant,
the other a clay jar
made for tapping.

Who knows
what beautiful candies
lie inside that jar?

I asked one of my real sons
what he thought of this poem.
"Mom, it's a love poem,"
he told me.

Boyhood Friends

David was younger
than you think
when he hit the headlines,
tall for his age
and quiet.

He looked at patterns
in the stones
before he pulled the sling.

He told me so
the day he saw Bathsheba

I knew Uriah long ago, he said.
We traded marbles.

My friends Pat Perrin,
Wim Coleman, and Libbie Cline
all liked this poem. So does Henny
Wenkart, editor of the forthcoming Jewish
Women's Literary Annual.


I was a bank by the river
You were the blue of the sky
I was a dragonfly cruising
You were the stream passing by

I was a berry a-hanging
You were the stem and the hull
I was the leap of the salmon
You were the dive of the gull

I was a bird in the wheatfield
You were the tar on the road
I was a snag in the woodland
You were the rain and the cold

I was a crack in the handle
You were the rust in the pipe
I was a rip in the hearthrug
You were the edge of the knife

I was a feather a-falling
You were my arrow gone wrong
You went or I went or we went
So goes the end of our song.

An early poem, my try at combining Appalachian
folksong motifs with the couplet form
used in old Hebrew (and other
Middle Eastern) poetry.

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Menagerie of Poems

Fish Swimming between kohl and koto

When I opened the dictionary,
there they were, koi,
swimming through layers
of water, tight skin
notched with blotches—
they could have been cut
with a jigsaw, set
to a throw of the dice—
large fish and small fish
darting or docking with majesty--
all from the same pool of fish genes.
Syllables. Older than words.

Written during the year I belonged
to the Portland Japanese Garden Society,
the closest I've come to meditating.

Found at the National Zoo

like the octopus
drawn on a curve
of the jar.

The surviving lines
from a 14-part poem called
Watching the Octopus.

Riding the Wordhorse

I saw her running
beside a large horse
saddled with rider.
I stood there to watch,
she was running so easily.

I did not know
what to call her--
a colt or a filly
or just a little horse--
she was running so easily.

When I went home--
I looked in the dictionary,
reading so easily about
horse, colt, and filly--

The little horse kept running,
kept running
past bushes and cactus
toward the edge
of the green world,
the blue world
that little horse.

Written in Guanajuato,2002

From Prince Frog's Travel Diary

Another hot day. We stayed in
and siestaed. She was out of temper,
ready to ignore me or burst.
Like a fool, I lay on her pillow.

When she hurled me, my green
skin split. Half a moth flew out.
I stood up on my hind legs,
she saw a man wearing lycra.

I swim, therefore I am,
that's what my father said.

How could she have thought?
Not for me a weak-legged bride.
I like strong legs, green complexions,
gnats on the tongue.

She flung my DNA at the wall,
not thinking I had a father,
a mother, cousins,
sisters. all waiting for me.
Now she's shopping for candles--

this evening I leap for home.

I wrote this version of the old
princess and frog story after
being stunned by summer heat in
another Mexican city, not the one
that means Frog Hill.


Our lady

of the hard shell,
soft butter,
firm flesh,

trailer lady
with salty legs,
eyes on the prowl.

Arthropod lady.
Scarlet lady
in the soup.

Better blue,
and scuttling,


The Oregon coast is crab
country and somehow I caught
this poem during Joan
Wells' Second Story Books
informal poetry workshop.

The Lure of Empty Rooms

Ants trail along sidewalks
searching for curb-cuts,
drones under cartons
bearing one woman's
burden to amber rooms
empty even of moths.

As the old rooms drain
I wonder what genie
possessed me to displace
prisms of air with
wines,baskets, tables,
to start on the trek,

a larva escaping
its box of sweaters.

Odysseus could just leave
it all behind, but he had
Penelope. Portland, 1990s.

Fragment from Colima

Entering the plaza
Leda prudently avoids
four bronze swans,
each in its corner,
its beak gushing water
and everyone dancing

From one of three linked poems
called "Coming from a Dry Place
to the Fountains of Colima"
written in 2000.

Keeper to Tiger

She watches him
pacing the gravel,
tasting the wind,

bright uniform
loose for a general,

masked dreamer
planning his leap
from Elba.

Written after I worked on
a project at the Portland
Zoo, read at a Northwest
Writers event in the mid '90s.

Ways of Moving Past a Cornfield

For years I walked past a cornfield
Green ears one month,
stubble the next,
a few crows bobbing,
grasshoppers scraping their song,
Only my skin listened--
smoke, acrid smoke,
crossed my path,
broke my indifference.
Where stubble had been,
a pond thick as tar
was boiling with crocodiles.

huge heads rear above
the dark edge of the bowl,
swivel barbarous eyes.
The skin bumps glisten.

I move into a run,
see their heavy flesh moving,
ready for mine,
turn my head once
making sure of their presence--

boiling with crocodiles

Drops slide down my cheeks,
not rain, not crocodile tears,
my own eyes filling,
flowing with salt.

Despite its unevenness, I love
this poem. It started as science fiction
but somehow turned into a waking dream.
Written in Mexico in this millenium.

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Dark Sky


for Daphne Berdahl

I enter the room,
over and over
I enter it.
File on desk,
pen in hand,
you question me.
Once more I begin.

Your time is short,
my story winding.
Noted and set
it lies flat.
Within these four walls
I am paper.
I am ink lying dry
on the page.

I enter the room
bringing green leaf
and squash blossom,
earth on my roots.
Heaped ground
is my habitat.
There my children
do flourish.

Doctor, fold the file
play with it,
heap the soil,
glue the roof,
make a dwelling place.

May I live
in this garden forever.

for Harriet Kerns

Cold under the sun. Still. A stick.
Their mother, deaf to the wind,
my wife, mute, cold, beach-sick.

Pick it up, the fossil the boy dropped,
ten, twenty years to find another.
Stone after stone after stone,
twenty, thirty years to find a lover.

Once, holding a shell to her ear
she loved her own blood,
another time watched it
dyeing the water red.

Strange, blood from a shell.

Mute now. Huddled, queer.
Stone-cold. Under a spell.


written after seeing an
exhibit of Dale Chihuly's
glass at the Portland
Art Museum,

for cousins my father never knew
and for a ninth-century Hebrew poet 
whose name was written in sand

Walking near wafer-walled sacks
striped like tropical fish,
and milky-green cylinders
lined with clear glass,
I dreaded the force
of my unguarded elbow.

The next morning I woke
from a nightmare:
I was falling
through layers of snow
into the end of a pipe,
a curved room,
its wall blue as snow
by the tip of a ski pole.

Without touching the blue wall,
I knew it was hard--
not the luminous sky.

When I tried to climb,
the floor dropped
away from me--

frenzied I searched
for a blowpipe.
but I needn’t have troubled--

even glass
bright as babyskin
at the end of the pipe
would not melt
the blue cylinder,

those most skillful of breath
could not melt it.


translation from the Spanish

     by Gabymar de Graaf

Here, traveling tombs
of women, tombs that before
their death didn't exist.
Wind-borne sand
covers and uncovers them,
the soft rocking of a cradle.

Here, roving bones
are scattered
in the drain, in the anguish.

Here, slight curving winds
like malignant DNA
drift through the desert
giving birth to
sowing without naming,
pulling the name from the bones.

Here, Mr. Hate-Man
spies from the shadows,
a smile shifts
to an obscene grimace.
Here, Madame Death,
sho touching, transforms without hurting,
who arrives looking for
weak, infirm flesh
to bring peace, is unknown here.

Here in Juarez, reigns perverse death,
aberrant, violent,
a mad dog amusing itself
with the soft, helpless flesh of women.

Here, this evil death,
howling, rancorous death,
in turbid pools
of semen and vile blood.

I asked the poet, who lives in Guanajuato, if
I could translate this powerful poem.

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