Sunday, August 23, 2009


(From The Soup of Something Missing.)


After my dog was killed by a car

my parents gave me a baby sperm whale.

In a small wooden boat,

father on one oar, mother on the other,

we rowed past the swells.

The only sound was the oars’ monotonous

work followed by the sigh

of the ocean pushed behind.

When it passed beneath

mother shouted “there, there”

and pointed at the large dark shape.

Father took photos with an old Instamatic.

On the way back to shore,

the only thing spoken

was by mother who asked

if I named it and I had.

Hell's Hell

(First appeared in Doubletake Magazine, Issue 8, Spring 1997, pg. 56; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

Hell's Hell

A waitress clears away the midday plates.
The skinny cook sweats and scrapes grease off the grill,
stopping only for a drink of cold water.
The bottom corner of the restaurant’s window is broken.
The owner’s been meaning to replace the cardboard patch
with new glass since it broke last year.
The three remaining customers ask for more beer.
They’re talking about robbing the beauty supply store, or the bank

next to it, or the bridal salon, pharmacy or bakery.
Together they have enough money
to buy a gun and some bullets.
This isn’t the first afternoon they made such plans.
Back in December they had the same
conversation as they wiped their bowls
of potato soup with chunks of bread.
But today, again, nothing happens.

Wind pushes against the cardboard patch.
It swings as if on a hinge.
A passing woman leans against the window,
curves a hand at the side of her face to block the sun
and looks inside. She sees the waitress, three customers,
but not the cook who went out back to relieve himself.
The waitress briefly stares at the woman's black silhouette.
Only a moment in hell's hell could be like this.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Poems without titles are like anonymous people. Example, there’s a tall man with long, gray hair standing at the checkout register in the supermarket. You say to yourself, “there’s a tall man with long gray hair standing in line at the checkout register in the supermarket.” Not much there. But if the person has a name, title, everything changes. The example continues, you see the same man but in this version you know his name. You say to yourself. “there’s George Washington standing at the checkout register in the supermarket.” A million ideas are swirling around in your head. Knowing person’s title changes everything. Poems should have titles. “Untitled” is not a title.

Titles in a poem can also function like background music in a movie, atmosphere and tone. The article The adds nobility to a title, and if not nobility then a certain amount of importance.

Titles are a struggle, at least for me. Sometimes I go to a list of interesting words and read the definitions searching for one that might work as a title. The word should aptly describe the emotional, not literal, content of the poem.

René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist often employed and interesting titling strategy for his paintings. He would invite friends for dinner. After eating and a couple of bottles of wine he would invite suggestions for names for a newly completed painting. “The Empire of Lights.” “Threatening Weather.” “The Discover of Fire.” “The Voice of Space.” His titles are poems. I’ve used one as starting point for a poem* and titled it after the painting.

I’m one of the few poets who doesn’t read much Wallace Stevens. This is my diplomatic way of saying I’m not big on his poems. Perhaps I should read him again. I’m getting off the subject. Titles. Stevens was another one great with titles. “The Emperor of Ice Cream.”

Haikus are titles. On my to-do list is write a poem using an ancient haiku as the title. And a poem that is shorter than its title? Why not.

The title of this book says much about my philosophy on titles. Ironmongery.
Titles are poems.

* The Magician's Accomplice
after Magritte

A copper tube hangs from nothing
and hides everything above the shoulders.
Chicken wire surrounds her pale naked body.
Six feet across the stage
her blond hair rises from another tube.
The brown curtain is amazed.
Only the polished wood floor saw
the way her lipstick smudged the cuff of his shirt
as he pressed the soft gag against her mouth,
the way the velvet ropes held her,
the way stage lights smiled
on the curve of the blade.
Mountains sit in the audience
wearing hats made of clouds.

The magician bows.
The accomplice drags the body
through the alley, all the while dreaming
of pulling riddles out of eyes.
The magician dreams of being cut in half
or flying from a black hat past
the ropes that raise mirrors over the city.
The accomplice wants to learn
the magical qualities of murder,
how anyone with a knife in hand
can be a temporary god.