If the stag had not shot from his sentinel
post high on the beech-lined ridge and split
the cinder trail just one pace in front of you,
tossing his head in full careen so we would
see every point of his eight-tined rack before
he disappeared into the echoing ravine,
we would have passed through that October
day as heedless as every buck during the rut;
you would not have stopped short to ask if we
noticed how near and fast unforeseen danger
had dared to make such a casual pass before us;
and we would not have moved so attentively
into the hull of another man’s timber;
I would never have heard your daughter
say “these look just like Papa’s woods”
when we approached the place where
a wide creek meandered on past itself;
nor, after I forded first at the narrows and
looked back as you spread your feet to keep
everything in balance and reached
to guide her over the felled trunk,
would I have chanced to see in that flash,
as white-hot as the flame tail of the fleeing buck,
an afterimage of our father and me
and how closely the generations follow
when they encounter unfamiliar waters.

— first appeared in GW Review


for three named Charles

My brother’s son
barely knew our father
and never heard him say
when he was young
and the sky was clear
enough so that the moon
brightened the beach,
it was all he needed
to follow her deep tracks
and see where she nested
her eggs in the dry sand.
And he would stand
looking toward the tide
and think about the day
some would know the way
and scurry toward water
to hide in sargasso weed
where they would feed
for decades until they grew
large and strong as the ones
that let him climb upon
their heavy carapaces to ride
along at labored pace
what seemed like miles
across the barren sands.

My only brother’s only son
patrols the wide shore
of a different land
searching for a single clutch
of hope from which to take
in hand and point
toward the sea enough
of the tiny leatherbacks
to keep safe for another
century the preserve
of a small posterity—
his grandfather’s near dream
of him, of them, side-by-side
astride the great sea turtles
gliding toward moonlit waves
diving like the dolphin-riding
boys of lost Atlantis
into the briny myths
of an enduring deep.

— first appeared in Slant: A Journal of Poetry


Certain things my mother knew
and she would not forget them:

like the scent magnolias take
when the sun has pressed
its full weight down inside
the cup of blossom long enough
to spring the hinges
of every creamy petal
and turn each one to chamois cloth,
beige and soft;
or the sunset glow
of tufted titmouse breast;
or mystery of kestrel’s flight
soaring to crescendo height when
still wings dangle dangerously
on the precipice of fickle breeze.

Mother lived to open up the world to us
in things that always closed
or hid or ebbed away:
like frothy lace the small waves
tool along the sand at turn of tide;
or caddis fly’s empty case
clinging to the smooth flat belly
of a stone in running shallows;
or tender young mimosa leaves curling
to put themselves to sleep
when we’d brush our tiny palms
across the smallest fronds.
These were the things, my mother said,
that nature always ordered
and on which we could depend.

Yesterday I wandered off
the well-marked trail
lured by the hope of hearing
low lamentations of the mourning dove
or distinct call of black-capped chickadee,
tones that float effortlessly
from small birds’ quivering throats.
Instead the clearest sound I heard
was one I’d thought endangered or extinct:
arduous and heavy-headed hammering
only a pileated woodpecker makes
when it has found the restive beetle
burrowing down inside a dying trunk.

This, of course, was part of what she knew:
some things open,
others close,
and certain things abide.

–first appeared in Buckle &