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How often he’s tried to touch death



“How often he’s tried to touch death”


How often he’s tried to touch death

Caress the cheeks    make them familiar

Wipe away flecks of blood

Or crumbs off death’s chin

Perhaps he should shave death’s face

Use lipstick and ear rings   make the gender a man

One that prefers intimacy with other men

Not raw sexuality    just one whose cheek is pressed

Against his   without words    without intent

And hear the faint whistle escape death’s lungs

So like

A faraway tunnel    a faraway sluicing through branches

A nearby slumbering animal    or his own nostrils

Followed by that silence

So like

The final tears of a mother over her stillborn infant

Whose crumpled little face grows dim

Whose face is the receding sunlight on a river

Filled with song    inescapable as breath


“I’m broken, crushed, destroyed”


All three words

Exit the same way through these trees

Hollered up from my lungs through the leaves

Deep in these nameless woods

A place which is the perfect emblem for

“The silent terraces of the heart”

And other terms we no longer use

Out of distrust


On the surface the three words seem the same

But I’d rather gather up “crushed”

The smell of crushed leaves and petals

Crushed ice on a hot day poured in lemon juice

Waves crushing the sand as lovers’ wet bodies cling


Oh yes, let this be my prayer

Give me huge jars of the word crushed


“Meditation is truest in the pre-dawn”


Meditation is truest in the pre-dawn

The moon slides down Jacob’s ladder

The stars no longer whisper


Like bits of shimmering porcelain

They put away their playthings   crickets

Leaves softening a pond   the glint of a distant car


The child in me floats down from the sky

Cleansed by ash    lightening my bones

Glad at last to be taken seriously

Ready to cherish today’s half-truths




Yielding  (First published in my memoir Cracking China)


When my body brought me news of its coming death,

I thought of the snow that once burst

Silently against our bedroom window.


When my fingers brought me news of their coming death,

I held again my mother’s hands,

Learning, this time, to let them go.


My wife’s body

Has also brought us news of death.

It was not the cough, the fever, that racked her so,

Racked me so,

But the first serrations of cherry blossom

As they chiseled through the bark.