Christmas Day, flocks of mergansers, a man with a black-

and-white shepherd on the snowy beach

at dusk. Remember last Succoth--the barefoot

Hasidic wedding pair with wineglasses,

with Four Quartets on their breath,

with rockweed music between their toes?

Today the sky is not addressed

to Coleridge, not to Paul Muldoon,

but irrupts the earth without volcanic ash,

a gathering of tide pool phrasings

for the state of Man, his graces, his gratifications.

I've scribbled more than half an hour

without so much as glancing up once

at how the blue suffuses into orange,

at how the moon supplants a languished sun.

Men walk dogs, they've finished

their shoppings and delivery, a baby is born

into wedlock where fields of cholla bloom,

out of the clouds above Socorro and here

the inventions of my mind clasp for its culture,

for the coming of the boy's first song.


On the lee shore of the wide world I stand,

crowded by faery terns feeding on menhaden

where an isthmus mouth makes baby gurgles

and empties ions into a river choked by sea.

For as far as the window of the soul can see

are crows, sliding down snow dunes,

sidling back up like warm tobogganers.

The marshland is as flat as the moors

of Helgoland, where my words first

come from, Saxony in the streets

of this city–East Frisian geese honking

me back to a pier's parking lot, where a Datsun

coughs, signals a U and scores the road,

where a red fox pees and wades into waves.

A destroyer pays out line to sink its anchor,

a house on fire from ashes in a kitchen cannister

is sputtered out by firemen in blue hip boots.

Breakers curl into red rockweed where a President

stood last week to talk about the purity of water.

Now he's gone and lost his heart to private sorrows,

now three kings are gathering on a snowy road in Palestine.


A stream of refugees from Christmas, our bodies hunched

like wolves in winter coats, we take to the generous shore

where snow is white above high tide water line,

where the sun is making a mirror of the sea.

Seals crook their ears to hear me say at least

three times that my pilgrimage is not quite done.

Time shapes each wave that pulls against the hold

of a moon already sunk below the South China Sea.

It's full noon–whatever faith there is can be seen

in the twos and threes that walk dogs in shadow

of a Gothic church spire, tolling breakfast, makeshift,

improvise, they walk to find an opening to go in to God

without ushers or incense. Up the hill at St. George's,

a congregation lips Brahmslied; at Second Beach

we walk to where a right whale jawbone was,

a second coming, seen in the moon jellies, crabs,

cuttlebones and curlicues of towering granite.

Crows in murders perch at Purgatory Chasm,

spasms of words come from a toddler who kicks

sea foam and champs down blossomings of ice:

he cries let sand, spray, surf and soak today suffice.


We've driven down the inlet to Watch Hill, our Galilee,

where fishermen lob skeins of flounder onto

pinewood decks in the grip of a cold only

the Maid of Orleans could've predicted. The skies,

red sailor's delight, portend only the gloom

of a gale backed by lashings from the moons

which oval Jupiter. Our own revolutions

are caught in the beak of a black-backed gull

who teeters on the edge of a continent, on an old jetty

cracked and buoyed up by the years of whale oil

fishery, rum running, slave trade to a land

of sugar cane, palmetto bugs and cocodrillos.

Three oil freighters have just succumbed

to the horizon, to the fury winds offshore

which bend into lifting clouds, to the height

of the Colossus of Rhodes. My own legs

are aching after making love, the hand I hold

is the warmth I feel in an undiscovered country

which gives me quick glimpses of an irreal world,

where flickers vanish into tree trunks and the slippages

of time whorl out on scrolls of Hebrew dogsong.


I try to hear the gaitá from across the Atlantic and the Azores.

Bagpipe, sherry and octopus, a fireplace fire despite the gale outside,

I'm back in Finisterre, Spain, where the coast of death keeps

taking the childless to the bottom of the sea.

We walk past cinderblock houses, fields

of caldo gallego, the little black dog who surely

knows I am his mother. In a cowpaddy house,

the cretin, stump-chinned aunt of Saturn's ten best men

keeps to her bed and presses flowers between her breasts.

Fishermen John and James sit on a bench rock

smoking, to gaze out at lessening infinity as it shuts

upon a fizzled rainbow which can't break

for all the storm clouds gathering at O' Centolo.

After crating a day's pay of crabs, we walk back

past the listless sea to claim mail, drums of heating oil

and a paradise of weeping cattails. A child wails out

that art is a flower that blossoms in solitude, but I

can't hear for the noise of the neighborhood Manx cats

who skulk by an abandoned flywheel derrick at the inlet,

to reach the garbage dump, where they've nosed out that

several hake and swordfish heads have come for dinner.

gaitá--Celtic bagpipes of Northern Spain

caldo gallego--Galican cabbage


With a tin of oysters and Saltines, we hike the high hill

to circumvent the town and land at Koutloumousiou, which in

Greek to us means salutation, a pulling of thoughts

into a braille or pallindrome of moss. Expunge

whatever sensual detail crops in: every spiracle

and red corpuscle turned towards the face

of a God who's fragrant only with thistle.

From the high hill, my daughter whistles when she

spies a red-tailed hawk, coming down directly

on her lithe green snake, a slithery cad called Izzy

who spurns the wild in the name of tubeworms,

black light heat, and Lotti's elegant piano fingers.

The snake bolts safely into a 1990's brickface crack

in a Puritan stone wall. We break for snack

and talk of poltergeists and bean bag animals,

watching whole crusades of missiles on Qatar TV.

Whatever fervor there was in walking to the rock

as an errant in the wilderness is gone, gone to

to the joy of sharing a picnic with a child whose eyes

are as blue as the cliff at Hanging Rock is high,

as any monastery is for the lift of the soul to poetry.


The two girls rouse me out of bed to walk the creek

in search of auburn otters. With kite string and stomach

of crushed mussel, they plumb the estuary's undergut,

down a deep-bottomed squid pit we call Pantokratoros.

Above us veers a saw-whet owl, circling the carcass

of a dead racoon which, at closer look,

is carpet shag from the clam club hall.

The beach grass yellows in the grey mist

and drizzle of a Tuesday winter afternoon.

Whatever there was that was lacking

has long since been forgotten because of

a breeze that silences all thoughts of freezing

at the next month's blood. The thin ice can hold

perhaps a jingle shell, no more. The creek,

which is shaped like a Christmas angel bending

backwards for a flute, empties into the Sakonnet.

In sixty years, it will have lifted wing a little,

the space between underarm and tiny chest

will turn, just enough for these girls made ancient

widowers to recognize the shift, on a late day

walk, for the last light that soaks up Pantokratoros.


I've let gravity go, I'm lifting over the moonstone beach

like a noddy before the approaching snow squall.

I'm squinting away the sand which whips

at my feathered face, I'm feeding on

breadcrumbs tossed outside a Hyundai by

a dark-browed man with a light smile: he sees

me hang in the air above him like a ghost.

I'm soaring over the Himalayas, I'm cornering a cliff

in Timbuktu, I'm greeting you, poet, where you sit

and write, surrounded by your city as I rock above

a beach a million miles from our measured kisses.

Waves gather and crush the sediment of centuries,

I've not been able to imagine I'm any other man

--or bird--let sweat and anguish of work fall away

for an afternoon. Time is caught in the sluice gates

of the pond; wind rocks my car and shifts the earth.

I can see out as far as the Canaries, or Ivory Coast,

to spy a herd of hippos grazing in grassland steppes.

In sand, the half-scrawled letter X the size of a tire,

washes out the mean tide surf, the last mark

of the century, the last cry of the willing swimmer.


At Weekapaug, out in the shoals of dogfish lay

the heartbeats of the earth's last yearning for the day--

soon the sky will be as dark as artichoke

and every child will have puerpal chills.

Sleet comes down sideways at the creek mouth,

the shadow of my hand is as long as this stretch

of dunes and it covers a history of religious lies.

Fishheads mulch at the beach club exit ramp:

at Zographou, the ruddy turnstones are blinded

by the sands, across which scramble will-'o-the-wisps

in the awakening of snow storm. The air feels like

all of Denmark, today the red-cheeked children

after crab bellies are happiest asleep. I fear

sunsets on days like this: the dark is dispirited,

where a sacrificial lamb is quartered for the drunks

on Broadway who lift their noses to the breeze.

With letters to post, wood to burn, and a treasure hunt

to plot for five fifth graders too pent up inside

to care for pets anymore, I want only a lobster sunset,

mired in the prism colors of a haze, for you to stay and look

and listen to Twelfth Night, to be attentive to my gaze.


He strays out to the bluish rock at Gooseberry Beach

at dusk, to see the image of the moon fly up

across the gathering seas, where in tidepools

limp anemones and brittle stars collide

with the revolution of the planet orbs.

A wind from Newfoundland shunts stuff in:

florescent orange buoys, TV tubes, gaskets

off a sunken oil barge, a sudden squall lifting fog.

It's cold in Afghanistan, the hospital's gone red.

He mends nets for the one green minnow truant

in the shoals, baits a trap for the wood skunk

that Dorothy has never seen, walks down by

pokeberry and bamboo, a true philosopher,

to water's edge, where suddenly, out of a black

gap in the landscape, a fish eye glowers up

and everything shadowed stops: moor hens

cackling, taxi cabs, dump trucks grinding trash,

gardeners weeding the begonias--all's transfixed

in the marsh grass darkening behind his eyes,

which soak up whatever's there in the tranquility

of things we know we shouldn't try to fathom.


I've come to see the Japanese in black on the beach

on New Year's Day. I've been home for what feels like months,

like Odysseus, a pit in my groin grows to know I have

to leave again, the surge of winds and tide

to cast me back across the seas, to some distant Ithaca

I never chose nor wanted. Beyond the tourists, I can see

breakwater as calm as Monet's pond.

Older now by sheer want of work and the pleasure of

reading and writing--a 16th century plenary

to the Queen--my garrulous laugh boils up

amidst the bathhouses and broken sculptures

at Easton Beach. These poems all are madrigals

of fire that straddle Roman cow paths in Oviedo:

troubadors and Samurai are sucking on cuttlefish

and walking across the water. I'm in Rome again,

Trastevere, the black sands at Ostia, true to my girls,

who follow me to the ends of the frozen terra firma.

I catwalk out behind the photographers from Asia,

the sun beginning to sink into a snow-swept sea,

my boots gritty, packed with seaweed, my heart inflated

to the size of the sky over Osaka, halfway around the globe.


The singing rocks are ravished by the currents of the Gulf,

blinding sleet and hurricane winds beat down Bailey's Beach

where the only audible cry is Philotheou. You can see

the Duke of Windsor's pony fields, the Edinborough castle

where Hitchcock trained his falcon gulls, a baroque rose

trellis of Goethe's summer garden house, where Charlotte

and Ottilie, Eduard and the Captain test their hearts

against cold iron ore . As I write, torrents lap up

sea wrack caught by beach rakes, ripping roots

of sumac past towards Almy Pond, a wilderness of

green herons--where quietus is, where I want to sleep.

Every air lull is thrush song, the lashing winds

send bitter chills across the promontory scarp.

High shrills from under sheep's-bridge: and dunes

sift softly out a dream of the Atlas Mountains where

I've found a burrowing hedgehog, where I'll return

a pair of garden shears to a female friend. Later,

I'll peel potatoes by the fire, sit with my daughter

who's still just barely reticent enough to look

into my eyes and see a man who's held her hand

through other storms like this one I come in from now.


Epiphany today. Three quarter moon over Neponset Bay

as I drive off towards the unbidden sun, to twelve hours

with the whiskey-flask children of the city of the dinner pail,

as each wakes out of a parent's bed into the wolf den I offer,

each bloodying another's eye and hugging in the hallways

of a convent which once was cells for illuminationists who'd

given their voices as a chorus to the eleven thousand virgins.

In lengthening shadows, camel and cameleopard breathe by,

and there's a moment when all noise stops--flocks throng

the river, the kids are still, and Chantha –just thirteen–

lips a homemade lullaby, all Khmer pride and envy, then

Kennedy is joining him in Thai, both nodding at the sky,

there is morning

there is death

there is sunset

and when it rains, earth swallows.

The Nigerian boy is on his hands and knees, so softly

do the three of them take the flight of the sun from

an angered earth and rest it in a golden coffin with a key.

Coming home, I pass the beach of the wise men, but no one

waits for me; waves pull back and blink at the gathering black.

Skete of St. John the Baptist

From here I can almost see the Asian inlet-fishermen,

up by the gulch where a threadbare oak-leaf stream

drips straight down into a gash of igneous rock

that's pounded by the winter surf all afternoon.

The last of my letters are eaten up by wood worms,

where gulls wade in puddles on the shallow ice,

when an unexpected sun lifts what's left of mist

and cuts through the last storm clouds that emptied

onto our heads all night. Sleepless, catatonic

from work, I suck my thumb and listen for sand

shrimp in the seaweed, hearing the heat built up

from all the tiniest of cravings. Although it's

February, dogwood buds crack open, a jackdaw

laughs at my exhaustion and a postman passes

a second time with utility bills and senate cheques.

Within smell, a man simmers chocolate in a pan.

All of Agrabah is up–it's Saturday morning–and

promenading in shadurs, and all I can muster in

my brain is poppy seedcake from Second Avenue,

the thrum of trafficking where a boy's gone off

with his uncle to buy some cardamom for curry.


Ship's log, star date, brine-soaked books of winter's hours

for fathoming the Inland Sea, flasks of dry Amontillado, memories of doors

to childhood clamping closed across two planks of ice: first time

an ocean opened up to swallow me was at the rubbery mouth

of the Connecticut, where freefall words from clergy

chased me home: Nquittmauntash. Smell.

Weetimóquat. Sweeter smell. Machíppiquat. Really sour.

How many winds sift sand today, a hundred hunched years

since Queequeg's mother counted grains of cow corn, to more

than 90,000–a schooner's barter for the flounder catch

where a river cuts metal gashes in a canyon floor,

where cedar trees, giant sturgeon, baleen whales sleep

like chimney stacks in channels of Uncas Lake. Horsefish,

Loch Ness lamprey eel of Eidolon suck fibers from

my oak canoe. A boat adrift–my mind ripples out past

the tiny raft where a girl of twelve backstrokes nude

at cock-crow. The stab of steam from locomotives

hisses out a tune to guide the pond snipe northwards

from Tennessee through caves, through the forests

of indigo buntings which flicker on my path, as I strut

slowly from King Philip's chair to the center of the island.


My cousin does a wheelie in a muddied Mustang, radish red,

parks askew at Quito's, a clam bar where we drink beer,

pine the days of seminary, LSD, Jimi Hendrix playing

Strasbourg, the hours when all the Howes were stick-style

architects, and every waterfront dry goods was built

on ballast rock from Slave Coast turrets. We see Amistad,

we look at Gilded Age graffiti: a drawing of a white man

with a handlebar moustache from 1835, when the African

town of New Goree was razed to the ground for shoes.

Katrina's come to make a film about the colors of the heart,

so we walk past hoists, barrels, leg irons, every kind

of torture tool from Positano, to see our slave and slaver

ancestors, a cry felt deep, exploded out upon a world

that talks up medicine for corns or mouthwash mints.

On a transistor radio, you can hear BRU, which just

now plays reggae from Montego Bay, and a song

comes up upon the wind off Bristol Harbor, Gregoriou,

gregarious, the cleft palate and stammer suddenly

lift from all manner of talking, and love and sin stand

equally holy in the light that a mother of God streams in,

and each of our ancient maids and ministers is blessing us.


The fog is a counterpane weighing down the carcasses of eel

on Ishmael. Someone's in his bed, New Bedford, 1937,

the channel wake is clogged with half-sewn pigskins of chourico

or chub. The roads south are clotted with frost heaves,

St. Valentine sleeps in a bed of leaves, deep in a trance

of snowflakes, transoming the steppes of Eastern Asia.

An earlier blue moon cannot be seen for the thick chowder

the air is in front of my broken nose, come to the coast

from some giant-beetled bosque of La Paz, tradewind traces

still triangular: Costa-Gavras, Alpha Centauri, Rops,

all wild excesses of Blake, teeth-chattering goathide

mind-bashing bulk of bream in sweet rum, and stout

that flags the floor in huge oak kegs that say Havana,

a flagrant violation of the heart's code. The giant black

chinaberry tree is only the sum of its shade. A pair of ugly

ibises alights atop a limestone crag at sunset, a family of ten

Mexicans loping the whelk-rimed beach where my cold feet

feel trilobites ground into the glass that sand is, as it overtakes

a city parking lot. All around me are the raucous longings

of gulls, who nail their prey by never tiring, and almost

imperceptibly I can shift this silent white of evening into grey.

St. Panteleimon

After the Norweigan maelstrom, a crowd of sanderlings,

cough-red tide of venom weed, isinglas vials of vaccinations

from the 1920s, and the recurring dream of dreadnought

and auger-hole, the piercing glance across the bowsprit

midnight sheen of Venus over the Pacific, millions of stars

cocked down off Greenland's shores, where oars in oarlocks

clock small reckonings of storm-time twice.

Home again, to while away the mange of seven-to-seven,

we sleepwalk one dim morning into the glare of afternoon

when three of us stare prostrate at an eye in the fire,

trying to presage the face of God, while a dog attends

with a rigid, philosophical gaze, into the face of a cupcake,

to ask the question of why not. Later when sleet

drives us out of our slumbers to the road, I drive

with two girls who smell like mustard and lace,

up to the watershed of Buzzards Bay, not one

spectre Sasquatch in the rear-view mirror till it clears

at five or six and the moon whirls up full over

the Moby-Dick Motel, and, trembling, we count blessings,

sing songs from Third Eye Blind and hold our breath

straight up, into the heaven of the tattooed harpooneer.


On a ferry choughing smoke off Chapaquiddick

the pilgrims sitting next to me are peering at a deer tick,

the sun's come out and disappeared, Joseph

of Arimathaea swallows the butt of a corn dog

as we dream of the parable of loaves and fishes

spread wide and far as sand dunes at Gay Head.

Fall River and homeless are two phrases I hear

as I bend to try and shut out all the sound.

But, being on the sound, on the crossing

back to Woods Hole, I am everything around,

even the surf that breaks the mitre of the waves.

I am the scarp, I am the scallop shell, the lone

cormorant scudding to a stop beyond a nun buoy

which clangs at blues and toadfish from the deep.

The ship is a fortess for my thoughts that purse

earth's innards, why I ever keep wandering deserts.

Far from Cat Island, from the keys that harbor

anarchists, this Saturday stands apart from others,

when the ghost of a man still lopes across the waters,

past dying and death and after, but not yet risen,

hurtling through wake and wave towards home.


Come April winds, war, pale crocuses, afterbirth

and finally Good Friday, day of rest, a piece of mind

to rapture laughter. Tonight there's shelling in Illyria,

bad Milwaukee beer and scrod--twelve nights ago

under a Wampanoag moon we finished our Shakespeare

as a Stealth went down where Viola met Olivia.

Here three young Germans play Mikado, just

as we did ten years ago when I went turtle searching

with my newborn daughter. Now my brother

John cradles his own--Mariah Grace--fine, five-

day-old fingers translucent in the light. Across

the bay, the shadow of Dad darts in the shoals

of minnows, my journey home foreshortened

by the creasing of osprey wings into flaccid sky,

while southerly winds sunsoak what ice is left

of Ice Age, of the cay where we lay naked one night

in August among millions of mating horseshoe crabs.

Oma Charlotte--still on Serbian/Berlin time--snorks

louder than the dog does, as I reach to my spleen

to hem up and gather the words to spill as early seed:

Come April winds and stamp the day upon this page.

Great Lavra

Easter morning, six am. It may be the last year that we are wrapping presents

from the Easter bunny, or forgoing church in the name of art.

The basin of earth swings into daylight savings time, sommerzeit,

with rain cascading onto a tin roof, meters from where an osprey comes

to his nest with a giant trout. Buds drizzle the delicate juice of God.

We are warned against trespass, infamy, world without grace,

but even in this pine bower where we seek a rest from arduous jobs

the lisp and burn of work follows us, follows us to the shore

where spider crabs convene and do the delicate dance of death.

On a hill shaped like flame, by Otis Air Force Base, a hand

reaches from a cloud to place a golden bull by our side, by

blessing water that scrolls up out of a crabbing hole that lulls us

out of all memory, to say this is the history of the future.

We are not pregnant, the oysterboats are in, the Gulf of Kassandra

holds our thoughts of peace to stave off World War Three, a last

Eastertide of a century of malice, fraud, and joy. Miles from

Byzantium, with emeralds and ostrich feathers from the emperor,

we gather at a morning fireplace to open the tiny packages of love

that stand for sacrifice, black habit, shroud, two thousand books

from the library of love, and the forty martyrs who braved

a storm of thunder to place an egg inside the womb of Man.

© 1998