West of West

Timberline, 2007
$12.00 (Cover Photo by Alan Berner)


Ice Bound

Sky’s gray sheet spreads icy rain.

Through the night we heard the branches cracking.

Now they bend with the bowed ache of apostrophes.

Backs to the window, sitting on the couch, we listen

as the radio announces the list of schools closed.

An hour earlier I inched my way along

the road, tires spinning toward the ditch.

Now I read aloud to a teenage daughter,

who tolerates my foolishness, my claim

that Lao Tzu traversed a more slippery world.

With two books open on my lap, one in my hand,

two on the floor, I’m surrounded by imperfect

translations : a gathering chaos; something

mysteriously formed; without beginning,

without end; formless and perfect .

She responds, Sure,

I knew that so what ? I persist:

that existed before the heavens and the earth;

before the universe was born . She’s ready to go

upstairs and listen to the radio. I ask,

What was her face before her parents were born ?

she answers, Nothing . I ask again.

She says it again. Where are the angels,

nights on humble knees, the psalms of faith,

the saints of daylight? S he walks out of the room.

I’m surrounded by thin books.

How pointless to go anywhere on this day,

or maybe any other, but then

the time comes when there is

no other way but to stand firm on ice.


Manifest Breakfast

In a house buttressed by books and slanted morning light

slicing across the grain of the kitchen table, Lieutenant Colonel

George Armstrong Custer’s 1876 orders to pursue the Sioux,

Cheyenne , Sans Arcs, Blackfeet , sits beside an emptied bowl

of Grape Nuts. The document is randomly punctuated with crumbs

from half-burnt toast, difficult to read the general’s elegantly looping

Nineteenth Century signature and the limits of force given Custer’s command.

My wife has printed over in her typewriter-meticulous style a grocery list

of olive oil, cilantro, garlic, tortellini, supplies for this evening’s company,

but not the 7 th Cavalry last seen surrounded near the banks of the Little Big Horn.

There’s also a lengthy paragraph to herself , notes on rehabbing

the upstairs bathroom and the rest of her destiny. She’s scribbled

calculations , an attempt at reviving a diminishing bank account,

and an addendum to the Christmas card list, and it’s only February.

This morning my wife sits down to rewrite Custer’s orders to pursue the Sioux.


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