Tag Archives: ATOTC

Hank Starling And Henrietta Mourning Dove

I am out early
to put the trash
on the curb and to
fill again the feeders
for my voracious neighbor birds

currently waiting
in dark masses like clouds
stuck to the eaves and 
entangled in the top branches
of the few trees visible from here.

It takes little time for them
to see what I’ve done;
they come in hot
and start feeding before
I am back inside.

I call the birds my neighbors because
as with the human ones I know
individual birds on sight without  
in fact knowing their individual names.
In the city we tend to live like this

until some tragedy hits. We only learn
each others’ names when we gather briefly
with the remaining neighbors to watch as they
are taken away by ambulance.
It’s not the same with the birds, of course;

they tend to depart this life in the mouth of 
the cat from across the street, whose name is 
Crazy. (I call him Tux.) I never say aw, 
there goes Hank Starling, or looks like Tux got 
Henrietta Mourning Dove even though generally speaking

I miss them more than I do the people.
I wonder if the birds feel the same. Will they say
damn, Feeder Guy is gone when it’s my turn to be
taken away? Will they miss me, chirp thoughts and prayers?
The question hangs above me, a dark mass in the trees.


be here now with
a bleak peak outdoors
just before daylight

can you become animal enough
to admit your excitement 
at liminality is not rational

that it lives upon 
a distant cliff within you
where you are holding on by the skin

of your last
inhuman gene
to natural rhythms

and is not the same
as anticipating the alarm
that rouses you for work

be here now in
the space between slats
of these room darkening blinds

it is not bright outside
but somehow even pre-dawn
shines in this second

be here now in 
this second as it is
neither for you nor against you

that you woke before dawn 
that you felt it before you saw it
that you were in it before it started

that it is inside you
an animal stirred from sleep
before light becomes apparent

Living In Halloween

We sit at home
with treats in baskets.
Lights on 

because we fear
tricks committed
by men costumed

in camo, in blue,
worst of all
in pinstriped suits.

We give all we have and
turn the lights out for the night
then sit there waiting

for the late, ominous knock.
For our doors to be kicked in.
For them to tell us they want more.

Every day is Halloween 
now. We know too well
what the ghouls look like.

Why do we even bother 
with masks these days
when mirrors hold terror enough?


Stanley Kunitz, one time
Poet Laureate of the United States,

born and bred in Worcester, MA,
once said this city provoked him to poetry.

I met him only once
and then only for a moment,

would never say I think
we might have gotten along, yet

I will lay odds that on this point
we would have agreed

and from there something like respect and
affable conversation 

might have developed, as I am
easily irked to poetry in the Parkway diner here

over strong coffee, provoked
into meter by watching the rhythm

of a short-order cook working hash
and eggs into perfect harmony, lured to verse

on Harding Street, that paved over secret canal;
into forms by the voices of those

who live here and work here
whether they want the town to be

itself or some other town, whether they
love its worn, durable face

or want to cover it by spending
Boston level money on a Boston mask.

Not too far from my house is the home
where Stanley Kunitz grew up, in a city

called Worcester that had
an honest if rough face. I know that face

well. It’s my face, it’s the face
of my next door neighbor from Ghana,

the face of Angel on the third floor
whose mother is staying with him till they rebuild

her storm wrecked home in Puerto Rico,
the face of the old Polish man

across the street who talks to no one, the faces
of all the street people and all the rich ones too.

Worcester’s face is not a face you’d forget,
or want to forget.  Even if it’s covered

one day by a fraud,
a shroud of silk and gold,

it will not die. It will do what Worcester does.
It will say what it means

even if only with its eyes —
pleading, quoting Stanley:

touch me,
remind me who I am.

Tree Mystery

There are fresh footprints in the pasture
disappearing under this new burst of snow.
Two people walked out there
to stand by two trees, apparently not long ago.
They may have stood there, may have
walked around the trunks — two
looking at two as if drawn together by
the power of pairs — and then they apparently
walked back here to the fence and back out
to the road where they parked, probably
where my car is parked now. That’s all
I can say from looking at this.

Ten minutes more and the prints will be buried
and no one will know
any of this happened. We already don’t know
why it happened.
I could walk out there myself and ask
those two dark sentinels
what happened but I do not think
they would tell,
and then I would walk back puzzled
and go on my way
and another set of prints would disappear
in that pasture where the trees
stand as they have for years,
not telling anyone what they know.

Cat TV

Suet cakes hang in cages outside the living room windows.
The cats hang out on their perches to see
what will take the bait.

The regulars come right on time: sparrows
in bunches and clusters chased away en masse by 
blue jays and bully starlings

who then fuss each other off and on again;
later, the pair of woodpeckers, male and
female, each upon their own feeder, 

and always nuthatches on the ground
taking the seeds dropped
from all that racket above.

When the squirrel comes and dangles upside down
from the cage, dragging out
bits and pieces of fat and corn,

I get up and bang on the glass to no avail.
The cats watch all this without apparent emotion;
I call it Cat TV.

Later I hit the couch and turn on Tony TV
with the evening news of famine and feast,
of crumbs falling from the racket above,

where the bullies take and take
with little care for the noise from those
who seek to drive them off.

I like birds better. At least when they’re satisfied
they fly away. I like squirrels better.
They get what they need and go. 

I dig cats the most. They get bored
with the struggle and find better
things to do somewhere else

while I sit here going mad watching the world go mad
for fat and scraps, and though I know
I could do more, I don’t, and I can’t look away.