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Music Commentary

An exploration of songs and songwriting via the music of Scott Simpson and Dancin’ Moon Studio of Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota



Ready For Jesus


The missionary is only 20.

He's telling us that the people in Honduras have nothing---

he describes a family of seven

who live in a mud hut

with a dirt floor and a doorway

with no door so the animals wander in and out.


They are ready for Jesus...

he says,

Their existence is painful,

so they're

looking for some meaning.


He tells us that they are the other race

in Honduras,

not the Latinos.

Hundreds of years ago,

a slave ship wrecked

off the coast,

they washed ashore

and never left, kept their language,

their culture,

stayed separate.


In my high school geography text,

a map demonstrated

the movements of the tectonic plates,

how the continents had once fit together as a

single mass called Pangaea.


I wonder if the Honduran coast

would match up

against the original home beach

of these people like

if it weren't for time, this


would have been nothing

more than

a hike across the grassland.


The young man's eyes are wild

as he tells us he's broken

off his plans for Law school to do



I pick up my notebook,

and am about to write something

about how pain comes in going

from one thing to another

too suddenly,

being jolted even


by a car from behind;

or smooth skin made in an instant,

two bleeding halves

by a blade:

the abrupt imposition

of a foreign object

disrupting the order..., when

he asks for money.


The woman across the aisle from me

begins to dig in her purse

for the piece of Jesus she will




A Conversation with Logos


The Greeks described logos as the living

substance that enlivened, animated

all things, they said it inhabited the world like

honey inhabits the honeycomb-- logos

saturates all that we are, is associated with

fire and light.

                      The Hebrews understood

logos as the great mysterious inter-

cessor between God and humanity... they named it

Torah. But Torah was not simply written

word; the rabbis claimed, When G-d began

to create the world, He consulted Torah... Torah,

logos, the Word that preexists speech,

writing, art, earth, sky, universe.

The gospel of John begins, In the beginning

was logos, and logos was with God

and logos was God, he was with God

in the beginning, and through logos all was

made, without logos nothing that is

could have been, and logos was life, and

that life was light, and that light

shines into darkness... and darkness cannot

overcome... light, word, life,

warmth, logos...

                           Darkness cannot over-

come, darkness cannot overcome,

darkness cannot overcome




The irony of

the Word

preceding all speaking,

the warmth

preceding all fire,

the life

preceding all bodies,

the light

preceding all creation,

is that

all talk must be

silenced, all lamps

extinguished, all



all work ceased

in order for

the most important conversation

to begin,

the most brilliant illumination

to be seen,

the most savored breath

to be taken,

and the vocation of living to




There is a voice that is mine

that is heard always

though rarely listened to,

and though this voice is mine,

it is one I am just beginning

to recognize—

not mine because I have shaped

its reflections or phrasings, I did not

speak it,

but mine because this voice,

in gentleness and wisdom, is always trying to

speak me.

It knows my true name—the one I'm sure

I knew best only hours after birth, now

mostly forgotten.

While other voices try to speak me into shapes

they've schemed, the shapes that serve them


this voice is sighing gently, the form

called me—the form I had before I was—the form that

serves best.

Only silence parts the lips and moves the breath,

articulates the tongue, my tongue, my breath, my lips

praying my one true voice.



What People Forget


Is that the universe is more space

than stuff

and that space is what

keeps planets spinning and

galaxies expanding...

Is that their bodies are full

of space as well,

each atom a tiny galaxy tugging

and animated.

At our very core

our most elemental state there

are vast distances, journeys to be

made and

intervals between

open enough for


In a moment we tend to think

that what we are is solid, that

what we are is what we will be.

But what I am has never been

certain... the "who" of me

a dynamic set of parameters held

together by that gravity we call


Now, do not mistake me, thinking

I mean that soul is other than

substance... no, soul is substance

held precious. Soul is one green planet

held in loving embrace by one perfect

star, made inhabitable: a place for

life to multiply.

Soul is not singular

though soul is union

like marriage like the

atom like my body

like my mother

like my father

like my daughter

like my son

like spirit,

breath, wind in


Like universe,

uni- ONE

verse- POEM

One poem many lines

enough spaces

to make the singing

of it

an exquisite journey.


Play Now


my dream


I see you like this:

you clutch the tiny warm ball

of a new brown field-mouse.

pressing it into the warmth of your

scented neck

where your hair bends gently in to

brush your careful fingers...


it is cold outside,

and your breath moves slowly


clouds of warmth

in the snow-white sunlight,

your words of comfort, your

essence atomized,



and later,

if the mists linger in the

year-old plow-valleys

whispering, "It's alright...

All is not cold and hunger,"

you will still be there,



It is only a dream I have,

a dream in which I am

helpless and

nestled in your neck.



in her bed

our daughter has had her one more story,

her one more drink,

and dreams the part of herself that we never see.


In our living room

we have a movie running,

the Canadian Rockies of the early 17th century shift

in some conflict involving

intimate campfire reds, steel-blue glacial arms

cradling white, and silver-gray aspen groves to move

your intent eyes... I chose the movie this time.


The couch is long enough for us both

as I watch this light playing upon your nightgown

it is more deadly than second-hand smoke:

the Canadian Rockies

moving in the lines of your face, the folds

of your clothing.

I am kneading these silver trout you lay across my lap in this

stream we make of our bodies.

I will lay you in the winter glow of aspens

and smooth the clothing from your skin

so you can warm by our fire---

night-breath bristling the

invisible down

of your neck, fanning the glow

of your eyes.



Alone for a Week


I've been shuffling

around the house in my thin moccasins

not bothering to turn on lights

or to use dishes, it is quiet

except for the purr of our neighbor's

mowing his homogenous grass in the last

moments of twilight;

the house is dark except for the night-lights

I haven't unplugged in our daughters'

rooms--- those lights

supposed to chase the shadows away,

as though it weren't light that created shadow.


At intervals, I wander into the family room, stare at

the couch, then the blank TV. I am

grabbing at the tail-end of the hour

as it slips around the clock in the corner and my

hands close around still air.


I wonder how long it will take for me

to use up all the air that spent at least some time

in your lungs, moving through your throat and

spilling over your lips?


I know enough to know that I'm not going to get any work

done tonight. I can't let go of the clock

long enough to get lost in some of this stuff you left so I could

complete, undisturbed.


But I don't think I like being undisturbed

or passing by the orange glow from

our daughters' rooms;

and suddenly as my neighbor completes his last lap across his

grass, the evening has gone deaf

and I know fully that silence is a taking away of

something, a loss.


Were I single like one of my friends, perhaps

I would use my dishes and fold the laundry

seeing how these things all have places in the week,

maybe I would throw open the windows to let

today's air in, but in your absence I find that

silence and darkness have new names

and don't whisper, or rise and fall beside me.

The thinness of these moccasins reminds me of the

ground and my weight upon it---

that I'm still here.




Midnight & The Tall House

after Williams



Hard, dark night

open wide,

our yellow window light

addresses trees, shaping

canopies to hide the grass



where crickets wing a song.


Not long

we're held this way,

you & I,

a sort of gray

haven hedged by

black sky, black soil,

black cricket

& blacker music rising

in his silver clear wings.



Wind sweeps out & down, slips over

elm tree, sound




& rounding out the dark.


To know

the park is sleeping, slide &

swing inert;

to know

the dove wing

covers doveling heads

in eaves above,


this is love,

feathered night pulled

past our eyes,

nest full,

sky lanterns

winking dull,


soft wind rocking

broad bough, stretching

closer every pane of glass.



Outside, below us

the sun is forgotten,

the impatiens are muted, drooping

down to ground

& dirt & dung & earthworm,

showing quiet colors:


earth colors, night


browns, dull rust,

their thrust toward sky



Inside, we trust

diminished sight,


eyes held wide, ears alive.

Touching, twining

spinning colors out of night





impatient love.



with sheryl, outside centennial wyoming


open range

long grass full moon

haloing clouds blue

shoulder of mountains


two rails catch the moon

wind through the grass

silver lines, disjoined

except in the moon's touch


we are small tonight

our words almost too quiet

to pass between us

but something in the luminescence

of your skin

your eyes

the seed swaying heavy

around us on its stem

makes sense

of what is still dark


we shine

where this moon

rides us

where we're worn smooth

with shared use



old camp blue


your laugh

is music on bark,

on leaf


spilling over rocks,

around crags of old boulders

between shadows

of aspen of birch of



on a mat of needles,

your eyes and mine

are windows

too small for looking



the fallen spruce,

half wood half powder

and you and I

go to dust, elemental


making love

of sun

and stone

and leaf

and laughing

as a swelling of clouds

goes dark

with summer rain



Behind My Back

For Sheryl


She says things behind my


I have caught her

on occasion,

stepped around a


as she mentioned

my name


her lips as familiar

with it

as her own


each time

my status is changed:

they look at me

with her eyes



I'll tell her

to her face,





As Night Approaches


I watch the sky

drain from bright blue

to purple

and finally into

deep violet

streaked with bits

of red


She is behind me inside the


washing up after dinner



Clink, clank

plate on plate

and her humming

soft, sure


are the only sounds

as night falls



Play Now




Jacob stole his birthright,

being clever and tricky

and gets the bad rap

on account of greed,

but what about the sin of Esau

who sold his birthright for a single

bowl of soup?


Sure, at the time

it seemed reasonable

Esau seeing nothing but his hunger

—gut wrenching hunger

but emptiness doesn't always

render us clear of sight—

sometimes it shapes desperate eyes

and snatching hands.


I imagine Esau there at table,

hunger sated, realizing now

the emptiness of the bowl

the emptiness

what he'd given up...


or maybe not,

maybe Esau simply belched

and excused himself, because

satiation doesn't always

render us mindful of



Keep brother stuffed;

he'll never know he's being taken.


And sometimes my own hunger

is the voice I hear telling me to short-sell

for a few immediate spoonfuls...


I have seen the children

of stolen birthrights,

stolen, in the end, by their


by those who have something

to sell them... and something to gain

from the selling.


And I'm a teacher

for Heaven's sake,

with a bowl of soup

and some hungry students

willing to eat

what I'm dishing up--


filling the pits of swollen bellies

with what's been mandated with

what the research says will surely

fill them.


And I could spend days feeding

them data soup chock-full of


in a warm broth of best practice

and we could raise the bar

make AYP

incentivize the path

till no one's left behind.


But what if something has

been squandered while I was


what if they've traded

some blood-right,

some unique mark...


What if we educators

have helped them trade

a birthright

for a bowl of

compliance soup?





That afternoon he'd been stripped

not so much like a banana or an antique

chair, but


quite like some kind of ice

sculpture, having yet the chain-saw grooves

to prove the artist's process—


fresh from the freezer, unsheeted

for show...


He was now gathering

into a puddle

under his own feet

and the hors d'vours were warming

(infinitesimal buzzing of flies,

cheese dark'ning ever-so-slightly)


Rot's a process like stripping

only rather than disambiguation

rotting obscures...

like a peach in the

windowsill, forgotten and now


no longer a peach

but a hard lump of a sow's

severed ear

not hearing, of course,

but also never to be a silk



Whether he was coming clear

or perhaps growing mold

he was not certain,

though he knew he was

in control neither of their eyes

nor curious hands


The innocent are always intrigued

toward tactile amusements,

groping and fondling

the frosty surface, leaving

little fingerprint windows to




but curiosity, as they say, kills



               in a swirl of red,

and he knew as the world tilted

it was he himself askew

and not the snot-nosed toddler in the smart

blazer, his mum releasing only one

brief cry before

the shattering moment, the tremble

of cocktail sauce simultaneously flipped

and letting bright droplets...


At their feet,

his integrity scattered into gritty


like safety glass or human teeth

on the floorboard of the fatal

automobile accident beneath

the still-bleeding passenger,


he knew even the Jaws of Life

could not speak the pieces back into

what he'd dreamed himself to be.



grass clippings like tea leaves


Today, I'm reading the future

from yesterday

laid out in sun-blanched clumps

where mower blades have battled

these less than civil blades and won.


This neat appearance almost argues

design as giver rather than taker,


but fastidious reason

is no creator, it offers mere pruning;

the mower has cut things short

for a season

and this grass will never come to head,

produce seed.


Above us, the Bookcliffs slice late morning,

shadow bleeding into this valley;

my students sprawl upon the

soccer field with journals

and seedling ideas riding the sharp tips of their

burrowing pens.


We hear the mower still at work.


Who can say,

No more—

Growth stops here?


Only the tiniest ant

working deep among

the hidden roots is safe

from the whirring

of the blades,


but, for these twenty minutes,

this young sun,

these credulous pens,

tilling naive pages, we are

all taller.

Play Now


near roubaix lake


they've made a new stream

the early snow has filled

this footbridge barely supports

my weight above the runoff


ten inch PVC hastily

placed releases water

from the makeshift dam

of mud and sticks

to rot the roots

of newly flooded chokecherry shrubs


they will die now

and fall over next spring

or early summer

brown, leafless chokecherryless


we are running

you and I

into new course ways spilling

into low places killing what

once grew


and just maybe, with time

we will find what there is to water

that needs watering,

how to silt fertile

this strange Dakota



further down, cattle graze

oblivious on rich grass stopping

only to drink

where otherwise

they would have gone thirsty


but winter is coming

in the gray clouds

the sun barely a warm spot,

the time when everything

shuts down

into soundless white


It would be simple

to wait it out

hope for a renewed warmth

to pry us into usefulness—

if only love were a thing

that flowed downhill



White Christmas


They never have snow in Abilene

so four inches dropping wet

out of a wide, plains sky

on the twenty-sixth of December

is more miracle than ambiance


Grandpa, having slept the night

in jeans and boots in his chair

works up a smile as we pack ourselves

into the tiny hospital room


They've been expecting us


Grandma, one cheek drooping

stubborn as she forms her greeting

How are you-all?

her left hand lying soft, puffy

as dough in her lap

is dressed already for the holiday

in her red pant-suit

with the Indian-head nickel buttons

all buttoned and modest, pretending

the wheel-chair isn't there

Can you be-lieve this snow today?


Beyond the window a hastily-rolled snowman

is slowly lowering his twiggy arms, his face

sliding away under the sun


He will be gone in thirty minutes


My daughters, having given her the picture

of themselves and their sleds, are petting

Grandma's hand, singing softly

tracing lines to connect the brown spots

with the tips of their own tiny


smoothing her rounded shoulders


Grandpa watches, eyes keener than ours

to the subtle changes—her eyes sinking deeper

the three second waves of blankness

the growing weight of her frame

as he lifts, pulls her into bed

and the fading of something unnamable

something central to her dignity

her integrity

something his grandaughters feel

without knowing as they pat and stroke

her pale skin


Therapy time, the nurse intrudes

and Grandma tugs my sleeve

as they wheel her by Don't

work too hard

when you go back home

she slurs, enjoy

your day in the sun


And Grandpa follows them down the hall

to make certain, among other things

the nurses take care with Grandma's buttons



night music

"I am a dance—play up there"

-Walt Whitman, The Sleepers


a winter storm

tunes its woodwinds

and its brass

and you and I sit

by the window


our children dance

with no provocation

to tunes their ears alone



they are motion

and music given

to unbridled rhythms

alive touching air

with every inch

of skin of hair

of spirit


you and I are silence,

ancient steps

unwinding into stasis

somewhere inside




begin a gentle swell

among the pines

snow, spilling over eaves

in glittering moonlight


don't wake the children—

rouse us

with your music


Play Now




We have a secret place

my daughters and I where

an old creek

has run empty


The sky above that hill

pushes fast past the swaying tips

of pines

but the birch, oak

and ironwoods have not yet

leaves enough to dance


No dry winter

no drought emptied our creek

the water turned aside

some years ago for other

work and my oldest

stares at the smooth stones

sunk into soil

When will the water

come back?


My youngest has hands

delicate as birch twigs and

burrows pebbles

from the bank

like a busy mole

carries one at a time

to the mound of larger rock

we are shaping into

a ring for our campfire


She chooses a spot

for each

and believing in some master design

believing I would know it asks,

Should I put it here?

Or here?


There, that looks good

right there, but that's really

the question, isn't it


and I think of the water's

working years and centuries

into polished stones

forever setting and re-setting each

here in our creek bed

to be abandoned



I cannot tell

how my knees bend

how my fingers

inside these leather gloves

swing on their hinges


I know only the digging and the

occasional sun

on my neck


I cannot read the seasons

burned into the grain

of this handle

or tell what secrets if any

the hills keep


but here, another shovel-full

for a moment visible

mixing with air

thrown toward the sun



The deep soil

reclaims each stone we leave

unturned, swallowing her

wayward children


around us, the trees

are smoldering

with an inner fire

relaxing into the dirt

that grew them

flaking open with each rain

skeletons all of ribs marking

the ground

with bright stripes

of greener grass


The air darkens

as rain enters the ravine

like a lost fawn:

one step there, here

hesitant behind us

other side of the tree, there

again, over the rise

and suddenly certain

almost purposeful

all around us

the leafy floor comes alive

with movement


we flee our unfinished altar

rain drenching

stones, wood, dirt

rivulets refilling the creek bed

and back in the car

we decide, tomorrow

to build a bridge





You're lying

in the darkened bedroom

spent from an hour of choosing

which of our bills to pay which

to let slide.


But you'll be glad to know

our girls are helping

as they can:

picking dandelions

collecting their tithes to us

in two piles on the picnic table one

mine, one yours.


I want to know

what makes a thing

dig in

under five months of ice

and at the first touch of spring

push past packed earth

survive herbicide

to spite dreams of solid green

with gold summer

again and again in each of its

hundred heads.


Our debt is to our children:

we owe it to them

to accept the gold they offer.



on cherry hill with my martin backpacking guitar



three years ago

Martin began making them--

cut-down, sawn-off

easy to carry anywhere

I know an executive

Chris at the music store told me

who takes his to the office. This is a

big seller for men

30 to 45


half mandolin, half banjo

mellow and light so you can

feel it hum, pressed

against your ribs--

start your whole insides

to singing with one




the first time I came out to Cherry Hill

a crack in the old

stone bridge

revealed yellowed photos torn

from Penthouse and Playboy,

sent our 8-yr-old stomachs

to our mouths--

threatened to pull us

inside-out, crotch first


why "Cherry Hill?" I asked

and Kirk told me he'd heard

all the high school girls

had lost their cherries here

we were so young

we looked for them



coming out here alone

with my guitar

I have developed a new


or maybe an old one

the long grass on the hill

contains the spirits

of all little boys

who giggle here

and later find the world

mortared with more flesh

than any centerfold


the Spirits Temporal

graze as lost sheep

until I return, an older David

with my harp, singing

Absalom Absalom!

releasing them into the Eternal


in this ritual of adult


you must be

grass level, facing Heaven and

playing the chords to

Gone to Carolina in My Mind



I went walking with my 5-year-old daughter

and our feet led us

to Cherry Hill;

she wanted to stand on the

stone bridge

I'd told her about

see herself in the still creek below

she ran

here and there, collecting bits of

trash, old pop cans

oil jugs, asking, Can we

recycle this? and Why

do people want to trash

this place?


I wanted to tell her

want is too strong a word

but all I said was, Don't touch --

it's dirty. Someone else will get it.

of course, no one else would but at

least she never found

any photos


going home she asked,

Why do they call it "Cherry Hill?" I didn't

see any cherry trees.

and I had a thought

that today was a good day

for planting some

Play Now



Joe and Marge at the Movies

They were getting old and they didn't even know it. Joe smiled like the crowsfeet and the false teeth and the double chin didn't show--- weren't there. Marge walked just like the base of her neck didn't bow up and hump down into her spine--- just like the index and middle fingers of her right hand weren't twisting slowly, year by year as the knuckles grew to the size of chestnuts. Joe held that hand when they strolled down the aisle to find their seats, bought popcorn that they put between them, placing their hands in the sack together, later, fighting playfully over the last kernels. And as the movie progressed, Joe slid his arm behind Marge's thin shoulders, resting the crook of his elbow around her crooked back like they were made to fit like that. At the end of the show Joe would grin big as a kid or maybe cry and, either way, Marge would stretch over with her tiny face and kiss his chin, the touch soft as the muzzle of a colt. They would leave slowly, reluctant as lovers at the end of a long-awaited first date, wanting to stretch it out, wanting it not to end, waiting to see all the credits, hear the very last note of the closing overture,

                   remarking that movies are just too short.



Jay used to ride around Lincoln NE

with a little empty child-seat

on the back of his bike.


He told me once

that it wasn't the divorce that

bothered him,

it was her moving to New York,

taking little Toby with her.


I always think of Jay

that way---

riding around town with a

little empty child-seat.


While Waiting in the Cafeteria Of Bradshaw Public School for A Meeting, I Check My Watch Once More Before Allowing Myself to Become Distracted


It's a very small cafeteria, I'm thinking,

but it's a small town---

These must be kindergartners in here

doing their Art,

they're so small.


One boy talks loudest--- he is bigger

than all the rest.

He is coloring a map of the U.S.

and now I think these may not be

kindergartners and maybe this is Social Studies,

not Art.


My country's purple... he's saying

and his country fits neatly on the 8 1/2 X 11

dittoed sheet he pinches proudly

in his raised hand---

his country looks good in



Now the children have left me

with my cup of coffee and watching

one of the cafeteria ladies place

the ketchup dispensers, spacing them evenly

across the fold-out tables,

preparing for lunch

and the squeeze bottle she sets beside me

has a picture of a 1950's housewife

dancing, the brand name,


in box-letters beneath.


I haven't seen a Squeeze-Ezy bottle

since I was 5 and with my parents

at Ideal Cafe' back home---


and suddenly I am 5

and thinking my world might fit

on an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet

and somehow maybe I do

have the power in one hand

to pull out of the box the best color

for the whole place;

and maybe if I had a hairnet like

this cafeteria lady's, her slate curls pulled,

contained, held tightly in place,

maybe one that keeps my head

inside the lines,

keeps me from always hurling myself

to the far ends of the universe---

holds me focused,

wraps the whole complicated mess

into a clearly labeled Crayola wrapper,

then I could make some kind of Art

with it.

Play Now




I'm burying my head deep

into a distant May


a stretch from this late January where an

unseasonable warmth

has reawakened

these lilacs beneath my skin


(they sprawl, varicose,

purple clusters

across my forearms

around the backs

of my shoulders)


come close

it's on my breath

the soil radiant but cool

just three handfuls down:

water from a spring melt filtering

deep to the roots


the china-doll's broken foot

spent shell casings

and chimney stones

marked by old fires have torn

my nails

wedged the nutrients deep into

my fingers

where growth begins



mid-winter hike


home is where I'm too whole and each

step in any direction

is the losing of something


I replace the pieces

with something new—

light on the crusted snow

leg bone of a deer

gnawed twice,

by coyote and myself

trying to get at the marrow

of things


I want to return satiated

full of something I hadn't missed

before, so spent I'm unable

to sleep for dreaming



pine cones grow warm

on the side of this hill

where sun has drawn back

the snow


the dry grass, the needles

glow with an idea of what spring is—

memory and prophecy


the cones open

their wooden petals

and seeds are always hidden

near the center waiting for



only wind

and the winter birds' chatter

can speak so patiently

of the slow hand of sun opening up


a bit at a time




I'm not alone out here,

someone dogs me

at every turn

I fumble to recall

the name

as I stumble home

carrying words

so as not to jostle them

into a trite retelling

who is it? I spin

who's there?


out this far, it's impossible

to be alone



before you teach


a few hours before class

drive out Tinton road

until you leave any traffic

behind you

the trees will not distract you

they will stand

perfectly still


here, you must leave the

the beaten path

and join them along

an ancient road left



wind your way among them

to a shaded spot

and kill your engine

from here you travel

on foot


speed is no longer

your goal

each step is a lesson



here, dig into

the hard dirt bank

find egg-shaped rocks

fractured by the weight

of millennia

and know that a thing

whether fertile or not

left long unhatched

turns to stone


think as you walk

of the mountain lion

waiting patiently

for a sign of weakness

know that hunger

is his nature

and that you have come here

with only a pocket knife

and your senses

see—he has left

for you a sign

claw marks in the mud hole

long and deep,

count them

one, two, three, four, five

straight as a treble clef left empty and waiting

for your half

of his composition



coming home

roll down all the windows

and drive fast

letting the dust

filter in

sprinkle, flavor

your books your papers

even your skin

the sweat of the journey

will make it stick

and you will taste it

in your teeth

even as you speak

to your students




Play Now



late august seminar in andrews hall


the fields

along I-80 are dark as

three years back

when you moved

behind every stalk

in the side-spill

of my headlights--


silent trips

only three weeks

four weeks


after your death marked for me

a new accounting of days


three years and I am here

and something like your arm

has wrapped itself around me

your hands

steer me through campus

the way you slid your bike

in and out of traffic

wind in your long hair

force of all that was behind you

guiding, pushing


counting keeps me

looking back

you, there behind me

not changing--

shrinking with distance

the spot on that narrow road

where I listened for you

in the grass

the gravel of that shoulder

the crescent of black rubber

mapping your short encounter

with something too heavy to resist


you're coming up again

from behind me

the windows are black

late summer is rolling over

into night

the pavement cooling outside

the fever rippling

toward the sky


the dashboard lights

are pale green and orange


how fast I'm not going

how little time has elapsed

how far I haven't been

my headlights hardly touch

the edge of night as I

tug each marker up

from murky water

counting off the next mile

this side of you



Kirk, Coming Down


Here on highway 6, between my feet, they've marked with orange spray-paint, the spot where you landed. Down there, by the tall grass is where they say you were hit. The paper said the man driving just fell asleep for a moment, and your bike was clearly over on the shoulder. Now, it's just a matter of the settlement, no one's pressing charges. They've marked your departure point and where you came to rest, but in between: twenty-five feet of nothing but air and time.


One track meet in


I came out during the rain to

watch you jump.

It was cold

you stripped off

your sweats

down to nothing but

your tank-top and shorts.


Your shoes looked too heavy

swinging on the ends

of your long skinny legs

and you bounced them

on the runway

shifting your weight back

and forth.


You paced off your approach

for the last jump

marked a takeoff point

by placing a wet twig

at the end

of the crescent you measured.


I stood as the rain became deafening

on the surface

of the nylon mat.


This'll be the last jump of the day

coach said.


You hit the twig

and lifted up into the rain

against a thousand

tiny droplets

stretching back, your arm


your eyes fierce

and peering back

over your shoulder.

Your torso snapped like a whip

making a loop

of your legs

that unfurled itself

an inch above the bar

and slung your

sneakers up and over.

Look at him fly

just look at him fly

and it seemed

like you'd never come down.


Then you did,

you cleared

the bar, hit the mat

and slid, sending a sheet

of thin rain arching like

tempered glass in front of

our eyes.



Summer of Whistles


We used to walk down the tracks

where it was so bright

the sun seemed to eat away the brown

discarded metal.

We made whistles out of some

(summer of whistles)

until you found that dollar

and the day passed

while we were making plans.


The can we kicked home

echoed, and I looked expecting two other boys

to come around the corner

ahead, they never did--- never did I tell you...


We came to my house

about the time the wind

tousled the trees and your hair

and I grew small under a darkening sky

watching you run fast down the blocks

till your speck turned

out of sight toward your house.

Sometimes I almost cried.

I don't know why I never told you...


That night, I knew you were listening to

the rumble and the rain.

I knew tomorrow would be dry.

I dreamed of you and your dollar bill, of the

sun, and rusty whistles. I dreamed that


I would tell you

how much I loved you.



Kirk Miller

1964 to 1992

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The voice that speaks us into engagement

names, and in so many words, creates us

--creates, not constructs,

names, not labels.


On the edge of an ocean I break again

and again... if I am alive;

what forms is not me but rather the one

who pronounces me lifts me up

and curls me over upon myself

translucent with living coral and darting

flecks of hunger and tosses me down,

digging out, eternally, the earth,

my cradle.


The secret of living

is not finally taking shape

but rather being ever rearticulated

by this great benevolent tongue


so that continents are moved,

tide pools populated,

living creatures sent scuttling

as one shattered form draws up once again

into another, reformed,

reborn, recreated, renamed,


one song, measures cresting

far out toward the horizon,

sounding me into being,

humming gently even now

in these shallows.


The Stones


Any rockslide's bound to leave a mark.

Boulder fields tell stories

of old adjustments made to mountains

you can read them just like

you read the rings of trees or ponds.

I heard about a boulder field

in North Carolina once where people came

with hammers 'cause the rocks would sing

when you beat them.

I have made adjustments too

thanks to gravity and late winter

ice, but I have yet to hear

the song my rocks might sing.

I'm not in charge of this shift

in my face, only responsible

for being brittle enough to come

down. I take on a new name

with each rockslide, each

new face, names as arbitrary

as clouds because I do not do

the naming. People project their dreams

upon a silhouette, they call

me Fortress, they call me Thunder,

they call me Old Man. In South

Dakota once, they jack hammered

dead politicians into

the sides of mountains, and now faithful

pilgrims lay gifts there

at the base of the rockslide, buy

trinkets to clasp later as they

mumble their prayers. I'll not

be shaped by jack hammers, even

if you promise me gifts

and worship. I am

the work of another, faults in my granite

bright with potential. Ice and gravity

wind and water know best

what I will be when I am done.


Play Now



I Don't Need Poetry

I don't need poetry

unless it scratches secretly on my window.

I open the door

to discover it was only wind.


I don't need poetry

until it doesn't want my observation anymore.

when I lower my eyes

it stretches great wings across the sky.


I don't need poetry,

and I say that with the best intentions.

I retract it

when it lies cold in my hands.


I don't need poetry

unless it slopes up along the edges

so the heaviest words

get trapped when it begins to spin.


I need poetry...

like I need a small, white dove

winging hither an olive garnish

for this silver platter beneath my chin.



Quoting Robert Burns

It began with the woman in the commercial:

she had dirty socks

her boy had played


as all AMERICAN boys do...

We had turned the set on

leaving the room to do our other business and

leaving it to its covertly explicit ramblings,

when suddenly childlike, percipient...


she began quoting Burns without a brogue

like making faces in the car on the highway

without adjusting the rearview mirror

to see them anymore:

doing the thing just to do it

not to keep sane on a long trip or

to try out different smiles

to use in public or

to sell detergent.


Of course I was not there,

otherwise it would have been tainted

as all commercials are having more to do with

the fat man in the biggest office

than with clean socks or

AMERICAN boys who, of course,

play baseball-in-the-mud.




It was night

over the rows of dry cornstalk arms

(broken into elbows just above the surface)

snow was the promise for that night

and my truck whined down the highway

either side black as the

edge of a mattress



a glowing green house emerged orange

in the starboard vastness of dead

fields... Life was there:

roses, mums, zinnias, tulips

perhaps even strawberries or beans

In the darkness, the elbows

shuddered beneath the first flakes.

As I turned off the radio,

I believe my face glowed dimly in the mirror by

the dashboard lights...

Life was there.


The snow came secretly, later that night

rendering the stalk-arms overtly implicit

within the whiteness:

symbol of the housewife

with a million dirty socks

and no more commercial

to let her know,

quoting Burns without a brogue,

giving up on the impossible purity of snow

in anything too ulterior--- too



But no one heard the woman or the

stalk's movement.

I make my faces alone

without even the eye of the mirror,

quoting Burns just because it's Burns.

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