north fork, october 

If you’re John Muir you want trees to live among.
If you’re Emily, a garden will do.
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.

When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.

Anything that touches.

God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,

Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.

In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie.

All important ideas must include the trees, the mountains, and the rivers.

To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition.

For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!

Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing.

The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.

Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way, Mary Oliver



This poem from Molly Jean Bennett has been haunting me since it was published on The Collapsar earlier this month- enjoy!


When I ask my septuagenarian friend if he has ever
been heartbroken, he says it is a young question

Have I ever cracked an egg and found a yolk inside?
Have I watched the sun drop over the river like

I could begin again? Did I throw onions in a buttered
pan and feel hunger pure enough to ruin me? I ask

him to go on but he gets quiet. I am full of young questions.

thursday words

This Lenten season I’ve been trying to put my words on paper more often, and have been revisiting some old pieces of poetry to rework them and get my mind working again. This is for my parents.

elk mountain

My father burned 4 trees this season, the winter
unrelenting in its fury. The wood stove seizing any life
left from the logs, forcing heat out of bark and sap,
moisture cracking out of the crevices, echoing
inside the cast iron berth that hulks under
the mantle’s gaze.

You can smell the woodsmoke before you can see
the house. The trees funnel everything- the smoke,
the racket of spring peepers, the light at the end of day.
Sun and moon rise over the same mountain, cyclic,
like life in this hollow. Summers spent tending the earth,
winters spent burning pieces of it- the land keeping us.


I had the immense blessing of writing poetry under the guidance of Claudia Emerson when I was in college. She was at Mary Wash for many years, but has since moved on. Her office was a place of beauty on an already beautiful campus- full of light and treasures and wisdom. I am thankful for all the time we spent talking about poetry, about books, about trees, about life (and how much of these things are the same).

Her poetry has inspired me for years and I consider it one of the great honors of my educational life to know her and to have had her input in my own writing. She is currently battling cancer, and today, underwent a brain probe. She is resilient and brave, but such a battle should not have to be fought by anyone. Keep her and her family in your thoughts!

(from Blackbird: a poem from her forthcoming collection)

A Partial Ledger: Dr. C.D. Bennett

The 11th of July 1914—
and a leper is made as clean as this:

in a log house on a tobacco farm in a storeless
churchless mostly roadless place they call

Flint Hill—a bed by the window for whatever
air moves from the field through it: this one

comes into the world scrawny and will be
small—worried over—then tall and thin—

that thick shock of black hair for now a glossy
patent crowning the day before him—

a first entry—live infant—the flesh
untouched and scarless—the body unfolding

as though for the first time in my hands—no part
that was not made to open
open: and the breath

in the mouth of the deaf mute something I am
not to doubt can be opened at just the words—

I am not to doubt what words can open: he cannot
hear them first to know what they mean: like placing

a hand to a closed door—the palm can sense
the fire or cold behind it: I can smell

the sugar on the breath: I wear my thermometer
in my watch pocket—encased in chased aluminum

on a chain—its glass having lain beneath
all their tongues—its mercury having measured

their fevers: no instruments for seeing in—
I watch with the naked eye to mark where the mercury

reaches—look at the white of the eye—the aperture
of the pupil—the back of the throat: and so I listen

to what courses along the capillary bore
of the stethoscope—a closeness I can feel

in the eardrum: the sound of the bowels, of the heart: pneumonia
I have come to hear as the old person’s friend—

the way the breathing goes away quiet
as in a drowning in a pond—an angel

from it I listen for in the lungs:
everyone has
owed me for this—for something—the years of bleeding

ceased—crooked bones made straight—and they have paid—
telling everyone—as I told them not to—

with buttermilk (quarts)—berries (pecks)—greens (messes)—
eggs and eggs—chickens—some alive—some

dressed for the oven—perishables—all
here—recorded: when they have little they name

their sons for me—when they have nothing—let me
name their daughters:
in the King James: a ginkgo

leaf tied and knotted surgical-neat with red thread
to a wild violet pressed deep into the text—

I have forgotten the why of some miracle
underlined—all the miracles underlined—

every one I thought to be instructive—
must have thought to memorize:
now I make

my own accounts—drawings—eye-drafts of maladies—
and I harvest what I can—gall stones—kidney stones—

a ganglion cyst—necrotic finger—
all bottled in formaldehyde—labeled

by date and name—lessons for someone else
I shelve behind the textbooks—behind all

the possibilities—my ended causes:
with the consumption—fever—the faithless blind—

the influenza: there is the time the lightning
strikes the plow and kills the mule and the one

behind the mule: the time it strikes a nail
at the back of the head of someone leaning against

a country store—out on the porch just to watch
the storm blow in—the body blown out of its chair—

its shoes: the time a boy is feeding sugarcane
into the press and he feeds his hand into it

too—and the mule keeps moving like the hour hand
on a clock face: they have to coax it to back up

as though to undo the hour that cannot be
undone: the hand I can save—a withered thing

for the handle of a hoe—but cannot reverse
any more than I can the wasting

despair that comes with the hoe blade—that one
dull tooth working the shell it will never

break through: and still I consider the text:
spitting on the ground—my spittle a wet-

shimmering pearl in the dust—and with the clay I make of it
I place it on the eyes and tell the man

to wash in a pond he has never seen, and ask him:
what do you see? as you ought?: and I will let that

be the first thing that he sees: his face
in a pool of clearest water—then—

trees walking across it—toward me.


a new poem from perhaps my favorite poet, Steve Scafidi, originally published at Dialogist. killer.

On the Birth of a Friend’s Child

Like the rumble under a river
the dead hear looking up
suddenly and like the beehive
roar of sighs every word
just barely is able to contain

ten thousand years of life
inside us quietly every day
remain. Like the sea-sway
green of waves without end
and the vertical plunge of miles

darkening down, this limitless
is comes on when you finally
listen in. I’m nearly halfway
to death and still may turn
and go the other way.  Watch!

Child, we are not here to stay
and you don’t seem to care.
That is what I admire about you.
You say giddy-up to the day.
You laugh and laugh and you

have no idea about rivers, sorrow
or the sea and you don’t
know me and that is for the best.
I’m a downer. Ask your parents.
We are friends. Child, we are guests.