January Looks Forward and Back, Feeds the Stove October’s Wood,
Saves the Ashes for April’s Garden
January wraps trees in sleeves
of ice, coats the ground in frost,
throws its shawl of morning mist
on field and lake and stream.
January plants sage and lavender,
costmary and mint, pulls up fingers
of crocus and daffodil, green
buds of forsythia, rose, spirea.
January’s voice is cold and coarse–
the silver moon, the blue sky,
the gray sky, the absinthe moon,
the empty trees, the trees filled
with cedar waxwings. January
wears out darkness sleeping late,
puts on morning’s half-white face,
speaks of what is bare and necessary.
It is dangerous to know the mind
of January. January is life
and death, the new born from the chest
of the old, half-formed eyes of flowers
forcing their way through tight skin
of limbs, mouths of bulbs tonguing
up through dirt, opening to earth
and sky and air of January.
February’s Air of Waiting
February, his feet by a fire,
warms the morning’s chill away,
huddles under horsehair, bearskin,
eats savory, spinach, and sweet
marjoram, cradles a book of days
in his hands, wearily scratches
in plans of days to come. Scratching
in ashes, February stokes the fire,
watches flames the color of day
speak, roar, sing their way
to dying, listens to the thick, sweet
sound of wood burning to skins
of black ash, dry, skinny
sticks, half-dead limbs scratching
against each other, green wood sweating,
snapping, spitting into the fire,
life consumed with eating away
its own body and lighting the days
of February’s interiors. Such days,
kept wrapped in thick skins
of house and cloak, await the sweet
sounds of newborn spring scratching
at windows, sun’s warmth firing
panes to melting, sweeping away
the ground’s cover of ice, sweetening
the air with labor’s harsh perfume. Today
February can only bank the fire,
gather limbs, hang skins
to dry, absently scratch
blades on whetstones, put the tools away.
Outside the world goes winter’s way,
hedges white with malignant sweetness,
limbs full of irritable scratching,
wind howling at the day,
earth drinking its icy skin,
trees lit with frostian fire.
Sprout-kale, month-long day of waiting,
sweet season of keeping beneath the skin,
I will scratch my way from your consumptive fire.
March with Your Flowers Burning
Just as I had gotten things under
control again, you showed up,
with your head in the clouds,
your eyelids full of rain,
your cuffs of late snow,
your feet tracking mud,
you who refuse to be ruled,
you with your willow’s strand
of pearls, you with your fingers
sucking scilla, daffodil, crocus,
your nostrils stuffed with snot,
your cheeks puffed,
your lips dripping lullabies,
your rainbow-wicked smile,
you with your forsythia switch,
your many-voweled throat, your mind
like black ice, your hands always
open , the slap and plea, the cup
and howl, the easy lure,
the careless jangle of trees.
How could I hope to respond,
my arms grown thin, my eyes
winter-blind, my hands
unaccustomed to such change?
You were the one I dreamed of,
with your mouth full of promises,
your cheeks honey-smeared,
your hands around my balls.
Rush of April Coming In
Schizophrenic April rained the ceiling down
pulled up lamb’s ear and fennel columbine and sage
ran the radio outdoors the clouds transforming
the hills running mud my feet slippery wet
on steps sweating thick socks tracking criss-
crossed patterns of brown-yellow earth the architecture
of days sprouting green lines across the sky
running streams of water between brick beside the road
across the yard in widening pools of sunshine dripping
puddles beneath the trees cold fingers raking
the sky white gray blue or black and flowers blooming
anyway April’s cruelest joke not enough to stop
their show of colors only slightly mud-spattered
the way they clean themselves like cats in windows waiting
for mid-month to fling themselves open as mouths
to weather warming with winter’s burning away.
Of Flowered Gardens As In May
You’ve been working the garden again
to the texture you want, beating it
with mattock and hoe, pulling up what
you won’t grow, putting down what you will.
Everything you do leaves a different taste
in your mouth. Pulling up ivy is nothing
like pulling up myrtle. Rooting one only
like the other in the earth you turn.
These are days with high foreheads
and Roman noses coming out of the ground,
with eyebrows bushy as clouds, with green hands
of limbs stroking the windows open,
with the too-cool sauntering in of May.
You sniff the air alive with spring’s ammonia,
search for the living bloom of earth
beneath stones. In the garden bitter drops
of May hang beneath umbrella leaves,
the screaming plant, the little man.
Loosestrife, spiderwort, bleeding hearts
blaze their public weeping. Squirrels swing
from cats’ mouths. Birds lie dead on the path,
premature bodies pink as velvet gloves.
Lichen slices through rock. You arrive
with your hands full of little graves,
your thoughts full of the deaths of planting.
Immature May, May with its half-hearted
promises, May the almost ripe, has called
you to its secret rooms full of flowers,
to its life dripping from fingertips
of leaves. You will open the earth again.
You will set the seedling in place
and feed it with your own cracked hands.
June Arrives, Dressed in Grace and Pain
Hesitant, June stood waiting on the horizon for days,
then walked in with an uncertain limp,
dragging the dead heads of spring behind it.
Now it stands staring into fields that will not grow,
counts fallen fingers of foxglove, sits in the trees
at night wilting the leaves, spreading its heat around.
Now it sings in the throats of mockingbirds at night,
in distant whippoorwills teasing you out into darkness
towards dead-leaf bodies you’ll never find.
There is no loneliness like June’s confusion
of faces, bee-balm’s foolscap of red, yarrow’s
cowardly hands, bright, boasting tongues of gladiolus.
In the day edible orange daylilies open their mouths
to a sky full of promises. At night the air shines
with bodies burning to touch one another.
The angel of June flies into the room, black wings,
red belly spiraling down to black, three-part-body
you can’t help but want on top of you.
July, the Sun, and Thundering Storms
July in the sun, a straw hat tilted
on his head, gathers catalpa worms for fishing,
plucks many-lobed moons of blackberries
from a green sky, briers pulling blood
from fingers and wrists, mixing purple-sweet
juices in the red palette of his palm.
Cold shower flagellations, mornings
as warm as noon, green oppression of leaves,
hands that hold you tighter than regret,
days that take you back to feet dangling
from fenceposts, tailgates, low bridges,
sunlight the taste of plums at 2 A.M.
July spends days spread out by a stream,
lounged beneath a tree, picking clover,
watching thunder and no rain rumble
into darkness, watching night rise
from the ground, buzz lethargic with life,
glow in slow erratic circles.
July’s black jacket of sleep descends,
legs coated yellow with dreams,
with pre-transformation of flowers.
Hibiscus buds pucker like mouths,
tremble with giving, quiver beneath
forgotten hands plying them open.
Hummingbird tongues this petaled throat,
laps up yellow dust of the past,
eases out hum of skies talking
at night, loves this face to shape
of cups, hands to wings, dreams
to distant islands of your eye.
August Without Fanfare
August blew his flute in the shade,
lay down by the water, kicked off his shoes,
put his feet up, refused to care
about money, time, the national debt.
August lounged on tree limbs,
hung tires from branches, fell in love
with water, played break the wave,
jump the wave, ride the wave in.
August faced the horizon with indifference,
waited for pecans to fall, muscadines
to turn, trumpet vines to sound
their wild annunciations.
August proclaimed the fish in the trees,
the cleavage of shadows, the stars
shooting holes in the sky,
God in his glass-bottomed boat.
For once the dog days of August
were not dog days at all
but children running through woods,
warming their mouths with words
unafraid to be spoken. August
sang to mockingbirds’ random chants,
pressed his face into crepe myrtles,
wore mimosa in his hair, scratched his name
into trunks of trees. August made friends
with everyone, fed the birds,
watered the plants, wanted to give
his bread to the child in the street.
August came in without fanfare,
stayed its requisite number of days,
colored the night bright with stars,
left us the resurrection of children.
September Sits in Too Big Shoes
crown askew, parasol twirling,
face powdered white as dawn,
nails pushed back to moon-shaped cuticles,
painted red as chrysanthemums.
September opens her hands to everything,
tries on summer’s bright blouse,
autumn’s dappled skirt,
winter’s cloak of darkness.
In cool September we began again
the lives we thought we’d live,
cut the nets beneath us, healed
the oldest scars. I said forever
and saw for once the way time
didn’t matter. You said yes,
this is the way and led me there.
I felt the blows, for the first time,
like they belonged to me, took them
inside, cried to think of all
I’d forgotten. There is no happiness
like September’s salvation: sweep and swell
of blackbirds, coagulation of shadows.
September’s eyes fill with things turning,
weather and peaches, walnuts and plums,
leaves stitched with remnants of color.
With little sense of why, September
saves everything, gathers rain
in bottles, picks up sticks,
presses leaves into shapes of hands.
October’s Reign of Yellow Leaves
Outside, leaves fall like blackbirds descending,
summer’s bright oppression seeming just
begun already ending.
The trees are having their annual falling out.
October tracks mud in the house, kneels
on grass-stained knees.
Dead stalks of flowers, smell of leaves
burning, dream fragments like chips of moon
slipping off the horizon.
October’s drizzle of days pushes the sky
together again, its distant expanse appearing
through blank terror of trees.
Night’s white mask of cold, morning’s
lingering wet breath, black earth
whispering exhumed corpses.
As the last leaves fall, October goes out,
rattling chains, knotting trees with blackbirds,
swelling with echoes of leaving.
November Never Speaks of Itself
gathers wood, kills the boar,
lets December say what cold
the winter holds, whispers only
silver flashes in the spring,
cleaning away what green still
clings to rock or limb.
November sits smirking, indifferent,
watching each displeasure
like something not a part of its own,
watching everything washing
out to gray, every bit of color
giving way to December’s coming on.
November never speaks of itself,
makes use of all that autumn brings it,
tamps down leaves beneath quiet
rains, hushes what sings, sends birds’
black streaming across the sky,
let every night grow longer.
December’s Ground Freezes, Shrinks, Cracks, Thaws, Swells with Forgotten Water, Pushes to the Surface Rocks, Seeds, Things Buried, Reborn
Each day I look to see what has risen,
arrowhead, skull of a bird, crocus bulb.
It may be nothing. It may be everything
I’ve wanted. One day I found seven rocks
almost all the same, like shattered pieces
of the same stone. Other times I found glass,
keys, fragments of things whose meaning only
the earth remembers. It’s no wonder Christ rose,
the way the ground pushes things out like water.
The earth has hardened its water to stone.
Turning rough crystals of dirt I feel
as far now from changing as I have ever been.
I wonder if the ground will open its arms
to take me in, if the earth will want this body
I’ve ruined, if it still can clean these bones
of all the things I’ve thrown onto them.
I wonder if there is time enough
to change before the changing begins.
“March with Your Flowers Burning” was first published in Blue Fifth Review, “February’s Air of Waiting” in Crucible, “November Never Speaks of Itself” in Georgia Journal, “December’s Ground Freezes, Shrinks, Cracks, Thaws, Swells with Forgotten Water, Pushes to the Surface Rocks, Seeds, Things Buried, Reborn” in Mind in Motion, and “July, the Sun, and Thundering Storms” in North American Review.