Two Poems

Breakfast with My Spiritual Advisor at Sunny Side Café

His first job out of school was working

as a hospital chaplain at Mercy,

sat bedside with the dying


for a living, and he tells me what

it was like to wait for the joints

in their fingers to go loose like he


was letting the fish steal the hook to swim

back off into scripture with.

Out down the road


the early service releases and a ringing

tower sends off the congregation

with the old, irregular style bell


ringing that signifies to me an actual

human is somewhere down there tugging

one end of some rope that crashes


a lead tongue against the hollow insides

of cast iron. You hear that, I say,

pointing with a slice of bacon to the air,


and he says they’re an expression of joy

meant to help us forget our sadness

for a minute or so, and I say


it’s there though, pointing at my heart

with the bacon, the sadness, even

when we let ourselves forget it,


same as it’s always been,

the heartache and the thousand

natural shocks that flesh is heir to.


He says he prefers Blake

over Shakespeare any day of the week

when it comes to either sadness or joy,


To see a world in a grain of sand, he says

and a heaven in a wild flower.

When the ringing quits


I say I prefer Frank Stanford, which

is a damn lie, but I don’t tell him I actually

prefer my wife’s hair slinking down her back


though I do, or that I prefer sneaking out at night

for a cigar on the porch in early fall,

or that I’ll always prefer to bury the light


and put on the darkness like a pair of wool socks

with a hole in one of the big toes

over Milton or Jesus or Sappho.


There are houses so broken

they aren’t worth fixing, and sometimes

that’s exactly how I feel. Waterlog turned


to dryrot turned so useless you couldn’t

sink a nail. Sometimes my wife whispers

she loves me from the other room and all


I hear are bells. Other times, there’s only

a lonely wind passing through the storm door

whispering almost nothing at all.


Art Fair

I came to meander through open-air booths erected

in the name of self-taught metallurgical fiends

who curl lengths of iron into abstract lawn décor,


in the name of grade school art teachers

who scrawl feverish landscapes into the night,

in the name of potters who breathe and bellow fire


into backyard kilns, in the name of woodworkers

who turn burlwood into bowls for still-life prints.

I came here because there exist people with second lives


that last longer than the first, and because we all

eventually fall into the shapeless crowds who wander

these grassy lanes like ghosts who’ve fallen


into portraits tacked in museum galleries. If I fail

to bargain down a smear of moon oil on canvas, just watch

me move in on that bloodwood cutting board,


or that hand-twined chandelier, because there’s a price

in my head that’s incapable of change and all it takes

is a bit of small talk and to look someone in the eyes.


I once convinced a man at a roadside fireworks tent

to knock ten bucks off a 12-pack of Mississippi Gambler

mortar shells so I could paint the night with more color


than you can imagine, and he just sat back into his body

and his impossibly quiet lawn chair. Just sat back down

into a life defined by a carnival tent of powder and fuse.


Listen, I came here to feel a rougher art rush through

each one of my eye’s billion vessels, because color

and form, and because far from the Louvres


of the world artists still find ways to fashion

grief into the arcades of other people’s hearts.

Because somewhere near these tents meat smoke rises


from pork fat spit into embers, and because somewhere

there is a moveable stage upon which a bass player

slowly unlatches his case, and because soon enough


the lights of this art fair will begin to dim, and each

one of us will drift back to the silence of our homes

where we will each unearth from slumber the stud-finder


level, hammer and a single nail in order to hang

an image upon the dining room wall

where before there was nothing, until now.