Thursday, September 13, 2018


Note to High School Reunion Committee

I won’t be attending the fiftieth high school reunion,
or queuing up to tour the old place,
though I thank the committee for its invitation.
It’s not fear of showing my wrinkled face

that will keep me from the happy event—
we all look like a sheet the morning after.
It’s just that my years in high school were spent
in pursuits ill-suited to stories and laughter.

I could mention the drugs and the sex, I guess,
or tell tales of madness and family drama,
before getting round to the French teacher’s kiss.
Madame, who taught the intro to love and trauma.

Who knows where the years have gone?
Let’s just say it’s time I moved on.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017



this is the way we are in August 
in America in 2017
the nazis marching in Charlottesville
and the president standing silent
until he speaks for them

this is the way
we wait with anger and hope on street corners
holding signs and looking for signs
while our cellphone screens blister
with the news served too fast to eat
and civil war is in the air

this is the way
the enormity of the wound—
to the country,
to the invisible pertinent currents
coursing through our metaphysical bloodstreams,
to the ground shifting beneath us—
staggers mothers walking down streets, 
stuns birds from the skies,
and makes fathers stumble against walls

this is the way
the eclipse comes
in a rushing silhouette across America
as a sign or a symptom

this is the way
the shadow slides into our pockets

this is the way 
the dragon eats the sun
the way bear rears into the sky
and tears apart the light
the way demons bring darkness
and speak up for monsters

this is the way
we say to each other
we have reached totality

and this is the way
we look at one another
and remember the light

this is the way we wake up

this is the way we turn and find our way home

this is the way we remember ourselves

this is the way we begin again

Monday, May 29, 2017

At The Y

The other old men in the locker room step softly on the wet floor.
They wear only pink gray skin stretched over their noisy bones.
They say:  how ya doin’, and make little grunts as they dry their feet.  

These aren’t the boys who bullied me in showers sixty years ago.
These aren’t the men who drank themselves stupid in dark corners.
These are not even the mad kings in special chairs, not the fathers.

These are the old men standing by green lockers, trying to remember 
what they stored there, what they forgot, what still abides.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

This Poem Is Air

One breath, then another—
that’s how bodies turn to song,
how wind tunes each leaf,
how hurricanes sound.

This poem is air,
as my life is.

In the Pines, In the Pines

Because the snakes ate the minnows,
Uncle Earl took a .22 into the swamp
behind his bait shop and shot them,

both king snakes and moccasins,
on the dark secret islands
of his pine straw archipelago.

I went with him, once,
when I was twelve and new to guns.
We waded through shadows

and air thick as blood,
saying not one goddamned word
until we found a big one

stretched on an island in a bolt of light.
It reared, angry, looping, as we neared,
while a fish, white as a bearded moon,

still alive, shook in its jaws.  
Earl handed me the rifle.
This only happens once, he said.

I thought my shot went wild
but as the gun made a flat crack
the snake coiled, lunged, collapsed.

We waded back into the light,
silent as fish all the way home,
and never spoke about it.

Earl’s dead now, of course,
but on some sleepless nights
I still hear the susurrus of water

under my uneasy bed.

Wind Is Hard To See In The Winter

when only the strongest gust
can push branches into a clattering frenzy.

Not like the swoon of tall birches
in a fine spring breeze,

when one leaf leads to another
and lips will part at a breath.


Invented Traditional Form

The moon is a hole in the sky tonight,
not reflecting light but pouring radiance
from some other sky into this one.

Like a searchlight beam on a prison wall,
it scans the ground for escapees.
The moon is a hole in the sky tonight.

One could read a paper by its light
but why bother, when the news is
not reflecting light but pouring radiance

Even the skin on even my hands
shines like a secret language
from some other sky into this one.

From some other sky into this one,
not reflecting light but pouring radiance,
the moon is a hole in the sky tonight.  


Everyone steps in a bear trap

Everyone steps in a bear trap,
and wears it as an anklet, painful,

invisible to the eye, but making a clanking
nevertheless, and audible even when

we speak of the stars.
Everyone bears a crown, unseen,

a hat with a hole to the sky,
a bit of panache as the world goes by,

and the light falls in, even when
we speak of the dark.


History Lesson

I come from central desert people, far as I know—
dirt farmers, ranch hands, fry cooks, the occasional card sharp.

Hoboes when they had to, mothers of small broods, women who waitressed
at the local diner. They all married once or twice.

One uncle was a prison guard, another an oil rig man,
one aunt went crazy without ever crying,

and dad could siphon gas from a poorly parked car.
Just people, old as the weather, with dust in their hearts 

and a bleak light in their eyes on a Saturday night.  
Mabank, Terrell, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Lubbock, and back—

they scratched a line between those towns
as though latitude was fate, as though they were partial to tornadoes, 

as though their feet were magnets on an iron highway.
If they had a history, they left it in those dry places and moved on, 

maybe late at night, maybe the next morning when the wind picked up.
I wonder if love tasted like water in their mouths?


All-night Pharmacy: A Love Story

I saw you stomping down the aisles of the all-night pharmacy,
both hands full of bottles, flashing an orphan look 
at the checkout boy, a gaze to crack the heart or curdle penicillin. 

What a toxic wonderland it was to love you,
when love was new and catastrophe meant romance.

I waited for you between the beauty aids and decongestants
but you passed through me without knowing,
even though I spoke your name in wonder.

One of us became a ghost and rays shot out of our hearts
when it was over.  Love always ends that way.


The King Lear Glee Club

The only member of the King Lear
Glee Club and Dancing Society
meets this morning on a bus stop bench
in the Kroger parking lot to perform
the Off This Mortal Coil Shuffle.
His hair is ruffled,
his mouth is agape in an empty O—
O! O! O! O!—
while only his own fingers
play on his xylophone ribs.

He rises to scuttle crabwise among the Pontiacs
and Chryslers, peering into their windows
to sneer at the food wrappers and baby seats,
occasionally keying a perfect car door
with a precisely inscrutable line.  He bends
to see his hair-choked face in a side view mirror
and weeps to find it there.

The grocery store draws him in
and he makes his entrance with stiff pride—
the magical doors open at his kingly command—
but no one looks.  He bellows, retreats,
going out to go in again, sure this time
that the muzak plays for him,
that the florescent lights shine to ennoble his royal brow,
that the silver linoleum has been laid for his own bare feet.

He orders his sullen subjects to shop, 
to pick vegetables and push carts,
to edge away from him in silent awe 
and well-deserved respect as he stomps
and titters, rehearsing the arguments
proving his divinity—which is evident
in the cereal aisle where angels find bran flakes,
in the meat and poultry section where he sees signs
forked into the bare bodies of dead animals,
in the perfumed pharmacy stinking of corporeal decay,
in the candy treats on shelves too low to reach,
for what sane king would bend for mere sugar,
and in the narrow-eyed stare of his fool
who gathers baskets and mocks his own mockery with secret love.

Or does he?  What is the bottom of mockery,
where is its top?  Peel back the ordered linoleum tiles
and the abyss crouches, scissor open the roof
and find empty air, entangle the nerves with bargains,
and you will save nothing.  

Nothing in the parking lot
nothing among the vegetables
nothing in the dairy products
nothing in the empty registers.

He stumbles outside where a storm gathers
above the automobiles.  I forgive you, lightning,
he mutters, but not that bitch Cordelia.  
By his mad decree the winds roar
the sky boils and the clouds hurl their cataracts
till the power lines snap.
And then the darkness comes.

Crazy proud blind Lear staggers a two-step 
and opens the first unlocked car door he finds,
sits dripping on the plastic-covered throne,
places knuckled hands on the great wheel.
Turn, he begs.  Turn.


Diary Poem

Yesterday morning I woke from the little madness
of dreams with a stiff chest and a ragged heart.

All last night I slept in pieces,
waking and re-waking to see if I was alive.

This morning at dawn the heart crowed:
still here still here still here.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Once I saw my dad as a great ape

Once I saw my dad as a great ape,
a hairy sullen silverback gorilla
who spoke in grunts behind the daily news;
not an unkind mammal, really,

but one preoccupied with his cages.
While I myself, a lithe pocket Tarzan,
groomed the furniture for pennies and dimes,
roamed the savage bedrooms, and kept a low

jungle profile down among the chairs.
Now when I see the eyes of apes in zoos
I see the human looking back, just as
once I saw the animal eyes above a paper.

And if I chance to think of my father,
I beat my chest with my hand, and I yell.



When I was nine
I learned to be alone
by walking in the woods
behind our house.

Solitude was preferable
to the tricky silences
that boobytrapped our home—
better to walk in the vast
Kabab National Forest,
that other house. 

One summer I climbed
high in a serious pine tree,
climbed until I could see
blue snow gracing the tops
of the far away San Francisco Peaks.

The ground below felt distant as the sky.
I was introduced to absence:
treetop to ground, ground to Peaks,
Peaks to home, home to here.

Absence is as vast
as a national forest
and more varied.

The smell of pine sap
stayed on my hands
long after I climbed down,
long after we left that house,

and long after I stopped smelling it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On the Interpretation of Occult Cuisines

On The Interpretation of Occult Cuisines.

One day my dad asked for help at the college
where he cooked in the kitchen of privilege.
Angry and confused at this unwelcome
invitation into his working life,

I sat beside the ovens without speaking
until lunch, when he insisted
I help carry trays to the dining hall—
but then made me wait while his boss

told the students they were lucky
to have such a fine chef in residence,
and invited them to applaud the father
standing silently by me.

While they obliged I stood
with eyes down, embarrassed
at this adulation for a man
known to no one there.

We never spoke of it afterwards,
but years later I saw that the meal
had been cooked for a single,
hungry, obdurate student.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

There's always a wasp

There’s always a wasp in the room when I paint,
single, singular, muttering, dissatisfied,
just out of reach above me.

I know it at once
if it touches my hair
with its stinger held bent
—flies are quicker, bees more direct.

I watch it circle the light.
It always surprises,
always terrifies,
always pleases me.

I kill it when I can
but a little danger in the air
is welcome when the palette dries
and the brush clogs.

Art is a blood sport.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Old Man Next Door Died

The Old Man Next Door Died

The old man next door died,
the one with the yard neat as a calendar.

Then his son moved in,
the one the neighbors don’t like.

Then a car hit a deer and it died by the road
and rotted to bones on his uncut grass.

Weeks gone by now
and he hasn’t gathered the bones,

the ones with skin loose on the frame
and the frame loose on the ground.

Takes a long time,
a long time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cargo Cult

Cargo Cult

Then one day the cargo comes,
after the weeds have eaten the runway
and the man who waves torches at its end

has gone home without food,
and the plane made of sticks has collapsed,
and the indifferent jungle has grown

like the sea to the world's edge:
something lands and takes off.
Not during your sly devotions,

but in darkness while you sleep,
the part of you tracking arrivals
hears an engine through the trees

and reaches to touch one you love,
slipping your hand over her skin
lightly and smoothly as a bird in the air.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pretzel Man

Pretzel Man

I amble down Manhattan Island
thinking about the bare spots in Cezanne’s paintings
where the unworked canvas shows through,
where the sense of his presence is deepest,

and thinking how the dark schist boulders in Central Park,
the unworked bedrock of the Island,
are the obdurate bare spots
of Olmsted’s landscaped canvas,

while eating a salt pretzel and keeping a canny eye cocked
for those uncomposed moments when a composition
breaks through, pinning my restless eye
to the visible world and one of its infinite arrangements,

and wondering if photos can have empty spaces,
and what the unpainted ground of the mind might be,
when some local hustlers push tickets at my face
for the tourist bus downtown to Broadway.

As a tourist I’m free not to speak, so I don’t,
and one of them says:  Pretzel man don’t want nothin’. 
And for just that moment, he’s right.

David Noah

Saturday, July 19, 2014

First, Words Drop Like Overripe Fruit

First, words drop like overripe fruit
from the page, and the page turns to paper.

Then stories on television go—
all those faceless young fools

shuffled like a strobe-lit tarot.
Who can think with that nonsense going on?

We turn away and see nothing very much.
We listen closely to the air slide over our skin.

Now what, we ask no one,
as our feet like little soldiers

march into a room once silent
but now magnetized by a whisper:

Once upon a time
there was a little old man…

And even though we’re through with tales,
we open our mouths.  We listen.

We know how this one ends—
all happy deaths are alike—

but the plot is a page-turner
that grabs us by the throat. 


Monday, July 14, 2014

The Ambulance Howls

The Ambulance Howls

The ambulance howls
high and long—it’s on the scent.

We pull over and crouch
like terrified gazelles by the roadside.

Let it pass by.
Let it find some other tragic avenue.

Let it sniff around the alleys
in another part of town.

Let it turn the corner on a far road
where I don’t love anyone.

Let it hunt in the dead ends,
in the hidden cul-de-sacs,

on the abandoned boulevards
where weeds crack the pavement.

No one I know lives on that street.
Everyone I know lives on that street.


L. H. N.

L. H. N.

My dad had a tattoo on his forearm
inked in dark blue:  the letters L. H. N.
But since he didn’t have a middle name,
I asked, when I was thirteen and ready,

what H stood for.  “Hell,” he said, “or Heaven.
One night in the navy we got real drunk
and all got tattooed by some handsome guy
who asked what I wanted.  I said No hearts

and no flowers, just write my initials:
L. N., and the guy said ‘No middle name?’
Make it an H,  I told him with a grin,
and that’s how I learned my calling.

For not one of us knows our own true name
until a stranger writes it on our skin.”

At night like a hothouse

At night like a hothouse

At night like a hothouse I dream orchids.
Under a sheet, under the sky, under a spell,
I cup my ear to the door
(beyond that door another door)
and listen to my dreams tell me
what it means to wake up.
While on the other side of the door
someone else listens to my heart beat
and refuses, from compassion, to speak. 


Saturday, April 5, 2014



how water surges from faucets
how the dead visit us in dreams

how the moon rises like steam behind dark trees
how the moon rolls over the stars like a man in a barrel

how the dead speak without sound, saying everything at once
how stars roll out of faucets and find lovers' beds

how roots elbow aside old bones and whisper everything to the branches
how the branches surge and the air reddens around them

how light floods the evening and overflows its banks
how light swells like fresh salt bread

how in dreams the dead live without sorrow and our hearts surge
how nothing is left unchanged, not trees, not dreams, not light, not lovers

Thursday, March 13, 2014



Sometimes I stand in the book aisle at Kroger
and read just the first lines of the bestsellers,
thinking how those lines caught an editor’s attention.
Often I'm dumbfounded by their dumbness, but sometimes
caught just enough to stand there and keep reading--the ink,
as someone once said, dribbling from my mouth.

Other times I sample a single grape from the open bags
in the produce department, pretending I'm checking for ripeness
but really just stealing a grape. That special sweetness.
I wonder how a single grape fits into the world-wide late capitalist agro-industrial complex.
I wonder how a single line of a book can erase the grocery store, its parking lot, my city, my sorrows, and all the world except my willing leap into a story.
It was purple, and ripe, and the rain was falling...