Excerpt from Turkish Pears in August, published by Eastern Washington University Press. (buy now)

A few years ago, I began to hear inside the Stanza individual sounds such as in or air or ar call to each other. An er is a sort of being that cries out. What could we call a union of a consonant and a vowel? The word syllable is a ridiculous name for it; it's too Latinate and mute. These particles have more energy than the word syllable suggests.
Hearing these cries put me into a new country of poetry. I was not hiking among ideas or images or stories, but among tiny, forceful sounds. What would happen if I adopted in or ar as the center of a poem? Decisions on content would then depend on that. I let that happen. For length, I settled on eight lines, which is larger than a couplet but smaller than a sonnet.
Every poem, of course, has to have images and ideas and some sort of troubled speaker. But I began more and more to shift attention to the little mouths that cry out their own name.
I eventually accepted ramage as a title for this brief poem. The word occasionally appears as the name of a movement during some French compositions for flute; it is related to the French noun for "branch." We can hear the root of that in "ramify."
The tunings of these things is like tuning on horseback some sort of stringed instrument from the Urals. Each time you try to add one more of the chosen sound particles, new nouns abruptly enter the poem, and one has to deal with them.

The nimble oven bird, the dignity of pears,
The simplicity of oars, the imperishable
Engines inside slim fir-seeds, all of these
Hint how much we long for the impermanent
To be permanent. We want the hermit wren
To keep her eggs even during the Storm;
We want eternal oceans. But we are perishable;
Friends, we are salty, impermanent kingdoms.
No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous heaven.
But the heron Standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his rum all day, and is content.


Have you given any thanks to the old poets lately?
The ones who built vowel-houses in England- Cynewulf out in the cow stall singing, Swift with his beak like a baby owl.

It's good to bless any country where Wordsworth Could wander around in his damp wool suit, Listening like Statius to the low-voiced sheep, And John Donne hiding his girlfriends in the old prayers.

Hardy is out in the rain, reading gravestones Again, Chaucer loving the Wife of Bath, Marlowe baking his sweet pancakes of sound, And William Blake longing for Jerusalem.


Who is out there at six a.m.? The man
Throwing newspapers onto the porch,
And the roaming souls suddenly
Drawn down into their sleeping bodies.

Wild words of Jacob Boehme
Go on praising the human body,
But heavy words of the ascetics
Sway in the fall gales.
Do I have a right to my poems?
To my jokes? To my loves?
Oh foolish man, knowing nothing-
Less than nothing-about desire.
I have daughters and I have sons.
When one of them lays a hand
On my shoulder, shining fish
Turn suddenly in the deep sea.
At this age, I especially love dawn
On the sea, stars above the trees,
Pages in The Threefold Life,
And the pale faces of baby mice.
Our good life is made of struts
And paper, like those early
Wright Brothers planes. Neighbors
Run along holding the wing-tips.
I do love Yeats's decisiveness
As he jumps into a poem,
And that lovely calm in my father's
Hands, as he buttoned his coat.