. . .that which is sought transcends all knowledge, 

being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility 

as by a kind of darkness

~Gregory of Nyssa


Light through the grisaille illuminates

Omega on the shabby wooden altar.

What we’ve called “God”

or something like, is disappearing

into a cloud of galaxies

and unanswered prayer, or devolving

into fire and air and trees.


Some of us are here, bound in ritual.

Who knows what we believe?

Some of us have been around outside

and turned, or turned back,

hearing the echo of a name.

We murmur the ancient creed.

The psalms are full of mercy and blood.


Angels have descended and grown small,

their voices turned to syrup, or tin.

Shall we yet fear not?

A dead Jesus hangs on his cross,

between the guttering candles.

The cup is emptied and filled.

We make our humble offerings to the dark.



This is another of the poems that I wrote for an exhibit at the Henry Sheldon Museum. And here’s a link to an article about the exhibit.  




Henry’s Accession Book. . indicates Leland gave it to museum for safe keeping —

“It was left with him by Woodard. . .

who sold it to parties near here.”

~email from Liz Bless, Middlebury College

History is a cob-web,

a tangle of strands,

flakes and pigments, letters

and scraps stashed in

baskets and chests of drawers.

It’s a pellet of feathers and hair.

Pick it apart with a finger bone.


Here, in the file concerning

the Petrified Indian Boy, we find:

bird tracks at Turners Falls,

a rabbit hole, a dog name Boz,

George Parsons the carriage painter,

credulous crowds,

a great deal of money,

a hundred barrels of whisky,

a flight to Canada, the law,

and Mrs. Sarah Henry Cross of Brandon

who saw it at the fair.


Was it a broken-off toe, or a crack in the ankle

that revealed the truth?

Did Mr. Parsons know of the Cardiff Giant?

Why did Mr. Harwood visit Newfane?

What happened to the whiskey?

Who brought the Boy to which express office?

Who was Mr. Douglas, who

bought the image for an immense sum?

Did Mr. Brainerd, scientist and historian,

president of Middlebury College

know the local men who raised the money

and did he himself contribute?

Where did Mr. Leland get it?

Safekeeping from what?

How much did Henry Sheldon know?


In the meantime, the Boy

in his coffin in the Museum

has slept away the years,

keeping his secret silent as stone,

or plaster, or pigmented clay.

KEEPING–a Sheldon Museum Poem

Three years ago, the Spring St. Poets wrote poems about objects in the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, Vermont. The items were then exhibited, along with the poems, and we did a reading. I wrote this one about a chunk of woodwork that Henry Sheldon had rescued, presumably from some renovation done at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.   



~the carving from St. Stephens, found in a cupboard in the barn

One autumn day many years ago I stole

an antique book with a tan leather cover

embossed in gold. The thin pages smelt of mice.

It was in a pile of many heaped

in a corner in a muddled room

on the condemned third floor of a gothic

sandstone castle awaiting remodeling

including–and this is important–new wiring.

It was a building I loved.

When spring came, it all burned up.

Nothing remained but a stone shell and they

bulldozed that into the foundation hole

and built a garage on the spot. I wish

I had taken all the books.

Henry Sheldon would have–

and a juice glass from the dining room and

a candlestick and the pump organ and

a chunk of the chapel window woodwork

and the horsehair sofa from the library

and the doughnut jar from the kitchen and

the mantlepiece from the common room and

the shield that hung above it and the tower

bell that fell and no one ever found and

a railing from the front porch where we used

to sit in the moonlight and sing or kiss.

What is this about? —

to love places, to care about things, to care

what happens to them, to be wary of change,

to want to remember, to want everyone

to remember, to believe that history

matters, to want to keep something, keep many

things, the everyday bits:

shoes and razors and appleboxes and doorframes,

chairs and violins and cupboards and spinning wheels

and dishes and cannonballs and hacksaws and drums

and books that no one will ever read.




November 29, 1955—June 27, 1993

After you died, I determined to live

more worthy, left work I was not

sure about, took up my pen.


It’s been twenty-four years.

I’ve spiraled back toward something

maybe like god, but not


the one I thought I knew,

for how could that one

have let you die despite


our prayers. How could it

allow so damned much pain.

The pottery monk you gave me


stands with his folded hands,

beautific smile, next to a jade tree

in a green pot. Your photo hangs


on my study wall, your face

pensive, dark eyes gazing

toward something I cannot see.


June 27, 2017

April prompt #33: ZIP DRIVE SPEAKS

Your zip-drive has started talking to you. What is it saying?

Ray’s #3


Why keep things, archive your intimacies?  . .

Losing things can sometimes gain you a space in which to live.

~Edmund DeWaal, in The Hare with Amber Eyes


What, precisely,

is the point

of saving

it all?

November Writing Challenge #3

The dumbest so far:


November Writing Challenge #3

Scene: If I knew how to do sets, I’d have some kind of backdrop that makes the pinhead (spotlight) look like it starts out the size of a real pinhead. But I have no idea how this could happen.



two scholars, in doctoral robes

Angels—dancers—enough to fill a spotlight that covers the whole stage

Lighting guy—barely visible above the stage until the end, when he/she is spotlit him/herself


The scholars stand stage right.

Scholar One:  How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Scholar Two: I have no idea. Has anyone ever asked them?

Scholar One:  I don’t think so. Hm. Shall we try? pulls a pin from hat and holds it up

Both Scholars (shouting): How many of you can dance on this?

The shout echoes and echoes while the lights go out and the Scholars exit.  A small silver-white spotlight appears on the stage. Dim lighting elsewhere. The angels enter, stage right, in a line. One moves into the spotlight and dances. The light is just a little bit too big—clearly two angels could dance in it. The next angel in line is invited into the spot and the dance goes on—in a tight formation. This continues until the spot extends to the edge of the stage. The angels waiting in line should be like anybody waiting in line:  checking fingernails, stretching, texting, talking on phones, whatever. When the stage is full—and the angels are all fairly annoyed:

Voice of a Scholar, loud and echoing from the wings:  So, how many of you can dance on the head of a pin?

An angel:  (shouting toward the ceiling) How big is the damned pinhead?

Lighting guy: How big do you want it?









She is a shadow on the grass. She

is a shadow cast by a star so plain

it bears a simple name. She is a figure

on a ground so vast that even she

can not see herself. Mosses grow under

the grasses. Stars behind the sun. Shadows

follow on, between the eastern mountains

and the field all green and yellow. And each

pebble burns its shadow, and each broken

sparrow on the road’s cold shoulder. And why

would anyone be afraid to die

against this curve of space, this ground of time?

Her breath streams a shadow through still airs.

Passing planets pull dark shadows from their stars.

HOT FLASHES–an “old” poem

~response to a young poet 
who thought the subject “too pedestrian” for poetry

“Hotflashes” are not pedestrian–not
dull colorless drab humdrum lackluster stodgy uninspired
“lacking in liveliness, charm, or surprise”
but rather pointed, chromatic, vivid, symphonic, flavorful, fresh, animating.
What better way to describe the quality of heat flaring out from core to face
like the melted innards of Earth vented from volcano,
like wildfire scorching shabby unkempt forest,
like blowtorch, blastfurnace, bunsen burner under ore-filled crucible,
melting out iron, silver–who knows?–even gold,
like hot air roaring, filling the bright bag of a balloon drifting slow
above orchards, over fields of ripened corn.

Certainly they are not lacking in liveliness?
Isn’t it fun to watch us frantically fanning,
opening our collars, rolling up sleeves,
peeling off sweaters like aged strippers gone mad?
Our bedmates awake amazed as we flap the sheets,
throw quilts on the floor, frighten the cats.
We leap up to open windows, let in the blowing snow.
And surely no cosmetic can equal the charming girlish flush
a hotflash paints across a tired face?

Or is there anything but birth or love or death
that can surprise us more?
What is happening? we cry.
We’re barely accustomed to fertility,
and now it’s gone with the scirocco.
It took us so long to grow up, and now, in a flash (or two),
behind our mirrors we see not our mothers’ but our grandmothers’ faces
gaping in wonder at the astonished old women staring back
with eyes that are strangely, still, our very own.

Dec. 11, 2000


The sparks scatter everywhere.  
They cling to material things as in sealed-up wells, 
they crouch in substances as in caves that have been bricked up,
 they inhale darkness and breathe out fear;  
they flutter about in the movements of the world, 
searching where they can lodge to be set free.
~Martin Buber

Each atom holds a bit:
the bond that binds.

In its own time
the gentle unfolding of matter
matter at lightspeed
returning to the source

The singular explosion:
and right away
there was a mess.
Most planets the wrong distance
and one that is right still wrong:
wrong temperature inside,
and germs,
the food chain,
engine of evolution
the engine of deformity and grief.

O God who changes the creatures
shards of god so far apart they can’t reform
bonds that connect the nucleus

There is no reason my life,
or yours,
should be easy.
There can be nothing but free will,
all of it out of control.

You Who Do Not Answer, hear us:
for our sons and daughters called to battle
for our sisters and brothers, beaten and sore
for all who need justice, work and rest

Hear our prayer.

You, Powerless To Respond, listen:
how many did your tsunami kill
drought in Africa
earthquake in Pakistan
how many in the Everlasting War?

You can hear us, we know you can.
All your broken pieces litter the land,
each holding a spark of your light.
Pull yourself together.

Even if it means more suffering
I want to be attached:
clinging like a nursing mouse
to its mother lifted by her tail
and deposited without ceremony
in the snow outside the barn,
for all I’m worth like a fungus
to a dying tree under the axe,
like the father to his child
as the rockslide batters the village away,
the mother to her child
when the death squad kicks down the door.

I want to hold onto Earth, love it,
know it in my mineral bones:
a thin veil of cloud along its mountain crest,
like its shadow at sunrise
sliding down the trees.








To hold the holy water, dig a well,
To keep the notes in check, compose a score.
Heaven’s for the good guys; send the rest to hell.
Pay out your tithe, but not a nickel more.
Iambic meter holds the words together
The way an iron stove holds in the flame.
The airs and seas contain the planet’s weather.
Wild things are known, we think, when called by name.
Bras and jockstraps mash the flesh in place
As locks and dams are built to stem the flood.
We like to sit refined, without a trace
Of sweat or piss or passion, shit or blood.
Then what will happen when it is our turn
To flow, to sing, to burst, to give, to burn?

This was my first published poem–in the now defunct journal “Amelia”, in 1995