LIGHTS OUT (hour 16; golden shovel prompt from hour 8)

Inspired by a line from Weldon Kees’s “Five Villanelles” —

“We must remain until the roof falls in.”


The darkness invites us to stretch and dawdle, and we

do, pouring more wine, telling more tales. We must

be tired, but we stretch, pretend otherwise, remain

hunched beside our ebbing campfire, until

at last our yawns can’t be denied, or the

fatigue seeping into muscles. No roof

overhead; no matter, we’re all in.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (Hour 15, another prose poem, PM 2017)

Dear Mary: I want to come back to your painting Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. To talk to you about Edgar. Rumor had it for a long while – perhaps even fifty years – you’d be amazed at how stubborn Parisian gossip is – that you were his student. You, a woman – and him, the big shot male artist introducing you to the basics of Impressionism. As if you needed instructing or help in applying color. How wrong-headed!

We both know you were already established – own galleries /agents/sales – when you met Edgar. Equals. Artistic kin. And yet, I’m ashamed and embarrassed to read in your letter to your dealer, that dear Edgar not only found this painting “good” but that he even “advised me on the background, he even worked on the background.

I’ve since heard that Manet once took it upon himself to rework much of one of your friend Berthe’s paintings.

But who am I to judge what Edgar and you did. Can’t equals be collaborators?

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 – 1926 ), Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art

NIGHT SONGS (Hour 14, PM 2017)

Dusk percolates into darkness.

Early spring in the Northwest, the ground a sodden mess, but this evening the rain has ceased. Stifled by too many hours inside, under lamps, I switch off the radio which has been keeping me company, my elbows stiff from bending over papers I’m grading.

Stretch and listen. Silence does not greet me. I am assaulted by frogs, the clang and bong of their night longing loud enough to hear with the windows closed.

I know you may not believe me.

Inspired by their desire, I turn aside, open jars of tomatoes. Crush garlic, chop basil. Put a large pan on to boil. We will eat well tonight.


EXPRESSIVE (hour 13, 2017)


  “Red narrates, red highlights, red beautifies brunettes but doesn’t blemish blondes, red embellishes, red loved, and red kills too – but it is not the color of mourning.”

            – Marie-Caroline Sainsaulieu, “Expressive Red”

What if the world turned red? Red, red, and red, with bits of white, orange and black. As if there were to be no mourning anymore. No lost words, no missed affection, no ungentle touching. Only relaxation, and the quiet smoothing of hair.

Take Degas’s “Combing the Hair,” for instance. No blue eyes, blue skies, blue bells. No broken bodies lying in green fields, no dead grasses on sandy shores. No snarled black tresses, no blonde roots showing. Only the comb’s whispers, your arm and hand caressing my hair.


Edgar Degas, Combing the Hair (La Coiffure), The National Gallery (Britain)

MINCED ABCS (hour 12, 2017)

A botched time you arrived, isn’t it?

Been around the corners, have you?

Curving the ball, winning the game.

Don’t get all blousey on me, mate.

Enough teabags for a lifetime.

Fount off!

Go slow or be swayed.

How about coming up to where you can’t see me sometime?

I solemnly do sweat.

Just dud it.

Know the child, knock the knees.
Live strange!

Mean gulls never get the road kill.

Not in this death.

Out of sight, out of Miami.

Peace to meet you.

Quest for the mess.

Rest assayed.

Slow down – computers sleeping.

Top of the iceberg, to you.

Uppity yours.

Very bumpy move, dude.

Way to leave.

X is a spot with four corners.

You don’t whisper.

Zoos on us!


FROM THE BACK (hour 11, 2017)


after Edgar Degas, At the Louvre (Miss Cassatt), 1879

Turn me away, turn me inside out. Hide my eyes, show my back. Don’t stare at my low-heeled shoes or the cut of my Victorian clothes (dark, floor length, pleated). Imagine where I’m going – down this hall or that. Consider the angle of the floor – is the wood parquet slanting up into space?

Don’t worry about who is speaking – Cassatt or the other woman with Miss Cassatt. You may not know – you can’t see my face.

Whose paintings do you imagine Edgar thinks I am looking at? Think about that.


Dear Mary (hour 10)


“I fail to see what the Moderns are supposed to have discovered about color.”

Mary Cassatt (letter to Berthe Morisot & her daughter Julie Manet, autumn 1879)

I’ve never met a color I didn’t love, but what you? All this bother about discovering color makes me nervous. As if painting was a game of one-upmanship. Who’s got the best/most/clearest/sincerest/most outrageous perception. As if we all see/saw things the same way as each other.


And I can’t help but wonder if there’s anything new to explain about say, shades of blue – that you or Renaissance painters didn’t know? The blues in your “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair” don’t strike me as virginal. Your little girl appears thoroughly modern – slouched, legs akimbo as if bored to death of waiting for something – not a Renaissance Madonna. And that lapdog isn’t some lamb in a creche. Nor does he seem stuffed in the painting to show a patron’s wealth. I suspect he’s the family pet.


Maybe your blues aren’t medieval lapis, but let’s be modern. I’d rather be sprawled in those two peacock/cobalt overstuffed chairs than almost anywhere else.


(response to Mary Cassatt, “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878)

Slipping (hour 9, 2017)


The sky was weeping mercilessly

the evening we entered New Mexico.


Staring skyward, palms uplifted to the sonorous, wet falling,

I felt a slipping in my heart –

heavens unbalanced –

this desert – too green too green.


I saw the climate wandering, unhinged;

arroyos surging with mud.


Tests. Experiments.


I dreamt an explosion – saw the searing white blast,

withering of birds (mountain jays, golden eagles);

tasted the acrid stench of crisped juniper.


The next day an atomic physicist’s dream of death

shadowed our steps along Los Alamos’s Boyo trail –

steep-walled box canyon once witness to flash & blast –

small bombs testing nuclear containment –

while dead-end geology and weather drove us back –

thunderclouds surging overhead.


This is not a test texts read that night.

Flash floods, flash floods,

be prepared to evacuate.


This was not a riddle in so many syllables.


Imminent incident. Flash flood. Early September.