Selected Poems

From Long Journey Home: Poems on Classical Myths:

Daedalus Laments Icarus

Airborne he learned his wings worked their own magic. 

Thermal currents, with the gentle rhythmic hunching

of his shoulders (the way I instructed him) did the work of flight,

having perfected the systems’ mechanics in tests myself,

although I warned him of the limitations of the adhesives. 

First he circled the labyrinth, taunting our captors,

delighting at the sight of the tiny guards shaking their fists,

their arrows dangling in mid-air before falling back to earth,

that horrible man-bull thing rutting the lawn with its hooves,

the king stomping back and forth, cursing the sky.

Trying to be practical in all matters, I pointed the way

of a straight course toward the coast on the horizon,

but I saw Icarus feel the rush of flight, the flesh of his face

pressed taut by the wind, smiling from the kiss of sunlight

on the nape of his neck.  First, he tried a few steep banks,

then loops, then, a high-velocity dive, pulling up in time

to buzz fishing boats, whitecaps lapping at his feet,

before climbing again, higher and higher, warnings forgotten

from a memory that held only the last instant of exhilaration,

higher than the gulls to where the island was hidden in its mist. 

No one saw him fall but I; the fishermen didn’t notice. 

But what I saw still haunts, the flailing arms and legs

splashing soundlessly into the sea, feathers floating

on the dark surface like petals scattered on a grave,

finally the crest of a plush wave, swallowing him.

They say that grief takes time, that first you make your peace

with the gods and then you make a separate peace with yourself. 

Those who say so never saw their sons fall from the sky,

never gave their sons wings to fly to their deaths.

It is more of a cease-fire, not at all the same as peace.

True, the wings I invented were the means of our escape;

but eventually one grows weary of paradox and he wants to feel

what he feels, wants to face the face that still hovers in vapor

over the water and touch lost time again, wants to speak

what only can be spoken in silence long after it is too late.

From The Color of Prayer: Poems on Rembrandt Painting the Bible:

Peter's Denial

You are so convincing. The furrowed brow,

your left hand held as though to say, who me?

By now you are practiced at denial

and accustomed to its aftertaste.

The woman who accosts you startles no one

with her gesture while the soldier who kneels

seems more worried you will answer the truth

than the lie that was to be your destiny. 

Firelight reflects on your back, the light you

are afraid to face.  We understand too well, 

lurking in the shadows like the figures

in the fringe of light they dare not enter.

The hand you hide inside your cloak and press

against your heart conceals the burden both

of faith and fear.  This intrigues me the most. 

And you cannot disguise the sorrow in your eyes.  

The sin we witness here might have haunted

you for days or longer — the fires that burn

between the night and dawn searing a heart

sore from running, except you taught us well

and so we know that you were forgiven.

And here is the genius to this sin of yours. 

When judging us after we fail our tests,

you will recall that you failed yours as well.

How different it might have been if you

had been bold in that dim firelight.

But now, your ministry will be about mercy,

your sermons about grace, and the rebukes

for self-examination.

From Stations of the Cross

She Tastes the Salt

Lot’s wife looked back,

and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt.

                                                     Genesis 19: 26 (KJV)

Sounds of the city’s buildings collapsing

into the hiss of flames, shrieks of panic

muted by the blare of alarms echo

up the canyon road to Zoar, where Lot and


his wife rest, bone-weary from the burden

of cooking pots, hastily collected, 

and the weight of silent regret for kin

and a few old neighbors also worthy,


left behind without any warning or

good-bye.  She remembers the goat-hair dolls

she made for her daughters, now grown and who

soon will carry burdens of their own, and


the table she did not finish setting for dinner,

fresh peeled vegetables, still fragrant, also

left behind, the robe set aside for mending

a week ago, the stoop she meant to sweep


the day before two visitors came,

the day before she overheard them warn

her husband not to look back when leaving,

advice she thought was strange.


Lot surveys the site where they will make camp

for the night, tugs at the sides of the hood

he has pulled over his head extending

the sides as blinders, arranges blankets


on the leeward side of a boulder, dusts

away ashes falling like fine dry

snow, then cautions again his daughters

not to look back no matter what. 


She listens until silence comes, until

a tear moistens her dust encrusted cheek

and courses to the corner of her mouth

where she tastes the salt.