At The Dinner Table With God And My Father

- 1979-2020

What happens when God sits down for dinner?
Do you set the table for two, three or four?
What happens if you only have a loaf of bread
and a one-pound block of butter,
do you ask him to perform a miracle?

What do you do when God puts his hands on the table,
fingers flay, bull and lamb belly up, pink-red palms
asking for forgiveness?

What happens to forgiveness when God is your father
and you discover he’s just a man with two hands—
can a bull and a lamb be still on the tines of a fork?
Or are they votive candles burning on the altar of your plate?
Those paraffin hands, waxwing feathers in prayer.
How else can hope look
if not like a spoon to your lips, a sparrow
with new wings
beating air from the comfort of its perch?
This is how we move forward,
             you unclasp your hands and surrender flight
                          before you pick up the butter knife.

On the Backs of American Bison

Some dreams come ill, a bad kidney or two
maybe three. But no crow mourns for lost feathers.

A magpie might. Black and white and able to recognize its own reflection.
Black-billed Narcissus. Vain bird that you are.

Sensitive corvid. My mother used to call me a magpie.
In her poems, I was left for days in a bundle,

when my parents returned, they learned I had flown away
to the back of a nearby bison. What’s more American?

Here, the food was plentiful until they killed all the bison.
I had to find a new home, build a nest in riparian woodland.

With the wolves sitting around me, I told them my life.
They regurgitated new stories for me to dream.

While they weren’t looking, I’d steal their food
I’m a sensitive corvid after all. We have to survive somehow.

I Cast It Away, My Body:

after Georgia O’Keeffe’s First Drawing of Blue Lines, 1916

Because two brothers make a body where none existed
God drew two bodies as one went crooked

There is a war between us. And I am losing
My brother, fabulous night panther & copper-horned

Struck by lightning, electric blue: two lines
My father pulls two ribs and one snaps into angles
In the waiting room, a body begins to fold in on itself
A body begins to pull a breathing tube from out of itself

There is a war between us. And I am losing
My brother, all copper feathers and dragon tail, chosen

In the mud of a battlefield, you’ll find my heart
Buried in the soft red clay, my body

Broke and anchored to this earth, a bolt
Jettisoned, my brother is my father’s first son

Psych Ward Visitation Hour

For 7 days and 7 nights, I’ve been shooting free throws
           The doctor said I needed focus

There is no net because some guy tried hanging himself from it
           But the moonlight betrayed him

In the courtyard where we sit, a dandelion grows
           I see you’re uncomfortable. Ignore these

blood-brick walls, cemented ground, nurse station window
          There’s forgiveness here. And I need to apologize

You’re seeing me in these weed-green scrubs, bone-cloth robe
           I unscrewed the roof from our home
                       swallowed all the memories

Did I tell you the cops wrote “superficial cuts” in their report?
          They didn’t understand when I said

I needed something red. They didn’t understand when I said
           I needed to paint my chest vermillion

I’m scared to go home. Have I told you that?
           I’ve always been

I keep having a nightmare where my hands grow into copper antlers
           I keep having this nightmare where I hold
                       a dandelion in one hand, a robin in the other

I made you something during craft hour. A paint-by-numbers thing
          Two deer in a winter forest full of birch trees
                       Look, a tiny spot of orange. Hunter orange

Blaze orange. See the buck? His antlers are still velvet
          See how strong he’s standing?      No, wait
                       his right front leg is soft on the ground.       No

He’s not standing, he’s kneeling. Only,
          He’s not kneeling
                       He’s fallen. Notice

There’s only one deer now and he’s still
          His tongue juts from the corner of his mouth
                       His eyes are focused on me
Wait, his head is missing. The antlers are gone.  Everything
          Is gone. There’s a bright streak
                       of red screaming across the snow 

There are only shadows now and boot prints. There’s only snow
          I made you something during craft hour
                       A cheap paint-by-numbers rip-off of O’Keeffe

A forest of birch trees but the math of it all didn’t make sense
         So I painted the numbers blank, then left
                       I couldn’t focus so I went and shot free throws

I thought about the man who tried hanging himself
         How afraid he must have been about going home
                      That dandelion is his ghost. His head

A thousand yellow florets, burning. The sun
         Never felt so good. I’m glad you’re here.