Winter Solstice

Late December grinds on down.
The sky stops, slate on slate,
scatters a cold light of snow
across a field of brittle weeds.

Each boot step cracks a stalk.
The pigments have been dragged
earthwards and clasped. The groundhog
curls among the roots curling.

Towards home I peel blossoms
of frozen mud from my pant legs
and pull off burrs that waited
for wind or the flashing red fox.

In my jacket pocket I find
a beechnut, slightly cracked
open, somehow fallen there,
and, enfolded inside of it,

a spider that unclenches
yellow in my steaming palm –
a spider that is 
the sun.

Grandfather’s Breath

You work. You work, Buddy. You work.
Word of immigrant get-ahead grind I hear
huffing through me, my grandfather’s breath,
when he’d come in from Saturday’s keep-busy chores,
fending up a calloused hand to stop
me from helping him, haggard cheeks puffing
out like grey t-shirts hung between tenements,
doubled-over under thirty-five years a machine
repairman at the ball-bearing factory, ball-bearings
making everything run smoother—
especially torpedoes. He busted butt
for the war effort, for profiteers, for overtime pay
down-payment on a little box of his own,
himself a refugee from the European economy,
washed ashore after The War to End All Wars.
Cheap labor for the winners.

I hear his youth plodding through the hayfields
above Srednevas, and the train that wheezed
and lumbered to the Trieste, the boat where he heave-hoed
consumptive sister, one-two-overboard.
I hear him scuffling along factory smoke choked streets
of Cleveland, coughing out chunks of broken
English just to make it to Saturday morning balinca—
how he grunted off a week’s worth of grit
hurling wooden balls down the pressed dirt court,
sweaty wisp of gray hair wagging from his forehead,
This is how the world turns. You work hard. You practice.
And I hear his claim as we climbed the steps
of Municipal Stadium, higher, into the cheap seats,
slapping the flat of his hand against a girder,
I built this, Buddy. I built this.

But mostly I hear how he’d catch
what was left of his breath after those Saturday chores,
pouring out that one, long, tall cold beer
that Grandma allowed, holding it aloft,
bubbles golden as hayfields above Srednavas,
before savoring it down and taking up
the last task of his day off—cleaning the cage,
letting Snowball, canary like the ones once used
to test coal mines for poison air, flap clumsily free
around the living room, crapping
on the plastic covered davenport and easy-chair
they only sat in twice a year.

And I’m still breathing, Grandfather, that day
you took me down the basement to the cool floor
to find out what was wrong. Come on, Snowball,
fly. Fly! The bird splayed out on the same linoleum
where they found you, next to your iron lung,
where Grandma mopped for weeks after,
pointing with arthritic fingers, See. There.
There’s where he fell and bumped his head.
See the specks of blood?
She can’t work out.
One fine morning when my work is done
I’m gonna fly away home, fly away home.
Come on, Snowball, fly. Fly!


I shovel snow
from Cleveland front lawn
just to see green

crow’s breath
after caw hangs,
winter air

snow furrow cornfield,
old woman peering
in roadside mailbox

office windowsill
fly poised for flight
three months now

sakura petals fallen
she gathers them in small hands
spills them on soft breeze

Kerouac, we knock
your pickled bones together,
zen be-bop

America, more guns
than people, more bullets
than tears

it took 800 years
for Roman Empire’s fall —
they had no internet

first man to walk
on the moon has died,
his footprint still up there

cleaning my office
I find a faded article,
“cleaning your office”

between bright stars
and atoms inside I spin,
breath burning away