Sunday Soldiers (Poem)

A poem from my new (draft) book of poems, Brown Studies

Sunday Soldiers

In memory of Jake Adam York, poet

(‘Sunday Soldiers’ was Civil War slang for unsuitable soldiers)

1.We drive from Auburn to Columbus

Sunday march to church

He sits in the back seat and studies

My earmarked copy of Descartes’ Meditations

“What a marvelous book!  I want

To clap my hands after every sentence!”

2. Beside me, working for breath

Is his wife, her head pulled

Toward her feet by Parkinson’s 

Cramping her lungs

Her whole body

Making a fist

Against her will

3. She whispers the Preparation for Confession:

Purity of heart is to will one thing

We pass the site of a Sunday morning 

Flea market, a makeshift booth 

Flies a Confederate flag

He sees it, crosses himself, 

Notices me watching

In the rearview mirror

“It’s the flag of my country!”

4. So it is, although he is not so aged

That he can remember that country,

Yet he commemorates it, venerates it,

Notes often that his country died game

Under the heels of well shod Blue Bellies

5. What am I to say?  He is a saint,

An exemplar–in every way 

But this way

May a saint be a Grey Back,

May he venerate the South, that South,

Without damning himself, 

Rendering his soul shoddy?

6. Driving the car,

Meditating on David—and Bathsheba

On Moses—and the rock

On David contrite, forced to leave

Building the Temple to others,

On Moses abashed, on the mountain

Overlooking the Promised Land

7. Driving the car west

Meditating on North and South

Meditating on right and wrong,

Meditating on vision and blindness

And their confederacy in the heart,

–In his heart, in my heart, in your heart:

We venerate hateful flags, 

We are all Sunday Soldiers

Receptions End

Receptions End

A daughter is a treasure
That keeps her father wakeful

Gather the Bud Lite bottles
Dump the undrunk champagne
Lavender table cloths shake and refold
Abandoned bouquets water and take home

The tent lights the night
Fans blow back the August heat

Revelry done, collect unopened gifts

Stray flowers decorate the ground
As if they would re-root
But life goes on
And life goes on
Sweet-sour sweet

Done is done

Drink what wine you may
With the rest honor the mysteries

Put the trash in the dumpster
On Debardeleben St.

Treasureless, go home to sleep

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Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Return Smile (Poem)

Pizza joint
Under the Silver Memorial Bridge

The man I do not know
Smiles me a great, toothy smile

Jolted, I stretch my mouth to
Return smile

Then, I know

The man I do not know–
He is eating his pizza
Hot from the oven
His great, toothy smile
Result of trying to bite
His slice without burning
His lips

My return smile meets
Cautious chewing incomprehension

Pizza disjoint
Under the Silver Memorial Bridge


Just Trees (Poem)

Just Trees (After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks) | The War Eagle Reader.

A little poem to memorialize the Toomer’s Oaks.

Just Trees
(After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks)

Aren’t they just trees?
–Yes, they are—they were.
–And weren’t they dying anyway?
–Yes, they were—and I am—and you are too.
Dying.  But someone killed them.
(Yes, you can kill something that is already dying.
If you doubt that, shoot someone with a terminal illness,
then plead your innocence.)
–But they were just trees.
–Yes—they were.  But all trees have a kind of dignity,
A dignity revealed in the way they call on us to contemplate them:
St. Augustine knew that, and Arthur Schopenhauer too.
And these trees, wrapped as they were in celebration,
Wrapped as they were in meaning,
Called on us more insistently than most—even demanded contemplation.
Poisoning them, destroying their roots, was an attack on meaning,
A meaning that some, wrapped in unmeaning, could not bear.
Meaning has weight.  You can crumble under it, or understand it, your call.
–Just trees.
Yes, just trees.  And these are just my students, this is just my university,
This is just my life.
–But the meaning of all these things—you just put it there, gilding and staining,
In burnt orange and blue.  It is not real.  It is a collective delusion.  Tradition
Is no mode of access to what is real.
–Of course it is, it always has been, and it always will be.  Tradition makes
Values available for appreciation, for appropriate response:
And your response is the tree’s judgment on you.  Luckily for you, they are, they were,
Just trees.

Tall Grass (Poem)

Tall Grass


Small boy

Seven or eight

Hair so white blond

A blue jay will chase him from the barn

Strafing his head, hoping for hair

For a nest, presumably.



In the countryside:

A toy rifle with a scope,

A fresh gift.

Small toad

Caught, thoughtlessly dropped in the scope

And wedged, hopelessly, in the scope’s pinched middle.

Helplessly, trying to unwedge the toad

Without maiming it or killing it,

Unable to do so,

Small boy

Throws his gift, and the toad still alive, still wedged,

In the now sightless scope,

Into the tall grass down the hill from the fence.



Small boy

Looks for his kitten,

Missing for several days;

And is led by his nose,

Trailing mounting fear,

To a dark spot beneath a workbench

In an outbuilding.


Small cat

Is found, rotting, its head

Somehow gotten into but unable to get out of

A mason jar, rolled from among canning supplies,

Underneath the bench.

Unable to bear

The thought of the cat’s death, not to mention its final moments,

Small boy

Throws partially jarred carcass

Into the tall grass down the hill from the fence.


Big boy,

I wonder now about

That tall grass

Down the hill

From the fence,

That tall grass,

About whether it still hides

The guilt-edged horrors of my childhood:

Toy guns and toads, mason jars and kittens,

Knowledge of fate and death.

Reading Husserl, Or Wandering About in the Panopticum Waxworks (Poem)

Reading Husserl Or, Wandering About in the Panopticum Waxworks
for my phenomenology students

I have been reading

or I think I have;
it’s hard to tell

to tell the difference

I confront his pages
in sternly receptive fashion
hoping for a clear sentence

one that will carry clearness a little further
and make the page more than a motley of wanton arabesques

I want, I guess, for my intuitive presentation
of the physical appearance of the words
to undergo an essential phenomenological modification
(that’s rather a mouthful)
so that the words begin to count as expressions
(Mean something, dammit!)
and I can understand

my meaning-intentions cry out
for meaning-fulfillments

“For the earnest expectation of the creature
waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

Reading well,
I have been told,
is reading true books
in a true spirit—a noble exercise

But here I am in a sweat
reminding myself:  no pain, no gain
lifting long sentences weighted with imponderable German words,
the unintelligible unlightness of being-Husserl

And it may be
that the books of
the great poets have
yet to be read, and that because
only a great poet can read them

And so it may be
at least by that math
that I am no great phenomenologist

I haven’t as many eyes as Husserl

Another Goodbye to Summer–“Sunbake” (Poem)



Auburn burn

sunbake redclay



The sun doesn’t peer

it stares

and stares


Angry glare, so angry no one


return it


We crouch behind colored lenses

sunbake photogrey



“You look to the sun, for he is your taskmaster,

and by him you know the measure of the work

that you have done, and the measure of the work

that remains for you to do”:  thus Kinglake.


My daughter, ten or eleven

child of memory eternified:  “Dad, it’s hot.”


She hankers for icecream

sunbake milkshake



Cooled by the malt

of mercy.

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