There was an understanding of how
the pages of the book unfolded, like owl wings,
when my mother read to us . . . .
Michael Collier is
both an exemplary citizen of the poetry world and himself a poet of rare depth
and beauty, a musician on the page, a master of the singular metaphor. And one
helluva nice guy. He bends close to the smudge in time that is
one human life and there makes out his known world, as through a fine lens, in
all its smudginess—its ambiguity and indeterminacy, its transience and deceptive
endurance, the mysteries of social relations. In his poems,
it is through the things of our lives that experience is realized—the neighbor
who wields a “30.06” against himself, the same man, a tidy craftsman who fashions
“flies and lures” late into his evenings.
Collier has published six collections of poetry, The Clasp and Other Poems (Wesleyan, 1986), The Folded Heart (Wesleyan, 1989), The Neighbor (University of Chicago, 1995), The Ledge (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), Dark Wild Realm (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), and An Individual History (W.W. Norton, 2012) and has edited three
anthologies, The Wesleyan Tradition: Four
Decades of Contemporary American Poetry (Wesleyan, 1993), The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary
American Poetry, co-edited with Stanley Plumy (University Press of New
England, 1999), and The New American
Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology (University Press of New England, 2000). He
is also co-editor, along with Charles Baxter and Edward Hirsch, of A William Maxwell Portrait (W.W. Norton,
2004). His translation of Euripides’s Medea
(Oxford University Press) appeared in 2006 and a collection of essays, Make Us Wave Back (University of
Michigan Press), in 2007. The Ledge was
nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times
has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and
Letters, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Guggenheim
Fellowship, the Alice Fay di Castagnola Prize from the Poetry Society of
America, and a Discovery/The Nation Award. Seminal to his development as a poet
were the Thomas J. Watson Travelling Fellowship and a residency fellowship at
the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.
1995 Collier has served as the sixth director of the Bread Loaf Writers’
Conference, where he has helped to revitalize one of America’s most valuable
literary institutions. He is a Professor of English at the University of Maryland.
A Selection of Poems
by Michael Collier,
including four uncollected poems
The Clasp and Other Poems (Wesleyan
University Press, 1986):
rising through thin snow,
a dull welder’s light
from the fires on the ice below—
if from this quiet and vista
started out as a bright sun
the completely unremembered.
as in another part of the city,
thin Ussuri bends to confluence,
Lenin Prospect ends at a granite
to a beach. In summer
watch fireworks rising
ghost-lit barges: this
a travel brochure in my pocket,
also shows the snow-covered square
front of Hotel Europe,
which I gauged the bend of my first walk
this bank, without memory,
beyond the fires
the blue horizon of China
the barges setting out from there,
lumberers with their last loads
stolen larch, magpies circling;
all the exhalations of horses and men,
warm beats against the cold,
immunely over the snapping ice.
it was only in the river’s name, Amur,
after a long time
a memory of love.
Two Girls in a Chair
the childhood photographs my wife
given me, my favorite has her sitting
a black alumni chair;
college’s gold seal and part of a Latin motto
beneath her right ear.
eight or nine, hair bobbed, dressed
a white T-shirt and black tights
reach only mid-calf.
holds a neighbor friend in her lap,
whose leotards are ripped at the knees.
wife’s arms wrap around her friend’s waist,
her friend’s feet dangle over the lily-
when I enter my room, I notice only
photograph, wedged among others,
have felt a surprise of recognition
those childhood friends
could not now remember each other’s name,
recall what day of a New England summer
or began their long affection.
had been thinking about the moon,
you see it
the back of a truck
a neighbor’s house—
with a little gold—
the neighbor reminds you not
press too hard on the eyepiece.
did once and the moon disappeared,
something shut down
the telescope, and I was alone
the truck, smaller than the tripod,
how I’d lost
big moon in the big sky.
once, home late from a party,
stopped in the yard
turn gray-white in moonlight.
grass, a blue bristle,
back and forth unevenly,
when I closed my eyes
light filled my head.
my lover came outside and found me
in a privacy
scared her. In bed
told her I had been thinking
the suicide of my college roommate.
I reassured her
we tried to make love, but when
part of ourselves that had shut down
long ago began to open,
pressed too hard
were alone again. In a few weeks
was too sullen to live with,
like the moon
disappeared from the eyepiece
my neighbor’s house
couldn’t be restored.
the block because of divorce:
we all disappear under a moon
my roommate said
high in every neighborhood.
The Folded Heart (Wesleyan University
are down on your knees, but you are not praying.
are holding the hollow body
your cherrywood Gretsch Tennessean
across your thighs,
you are pressing the right side of your face
the black grille of the Fender Bandmaster amp
ruby pilot light glows like a planet in the dark.
are listening to the last chord that fades into the black
of the speaker, which is ridged and grooved
the walls of Hell and leaves only a ghost vibration
your ear. And you are waiting for your friend to lower
tone arm of the black plastic GE Stereo
the grooves of the record so you can imitate
Cheer, Quicksilver, Jefferson Airplane,
curve your shoulders over the guitar like a bird
its wings in glide, while your friend
and jerks, gives himself over to the pulse
drives you deeper and deeper
the center of your teenage hearts. You are raw
born for the distortion that lives beyond your ears
the darkness, and is too loud with fuzztone
wah-wah pedal. And each note or chord you strike
imitation is partially saved, suspended,
you pull and pump the vibrato’s thin blade
stir the molecules of sound as your long hair
your faces, and you recede deeper, more separate,
your selves here in this world, on this earth,
the converted garage with its brown Georgia-Pacific
paneling and green burlap curtains that hang
the avocado-green carpet.
television my sister emerges
meters above the water
something carved from light,
she balances on the springboard,
like a graceful sleepwalker extends
arms as counterweights. A doll
perfect will, she rules her fear
heights by tracing little circles
cupped hands and then drops her arms
start the swift wing beats of a creature
has taught herself not to fly but to land,
intricate than flight for the twists
knots and folded arms that make her appear
in midair, beyond recovery, though
comes quickly once she clasps
hands, entwines her thumbs to make a sieve
which the water passes and allows
head to enter, then shoulders and hips.
this is how I always see her, half in,
out of water, her body perpendicular,
matched, as if there is no place for
in the world and all her body’s
was meant to disappear beneath
splash—a light she carves and shatters.
think of Plato and the limited technology
his cave, the primitive projection
of fast forward or reverse,
action or slo mo and the instant replay
would have allowed him to verify,
and for all, Justice or the Good,
as the way my family did, hour upon hour,
the dark, watching films of my sister
going over her failures and successes
a school of philosophers, arguing
pulling her up from the depths
the blue water, feet first, her splash
around her hips, then dying out
a calm flat sheet as her fingertips appeared.
we kept her suspended in her mimesis
gainer and twist until the projector’s lamp
blue with smoke and the smell of acetate
the room. Always from the shabby armchairs
our dialectic we corrected the imperfect
of her toes, the tuck of her chin,
her back to the awkward approach or weak
and everywhere restored the half-promise
her form, so that each abstract gesture
in an instant of falling revealed
fond liaison of time and movement,
moment held in the air, the illusion
something whole, something true.
though what we saw on the screen would never
never submit to our arguments, we believed
might see it more clearly and understand
what we judged was a result of poor light
the apparent size of things or the
element evokes, such as when we allowed her
reenter the water and all at once her body
with refraction, an effect we could not save
from, though we hauled her up again and again.
The Neighbor (University of Chicago
name of the trailer
engine an Evinrude,
boat a Glassport,
under the yellow
of the carport
boast that with one
under the tongue
could lift the boat,
the bow as high
his chest and haul
rig by slow steps
the drive where
its running lights,
trimmed the camper shell.
name of the camper
“Six Pac,” the truck
butane tanks lashed
the bumper and wheel
and when he lowered
the hitch, the ball
wrapped the safety
around the mount bolted
the chassis, then
eased the handbrake off
the whole rig,
its own, rolled
later, on the lake,
held the Coleman
over the dark
and fish rose
it as to the sun,
ball of gas burning
a silk mantel, a lung
reflected in the housing
like the source
good to which everything
its darkness turns—
of water, depths
join their things. A flensing
strapped to his belt,
and handle shaped
a fish and the fish
like the knife.
2212 West Flower Street
I think of the man who lived in the house
ours and how he killed his wife
then went into his own back yard,
few short feet from my bedroom window,
put the blue-black barrel of his 30.06
his mouth and pulled the trigger,
do not think about how much of the barrel
had to swallow before his fingers reached the trigger,
the bullet that passed out the back of his neck,
the wild orbit of blood that followed
crazy dance before he collapsed in a clatter
the trash cans, which woke me.
I think of how quickly his neighbors restored
humanity, remembering his passion
stars which brought him into his yard
clear nights, with a telescope and tripod,
the way he stood in the alley in his rubber boots
emptied the red slurry from his rock tumblers
he washed the glassy chunks of agate
petrified wood. And we remembered, too,
goose-neck lamp on the kitchen table
burned after dinner and how he worked
its bright circle to fashion flies and lures.
hook held firmly in a jeweler’s vise,
he wound the nylon tread around the haft
feathers. And bending closer to the light,
concentrated on tying the knots, pulling them tight
the coiled threads. And bending closer still,
his head slightly toward the window,
eyes lost in the dark yard, he took the thread ends
his teeth and chewed them free: Perhaps he saw us
on the sidewalk watching him, perhaps he didn’t.
was a man so much involved with what he did,
what he did was so much of his loneliness,
presence didn’t matter. No one’s did.
careful and precise were all his passions,
must have felt the hook with its tiny barbs
his lip, sharp and trigger-shaped.
must have been a common danger for him—
wet clear membrane of his mouth threatened
the flies and lures, the beautiful enticements
made with his own hands and the small loose
ends which clung to the roof of his mouth
which he tried to spit out like an annoyance
would choke him.
in death he roams the yard in his boxer shorts,
the push-mower through bermuda grass,
it against the fence and tree trunks,
its twisted blades on the patio’s edge.
chalky flint and orange spark of struck concrete
in the air, tastes like metal, smells,
the slow burn of hair on his electric clippers.
smelling it, I feel the hot shoe of the shaver
he guided it in a high arc around my ears,
set the sharp toothy edge against my sideburns
trim them square, and how he used his huge stomach
butt the chair and his flat hand palming my head
keep me still, pressing my chin down as he cleaned
ragged wisps of hair along my neck.
fat inconsolable man whose skill and pleasure
to clip and shear, to make raw and stubble
that grew in this world, expose the scalp,
place of roots and nerves and make vulnerable,
in the double mirrors of his shop, the long
of our necks. And so we hung below
license in its cheap black frame, above the violet
of the scissors shed with its glass jars
germicide and the long tapered combs soaking
its blue iridescence. Gruff when he wasn’t silent,
was a neighbor to fear, yet we trusted him
his anger, beyond his privacy. He was like a father
could hate, a foil for our unspent vengeance,
vengeance was always his. He sent us back
the world burning and itching, alive with the horror
closing eyes in the pinkish darkness
his shop and having felt the horse-hair brush, talc-filled,
too sweet for boyhood, whisked across the face.
he is dead now and his miracle
do us no good, I must remind myself
what he gave, plainly,
without guile, to all of us on the crumbling
bank of the Verde River
we watched him, the fat boy,
last one to cross, ford the violent shallows.
how we provided him the occasion for his grace
his black tennis shoes to a bamboo fishing pole
dangling them, like a simple bait,
of reach, jerking them higher each time he rose
his terrified crouch in the middle
the shin-high rapids churning beneath him,
an anger he never expressed.
yet what moved us was not his earnestness
trying to retrieve his shoes, nor his willingness
be the butt of our jokes. What moved us
how the sun struck the gold attendance star
on the pocket flap of his uniform
he fell head first
the water and split his face,
gash he quickly hid with his hands,
blood leaked through his fingers as he stood
in the river and walked deftly toward us
of the water to his shoes
lay abandoned at our feet.
he rises from his naugahyde recliner
shake your hand, he cups his fingers
his ear to catch your name.
grips your hand to see if you’re man
to date his daughter, and though
barely man enough, you’ve got
strength to pass his test.
meet his eyes that know exactly
to judge a lamb or yearling’s face
what he sees in yours he doesn’t trust.
could he? When his daughter’s dressed
wearing make-up, he calls her cheap,
floozie. His wife’s her pimp.
not bad, his daughter tells you.
We’re all women in this
house, that’s hard
on him, and Mom’s such a
he’s drunk, he comes into her room
what she calls his badger’s muzzle
sniffs her neck and shoulders.
what’s worse, she tells you, is when
comes home from her dates and if he’s
awake, he lifts her dress or puts
hand inside her Levis. And so each time
came to pick her up, he looked at you
both the one who’d save his daughter
use her. He told you once, she lies
don’t trust her, and then, as if to
led you to the service porch,
a freezer, as large as a grave casing,
his beat-up truck. He propped
freezer open with a piece of 2x4,
enough so that the light inside
rows and stacks of plastic bags,
the contents burred with ice.
one contained what looked to you
scallops, though larger. He reached inside
knocked a bag loose with his fist,
picked it up and said, She’ll do to you
what I did to sheep to
threw the bag back in, closed the lid,
you on the ass and squeezed you,
You felt the badger’s muzzle then,
and wiry, his cheek like a shaved pelt,
then heard what he said, a whisper,
You tell me what it’s
like with her
and I’ll be glad to
The Ledge (Houghton Mifflin, 2000):
you think Odysseus too strong and brave to cry,
the god-loved, god-protected hero
he returned to Ithaka disguised,
to check up on his wife
candidly apprize the condition of his kingdom,
himself resolutely against surprise
came into his land cold-hearted, clear-eyed,
for revenge—then you read Homer as I did,
fast, knowing you’d be tested for plot
major happenings, skimming forward to the massacre,
shambles engineered with Telemakhos
turning beggar and taking up the challenge of the bow.
this way you probably missed the tear
shed for his decrepit dog, Argos,
nothing but a bag of bones asleep atop
refuse pile outside the palace gates. The dog is not
god in earthly clothes, but in its own disguise
death and destitution is more like Ithaka itself.
if you returned home after twenty years
might weep for the hunting dog
long ago abandoned, rising from the garbage
its bed, its instinct of recognition still intact,
will to wag its tail, lift its head, but little more.
ago you had the chance to read that page more closely
instead you raced ahead, like Odysseus, cocksure
your plan. Now the past is what you study,
guile and speed give over to grief so you might stop,
desiring to weep, weep more deeply.
blasphemy so much as curiosity
imitation suggested I lie faceup
naked on my bedroom floor,
stretched out like His,
crossed at the ankles,
my head lolling in that familiar
way, while my sisters worked
toy wooden hammers to drive
spikes through my hands and feet.
spiritual exercise? I don’t think so.
unlike Christ my boy-size penis stiffened
one of Satan’s fingers.
was dying a savior’s death and yet
my sisters called my “thing”
if its resurrection could not be held off
this playful holy torture, nor stopped
by the arrival of my parents,
stood above us suddenly like prelates,
early from their supper club,
but not astonished, to find
babysitter asleep and the inquisitive
of our heathenish hearts amok
home is in the straw
baling twine threaded
the slots of a roof vent
guards a tiny ledge
cruise the neighborhood
heart is smaller
a heart should be,
an arrow fret to quicken
hydraulics of its wings,
there on the metal
widen your alarming
but do not flee as others have
the black walnut vaulting
Do not move outside
world you’ve made
baling twine and straw.
isolated starling fears
crows, the crows gang up
rout a hawk. The hawk
cold. And cold is what
larger heart maintains.
owl at dusk and dawn,
off, unseen, but audible,
its syncopated intervals,
song that’s not a cry
a whisper rising from concentric
of water spreading out across
surface of a catchment pond.
asks, “Who are you? Who
you?” but no one knows.
where you are, nervous, jittery.
your small head a hundred
a hundred times, keep
attention to the terrifying
And if you see the robins
their dirty orange vests
the yard like thugs,
about the worm. Starve
or from the air inhale
water you may need, digest
dust. And what the promiscuous
and jaybirds do, let them
it, let them dart and snipe,
them sound like others.
sleep when the owl sends
its encircling question.
where you are, you lit fuse,
dull spark of saltpeter and sulfur.
with racks of soft drinks, palettes
cotton candy, ice cream in bright insulated
pretzels in metal cabinets, and the peanut
with his yellow peanut earring. Money folded
fingers, spokes of green waving
the glad pandemonium greeting the Budman
his quick-pouring mechanism strapped
his wrist like a prosthesis, or the hotdog guy
in the steep aisles, anointing
roll and weenie with mustard before passing
down to the skinny kid sitting between fat parents.
the air above us the flittering birds, attracted
repelled by planetary field lights, swoop
ecstatic arcs, trapped under a dark invisible dome.
park organ, the JumboTron, the mascot
atop the visitors’ dugout, taunting them
oversize antics, while the groundskeepers
the infield with a fire hose, leavening
calm, raked earth . . . . Later, in the fifth
sixth, two soldiers sitting next to me, who
paced each other with a beer an inning and kept
buzz buffed with a flask, take off their shirts,
the night’s cool, and move to the front row,
they face the crowd, sweep up their arms,
and command us to rise from our
At first only a few respond, but
like molecules quickening
or cells dividing or herds
stampeding, we coalesce—
orison provoking unison—section by
section, as if
township by township, our standing
up and sitting down
becomes the Simon Says and Mother
May I? of a nation,
as it runs through our rippling,
shimmering, upraised hands
that form the crest of a wave built on
and urgings of the soldiers, whose
skin is slick with sweat
or some other labor and whose goal
now, for all of us,
for themselves, for the players on
the field, is simply to stay
in the wave, to keep it going for as
long as they can.
Dark Wild Realm (Houghton Mifflin,
Birds Appearing in a Dream
One had feathers like a blood-streaked koi,
another a tail of color-coded wires.
One was a blackbird stretching orchid wings,
another a flicker with a wounded head.
flew like leaves fluttering to escape,
circulating in burning air,
all returned when the air cleared.
was a kingfisher trapped in its bower,
in the ground, miles from water.
is real and everything isn’t.
had names and some didn’t.
and nameless shapes of birds,
night my hand can touch your feathers
then I wipe the vernix from your wings,
who have made bright things from
who have crossed the distances to roost in me.
in the morning air
the whir of my neighbor’s lift
it raises him in his wheelchair
the bed of his truck.
someone to pity, he locks the wheels
place and like a gymnast
parallel bars manages himself
his seat and then, in a move
quick to see, disappears, though
because I’ve been there beside him
know he’s on all fours crawling
the tailgate where he swings
the edge and continues
the dirt of the drive. Sometimes
I’m weeding the garden
admiring sunlight through leaves
electric whir of the lift, followed
its silence, breaks through and then
hoof-slap of palms on the ground,
scrape of shoes pulled along
his strength, and I see him
I did the first time, hoisting
chainsaw, by block and tackle,
then himself, into the blighted tree
between our yards
which, limb by limb;
cut down and stacked
The Missing Mountain
could reach the mountain’s saddle,
notch between two peaks, and there
the grid of lighted streets,
bursting net of beads and sequins,
straining movement cruising for release.
far as the eye could see,” though
cared to look, was across the valley
the other mountain, whose ridge
gaffed with broadcast towers, bright
quivering out our songs.
wouldn’t it be nice,” the Beach Boys
And it was. Sometimes I saw
Milky Way invade the grid, Andromeda,
and great Betelgeuse bridging
avenues and lanes, filling up acres
vast parking lots. Sometimes I stared
into space where glowworms
matter spun in pinwheels of gas.
What does it mean to be
voice asked. What does it mean
have a voice speaking from inside?
I found a cockpit canopy from
fighter jet in my neighbor’s yard,
it had fallen from the sky.
one ever claimed it, such a large,
useless thing, like the shoe
giant leaves behind, like a mountain
childhood—missing or pulverized—
leaves a shape that once you see it
the mind or makes a cloud
is the shape of what the mountain was,
sea floor covered with the sea.
wouldn’t it be nice,” I used to sing,
the mountains all around me answered,
not the question I had asked.
frail is what his hand was like
he showed up at our house,
or four days after his death,
stood at the foot of our bed.
Though we had expected him to appear
some form, it was odd, the clarity
precise decrepitude of his condition,
how his hand, frail as it was,
me from behind my head, up from the pillow,
that no longer could I claim it was a dream,
deny that what your father wanted,
with you sleeping next to me,
to kiss me on the lips:
was no refusing his anointing me
what I was meant to bear of him
where he was, present in the world,
document loose from the archives
form—not spectral, not corporeal—
transit, though not between lives or bodies:
those lips on mine, then mine on yours.
An Individual History (W.W. Norton,
An Individual History
was before the time of lithium and Zoloft
mood stabilizers and anxiolytics
almost all the psychotropic drugs, but not before Thorazine,
the suicide O’Laughlin called “handcuffs for the mind.”
was before, during, and after the time of atomic fallout,
the Nakba, DDT, and you could take water cures,
solace in quarantines, participate in shunnings,
stand at Lourdes among the canes and crutches.
was when the March of Time kept taking off its boots.
when families prayed the Living Rosary
neutralize communists with prayer.
electroshock was electrocution
hammers recognized the purpose of a nail.
so, if you were as crazy as my maternal grandmother was then
might make the pilgrimage she did through the wards
state and private institutions,
make of your own body a nail for pounding, its head
past quagmires, coups d’etat, and disappearances
in this way find a place in history
the detained and unparoled, an individual like her,
hidden by an epoch of lean notation—“Marked
tremor,” “Chronic paranoid type”—
time when the animal slowed by its fate
excited to catch a glimpse of its tail
feel through her skin the dulled-over joy
for a moment her hands were still.
My Mother of
needle goes up and down on my mother’s Singer,
blade with its gold scroll and script,
like a smokestack turned on its side.
you ever seen a dipper bobbing in a stream?
like the Singer but so much slower. Its beak
thread of water and sews patterns of spreading ripples.
a fierce engine at the center of creation
beautifully sculpted, a porcelain boot
a falconer’s gauntlet. The dipper likes the action
a cataract, the rapid tumble of rapids,
if it wants walks easily along the stream’s pebbly bottom.
after hour, my mother’s fingers fed the fabric
the pressing foot, kept the seams flat,
thread spooled out and the bobbin coaxed up
its metal gear held the stitch.
American Dipper? What joy in finding such a bird.
short trills punctuated by sharp, clear zeets.
eyelid white against total gray, when it blinks.
it didn’t exist, you’d have to make it up.
have to give it its own day of creation,
day of translucent patterns, pinking shears, and pins.
have to say, come see how the sewing machine
its sleek skin dips and bobs and swims,
how my mother, white eyelid lined blue,
her same stitched tune—never remembered
never heard—and how like a solitary
out, not in air but under water.
with Mink Stole,
Harbor Airport, Phoenix, Arizona, 1959
rode on her shoulders
in its purposes of warmth and glamour.
head like a small dog’s and its eyes
sympathetic than my mother’s eyes’ kindness
was vast. Four paws for good luck
also tiny sandbags of mortification and ballast,
in the black claws a hint of brooch or clasp.
like that the head could loll and the teeth
the snout’s fixed grin was the clenched “Oh, shit!”
road kill askew in the gutter. This she wore
matter the weather and always, always,
she stepped from the plane and paused,
the top of the rolling stairs, she fit her hand
her brow against the glare of concrete and desert,
a white glove’s soft salute but a visor
brought us into focus. Mother and Father waving first,
oldest to youngest, dressed in our Easter best,
were prodded to greet her, she who gripped the hot,
rail, set her teeth in the mink’s stiff grin,
walked through the waterless, smokeless mirage between us.
who wore the pelt, the helmet of blue hair
came to us mint and camphor-scented, more strange
her unvisited world of trees and seasons,
us two mouths, two sets of lips, two expressions:
large, averted one we were meant to kiss and the other
pleading, that if we had the choice, we might choose.
The Bees of Deir Kifa
sun going down is lost in the gorge to the south,
in the rows of olive trees, light in the webs of their limbs.
is the time when the thousands and thousands come home.
is not the time for the keeper’s veil and gloves,
the time for stoking the smoker with pine needles.
would be better to do that at midday, under a hot sun,
the precincts are quieter; it would be better to disturb
rather than many. At noon, the hives are like villages,
opened toward the sun or like small countries
from empires to keep the peace, each with its habits—
ruled better by better queens, some frantic and uncertain,
with drifting populations, others busy with robbing,
even the wasps and hornets, the fierce invaders who have settled
the natives, are involved in the ancient trades.
now with the sun gone, the blue summer twilight
with thyme and the silver underside of olive leaves
in the furrowed groves, darkening the white chunks
limestone exposed in the tillage, the keeper in his vestments
squeezes the bellows
of the smoker, blows a thin blue stream
into an entrance,
loosens the top, like a box lid, and delivers more.
For a while, the hive
cannot understand what it says to itself.
Now a single Babel
presides in the alleys and passageways
and as block by
block, the keeper takes his census,
he could go ungloved,
unveiled, if it weren’t for the un-pacified,
returning, mouths gorged with nectar,
legs orange with
pollen, landing, amassing, alerting the lulled
to scale their wax
trellis or find the glove’s worn thumb, the hood’s
broken zipper and
plant the eviscerating stinger.
For Zein and Bilal
Uncollected and New
father is searching his wrist,
with fingers that moments before
fiddled the bed sheet’s hem.
of us near see in his fidget
body reading the braille of its dying.
all my father wants is his wrist watch,
one with PENN RELAYS running
the face of the clock. It would give him
comfort to wear, not that he knows
he is, not that he cares about time,
he’s never not had it awake, strapped
his wrist, not since he and his teammates
what’s engraved on the back:
Championship of America 1937
from The Atlantic
His Highness’s Dog at Kew
That’s who I am, pampered, well fed, trampling
slack-leashed into the beds, blooming
or not, depositing my turds and sprinkling tulip stalks
whose buds are like the bud I lick.
And though I look like a dust mop,
four-legged moustache, trim my bangs, and as fierce as an Assyrian
I’ll find my way back to Peritas or La Vega Real, snout wet with the gore of human bowel.
for now a squeaky, annoying yap
as well as a mastiff’s bark.
Truth is, I’m weightless in a lap
and, on a cold day, I like a cardigan, at night, a stiff brush,
all of which sharpens the loneliness I feel.
So that’s who I am
and now if
you don’t mind, tell me,
whose dog are you.
from Poetry Northwest
Last Morning with Steve Orlen
Night I wrote a Russian novel or maybe it was English.
way, it was long and boring. My wife’s
tell you which it was, and when she stops,
she’s not laughing, let’s talk about the plot,
its many colors. The blue that hovered in the door
the lovers held each other but didn’t kiss.
red that by mistake rose in the sky with the moon,
the moon-colored sun that wouldn’t leave the sky.
night I kept writing it down, each word arranged
my mouth, but now, as you can see, I’m flirting
my wife. I’m making her laugh. She’s twenty.
twenty-five, just as we were when we met, just
we have always been, except for last night’s novel,
or English, with its shimmering curtain of color,
unfading show of Northern Lights, what you, you asshole,
call Aurora Borealis.
sit down on the bed with my wife and me.
amanuensis, you can write down my last words,
that they’re great but maybe they are.
wouldn’t know. You’re an Aurora Borealis.
my wife is laughing and you’re laughing too.
as we were at the beginning, just as we are at the end.”
from Greensboro Review
“Birds Appearing in a Dream,” “The Missing Mountain,” and “The
Lift” from Dark Wild Realm: Poems by
Michael Collier Copyright © 2006 by Michael Collier. Reprinted by permission of
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.