Ins and Outs, Earthshine, Out of My Bailiwick

by | Aug 6, 2019 | Issue Ten, Poetry

Ins and Outs

Draw a circle—whatever’s inside it is the poem.

Everything else is the world.

              –Campbell McGrath

Nesting in the eaves of the 1890’s

hotel, now a retreat and mindfulness center,

a family of red finches keeps garbling

the message. Turns out, in Finch-Speak

there is no antonym, outside/inside,

and their birdbrain can’t comprehend

Venn diagrams.

In the garden out back, I wonder aloud

in English, if the koi in the pond

are mouthing the scared vowel, OM

or just vacuuming algae-coated stones?

Water-striders skate the surface

like its Christmas in Rockefeller Square

but iPhone says—I am

in the eastern Oregon high desert,

I believe her. There’s a quail on a fencepost

tossing back his curl, full-on rebel

without a cause, and a kestrel

with a mouse in its talons playing

Cirque du Soleil on a telephone wire,

plus two doves in a crab-apple tree

watching a pickup, late for church,

racing down a gravel road,

but none of us knows anything

about no message, or how to answer it.

Outside the fence—a field of green

hay, freshly mown, layered in rows,

the sky above patrolled

by balding vultures

searching for diced up voles,

the local farmhouse mouser claims

it hunts the field only because

of instinct, and takes no pleasure

in the kill. The finches,

singing a varied warble, [which] begins

with slightly lower blurry notes,

are skeptical.

The hotel itself is circled by tall

black locust trees. Branches eye-level

with second-story windows,

last year’s blood-red seed pods hang

dried and shriveled into spiral wind-toys,

rattling like teeth

in the breeze, the fallen

scattered across the lawn.

Urban-landscaper types from Portland,

call it a nuisance tree. I fear

that I understand.

Beyond this oasis, up the highway,

two ghost towns, and in between

a lone roadside rock-shop,

shelves overloaded with dragon’s eggs,

halved and polished,

it’s run by a sun-leathered trans

in a beaded headband, from Orange Country,

originally, I learn without having to ask.

The rest is grassland

and cattle—Trump country.

Towards dusk, a flock of goldfinch

undulates back and forth across the road

before they decide to land

whistling in a ditch of dry thistle.

From a cottonwood straddling

the boundary-line creek,

a Bullock’s oriole trills

sharp and clear, his territorial aria.

Sooner or later, when the snow

from the mountains is gone for good,

this jubilant creek

will turn to dust. Or so the finches

blurb and garble—too many b’s and r’s and l’s,

to really understand them.

What’s left, in any case, is the world.


I can see the sliver

of equinox moon

and the shadowy glow,

the albedo of what isn’t

there, just not both at once

like face and vase,

duck and rabbit

through the windshield,

wiper squeaking rubber

and stuttering

like a panic attack. It’s dusk,

the fading light

stretches the estuary horizon

wider than my peripheral

wisdom. A flock of Goodwill

salt and pepper shakers

lifts off singing O’ Canada,

off-key. If only

my life were that simple.

No black ice for instance.


After the blizzard, Spring

seemed a maybe

then I knew,

I loved someone

else. No more snow-day

rye in my coffee,

no more myth

of a fork in the road.

I can’t take myself

back—there’s nothing good

about me except everyday

above ground,

my accountant brother

tells me, is a good day,

despite what all the clichés are saying.


And now the vernal

chorus from the cattail marsh

starts showing up

on playlists. Record heat,

a constant yakker,

has also begun

to monopolize conversations. Soon,

no one will be able

to get a word in edgewise. Meanwhile


the tide has turned

down the moon and fled

offshore, a haven for shady

lemonade stands

and frou-frou cancer treatments

now that morphine has become

an internet meme. A field medic

wants to draw my blood—

not enough O-negative, she explains,

with this recent explosion of roadside

crosses. Death is always

in front of me, but hidden

away in the spam folder.

Out of My Bailiwick

I’d like to know

how it happened—exiled

from the bailiwick

of grace,

I end up proxy

for low serotonin.


I’d like to know

why I didn’t

join a drumming circle

and beat my heart

in the old-fashioned way.


I’d like to know

why I’d refuse simple

syrup with my rye

and bitters.


I’d like to know

how come

I’m being charged

for sixty-three years.

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