Poems and Links

from Ploughshares



Two women are walking

on the ocean floor  I’m the one


in front, holding an oxygen mask

then passing it back to my mother


We take turns   She breathes

I breathe  She breathes   I breathe


We can’t talk we just keep walking

and breathing and sometime towards


morning I notice she’s gone   A bit

of seaweed stirs in the shadows


I keep walking   For the first time

in my life I have all the oxygen


to myself   I can feel the color

coming back to my cheeks


A note in my baby book says

I was slow to take my first breath


until the doctor gave me a whiff

of oxygen   Maybe the air was never


my element, maybe I’d gotten used to

the slosh and muffled sounds


in my mother’s body and wanted

to stay right where I was   safe


little fish   Now I’m beginning

to imagine I could surface and live


up there before it’s too late   Let

the world have its way with me

from Sharp Stars

Big Band Theory


It all began with music,

with that much desire to be


in motion, waves of longing

with Nothing to pass through,


the pulsing you feel before

you hear it. The darkness couldn’t


keep still, it began to sway,

then there were little flashes


of light, glints of brass

over the rumbling percussion,


the reeds began to weep and sing,

and suddenly the horns


tore bigger holes in the darkness—

we could finally see


where the music was coming from:

ordinary men in bowties and black


jackets. But by then we had already

danced most of the night away.


♦ ♦ ♦


Why We Die

Someone spilled salt

or stepped on a crack,

someone left a window open


or looked back, a mistake

that small was all it took

to let death into the world—


which means we never had

a chance at immortality

like the one Calypso offered


Odysseus and he turned down

for no good reasons–I want

a good reason life is dangled


in front of us for only

so many years and then

snuffed out, I know I could


appreciate beauty even if

it went on forever—lovely

word, the way it lingers


on the tongue—I might even

give up sex and go back

to being a single cell, to


multiplying by dividing,

if I could still feel the touch

of sun or wind or water against


a membrane, if I could sense

the difference between night

and day, if the little Mars


rover I lived in picked up

any signs of life, I don’t even

believe in getting out of the way


of others clamoring in line

to try this ride, I just want

to stay right here watching


cows drink from a pond

on a moonlit night.



♦ ♦ ♦


Glen Gould Humming


If you don’t want the sound

that could be coming


from any kid in headphones

accompanying your precious


Bach, call me and I’ll come

to your house and collect


every record you own

that reminds you this divine


music was written and played

by mere mortals with sweaty


palms and opposable thumbs—

and you can forget about the man


you believe intrudes

on otherwise perfect preludes


and fugues.


♦ ♦ ♦




Sorrow rises as if you

were the well, filling,


chills the stones, seeps

into the cracks between


them: how many people

would have to drink


from the little silver dipper

to carry your sorrow away?




from The Writer’s Almanac:


Sweater Weather:  A Love Song to Language

The Underworld


from The Poetry Foundation:

Body and Soul

Saying Things

from The Academy of American Poets


from the web

Beyond Recall



with J. Robert Lennon at Cornell University

with Jeremy Reed at Valparaiso University

with Sheila Bender on KPTZ radio

with the MFA program at Fresno State

with Kathleen Flenniken at Seattle’s Town Hall



John Berryman: “Hearing Voices: John Berryman’s Translation of Private Vision into Public Songs” from Recovering Berryman: Essays on a Poet (selected conference papers), U. of Michigan Press, 1994

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl” from American Writers Classics, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003


Eureka:  A Movie by Annie Kocherhans with words by Sharon Bryan

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