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Superior Oak Ridge Landfill


Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s grand cathedral

in Barcelona, remains unfinished,

counting its way up to eighteen spires:

twelve apostles, four evangelists,

virgin mother, and Jesus. And people

in that city have grown up watching it

grow up for generations—the architect

dead and buried inside—the world

turned digital, cellular, the latest phone

snapping a picture of a spire, another

amateur who imagines he’s got a grasp

on things, that he’s worldly, that the world

is somehow fixed because he’s captured

an image of it. Steve Jobs died a few years

back and will soon be obsolete, too.

His best inventions are now radioactively

leaking into the sea, incinerated into smoke,

or buried in the Superior Oak Ridge Landfill,

which I’m passing on the highway now—

landfill I watched grow up from humble

beginnings, smelled it hanging low

for thirty years in the valley, every

summer, every time I neared

the Meramec river. And when the county

council finally ordered the landfill to stop

accepting trash, said that it was

to be capped with clay and vegetation

and monitored for methane levels and leakage,

I felt a sense of pride for having watched it

grow up to the height of its brothers,

for having contributed my small part to it,

for knowing that one hundred years from now

this hill won’t be bald, and this valley

will take back its slopes, and the river

will go on drifting its dumb course like a mule

that never grows old or tired or stubborn.

To build a building is one thing, I think,

but to build a feature of landscape

from garbage is another, and Jobs, Gaudi, Christ

have simply become names without owners.

What if I told you that when I was a kid

I followed the train tracks that brushed past

the base of the landfill, hiked up to the rim

looked over and saw an open pit alive

with the beating of a thousand wings,

the largest murder of crows I’ve ever witnessed

rifling in a field of trash that smelled

like nothing of this world. Imagine now,

like I did then, that any moment

the land could’ve risen into a conspiracy

of feathers. We think what we see is only

the half of it, that the capped landfill won’t

outlive Gaudi’s cathedral, although it will,

that the tallest spire isn’t Jesus after all,

just our own ambition in lockstep

with a body we can’t imagine is disappearing,

although it is, and so we build things up

higher than the one who came before

and we marvel at the advances until

the din of our creation sounds

like an electric insect rubbing its legs together,

and soon our summer nights are filled

with the hum of its mating call.

  ~Originally published in Southeast Review (from Racecar Jesus)

The Colony at Malibu


Glassy eyed on Scotch, my brother and I watched

the electric faces of waves, and I said that nobody

really gets drunk in poems anymore and gets away


with it. Not like William Matthews did. But we

are drunk, he said, and getting away with it

at this borrowed château in the colony.


We all harbor a private sadness, I said.

Melancholia, he said. Melancholia, I said. 

Melancholia, confirmed the moon in Morse code,


and the ocean must’ve known what it felt like—each

wave another failed attempt at becoming. People here,

I said, must take great pride        in the celebrated virgins


of Pepperdine          who graze in the pasture

of finance and architecture          for all of the practical

reasons. Was that Keats? he asked as he poured


a few neat fingers of Glenmorangie Artein.

Keats had the heart of a sparrow, I said, always

fawning over the things he would never have.


Like this beach, he said. Like these waves, I said.

  ~Originally published in The Southern Review (from Narcissus Americana)

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge


Think ocean spill-off creeping

over the Outer Banks into these brackish


channels, which course alongside gravel

roads—bramble-thick new growth


forest on one side, Monsanto corn

tended in pristine rows on the other.


A black bear rises to his hind legs on a hill

and looks at Regina and I as we get out


of the car. He’s young and diuretically

passing indigestible kernels, and she pokes


his poorly formed scat pile with a stick

just as the bear turns tail for the woods.


A storm purpling the distance dips

a waterspout into the sea for a drink,


and I say that we’ll never see a red wolf 

here, rust-colored as they are against


these impossible woods. Bordering the edge

of this refuge sits a Navy bombing range


wherein ordnance gets routinely detonated;

but today, all is quiet save our boots


scuffling gravel. No doubt the sea level

is rising everywhere these days and even


the modest models show this refuge

going under—as we walk, I imagine the corn


waving like kelp below the surface,

fish pecking the yellow leftover bits,


trees holding their skirts above the knees

and waiting for the water to recede.


And when it doesn’t? What fossils

the land will have secured for future


generations: black gum roots loosed

from soil; the slow bones of mammals


with nowhere else to go; and the bombs,

o you bombs—the Navy won’t make it to all


of you before the deluge—you too will just

have to wait for the waters to come.  

  ~Originally published in Ecotone (from Field Study)




Trivial Pursuit


It’s good, you think, to feel those old synapses

hustling to get in line for roll call

as your mother-in-law clears the table

and offers another beer. Has anyone

seen Hirohito, Steeplechase, Polio, the Warsaw Pact?

An aging battalion whistled back

from an almost permanent shore leave,

everyone heavy around the midsection;

only half of the state capitals even bothered

to show up and none of the Oscar winners

from 1965 –1985. Then, before you know it,

Alan Shepard is rocketed back onto the moon

driving golf balls into the horizon—

How many of them landed in a bunker?—Australopithecus

holds up two fingers, shrugs, and sinks

back into the fold. You can hear Bessie Smith

warming up with Guns N’ Roses, while Rome

and Carthage are reenacting the Punic Wars.

What’s the world’s largest political party?

What’s a marsupial’s marsupium better known as?

How many of every ten cats will survive a six-story fall?

Nine Chinese communist pouches to be exact,

shouts the Aegean Sea. By now, you’re throwing

bull’s-eyes blindfolded and things are getting interesting.

Tammy Faye Baker’s tattooed eyebrows are learning

to play a five-string banjo while the War of 1812

French-kisses Jupiter, and Margaret Thatcher

poses for the cover of Sports Illustrated. Sure,

you could try and put a stop to it, send everyone

slogging away like melancholic whores, useless,

half-remembered, but you still haven’t decided

which one has the most chromosomes—a turkey, a hermit crab

or a human? And wouldn’t you like to know.

  ~Originally published in Subtropics (from About the Dead)

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