The Man with the Trap


Who knows, except him, how that grey squirrel

got into my basement and began racing around,

knocking over the basket of overwintering clothespins,

the bucket catching the drip from the leaky pipe.

He had a great thirst on him, the manic rodent,

tearing up a cushion in frantic industry.


He started to gnaw the door leading to the kitchen.

The elderly cat hunched blindly, interested but ineffectual.

Drinking my tea, hearing the crashing and chewing,

I pretended, for a moment, all was still well.


Then I called the man with the trap.

The squirrel—with his soft grey fur, so touchable,

his sharp claws and teeth, bared when scared—

went for nut butter, sweet and rich.

Now he is watching me warily from the top of a tree,

and I am here, with my cooling tea, alone.



Dolores O’Riordan has died at age 46. I know it’s a cliche, but sometimes there is a song on the air at just the right moment which seems to be about you and your life. For me, it was “Linger,” by the Cranberries. In 1993, I was working in a pizza shop in Belfast and the pop station had it on heavy play. Irish pride and all that. The lyrics, of course, could have been taken from my life at that moment,  one of those woeful times in one’s life when you love someone who loves you and loves someone else at the same time. All was bittersweet as I made ham and pineapple pizzas for the hungry drunks.

In “Zombie,” another song from just around that time, you can hear the sean nos heritage in her singing, and also a lack of concern for sounding pretty. She makes her voice ugly as she mourns the senseless death of children in an IRA bombing. It was in the air at the time, you could taste it in your mouth, moments from the ceasefire–the grief, the rage, the utter disenchantment with the words and deeds which had inflicted so much pain. Sean nos, in my understanding, is a form of singing in which the singer gives up agency to a greater power moving through her or him. It takes a strong person to give up control in such a way. But it tires one out, it does.

Dolores was just about my age. The root of her name is dolor, meaning sorrow. Why would a mother name a child that?

Ah Dolores love, I was such a fool for you. Could you not have lingered with us a bit longer?

The Heavy Bear

The first poem I ever read deeply was Delmore Schwartz’s The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me. I was 17, in my senior year in high school, taking a special freshman English class through Syracuse University. This was the first poem I read word by word, parsed closely, learned to understand.

the scrimmage of appetite everywhere

No one seems to read Schwartz any more and it was an odd poem to share with teenagers. It’s about our greedy, tiresome, fallible bodies, how our appetites are ungovernable, how we have a shining essential self which is separate from our corporal beings. It’s about desire, about sex and alcohol and eating, how we are hungry for honey of all sorts and lose our minds in its presence.

But I understood it, in theory, living inside a female body which already had its own urgencies. Teenagers understand, on some level, that the madness of their bodies is governing their minds.

Now, in middle age, the poem makes even more sense. How many times have I–and you–been defeated by my base appetites? How much joy there has been in those moments, and how much regret afterwards.

the secret life of belly and bone

My 14 year old son, still mostly a child, has a fever and dreamed of a bear in the house, one who could sense his emotions and would attack if he felt sad. Yes, I said, I know that bear, and I thought of this poem, which I haven’t read in 30 years. Maybe those teachers were right to share it with me then.

Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,   
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,   
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,   
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,   
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope   
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath. 



Is He Right for Me?

I asked the weeping psychic, walking on the muddy track beneath the soft ceiling of spring clouds. I had dreamt of God as a lover, myself warm and completed; then rent, sent out alone into the cold morning with a painful splinter in the sole of my foot. It is the last day to think before the blossoms erupt, the trees frantic with yellow and hectic pink, the necessary beckoning, light too bright, instinct overcoming. Once again I tread through a field of lowing cows under northern clouds, lonely, longing for Him.

Spring Crazy

I wrote this spring poem last May but golly, this mood has overtaken me once more. Points if you can guess the Cole Porter song which inspired this poem.


I’m Ulaanbaatar


It’s May I’m out of register

it’s the cherry blossoms I’m quick and dirty

I need some means restriction

a mistake seen from afar

Maybe it’s the lilacs I’m mindful sex

I’m back of the envelope I’m Pearl Square

I’m a baby near a boiling kettle

a tiger on a calendar

Could it be the apple tree I’m instamatic

I’m back of the house I’m your city’s lake

There’s restless agora within me boundless

I’m street antibiotic I’m Ulaanbaatar

It’s May ferns forcing the forest floor

I’m an epidemic alphabet I’m your rabbit

the wind the rain the newly-opened window

it’s very late I’m still awake          a door ajar