1. Between Cloverdale and Antelope Wells

Bleak, alien, hostile

and unaccommodating

are its only adjectives;

its scattered, brittle trees

ideal for the roosts of vultures.

Even the rain,

scarce as a blessing, is violent,

flash flooding gulch, draw


then sizzling into steam

like drops on a red-hot branding iron.

What’s not rock is red earth

hard as horseshoes,

a gentle rise of desert

so rare it’s relief.

Only thorns endure, dead or alive,

much more practical than prayers.

2. Dead Horse Gulch Ranch

Beauty here

is hardscrabble,

here where hawks

perched on posts of mesquite

constitute the only filigree.  

Nights, the hides of calves twitch,

branded with irons of crude stars

wobbling in blackness,

raw to the firmament

as a cowhand’s flesh

in an ice storm, laid wide-open

by a barb of twisted wire.

3. Chihuahuan Desert Night

Mojave rattlers

slither to the blacktop,

still rattles,

and flatten

to sponge asphalt sun.

Like molten amber,

the scorpions

ooze from stones

and sidle beneath

the shadows of stingers.

Emerging pad by pad

from his den,

with but his wide-

open eyes, the puma

bejewels the darkness.

(Winner, 2023 Spur Award/Western Writers of America; first published

in the San Pedro River Review)

Kimbell Art Museum

(Fort Worth, Texas)

Intrigued with the silver

aspect of Texas light,

the architect* abhorred

skylights and clerestory


windows.  Natural light

enters through a two-

and-one-half-foot slit

at the apex of vaulted

ceilings; strikes convex,

perforated aluminum;

reflects onto curved

concrete; ricochets

off walls of travertine

and the warmth of an oak

floor; merges with light

from incandescent lamps;

and illumes, as if its oils

were still wet with freshness

and glowing from within,

La Tour’s masterpiece**,


leaving the viewer complicit

in the dazzling trinity

of the cheat, the servant,

and the courtesan.

* Louis Kahn

** The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs

(from Art Museums; first published in DIN Magazine)


(the goatherd muses)

Their udders house miracles

of milk, butter, and cheese.

Their dung is my fuel;

their flesh my seldom meat.

Their skins clothe me.

With their bones, I make


my simple tools.  Their horns

are spoons; symbols of plenty.

The walls of their bowels,

sliced thinly into strips,


serve as sutures; string

cellos, violins.

(from The Goatherd; first published by Bunchgrass Press)

Tide Pool Touch Tank

                  for Frank

The dank air

of the Maine State Aquarium

is pungent with brine

and the nostril-flaring

smell of fresh fish.


Little children huddle

around a tank

like primitives in a ritual.

Their heads swim

with flashbacks


of moonless, blue-black skies,

of luminous bodies

sparkling through the slats

of their cribs

beside the windows,


ever beyond the reach

of their fat, groping fingers.  

Wide-eyed, entranced

by the miracle beneath them,

they take deep breaths,


ease their hands into the black-

green holiness of seawater,

and, with the fingers of gods

trembling in the heavens,

stroke the spiny skin of stars.

(from The Lobsterman’s Dream: Poems of the Coast of Maine;

first published in The Texas Review)


He and his mother

worked all afternoon

potting the new plants,

and placing them

all around the house.

As Ernest sleeps

with the little clods

of fresh potting soil

caked under his nails,

his big fingers move

working the dark earth

of his dreams.

He smiles in his sleep

at the fat buds

splitting into bloom

as each hairy stem

twists through thick clusters

of deep green leaves,

and lifts to the night

its choir of fresh blood.

(from Uncle Ernest)

House Finch in Summer

Through my office window,

I watched it for several hours

darting from its perch

in the holly tree, and then,

within minutes, returning.


The tree stood just a few feet

from the doors of the art museum.

Each time a door was opened,

a blast of air-conditioned air

rushed out, ruffling the ruby

plumage of its head and breast.  

It just closed its eyes,

braced itself on its branch,  

and froze.  All day long it did this,

never tiring of its antics,

as if relishing the air

redolent and tumescent

with the oils of the masters;

laden with the bated,

exhaled breath of astonishment.

(from A Murder of Crows; first published in The Christian Science Monitor)

The Red Raging Waters

For weeks on end it has rained in Texas

Sending the Brazos miles beyond its banks

Where it rises even now under dark Texas skies

Over the wooden floor of a bottomland Baptist church,

Floating creaking pews shaped with the aching buttocks

Of generations, the wild Brazos rising higher yet

To the stained-glass robes of the Apostles,

Soaking the feet of Jesus and lapping the elbows

Of His uplifted arms, creeping up the pulpit

On whose open Bible coils a fat diamondback,

The red raging waters of the Brazos

Bringing to sweet communion the serpent and the saint.

(from Amazing Grace; first published in The Texas Review)

The Slough

The decaying pine boards of his porch

creak beneath the rockers of stained oak

shaped by the hands of his father.

He kills his time there, rocking,

staring deep into the woods

of his grandfather, toward the slough.

For ten years, since he turned seventy,

it’s risen in the basement of his dreams.

The haven of gator and cottonmouth,

it’s harbored for three generations

his clan’s deepest secrets. Late at night,

if he listens hard enough, he can hear

the muffled, steady engine of its rot.

It works its timeless wonders

under still, dark waters. Its film

has already claimed his pale, blue eyes.

(from The Woodlanders; first published in Louisiana Literature)

Out of the Blue

But for the three of us,

the park that day was deserted.

Mom meant no harm

and said she was just kidding

when, out of the blue,

she sped off in the Buick

and left me and my little brother

stranded on the blanket

we’d spread for a picnic.

Beyond the elm-shaded acres

of Cole Park, in far West Texas,

the flat red earth

ran unobstructed for miles

in all four directions

all the way to the horizon.

Sam clutched his teddy bear

and started crying.

I stood in my white,

suspendered shorts

and watched the car

dissolve in a cloud of dust.

A few minutes later,

when she drove back,

I was still standing,

too shocked to speak or cry,

dispossessed at three of my trust,

held against her heaving chest

weightless as the husk

of a cicada.

(from Where Skulls Speak Wind; first published in The San Antonio Current)

Driving Through West Texas

Locked for an hour on cruise control

without meeting another vehicle,

I’m hypnotized by yellow

stripes, whizzing by like arrows.

Sixty miles back, I missed the sign

posted by a Mobil Hopper

would’ve liked, the last gas stop

for the next hundred miles.

The wind howls through my cracked

window. Though moonless, the night

reminds me of the set

of an old Frankenstein flick,

flaring with hundreds of torches.

The Day-Glo reddish-orange

needle of my gas gauge

quivers, almost horizontal.

I swerve to miss a diamondback

slithering across the macadam.

For no clear reason, I say aloud

the word diamondback.

It startles me, not so much the word

itself but the intimacy

with which I utter it,

as if it were the name of a friend.

(from Stark Beauty)

The Initiate

Through mirrored,

dark sunglasses

he sees the stars

clustered in the fraternity

of oblivion.

He lies beside his brethren

in the open air,

the night air of moonlight

and the breath of sleeping crows.

His body still trembles

with the hushed terror

of the vow.

In the freezing chrome

of Harleys,

millions of stars burn bright,

ceremonial candles.

(from The Fraternity of Oblivion)

French Quarter

Below sea level, in night fog

thick as chicken and sausage gumbo, it looms,

this whole place a brick and concrete grave

adorned with Spanish and French iron,

a grisly Easter basket

wrapped in alternating bands

of green, gold, and purple cellophane

under which flicker the lights,

the ghastly lights of gas lamps and neon

every hue of the rainbow

illuming the ghostly faces

of voodooienne Marie Laveau

and the Saint Louis Cathedral

sticking its spires into night sky

like pins in a doll of voodoo, voodoo

whose rhythmic chants gave birth to jazz

in this glittering city of sin and Lent

forever gently nudged by the giant python

of the Mississippi, triumphant, tumescent,

and shining from its meal of mice and men.

(from New and Selected Poems; first published in Small Pond)

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