I want to tell the truth,
I want to tell it straight;
I want to peel your skull off
and put in a glass plate.

A shocking rinse of sun
shall purify every gyrus
into an innocent worm,
the serpent twist(s) in silence

as the decalogue burns
deeper than God burned stone
inside the pale organ
helmeted in bone.

All shall be well
when the one light enlightens
the snail and shell,
the dull and bright ones.

(Published in Avatar Review)

A Time to Kill

I cupped it in my hands like snow--
it sprang to the hardwood floor.
Captured again, I held it close.
A splotch of blood stained my shirt;
I checked my cuticles--

a toothpick of a bone
jutted from the ripped fur
and the large hind foot
(the lucky one)
bent like a broken flower.


A pile of ash, a spaniel on a string,
a dormant summer lawn:
morning splits the milkweed shaft
left leafless by the Monarchs.
White skeletons rise aloft,
                         At night
the kettle barbecue drops embers in its dish.
Two lightning bugs arc in and out,
reappear beneath a wall
of trees where they were not--

and all these jewels and wings,
the need of the dog caught
by his running leash, starved for touch,
and this pen condemned to a narrow life--

easier to focus on your green eyes
lightly puffed by grief, your lashes
dark as night's vegetation
because love never dies,
like the devotion of this spaniel,
and this man, and this
impossible art.

(published in Niederngasse)

In Your Hands

The desert two-lane flashes
its white segments so quickly
you forget the asphalt discontinuities
and think the dashes connected
toward some future rendezvous
where night and morning join
in a secret sunrise of stars
that explains all the causalities
that propelled you here–
but your eyes are sucked back
to this moment, furious and finite
as a fly seizuring against a screen.

The yellow smears on your windshield
are souls you’ve hurt without knowing.
The whistle through the window
is your suspicion of yourself.
The radio plays country
because you really are that simple.

When it’s time to pull over,
you are no closer to but no further
from your goal. In a waking sleep
you imagine topiaries of exhaust
in the shapes of visionaries:
Jesus, Blake, Jules Verne.
Were they as rooted to the moment?
Or did they veer off in the underbrush?
The wheel is in your hands.

Night Train

Dark, dark, dark
the moon a scimitar--
Venus below
a dull round diamond
through low haze beyond
mesquite and mud
here by the moon-pebbled lake…

Suddenly slicing
through the night-blue file of trees
comes the train’s
brass foghorn
and Cyclops’ beam

Through high gaps
in the trees’ soft palisade
I see the hard edges
of boxcars disappear
as flatcars sneak by--
the hulking rectangles return,
vanish again--
lights on the caboose.

Box snake,
mechanical river,
pram over cobblestones
won’t wake the baby--
irregular rumble
comes from darkness
plows through darkness
recedes in darkness

In the lonely spaces
the dark shape through the darkness
hugely moving
yet small against the hills
and endless prairie
tumbleweeds shiver
jackrabbits prick their ears
a coyote approaches
under cover of sound

By this campfire
beside the moon-pebbled lake
I imagine all the stars
as receding trains
headbeams staring back
an infinity of cars stacked behind them
snaking through the black ether
Doppler shift confirms retreat
the universe waving good-bye
constantly from its center
good-bye Stephen Hawking

A lone train in the wilderness
mysteriously comforting
black obelisk on wheels
slicing through night-blue
beneath the imperative stars
moving to its own syncopation
seemingly free but bound by steel
following the one path appointed
into the southern night.



A waterfall of drooping chandeliers
in ghostly lavender and cream
falls from trellis and beam.

Aesop’s fox jumps at the fruit, obsessed.

A mockingbird laughs, flaps away.
White chevrons mark her underwing’s gray.
She lands in a stolen nest.

What’s real is not always best.

City of Stone
(San Miguel de Allende, México)

This land is made of stone.
It is my rack and doom.
The stone lives in the hills
Beneath the cactus bloom.
The roots that burrow there
Aren’t blanketed by loam.
I walk the city streets
Through stone, by stone, on stone.

The dust that fills the air
Is dust that coats my lungs.
Mortar is everywhere.
Cobblestones fill ruts.
I cannot breathe or move
Without the ache of rust.
My body’s breaking down;
I fear the joints I trust.

On flagstones and cement
I hobble, beaten man--
More desiccated cricket
In this merciless land
Where the dry wind whips
My face in cold command
And the dull sun sits
In judgment of my span

And the moon turns black
From volcanic white
In a dry eclipse
Of its airless flight
And my tortured feet
Pound the cobblestone
Of the moon-blackened streets
Through stone, by stone, on stone.


From the gray-green Atlantic
over marshlands bathed in rain
the Olmecs dragged their jaguar-toothed god
through thickets tamed by jadeite axes,
up mountain defiles to Mexico’s central bowl.
Short, thick-legged magicians, they carried secrets of rubber, cotton-weaving, and stone.

Ugly, with chiseled teeth to match their god’s,
they bound their infants' heads
in peaked occipits, much like
Conquistadores' helmets
two thousand years to come.

They prized green stones:
jade, serpentine and malachite,
eschewing gold. In ocelot robes,
dancing and shrieking, gashing themselves,
they importuned their spotted god for rain
to quell the Amerindian fear
of blackened maize and infants’ bellies
swollen by marasmus.

A god of rain works better where it rains.
So when the sun-hammered sky
became a polished pyrite mirror
that wouldn’t drip a single bead of sweat,
the Olmecs didn't hesitate.
Something more was needed
to wake their coastal god from desert slumber:
blood to seed the withered clouds,
human blood.

Soon wars weren’t fought for territory
or vengeance but for victims.
Even warriors didn’t resist.
It was an honor to die for maize and country,
and, given enough lives, it rained eventually—
it always does.

Where Are the Frogs?

Where are the frogs,
those wide-mouthed bassoons,
where have they gone?
Where the long-tongued
bass chucklers of the riverbed
with their resonating neck pouches,
where our amphibian tubas?
Gone, they have gone.

I have heard tree frogs, their music
ethereal as the sheen of oil on a rain puddle,
but where are the ground frogs,
pond frogs, river frogs?
Their absence astounds me.

I have heard of the decline of frogs,
of mutant, two-headed frogs, of flaws
in the helical thread of their genome,
one older than feathers and fur
but science has no answer.

I miss their croaking counterpoint
to the traffic of rapids and the blue jays' shriek.
I need their staccato didgeridoos
to balance the hypnotic sawing of insects.

The streams and rivers are hushed
and their conductors, the herons,
have dropped their willow batons.
Waterfalls may thud like tympanies
but the orchestra can't be mended
without frogs. Where have they
gone? Did you hide them?

Eternal Recurrence

Psychologists call mania
a defense against depression
but I find that silly.
There is no defense
against depression
and no adequate metaphor
for its recurrence, but I'll try:

You love someone with all your heart.
They are brutally murdered.
After an interminable grief
they magically reappear
and you fall down on your knees
and thank God with tears.

The second time is worse.

After the third funeral
you dread their resurrection
as much as their death
and love becomes a poisonous thing.
You would drive a stake
through their heart
if only you could.


I will love myself today.
Here are some fuzzy slippers
and a lollipop,
a warm hug and a wet kiss.
Let me tuck this
old familiar blanket
around my shoulders
and read this poem
before I nap.

Whatever I do today,
I’ll approve.
If I spill milk, I’ll clap.
If I button my shirt wrong
it’s a new style.
If I wet my pants
it was on purpose.

My, how well I walk!
How well I speak!
It’s so good to be
good to myself.
Where have I been
all these sad, long years?


Copyright © 2004 CE Chaffin