From Small Fires, Little Flames: A Reading

Here’s some video from Friday’s reading at BJ Spoke Gallery in Huntington*. Thanks to the gallery, those who came to listen and, especially, Kelly Powell, for hosting the event.

If you missed me here, you can find me featuring at the Blue Duck Bakery in Riverhead on Sunday, November 26th @ 2PM.

See more info about upcoming readings by clicking the Readings tab above.

*I’m not sure how the audio sounds, so I’ll post the poems I’m reading below.  If you like what you hear, you can purchase a copy of Small Fires, Little Flameshere.


The magician learns his art
and knows this spell or that one
will turn a stone into a dove.
The audience participates and sees.
There was no bird and now there is.

And saints practice humility,
praying for God’s will
who first caused doves to rise.
There is no art to this.
The congregation believes or disbelieves.

The poet is the one I love,
who tries to turn his heart into a dove
and fails or gets it right,
but no one cares or sees.


What god would prick
who could do more?

The one I know isn’t a wind.
He is a whisper.

Among the many voices he is one,
advising yes and no.

So long to other notions of the divine!
This one must do.

It’s been a good friend
since I was born.


I would revise so much
is how it used to go,
and then it changed and all
I used to know as loss
became not loss but possibility.

Potential is the better word.
I almost called it hope
but stopped, and would, just short
of that, because hope also means,
to my chagrin, hold on.


What word was it?  Oh, yes.
That one the heron said.
Was it only yesterday I heard it?

Or the day before and all the rain…
It’s better to be wet and know it
than think: the sun, the sun.

As if to pray were more than confirmation:
this is, and that’s enough.  No more
wishing for this monk.  Yes, that’s right.

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Reading Friday, November 10th

I’ll be reading this coming Friday, November 10th at 7 PM at the BJ Spoke Gallery, 299 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743.  I’ll have plenty of copies of Small Fires, Little Flames for sale, and I’ll sign them.  If you already have a copy, bring it along and I’ll sign that, too.

And if you miss this one, you can always catch me at the end of the month, Sunday, November 26th at the Blue Duck Bakery.

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Small Fires, Little Flames Is Available!

Small Fires, Little Flames is available.  If you’ve ordered or pre-ordered a copy, it should ship to you soon.  If you haven’t ordered a copy, please, please, do so now.  You won’t regret it.  If the poems inside don’t move you, the cover art–created by my Max Stablein, artist extraordinaire–will.

Get it on Amazon, with free shipping to Prime members, or from Finishing Line directly.

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Names I Almost Recognize: Montreal, Plateau Mont Royal

One of the errors espoused by contemporary Americans includes the idea that age is just a number, as if time were a psychological, even a spiritual, rather than a physical reality.  But our bodies do age, and time is in our flesh.  The earth revolves around the sun.  Our hair leaps away from our heads.  Our skin sags where before it was drum-tight.  We were once more elastic not only of mind but of body and spirit.  The organ anatomists call the heart and the spiritual organ the rest of us call the heart aren’t composed of two separate substances.  They are one.  One’s pulse quickens the other’s.
from a discarded post called “On Turning Forty” started and abandoned 12/22/2012


Like that I was no poet
But what a poet says,
His images: forgetting
The still calm voice
For creation with all
Its faults and flaws

The dark, the light, & in between—
It’s all the soul:
My daughter’s head,
The dirty lot,
Strangers with their strange perfumes,
Names I almost recognize.



Rue Boyer, Plateau Mont Royale, Monteral, by Max Stablein

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From a Discarded Post II

“So what is the divine?  First, it is in us and not outside of us.  All searching for the divine out there leads to dead ends, unless that searching corresponds to some inner searching.  There are many, many scapes and motions, which correspond perfectly to the appropriate inner conditions from which the divine springs.  However, one might come to find equal success and never step over the threshold of his house into the outer world.  Second, it comes into being and, when we go, it goes.  The divine, to be divine, must be rare and fragile.  Its strength isn’t bodily strength.  Its weakness isn’t bodily weakness.  The most decrepit hermit might be the most spiritually fit, and so may be the child, who dies of some mysterious illness.  Third, it only comes into being by being courted or because of sudden or prolonged trauma.  It is more likely that this divinity comes into being as the result of a combination of circumstances, both inner and outer, and that is why it is so difficult to identify.”
–from a discarded post called “What Is Divinity?” started 11/19/2010

“A Visit,” by Max Stablein


That Our Homes Are Images of Our Souls

It’s not true the soul can’t see herself.
On my walks, I count her magnificences:
New siding on the Brodys’ place,
their new pool, and the other neighbors, too,
like Greg, hospitalized but recovering, hopefully,
and his flagpole whose tock tock tock
we can hear two houses down on windy nights.

Mine isn’t a cabin in the woods, the way
I’d wish, but there’s a small garden out front
I barely have the time to tend, not with four children,
six cats, a dog and an ex-wife.  But then,
there’s Shannon.  She makes me forget
the cedar shakes torn away by weather and that dumb
dog.  When she stands out in the side-yard
hanging laundry, the wind bullies her skirt.
And it kills me when, making love, either of us
calls out to the only god we still believe in.


This poem is a response to something I read a few weeks ago.  I think it was a line in a John Koethe poem, which I liked very much, but the idea about the soul not finding her image in the world anymore stuck in my throat.  I guess my discomfort relates back to the paragraph above which comes from a years-old post about the divine.  My new book, Small Fires, Little Flames, I understand now, is an attempt to reconcile myself with what might be called the “still small voice.”  It’s a good book, I’m proud of it, and I hope those who read it find something of value in it, but what good is a divinity like that, who advises only?  I reject such a limited capacity for the soul.  Of course, what I’m saying here is difficult to say, to tease out, to define, so forgive me.  But what I’ve been thinking lately is that the soul isn’t so rare a thing only a poet or a prophet can find her.  She is everywhere and everything–even that which we’d disavow.  So while the soul is the sumac an hour before dusk, so, too, is she even the ugliest of Trump’s muggings.  If these things aren’t the soul, they are at least her reflections.  We read her messages or ignore them at our peril.

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From a Discarded Post

“A poet’s first preoccupation has to be with love.  Where ordinary men and women–I don’t mean ordinary in any pejorative sense, but rather in its Latin sense–can afford to submit their lives to chance and do, mostly, fairly well as far as these things go; poets on the other hand, probably from some temperamental urge to meddle, must attempt to draw up to consciousness love’s subtleties.  Yeats’ poem ‘Adam’s Curse’ addresses what the noisy set, those whom the martyrs call the world, think of a poet’s curiosity, and still, he says, when things get difficult, for whom do they reach?  If poetry seems irrelevant to many people, it is because either 1) it asks questions no one wants the answers to, or 2) it doesn’t provide the answers ordinary people need, when they need.  My fear is that more often than not, the latter is the truer of these two causes.”
–from a discarded post called “On Love,” created 08/17/2013


Shannon and I are rereading Love in a Time of Cholera.  The only time we have for doing this is when we take trips in the car, running here or there: to the grocery store, to the fair, home from the fair in the dark, when the children are asleep in their car-seats.  She does the reading, and I like hearing her voice articulate the lives and loves of these characters, especially because, we think, that could’ve been us.  We don’t think this in any overly romantic sense.  We just know that not all loves are equal, and that our fates can get confused, thwarted, and so luck plays a greater part in our coming together than we like to admit.  We are lucky, incredibly lucky, and every day is a chance to be reminded of that fact.

“Two Versions of the Same Creature,” Max Stablein


I cannot disavow what I don’t understand
Even if it slips right through my hands
A fish I caught in grade school quickens and
Is gone, is going still, is everything
I’ve loved and lost and paraphrased

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This Is Just a Place

for Steve, in memoriam

After you divorced, ten years passed before
We saw each other and,
By that time, ruin found me too
I can’t begin to tell the story

It doesn’t matter now.  Let it suffice
That we were friends
And no one makes friends, thinking:
Someday I’ll watch him go

You left me one last message
Which I haven’t listened to
Save it, some quiet voice tells me,
The one I used to confuse for God’s

“Hows Your Meal,” A Max Stablein Joint


After publishing the last post a few days ago, Shannon and I talked about the appropriateness of this particular revision.  Stevens, after the publication of Harmonium and the birth of his daughter, Holly, took a ten-year long hiatus before returning to poetry.  That ten years of silence was as necessary as any writing that had preceded it.  I’ve said on many occasions that I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I believe in the writing process, and a necessary step in that process is silence.  Not all silences are the same.  There is the one after a sudden shock or blow.  There is the pause that comes between thoughts.  There is the silence of having emptied a thing, a room, a house, a neighborhood, a life.  Can you imagine Stevens fretting about writer’s block?  No, if there is something to say, then say it.  If there isn’t, then shut up.  And if your life is taken up with the joys and despairs of living, then, well, what is there to say about that?

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