Poems Referenced in 5writers Guest Blog


The Boatman’s Wife

Feet frozen, she’s stuck here just like me.

No matter her wanderlust,

no matter her barren womb,

no matter her hunger for bread, or addiction

to wine, I must stay, beholden as I am to this

ceaseless stream of sad and shiftless shades.

She fiddles her fingers in frustration,

fed up with my failure to feed into her dreams

and desires. The flow of coins from beneath

their tongues is never fully enough.

And I face her wrath every day. Breath in, breath out

her accusations of laziness and sloth

belie the oar strapped to my back,

my daily trudge to the riverbank,

my incessant shuttling of somnambulant souls.

But it’s a heresy of the heart

to say she doesn’t care, doesn’t love.

I know the pain I cause.

It’s my wife’s way to live each day

without warmth or joy, without smiles,

without a proper way of showing me she cares.

She smacks me when I say my joints ache,

angry that I jeopardize unfairly

our daily bread. (But the elements

aren’t as harsh as she believes

them to be and I tell her

I can still manage my boat in spite

of these gnarled, ungainly knuckles.)

She hates the grate of my voice,

knows that the deeper it gets,

the deeper I’ll sink, the worse off we’ll be.

She’s gets scared when the halting,

rasping breath catches in my throat

too often to count as I sleep.

I tell her it’s nothing. Not to fear—

I’m fine, I say, lying through my teeth.

And then there’s the problem of ice.

Absent of friction and love, the attendant

lack of warmth is a natural paralytic,

numbing her to her core. A dread fog

often shrouds me in my skiff. It clings

like an icicle to the fore of her concern.

Her mind is not the same as it once was

and in this she is adamant: coins are not

our only sustenance. So her hate betrays her love.

A Song for Sonneteers and Spies

Somehow the air is crisper here, and nights          

descend without the flashy denouement               

of sunsets from her youth. In Dejvicka,                

the leafy streets remind her of her bourgeois        

youth in bucolic southern Arkansas,                     

a life she up and left without a fight.                    

Emerging from the Café Amsterdam                    

she stops short, hops aboard a southbound tram.  

Almost alone within the car, bereft                       

of any plans, she sets her thoughts adrift               

about the blankness of this ancient train.               

At last she decides: Time to move again.              

A heavy sigh for all the grief it brings.                  

Somehow the air is thicker now, she thinks.          

The Rothko Progression


Slow swirl at the edge of the sea.

Formless fusion of ovoids and auks,

you gave us morning songs in the key

of flesh, scored them with blacks and

browns, reds scribbled in an absence

of sense. Show us your archaic idols

of yellow, cherry, orange, nameless

in post-war ecstasy. These are your

baby steps, your questions, nascence.


Multiform shapes gave way to linear

thought, and I can’t help but wonder

whether you dreamt in paragraphs or

stanzas. No matter. It’s on the page.

Obfuscation in ochres red and orange.

Dark over Light Earth. Did you know?

Earth and green and even the number

eighteen portend a synthesis of dread

synesthesia. Carry on your rhetoric in

violet, black, orange. Yellow on white

and red.


So much for green and tangerine.

On red, maroon becomes a maudlin

hue, and brown haunts holes right

through your soul, but I think you

knew that going in. What happened

to the auks and awkward ovals?

What happened to the scribbled lines?

Must be the purple-brown lavender

left to dry amid the earth and green

mulberry leaves. The rust that befalls

iron fired to a deep, satisfying blue.

Blue and Indigo

So the sun begins to set, dragging with it

disparate blocks of tangerine stillness and

sfumato swaths of crude lemon cream.

Oranges, ochres, and reds stretch away

to the far edge of creation, leaving us to

ponder the blue, orange, red that remain

in layers above us. I keep an eye on the

untitled mural for the end wall, its brown

and gray tones deepening, deepening,

deepening until sooner or later I can see

only black on dark sienna on purple will 

survive. The setting sun bleeds blue. Gray.


INTERIOR: Entrance to subway (nameless).

EXTERIOR: Hierarchical birds on primeval 

landscapes. Self-portrait in shade. Swollen

with purpling pride, the Creator takes one,

three, thirteen, forty-six spiraling steps to

a street scene, underground fantasy no. 9,

where the soft edges of his self-portrait

carry no weight, impart no wisdom, settle

no scores. Each plodding step a conscious

movement toward a dark embrace, a bluer

rest, disassociation from the greater whole.

INTERIOR: The Artist takes up his brush.

EXTERIOR: Pigment soaks up moonlight.


Luna taunts with tentacles of memory.

Abstract landscapes lay in wait for one

man’s revelations. How deep the dark?

This side of a dry, gray moon: only this…

monochrome horizons feasting on our

frail humanity. In the inky black of a

February night, you carved new tendrils,

into a canvas yet unspoiled and left us

wondering at this new masterpiece and

its puzzling progression to white on red.















Sunday Morning: A Prayer

At last the dogs have squeezed us off our bed

to stretch and sprawl and snore their day away

while you and I get up to dress for church.

I choose a tie that suits your dress then search

the bureau for a nicer belt. I shave,

put in my teeth and brush my hair, thread

my way through our cluttered room to watch you

finish getting ready. So far, so good.

No spills or falls to make you want your chair,

no dizzy spells to make me fear the stairs.

Oh, my love, my lifelong love, if I could

snatch you up, roll back a decade or two,

I’d pray to God, “Make every day like this

so never will we share our final kiss.”