The Trees

For Dr. Cathy Sepko

She saw the light first as a little girl

In the hard knuckle granite of West Virginia –

A distant fire in a snowy wood

Filled with the paddings of foxes,

Crickets in the indigo dusk.


She learned to read the braille of wood bark

Leading toward that flame,

The rust of sky heavy on the trees.


Can you hear them? she would call to us,

Can you hear the songs of old?

The wide winds of rhythm,

The open mouth of the moon

Cooing along the quiet river?


She taught us in the forest

To feel the poems in the pines,

To dig our teeth deep into the dirt to taste the earth.


She taught the rocks to rhyme,

Pressed a shard of coal into the stone

To carve her spot in time.


And now, she sits on a smooth stump before the fire

Surrounded by the faces of a generation,

Ten thousand family trees

Singing softly in the starlight, leaning in to listen

As she warms her tired feet.


A poem to my students…

I wonder if it’s a sonnet,

The poem of your life,

As I hear your shoes squeak their stanzas across the floor to your desk

And you click your blue mechanical pencil

Twice to take a quiz.


For I happened to notice two index cards,

Like a light pink couplet,

Tucked beneath the tidy layers of your notebook

As you closed your eyes, breathed, reassured yourself

Of what you knew and filled your name at the top.


Or do you live and breathe in music,

All elbows and gym bags, your fingers

Twitching steadily the edges of your sweatshirt?

Perhaps your life is a lyric, a rhythm

Kept in meter by the beat of basketballs,

Or the wild and fearless drummings of your

Feet along the track?


Or you, there in the far row,

Do you see the world in free verse?

Eyes bright from gazing through kaleidoscopes,

Bending the sky around your ballpoint pen?

From here I see your frenzied scribbling in that beat-up journal,

The back of your homework, the length of your arm,

Scrambling to seize your swelling thoughts,

Your echoing afterthoughts,

Your madcap fever of creativity.


And I bet hers is a ballad, a song,

Her eyes telling the fear in the horizons,

Dreaming of afternoon, of evening,

Of the time she’ll spend with her father

Before his illness takes a turn.


Whatever they are,

These poems in your mouths, your hands, your smiles,

They somehow fit each one of you, like shadows

Filled with beauty and, ironically,

With light.


And when I am old,

Beyond the reach of my podium,

My pen, my worn and dog-eared Hamlet,

I will see you all,

Again and again and again,

As young as autumn leaves

Reddening, then leaping

Into the constant winds of change.


A poem for my daughter, Julianna…

In the dream,

You and I were seated,

Side by side,

In the bench seat of a borrowed golf cart,

Touring the cracks and

Sparkling asphalt of our neighborhood

As the sun began to set.



We hummed through the endless turns

And quiet stretches,

Never bothering to circle back

(if that’s what one does in a winding subdivision),

And I laughed as your cheeks tightened

From smiling

And your blonde hair giggled in the wind.


I think we drove for hours,

You and I,

Always whirling around another corner,

Discovering the horizons that lilted with purpled light.


“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”


I looked over at you

And your bouncing knees,

Clapping hands,

As you climbed the little ladders in your eyes,

Gazing into futures,


Eyelashes swept with spring.


The warm pull of our small motor

Rose into the sky

As you colored the clouds with your singing,

Like fingerpaint against infinite sheets

Of 97¢ construction paper.


“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”


But then,


Our magic cart

Reached the end of the dream,

Our swirling atmosphere slurred to a stop

Like chalk,

Our wheels sticking on the fermata,

The song sustaining, the pedal dampened,

As my brain began to wake my body.


“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”


I stumble through the early light

To open your bedroom door.


“I love you,” you sing.

“Good morning, Julie,” I respond,


And we both hear the click of the

Automatic coffee maker,

Heralding the dawn,

As we walk down the morning stairs



My Daughter Speaks with Thunder

This is a poem dedicated to my daughter Julianna, the girl who says hello to the thunder:

My daughter speaks with thunder,

Letting go of a thousand wishes drawn from her little well,

Lips stirred by the sweeping spells of starlight,

A congregation of electric clouds clapping the chorus,

Humming hymns.


When lightning rips the violet sky,

Like mice scratching faster than traps,

Cheese in cheek,

My child betrays her young lungs with the fragile yell

Of determined humans,

Daring to harmonize with the heavens.


She smiles and dances to me,

The harps in her throat still laughing with song,

When her hands outstretch to unveil

A dozen little berries,

Dizzy from the sugar they’ve drunk,

And I see the glory of this gummy communion,

As my daughter chomps on her backyard treasure,

Barrels her hellos to the evening,

And God the Father belly laughs

A shower of rain in response.