by Craig Chalquist


(a poem
on the fly
is a cat
startled silly
by its own


Lines to Anne Hathaway

Four centuries of springs have come and gone;
The stage telluric yet reveres his name:
Supreme playwright of Stratford-on-Avon,
Your husband shares with you immortal fame.

A fame devoid of image--for we want
A way to resurrect your living face:
Of his, our wonder two old portraits taunt;
Your countenance we have no means to trace.

Posterity hints pregnancy ill-timed,
And hasty marriage to a man half-grown,
And children three, one by long life unlimned,
And little left to widow, fate unknown.

And then I wonder, turning autumned leaves:
Did mighty Shakespeare, faithful after all
Bequeath to us what history yet grieves:
A thousand heart's-eye glances that recall

In Desdemona's desperate honesty,
Virgilia's laments, Viola's wit,
The stony loyalty of wise Hermione,
The limpid fears of Blanch, contention-lit,

In Cleopatra's sighing, sultry yearning,
In Portia's leniency, Perdita's grace,
Miranda's innocence, untried flesh burning,
Young Juliet's moonlit, moon-shaming face:

In these and other women, past the ken
Of Time to alter blush or bloom of life,
Do we discern, fresh from his aching pen,
The ardent dramatist's beloved wife?

A book of sonnets on a frosty night,
A candle--and a fantasy to woo:
Wherever soared the bard's impassioned flights,
Unto the end, his soul remained with you.


What If

What if pistols fired laughing gas
Jets strafed neighborhoods with frankfurters
Flags blushed pink if you waved them too much
Bulldozers wore nose rings and dodged clownish matadors
Private lives were safe from inquiring glass eyes
And public lies were carefully metered--
The proceeds to buy thick steaks for the poor
We always seem to have with us

What if trillions were spent turning taxis into trolleys
Parking spaces into sacred places
Freeways into free rides, malls into folkmoots
What if jams were only for toast and
Car horns were horns of plenty
What if gridlock meant a block party where drivers opened doors
Stepped forth and danced with everyone else
Out there on the ballroom blacktop

What if chat rooms were delivery rooms where doctors cut wireless umbilicals
Nurses loosed smart cats to chase away plastic mice
And midwives cheered the birth of newborn closeness--

What if everyone put down the ringing phones
The fading flags, the unholy books, the unsweetened pie charts, the unhelpful manuals
The entire unwholy medieval postmodern package of soulless virtuality
To boldly reimagine things, together, today, so that nothing and no one
Would go untouched tomorrow


Scrawl for a residence plagued by sellers of tune-ups, vacuum cleaners, and expurgated Bibles:

There's nothing wrong with knocking on a door
To buy, to sell, or just to advertise
Unless a sign prevents your hand before
It raps: therefore, dear Salesman, be wise:
Don't let religious zeal or common greed,
Like Sirens, lure you onto rocky shores
Unless you wish your epitaph to read,
"He knocked at last on one too many doors."


Variations on a Haiku

Above the doors of a
Shut and dusty theater,
Sunset-colored lamps.

Grandfather is gone.
Scattered sheep are grazing on
The long, dry grasses.

My grandmother felt
She knew little, but in truth
Her winter bloomed light.

Clutching worn flowers,
He waits in the falling dusk
For a passing car.

Sudden, the fragrance
Of star jasmines blooming in
Cement-ringed soil.

How gently the dew
Seeps into the skin of a
Lone baby cactus.


Fill 'Er Up

is darker
or deader
than oil
(blood of
the extinct)
dead souls of
dollarsign dinos
torchers of air
tainters of sea
suckers of crude
from the ground:
from the ground
gulping blood
spilled downward
to lubricate

Heavenly Handbasket

There once was a planet named Pluto
Understandably ranked down to pseudo:
To convert from green Earth
Underworlds of great worth
Plutocrats claimed the heavenly kudo.

My Brother

Quirky smile so like our father's.
Dextrous of hand and mood and eye.
Winds for thought, waves for a worldview.
Quiet in pondering, quick in the act.
Long of limb and wide of mind.
Dark hair stubborn to keep its curly luff.
Cheeks the warm bronze of a South Sea sunset.
Tall and lean as a mainmast.


For My Birth Father

Solid tread, half-crooked grin,
Hand clasping mine as big as a shoe.
Men sporting parachutes still recall how
You taught them to chuckle at gravity.
"A time warrior," I said when you asked
Years ago:
Who are you? Who are you, really?
Now I would say, "A storyteller."
May Pele warm your bones without singeing them.
May the Pacific be true to her name with you.
May the copters of war shuffle out of your dreams
And wearying nights find their rest.


Gypsy To Gypsy

The first winter rain--
And I shall be called
-- Basho

Preparing to set out again, yet again,
I pause to wonder about
You who bequeathed to me
A birthmark, a mystery, and
This wearying gypsy restlessness.

The curtain long rung down on so many painful stages,
I know now that the play's indeed the thing
And each of us the players in roles we cast ourselves,
Victims or Falstaffs, just as we like,
Trapped and whining in faded pageants
Or chuckling to hear, at last, the chimes at midnight.

I met up with you once in the land of dreams,
Two wary wanderers without the need to ponder
All the water under all those broken bridges--
Just a word or two and away again, endlessly away.

Time never allowed me to assure you of this:
Known without words through intuitive reverie,
It was all exactly as it had to be

Like a Philosopher's Stone located only by one
Who had shared with the well-hidden Prize
Its mysterious, ominous, numinous nickname:

It's good to be a gypsy.
The microwaved madness of civilized routines
Could never tame the wilderness
Within the man with the mark.

Navajo enchanters sing,
"I am the Changing Woman's son."
So am I, marked as you are marked,
Fated into poignant mutability.

We may never meet again,
But then we may never need to.
Perhaps the circuit was meant to remain open,
The poem never read, the mystery left alone.

Destinations beckoning, whereabouts unknown,
Cain and the woman who gave him life
Range somewhere west of Eden.

For Lorna, my birth mother, last glimpsed running
gypsy-free through the deathless fields of Elysium.


West of the West