Three years ago, I began writing poems from scroll paintings and woodblock prints from Japan's Edo period (1603-1868). I loved looking at these artworks, the expert technique in service of images that seemed to me so pure, precise, and elegant. I set a few challenges for myself in writing them: no I— I was tired of I in my own work—but a sense of confession and intimacy through other means, restrained in description and sculptural on the page. "Maples," without a speaking I, says so much more about my thoughts on privacy than I've ever revealed in a poem. The same for "Bamboo and Poppies" on love, "Tiger and Dragon" on power and beauty, and so on. The artworks have been Rorschach tests for me, each a little mirror. I'm grateful for their pleasurable instruction.
(appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, 2014)

Poems in Swallows and Waves (Sarabande, Jan 2016) appear in publications from around the world, including Australian Book Review, Boston Review, The Buenos Aires Review, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Kyoto Journal, Poetry International, Stand, and elsewhere.



In perpetual silhouette

perform against bronze. As exhausted

dancers, undressed behind

a scrim, the suggestion of nakedness

more erotic than…

En masse, they argue and flee

between slim sessions of peace. This

is existence: pain leashed

or unleashed.

Wings press against ribs in politesse

or unfurl in demonstrations

of power. When it's over,

crows remain as debris, Ebony confetti,

wrecking more the wrecked world.

            —After Crows by Unknown, Japan

            (first appeared in The Nation)

Swallows and Waves

Massive, the sea sweeps

and swerves, furious as a dragon.

Salt-hewn, foam—

roughed, it troubles the thirteen

swallows who cluster—

identical, overlapping—trying

to build one steady thing.

Mist wets their breasts

and makes flying heavy. The sea

has no shore. All middle,

dense as middle age.

Birds may be welcome, then,

as minor miracles, granting grace

to that universal struggle.

            —After the painting "Swallows and Waves" by Okamoto Shuki, 1785-1832, Japan

            (first appeared in Tricycle)