Excerpts from AXE, FIRE, MULE



When they asked him why he failed

to come in with the others,

but stayed out all that moonless

night groping his way along


the hollow’s rocky slopes, back

and forth across its snaky

floor while his flashlight faded,

he would only say the child,


the lonely lost child, making

believe he meant the straw-haired

toddler he finally found

curled with her collie asleep


at the base of an oak, and

not the bloodied, belt-bruised boy

he still is, who haunted the

same hollow and never told.




Irish Wilderness


A wilderness . . . is hereby recognized

as an area where the earth and its

community of life are untrammeled

by man, where man himself

is a visitor who does not remain.

     The Wilderness Act of 1964


They wed a priest’s dream to their own and so

purchased parcels of Missouri’s wild land

along the Eleven Point because they


could afford no better. Now we burnish

tales of their vanishing into legend,

gaze upon the great second growth forest


that remains, and shiver for newcomers

who dare enter, nodding to each other

when they lose their way and must be rescued


by locals on mountain ponies. We fail

to remember how our lank ancestors

cleared the first forest in a violence


of axes that echoed the war years when

bushwhackers lived to loot and burn, their paths

swaths of fire that sent entire towns into


exile, Irish pioneers suddenly

remade into refugees fleeing charred

homesteads and war-wild hearts of their neighbors.




Cicero Jack Ponders Relics of the Osage


I’ve hunted arrowheads deep

in Ozark woods, rummaged lengths

of dry creek beds to swell my

cache of hand-chipped stone, layer

the bottom drawer of the

parlor desk with a litter

of flaked flint and chert. But now,

as a killing drought lowers

water levels, turns the rich

soils of lakes and streams, I read

of scoundrels digging bones, thieves

harvesting relics of the

long dead Osage, and I must

count myself kin to both tribes.

I have plundered precious things,

and beyond my final breath

I and mine will be plundered,

soil of my progeny turned

like the loam beneath the lake.