The old country

They say in the old country
that lighthouses are for keepers;
better make your own way.
They say eyes are like knives piercing your heart;
better stay low and move fast.

They say in the old country
that hopes are like lovers;
better check your promises.
They say dreams are fragile
and fall from heads like autumn leaves;
better watch your step.

They say shelter is for beggars;
better nail your secrets to the wall.

Occasionally, in winter

Occasionally, in winter
I take a turn into some vast space
–an empty parking lot, a parade field–
shorn of summer frippery

and I’m there again, there
where each single blade of grass vibrates,
where every grain of sand trembles
and the sun,

terrible in its wintry beauty,
fights back the clouds,
never mind their insistence
on seasonal priority.

Hard to stay home on such days,
all the triviality of existence
concentrated in a mote of dust
poised by the window,

ready to make a run for it,
unaware of the relentless
inescapability of it.

My country ’tis of thee

Empty, empty, of good or bad,
all equal before the sea-spattered
horizon, the pastures relentlessly
split open undone forever

I gaze on these at last remorse
the withering vine, the trodden soil
all witness to vanity, to regression

since times untold and form unbidden
horses fraught, thin bones straining
against what flesh remains.

As an infant, I was told how this
was my legacy, my inheritance,
all from the wrong ledger, it seems

The one beneath, the one unsmothered
despite the efforts of a cruel century,
the murder of compassion for fear of pain
the sacrifice of love for the comfort of predictability

Fools’ gold, dross, dust.

My Latvia

This far north, Winter
Comes like some uncle,
Dearly loved, but always too early
For supper, and staying into the

Small dark hours, full of tales of
Death and sadness,
And there you are, longing
For the break of Spring

Then Summer comes,
And you rush to embrace her
Like an old sweet regret,
Anxious not to screw things up this time,
And cling too tightly

Until finally, inevitably,
She slips away, again too soon.
And Winter says,
I told you this is how it would be.