Steve's collections are Homage to Mistress Oppenheimer (Eyewear), Splendor (BOA), and Empirical Evidence, (University of Georgia Press). His work has appeared in The New Republic, The American Scholar, Poetry, Agni, APR, The Antioch Review, Little Star, Subtropics, The Southern Review, The Sewanee Review, The Yale Review, Image, New Statesman, Plume, and elsewhere in the US and the UK. His awards include an NEA, three Florida Individual Artist fellowships, the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the James Boatwright Poetry Prize from Shenandoah, and fellowships from Bread Loaf, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conferences. He received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Steve lives in Miami with his wife, novelist Ivonne Lamazares.
They did not dare take a taxi to the station for fear their departure might be reported to the authorities.
– Schrödinger: Life and Thought -- Walter J. Moore
You won’t be sure of its arrival
until it rolls up to your curb.
Wave, the cabbie’ll say, farewell.
All you own’s inside your satchel.
The cabbie says you’ll beat the curfew —
you won’t be sure if he’s a rival,
or if these roads lead to the terminal
where, huddled in their roundhouse, cars
point to or from the far walls
of your city. You’ll pat your pockets for the schedule.
The cab backfires and hugs its curve
and you won’t be sure if it’s a rifle
or why the heart, beating out the spatial,
is agitated at its core,
something at the center feral:
these posted signs, the engine’s purr, your travel-
ing light along this course.
You won’t be sure just how your eye falls
where you’re bound, or why that feels, in passing, like free will.
first published in the New Statesman (UK)
Eugene Debs in Heaven
Forced from the world, I’d have stayed forever
and worked the trainyards of Terre Haute.
Lay down your tools when the workweek’s over.
To feed our families we curried favor
from careful men; we listened to the engines hoot
their pent-up force into the world. Staid, forever
making do, when Pullman paid no wage to cover
our ice in summer, in winter, heat,
we dropped our tools before the week was over
and stopped his trains. Brash with the fervor
of hungry men, we pilfered food and heart-
sized coals forced from the world. I’d have stayed forever,
spinning Earth off a shovel’s lever
—Earth spins and toils though its workers halt—
and laid down my tools when the workweek was over.
Released from prison, all spring I shivered,
all that autumn sick with sweat. I did not hate.
Forced from the world, I’d have stayed forever;
Lay down your tools when the workweek’s over.
-- for my father, 1928-1995
At five o’clock the evening whistle
and soon stars coalesced
up across the interstate
a mile from here where truckers freighted
oranges into Florida (…lit coals,
on their way to Newcastle.)
Post dot-and-dash, a bit before dot-com,
women and men poured out of the cavernous
buildings near this street, a century’s grime on the windows,
everything through the windows gray as the windows:
the air, the stilled machines, the smoking workers ravenous
and oil-tinctured, heading, at last, home
to Huntley and Brinkley and supper. In the Lumières’ 1895 film,
women, men, boys, dogs, and horses flicker
out of the factory doors to be captured
inside the wide, black-holed aperture
of the newly minted movie camera set before them to depict
their living portraits on each frame.
At 16 frames per second
the reel bamboozles the delighted
eye, each moment zooming
past as slyly as Hume’s
colliding billiard balls—the present, divided
from itself and sent along its way segment, after segment,
after segment. The workers seem drunk or maybe crippled
from years on the line. Only at 24 fps
will the brain smooth their lumbered gaits
to ours—as if you and I woke on the moon 1/6 our weight,
stunned and shamed by such sudden finesse,
unsought and granted. From the interstate, trucks and carpools
wind out miles ahead of their own receding decibels.
The sound reaches here in the house dimly
over the wavering, warping
air. With no more sense than the boy sweeping carbon
from inside the factory’s chimney,
I, nearly your age now, cannot fix any of your decimal
points or, if I’d stare up through the lens
of the bricks with your long inquiring squint,
determine where all the ghost stars
have made off to, or parse
at what percent
such speed approaches present tense.
Three Poems for my Daughter
Baby Daughter Half Asleep in a Swing
Whatever she's able to make of the world, it sprawls
before her now – a rollicking sky and earth.
Weightless a moment, the small arms and haunches
thicken with centrifuge. This back and forth
motion and blanched November sun lulls
her to a stupor. Such sights should keep her conscious
who churned wide-eyed from the womb, (though coated
with a Lethe ooze as if to forget
the blurry sway of the world she'd chosen
and pass from her mother without regret).
Galileo once clocked, by beats encoded
in his wrist, a censer's swing. Mass and motion
measured time. Worlds in his telescopes
pulled on each other: starry valences
of moons and planets wandering through space,
all tethered by delicate balances
at the far-swung ends of their unseen ropes.
I know time and motion will wear in her face:
Wallendas, the Hanged Man, the sagging Christ,
Harold Lloyd dangling from a city clock,
Jonathan Edwards' tenuous spider
scribbling damnation in its fiery arc.
All of it, even now, pounds in her wrist,
the green world falling away from under.
(First published in The Drunken Boat/ Awarded the Cecil Hemley Award from the Poetry Society of America)
Prayer at Evening
Outside, the traffic stutters, some drivers blow
their horns and the impulse bolts in dendrite-leaps
from car to car. I’d like to think it’s the bellow
of my stiff-necked Hebrews, shofars raised to lips,
razing, man to man, the walls of Jericho
to its stony knees. But it’s more how a monkey lopes—
branch to branch, screeching, pointing low,
scaring monkeys from their monkey sleeps
who scare the other monkeys who…. The echo
of this rings on and I hear it at times, lamps
turned dim, the outlined trees beyond the window
leaning to the gray light while the day unclasps
its hold and I listen there for a come and go
of breath, my daughter’s, and wait for its eclipse
of sound, its fine white noise, for the flow
of traffic to stop and cries at the wall’s collapse
to come distantly like waves of radio
coming off the stars. Stars wheel their laps
above the trees now, the birds all diminuendo,
the day itself all diminuendo and lapse.
Sophie rolls her head across her pillow
and I’m here, watching past the trees as she lisps
something in sleep. Each tail-light’s fisted glow
relents and—watch with me—each pilgrim limps
toward the city just beyond this meadow,
recalled a lifetime, after but a glimpse.
(First published in Image)
Later that afternoon, home for summer, she de-shines
her nose, does her eyes with the risen, (plucked) brows
and steady gaze portrait painters
give to distance and perspective and the parallel lines
that vanish beyond the field mapped out on the canvas—
dabbing here and there, dabbing here in the house
where her bed is which sprawled like a savannah once
and is contracted now to bed-size. It contains her
own sprawling self when she comes in late out of the milkman’s
dark, a dark now without milkmen, or milkmen’s hours,
passenger pigeons, dodos, Roanoke, Judge Crater—done in
all by tooth, claw, entropy, greed, brigands on the Silk
Road, vertigo, wind. In my rear-view mirror
I’ve watched her hedge of campus flowers
reduced to the pink blurry signature of her lipstick smear
on the bathroom mirror, “Kronen,” perhaps, or “Croatoan.”
(First published in Little Star 7)