The Book With

The Yellow Cover

John Moncure Wetterau

The Japanese Mason


Without haste, gathering

scrape of the trowel,

slap of cement,

reaching for a block,

setting and tapping it level,

turning with the wheelbarrow,

graceful, sweating,


of every moment.



Sweet Hawaii


Even if somebody did steal

my battery, generator, oil cap,

visegrips last night,

I passed the test to be a taxi driver,

and even if I don’t have the money

to buy a Charley’s Taxi shirt,

congratulations to me.

I’ll figure something out.

I’ll have coffee in Everybody’s Bake Shop;

I’ll write Varve and Finn,

tell them I love them,

tell them sweet Hawaii

going to be our new home.







Bus Stop


14, eyes of a deer

               in bamboo.


16, heavier, going to school

               without her books.


                              King Street,





For Rob


Handsome Rob.

Half the women hate you;

the other half

will give you anything.

Deep in Nam:

your buddy shot, tracheotomy.

“He died happy,” you told me,

“he believed I was going to

save him.”

Perhaps he knew

he would lie in your arms






Too Big


Listening to Schubert

while Great-Aunt Hannah

embroiders on the wall,

and darkness closes—

what have we come to?

We’ve gone wrong,

too big

to find our way by song,


falling on a face

and handkerchief,


in the manner

of Rembrandt.

Peter’s Answer


Little Blue Heron, young, still white,

by the north causeway bridge—

stick legs, too thin

for the swelling body,

the visual weight of feathers,

stepping slowly in shallow water,

long toes trailing limply, then,

extending, three splayed forward,

one back. Brilliant neck

curving, poised. Dagger beak

the same gray as legs and toes.

Why is nature beautiful?

The lust for pattern, Peter said.

The heron's head rose and twisted,

circular eye, light brown, orange

rimmed, ancient intelligence

asking a different question.

I was unmoving, not dangerous.

The heron turned to hunt,

brush, a cloud above the river.


New Smyrna Beach,


Wally’s Poem


Dolphins surge up and under.

Mozart’s soprano

stitches the heart together.

Washes for a watercolor.


An ant crosses my foot.

Wallace Klitgaard;

Epitome of Splendor

ants, sun, one’s lot.

He typed it himself,

showed it to me on the bus

38 years ago.

He was grinning,

the glad no age

that we become, bent

to making clumsy prayer.

Morning, Maine and Honolulu


Early mist breaking

on low tide, mud smell.

Ducks, the small birds,

the rooster down the road

begin to sing the air,

the light, the whole

enormous chance


grateful as the old people

reclaiming Pauahi Street,

seeing each other in doorways

after the night.

I Would


In 1948

I walked all the way

to 14th Street

to buy a bow and arrow.

It was 30 cents; I had 29.


The woman sold it to me anyway

and I was free and happy

on Sixth Avenue

as any Indian.


If I could find her tonight,

I would keep death far away.

For Anita Bartlett, Too Late


Why cannot blue be enough?

Light in the sky, dark in the sea,

the shades between.

The green of fields,

red clover, buttercups.

Bridal white of apple blossoms,

burial earth, hawk’s feather, snakeskin.

Monarchs, Anita,

feeding on purple aster,

fluttering up,

sun glowing orange, brown, bronze

through black edged wings, twenty

joining twenty joining a hundred,

down, up, over, from

color to color

to Mexico.

Clouds booming over

the washed woods,

blue sun, Finn eats

chop suey from a pot

while I shave.

Six months to dismantle

the dead rooms of a marriage,

down to a borrowed tent,

patches of snow, and invisibly,

all around us, sap rising

in its own sweet time.


                              April, Maine



Icons, coal mines, Ten Mile Creek,

the Monongahela,

a long way to this house

by the Kennebec,

sitting erect,

brushing your hair,

fire and peace in your cheeks,

preparing for the further

steppes of feeling.

Back In Town


Billy Frailly’s got a new shirt,

shaved and walking down the road

ready for anything.

When I was in fifth grade

Billy powered his bike up Church Hill

(black Stetson, yellow kerchief).

I helped him shovel out Mrs. Cowell’s

parking place. He did most of the work,

but he split the money fifty-fifty.

He’s an outcast now;

no frontier he can reach.

But he’s not crying, and we know

there is no virtue, only consequence

and the sometimes music

of a new shirt.



Bluejay Feather


Bluejay feather

in the grass.

Something was here


A flash of color,

a harsh cry,

and it was gone.

The feather remains:

tough, precise,



                    For Sylvester

                    On his 40th

Talking To Myself


Early dark blue, one jet trail

arching past Venus,

snow coming tomorrow.

My mother,

unable to move.

Hit it down the road, seven hours,

stand by her bed,

acknowledge the bond of blood,

the sensitivity

she could never handle,

that I have ridden to beauty

beyond all expectation.

Wilson Street


Low gray sky.

Cold. Still.

Christmas tree upside down,

tinsel on dirty snow.

A yellow balloon

bounces slowly

across Wilson Street.

A black cat

glides three steps up,

turns in a doorway.



On Looking At A Mediocre Painting


Thin paint. No passion.

We would agree, I know,

although we met only once—

some things are in the blood.

Mustard, orange, navy blue

around a fake significance.


The loss of Ireland, the 19th century,

what were you to do?


Fuck the beautiful, the gifted

(my mother before she went crazy);

leave the clanging cockroach cold

behind (Bobby);

find the best (Pollock, Kline,

Noguchi, Nakian),

live uptown (Kevin);

die finally.


Well, ashes to ashes then.


But the three of us—your sons,

scattered to separate lives—

one way or another

we carry you on,

this eye,

this fist within.



Every Moment


Sun warms

one side of the alley.

A young woman smiles at me,

surprised by her new beauty.

Sex, tenderness, cobblestones.

Once I was a Venetian

with my last gold coin.

Once I broke my vows

and left the Order.

Arms around her legs,

the blue milk crate

on which she sits, the

kitchen door propped open

with a mop—every moment

like this.



For Tamey


Drove over the bridge today,

saw the water far below

and once again imagined

your last jump—

desperation, pain, relief,

a twist of gallantry

across your face,

your final bow to the truth

you always told me to tell.

You sure as hell saved my life.

Tamey, I could never say goodbye.

I miss you. I wish

you could have played with Finnegan.


Rough cloth,

the gathering of giant ferns

woven together, supple, bending,

energy moving up your spine,

mind dancing in the night,

Palm Tree Exercise.



The Early Ones


Black night turns dark blue,

a wedge of lighter blue,

dim gray.

Outposts on the beach

become aware of each other:

narrow stones

aligned to the east,

grouped around a driftwood stick

sixteen inches high.

In an hour—

sheltered by grass, overhanging

edge of the continent—

they will cast long thin shadows;

they will be first,

brave against the day.


For an anonymous sculptor,

Crescent Beach, Maine

Warm Sake


Warm sake, sashimi maguro,

blood red slices on a wooden block,

light green chicory, pickled ginger.

Outside: harbor ice rocking in the tide,

translucent, thin dark edges

swirling in black water.




Leaving Finn


Las Cruces at dusk,

necklace on the desert.

Back in Tucson, Finn

recovering from surgery,

sweat on his nose,

trying to smile, whispering,

“Have a good trip, Dad.”

Late Breakfast


Red nails,

gold cigarette,

young pampered mouth,

hair drawn back,

a sense of having reached

her limits,

a perfect twenty-two.

There was a moment

when she chose all this.


I must begin again,

without shame.


                    Wailana Coffee Shop


Spring Dream of SueSue


Perfectly quiet

a trout lets me hold him.


You surface laughing,

dark hair,

blue shirt unbuttoned.



Lament For Paul


Scratching your beard, excited,

“Fantastic,” you said about

the Beatles’ new record.

The next night you played

your own shy songs, surprising us.

You were crushed beneath your car,

but your songs, Paul, I heard them.

We all heard them.



For Coyote


I think of you drinking, dancing,

unable to sleep, reading until first light,

a blanket drawn around your shoulders,

afternoons, working your wheel until

the time to mingle with true hearts,

raise glasses, hug, laugh,

help as you can.

We are all dying, slower or faster,

but it hurts to watch.

And out of the numb exuberant wreckage of your days

come these raku pots—

graceful open shapes, lines freely

scratched into the clay, deep turquoise,

copper glazes, extravagant, surprised,

too beautiful for tears.

After Months


Shifting unstable air,

patches of light,

raindrops standing on

the candy red gas tank

of a Kawasaki 750.

Coming down harder,

bouncing off the seat,

dripping from the tips

of black rubber handgrips,

tach speedometer needles

resting on their zero pegs,

twin mirrors focused back.




Fortune Cookie


Almond lemon gritty on the tongue,



A moment whole again?

To see more clearly, Trudi, 17,

washing in the Woodland Valley

stream. Tamey,

giving me another nickel

to play pinball.

Barbara’s smile, wanting a child.

My grandfather’s arm, levering

a floor board, skin hanging

from his biceps cord,

holding while I nailed.

So many treasures I can’t quite see.

Wrecking Ball, Commercial Street


Salmon streaks of pulverized brick,

white pigment, tar, nicked and scarred

in every direction, patina of blows

on a mute obdurate interior.

Six weeks I carried it until

the beautiful surface cast off,

weightless. The iron opened from

the inside out and like a new bell

began to sing.


                              For Elena

The Polynesian Navigator


Swells & current,

sky rimmed,

shell on a stick chart

promise of land,

alone and


Kahuna’s Way


Twisting through high cane,

silver green, tossing in the trade winds,

toward the mountain wall

dark green jagged, deep shadows

where a warrior prayed,

ancient silence, Kahuna’s way,

beyond King Sugar

and the city that is coming.


                              Hulemalu Road,


41, In The Honolulu Public Library


Like beautiful fish

moving slowly through coral,

they eddy through the library,

dark hair, bright dark eyes,

the wisdom of their mothers

lying gravely on their faces;

ready to love, to stay,

they flick away

on currents deep and proper.

For Catherine, someday

in a quiet hour, wondering

what is possible


When I hold your mother

while she holds me,

all that was, is;

the future comes

moment to moment,


For this, salmon swim

their river, elephants

remember, wild geese

call out at dusk.

I fought and risked,

trusted and betrayed.

How can you find another

before you find yourself,

traveling the heart’s way,

alone, unsure, knowing only

that you must?

Rage’s Place

for David and Louisa


Put your forehead

on the ground and

pound your fists.

Curl on your side,

close your eyes,

scream silently.

You will not be

answered. No.

But your cries—

your cries will be

clothes and flowers,


for the journey.


The Purkinje Shift


All day, snow,

now turning gray,

trees darker

in the fading light,

violet peace

before the night,

slowly drifting

toward the solstice.



Bee Fantasy


Reaching, high on

the shoulders

of thinner air,

rising with the Queen,

the view! the view! mating

falling and falling

back to meadow,

the warm dark,

first light,

dancing out the maps.

The American Way


F18’s screaming down

wing tip to wing tip,

brave, lethal, steady nerve.

Johnny Copeland’s lead guitar

ripping through the air,

taking us faster, inverting, 6 G’s,

dark forehead, sweat, hot and loose.

Face at the bar, arched eyebrows,

black hair back, wide mouth,

brooding, sensual, slightly battered.

Fighters, blues man, beauty,

power at the edge,

the American way.



The Sculptor’s Trade


On white stands:

azure/turquoise branches,

flow and knuckle taken

by poured bronze—

bent, welded, gripped,

held, colored—

artifacts, works in progress,

ship’s ribs, basketry,

child’s play.

Hands dream as they fashion,

remember what they feel

(her thin shoulder,

a 9/16 inch wrench).

Let go. Follow

the sculptor’s trade.

Find and shape

what is not known

until it’s made.

                    For John von Bergen


Elegy For Simenon


Fresh air, faintly salty,

smell of bark and fallen apples,

small pond, lily pads,

dark water. White blossoms

tinged with ruby, floating,

heavy with light.

You enter one, still searching.


petals fold around you.


                    Deer Isle, Maine



Your hands

for clothes.

Your legs,





Married twice,

once in a church,

once in City Hall,

each good in its way.

Now I choose the shade

of a live oak tree, veils

of Spanish moss,

a hundred cicadas

singing in the branches.

You are in the north,

but still we join

beneath this green

and raucous dome

Mated. Complete.


of those



          New Smyrna Beach,






The Book With The Yellow Cover
John Moncure Wetterau

return to books by John Moncure Wetterau
Table of Contents