Today's poetry for today's world

Joseph Green  


Joseph Green’s new full length book is What Water Does at a Time Like This (MoonPath Press, 2015).  His chapbook That Thread Still Connecting Us was also published by MoonPath Press, 2012.  Green's other books include Greatest Hits: 1975 -2000 (Pudding House Press, 2001), The End of Forgiveness (Floating Bridge Press, 2001), His Inadequate Vocabulary (The Signpost Press, 1986), and Deluxe Motel (The Signpost Press, 1991).  His poems have appeared in The Bellingham Review, Crab Creek Review, Hubbub, Pearl, The Threepenny Review, Willow Springs, and ZYZZYVA, among others.  Joseph Green lives in Longview, Washington, where he taught English at Lower Columbia for nearly twenty-five years.  Together with his wife, Marquita, he produces limited-edition, letterpress-printed poetry broadsides through The Peasandcues Press.




Click on the book cover to buy What Water Does at a Time Like This.

In the afterlife




Let your name be Smoke.

It will be smoke anyway

soon enough and after that


let your name be Ash.

Let wind spread your name.

Let wind make you famous


among the innumerable

particles of dust.  Then

let rain come.  Let rain turn


your name to mud.  Let Mud

be your name like your mother

said it would be if you didn’t


behave.  If you didn’t do what

she said.  Let her say this

isn’t exactly what she meant.



What Water Does at a Time Like This (MoonPath Press, 2015)




The Nature Poem




hears you approaching

on your two clumsy feet and slips

deeper into the cover of its thicket


or crawls farther under its rock.

It holds still there until you've given up,

then it comes back out to track you.


Wherever you are, stop.

Listen hard.  Right now,

it might even have you surrounded.




Published in Wilderness, November 2001.

What Water Does at a Time Like This (MoonPath Press, 2015)

To order a broadside of "The Nature Poem" from

Peasandcues Press, please contact Joseph Green:





Click the book cover to buy That Thread Still Connecting Us.








My mother had a black Singer

sewing machine when I was very young.


It chugged along, making straight seams
like a stationary train engine spitting out track


or if I squinted just right I felt like I was
riding in a car, looking out the back window,


watching telephone wires swoop away
pole to pole along the shoulder of the road.


Once, entranced by the way it pumped,
I reached my finger up to touch


the thin bright shaft,
the part I loved best,


and now I can’t look
a needle in the eye


without thinking of that thread
still connecting us.




Published in Crab Creek Review Vol. XII, No. ii, Summer/Autumn 1998, and reprinted in Floating

Bridge Review #4,  2011. 






To purchase The End of Forgiveness contact Joseph Green at greens_tossed@yahoo.com.








My father taught me the hard way:

dusty coveralls in the crawl space


with the water off, and no matter what,

we were stuck there until we finished up.


Cobwebs strung the floor joists

where I had to aim the trouble light


and hold it still so he could see

just what the hell was going on.


If I let it slip, he grabbed my wrist

to drag the light back where he wanted it


above the tubing cutter and the emery cloth,

the little metal-handled flux brush


and the jar of flux. The solder wire

coiled around itself the way I wrapped


my thoughts on their hollow core.

Then the quiet hiss of bottled gas,


flint-scratch of the spark lighter,

blue tongue licking through the flame


along the copper pipe to make the solder run

bright as mercury into the fitted seam.


Smell of cool dirt.  Smell of coffined air.

Smell of gas and flux and solder vapor


piercing it all like my father’s whisper:

Can’t you pay attention, maybe, just for once?




Published in Nimrod International Journal 48.1, Fall/Winter 2004. 





To buy Deluxe Motel or Greatest Hits 1975 - 2000,

contact Joseph Green: greens_tossed@yahoo.com     




A Postcard from Salamanca


               Esto es lo más terrible de los muertos:

               que la vida los cubre y los absorbe.

                . . .

               Y esto es lo más terrible de los muertos:

               que se paran de pronto entre las cosas.

                                    –Rafael Guillén, “Gesto final”


Frog squatting on a human skull,

             the skull carved in the stone façade

of the university where Fray Luis de León

             once taught, who spent five years in jail

for the crime of taking the Song of Solomon

             from Latin to castellano.

Who, upon his release, is said to have begun

             his next lecture, As we were saying

 yesterday . . .  The benches where his students

             concentrated or nodded off

or dug their names into the wood

             nearly five hundred years ago,

still there. I thought my father, old professor,

             might want to know I’d seen the way

patience seems to linger in such a place,

             how sense persists.

But the card I meant to send from Salamanca

             said, I’ll probably see you before you read this.


Postcard on the hotel nightstand, clothes

             in a heap on the chair, I woke early,

and in the shower’s hot water I thought

             again of my father: the way

he would always wait for me

             to rub him down with his towel,

the way he would grip the chrome safety

             bar with both hands, dripping,

enduring those moments. Bent image

             in his mirror, kinked fingers, fierce

tremor, crooked spine. And in that steam-filled room

            I knew right then

he would never read the card I had written.

            Washed in the noise of Spanish TV news,

I rushed downstairs to retrieve e-mail

            and found two messages saying my father

had fallen, he was all but gone.


What remains so important for the living

             to do? I drifted downtown

with the pedestrian river, eddying around

             every shop entrance, every window,

my reflection sliding over whatever was in it—

             shoes, soccer balls, Spanish hams, olives,

tourist junk, tee-shirts, recuerdos de Salamanca                                    

             until I ran aground, bought

a black decal of the frog squatting on a skull, 

             emblem of human failing,

or good luck if you could find it

             in the wall where it was carved.

My luck? My father was dying—As we were

             saying yesterday—his sentence interrupted.

In restaurant windows people ate and drank,

             apparently feeling what they were

supposed to feel. Caught in the same glass,

             I floated past them


on my father’s vast absence,

             a final gesture, a last kiss

folded in the wallet of my loss.

             In my pocket, the postcard’s river

repeated trees, a single cloud and blue sky

             on water still as patience, making sense,

pausing at a weir before it spilled over, white,

             the city behind it—peaked roofs, tiles,

cathedral spires, stone on stone—standing its ground.

             Is it safe to say relief now? Old wall,

my father down, and no more carving on him?

             Whatever built or broke him, done?

Intricate façade all finished and worn away?

             Gone to sand? I am not sorry.

What pulled me from my room that morning

             could have been simple coincidence,                                                              

but I took it as a signal,

             the very moment he let go,


took it as a gift, his finally giving up.

             His stopping so suddenly

in the midst of events, letting others

             cover him, take him in—the most

terrible thing—lo más terrible de los muertos.

             But also the most forgiving,

forgivable, this helplessness. 

             This interrupted moment—

what remains so important

             for the living—how it simply ends.

The most terrible thing about the dead? 

             No one left to send or receive the mail.

No one there to witness

             what my father said, at last.

Terrible, how no one saw him

             climbing out of bed,

how no one finally caught him, falling.

             How no one picked up the lecture—


As we were saying yesterday—when

             I came home to his closet

and hauled his empty clothes away.

             I boxed the postcard from Salamanca

along with his other correspondence.

             What remains, after all,

so important for the living? 

             Is it safe to say Relief?  What I keep,

what I cannot give away—that moment,

             that interruption, when I knew

my father was beyond my saving him—

             is my only souvenir. 

Its emblem on the back window of my truck,

             the frog squatting

atop a human skull, my black luck,

             now follows me in the rearview mirror,

no matter where I might be driving.




 Published in Nimrod International Journal 48.1, Fall/Winter 2004.




Writers Tip: In Worstword Ho, Samuel Beckett says, "Ever tried.  Ever failed. 
No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better."  I've taken it as advice, myself, but
I owe Sam Green for steering me toward that passage.  If anyone lives it, he does.

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