Douglas Worth

Douglas Worth is an American poet who was born in 1940 and grew up in Pennsylvania, Florida, and India. He has been writing poetry since the seventh grade, attempting for half a century to express his sense of the miraculousness of existence and the rich weave of human joy and suffering, his growing concern with modern humanity's disrespect for Nature, and his deepening conviction of universal interconnectedness. He taught English at public and private schools in Manhattan and Newton, Massachusetts, from 1965 to 1990, after which he retired to devote himself to writing and playing jazz alto sax. Worth lives with his artist wife Patricia and their half-wild cat in Cambridge, Mass. Douglas Worth's poetry has been published widely in periodicals and anthologies; he has received a number of fellowships, grants and prizes; and he has been profiled in Who's Who in America, Contemporary Authors, and The International Who's Who of Poetry. In addition to his volumes of poetry, Worth is the author of a young-adult novella and an illustrated children's book. His published works appear at the bottom of this page, for readers who would like to order them.

"Almost all of Worth's poems contain some fresh act of the imagination." Richard Wilbur
"Mr. Worth is working the hardwood loads."
A.R. Ammons
"Douglas Worth strikes me as one of the most gifted and accomplished of younger poets."
Denise Levertov

"This Land Is Your Land

for as long as grass shall grow
and water flows"

you promised
in writing
a century ago

but the yellow
metal that makes you
crazy was stronger.

Now the blue-playing rivers
you harnessed lie blackened
in pools, or crawl barren
in chains through the broken
hearts of a thousand cities

the grass has gone under
a crazy golden
ocean of greed flowing over
the bones of the green-waving prairies
you cleared for your harvest.

This land
is your land now, truly, the old broken
promise fulfilled.


flesh blooming
in a soft shimmering

by the conflicting
desires, demands, limitations
of mortality

blighted, obscured
by the expedient
abuses, perversions
of this or that system
we suffer, come to think of
as our lives

as if there were no mystery
no miracle
in the clear fact
that we are here, living together
that we are here at all
under the familiar
the live kernel
suddenly blazing
out of the dark

Maybe We Had to Come this Far
(for Irwin)

for this meadow
to pierce us
with such a rush of green

for this faint trickle
of life at summer snowline
to remind us how precariously
crawling we are
on the thin crust of the Earth

for these woods
cool and fragrant, still
with the hush of arrival
to refresh us so, offering
streams for our kneeling, berries
more precious than jewels

for these butterflies
busy with sweetness
resting a moment
unafraid, on our hands
to seem such an honor

for us to want so urgently
to fit in
taking our place in the landscape
as creatures among creatures
turning, not back, but at last,
humbly, in praise
to the clear grace of water
the common gift of light


Up on Echo Bridge one morning
I found an osprey
perched, at some distance
on a railing post.

I advanced slowly
in awe and wonder, thinking
he'll take off any second,
honored to be allowed
to approach this majestic, resting
lord of the sky

imagining he must have
some lofty message for me
from his lifelong perspective
overlooking things,
if I was worthy, wise enough
to receive it.

He didn't budge,
fixing me with a cold
imperious stare
as I came closer and closer
until, at some point, I stopped,
concluding there must be something
ailing him
and mindful of his sharp beak
and razor talons.

I stood for a while
eyeball to eyeball with Nature,
then slowly backed off, turned
and came away

with his message concerning
this fisher king's toxic wasteland
and his question for all of us:
What's keeping Galahad?


a blue that burns
the edges clean
gold running the grain

at the window
a branch
from Van Eyck's hand

smoke winds
the sun shaft

too delicate
to sustain

the morning
clears its throat

a savage
grinds into gear

Bluebird Feather

dull gray
till you hold it up
turn it
to the light

Lincoln to JFK

Does it bloom
in every dooryard, brother
lifting sweet petals to each shower
and after, fragrance so rich
when the clusters brush your cheek
it stuns the breath?

Or does that dream still lie
mutilated, wasted, torn
roots and leaves drifting
in another flood
of statesmen’s rhetoric
and soldiers’ blood?


Richard, lion heart
to lay your sword at Christ's feet

didn't you tremble
here, at the last

where the slaughtered
lamb turns executioner?


attributed to Donatello, ca. 1450
San Piero a Sieve (Firenze)
Convento di Bosco ai Frati

As opposed to the other
slim figures, heads drooping
sideways, limbs pinned, piteously
suspended, almost floating
upon the cross,
fresh trickles brightly streaking
the forehead, arms, and feet
of the noble, heroic
shell of the still unrisen
Son of God,

here hangs the naked body
of what, till a few minutes ago,
had been a skinny, short, plain-featured man,
vain of his close-cropped beard,
from whom the life has been drained slowly out
the flesh not yet stinking,
dumbly straining, along with the bones
to slump from the spikes
that skewer the no longer wriggling hands;
lids not quite closed over bulging orbs;
teeth clamped on the dry wafer
of the tongue;
chest and belly crosshatched
with clotted slits;
genitals shriveled;
one foot curled over the other,
the long toes splayed as if
in agony

here hangs no chrysalis
but a dead man
in whom the spirit burned
to accomplish something
immense, profound, outrageous, radical
as turning hate and war to peace and love,
a spark that, flaming, caught, and, slowly, steadily,
ever more quickly widening, blazed and spread...

its bright source here
extinguished, openly, publicly
stamped out
by an alarmed, self-perpetuating world
which claims him now, waiting
to draw him down and back
to the dust from which
mysteriously, he rose.

The Seventh Dawn

He is still sleeping
peacefully, his face
turned toward the brightening, gleams
as if with its own dim light
as I approach.

So like a god
immaculate, he seems
almost too perfect
for mortality,
his rose mouth fit for hymns
of near-angelic
harmony and grace,
yet sensual, keen
with its lush slidings, chiseled teeth
for the more savage work
of animals.

Curled on themselves, his hands
like petals, acorns
gathering force
what acts
of infinite precision, reach
ordering chaos
holocaust, may spring
out of their delicate

I smooth a curl back
brush the silky bloom
of his warm, sleep-flushed cheek
his eyes flicker open
blindly, close, absorbed
in dreamwork, bloodwork
flowing beyond my grasp
around the bones
that will support the flowering
of his life
a little while, then fold
and crumble back
to the unconscious
dust from which they rose.

Drawn down by love and fear
for what I have created
in my own image, grown
mysterious and distant
on his own,
ignorant, helpless, and responsible
I bend and gently plant
upon his brow a trembling
kiss of choice.


whatever it is:
the latest rejection slip
with its printed checklist
of reasons they're returning
my unpostmodern, nonwastelandblindered work...

whatever's eating at me:
the relentless, roborazor
globe-scouring feeding frenzy
of sound-and-sight-bites
on the screen in the diner at breakfast
that rides an adrenaline rush
through scandal, disaster, violence, perversion
on a never-ending quest for higher ratings
and has little to do with news
that might be of import, healing perspective, to us
of those billions of unspectacular
acts of love and friendship, nurturing
compassion, sacrifice, restraint
commitment, creation, dream, sweat, compromise
at the core of humanity's
getting from day to day...

whatever the psychic sludge
of ego, disgust, frustration, angst, fatigue
that's polluting my being
as I edge my way along 60
watching my step, popping vitamins, aspirin
chain-chewing Nicorette
in hopes of arriving at 65, if not 90...

somehow, amazingly, morning after morning
a few paces along the path
from the parking lot into the woods
I can feel something start
to loosen, slip away
as the fresh scent of evergreen
oriole's liquid whistling, flicker or flash
of azure, scarlet, nodding pink-white cluster
invite my senses, and the hidden rush
of the falls swells to a roar as I approach
flowing into and through me with something I can't name
and have no need to as I stand and gaze
at the braided glossy strands of amber plunging
solid, constant, yet moving, never the same
from moment to moment, and, stretching, raise my arms
and eyes to the fireball blossoming low in the sky
or purple-and-crimson-splashed clouds, or whirling swarms
of tingly flakes, or raindrops rivuletting
the ridges, valleys, and forests of my face,
and chant my morning mantra:

       This flowing, miraculous
       universal whole
       deserves to be experienced
       perceived and celebrated
       with wonder, awe, and delight
       and so it shall be
       is being, right now
       by me.

The Charles/Quinobequin
slithering, twisting, swirling
licking, nibbling, gnawing
rockface, ten thousand years
carving this gorge
since the last Ice Age, receding
blocked its old course to the sea
The Charles/Quinobequin
a foreign, long-dust-crowned king/
"river that turns on itself"
two clashing
concepts, attitudes
toward nature
the invaders casting
images of themselves
on the lithe, amber body:
dams and mills
to harness its power for profit
polluting, choking the pulse and flow
of shad, eel, alewife and salmon
the natives had netted in weirs
and splashed among, hauling
their catch up the bluff
to stewpot and drying wigwam, thriving
for millennia, respecting
the glistening, sinuous creature
as spirit, cousin, provider
and Otherattempting
to address its nature, ways
with a word: Quinobequin
that turns on itself

Stone Spirits
I've often suspected I'm far from the first
person (nevermind less frantic creatures)
to settle and reflect
on Sitting Rock
since that last continental meltdown
prompted the river sculptor
to begin the gorge
and sometimes, as I'm sinking
through countless layers
of time and matter, piled underfoot
on my way to the molten
planetary core
for my daily infusion
of Earth Mother energy
and inspiration
I come upon other
earlier musing spirits
conjured from fantasy,
some books at the local library,
and who knows how many
other invisible threads
that compose the cosmic
skein of reality?
Ralph Waldo's one
whose spirit shell
I've slipped into and communed with
who, after a stint in Europe,
spent the summer of 1833
with his mother at a farmhouse
a half-hour's stroll from here
and wrote to a friend:
"These sleepy hollows,
full of savins and cinquefoil
seem to utter a quiet satire
at the ways of politics and man.
I think the robin and the finch
the only philosophers.
'Tis deep Sunday
in this woodcock's nest of ours
from one end of the week to the other."
which sounds pretty nice
and speaks to the same disaffection
with worldly affairs, and thirst
for nature's potent elixir
that draws me here mornings
nearly two centuries later,
but, at the same time, smacks
of the all-too-idyllic, myopic
(which I have to watch out for myself),
granted the bloodbath
that wiped out most
of a resident population
a hundred and fifty years earlier,
laying the ground
from which Emerson's tranquil vacation
and pastoral rhapsodizing
sprouted and bloomed...
and I doubt his words would have struck
a sympathetic chord
in his contemporary
millworker, toiling, six days a week
a few hundred yards upstream
who'd cross a small bridge
and climb the bluff at noon
to sit on the rock and munch
in glum, weary silence,
attempting to clear his head
of the ear-splitting screeching and grating
from 5 a.m. to 7 at night,
from which tortured labor he garnered
five bucks a week
and a church-punctured day of rest,
one of millions
of cogs in the great wheel
of industry, grinding out huge
fortunes for a few thousand
as it rolled across the land
of the free and the slave
and the home of the squaw and the brave
toward an ever-receding mirage
of democracy...
or the Sunday picnicker
from Boston, 50 years later
who came and sat on the rock
for an hour to escape
the cityfolk swarming the bank
around Echo Bridge, the latest
stampeding weekend craze,
each waiting his or her turn
to stand on the platform
under the great arch
and bellow the seemingly innocent
word: "July!"
whose second syllable
would be thrown back transfigured:
"Lie! Lie! Lie! Lie! Lie!"
up to seventeen times
to the cynical metropolitan
throng's delight,
and inspired one columnist
in a local paper
to report that there were "so many
and so distinctive repetitions
that all the neighboring wood
seemed to be filled with wild Indians,
rushing down from the hills
and with their terrible war-whoops
ready to dash into view
and annihilate all traces
of the surrounding civilization."
How's that for a fanciful
of our collective Caucasian
lingering fear and guilt
about what had really happened
hundreds of years before?
a time that was lived through
by another stone spirit
I've mused and marveled and mourned with:

I make an arrow of my hands
sit back, eyes closed, and aim
for the womb of the Earth
breathing quietly, relaxing
every sinew, letting slip
all thought, hope, fear, joy, sorrow
as stone softens
and I feel myself start to sink
through layer on layer
of leaf, soil, root, and rock
down through vast darkness
plunging on and on
until I can feel the warmth
of her fertile throbbing
well, surge, and seep
into my feetroots, tingling up
ankles, calves, knees, and thighs
to flare into scarlet
flametongues lapping my loins
on into my belly's glistening
through evergreen sweetly
branching from my navel
up to the spreading rose
petals silking my breast
soon bathing the violet
songseeds aching
to burst from my throat
then up through my mouthcave
into the seajewel pulsing
my forehead, sweeping up
through my skull's clear crystal
to soar beyond hemlock
eagle, cloud, moon, sun
high as the hovering
starflocks spanning the sky
and skimming that silvery fire
draw it down
through my head and body
kindling every fiber
till it pours from my palms and arches
into the ground
and I sit breathing deeply and quiver
as wave after wave of luminous
colors stream through my being
vibrant, ecstatic
a rainbow flute connecting
Mother Earth and Father Sky
on which the Great Spirit is playing
the sacred song of creation's
orgasmic flow.


"I'll give you the canoe
of the new moon
to glide in at night down the river
fishing for dreams.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you the shining arrows
of the sun
to fill your quiver
when you go hunting for visions
among the clouds.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you the stars
to hang around your neck
so that the flawless curves
of your breasts and lips
will glow with a soft light
as you walk in the village.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you the rain
to glisten your cheeks and chest
and belly and thighs
so that my friends will curse me
for my good fortune.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you a handful of feathers
from dawnbird and sunsetbird
to flash in your lustrous braids
so that all can see
the glory and span of your spirit.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you a pouch of flakes
from all the butterflies
to sprinkle in the black bristles
that arc your scalp
so that all will know
the brave whose spirit can weave
a rainbow out of a storm.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you my flute
that, coaxed by your gentle fingers
soft mouth, warm breath
will play a sweet tune
of such exquisite desire
it will lift us to where the streams
of starlight and blood flow as one.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you a magic sheath
to slip your flute in
that will bring it to life
and teach it to dance and play
a song of such passion and joy
new spirits will issue from it
to bring tender pride to your manhood
and comfort to our old age.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you my love
and all that I am forever.
What will you give me?"
"I'll give you my love
and all that I am forever
and ask in return nothing more."


This morning I heard the Grandfather
Hemlocks chanting in green
whispers among themselves
the long praising list of names
for all of creation:
sun, moon, star, wind,
rain, stream, rock...on and on
until they came to the last one
where there was much debate, confusion
how to name the thing
that bites through trunk and limb
while lapping the river and screaming
from dawn to dusk, day after day,
but never fills its belly.
"Monster," one ventured.
"Death!" exclaimed another.
"Time," tried a third.
But nothing seemed to fit
and they couldn't agree and settle.
"Sawmill," I offered, respectfully,
"is what the lightskins call it."
After a silence, "sawmill," one whispered.
Then another tasted it: "sawmill."
And they passed it around awhile
their heads faintly shaking and nodding,
but the juice had gone out of their tongues
and their hands were trembling.

White Sneaker
A tiny white sneaker, this morning,
propped on the ledge of the notice board
at the entrance to the gorge
brought to mind the legend
of the "Baby Ghost"
I read about last summer
in the 1889 King's Handbook of Newton:
a "wee spectre," it recounted,
that fifty years earlier
"credulous country folk
use to gather to watch for"
on the Elliot Street bridge
that still spans the river
at the edge of the parking lot
a child of "mysterious origin"
who was believed
to float down the river at times
in a moonlit cradle that many said
could be heard quietly rocking
under the bridge.
Maybe its source was a Native
infant who succumbed
to one of the diseases spread
along with the word of God
by the lightskins when they arrived,
that ravaged the indigenous population
the cold babe swaddled and set
afloat in a mini-canoe
to drift down the river
to the spirit world...
but I see it as the ghost
of the childlike wonder and joy
of life along the river
in a time when people and nature
were more closely interwoven,
an unbroken web
a spectre whose bobbing spirit
is going to haunt us
till someone—perhaps the young shedder
of that small white shoe
shucks the synthetic crust
of the last few centuries
and wades in to rescue it
from its river-rocked cradle
under the concrete bridge,
claims, nurtures, lovingly rears it
to lead us, like Moses,
to some dreamed-of land
of sweetly flowing global harmony
if enough credulous folk,
attentive to the whispers
of the invisible,
can be found in this proof-minded
materialistic age
to breathe life into that still
glimmering vision.

The published works of Douglas Worth are:

Of Earth, William L. Bauhan, 1974
Invisibilities, Apple-wood Press, 1977
Triptych, Apple-wood Press, 1979
From Dream, From Circumstance, Apple-wood Books, 1984
Once Around Bullough's Pond, William L. Bauhan, 1987
Some Sense of Transcendence, William L. Bauhan, 1999
Echoes in Hemlock Gorge, Higganum Hill Books, 2003
Deerfoot's Mile, Creative Arts Book Company, 2003
Grumpy the Christmas Cat, MightyBook, 2003
Catch the Light, Higganum Hill Books, 2004