While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

 

While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

And having no other paper at hand,
I scrawl on a dollar bill, “I want to speak
the language of smoke.” My invisible friend
interrupts. That is a white man’s dilemma.

 At least you have a dollar and a pen.
“But I’m only half-white,” I reply, “with half
the privilege.” Then you must bear double
the burden,
he says. This version of math

twists my intestines into a Gordian knot,
as does the concept of half equals twice,
or in terms I might better comprehend,
one beer equals four when divided by color

or accent and multiplied by projection.
The unsmiling waitress delivers my rib-eye
as I’m dressing the salad, and the check appears
just after the first bites of medium-rare beef

hit my palate, certainly before I can answer the
never-voiced question “would you like dessert?”
Cheese cake, I would have said. Or cobbler. And I
seldom turn down a second beer. This too, I’m told,

is another example of my unearned entitlement. I
contemplate this statement, scribble a few other
phrases on bills, drop them on the table, and walk out,
wondering which direction to take, which to avoid.

* * *

“While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me” was a finalist last fall for the Slippery Elm Prize in Poetry. It was published in Slippery Elm (print only) in December 2017. You may be amused to hear that last October I had lunch in Bandera with one of the other finalists in this competition, but not at the restaurant featured in the poem. The photo is of a local bar, not the eatery, but it offers some of the flavor of the town.

Confession to Montgomery, Asleep on the Church Steps

bagels and cream cheese MGD©

Confession to Montgomery, Asleep on the Church Steps

If I walk quietly by
it is not to avoid disturbing you,

but rather myself. What
could I give you

but another bagel, the
boiled dough of nothingness

rising in cloudy water,
delaying, perhaps, another

guilty twinge. You have no
answers but when you

speak to the air, sometimes
a smile creaks through

the broken words, and I
think even in this cloistered

darkness we may close
the circle between halves

and might-have-beens,
an understanding, if only

in the language of bread
and coffee and the

disregarded. But today I stride
on, without pause, counting

on nothing that can’t be
pocketed or spoken aloud,

my steps echoing down
the alley and its secrets,

along the crosswalk’s painted
guides, under the sagging

power lines and through
your streetlight’s dim halo.

Homeless

This first appeared on the blog in January 2016. I have not seen the man who inspired this poem in over a year. I hope he has found shelter and kindness.

Palinode (soubasse)

corn

 

Palinode (soubasse)

In the land of two-dollar mornings, those things
we barely sense take precedence: uncaressed
skin sheathed in ivy, the punctuation mark diverting
power. Insidious corn, the cries of distressed trees
(cavitation in the xylem), soubasse, the ghost note,
prickling from below. Singularity. The appointee’s
hubris. The defining weight of a zero’s center.

A zero’s center defines emptiness, meaning nothing,
or, diverted light, a vacuum. Regard plenum: an air-filled
space, or a complete gathering of a legislative body. And
how did we arrive here from there? From the body we
compose units of measure: an ell, digit, fathom, the mile’s
thousand paces. I expose film to light, concealing yet
establishing a rational point.

Concealing the point implies position without extension,
a moment shedding its cracked sheath and giving rise
to the divine: above, below, male and female, hot or
cold. Reconciliation. A plateau. The still place linking the
infinite to the open hand, limitless black. Burning, I
calculate oxidation and dispersal, tendrils, a flaxen leaf,
its proposition to endings.

 

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in ditch, in January 2014, and was posted here in September 2016..

 

hubris

Gruyere

Gruyere

Thinking of speech and the gruyere sliver
balancing on that blade, which nouns push it over,
which hold it in place. How simplicity defies the complex.
Like the hard-crusted bread of flour, water, salt and yeast.
The elemental surge. A little steam. An incantation
born of emptiness: he speaks but says nothing
as the cheese teeters on the edge, suffering
the plight of the incomprehensible. Funny
that adding more reduces the whole, and less
flavors it. A few words, a spice. A syllable.
Milk and rennet. Verbs. A confident tongue.

Threes

image

Threes

Difficulties arrive in waves,
lending weight to the theory of threes,

the plunging fund, a failed engagement, the self’s
doubt, all combined to inflict the particular

misery of the ongoing, the continued, inelegant fate
that declares us human. Look,

she says, the hummingbird flits from leaf to
flower, its wings beating 58 times a second,

a fact not to be trifled with, for what may we duplicate,
contemplate, even, at that pace?

Say the hedge gets clipped, the ring whirs off the finger
and back to the jeweler, and all you know for certain

is that you don’t know. There is no why, no how. No
way. Or life’s reel unwinds and plays only in

reverse. Where do you stop and splice it, forming new,
uncharted worries? And what about that damned

bird, buzzing around your head in territorial fury? Yes,
yes, I know. These things are not my concern. Not really.

But they arrive in unending repetition, one after
the other, in clumps of three – lovely, lonely,

triple-threaded lines of vicissitude lapping at our ankles,
saying nothing, saying everything, saying it used to be so easy.

* * *

Originally published in Eclectica in July 2014, and first appeared on this blog in July 2015.

image

Shutters X

file0001370874362

The tenth of a series of twelve written at a shuttered window, and originally published in the anthology Terra Firma in 2004, with a reappearance on this blog in 2014.

Shutters X

Withering inside, it remains fixed
and free of device, the shadow’s carapace
dwindling with each

impulse. One word, one tremor,
and the regressions begin,
broaching the lamp in refusal of that

issuance to the end,
a victim of eloquence,
the precursor of the seed.

Returned to darkness, it waits in silent apogee.

file0001999532900