Simplify, as in Forget

 

Simplify, as in Forget

To turn off the stove
or close the refrigerator door,

such brazen attempts to win
the aging contest or blur the mirror

of clarity — you won’t say
which to blame or praise

or whether intent is implicit in
action or if I should hold my breath.

What is the freezing point of love?
When you were cold, whose

belly did you curl into, whose ear
gathered your breath and returned it

warm and with the promise of bees
producing honey? Your name floats

above my outstretched hand,
and unable to grab it, I blink and turn

away. Nothing works as it should.
I exhale. You push the door shut.

 

* * *

“Simplify, as in Forget” first appeared in the print journal Good Works Review in February 2018, and is included in the anthology Lost & Found: Tales of Things Gone Missing, Wagon Bridge Publishing, 2019.

I Praise the Moon, Even When She Laughs

moon-through-trees

 

I Praise the Moon, Even When She Laughs

I got drunk once and woke in Korea
with you watching over me.

Odd, how you spend seasons looking
down, and I, up. If I lived in a cloud,

could you discern me from the other
particles? Perhaps your down is

peripheral, or left, or non-directional. I can
fathom this without measuring scope,

yet I feel queasy about the possibility
of being merely one vaporous drop

coalescing among others, unnamed
and forgettable, awaiting the particular

atmospheric conditions to plummet to my
fate. As if we control our own gravities!

One winter I grilled pork tenderloin under
your gaze, unaware that the grass

around me had caught fire, and when I
unwound the hose and turned on the

faucet you laughed, as the hose wasn’t
connected and only my feet were

extinguished. Dinner was delayed
that evening, but I praised you just the same.

I look up, heedless in the stars’ grip, unable
to retrace all those steps taken to this here,

now, but still you sway above the branches,
sighing, lighting my path, returned once

again, even if not apparent at all times. Every
star signals a departure. Each is an arrival.

 

*  * *

“I Praise the Moon, Even When She Laughs” was published in Sourland Mountain Review in January 2017.

 

Meditation in White

lily

 

Meditation in White (Lilies)

Clouds pass my high window quickly, abandoning the blue.
Indefinite mass, indeterminate, impersonal

as only intimates may know.
Though you lay there, nothing remained in the bed.

Which is the blank page’s gift, the monotone
or a suggestion of mist and stripped bones.

The nurse marked the passage with pen on paper.
Renewal, departure. A rising.

I accept the ash of suffering
as I accept our destination, the morning

and its offerings, with you in synthesis,
complete and empty, shaded in contrast,

wilting, as another opens. Laughter eases the way.

 

***

page

 

This was first published in Shadowtrain, and made its first appearance here in March 2016.

Feeling Squeezed at the Grocery Store I Conclude that the Propensity to Ignore Pain is Not Necessarily Virtuous, but Continue Shopping and Gather the Ingredients for Ham Fried Rice because That’s What I Cook When My Wife is Out-of-Town and I’m Not in the Mood for Italian, and Dammit I’m Not Ill, Merely a Little Inconvenienced, and Hey, in the 70’s I Played Football in Texas and When the Going Gets Tough…

emergency

 

Feeling Squeezed at the Grocery Store I Conclude that the Propensity to Ignore Pain is Not Necessarily Virtuous, but Continue Shopping and Gather the Ingredients for Ham Fried Rice because That’s What I Cook When My Wife is Out-of-Town and I’m Not in the Mood for Italian, and Dammit I’m Not Ill, Merely a Little Inconvenienced, and Hey, in the 70’s I Played Football in Texas, and When the Going Gets Tough…

I answer work email in the checkout line. Drive home, take two aspirin.
Place perishables in refrigerator.  Consider collapsing in bed.  Call wife.
Let in dog.  Drive to ER, park.  Provide phone numbers. Inhale. Exhale.
Repeat. Accept fate and morphine. Ask for lights and sirens, imagine the
seas parting. On the table, consider fissures and cold air, windows and
hagfish. Calculate arm-length, distance and time.  Expect one  insertion,
receive another. Dissonance  in perception, in reality.  Turn head when
asked.  Try reciting Kinnell’s  “The Bear.”  Try again, silently this  time.
Give up.  Attempt “Ozymandias.”  Think of dark highways. Wonder about
the femoral, when and how they’ll remove my jeans. Shiver uncontrollably.

 

football

 

The events in this poem took place seven years ago. A lifetime ago.

 

 

Something Lost, Something Trivial

broom

 

Something Lost, Something Trivial

Another word, another bewildered
moment in transition: the phrase
barely emerges from your mouth
before crumbling back into a half-opened
drawer in the loneliest room of a house
that died seventeen years ago.

I nod as if in understanding, and stoop
to pick up a crushed drinking straw,
the kind with the accordion elbow
that facilitates adjustment.

From a rooftop across the street,
a mockingbird warbles his
early morning medley of unrelated
songs, and you say left oblique,
followed by matches, then
collapse on a bench,
winded. I sit next to you

and we both enjoy the warmth
and birdsong, though I know
this only through the uplifted
corner of your mouth, which
these days is how you indicate
either deep pleasure or

fear. I have to leave soon,
I say, and you grab my wrist
and stare into my eyes.
Broom, you reply. And more
emphatically, Broom!

Though I cannot follow you
directly, knowing both path
and destination, I pick my way
carefully through the years
stacked high like cardboard
banker’s boxes stuffed with
papers and receipts no one
will ever see. I know, I say.
I love you, too. Broom.

 

* * *

“Something Lost, Something Trivial” was published in January 2016 in the first issue of MockingHeart Review. Many thanks to founding editor Clare L. Martin, for her multiple kindnesses.

While Trespassing I Note the Sadness of Old Fences

 

While Trespassing I Note the Sadness of Old Fences

I write poems when I can,
in late morning or during

the afternoon, between chores
but before dinner. And sometimes

I duck through spaces
void of wire barbs, and consider

how to fill the incomplete, which words,
what materials could repair

those particular holes. I cut my own
fence once, to access our house

when the creek flooded the road,
lugging uphill through the snake

grass a jug of scotch, my mandolin
and a watermelon, essentials for a weekend’s

respite. To be truthful I cut only the lowest
strand, to help the dog get through — I

was able to climb over, but he couldn’t dig
through the limestone rubble to wriggle

under, and we’d come too far
to simply turn around.

 

* * *

This appeared in riverSedge, Volume 29, Issue 1, released in October 2016. I first encountered riverSedge in 1983, and vowed that one day my poetry would be published in this journal. It took a while…

 

Driving without Radio

trash-in-tree

 

Driving without Radio

One minute you’re sipping coffee at the stoplight,
and the next you find yourself six miles

down the road, wondering how you got there,
just two exits before the French bakery

and your favorite weekday breakfast taco stand.
Or while pondering the life of mud,

you almost stomp the brakes when a 40-year old
memory oozes in — two weeks before Thanksgiving,

the windshield icing over (inside), while most definitely
not watching the drive-in movie in Junction City, Kansas,

her warm sighs on your neck and ear, and the art
of opening cheap wine with a hairbrush. How many

construction barrels must one dodge to conjure these
delights, unsought and long misfiled? You turn right

on 29th Street and just for a moment think you’ve seen
an old friend, looking as he did before he died,

but better, and happier, and of course it’s just a trash bag
caught in a plum tree, waving hello, waving goodbye.

 

 

“Driving without Radio” was published at Split Rock Review in November 2016. Many thanks to editor Crystal Gibbins for providing a home for this one.

 

Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

In spring 1983 I enrolled in a poetry writing course thinking it might help improve my short fiction. I was a history major by default, had never taken a course in poetry, but believed, with absolutely no evidence, that I could write fiction. At the time I would have been hard-pressed to name five contemporary poets, even counting my professor. To be honest, the class struggled to hold my attention. Only about a quarter of the students seemed interested in writing, and the instructor was a bit, uh, tired. But for the first time in my life I read, really read, poetry. I fell in love with Galway Kinnell, Ai, James Wright and Carolyn Forche, to name just a few of my early enthusiasms. I wanted to write like them. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Most of it was laughably bad, but somehow I managed to win an undergraduate poetry contest, which suggested that hope existed. Maybe someday, I thought, one of my poems will be published. This radical idea had never occurred to me before. Publication seemed to be the privilege of special people, and a lifetime of gathered fact revealed that I was unequivocably nothing special.

Early on in the semester, perhaps even in the first class, the professor asked how many of us thought we’d still be writing poetry in twenty years. I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t know where I’d be in six months, much less what I’d be doing in twenty years. Since I’d realized late in the game that teaching was not for me, I had no job prospects, and few marketable skills, despite experience in chugging beer, manning sound-powered phones on a ship’s helicopter tower, scraping barnacles and bending rules. The world was limited. The world was limitless.

Another gray day

dividing the old and young

Oh, this aching hip!

 

* * *

A song from that time:

 

 

I’ll Turn But Clouds Appear

spaghetti

 

I’ll Turn But Clouds Appear

You gather and disperse and nothing I do salves my hunger.
Where are you, if not here among the roots of dead flowers

or inches below the window’s opening
in the leaf-filtered light. Or spread across

the ceiling, caught in filaments of expelled
hope. Savoring motion, I look up and address the Dog Stars,

longing to catch your attention. But clouds muffle
my words, and instead I turn

to the fragrance of tomato and garlic and spice
wafting into the night. What could bring you back?

Not love. Not wine. Not solitude, nor the sound of my voice.
I spoon out the sauce, cautiously, and wait.

 

* * *

“I’ll Turn but Clouds Appear” first appeared in Bindlestiff.

 

treecloud

 

Summer 1966: After France & Remembering Bobby, Who One Day Would Learn to Multiply and Divide, Write Love Poems, Define Home, Fight Unfairly and Live with as Much Gusto as a 7-Year Old. Perhaps.

 

Summer 1966: After France & Remembering Bobby,
Who One Day Would Learn to Multiply and Divide,
Write Love Poems, Define Home, Fight Unfairly and
Live with as Much Gusto as a 7-Year Old. Perhaps.

From left coast to right, or the wide arc between,
which place claimed you? In New York you marveled
at the building’s backs scratched by clouds, and all your
pale cousins in Baltimore spoke strangely and couldn’t fathom
your nuclear family’s private lingo, while the drive to Texas
and its red ants and iced tea blossomed into adventures between
pages in the back seat of the VW bug. By the second week you
learned that Texans sweat as much as the French, and swear even
more, that you couldn’t fight one twin without taking on the other,
sometimes both at once. There was no question of fairness then,
just brotherhood, but the librarian would slip you the choicest
donated fiction, and you played baseball every day in the vacant lot
until sundown called the players home to black and white body
counts and cigarette commercials on the three channels received.
Sometimes you lay in bed under the half-light of the whirring
fan blades, and dreamt of heroes and ornithopters, zebras
and the scent of chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Other nights
you wondered how words could rest so calmly on one page yet
explode off the next, or why a man would climb a tower in Austin
to kill fourteen people when opportunities for mayhem and murder
burgeoned across the sea. Wasn’t living a matter of simple
subtraction? One by one the days parted and you walked through
that dwindling heat, eyes squinting, questions in hand, emerging
fifty years later having suffered additions and division and the
cruelties of love and success, honor and truth, still asking why
and how, home or house, where it went, your shoulders slumping
under the heft of those beautiful, terrible summers stacked high
like so many life-gatherings of unread books awaiting a bonfire.

 

This was first published in theSilver Birch Press “Moving” series, and an earlier version titled “Bonjour, Texas” appeared on the blog A Holistic Journey.