Nocturne (Fall 1983)

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Nocturne (Fall 1983)

Tall weeds block
the view. Remove
sound from sight,

the guitar becomes
kindling. I stretch
my hands toward

the burning wood,
hearing the echo
and the woman.

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This first appeared here in November 2015.

In the Place of Cold Doors

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In the Place of Cold Doors

We have a word for everything,
or seven for nothing. Soon

you’ll enter and I’ll talk
on the other side,

watch for signs in every
dropped crumb,

every nailhead and
embedded phrase remembered

in another’s voice. The light
will dim and I’ll look for rain and

go on speaking. My words will wander
unnoticed. You hear only yesterday.

“In the Place of Cold Doors” first appeared in Gossamer: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry, published by Kindle Magazine in Kolkata, India. I was thrilled to have several poems included in the anthology.

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Irretrievable

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Irretrievable

How we grieve the simplest
truth: we are

the scatterings,

relics of
the mind’s
erosions,

less than the sum
of our bodies. I cannot see
the word

but it smokes like
the color green
burning, but not of
flame, and once

the knife enters
you must avoid
its secretion

and peel the flesh
to reveal
what hides within:

the stem’s
purchase, pith,
seeds,

the irretrievable
shape

of a word
my lips cannot
form.

***

“Irretrievable” first appeared in a slightly different form in Vayavya, in December 2013, and subsequently appeared here in April 2016..

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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:

Self-Portrait with Bruise

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Self-Portrait with Bruise

Some damages announce, others conceal.
How else may we continue

despite our best
inattentions? And which treasure
do we truly hold

closer, the blood orange
or the blade
that parts its segments? At

thirty I would have chosen
one. At forty, the other. Now,
options spread like branches among the cedars.

Ruptured vessels reveal our lapses.

***

This was published in Shadowtrain in August 2015, and appeared here in March 2016.

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Empty Cup

Empty Cup

I set down my cup, pour
tea and think this day, too,
may never end.

With what do we quantify love? How does grief measure us? Nine days ago I wrote “My father is dying and I’m sipping a beer.” More words followed, but I did not write them, choosing instead to let them gather where they would – among the darkening fringe at light’s edge, in that space between the shakuhachi’s notes, in the fragrance of spices toasting in the skillet. In unwept tears. Everywhere. Nowhere.

Seven days ago I wrote “My father is dead.” Again, I chose to let the unwritten words gather and linger, allowing them to spread in their own time, attaching themselves to one another, long chains of emptiness dragging through the days.

If experience reflects truth, sorrow’s scroll will unravel slowly for me, and will never stop. I feel it beginning to quiver, but only the tiniest edge emerges. I am nothing, I say. I am voice, I am loss, I am name. I am memory. I am son.

I have fifty-nine years
and no wisdom to show for it.
Never enough. Too much.

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…