How to Do Nothing

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How to Do Nothing

First you must wash the window to observe more clearly
the dandelion seed heads bobbing in the wind. Next,

announce on Facebook and Twitter that you will be offline
for the next two days, if not forever. Heat water for tea.

Remember the bill you forgot to pay, and then cleanse
your mind of all regret. Consider industrial solvents

and the smoothness of sand-scoured stone, the miracle
of erasure. Eliminate all thought, but remember

the water. Hitch a ride on a Miles Davis solo and float
away on a raft of bluesy notes and lions’ teeth,

and wonder how to sabotage your neighbor’s leaf blower,
but nicely, of course. She’s a widow with a gun.

Now it is time to empty yourself. Close your eyes.
Become a single drop of dew on a constellation of petals.

Evaporate, share the bliss. Stuff that dog’s bark
into a lock box alongside the tapping at the door,

the phone’s vibration, the neighbor’s rumbling bass,
and the nagging, forgotten something that won’t

solidify until three in the morning, keeping you awake.
But don’t ignore the whistling. You must steep the tea.

 

* * *

“How to Do Nothing” was published in Volume 4 of Steel Toe Review.

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Jazz Study in Time: Migraine

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Jazz Study in Time: Migraine

How the body expends its pain,
receptors enunciating their message,

all of one pulse: outward then in,
ice pushing through glass,

metal’s red glow searing flesh,
and the moments between

the piercing and acceptance, the
dull and incomprehensible whirl

of lights flashing from midnight
to snowflake, returning, always there.

 

 

Abstract swirl

 

“Jazz Study in Time” first appeared on the blog in December 2015.

 

Thunderstorm Below the Mountain

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Thunderstorm Below the Mountain
(after Hokusai)

Lacking humility, I take without thinking.
How far we’ve come, to look below for
lightning, the valleys shaken
with thunder, answers

like pebbles flung outward,
each to its own arc, separate
yet of one source, shaded into the question.

Is it for the scarcity of reach,
the reverse view through the bamboo rings
well out of sight, that

breath in the wave’s tuck or
smoke mingling with the clouds
and figures collecting salt,

that I edge myself closer, again,
to this place? To be nothing
presumes presence in absence.
Lacking humility, I accept without thinking.

 

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“Thunderstorm Below the Mountain” first appeared here in March 2016.

 

Something Lost, Something Trivial

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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 Looking Up at a Working Wasp, I Trip

 

While Looking Up at a Working Wasp, I Trip

How do these things I once barely acknowledged
now snare toes or twist ankles, causing me to stumble,

spill coffee and curse. Steps, rocks, pavement, curbs.
Door sills. No matter which, without provocation.

Solitary wasps mate not in flight but in the vicinity
of their nesting area. Three years ago a female

violated our unspoken agreement of mutual
existence; my arm purpled and ballooned

to twice its normal size, and I demolished her nest
for fear that attacks would become habit. Today,

another builds in the same spot. I stoop by,
beneath notice, as she labors to make room

for eggs fertilized with stored sperm from a single
drone. Such diligence should earn rewards.

I stroll to the mailbox and marvel at their ability
to manufacture wood pulp for nests, how

certain species avoid mating with siblings
on the basis of chemical signatures, and that

they voluntarily control the sex of their offspring.
Ah, the wonders of nature! Approaching the door,

I look up and observe the growing nest with
admiration, enter the house without stumbling,

and inhale the fragrance of the perfectly arranged
lilies. The books on the table entice me, so I

pour a glass of malbec and thumb through them
with great pleasure. Soon, after sunset, she will die.

 

* * *

“While Looking Up at a Working Wasp, I Trip” was published in MockingHeart Review in May 2018.

Texas Flood

 

 

 

Texas Flood

Sunlight sneaks through a crack, feathering
the overgrown lawn, electric blues in the air.
I have forgotten everything I once was.
An uprooted tree, the abandoned
steeple, a lone dog chained to a pole.
The uncertain puddle in a memory of howls.
Last night’s midnight ochre, in spades.
It lives behind me, like the wind.

 

“Texas Flood” was published in the print journal North Dakota Quarterly in February 2019.

 

And hey, here’s a video of SRV playing his version of “Texas Flood” with brother Jimmie.

 

Letter from Kansas

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I was a military brat. My return to the U.S. after attending high school in Italy was, well, interesting. Junction City, Kansas was definitely not bella Napoli. This poem came from that experience, albeit a few years after, and was published in the mid-80s in the Allegheny Review, a national journal of undergraduate creative writing, and was republished by Silver Birch Press in 2017. The kid who wrote it still exists. Somewhere.

 

Letter from Kansas

Caro amico,
Driving the stretch to Junction City,
I look for familiar faces in the cars
we pass, but see only strange grasses
gliding by. Three weeks ago
I slept on a stone-littered hilltop
overlooking the Bay of Naples.
Now the prairie laps at our front door.
A mile from the house two corralled bison
munch dull hay thrown daily
from a truck’s flat bed, and past that
the Discount Center’s sign
spells America. What I wouldn’t give
for a deep draught of Pozzuoli’s
summer stench and the strong
yellow wine that Michele’s father
makes. We mixed it with the gardener’s
red, creating our own bouquet,
remember? And here they say
I’m too young to buy beer and wine.
Without them the food is flavorless,
like the single language spoken.
I understand it all,
and miss the difficulty. Maybe Texas
will be better. Ci vediamo. Bob

 

 

This was one of my first posts on the blog, and as you might expect, very few people saw it. I wrote the poem in the summer of 1983, when I was new to poetry, still tentative, exploring. A few weeks later I attempted the sonnet form, and, well, everything changed. Everything.

 

Take Away

 

 

Take Away

Take away the blackness,
what does night become?

Remove arugula’s bitterness,
the reddened prints on a slapped
cheek, or yeast from leavened bread.

The coroner’s mask denies emotion.

We possess no less now than we did then.
One hand holds the root, the other, a trowel.
Soil, compost. Ash. Water, dreams. Renewal.

The economy of dying continues.

One mother stands alone, cradling pain in
both arms. The second shares her shadow.

 

 

 

“Take Away” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second, available for order now via Amazon.com and Finishing Line Press.

 

 

Bandera

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Bandera

I offer nothing in return, and in offering, receive.
My mouth is a river

whose current bears no words,
but the silence is not of my making.

Notice the streets and their grey
hunger, the rain and the sun

passing by much
as one passes an unopened door.

That question, unvoiced.
That shiver preceding the icy touch.

You may deny my motives.
You may deny my existence and

the very notion of shape unto form.
I offer nothing, and in offering, receive.

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“Bandera” first appeared here in May 2015, and was subsequently published in The Basil O’Flaherty in November 2016.