Countdown #1: My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar (with recording)

 

My last five posts of 2020 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.

 

 

My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar

Blue-tinted and red-mouthed, you light a cigarette
that glows green between your lips and smells of
menthol and old coffins, burnt fruit and days carved

into lonely minutes. I mumble hello, and because
you never speak, order a tulip of double IPA, which the
bartender sets in front of me. Longing to ask someone

in authority to explain the protocol in such matters,
I slide it over, but of course you don’t acknowledge
the act. The bartender shrugs and I munch on spiced

corn nuts. I wish I could speak Japanese, I say, or cook
with chopsticks the way you did. We all keep secrets, but
why didn’t you share your ability to juggle balls behind

your back sometime before I was thirty? And I still
can’t duplicate that pork chili, though my yaki soba
approaches yours. You stub out the cigarette and immediately

light another. Those things killed you, I say, but what the hell.
As always, you look in any direction but mine, your face
an empty corsage. What is the half-life of promise, I ask. Why

do my words swallow themselves? Who is the grandfather
of loneliness? Your outline flickers and fades until only a trace
of smoke remains. I think of tea leaves and a Texas noon,

of rice balls and the vacuum between what is and what
could have been, of compromise and stubbornness and love,
then look up at the muted tv, grab your beer, and drink.

 

* * *

 

“My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar” was first published in The Lake in December 2018.

 

This Turning

turning

 

This Turning

what one says
depends not on
words the wind

begins it does
not end but
lends itself to

an end this
turning may be
an answer the

sound of intent
so concealed a
word displayed is

only a word
not an end
nor the beginning

 

magnets

Another oldie from the eighties. It seems that even my poetry was thinner then.

Pain (Haibun)

Pain

Pain reminds me that I’m breathing, still able to appreciate the fragrance of French roast coffee brewing, the diced red pepper, onion and jalapeño mixture sizzling in the pan. Today is a good day. When I roll out the dough for the onion tart, the leg barely protests, and as I sip ginger tea while the tart bakes, no throb interrupts my pleasure.

Sometimes the hip shocks me with its barbed lance attack, or the knee rasps “not today, sonny,” and I grimace, concentrate on deliberate forward movement, one short step followed by another, into the kitchen or down the steps to the shack.

Music soothes, as does poetry, but occasionally the weight of the guitar is more than the leg can bear. Still, when I manage to lose myself in a tune or a few phrases, I drift in their currents, weightless, free.

Oh, to climb that hill
among those lost maples
Look — my shoe’s untied

* * *

“Pain” first appeared in The Zen Space in July 2018.

Bonsai

Bild

 

Bonsai

no feature enhanced
but beauty of
the whole and

its container the
tree is not
deprived and grows

as it must
though slowly like
a wave which

gathers itself for
years there is
no completion only

process a lapse
which presumes the
most delicate design

 

Asia_tree240000

Originally published in Aileron in 1988, “Bonsai” first appeared on the blog in December 2014.

 

 

My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar (with recording)

My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar

Blue-tinted and red-mouthed, you light a cigarette
that glows green between your lips and smells of
menthol and old coffins, burnt fruit and days carved

into lonely minutes. I mumble hello, and because
you never speak, order a tulip of double IPA, which the
bartender sets in front of me. Longing to ask someone

in authority to explain the protocol in such matters,
I slide it over, but of course you don’t acknowledge
the act. The bartender shrugs and I munch on spiced

corn nuts. I wish I could speak Japanese, I say, or cook
with chopsticks the way you did. We all keep secrets, but
why didn’t you share your ability to juggle balls behind

your back sometime before I was thirty? And I still
can’t duplicate that pork chili, though my yaki soba
approaches yours. You stub out the cigarette and immediately

light another. Those things killed you, I say, but what the hell.
As always, you look in any direction but mine, your face
an empty corsage. What is the half-life of promise, I ask. Why

do my words swallow themselves? Who is the grandfather
of loneliness? Your outline flickers and fades until only a trace
of smoke remains. I think of tea leaves and a Texas noon,

of rice balls and the vacuum between what is and what
could have been, of compromise and stubbornness and love,
then look up at the muted tv, grab your beer, and drink.

* * *

“My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar” was first published in The Lake in December 2018.

RO

Ro

When this note fades
will it join you in that place
above the sky
or below the waves
of the earth’s plump
body? Or will it
circle back, returning to
my lips and this
hollow day
to aspire again?

 

 

Note: Ro designates the fingering required to produce a particular note on the shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. In this case, closing all holes.

 

Better Than Drowning

 

Better Than Drowning

As clouds leverage sky and the wind scours each night.

Surrounding the spiraling strands. Wherever I am. And am not.

Over the crushing waves, suspended between air and matter.

With the earth in taproots drilled through stone.

Under the layered fog, dampness upon dampness, differing by degree.

I see you where I don’t look. You live in the mirror.

The night conceals nothing, not even my guilt.

Not even my pleasure. Nor your smile.

I shake the quilt and spread you everywhere.

Though no door existed, it closed behind you.

Which is the point of absence, the fulcrum on which I balance.

You turn and join the light, casting no shadow.

 

* * *

“Better Than Drowning” first appeared in Underfoot Poetry in October 2017. Many thanks to Tim Miller for taking this piece, and for his enthusiastic support of poets and poetry.

 

The Resonance of No (with recording)

dishes

 

 

 The Resonance of No

Yes, yes, we’ve heard. The dishwasher wastes less
and cleans better. But Kenk­ō believed in the beauty
of leisure, and how better to make nothing
while standing with hands in soapy water, thoughts
skipping from Miles Davis’s languid notes to the spider
ascending to safe shelter under the sill (after I blow
on her to amuse myself), washing my favorite knife
and wondering if I should hone it, not to mention
my skills on the six-string or the potato peeler.
And if I linger at the plates, even the chipped one,
admiring their gleam after hot water rinses away
the soap residue, who could question the quick gulp
of ale or the shuffle of an almost-but-not-quite
dance step-or-stumble while arranging them on the
ribbed rack, back-to-back, in time to Coltrane’s
solo. Then the forgotten food processor’s blade
bites my palm, and I remember that I’ve outgrown
the dark suit, the cut branches still need bundling
and none of the words I’ve conjured and shaped
over decades and miles will extend their comfort
when I stand at my father’s grave this week or next.

 

“The Resonance of No,” was published in December 2016 in Gravel, and is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second.

Daniel Schnee wrote about this poem here.

Music Credit: Cool Vibes Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Elegy

 

Elegy  

1. Adrift

I count more graves than people in my sleep,
but nothing turns more quickly

than an empty wind
in a place whose memory has died.

And all manner of departure: What you have left is you
without you
. As if it could be different, as if decades

could withdraw and draft a blueprint of motive and action,
returning them, returning you, to that point

across the sea where the ship has not yet arrived.
If you ask she will say it does not matter. If you ask.

 

2. Parentheses

To be within, yet without, as in the unuttered phrase.

It is time the stone made an effort to flower,

to render the void clear and resolute, the diction of
separation divided by decades and your ocean.

The language of silence, drawn near.

 

3. From the Other Side

Sometime becomes never and steps around a desolate corner,
and all we have left is our field

awash in stone, remnants of the unspoken.
I have no memory of you. Nor you, of me,

but the strands do not lie, and unraveled,
expose the imperfect blends

that compose my love. A leaky roof. The last word.
A pity to put up at all

but there is rain.

 

4. Another Night

Of all the hours which were the longest?
The earth trembled around me

and I lay still, bearing witness to
the uncertain malice of its

shrug, shoulders brought to
fore, then returned,

and finally, released. If,
after this half-century, words

could reform in your mouth,
what denial would issue?

Ashes, washing ashore.

 

5. Bridge

And seeing you only as the shadow of an

ending whose voice lies
in an uncommon past, how
may we recognize the very shape we share?

The bridge’s fate is loneliness,
knowing that one side

decries the other’s
call, that separation affords new light:

they are between
comfort and space, between words and a smile,

between nothingness and sorrow,
two points, beginning and end,

reaching, in opposition, towards each other.

 

 

Notes:

“What you have left is you without you” is from Edmond Jabes’s “At the Threshold of the Book” in The Book of Questions: Volume I, translated by Rosemary Waldrop.

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower” is from Paul Celan’s poem Corona,” included in Poems of Paul Celan translated by Michael Hamburger.

“A pity to put up at all but there is rain” is from Basho’s Back Roads to Far Towns, translated by Cid Corman and Kamake Susumu.

Albert Huffsticklers poem “Bridges” which appeared in The Balcones Review in 1987, begins “They are between…”

“Elegy” first appeared on Underfoot Poetry in October 2017.

 

Mayflies (with recording)

 

Mayflies

Having no functioning
mouths, adults do not eat,

and live their lives
never knowing

the pleasure of food
and drink, the bitter

bite of dandelion greens
with the crisp notes

of prosecco rolling over
the tongue. Instead,

they engage in aerial
sex, often in swarms

above water, many dipping
to the surface to lay eggs,

some submerging, while
others die unfulfilled,

eaten. Who’s to say
which life burns brighter;

even knowing these facts,
still I dream of flight.

 

 

“Mayflies” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second. It was also the inspiration for the artwork gracing the cover. I am in debt to Stephanie L. Harper for providing such a vivid and appropriate piece of art for the book. Available at Amazon.Com and Here