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.

 

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.

Prescribed

 

Prescribed 

Some seeds are buried, others scattered.

April’s wildflower reflects October’s rain.
Bluebonnet, fragrant gaillardia. Texas paintbrush.

Cause and effect is seldom so clear with people.

Left hand offers money, right strikes a match
and the voice sings praise without conviction.

Perhaps we are guileless,
and true motive lies in the completed deed,
underground or above,

blossoming or charred after the burn.

 

* * *

My poem “Prescribed” was featured in December 2017 at The Clearing, a British online magazine focusing on landscape.

Thanks to editor Michael Malay for taking this one.

 

Privilege

 

Privilege

Every hour becomes another.

Surrendering minutes, accepting
gain, which gravities restrain us?

Strong coffee, books. A smile.

Such imponderables – the measured
digit, starlife, an unmarked sheet of
paper fluttering to the floor.

Sometimes the lights go out
and we wonder when they’ll return,
not if. Or the laborer misinterprets
a statement and stains the carpet.

There but for the grace…
Anything can happen, and frequently does,

but we open the door and step out, unhindered.

 

 

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

 

Nights at the Magdalene Laundry

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Nights at the Magdalene Laundry

Waiting, as if it could
be foreseen, as if influence and love
and truth could ease into the conversation,

she pours water into the night’s
mouth. A little longer, says the voice,
and the wind bends the grass,

reaching, without apprehension, a conclusion.

Which is not to claim verity, nor the patience of stone
crumbling along the ledge.

She leaves when nothing remains.

 

washtub

“Nights at the Magdalene Laundry” first appeared here in January 2016, and was subsequently published in The Basil O’Flaherty, in November 2016.

 

Track (after Tranströmer)

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Track (after Tranströmer)

2 p.m.: Sunlight. The subway flows
beneath us. Flecks of darkness
shimmer madly on the wall.

As when a man cracks a window into a dream,
remembering everything, even
what never occurred.

Or after skimming the surface of good health,
all his nights become ash, billowing clouds,
strong and warm, suffocating him.

The subway never stops.
2 o’clock. Filtered sunlight, smoke.

 

* * *

I’ve been dipping into Friends, You Drank Some Darkness, Robert Bly’s 1975 translations of Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf and Tomas Tranströmer, and I couldn’t resist playing with one of my favorite poems. A different darkness, a separate space, another landscape…

This first appeared here in April 2015.

Ode to Being Placed on Hold

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Ode to Being Placed on Hold

The music rarely
entertains,
but I find
peace between
the notes,
sometimes,
and embrace
the notion that
I’ve been inserted
in that peculiar
capsule between
speech and the
void, imagining
myself somewhere,
floating, free
of care and
gravity,
beer can
satellites
orbiting my head,
with bites of
pungent cheeses
and baguette
circling in
their wake,
a gift, you see,
like rain in
August or
a warm voice
saying hello.

 

* * *

“Ode to Being Placed on Hold” was drafted during the Tupelo Press 30-30 marathon in August 2015. Many thanks to Mary “marso” of the blog “marsowords” who sponsored and provided the title. The poem has also appeared here several times.

 

cheese

 

Living in Lines He Carries Nothing

 

Living in Lines He Carries Nothing

The man you knew is fading,
withdrawing into memory’s
specimen jar. A fatal flower. One
dried scorpion. Another late glass
of pinot. He carries nothing with him
but words. Living in lines on the page,
he listens to the sotol stalks rasping
sad farewells at night, their peace
interrupted by cicadas droning in
the trees. He wants to be seen
before he dies. Thinking hurts, he says.
I depend on pain that won’t vanish
or forget its purpose. I do not want.

 

 

 

“Living in Lines He Carries Nothing” was published in fall 2019 in the print anthology Through Layered Limestone: A Texas Hill Country Anthology of Place. I am grateful to editors d. ellis phelps, Lucy Griffith, Darlene Logan, Donna Peacock and Mobi Warren for taking this and three other pieces.

 

 

 

In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For


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In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For

Balance. The ability to stand on one foot, on a tightrope, and juggle AR-15s,
ethics and dollar bills, while chanting the U.S. Constitution, in tongues.

Or good health.

Unweighted dreams.

A mechanism for disagreeing without needing to annihilate the opposition.

Doorways without doors, truth without fear.

A simple tulip.

One word to describe that instant between thought and pulled trigger,
intent and wish, the elevated pulse and sense of diminished space and time.

Sanctuary. Regret. Apology. Respect.

A tonic to the bitterness, a foil to the sweet.

Fitted sheets that fold. Uncommon sense.

Love in the abstract. More bacon. Smiles.

A closet that embraces everything you place in it. Everything.

The means of unfiring guns, of reversing wounds to undamaged flesh,
and rounds to their magazines, full and never used.

Self-organizing drawers. Due process.

Mothers who know only tears of joy.

One peaceful day.

Just one.

 

lights n sirens

 

This first appeared on the blog in July 2016. The poem was a response to an email asking a question intended for someone else: “What exactly are you looking for?”