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.

As Blue Fades

 

As Blue Fades

Which defines you best, a creaking lid or the light-turned flower?

The coffee’s steam or smoke wafting from your hand.

Your bowls color my shelves; I touch them daily.

Sound fills their bodies with memory.

The lighter’s click invokes your name.

And the stepping stones to nowhere, your current address.

If the moon could breathe would its breath flavor our nights?

I picture a separate one above your clouded island.

The dissipating blue in filtered light.

Above the coral. Above the waves and ocean floor far below.

Above the space your ashes should share.

Where the boats rise and fall, like chests, like the waning years.

Like a tide carrying me towards yesterday’s reef.

Or the black-tailed gull spinning in the updraft.

 

 

“As Blue Fades” first appeared in Underfoot in October 2017.

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.

 

Letter to Wright from Between Gusts

pickles

 

Letter to Wright from Between Gusts

Dear Tami: The wind here speaks an undiscovered language:
diffident, it lurks in the background, stuttering, fingering
everything, shifting directions, mocking us, barely noticeable
until it gets pissed off and BLOWS! Then, shit happens. Pickle
jars appear in purses. Love notes remain unwritten. Shingles
flap across the lawn and idiots are elected to office (nothing new,
I know). When I was a kid I marveled at those fortunates who
lived under the same roof for years, for decades, entire lives, while
my family rolled around the globe, collecting vaccination scars
like postcards or nesting dolls. How interesting, I thought then,
to know and be known, to avoid the perpetual newcomer’s
path. Having shared this house with my wife and various dogs,
birds, rodents, insects and arachnids for thirty-three years, I now
know this – home is not a stationary edifice. No cornerstone
defines it any better than fog rubbing the juniper’s tired back,
or courting mayflies announcing warmth’s arrival in their brief
pre-death interludes. Desire is a feckless mistress; after obtaining
the prize, we miss the abandoned and wonder what might have
been. When you arrive at your new town remember this: no one
is stranger to you than yourself. I speak from experience, having
absorbed differences at one end only to watch them emerge
hand-in-hand at the other, like newborn twins or nearly forgotten
reminders of an uncle’s kindness in a year of typhoons and sharp
replies and rebuilt lives. Home is a smile, a lover’s sleepy touch
at 3 a.m., or the secret knock between childhood friends reunited
after decades. It lives in soft tissue, not steel, and breathes water
and air, flame and soil and everything between. But it can’t exist
without your mind and body lugging it around. I would like to
tell you what the wind is saying, but it’s singing different tunes
these days, and my translation skills begin and end in that still
place between gusts, floating in the twilit air like so many empty
pockets. These are the only words I have. Not much to hang a hat
on, and I apologize for my shortcomings and inability to expound
with clarity. I speak in poetry, but mean well. May your moons
be bright and your winds wild yet gentle, even if you can’t fathom
their meaning. I’ll keep trying if you will. All the best, Bob.

 

* * *

“Letter to Wright from Between Gusts” was first published in The Lake in August 2017, and is also included in Volume 2 of Oxidant/Engine’s BoxSet Series, as part of my 10-poem collection titled “The Language of Bread and Coffee.”

 

Home: Living Between

 

Home: Living Between

My younger self dwelled in shadows propelled by light.
Indigo to ebony, in variant shades.

Concealed in language and skin, surrounded by shelved words.
Departed friends. Grass grown tall or baked to a brittle yellow.

The central order of a life arranged in sequence, orbiting through mother,
father, sister and passers-by glancing through our windows.

A parachute of discomfort billowing in the blue.
Distance and uncertainty beyond the nuclear family.

Acknowledging the new, still I looked inward.
The house as structure, as symbol, but always impermanent, unattainable.

Not rejection, but a liminal sense of being, of place.
Faces changed, but books carried me from city to state to country.

Translated from three views and speaking in brushstrokes across the wall,
slowly filled from edge to center, layer upon layer.

Containment, conjunction, circumstance. Triangle to circle.
No headstones mark my locus, no place bears my name.

Borders, the threshold of shared lives.

 

 

* * *

“Home: Living Between” was originally published at Allegro Poetry Magazine.  Thank you, Sally Long, for taking this poem.

 

 

 

February 6, 2018

  

February 6, 2018

Today every song is a diary of lost dates,
moments cured in precision

and stowed away on a train to the next town,
always yearning the beyond, around that precious bend.

Or, a funeral for tomorrow, processing the improbable
present. Lights, flickering. The starling’s first peep.

All urgency dies. Outside, leaves float in the fog
as I drive away to a finite point.

Now, a whistle mourns the day’s broken
surge; never having said goodbye, you move on.

 

 

* * *

“February 6, 2018” was published in the North Dakota Quarterly in February 2019.

 

My Mother’s Ghost Knits a Scarf of Chain

 

My Mother’s Ghost Knits a Scarf of Chain

When I look up rust scabs flutter from your clicking
needles, subsuming even the brightest link in this
moon-drenched room. Communion’s possibility

perished in that wicker basket, and we hold close our
secrets, looped within circles, joined in these most hidden
stitches. Will you ever detach? I recall losing myself,

stepping from darkness into the white afternoon beyond the movie,
finding only strange faces on a street unraveling from
a wound I’d not yet felt. Now you pull apart the gatherings.

Yesterday’s scarf lies incomplete on the invisible shelf,
and tomorrow’s tightens uncomfortably around my throat,
even as I read aloud, proposing family life on a scale

we cannot duplicate, in a house lost long ago in a city
I’ve not yet seen, in a decade before my birth and a pearled
atmosphere of cleansing air into which my body longs to rise

but can’t, tethered in place by love, this terrible, beautiful love.

 

 

My Mother’s Ghost Knits a Scarf of Chain,” was first published in Issue 14 of Panoply in January 202

The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo

 

The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo

The difficulty lies in denying the rest,
pretending the denouement remains unknotted
like that length of rope looped over the branch,
unable to serve its purpose. I regret nothing,
but often wish that I had dangled my feet
in the stream more often and felt the trout
wriggle by in their fluency of motion. Last year
my daughter claimed that as a half-mortal
what pulsed through her heart was not blood
but ichor, the life-force of gods, and when I
stated that her mother was from Muleshoe and
not Olympus, and that I may have been the
product of divine intervention, but was neither
god nor blessed creature, she spat wine in my
face, laughed, grabbed my keys and chugged off
in the cherry-red Karmann Ghia I’d dubbed
La Gloria Roja. I’ve not seen that car again, but
I swear I’ve heard its custom klaxon ah-woo-gah
in strange small towns between train stops
and the lonely fields stretching out into the
blackness like memories losing traction. But
mostly I find myself in this house of books
and empty bottles, maintaining space and time,
herding shadows into their oblong boxes,
contemplating nooses and love, courage and
mortality, and the inability to step up, to swallow
what I most crave and do what must be done.

 

* * *

“The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was published in Main Street Rag in October 2017. I was fortunate to have two sponsors for the poem – Clyde Long, who provided three words (denouement, ichor and claxon) and Paul Vaughan, who offered the title. One never knows what will come of these sponsored pieces…

 

Mother’s Day (with recording)

 

Mother’s Day

The dog is my shadow and I fear his loss. My loss.
I cook for him daily, in hope of retaining him.

Each regret is a thread woven around the oak’s branches.
Each day lived is one less to live.

Soon the rabbits will be safe, and the squirrels.
As if they were not. One morning

I’ll greet an empty space and walk alone,
toss the ball into the yard, where it will remain.

It is Mother’s Day.
Why did I not weep at my mother’s grave?

I unravel the threads and place them around the dog.
The wind carries them aloft.

 

“Mother’s Day” was published in The Lake in July 2016, and last appeared here in May 2019.

 

Memory and Closets

 

Memory and Closets

1

She came with the house.
A skull, spinal column, ribcage, tibia,

scapula – the list goes on, not quite to 206,
even including an extra lumbar vertebra.

Edna (long story) attended Halloween parties
and convivial gatherings, dressed in finery.

Silk suited her best, with linen falling just
behind. And hats! That green fedora,

like a parrot perched on a smiling egg,
never spoke, but stirred the conversation.

2

Old boots, worn left heel explaining the damaged meniscus.
Portable record player. Scratched vinyl.
Shopping bag of VHS tapes. Two empty scotch bottles.
The 30-year old suit that hasn’t been worn in 28 years.
Yellowed newspaper clippings of diet recipes.
The lost carton of wrapping paper.
A cheap guitar case, sans guitar.

3

If memory could speak, what would it not say?

Who else has rubbed this dust across his skin?

Only death is irrevocable.

In this darkness I find you.

Fearing withdrawal, we grow closer.

Things, and more things.

Everything we need travels with us.

Always.

 

* * *

This was originally drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and subsequently published in The Quiet Letter in April 2017. It’s original title, sponsored by Darryl Williams, was “Cleaning Out Closets in Anticipation of Moving Closer to Children.”

You can find The Quiet Letter’s 2018 interview with me here.