When to Say Goodbye (with recording)

dried

 

 

When to Say Goodbye

 If all goes well it will never happen.
The dry grass in the shade whispers

while the vines crunch underfoot,
releasing a bitter odor. A year ago

I led my dog to his death, the third
in five years. How such counting

precedes affection, dwindles ever
so slowly, one star winking out after

another, till only the morning gray
hangs above us, solemn, indefinite.

Voiceless. If I could cock my head
to howl, who would understand? Not

one dog or three, neither mother nor
mentor, not my friend’s sister nor her

father and his nephews, the two boys
belted safely in the back seat. No.

I walk downhill and closer to the creek,
where the vines are still green.

In the shade of a large cedar, a turtle
slips into the water and eases away.

 

* * *

 

“When to Say Goodbye,” drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, was published by Oxidant | Engine in May 2017, and subsequently nominated for a Best of the Net 2017 award.

 

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.

Poem Nominated for a Pushcart Prize

 

I’m delighted and honored that my poem “My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Indianapolis Review.

Many thanks to editor Natalie Solmer for accepting this piece.

Click on the link to read the poem or listen to a recording of it.

 

 

Poem up at The Indianapolis Review

 

I’m delighted that my poem “My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” has been published in a special double issue of The Indianapolis Review featuring the work of Indianapolis based writers and artists. There’s also a recording.

So it’s official: I am now an Indiana poet! Many thanks to editor Natalie Solmer for accepting this piece.

 

 

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.”

 

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.