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.

My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

 

 

My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

Even in death she scraps the easy path, choosing thorns and rocks
over blossoms and a groomed walkway. On hands and knees,
scouring the floor with ghost water and a scrub brush made of ancient

thistles, her pale figure flares yellow in the kitchen. Mom, you don’t
have to do this, I say. You’re dead, and besides, I have a swiffer
in the garage. I can almost hear her humming a Ray Charles

song from an album back in the sixties, and I notice that the water
in the transparent bucket remains clear and at the same level no matter
how often she dips into it. What do you say to one who never replies?

We’ve long splashed through that puddle of contention, and though
wary of repetition’s erosive qualities, I resort to ritual, drop a piece of
kombu into a pot of water, bring it to a boil, remove it from the heat,

sift in a handful of dried bonito flakes and a few drops of soy sauce,
stirring it a few times. Then I strain the liquid, spoon in some miso,
add chopped green onion and a few cubes of tofu. I ladle this into two

black and red laquer bowls and set them on opposite sides of the table.
Hours later, the glow from the kitchen has faded, but I fidget and lie
awake, pain pulsing from hip to knee, and wonder if surgery is impending,

whether I should hire someone to temporarily mow the grass. How do
we reconcile reality with desire, with emotional drought and flood-swollen
creeks and the inability to draw together those things we desire most?

In the morning the floor is still dirty and the soup is where I’d left it,
at the sharp edge separating table from space, another stuttering symbol,
cold and unappetizing, smelling faintly of fish and muddy water.

 

 

“My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” first appeared in The Indianapolis Review, and was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

 

 

 

Empty Cup

 

I wrote this two years ago, a week after my father died. Many of us are mourning today, with more to follow. COVID-19 doesn’t care.

 

Empty Cup

I set down my cup, pour
tea and think this day, too,
may never end.

With what do we quantify love? How does grief measure us? Nine days ago I wrote “My father is dying and I’m sipping a beer.” More words followed, but I did not write them, choosing instead to let them gather where they would – among the darkening fringe at light’s edge, in that space between the shakuhachi’s notes, in the fragrance of spices toasting in the skillet. In unwept tears. Everywhere. Nowhere.

Seven days ago I wrote “My father is dead.” Again, I chose to let the unwritten words gather and linger, allowing them to spread in their own time, attaching themselves to one another, long chains of emptiness dragging through the days.

If experience reflects truth, sorrow’s scroll will unravel slowly for me, and will never stop. I feel it beginning to quiver, but only the tiniest edge emerges. I am nothing, I say. I am voice, I am loss, I am name. I am memory. I am son.

I have fifty-nine years
and no wisdom to show for it.
Never enough. Too much.

 

* * *

 

 

 

Ghost, with a Line from Porchia

 

Ghost, with a Line from Porchia

In my dreams you manifest in a younger form.

If I were to give you life, what could I give you?

Your hands never touched these walls, yet you inhabit them.

As my language inters you, I am absorbed in yours.

Some gifts are simply not proffered, others are released.

My fingers retrace your name in both sun and shade.

The rain taps out regrets, regrets on the metal roof.

Dim spirit, faint soul. Root-land. Shoal. Mother.

Each visit signals the darkness waiting.

Your battle with language, with silence, invoked.

I stretch the word and weave this dirge for you.

 

* * *

Note: “If I were to give you life, what could I give you?is from Antonio Porchia’s Voices, translated by W.S. Merwin.

“Ghost, with a Line from Porchia” first appeared in Underfoot in October 2017.

Destined by Gravity to Fail, We Try

 

Destined by Gravity to Fail, We Try

Having fallen from the roof not once, but twice,
I verify that it is not the fall but the sudden stop that hurts.

The objectivist sense of the little: the and a, my house in this world.

Galileo postulated that gravity accelerates all falling bodies at the same rate.

While their etymologies differ, failure and fall share commonalities,
though terminal velocity is not one.

The distance between the glimpsed and the demonstrated.

Enthralled in the moment, Icarus drowned.

Rumor has it his plunge was due not to melting wax but to an improper mix
of rectrices and remiges: parental failure.

Thrust and lift. Drag. Resistance.

Acknowledgment of form in reality, in things.

When the produced drag force equals the plummeting object’s weight, the
object will cease to accelerate and will move at a constant speed.

To calculate impact force accurately, include the stopping distance in height.

Followed by long periods of silence.

 

house

This first appeared on the blog in December 2015.

 

Genealogy Dream


 

Genealogy Dream

To recall but not recall: family, the swift curve
of evolution’s arc. One moment your knuckles
scrape the earth’s surface, and the next you’re
pinpointing mortar fire by satellite phone. Or,
having plowed the field by hand, you fertilize
with human dung (no swords in this hovel),
only to wake into a dream of high rises and
coffee served steaming by a blushing ingenue
who morphs into an uncle, killed in China
on the wrong side of the war, leaving his
sister still mired in grief six decades later
under the Texas sun. On this end of memory’s
ocean, we know poverty and its engendered
disrespect, neighbors’ children warned not
to play with you, for fear that the family’s
lack of nickels would rub off and contaminate,
that your belly’s empty shadow might spread
down the unpaved streets and envelop even
those who don’t need to share a single egg
for dinner. Years later the son will celebrate
his tenth year by suffering the indignity of
a bloody nose and a visit to the principal’s
office, a gift of the sixth grader who would
never again employ “Nip” to disparage
someone, at least not without looking over
his shoulder in fear of small fists and quiet
rage. Which half measures harder? In one
hand, steel. In the other, water. I pour green
tea on rice and recall days I’ve never lived.

 

“Genealogy Dream” was first published in August 2018  in Issue 4 of Lost River literary magazine. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for taking this piece.

 

Summer 1966: After France & Remembering Bobby, Who One Day Would Learn to Multiply and Divide, Write Love Poems, Define Home, Fight Unfairly and Live with as Much Gusto as a 7-Year Old. Perhaps.

 

Summer 1966: After France & Remembering Bobby,
Who One Day Would Learn to Multiply and Divide,
Write Love Poems, Define Home, Fight Unfairly and
Live with as Much Gusto as a 7-Year Old. Perhaps.

From left coast to right, or the wide arc between,
which place claimed you? In New York you marveled
at the building’s backs scratched by clouds, and all your
pale cousins in Baltimore spoke strangely and couldn’t fathom
your nuclear family’s private lingo, while the drive to Texas
and its red ants and iced tea blossomed into adventures between
pages in the back seat of the VW bug. By the second week you
learned that Texans sweat as much as the French, and swear even
more, that you couldn’t fight one twin without taking on the other,
sometimes both at once. There was no question of fairness then,
just brotherhood, but the librarian would slip you the choicest
donated fiction, and you played baseball every day in the vacant lot
until sundown called the players home to black and white body
counts and cigarette commercials on the three channels received.
Sometimes you lay in bed under the half-light of the whirring
fan blades, and dreamt of heroes and ornithopters, zebras
and the scent of chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Other nights
you wondered how words could rest so calmly on one page yet
explode off the next, or why a man would climb a tower in Austin
to kill fourteen people when opportunities for mayhem and murder
burgeoned across the sea. Wasn’t living a matter of simple
subtraction? One by one the days parted and you walked through
that dwindling heat, eyes squinting, questions in hand, emerging
fifty years later having suffered additions and division and the
cruelties of love and success, honor and truth, still asking why
and how, home or house, where it went, your shoulders slumping
under the heft of those beautiful, terrible summers stacked high
like so many life-gatherings of unread books awaiting a bonfire.

 

This was first published in theSilver Birch Press “Moving” series, and an earlier version titled “Bonjour, Texas” appeared on the blog A Holistic Journey.

 

 

Sunday, June

 

Sunday, June

Trying to give, I fail too often.
But this day we prepare for you
food that your beloved often cooked,
made with the ingredients of 19,000
nights and promises of more to come.
These potatoes. That beef, the fruit.
Simple, and yet so difficult to reproduce.
Even the recipe is incomplete. “Some
mayonnaise,” it says, then “mustard,”
but not whether dry or prepared, and
the amount is unclear. Yet the results
transport you to stronger days, to
the clear-eyed self and limitless
possibilities, meals on the table
at five o’clock, the satisfaction of work
well done, knowing that you have soared
above your father’s imprecations
but never beyond love’s touch, her
sleepy murmurs, morning coffee,
burnished histories and late cigarettes,
the tulips on the soil you’ll soon share.

 

“Sunday, June” first appeared in the print journal Nourish in March 2018.

Recording of My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

 

 

I was honored to read “My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” yesterday at a celebration of local Pushcart Prize nominees at Irvington Vinyl and Books in Indianapolis. Read the poem here: The Indianapolis Review.

 

 

 

 

Poem Up at Panoply

 

My poem “My Mother’s Ghost Knits a Scarf of Chain,” has been published in Issue 14 of Panoply along with work by such luminaries as Vivian Wagner, Megan Wildhood and Robert Nisbet. I’m thrilled to have a poem in this issue!