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.

Bread

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Bread

That year we learned the true language of fear.
I baked boule and you haunted medical sites.

You said to arrive I must first depart
or be willing to suffer self-awareness. Let’s not

mention our pact just yet. My basic boule requires a
Dutch oven, 20 ounces of flour, water, yeast and salt.

At twenty I learned the finer points
of sausage-making, how to butcher chicken, and

that your hair smelled like dawn’s last flower.
Back then we owned the night. Now I harvest

wild yeast and sharpen pencils, make to-do lists,
pour Chianti, run numbers. I agreed

to your proposal. It would be a kindness, you said.
The pancreas produces hormones

and aids digestion. I chopped off my left thumbtip
and a year later the abscission point

still felt numb. After rolling the dough
into a ball, let it proof for an hour in an oiled bowl.

We shared a taste for sharp cheese
but never agreed on pillows. You loved

down comforters and found vultures fascinating.
Years together honed our lives

but we never considered what that meant. Score
the dough, bake it for 30 minutes with the lid on,

remove the lid and bake for another 15.
Kneading resembles breathing: in,

out. Rise, fall. Bright lights made your eyes water,
so I kept them dimmed. You swallowed

and said “Tell me how to knead bread.”
With the heel of your right hand, push down

and forward, applying steady pressure.
The dough should move under your hand.

Within minutes it will transform.

 

* * *

“Bread” was first published in Extract(s) in April 2015.

pillows

Nine Variations of a Cloud

night window

Nine Variations of a Cloud

1
Looking up, I renounce pity and the sadness of wind.

2
Only lust pulls and shapes more, diminishing your integrity.

3
It slips through whenever I try to grab it.

4
Every phrase is a window glowing at night, surrendered to its frame.

5
Water in another form is still water.

6
In whose ruins must you survive?

7
Another shape, another moment desperately spent.

8
And still you thrive in diminishment.

9
Bearing nothing, it conceals.

 

* * *

“Nine Variations of a Cloud” first appeared in Kindle Magazine in December 2015, and was also included in Gossamer: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry.

windmill

 

The Body Gives (with recording)

 

The Body Gives

Sometimes the body gives too much.
A tendon frays, the heart mumbles
and no one sees the damaged parts.

Ignoring pain, we continue climbing ladders,
sandpaper breath rasping the morning light.

Little bits of us crumble all the time,
yet we stumble on, pretending.

Then the body kills us with its enthusiasm.

Cells duplicate wildly, plaque explodes.
This enmity within? Defensive maneuvers.

Working alone, I wonder where I might end.

On the floor. In a field. Atop the bed.
Under the surface of a rippling pond
or drifting with smoke

through a snow-clad afternoon
at eight thousand feet. Among
the grocery’s tomatoes and squash
approaching the end of a long list.

At the bar, glass in hand, or in a truck
at a four-way stop, the radio blaring.

Time enough for speculation, they say.
But I wonder: when I jump,

does the earth always rise to greet me?

 

* * * *

“The Body Gives” first appeared in The New Reader Magazine, in March 2018.

 

 

Which is an Eye or a Bowl, a Dream

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Which is an Eye or a Bowl, a Dream

Or well-placed mirror in a sunburnt room, shivering through shifted
images: that hand, blackened and stout, opened like a dark peony;
the tattooed chin; shovel and torch; hook and owl. You say no one
chooses one fist over another, that bread’s rise completes its cycle
and begins anew, pressed flat and rounded. Take this heart and seal
its chambers. Note the anterior descent. Compression, lesion. Plaque.
Consequence. And your friend, who slept, never to awaken. Lying
in that strange bed, you taste salt, acknowledge change, whisper
to no one: audible house…audible tree, knowing that time’s limit
remains unclear. The air swirls and you accept this new light.

 

Note: “Audible house…audible tree” is from Jane Hirshfield’s “Not Moving Even One Step,” from The Lives of the Heart.

bowlnhashi

In Praise of Darkness

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In Praise of Darkness

Night falls, but day
breaks. A raw deal,

no doubt, but fairness
applies itself unevenly. Who

chooses weeds over
lies, flowers over truth?

Last night’s rain fell, too,
but didn’t crack the drought.

Again, we think injustice!
Again, we consider falls.

 

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“In Praise of Darkness” last appeared here in March, 2016, and is included in my chapbook If Your Matter Could Reform. 

 

Self-Portrait as Question

 

Self-Portrait as Question 

Walking hand-in-hand with what,
who presupposes why, and when
huddles with where before skittering
off to its murky corner. Sometimes
I present myself as a shy minute
or a cloud’s effigy streaming across
a scruffy field. Few suspect the truth.
Answers ricochet from the limestone
wall, but no one nabs them. I react
quickly and offer the unknown, the
life I claim, my name, in return.

 

* * *

“Self-Portrait as Question” was first published in Rue Scribe in September 2018. Many thanks to Eric Luthi and the editors at Rue Scribe for accepting this piece and several others.

Countdown #5: I Praise the Moon, Even When She Laughs

 

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

 

I Praise the Moon, Even When She Laughs

I got drunk once and woke in Korea
with you watching over me.

Odd, how you spend seasons looking
down, and I, up. If I lived in a cloud,

could you discern me from the other
particles? Perhaps your down is

peripheral, or left, or non-directional. I can
fathom this without measuring scope,

yet I feel queasy about the possibility
of being merely one vaporous drop

coalescing among others, unnamed
and forgettable, awaiting the particular

atmospheric conditions to plummet to my
fate. As if we control our own gravities!

One winter I grilled pork tenderloin under
your gaze, unaware that the grass

around me had caught fire, and when I
unwound the hose and turned on the

faucet you laughed, as the hose wasn’t
connected and only my feet were

extinguished. Dinner was delayed
that evening, but I praised you just the same.

I look up, heedless in the stars’ grip, unable
to retrace all those steps taken to this here,

now, but still you sway above the branches,
sighing, lighting my path, returned once

again, even if not apparent at all times. Every
star signals a departure. Each is an arrival.

 

*  * *

 

“I Praise the Moon, Even When She Laughs” was published in Sourland Mountain Review in January 2017.

 

Scarecrow Dances

Scarecrow Dances

A case of the almost
tapping into the deed:

I dance in daylight,
but never on stairs

nor in countable
patterns, the wind

and birds my only
partners. When the

left arm twitches
counter to the right

hand’s frisk, my
head swivels with

the breeze, catching
my feet in pointe,

a moment endured
in humor. Luther

Robinson switched names
with his brother Bill

and became Bojangles,
but my brothers remain

nameless and silent,
flapping without desire

or intent. Why am I
as I am, born of no

mother, stitched and
stuffed, never nurtured

but left to become this
fluttering entity, thinking,

always thinking, whirling,
flowing rhythmically

in sequence, in time
to unheard music?

No one answers me.
But for now, I dance.

“Scarecrow Dances” first appeared in The Blue Nib in September 2016.

Looking Ahead He Looks Back

 

Looking Ahead He Looks Back

Those things we leave behind.
The rooster’s full moon crow
or the blue enameled cast iron pot
bearing the scars of a thousand
meals. Hair on a brush. Harsh
night words and the photos of
a wooden lighthouse from a
discarded life. We choose some,
misplace others. How does a home
curdle within one night’s orbit?
The answer is not your truth. Or mine.
I measure my life in hours lost.

 

* * *

 

“Looking Ahead He Looks Back” was first published in Juke Joint, in March 2020.