Driving without Radio

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Driving without Radio

One minute you’re sipping coffee at the stoplight,
and the next you find yourself six miles

down the road, wondering how you got there,
just two exits before the French bakery

and your favorite weekday breakfast taco stand.
Or while pondering the life of mud,

you almost stomp the brakes when a 40-year old
memory oozes in — two weeks before Thanksgiving,

the windshield icing over (inside), while most definitely
not watching the drive-in movie in Junction City, Kansas,

her warm sighs on your neck and ear, and the art
of opening cheap wine with a hairbrush. How many

construction barrels must one dodge to conjure these
delights, unsought and long misfiled? You turn right

on 29th Street and just for a moment think you’ve seen
an old friend, looking as he did before he died,

but better, and happier, and of course it’s just a trash bag
caught in a plum tree, waving hello, waving goodbye.

 

 

“Driving without Radio” was published at Split Rock Review in November 2016. Many thanks to editor Crystal Gibbins for providing a home for this one.

 

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.

 

 

Driving to Work, I Pass Myself

 

 

Driving to Work, I Pass Myself

Some days the drive takes twenty minutes,
on others, thirty or more. Seems I might pass
myself on the right morning if time flexed its
biceps or looped me into a dimensional shift
thick with donuts and tires and lost minutes.
How odd it would be to wave and say “see ya,”
knowing that tendered frustration grows in
distance, until it takes over the entire mirror.
Looking back, I see my frown diminishing
to a lone point in that shrinking van at the
hill’s crest. Will we meet in the parking
garage? Should I wait? You know the rules.

 

This first appeared on the blog in March 2018.

 

Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

In spring 1983 I enrolled in a poetry writing course thinking it might help improve my short fiction. I was a history major by default, had never taken a course in poetry, but believed, with absolutely no evidence, that I could write fiction. At the time I would have been hard-pressed to name five contemporary poets, even counting my professor. To be honest, the class struggled to hold my attention. Only about a quarter of the students seemed interested in writing, and the instructor was a bit, uh, tired. But for the first time in my life I read, really read, poetry. I fell in love with Galway Kinnell, Ai, James Wright and Carolyn Forche, to name just a few of my early enthusiasms. I wanted to write like them. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Most of it was laughably bad, but somehow I managed to win an undergraduate poetry contest, which suggested that hope existed. Maybe someday, I thought, one of my poems will be published. This radical idea had never occurred to me before. Publication seemed to be the privilege of special people, and a lifetime of gathered fact revealed that I was unequivocably nothing special.

Early on in the semester, perhaps even in the first class, the professor asked how many of us thought we’d still be writing poetry in twenty years. I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t know where I’d be in six months, much less what I’d be doing in twenty years. Since I’d realized late in the game that teaching was not for me, I had no job prospects, and few marketable skills, despite experience in chugging beer, manning sound-powered phones on a ship’s helicopter tower, scraping barnacles and bending rules. The world was limited. The world was limitless.

Another gray day

dividing the old and young

Oh, this aching hip!

 

* * *

A song from that time:

 

 

Forced By This Title to Write a Poem in Third Person About Himself, the Poet Considers the Phenomena of Standing Waves, Dreams Involving Long-Lost Cats (Even If He Has Not Had Such a Dream Himself), And the Amazing Durability of Various Forms of Weakness

 

Forced By This Title to Write a Poem in Third Person About Himself, the Poet Considers the Phenomena of Standing Waves, Dreams Involving Long-Lost Cats (Even If He Has Not Had Such a Dream Himself), And the Amazing Durability of Various Forms of Weakness

Five White cat always made sure no rats gnawed my books.
— Mei Yao-ch’en

His brain is squirming like a toad.
— Jim Morrison

 

Standing by the water, the poet wonders if,
as in this dream, his dead dog and Five White

might seize the separate ends of a rope and blend
their tugs, matching highs and lows, growls and purrs,

with near stillness, dawn to dusk and back again,
always equal, sharing through death their love

of work and honor. He throws a small branch
and asks the dog’s ghost to fetch, but it remains

at his side, as if reluctant to leave. How to release
what you no longer hold? Shadows disappear in direct

light, but always return at its departure. The
raindrop remains intact through its long plummet.

Words, though unspoken, hang like lofted kites
awaiting a new wind, a separate rhythm,

beyond compassion. He cannot hear it
but joins his dog in singing. The cat yowls along.

 

This piece first appeared in deLuge in fall 2016, and was drafted during the August 2015 30-30 challenge. Thanks to Jeff Schwaner for providing the title (which I edited for publication).

 

 

Self-Portrait with Umeboshi (with recording)

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Self-Portrait with Umeboshi

Our resemblance strengthens each day.

Reddened by sun and shiso,
seasoned with salt,

we preside, finding
comfort in failure. Or does
the subjugation of one’s flavor for another’s

define defeat? The bitter, the sour, the sweet
attract and repel

like lovers separated by distances
too subtle to see.
Filling space becomes the end.
What do you learn when you look through the glass?

Knowing my fate, I say fallen. I say earth.

 

Ah, simplicity! When I was a child my mother would occasionally serve rice balls in which a single mouth-puckering umeboshi rested at the center. These have long been a favorite, but I admit that umeboshi might be an acquired taste. Commonly called “pickled plums,” ume aren’t really plums but are more closely related to apricots. I cherish them.

“Self-Portrait with Umeboshi” first appeared in the Silver Birch Press Self-Portrait Series (August 2014), was included in the subsequent print anthology, Self-Portrait Poetry Collection, and also appears in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

 

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Music: “Senbazuru” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Chill (Cento)

silhouette


Chill (Cento) 

I shiver a little, with the evening,
and you print a shadow like a thin twig.

Wait for my death, then hear me again.
He believes a pomegranate is a thesaurus,

the thundercloud, tomorrow’s puddle. Is
this hunger unlike that of others?

When a drowning man calls out,
his voice follows him downstream.

Why am I grown so cold?

 

 

A cento is composed of lines borrowed from other poets. “Chill” owes its existence to: James Wright, H.D., Ingeborg Bachmann, Eduardo C. Corral, Blaga Dimitrova, Forrest Gander, Yusuf Komunyakaa, and Adelaide Crapsey.

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“Chill” first appeared on the blog in March, 2016, and was subsequently published in Long Exposure in October 2016.

 

Even the Light

 

Even the Light

You look out and the sunbeam blinks –
a difference in brightness
on the drooping seeds.

Some days nothing gets done.
We live with the unwashed,
with stacks of mail, the unfolded,

the incomplete. Phrases pop out
only to crawl away, and later,
reincarnated in other forms,

embed themselves just under
the skin, calcifying. Scratch
as you might, no relief appears.

Your tongue grows heavy
from shaping these words.
Even the light subtracts.

 

* * *

 

“Even the Light” was published in the May 2017 issue of La Presa.

 

 

Yellow, Lost (with recording)

 

 

Yellow, Lost

The forgotten poem, existing in title only: Yellow.

Which is a bruise at three weeks, or memory’s shade in autumn.

In what black folder does it hide? In which blinding light?

I take comfort in primaries, lose sleep at the edges.

Where fraying begins and annotation dwindles to scrawled lines.

Above the bones and flesh of the Egyptian gods. Above my books.

Within these lost minutes. Those moons, bereaved. The hours.

Desire germinates even after our rainless decades. Yellow, again.

The color of sulfur (the devil’s realm) or the traitor’s door.

Of cowardice and warning. Of aging and decay.

How to recover what’s sifted away, the residue of our loves?

Each day more bits break off, never to be reattached.

But you, I blend with the sky, perfecting trees, the grass.

 

* * *

“Yellow, Lost” was published in wildness, Issue no. 10, in October 2017. wildness is an imprint of Platypus Press, which published my work Interval’s Night, a mini-digital chapbook, in December 2016 in their 2412 series. If you’re not familiar with wildness, check it out. In fall 2016 Poets & Writers named it in their article Nine New Lit Mags You Need to Read.

 

Another Goodbye

 

Another Goodbye

Look: my windblown self, laid open,
or, another insolent word
like the wing of that crested bird
rephrased and tossed aside, broken.

This hill is a rocky ocean
of thorn and desire, absurd
in winter’s glaze, another slurred
and curtained morning forgotten.

Now lost habitats surround me.
Dead brush and loose skin drape my nights.
Remember, what is past, has passed.

The kettle whistles. I pour tea,
think of who I was. Oh, the delights
of leaving: nothing ever lasts.

 

* * *

“Another Goodbye” first appeared  in Grand Little Things, a publication that “embraces versification, lyricism, and formal poetry,” in July 2020.

Thank you, editor Patrick Key, for taking this piece.