Self-Portrait as Compost

 

Self-Portrait as Compost

Beneath the surface find warmth,
the fruit of decay and mastication,
of layered mixes and intermingled
juices. Disintegrated or whole,
still I strive to speak. Bits of me
meld, to be absorbed slowly; I
process and am processed: here,
within the pepper bush’s deep red
berries, there among the dianthus.
Scattered, deliberately placed,
having been, I shall emerge again,
forever changed, limitless, renewed.

 

* * *

 

“Self-Portrait as Compost” was first published in Issue 125 of Right Hand PointingThank you to editors Dale Wisely, Laura M. Kaminski, F. John Sharp and José Angel Araguz for taking this piece.

 

 

The End of Something

 

The End of Something

I would never pin this silence
to a board, but her anger tempers
sunset, and my response remains
contained. The paper stars
I nailed to the bookcase rustle
when the door opens. She
swallows wine, I sip tea
and offer no explanations.

 

 

“The End of Something”  first appeared in Volume 3 of Lamplit Underground. Thank you, Janna Grace, for taking these pieces.

Lamplit Underground is a beautifully illustrated publication. Please take a look!

 

Countdown #1: My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar (with recording)

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Self-Portrait as Hoot Owl

 

Self-Portrait as Hoot Owl

Who do you think I am, what will
grace serve, where in this moonless
void might you lie, can we echo
through the hours and never attach
ourselves to one discernable tree?
Is query my only song? Is sadness
yours? Wrapped around these
priceless silhouettes, our voices
merge downhill near the creek’s
rustle, below the seeping clouds
and stars yet somehow above the
night and tomorrow’s slow ascent
into more questions, more doubt.

 

* * *

“Self-Portrait as Hoot Owl” first appeared in Issue 125 of Right Hand PointingThank you to editors Dale Wisely, Laura M. Kaminski, F. John Sharp and José Angel Araguz for taking this piece.

 

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.

 

A Word is Not a Home

  

 

A Word is Not a Home

A word is not a home
but we set our tables

between its walls,
cook meals, annoy

friends, abuse ourselves.
Sometimes I misplace

one, and can’t find
my house, much less

the window’s desk
or the chair behind it.

But if I wait, something
always takes form in the fog,

an arm, a ribcage, a feathered
hope struggling to emerge.

Inept, I take comfort
in these apparitions,

accept their offerings,
lose myself in mystery,

find shelter there
in the hollowed curves.

 

 

Poem Ending with a Whimper

 

Poem Ending with a Whimper

The best liar wins.

You can’t stop talking
and the truth embedded in strands
frays with each word slipping
from your cruel mouth.

If I tilt my head just so, I see God.

Or what passes for God at the periphery:
a fly stain on the window, the redness
at the eye’s corner, the shrike’s beak.

Silence fills me daily

and trickles out in utterances and sighs
meant only for you.

Who lies best?

I look to the ground for answers.

What replies is a tail between its legs,
a headless shrug,            a whimper.

 

 

“Poem Ending with a Whimper” was published in Volume 3 of Lamplit Underground. Thank you, Janna Grace, for taking these pieces.

Lamplit Underground is a beautifully illustrated publication. Please take a look!

 

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.

 

 

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.

Onions

image

Onions

My knife never sings but hums instead when withdrawn from its block, a metallic whisper so modest only the wielder may hear it. Or perhaps the dog, who seems to enjoy the kitchen nearly as much as I. A Japanese blade, it’s a joy to hold, perfectly balanced, stainless steel-molybdenum alloy, blade and handle of one piece, bright, untarnished, and so sharp as to slide through, rather than awkwardly rupture and divide, its next task on the board.

We’ve never counted the chopped and rendered onions, the fine dice, slender rings and discarded skins, but if we could gather all the corpses we’ve produced together over the years, we’d form a monument to our work, cooperation of metal and man, a Waterloo mound in memory of the bulbs laid there, the planning involved, the missteps and serendipity, and the tears shed along the way.

The blade doesn’t care. It is. It works. It moves things, it lifts, it parts them, and in return is cleansed, and later, in the quiet room, maintains its edge with a silvery rasp, angled steel on steel in a circular motion, over and over, until finally it hums its way back into the block. But it never sings.

image

“Onions” last appeared here in December 2019. Hmm. This reminds me (again) that I need to sharpen knives…

Alas, my bout with COVID-19 has rendered me incapable of, or unwilling to, cut into onions. Parosmia has reared its ugly head, and now onions, garlic, bacon, peppers, arugula and hoppy ales among other beloved foods emit odors resembling a mix of raw sewage, mildewed peat moss and burnt wood. Ah, 2020!