White Mules and a Column of Smoke

vinyl

 

White Mules and a Column of Smoke

I am thinking of a place I’ve never seen or visited,
much like Heaven or Jot ‘Em Down, Texas, but with better
beverages and the advantage of hindsight and seasoning,
a glance back or to the peripheral, with a side of memory
and sliced, pickled jalapeños topping a pile of imagination.

And how do we so clearly remember what never occurred?
That book I read in 1970 was first published three years
later. A drowned childhood acquaintance ordered a beer
and sat next to me at a party in college. The open fields
I recall from the garden walls in France, where homes stood.

If only we carried with us slide shows or grooved vinyl
to trace back our lives – photos and recordings of those daily
remembrances – detailed notes indexed on cards, or data
embedded in our palms and accessed by eye twitches.
Would such evidence improve our lives?

Which filters shutter moments and thoughts, twist them
into balloon animals we no longer recognize? False
accusations and convictions aside, can we trust what we
know to be true? That oak stands where it has for four
decades. I bleed when cut. The sky still leers above us.

 

 

“White Mules and a Column of Smoke” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge. I am grateful to Natalie Butler, who sponsored the poem and whose photo inspired me.

 

With These Nine Figures

zero sign

“With These Nine Figures” is included in Purifying Wind (now available as an Ebook for $4.99,  and in print for $12.00), an anthology of pieces about or mentioning vultures.

 

With These Nine Figures

   … and with the sign 0…any number may be written.

                                                                 Leonardo of Pisa (Fibonacci)

We attain from emptiness and the Sanskrit shoonya, from safira and sifr, zero.
As in unoccupied, as in void, as in what brims the homeland of null.
I once counted thirty-four black vultures orbiting my neighbor’s hill.
Despite appearing in Mayan codices, they neither sing nor cipher.
Fibonacci’s Book of the Abacus introduced the decimal system to Europe.
Regarding the tyranny of mathematics, is nothing something?
From alterity to belonging, its provenance assumes an absence of being.
Which is not to suggest xenophobia or superiority in order.
Whether depicted by empty space, wedges, or hooks, it held place.
Representation not of the object, but of its purpose, its path.
Black vultures do not smell carrion, but pillage from those that can.
Obliterative in the west wind, subtractive, unbound, they spiral.
Are the circlers in the sky symptomatic or merely symbolic?
Comparing negative infinity to its positive sister, I observe their way.

 

 

* * *

“With These Nine Figures” originally appeared, with a companion recording, in Clade Song in summer 2013. I had asked a friend for five or six words to use in a poem. She provided tyranny, emptiness, xenophobia, pillage and at least one other that I’ve forgotten. But it wasn’t nothing.

SONY DSC

Waiting for the Windshield on the Freeway

brick

 

Waiting for the Windshield on the Freeway

Take velocity into account, figure height and distance,
add trajectory plus time, then let her rip. Billy likes solid
paving stones, while I prefer hollow cinder blocks. Karen
chooses traditional red bricks, as she lacks the upper body
strength to throw anything heavier. What she’s missing in
muscle, she makes up with accuracy – one bull’s-eye last
month, with three kills to her credit. Imagine driving down
the highway, singing along with Toby Keith when wham,
a brick spiderwebs your windshield and without thinking you
mash down the brakes and the idiot tailgating you crunches
your rear end, launching you off the road and into the muddy
ditch, while another obliviot crashes into him – Karen’s work.
The only time I’ve seen her smile. Billy says she’s meaner
than me and the old man put together, which is quite the
compliment. We don’t see each other often, but Daddy’s
up for parole in a few months, and if his lying has improved,
well, who knows. Billy’s aim ain’t much – he’s managed
to dent a few roofs and truck beds, and caused a Ford
F-150 to swerve, but that’s about it. Me, I’m hunting the big
game, the 18-wheelers. I got a good feeling about tonight.

 

“Waiting for the Windshield on the Freeway” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, and ten days later was featured on Algebra of Owls. Thanks to Leigh Smith for sponsoring the poem and providing the title, and editor Paul Vaughan for choosing this piece. 

Trains

file0001582779533


Trains

1

In the marrowbone of night,
your song parts the fog.

I never knew the secrets entrusted there.

I never knew that cinders and steel
could lie so passionately

and still believe that the watchman’s hours
would evaporate and leave us scratching for more.

I have stolen time.

The windows remain closed and shuttered.
Even the wind turns away.

The track narrows.

You call.

Again.

2

Sometimes song seems the only respite,
the rhythm of clashing cars

and moments stretched beyond the next bend
to that point where light winks out.

We both know this lonely tunnel.

Payment is due.

I have always exited alone.

3

Another evening, and red smoke completes the horizon.

Your ribs stretch for distance,
and while I cannot see their end,
I know by sound
their lot.

Sing for me.
It is not
too close.

 

 

“Trains” was originally published in Lightning’d Press (Issue 8) in Spring of 2014, was reprinted on Aubade Rising in April, 2015, and has appeared here several times. It is also included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

track

Knots

knot

 

Knots

Who you are not seldom rises
beyond midnight’s

sum: one strand thrown over
another, looped through

and pulled taut, achieving
tension and a sour taste

at the back of your throat.
Everyone believes this

doesn’t bleed. I lock the
windows, draw the shades,

twist the cord. Even distracted,
nothing comes undone.

 

modern light MGD©

 

“Knots” first appeared here in June 2016.

 

Roof Charm

roofmoon

 

Roof Charm

What is home if not exile to the familiar?

A serrated kiss at the closet door.

We duck our heads and cook meals undercover,
the sun’s rays deflected.

And every relentless     day finds
our hands     wanting.

The black shawl, unfolded.
Wax melted on the whetstone.

You say stars shiver despite their light.

You say one hand      mirrors its mate’s      arc.

I say warmth flows through you, the roof     our sky.

 

glare

 

“Roof Charm” made its first appearance here in June 2016.

 

The Sky Refutes East and West

nest

The Sky Refutes East and West

Here, the horizon lingers.
The open eye, the mouth’s shape.

A hoop, the circle without iris.

Does the screech owl acknowledge latitude and hemisphere?

The Semitic alphabet contained no vowels, thus O
emerged as a consonant with a pupil, morphing into a dotted ring,

and later, with the Greeks, an unembellished circle (which of course

they cracked open and placed at the end). The female lays eggs

on the remnants of earlier meals lining the bottom of her den.
If you listen at night you might hear the purring of a feathered

cat (the Texas screech owl’s call varies from that of its eastern cousins).

The difference between sphere and ball.

To pronounce the Phoenician word for eye, sing the lowest note possible,
then drop two octaves. They usually carry prey back to their nests.

Screech owls are limited to the Americas.

Coincidence and error, the circumference of other.

 

***

“The Sky Refutes East and West” was first published in Prime Number Magazine, and also appears in my chapbook The Circumference of Other, included in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks (Silver Birch Press, 2015). It made its first appearance here in May 2016.

eastwest

Between

between

 

Between

1

Living between, we watch what flows below us shed itself.

And what remains after the drought subsides?

I don’t recall the instance of assignation, of color-imprinted
awareness and stones erupting from the earth,

nor the paper’s texture and the faint odor of chemicals reacting,
but in this moment I embrace bitter coffee, the wrecked-nerve

hammer-strikes pulsing from hip to ankle, squealing brakes
and the rain shallowing morning’s ridge as if to say

enjoy me now
for I may never return
.

2

Faith flickers in the wind, darting among the weeds.

Risen from payment, penalty, punishment, revenge, the word pain
establishes justification where none need exist.

Interpreting light and sound, scent and heat, we converse.

The dog shivers in bed and I lay a towel over her,
affixing content to involuntary movement.

Stepping through space, crossing the stream.

Those things we don’t know.

Three feet below me the snake’s head ripples towards the far side,
a V of turbulence dissecting the calm.

Everything that can be contained contains us as we in turn
envelop one another. I take your hand and press forward.

3

Connected, we part, only to return and part again.

My hand stopped inches away and the diamondback slithered off
under the workbench, seeking peace.

Abandoned skin, abandoned words. Even the cactus grows thirsty.

The paradox of becoming what you are not. Today, sitting hurts
and standing provides little relief.

In one of two halves I find myself. In the other, your laughter rings.

Like rumblings of earthen discontent or the hiss of air
exiting waterless pipes, we emerge, aimless, exhausted.

Inhabiting one world, we seek others.

 

* * *

“Between” appeared in Clade Song, one of my favorite poetry journals, in August 2016. 

 

 

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

 

Bone to Bone

chimes


Bone to Bone

He claims two sides frame every story.

I count three,      sometimes more,

believing in          multiplicity,

threats                concealed

but never

buried.      A dust devil twists across the path.
What ascends, what dies?

Heat, ashes.       A shadow’s flesh.

The earth, restraining all.

 

small town

“Bone to Bone” first appeared here in June 2016.