Scarecrow Dreams

 

Scarecrow Dreams

If by night I move without aid,
what then? Precious flesh, precious
bone, never mine to lose – the difference
between nothingness and no thing. A
pity that my friends fly at the merest
movement, but when the air’s breath
stills, they sing and rattle among the
grain, scribing their days in song
and footprints, seeking the available
on the ground. And what scrolls lower
than the sound of sunflowers turning?
The laughing daughter runs around
my lattice spine, scattering joy like so
many seeds, and when my hollow
fingers clench, the earth quivers, or
so it seems. Then midnight returns
and I disengage and stalk about,
scaring rodents and their predators,
hooting in harmony with the owls
reveling in the night air, remembering
the holy shirt, a yellow glove, corn
silk’s gleam at noon and the warmth
of your fingers against my burlap skin.
I do not breathe, I say, but I exist. By
morning what joins me but the tune
of yet another bird, unseen, melodious,
the pulse of morning’s dew. Eternity.
How my straw tongue longs to sip it.

 

“Scarecrow Dreams” first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of Eclectica. Many thanks to poetry editor Jen Finstrom, for publishing several of my scarecrow poems.

Helsinki (with recording)

Helsinki

Helsinki

An editor said never start a poem at a window,
so instead I’m looking at the door,

which is made of glass. We are to avoid rain,
too, but it streaks the pane in such delicious

patterns that I can’t help but pretend to be someone else
in a foreign city, perhaps Helsinki, sipping black coffee

with a mysterious woman younger than my daughter
(who also does not exist), whose interests

in me are purely literary, although she straightens
my collar with lingering, scented fingers. Garden

memories and birds must never populate our lines,
but corpses are fine, as are tube tops and bananas

and any combination thereof. I finish my coffee
and wander alone through cobblestone streets,

stepping over clichés when possible, kicking them
aside when my hip joint argues, or simply accepting

their useful limitations when nothing else works.
Unknown and lacking credentials, I shrug, go on

past the closed doors behind which unseen bodies
perform the most bizarre and sensual solo dances,

or not, and shadows cook sausages over fire
and the grease spattering onto the tiled counters

issues a fragrance that awakens neighborhood dogs
and maybe a dozing stall-keeper at the market

where cloudberries are sometimes found.
I know little of Finland, and less of myself,

and then there’s poetry, which remains a blank
frame, a frosted pane I’ll never truly unlatch.

* * *

My poem “Helsinki” was first published at Panoply. It was inspired in part by a Facebook thread on which editors commented on what caused them to instantly reject poems. One said beginning a poem at a window was cause for rejection. Hence the first line.

Calvin Coolidge — Live or Memorex?

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This poem is dedicated to the memory of haiku master and good friend Ron Evans, who provided and sponsored the title for the Tupelo Press 30/30 fundraiser challenge I participated in during August 2015. Ron passed away in September 2018. I miss our pun-filled exchanges, his zany sense of humor and our wide-ranging discussions. Life continues, but the light has dimmed…

Calvin Coolidge — Live or Memorex?

They say the wind in Alvarado bypasses closed doors, slips through
book-laden walls and plate glass and into your dreams where it circles
and accumulates, whirling, whirling, steadily gaining force, gathering
loose pages and errant thoughts and memories too combustible to
burn, ignoring time’s compression and the gravity of dying suns, forever
counting, talking, thinking, looking up and out between the long nights.

unable to sleep           he opens a window          daring the wind

The 30th President of the United States breathes and writes at the junction
of an invisible house and a wheat field in Alvarado, in the guise of a
74-year old haiku poet. No longer the solemn ass, Cal laughs and speaks
and observes his two birthdays, recalling Harding’s scandals and Dorothy
Parker’s “How can they tell?” with equal relish. Sometimes he dresses
in tails and top hat, and speaks in 17-syllable phrases. Sometimes.

spitting out sake            in the shadow’s glare            death forestalled

Alvarado’s laureate is leaving it all behind – the presidency, the books,
the kolaches – catching the next breeze out of town, a silver-tongued
dust devil riding the word, spewing puns all the way to Indiana. But
buried in a waterproof box near Oswald’s grave, 314 cassette tapes
capable of shattering crystal carry his voice further than their unwound
lengths, whirring incessantly, celebrating life, praising the long wind.

standing in the sun          wisdom blows by          no questions today

alamo3

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

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.

Dispatches from the Pandemic: This Old Desk

Dispatches from the Pandemic: This Old Desk

This old desk whispers hints of lives lived in separate peripheries, of unseen treasures and thoughts and deeds. Whose fountain pen scrawled love notes on the inlaid leather pullout, which daughter broke a crystal finger bowl and wept for a lost pet? What books rested behind these glass doors? What curiosities? Old pocket knives, polished stones? Spent cartridges? And in these slots? Perhaps perfume bottles and note pads. Or unanswered letters and a worn deck of playing cards. A tin box of regrets, another of joy.

Haiku and Whitman
mingling behind beveled glass
Look: my mother’s ashtray

The desk and I are slowly making our acquaintance. I pledge that I will never take its untold history for granted, that I’ll respect its presence and do my utmost to fill it with purpose, with cherished objects and the satisfaction of good work. In turn it offers me solidity, an altar at which to sit and think, to rearrange words, create lists, read, conjure fantasies, breathe. I’ve only just realized that I’ve lacked such a base since abandoning my Texas shack fifteen months ago.

Another window
frames the distant crow
Home at last!

Untitled from the 80s

Another untitled poem from the 80s…

wood and water
the wave of
fragrance so perfect

we seek to
obtain it as
if we could

be windows open
to a light
the gentlest cloud

would obscure still
spreading like one’s
final exhalation which

travels only to
disperse and become
at last another’s

This first appeared here in June 2017.

 

In the Fifth Chamber Lies the Hour’s End

pump

 

In the Fifth Chamber Lies the Hour’s End

To fairly allocate irrigation resources, the Persians measured time with water,
sinking a bowl in a larger vessel and tallying the count with pebbles.

And what is time but counting, determining the number of units within a set?

The sum of beats between silences and their diminishing echoes?

Its symbol in the West grew from fig and ivy leaves, while early medical
illustrations depicted pine cone-shaped organs.

In most reptilians, the aorta receives only oxygenated blood.

Qanats pump by gravity. The hagfish’s second resides in its tail.

Recognize the empty as full. Squeezed shut, we open.
Contraction and flow, ejection, inflow, relaxation.

Emotion as electrical impulse. Murmuring valves. The color red.

The fifth chamber remains silent and undetected.

The primitive fish’s chambers are arranged sequentially, but in an S-shape.
Ancients believed arteries transported air through the body.

The Buddhist figure, too, originated in leaves, symbolizing not love

but enlightenment. The ache of failure confounds us.

 

mechanical heart

“In the Fifth Chamber Lies the Hour’s End” was first posted here in May 2016.

 

While Blowing on the Shakuhachi I Think of Birds

While Blowing on the Shakuhachi, I Think of Birds

Yesterday’s sorrow
dissipates in joy.
Though you are not here, I hear your voice,

blow a solitary note in response.
Your philosopher bird carries it to you,
two-thousand miles away,
as the wren brings your song to me.

This is love today
and tomorrow, 
embodied in birdsong and faith.

Next week I will know your touch
as you will mine.

We’ll follow our lists,
starting with lips, while the universe
surges around us, filling the voids we never saw.

Needs, answered.

Perhaps the world will end.

Perhaps the red-tailed hawk will follow its nature.

Perhaps I will stand on the roof and shout your name.

But today, this little bird nesting in all the unsaid spaces,
is all I have, little mouth flickering, forming moons and

new mornings, new shadows, new light.

* * *

“While Blowing on the Shakuhachi I Think of Birds” first appeared in Voices de la Luna in March 2020.

The Art of Flight

DSC_1050

 

The Art of Flight

What wings accumulate is not air
but space, an exemplar

of restraint defied. I listen
and hear feathers

ruffling in the shadows,
a vibration that swells

until it becomes flight or
regret, the retrieval of our

bodies from this dream of ascent.
The art of flight is one of

disturbance, of angles and lift
and touching what can’t be seen.

What we hold carries no meaning.
The beauty lies in the gathering.

 

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I wrote this piece in the mid-80s, and posted it here in 2015. I’d forgotten about it, until I found the original moldering in a box of old papers. It’s okay, for an artifact from another life…

Cardinal

 

Cardinal

Question: what is air if not
the means by which we

see and feel? Sound creates only
itself, another version of the original

sense. I move from shadows to a deeper
darkness, hoping to find that point where absence
ends. But there is no end, only

continuation, a cry for those
who offer their hands in ambiguity. Sometimes
a cardinal’s call fills our

morning with questions. So
little of all we touch
is felt. We are the air. The air is.

 

 

Another poem from the 80s. I was obsessed with birds even back then…