Sleepless

 

 

Sleepless

One night exhausts another,
layering sheets and blankets,
wrinkles and folds. Oh, the
body wants to still the mind,
and shedding this weight,
float freely through the night.
Your memory of sleep’s touch
withers as you lie there,
absorbing the fan’s pattern.
How wonderful, then, to finally
drift across the room and settle
in that relaxed corner, among the
cobwebs and shadows and those
frustrated hours now set aside.

 

“Sleepless: first appeared here in October 2017.

 

 

Feeling Squeezed at the Grocery Store I Conclude that the Propensity to Ignore Pain is Not Necessarily Virtuous, but Continue Shopping and Gather the Ingredients for Ham Fried Rice because That’s What I Cook When My Wife is Out-of-Town and I’m Not in the Mood for Italian, and Dammit I’m Not Ill, Merely a Little Inconvenienced, and Hey, in the 70’s I Played Football in Texas and When the Going Gets Tough…

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Feeling Squeezed at the Grocery Store I Conclude that the Propensity to Ignore Pain is Not Necessarily Virtuous, but Continue Shopping and Gather the Ingredients for Ham Fried Rice because That’s What I Cook When My Wife is Out-of-Town and I’m Not in the Mood for Italian, and Dammit I’m Not Ill, Merely a Little Inconvenienced, and Hey, in the 70’s I Played Football in Texas, and When the Going Gets Tough…

I answer work email in the checkout line. Drive home, take two aspirin.
Place perishables in refrigerator.  Consider collapsing in bed.  Call wife.
Let in dog.  Drive to ER, park.  Provide phone numbers. Inhale. Exhale.
Repeat. Accept fate and morphine. Ask for lights and sirens, imagine the
seas parting. On the table, consider fissures and cold air, windows and
hagfish. Calculate arm-length, distance and time.  Expect one  insertion,
receive another. Dissonance  in perception, in reality.  Turn head when
asked.  Try reciting Kinnell’s  “The Bear.”  Try again, silently this  time.
Give up.  Attempt “Ozymandias.”  Think of dark highways. Wonder about
the femoral, when and how they’ll remove my jeans. Shiver uncontrollably.

football

The events in this poem took place more than eight years ago. A lifetime ago.

Letter to Geis from This Side of the Glass

 

Letter to Geis from This Side of the Glass

Dear Greg: I can’t help but think about windows, their
function, their meanings, intended and otherwise, how
they block some entities but allow others entrance. A
black vulture feather lies just on the other side of this
pane, but the laws of material and physics prevent me
from reaching through and claiming it. Maybe I’d
sharpen the end, dip it into squid ink and write letters.
Or not. Cephalopods are scarce in the hill country,
unlike carrion birds, wild hogs and scorpions, and frankly,
ballpoint pens require less maintenance. Lately, the
opaque has redirected my attention — no matter which
government agency speaks, I feel surrounded by their
pseudomorphs, those little indistinct clouds of mucus and
dark pigment released to confuse and numb me. A common
occurrence, I hear, and all the more frightening for it. I
think of where we’re headed, collectively and individually,
and even knowing that our destination remains unchanged
offers small comfort. One foot at a time, the steps matter,
and though it appears we won’t share those planned brews
in Bandera, I’ll chuckle over our last meeting there and
dream up a conversation about futility and compromise,
and yes, success. I’ve just spent twenty minutes trying to
help a yellow jacket escape. It wouldn’t leave the glass even
after I left the door ajar, allowing a fly to enter. Instead,
it gazed out at the hazy morning, seeking a way through
refraction’s oblique path. Finally, shepherded with my bare
hand, it reluctantly skittered to the jamb, and I coaxed it
the final few inches by pushing it with the door. Such
are my days. A little faith, some hope, luck and a great
unknowing. This window seems cloudy, or is it just
my eyes? I miss you, buddy, as do the hills and the sky
and everything nestled and bustling between.  Bob

 

 

 

This first appeared in May 2020 in the Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art. D.G. Geis was a friend, a larger than life  poet, and a fellow Texan. We were both finalists for the Slippery Elm poetry prize in 2017, and after learning that we didn’t win, decided to have a “losers’ lunch” in Bandera, Texas, the closest town to our respective rural properties. Much laughter ensued, and we made plans to get together for a beer in the coming months. Alas, that was not to be.

 

 

Calm

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Calm (after H.D.)

I flow over the ground,
healing its hidden scar–
the scar is black,
the bedrock risen,
not one stone is misplaced.

I relieve the ground’s
burden with white froth,
I fill and comply—
I have thrown a pebble
into the night,
it returns to me,
settles and rises,
a white dove.

 

* * *

“Calm” is included in my micro-chapbook Only This, which is available via free download from Origami Poems Project. It made its first appearance here on the blog in March 2015, and was written as an exercise, using a poem, “Storm,” by H.D. as the launching point. I’ve tried to emulate her diction and rhythm, with mixed success. Still, it’s fun to try these on occasion.

 

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Letter from Austin

perfection

 

Letter from Austin

Michael, when you say moons do you see
cold stone floating in the firmament
or phrases frayed in the mouth and spat on paper?
And does the Spanish moon simmer at a similar
pace to mine or yours? Which embers blush brighter?
But let’s turn to estuaries, to salt and clamor and gun-
running poets and interrupted words sold in stalls
between parenthetical gates, to incomparable cavas
and the deterioration of envy and intervening years.
Or perhaps mislaid passion – a friend claims love
is merely a bad rash, that we scratch and scratch
and inflame but never truly cure what ails us. Sounds like
politics to me. Or sports. And business. Or neighborhoods.
On my street people should cook and play music together,
laugh, raise chickens and read good books. They should
brew beer, swap tomatoes, recite each other’s poetry and sing
in tune. But we’re different here, preferring instead electronics
glowing in dimly lighted rooms. I reject this failure, as I also
reject the theory of centrifugal force spinning off the moon’s
body from the earth’s crust, preferring to imagine a giant
impact blasting matter into orbit around what morphed into the
earth, and somehow accreting the stuff into this orb we
sometimes worship. This, to me, is how good relationships
form: explosions of thought and emotion followed by periods
of accretion. But what I mean is I hope this finds you well
by the river of holy sacrament. Remember: brackish water
bisects our worlds. Turn. Filter. Embrace. Gotta run. Bob.

 

Originally published in Heron Clan 3, this first appeared on the blog in July 2015.

My friend Michael occasionally sends hand-written notes or letters to me, and I respond with poems. This is one. You might read some of his writing at Underfoot Poetry.

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My Essay “Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand” is featured on Alison McGhee’s excellent Words by Winter podcast.

I’m delighted to report that this essay is featured in Alison McGhee’s Words by Winter podcast.

If you haven’t listened to Alison’s podcasts, you’re in for a treat! Yes, they focus on poetry, but there’s much more. Spend some time with her.

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!

* * *

Obsession: Books, or, Poetry Finds Me

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In another life books framed my days. I slept with them, dreamt about them, woke to their presence stacked by the bed and in various corners throughout the house, read them, handled them, discussed their merits with friends, co-workers, beer-drinking buddies, bartenders, customers, strangers, relatives, and even enemies. Traced my fingers slowly down their spines, identified some by odor alone, others by weight and feel. Bought, sold, cleaned, lent, skimmed, traded, gave, borrowed, collected, repaired, preserved, received. Traveled to acquire more, returned home to find still others languishing in never-opened, partially read or barely touched states. There were always too many. There were never enough.

The relationship began innocently. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of five, and over the years developed a knack for uncovering uncommon modern first editions. I’d walk into a thrift shop and spot a copy of William Kennedy’s first novel, The Ink Truck, snuggling up to Jane Fonda’s workout book, for a buck. Or at a small town antique store, something especially nice, perhaps a near-fine first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, would leer at me from a dark shelf – $1.50. John Berryman’s Poems (New Directions, 1942) found me at a garage sale, for a quarter. Good Will yielded Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. There were others, of course. Many others.

I partnered with a few like-minded friends and opened a store, and when that didn’t work out, started my own home-based book business, which eventually expanded into a small brick-and-mortar shop, a true labor of love. And I mean labor. The forlorn space we rented was cheap and had housed for years a low-end, illicit massage parlor. Cleaning it out was, oh, shall we say interesting? I’ll never forget the furry massage table, the naked lady lamp or the various implements left behind after the joint was finally forced to close. But we hauled out the filthy carpeting, stripped and refinished the hardwood floors, fixed, painted and patched what we could, and hid what we couldn’t. It was exhausting, but well worth the toil.

My work schedule ran from Monday through Sunday, a minimum of eighty hours a week – in a seven-year period, I took off only two long weekends. It consumed me, but in the end I emerged mostly intact, a little more aware of my proclivities, of an unhealthy tendency to immerse myself wholly into an enthusiasm, to the detriment of family and friends. When we sold our store’s wares, I embraced the change; some dreams simply deplete you. But the itch remained.

Just a few weeks ago I found myself perusing an accumulation of books in a storage facility across the street from a junk shop in Llano, Texas, a small county seat an hour’s drive west of my home on the outskirts of Austin. The shop’s owner had purchased an English professor’s estate, and judging by the collection, the professor had specialized in poetry. My first thought was “I want it all,” but reason set in (I could very well imagine my wife’s reaction were I to arrive home with a trailerful of books) so I glanced over the criticism, fiction, drama, essays and biographies, and concentrated on the poetry. In the end I walked away with thirty-one books, including H.D.’s Red Roses for Bronze (Chatto & Windus, 1931), Randall Jarrell’s Little Friend, Little Friend, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems and Questions of Travel, a brace of Berrymans – His Toy, His Dream, His Rest and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet – both the U.S. and U.K. first editions, which differ – and Love & Fame. A good haul, to say the least, but one that left me only partially satisfied and contemplating a return. But I remain resolute. So far.

As I said, the itch remains…

* * *

This first appeared here in April 2015, and yes, the itch is still there. The pandemic has prevented me from haunting used bookstores as I’d imagined I would. But someday…

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Love, Scattered (Cento)

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Love, Scattered (Cento)

I cull and offer this and this,
and these last definite whorls

or later star or flower, such
rare dark in another world,

outdistancing us, madness
upon madness, the crest

and hollow, the lift and fall,
ah drift, so soft, so light,

where rollers shot with blue
cut under deeper blue as the

tide slackens when the roar of
a dropped wave breaks into it,

and under and under, this
is clear—soft kisses like bright

flowers— why do you dart and
pulse till all the dark is home?

I am scattered in its whirl.

 

* * *

This cento is composed exclusively of lines taken from fifteen pages in the Collected Poems of H.D., 6th printing, 1945. Hilda Doolittle is a fascinating figure in 20th century American poetry. You might look at the Poetry Foundation’s biography for further information:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/h-d

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I Live in My Winter


I Live in My Winter

Removed from the junipers’
fragrance, separated from
prickly pears gracing
the hill, limestone slabs
jutting from thin soil,
and smoke drifting from
a well laid fire on a cold
night. Old, today, I
call the clouds my
birthright, want only
to merge with them
and rain through
another black coffee
in this unfamiliar place,
this new home,
this welcome peace.