If You Drop Leaves

 

If You Drop Leaves

If you drop leaves when she walks by,
does that signify grief for those
cut down early,

or merely drought?
How easily we abandon and forget.

Yet a whiff of lemon verbena or the light
bouncing from a passing Ford
can call them back,

tiny sorrows ratcheted in sequence
above the cracked well casing

but below the shingles
and near the dwindling shade
tracing its outline on the lawn.

And what do you whisper
alone at night within sight
of sawn and stacked siblings?

Do you suffer anger by way
of deadfall or absorption,

bark grown around and concealing
a penetrating nail, never shedding
tears, never sharing one moment

with another. Offered condolences,
what might you say? Pain earns no
entrance. Remit yourselves.

 

* * *

“If You Drop Leaves” was published at Bad Pony in November 2017. Many thanks to editor Emily Corwin for taking this piece.

While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

 

While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

And having no other paper at hand,
I scrawl on a dollar bill, “I want to speak
the language of smoke.” My invisible friend
interrupts. That is a white man’s dilemma.

 At least you have a dollar and a pen.
“But I’m only half-white,” I reply, “with half
the privilege.” Then you must bear double
the burden,
he says. This version of math

twists my intestines into a Gordian knot,
as does the concept of half equals twice,
or in terms I might better comprehend,
one beer equals four when divided by color

or accent and multiplied by projection.
The unsmiling waitress delivers my rib-eye
as I’m dressing the salad, and the check appears
just after the first bites of medium-rare beef

hit my palate, certainly before I can answer the
never-voiced question “would you like dessert?”
Cheese cake, I would have said. Or cobbler. And I
seldom turn down a second beer. This too, I’m told,

is another example of my unearned entitlement. I
contemplate this statement, scribble a few other
phrases on bills, drop them on the table, and walk out,
wondering which direction to take, which to avoid.

 

* * *

“While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me” was a finalist last fall for the Slippery Elm Prize in Poetry. It was published in Slippery Elm (print only) in December 2017. You may be amused to hear that shortly after the winner was announced, I had lunch in Bandera with one of the other finalists in this competition, D.G. Geis, but not at the restaurant featured in the poem. The photo is of a local bar, not the eatery, but it offers some of the flavor of the town.

Steps

 

Steps

Up or down, it’s all the same.

How the knee or hip strains under the planet’s
surge. Opposite, and unequally felt.

One knows pain, the other does not.

Forever spinning, we remain still,
moving in place. Wanting.

As the heart pumps,
stronger for its labor,
accustomed to the effort.

 

 

As the Gravy Flows

 

As the Gravy Flows

Viscosity is always a consideration, as is definition:
traditionally a sauce composed of meat juices and
thickeners, or, a sediment of melted tallow, which
somehow brings to mind a laborer rising early after
a hard night, eating red-eye, made of fried ham
drippings and coffee, served over grits. Or perhaps
an egg gravy – a béchamel sauce flavored by bacon,
with water and milk, and an egg – ladled over butter-
rubbed biscuits. But then I picture my vegetarian
friends pushing away from plates of this fine repast,
and not wishing to deny them or those following a vegan
lifestyle, we turn to roasted vegetables with broth, oils
and wine and a savory yeast extract. But I can’t fathom
a life without giblet gravy, which features the neck and
offal of fowl, including the liver, the taste of which may
be too strong for other recipes using giblets, an interesting
word in itself, from the Old French for a game-bird stew,
and the Middle English meaning of an inessential
appendage, or entrails, morphing to garbage. I would
never throw out an onion gravy, essentially a thick sauce
of slow-cooked onion and stock or wine, and admit to
having tasted a cream version with the consistency and
flavor of diluted paste, indicating a lack of balance in
flavor and poor roux-making technique. My favorite
would be an Italian-American buddy’s gravy, his word
for a rich ragù of sausage, braised beef and shredded
pork, red wine, tomatoes and herbs, served over pasta.
This of course stretches the definition of the word, but
language is elastic, is it not? So it flows, as does the gravy.

 

“As the Gravy Flows” was drafted during the August 2016 30/30 Challenge. Thank you to Lady Phoenix for sponsoring the poem and providing the title!

 

April 1 Online Reading

 

I’m looking forward to participating in an online reading with 12 other poets, including Charles Darnell, Martha K. Grant and Stephanie L. Harper, on Thirsday, April 1 at 7:00  p.m. US Central Daylight Savings Time.  The reading is sponsored by the Patrick Heath Public Library of Boerne, Texas, and is free, but you must email Robin Stauber (place Miracles in the subject line) at stauber@boernelibrary.org to obtain the invitation link.

The reading should last somewhere between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes (we’ve been asked to read for no more than five minutes). In case you’re wondering, I’m the 11th reader and Stephanie is the 13th. If you’re able to attend, we’d love to see you (if only virtually).

 

Creek Haibun

Creek Haibun

The creek’s waters flow so quickly that I make little headway in my attempt to cross. A water moccasin slips by, and my left boot takes on water. This is not real, I say. We’ve had no rain and I would not be so foolish as to do this. Asleep? Perhaps, but I’ve passed the halfway point and have no choice but to move forward. I slip and nearly pitch headfirst into the dark current. Lightning stitches the sky.

 

dreaming, the snake

swims against floodwaters

oh, what have I lost?

 

The Underbelly of This Seam

 

The Underbelly of This Seam

Slides beneath your gaze, unnoticed,
but the joining satisfies that particular

urge, combining two separates
into one whole, creating this new

piece. I thumb the string on every fourth
beat, anchor the cloth, pull it taut, and stitch.

What better material than air and silence?
Yesterday’s tune, tomorrow’s silk?

A fine breath zigzagged down the edge – frayed
lines, beneath, on the other side, testifying

to the struggles of the unseen. I exhale,
strike another note. You hum something new.

 

* * *

“The Underbelly of This Seam” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge. Many thanks to Ursula, who sponsored the poem and provided the title.

A Step Closer

 

A Step Closer

The difference in here
and there, a step closer to infinity
swallowing the clover and wild onion.

Not knowing, you shift purpose to intent.

Following the sun,
the flower sips light all day,
pausing only when I walk between.

 

 

“A Step Closer” was published in Sleet Magazine in August 2018. I am grateful to editor Susan Solomon for taking this piece.

 

Synapses and Other Conjunctions

boot

 

Synapses and Other Conjunctions

My advice? Wear boots, even among the dead.
Our barefoot friend, having separated the rattler’s
head from its body, picked up the six-foot
length to show off, and stepped back onto
the head, which though not alive, still managed
to squeeze venom from the ducts and inject it
through its fangs, into his foot. Consider this
a metaphor, if you must, but don’t belabor
it. This morning I am searching for
connections. The plumber says that when
the overflow is clogged, the sink won’t drain
properly, and I notice similarities between
vision and words and the dryer’s vent — how
twists and hard angles and blurry lint may
confuse the issue, perhaps even start a fire.
And before you say, yes, yes, that’s what
I want, a fire
, consider other possibilities,
not to mention consequences. Confuse
one word for another, and you’re an idiot.
Let your finger tap the wrong key, and the
incorrect letter provides a glimpse into
the future, or at least beyond the neighbor’s
closed door, a passage of signals impossible
to predicate. But differences exist: decapitate
poets, and they won’t bite, or at the very least
their venom will infect your nervous system
indirectly. Other advice? Pause before sending,
look before you leap (or step back). Avoid fast
food and politics. Drink good beer. Laugh often,
breathe deeply. Contemplate your footwear.

 

dryer

 

“Synapses and Other Conjunctions” was written during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was subsequently published in September 2016 at The Blue Nib. Many thanks to Luanne Castle for sponsoring the poem and providing the title.

 

March 14 Online Reading

I’m looking forward to participating in an online reading with other poets from the anthology No More Can Fit Into the Evening on Sunday, March 14 at 12:30 p.m. US Central Daylight Savings Time.  The reading is free, but you must register to obtain the link.

Also reading at this time are Richard Brenneman, Cynthia Jobin (read by Julie Murray), Mike Orlock, Albert DeGenova, Redwulf DancingBare, Sharon Auberle, Ralph Murre, James Janko, Ethel Davis, Tom Davis and Standing Feather.

The reading should last somewhere between an hour and an hour-and-a-half (we’ve been asked to read for no more than five minutes). If you’re able to attend, we’d love to see you (if only virtually).

You might also check out the anthology reading on Saturday, March 13, at 11:30 a.m., featuring John Looker, Annette Grunseth, Nick Moore, Anna Mark, Tori Grant Wellhouse, Jim Kleinhenz (read by John Looker), Estella Lauter, Maryann Hurtt, Ina Schroders-Zeeders, Nathan J. Reid, A. Carder (read by John Looker), Robin Chapman, Terence Winch and Kimberly Blaeser. Register here.

The book is being distributed by Ingram, and should be available (if not in stock, through special order) through bookstores in the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It’s also available through Amazon.