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.

Galveston, 1900

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Galveston, 1900

First the wind, then a tide like no other
uprooting the calm,

a visage tilted back in descent
as if listening for the aftermath.

And later, the gardener’s lament
and the building’s exposed ribs,

light entering the eternal
orchard, nine children tied to a cincture.

Not even the earth could retain its bodies,
and the sea remanded those given to its care.

 

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“Galveston, 1900” first appeared here in January 2015. Last February it was accepted for publication in an anthology to be published in 2020, but alas, I’ve just been informed that the publisher is unable to move forward on it. Such is the literary life.

 

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.

 

 

Texas Haibun

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Texas Haibun

I dream of poetry in all its forms, rising and flowing and subsiding without end, much like ice shrugging within itself. Last winter a hard freeze split a valve on the downstream side of the cistern. Had it cracked even a few inches up-line there would have been no need to replace the valve.

captive rain recalls
its journey towards the ground
the garden returns

The well terminates at 280 feet. The water is hard, but cool, and tastes of dark limestone and ancient rains.

Even the gnarled live oaks have dropped their leaves. Grass crunches underfoot and smells like dead insects and dried herbs. Mosquitoes have vanished. Only the prickly pears thrive. Their flowers are bright yellow and bloom a few days each year.

sauteed with garlic
nopalitos on my plate
their thorns, forgiven

I wipe sweat from my forehead with the back of the glove, and wonder how many ounces of fluid have passed through my body this year, how the rain navigates from clouds through layers of soil and stone, only to return, how a cold beer might feel sliding down my throat.

stoking the fire
winter rain whispers to me
forget tomorrow

 

* * *

Originally posted in February, 2014, this was my first attempt at a haibun.

 

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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

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Poem Published in Slippery Elm

 

Letter to Harper from the Edge of Sixty

Dear Stephanie: Some distances, some lives, can’t be quantified.
Knowing that two-thousand miles separates us offers slim
hope for a quick cup of java at a local cafe, but the gape-mawed
dragons lurking below those map edges are at least discernable,
and their fires have no doubt been doused by the confused oceans
corkscrewing over the rim; I detect steam, but no smoke.
The ruler measures in inches, never minutes, and certainly not in
emotion. Saying I miss you is easy and true, but how do those
words evoke the rocks under the surface? I turn sixty in six
days, and what I wouldn’t give to crumple some of those ancient,
wasted hours and toss them into the burn pile, to watch them rise,
transformed into winged smiles and realized dreams of what never
happened to both of us. We could hold hands and observe the odd
little phoenixes fluttering into the past, where they’d patch damages,
circumvent losses and scour clean those close corners in the lost
rooms where memories go to die. I miss you is shorthand for
the atmosphere is too transparent to conceal my longing, and naps
are a poor substitute for the real thing
. How do we hide what
is evident even to those who don’t know us? I admit failures and
improprieties, and, facing, open-mouthed, what I desire most, hope
to mitigate misbehaving parts and even some misunderstandings.
I am both the man I thought I was and one whose scars remind me
of someone I might have become, if only. The magic eight ball
spins out signs point to yes, no matter the question, so I’ve mastered
the art of cautious phrasing and willful optimism. Two nights ago
we lost ourselves in a dream in Nowhere, Texas, which seems
apt and is hardly a metaphor if past experience indicates anything.
Even GPS couldn’t help us, but frankly I don’t want guidance.
Being lost with you beats the hell out of any other reality, and might
offer us more time together, and I’m already teetering on the losing
side of that equation. I love being your old man, and want nothing
more than to be just that, at noon, on that rickety bench in Nowhere’s
square, guitar in hand, crooning “Wild Thing” and swigging cognac
while ignoring the perplexed onlookers awaiting their court dates.
I’m contemplating these colliding strands of time and cartography,
wishing for a past that never was to ease the burden of this
present. And there’s the future, which bends to no one’s whim and
seems fraught with scaled fire-breathers and sharp-toothed crags.
But we knew that going in, and stepped forward because there is
no other direction. More brave than stupid, ya think? You are
my true north, my everywhen, my night smile and contented belly.
Let’s keep sculpting our day, a piece at a time, chipped here, rounded
there. It’s taking shape, Babe. Love, Bob.

 

 

“Letter to Harper from the Edge of Sixty” was a finalist for Slippery Elm’s 2020 Poetry Prize, and was recently published in the 2020 issue, alongside “Answer” by Stephanie L. Harper, also a finalist. Many thanks to the Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s editorial team, and especially EIC Dave Essinger, whose professionalism and personal kindness place SELJ at the top of the ladder in the world of literary journals. If you have a chance, take a look at SLEJ‘s offerings – they’re a print journal – or consider entering their Deanna Tulley Multimedia Prize, now open for submissions.

 

Flood Gauge in the Morning

 

 

Flood Gauge in the Morning

It reclines on its side, submerged.
So far, so good, it seems
to say. Still here, still intact.
And the bridge looks so clean
from this angle
underwater.

I toss
a fist-size stone
onto the upstream
side of the road,
and watch it wash away.
Maybe we’ll cross tomorrow.

 

 

“Flood Gauge in the Morning” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second, available for order via Amazon.com and Finishing Line Press.

 

 

Texas Flood

 

 

 

Texas Flood

Sunlight sneaks through a crack, feathering
the overgrown lawn, electric blues in the air.
I have forgotten everything I once was.
An uprooted tree, the abandoned
steeple, a lone dog chained to a pole.
The uncertain puddle in a memory of howls.
Last night’s midnight ochre, in spades.
It lives behind me, like the wind.

 

“Texas Flood” was published in the print journal North Dakota Quarterly in February 2019.

 

And hey, here’s a video of SRV playing his version of “Texas Flood” with brother Jimmie.

 

Bandera

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Bandera

I offer nothing in return, and in offering, receive.
My mouth is a river

whose current bears no words,
but the silence is not of my making.

Notice the streets and their grey
hunger, the rain and the sun

passing by much
as one passes an unopened door.

That question, unvoiced.
That shiver preceding the icy touch.

You may deny my motives.
You may deny my existence and

the very notion of shape unto form.
I offer nothing, and in offering, receive.

 

 

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“Bandera” first appeared here in May 2015, and was subsequently published in The Basil O’Flaherty in November 2016.