End of the Road

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End of the Road (2002)

Neither expected nor sought, truth arrives.
One phrase, a minute turn of the

wrist, and the beginning reverses itself, becomes
vessel versus point, illuminating

the reach: one sign, two paths. The agave.
How far we’ve come to affect this place.

Last season the flowers were gray and we knew nothing.
Even the stones quivered with laughter.

And then it rained. And the creeks rose, and the bedrock
appeared as if to say your efforts lack

substance. Look underfoot. There lies the truth.
Neither expected nor sought, it arrives.

 

eotr

Cedar Grove (after Wang Wei)

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Cedar Grove (after Wang Wei)

I sit alone among the cedars,
play my guitar and hum.
In this dark forest
no eye spies me but the moon’s.

My take on Wang Wei’s “Bamboo Grove,” from this transliteration copied somewhere along the way:

alone sit dark bamboo among
strum lute again long whistle
deep forest man not know
bright moon come mutual shine

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“Cedar Grove” made its first appearance here in March 2014. I adapted it to fit my circumstances…

You might find the Wikipedia entry on Wang Wei of interest.

Well Pump

 

Well Pump

To be within, yet without: the rootless seed.
Staring through glass, we see only the surface
sliced thin like cell-thick specimen slides.
I dream of knowing, of inclusion.
The well pump is fried, but only thieves
return our calls. How to deflect the lure
of complicity? Stack stone, observe clouds.
Tap the cistern. Absorb its hollow tune.

 

* * *

“Well Pump” first appeared in January 2018 in Amethyst Review.

Many thanks to editor Sarah Law for accepting it.

 

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  for the 2017 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.

Letter to Gierke from the Future’s Past

 

Letter to Gierke from the Future’s Past

Dear Ken: I’m fixated on open faucets and drained tanks,
on cracked PVC and browned grass, denial and what’s to
come, thinking of old dogs and accusations and how
the morning’s lopsided beginning has wrung out every
shred of positive emotion absorbed overnight. Then
a pinpoint emerges, swelling, until I can see, as through
a spidery windshield, tomorrow and its improbabilities.
Last weekend I built a window screen to exact measurements,
only to discover the sill tilted on the north by a quarter-inch,
and in order to install the damned thing I had to shorten
its right side, ruining the rectangle. Perfection eludes me,
even when guided by tape and square, especially in this
climate of exacerbated deterioration, which has not, alas,
excluded me – sciatic nerve, shoulders, knees, hands, etc.
But enough whining. Tea leaves predict that in a few hours
I’ll cross the creek trickling over the road, check the cisterns
and drop off tomorrow’s drinks before heading home to
swat mosquitoes and grill sage-rubbed pork kebabs while
sipping hoppy brews. That’s as far into the future as I
care to venture. The Cowboys drafted a lineman named
Taco, the weeds need mowing and my belly says noon
is fast approaching. I’d like carnitas, but have only rice
and beans, which probably signifies something far deeper
than my conscience will admit, trials I’ll never face. A
thunderstorm looms in the forecast, but my left ankle says
it ain’t happening. What do your mended bones claim?
Mine usually plead the fifth, but hey, they’re careful,
these days, and with good reason. Take care. Bob

 

* * *

“Letter to Gierke from the Future’s Past” was featured at Vox Populi in December 2017.

 

Life among the Prickly Pear

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Life among the Prickly Pear

Rain’s twofold curse: not enough
too much. Still, I take comfort

even among the thorns.
There is much to like here.

Its moonlight flowers.
Paddles fried with minced garlic.

Wren’s jubilant shriek.
The fruit’s red nectar.

I wake to distant screech owls
purring their desires on separate

slopes. Late spring, storms looming.
I close my eyes and the creek rises.

* * *

A draft of this first appeared here in June 2015, and I posted this version in May 2016.

In the meantime, two of my guitar heroes:

And All Around, the Withered

And All Around, the Withered

I total the numbers printed
on passing boxcars,

multiply by seven, then add two,
subtracting every third odd number,

only to find, in the end, myself
tethered to this empty platform,

spelling hapless with integers,
acknowledging Zahlen and

the infinite. Sometimes gravel, too,
calls to me and I observe space

in the path’s patterns, constellation
stacked upon constellation,

multi-dimensional galaxies
expanding in one swooping arc,

heroic eagles and exploding stars
complicit in their deeds and forever

locked in sequence, yet when I explain
my vision, the words emerge

as convex polyhedrons or inverted,
drooled gasps, and people turn aside.

That boy’s two bricks shy a full load, they
say. The lights are on but nobody’s home.

“And All Around, the Withered” was published in Steel Toe Review in January 2017.

Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void

 

Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void

Dear Dan: I’ve been trying to revive that dream,
the one in which the rare Texas bird sings “cuckoo, y’all,”
before shimmering through the night’s shrilling heart
and wakefulness, as you clamber up the balcony to join me
in knocking back Japanese single malt, chilled soba and Doritos.
The distance between earth and a first floor balcony may vary,
but the fall’s impact can’t ache so much as what never was or won’t
be. My mother’s family hovers out there in the World of Darkness,
while I stumble through my days under the Texas sun, rice grains
trickling from holes in my pockets, studding the way between
there and here, back and forth, between us and them, now and
maybe. I confess that communication doesn’t come naturally
to me. I’m reticent and slow on the uptake, and enjoy my time
as a shaded diminishment with only occasional forays
into the light. So much to learn, so little capacity. I could spend
hours watching the spider working among the unread books,
while my mandolin languishes in its case and the earth
keeps spinning, spinning, holding us in place. What tunes
have I forgotten, which remain unsung? The wire mesh tube
in my heart cleared the way from a numbered life, and now
I roll along in words, which bear their own bags of worry.
But I’ve learned to empty and stack the burlap on the floor near
the resonator, and the sacks magically replenish themselves
every night. So it goes. Empty, refill. Like a glass of Hibiki,
or blood pumped through our anterior descending veins.
Tonight rice and peppers will fill my belly, with fish, a mango
cream sauce, and a bitter ale, which I would share with you,
perhaps in another dream, or better yet, in person, under
stars announced by mythical birds on a warm night with
laughter in the breeze. No ladder needed. Come on up. Bob.

 

“Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void” was first published in Lost River in August 2018. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for publishing this piece.

 

To the Lovely Green Beetles Who Carried My Notes into the Afternoon

 

To the Lovely Green Beetles Who Carried My Notes into the Afternoon

Such beauty should not be bound,
thus I tied loose knots,

knowing you would slip free
and shed my words

as they were meant,
across browned lawns,

just over the cedar fence
or at the curb’s edge,

never to be assembled,
and better for it.

 

* * *

This appeared in riverSedge Volume 29, Issue 1, released in October 2016, and is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second. I first encountered riverSedge in 1983, and vowed that one day my poetry would be published in this journal. It took a while…

We Call the Neighbor’s Fat Burro Donkey Hotei, but His Name is Cantinflas

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We Call the Neighbor’s Fat Burro Donkey Hotei, but His Name is Cantinflas

Certainty grows in corners, away from light.
From his mouth issues the breath we take, the words we keep.

Enjoy the collusion of shape and sound.
We share the hummingbird’s taste for sweet, but not its fierceness.

Its heart beats 1,200 times a minute,
and you ask me how best to bury money.

Hotei’s name means cloth sack, and comes from the bag he carried;
a man of loving character, he possessed the Buddha nature.

What we own cannot be held.
Most plastics are organic polymers with spine-linked repeat units.

The space you’ve left expands exponentially.
Left in the rain, the bell grows.

Christen me at your own peril. Agaves flower once then die.
Fluency in silence.

I dropped my pants when the scorpion stung my thigh.
The wind takes nothing it does not want.

After vulcanization, thermosets remain solid.
The Cantinflas character was famous for his eloquent nonsense.

Vacuum wrap the bills in plastic, place them in pvc.
Having mastered imperfection, I turn to folly.

Not the thing itself, but the process laid bare and opened.
Hoping to hide, the scorpion scuttled under a boot.

Thought to action, whisper to knife: which is not a curse?
The wind wants nothing; the burro sings his loneliness.

 

This first appeared here in May 2015. My failures often lead to success. I’ve never quite completed this piece, and don’t know that I ever will. But the first draft (nearly five years ago) set me off on a new path, one that has served me well. What more can I ask?
 
 
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