Things must be in this order then:
Opinion, size, age, shape, color, noun.
And so on.
It is an easy enough thing to remember.
Sweet small young round brown bear.
The mnemonics of our lives.
Don’t say it another way.
You will be made to believe
that your stupidity unmeasures you.
Language is the leash that governs,
the belief in a flat Earth,
the harm of looking directly at the sun,
the efficacy of prayer,
stepping on a crack to save your mother’s back,
as if all your carefully worded love letters ever made a difference.
To be distrustful of questions
is the best way to translate
three ravens clustered in front
of a house I was considering buying.
Even just a few months ago I would have
steeped the moment with symbolism.
The sheen of wing. Their beaded eyes that know roofs.
And trees. But no demarcation lines.
Before I would have said they were sent.
Instead I merely thought: I will stare at you
and shake off as many notions as I can.
Standing here is as close to being a raven
I will ever know. As I stepped toward to the house
you stepped aside, ushering me up the drive,
not needing me to speak.
It was much easier to open the door
now that I was full
of companion certitude.
It is a cave
we can only see at low-tide,
the moss drifting
like the hair
of drowned mermaids,
to the rocks.
Sitting on a bench at the dog park
a younger woman, someone who I
assumed was intelligent
because she was attractive,
said to me, “You have a dangerous dog breed.”
A single man has to double-consider
statements like that.
When God leaned over to Adam
with that fingertip cosmic spark
I’d like to think he said a few words,
which truly if God is anything like man–he would,
filling the space with meaningless chatter.
“Go get ‘em, tiger!”
There’s how we measure beauty.
And how we talk about it,
the lines that ignore we were just dust yesterday,
but today we don’t know how to talk
about when the leaves will change color,
about what is safe, unsafe, unchangeable.
There is a Providence in the perfect fold of a napkin.
There is sound in the light that the moon reflects.
Every day there is yearning, and more yearning still.
It was always New Year’s of a sort I guess.
That book was last year’s gospel.
You can’t read it anymore.
Here’s a new and different one.
It was like getting dumped in junior high by a girl.
Everything had changed! You leaned blind against the wall.
That night at home there would be mac and cheese like always.
And tea you would need to sweeten yourself.
But all you would really be able to think about
would be the love letters you still meant to send her,
all the love letters from her to you
that you never got to read.
I lose myself in daydreams of a sheep-
throwing contest on the moon. Distance
wins points. Bonus points are earned
for every sheep that lands upright and
magically prances away, launching itself
with strange floating grace. Is there,
somewhere, an animal whose mind drifts
to thoughts of a similar sport involving
the likes of me, flailing my limbs in
slow motion, propelled across the lunar
Wistfully I long for the day
when the Emperor of America
forgoes the affairs of state and instead
sits all night at his lamp-lit desk
absorbed in composing sonnets in tribute
to a girl he’d admired as a schoolboy.
Sipping peppermint tea, lips silently moving
as he tries out tentative phrases,
he’ll tap on his desktop with his finger
the rhythm of his lines, creating harm
and cynical mischief for no one.
I sit on the bench and borrow the view;
a small brass plaque spells out your name
as I hope you have all your answers now.
I watch the waves roll onto the shore:
the sea’s eternal gnashing at the land.
Your ashes long since flung to the wind,
scattered among the restless waves.
Along the tide-line bundles of seaweed
wet with a thousand tales,
anxious to begin a new journey, wait
to be claimed by the next sweep of sea.
Gulls ride the transparent funnel of air
where the dome of sky meets silver sea,
their cries carry over surf and salt-spray, echo
about the ragged walls of your mausoleum.
A fitting place to ponder life and death;
my body a hunched question mark
punctuating the eloquence of sea and sky.
There were two thousand red bricks that made up the front facade
of the high school I would eventually drop out of. I counted them
on a daily basis, as I waited for my step-dad to come pick me up after
class. Some days when he was on a roll at the races or the casino,
I counted them twice and three times. I loved knowing that whatever
loss befell us, as a result of daddy’s crippling dance with chance,
there would always be two thousand red bricks on the wall
to keep me counting on something.
Whenever I think, some notion
in the cloud or other confluence
that floats the mooring will seize
upon the wonderful convenience,
That bluster, “To duck, to dodge,”
has danced into its corner so few
adherents. Like a hollow barrel
the empty drum thinly porous,
I keep seeking that latent horizon
beyond a rip where a stone was cast
skimming that tide. It wasn’t easy to
wander back, when the cause gave way,
Henceforth as the middling struts
while the attendant speaks in tenets,
the graylag flock north of the Solway
knowing their ways instinctively,
Should such bold paths be excoriated,
our valorous sense refused by the heap,
that bluster will have taken root. Then
again, it serves as motivation,
Consider the cleverness of the Cooper’s hawk
who glides disguised the upslope of the roof,
crests the ridge, and dives on pigeons
perched at the feeder hanging from the eave next door:
the crash and sway, the spilling of seeds,
the prey pinned against the box,
the futile flap of wings
as talons sink in, and the predator
rises above the roofline, bundle compacted,
elevating toward hungry chicks hidden away
in a nest new-found since the city sawed down
the elm that canopied the park, a disease in its heart.
Pestilence and predation invert the arc;
the cycle turns on the wings of a hawk.
____Body clenched for months
____with mittens we try to clutch
____the transparent word.
____Humidity wraps round us
____hot towels obscuring the eye
____our achievement a few drips.
My inspiration lies as flat
as that new rolled field,
not a sprig, a twig sneaking up.
My body a sack of bones
with no dance to it
not a jog, not a kick,
not two bones to knock together
for one dismal tone.
My still poem is a soundless scream
in a terrifying dream
not a peep, not a word,
only breaking awake
in a sweat, absurd.
Don’t you understand?
You could be her grandfather.
Falcon stooping prey.
Fresh-picked berry, crushed.
Fragrant blossom cast aside.
Hummingbird wing, cut.
Cloak yourself in shame.
No excuses. Douse the fire,
stir the embers cold.
Lust exposed to light:
your name a scrap of paper,
Tattered coat, flapping.
Your days of empire over.
Girls are not playthings.
At first, I thought a brown dress glove
on the floor of the parking garage,
its seams raised like tendon lines
stiffening the back of my hand.
A life exhaled was folded flat,
composed like rain-dried leather.
The BMW was in my space again.
I saw my windshield note was gone.
I did not despair; now I wielded a bat.
With care I placed my new friend
against the driver’s window: an armored
send-off fitting a Teutonic Knight.
My angel took the car today;
gone, no doubt to a better space.
and the lake
are his memories,
cobalt images of clarity
and purity, running deep.
It was in this cove
where the black spotted loon
dove head first
into the heart of blue,
attracting the tender pulse
of her affection
to follow the creature
into the watery sweep
tangled with milfoil
that snarled her hair
while the checkered fowl
for its young.
Her blue eyes wide,
with the ripple of current
that swept beneath the surface.
He visited that cove often thereafter,
especially those days
where the sun’s gleam
highlighted the blue ghost
within the restless ripples
that will forever
wrap him in riddles.
Early morning, snow teases
the outstretched branches of birch
with help from the wind.
It is cold, but inside the stove’s warmth
cradles the recliner in the lamplight
where he reads poems.
His fingers, thick and calloused,
flip pages enthusiastically.
He notices the shape of his nails,
much like his father’s,
no moons rising.
And like his father had done,
it’s time to contemplate departure.
One day, the stove unlit, will dispense
the damp aroma of creosote,
the book will lie closed
upon the arm of the recliner.
One day, a relative will enter
that the house is empty,
no warmth, no breath, no poetry,
an indentation upon the seat
next to the book.
The change will go unnoticed
by the snow, wind, ice, and
those few crows meandering
for morsels upon the buried landscape.
He returns to reading,
the words delight him.
What would become of these joys,
Someone should take them.
This is grand prize for third date.
Slowly, I enter
relishing the warmth
as it permeates.
My weight settles:
a sinking ship
completing its watery descent.
Face to face
she is deep in thought
tells me ancient Egyptian women
inserted crocodile dung
into their vaginal canals
in order to prevent pregnancy
and somewhere between the words
dung and pregnancy
I melt like an ice cube
kissed by a blowtorch.
The village social, New Year’s Eve,
and he’s back from Cardiff, back
in the new routine, the old routine
he’s hankered for.
At ten to twelve, the Okey-Cokey.
You put your left leg in, your left leg out,
and there she is (hey, they’re thirty now)
across the circle, receding, receding,
plunging towards him, now receding again,
until the dancing’s midnight fervour
coils itself and spins and circulates
and it’s Auld Lang Syne and he’s next to her,
arms linked, hands held, it’s homecoming,
it’s Auld Lang Syne for sure.
This spoon all night on tiptoe
listening for the careless splash
that will never make it back –the cup
half hazelnut, black, half filled
so its prey can be tracked in the dark
the way one mouth finds another
feeds on the voice that can’t escape
–hour after hour being eaten
by the silence longing for the light
though even with the walls in place
even with her hands over your eyes
begging you from behind Guess who
you are circling the room, flying blind
spread-eagle, can hear the You
no longer moving between your teeth.
Where people get, no owls stay, a quibbling
I picked with night, when further down the road
the new guy hauled in lights, a trailer, bull-dozed
his land, bought pit bulls, started raising rabbits.
No one’s here but me. Still, he posted signs.
What did he expect? By definition,
I couldn’t ask. I gave up all he’d torn
from owlless night, yearned toward their absence
as though owls could give a piddling damn.
Not them, so much, I yearned toward. The texture
of the dark had changed. Since last winter,
coyoteless. I missed them in the abstract:
Romance as a tribal dog, I said, but really,
I didn’t care. They never sounded sad.
Just low-down and hungry. But after
the owls, darkness felt like stamp collecting.
I read. Drank. Became Episcopalian
from wariness of sensory withdrawal.
Then, my neighbor, survivalist cliché,
came by–big hat, mirror shades, holstered pistol–
and asked me to put up a mailbox. Sure
I said, Point where. I knew, though, that I wouldn’t,
which left us there, his right hand on his gun
butt, mine on the latch of the screen door.
Victrola records scratched and scarred,
the letters of van Gogh unread, and poems
to be painted, corrected and filed
after the words form, gently bidden.
I write a calculus for the intellect
and find a dust bin for desire.
The writing is all, or mostly all.
Lonely, a hawk alone, like
during the composition of a song.
A welcomed guest, anticipated:
Dark, misty, quiet, heath overgrown;
the hawk flies home.
Mysterious like the moors.
In April two lovers sit on a park bench. Pigeons pivot overhead. Kernels of corn at the lovers’ feet. Not just pigeons does their love feed.
During the summer months, their love is like the red of roses: vibrant, brilliant. If only roses didn’t have thorns and flowers didn’t wilt.
Autumn, and lovers meet. The same park bench, now dense with fallen leaves. She can barely lift her withered hand. Few pigeons left to feed.
When winter comes, the pigeons have gone and only one lover sits. The park is gloomy, the trees are bare—as empty as his heart without her.
like any other object, she said.
Don’t worry. They’ll observe you as they would
a vase or a tree.
A series of angles, planes, light, and shadow.
I’m okay offering myself for scrutiny,
step warily onto the platform,
letting inhibitions slip to the floor along with my robe.
I assume a pose, let my body be measured by those
who peer at me with squinted eye and extended arm.
I’m fine with them examining up close
or slowly circling to see me in 3-D.
I am servant
submitting myself as raw material for art.
Banish concern about hernia scar, paunch,
or private parts made public.
At break, even robed, I am still object,
subject of sidelong glances
or none at all.
I step back onto the platform,
in the center and elevated.
A man whose expressionless face belies
an ache in the supporting foot.
A person pulsing with feeling and thought.
I tune out their conversations,
look past and through the artists,
organize to-do lists,
compose poems in my mind.
And know that from the captivity
of this pedestal emanates the gentlest
I’m making eyes at the brown haired beauty
on the opposing balcony
both of us in his and her matching bathrobes,
mine at a conservative length,
hers mid thigh as she teases me with her cigarette
and I with mine and I really think that I’m in heaven
until my girlfriend, now aware of the elicit flirtation,
decided to untie my robe from behind and pulls it wide open
while my mystery woman convulses with laughter
before she compliments me on my nice boxers with a blown kiss,
and i am forced inside to watch the 2013 Academy Awards
when just as an ice storm begins to pound the North Plano world
outside I became convinced that none of these bad things would
have happened to me if I’d stayed behind in Los Angeles and my
girlfriend told me none of those bad things would have happened
if I wasn’t asking for bad things to happen me,
because I’d just won the Oscar for worst sense of humor
and that my trousers were more than likely to appear during
the in memoriaum sequence in between other honorees who had
nothing to do with the movies or even the big show she had
just put on for her vacationing sister’s neighbor.
You grew into yourself
knowing little about life
except through books.
Each leaf-vein, snake-skin, thumbprint
wrought second hand-
experience shaped forever, tacked
together, then tucked
into the bodice of your heart.
So many words helped you to grieve
or offered balm when all seemed undone.
See how you’re there already,
soothed by the glimmer of burnished gold,
the incense swinging in medieval
vaults; no safer place to go
when the light grows darker, but
back to the dense and thoughtful page.
Time is a twister, throws up
days when life seems skewed.
Again you reach out, search
for meaning to centre your world-
always, a book at hand.
Ten magpies—one leucistic—perch
on barbed wire above the railway line
five either side of a crow
a suspicion of omens from my window
a statement of strength in numbers
a school for omens a lecture theatre
awaiting the crow’s wisdom
but he is hunched slightly
aware of his cousins’ undoubted abilities
ten magpies—one leucistic—
sharp-beak-ready to peck away
his deep feathered cloak
his indiscriminate eyes
if he requires their children
An attention to omens
from my window it’s the small birds I fear for
the small birds
who may inherit the earth well before I am willing
to let go of their chattering wonder
their miraculous bones
All night the dog whined through strikes
and flashes while rain pelted the skylight
and sang through our gutters.
Morning hung over with lost limbs,
petals stuck to the patio, I steered
the dog across soggy yard, past runoff.
I remembered the summer the flood
sucked your car into the lake. One hand
dangled from the window when they
hauled you out. The dog stared at standing
water and strained on her leash to go back.
A beheaded tuberose spread far its thick scent.
”I keep having this dream that there is a garden
growing inside my chest, under the bones.”
~ Melissa Studdard
Tonight is an eye feast:
the honeysuckle climbing
over pickets in a long chain-link fence,
the soft swirl of wind teasing
the topmost branches of a mulberry.
Dusk, dying a blue-headed Friday
a deep shade of ebony.
How crafty this summer’s eve!
Shadows make worn and broken things beautiful—
like this dilapidated barn.
A family of tumbleweeds sits in the middle
of the cracked concrete floor rocking.
The aged slats look like a rib cage;
fortitude engraved its initials in rotting wood.
At Freedom Park, a jittery frog leaps
from the moon-stamped pond then disappears.
Who can resist such gifts, or hold happiness hostage
when this West Texas desert offers such splendor?
Look at this sky’s buffet of delicious stars!
Their champagne-light drips from a flute of darkness
into the unprotected yawn of a scalped pasture.
curtains of her long-lost love
in household chores where dust is found
a crossword puzzle of her loss
scattered wide on kitchen tiles,
withered, seemed like toilet bowls
which needed harpic now to shine.
groceries to put away.
so much to do.
so little time.
Midwinter night we share a glass of wine
Atop these seaside cliffs
Gazing out beyond the sea’s black hole.
Dark cloud clears. The new moon’s shine
A sharpened pair of horns. Perhaps a bowl.
Beside it Venus in orbit shifts,
Rising as the moon begins to set
Each reflected off the sea.
Pixellated lines of double white reach out
Like a school of silver fish darts from the net.
Twin searchlights flaring, feeling for the beach,
Mesmerize, head straight for you and me.
The boom car stomps its music
up and down the street
while inside houses
a rattlesnake warning,
and cranked-up bass
bounces sound waves off
T-shirts and blouses of residents
watching the car pass
a parade full
of mad, marching bands.
That some patch of dust
on that hard-to-get-to shelf yonder
could be dead skin cells
her bent, pain-racked body
more than 2 years ago now.
Or that some microbial creature
through my twisted, maze-like intestines,
a parting gift from her,
one last kiss,
that last time
we shared bodily fluids.
Moonlight pools, as if delayed,
in the folds of the duvet,
her second husband sleeping, lips pursed,
as if rehearsing.
He spoke in his sleep
their first night together.
She marvels at how he remembers dreams.
Over coffee he’ll describe his sister
appearing at the Redondo house
near the shutters by the rose bed—
only she’s grown up, plump, fidgety,
as though a crafty editor spliced
the frightened thirty-five year old
into their calmer childhoods.
They met on the set of the Williams play.
By himself on the folding chair,
he whispered his lines over and over.
They performed in the botanicum,
as Williams would have liked.
After closing, he kept whispering,
fixing what hadn’t been right on stage.
She could memorize his face tonight
as she’s done with the dock in Morro Bay:
customers huddling in the dawn
as Bill trawled in his salmon,
a pelican on a pylon, awaiting fish innards
carved by an old Mexican
(that may have been somewhere else)
with a curved knife and plastic bucket.
These images fill her own what if decades:
if she’d never met Tony, moved east.
She could be at the waterfront coffee shop
near women she grew up with,
with a crossword, scanning for the thousandth time
the thin arm of sand stretched across the bay.
Hands whose folds and creases
_______spoke not of rail splits or nails
A mouth whose cough sputtered
_______angels into the dust of a long road
I saw women dry his gentle
_______feet with their hair
I saw men covet
_______and beg to know him
______________the salt cries of Gomorrah
_____________________fell from their trembling members
_______so long since turned to callous
Made supple and loved
_______by his merest glance.
Without this money
_______that feeds us all
Without the bread or laundry
_______I love you
and such love had no precedent
_______in the groping hangnails
______________or gummy fish kisses of boys come of age.
He pressed me to the Joshua trees
_______and sobbed, Don’t you understand?
Understand that I’d die for you
Have traveled a thousand thousand
_______furlongs just to take their
______________punctures to my own gut
____________________________in the stead of yours?
So the lifetime of wretched yesses
xxxxxxxmumbled into boils and leprosy
washed away with eyelashes in my hair
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxslippery fingers feeding me
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxpomegranate and red delicious
lips inserting breath
xxxxxxxso long since wrenched
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxfrom my chest and belly
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand trapped, angry, purchased womb
in the last stall
considerate gaping wrists dangling in the bowl
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxrats with wings
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxfoul, useless birds
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxdeface monuments to the dead
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxswarm like locusts or cockroaches
fouler than grackles
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxacross the pale, flaccid South
teachers call the authorities
hold back bile
think blame across the city
xxxxxxxan economic burden no longer
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxgray downy plaid
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxnuisance of feathers and feces
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxbloated young stuffed away in nests
xxxxxxwhitewashed statuesque gray corpse
staring last eternity
a uniform barely stained
There was not a drop on the gray, tile floor.
There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
xxxxxxxThe first time you overdosed
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxit was a dead bluejay by the side of the road,
xxxxxxxtwisted but unblemished,
and I knew your taut lines had broken.
Next it was a hawk lost in this big city,
xxxxxxxflying across my windshield,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxa still-writhing snake in the talons
xxxxxxxand I knew I had to escape,
leave the powders and sweat-laden insomniac nights
leave the white trash walk-ons and their whispered incest
leave the rumors of rape and prowling undercover gods.
xxxxxxxThe way I remember?
it was your once-noble mind overthrown I loved
xxxxxxxbut betrayal can seep from cankerous intentions
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxcan and did infect me with each reechy kiss
xxxxxxxRecall, I cried for all your deaths
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxand you comforted me in mine.
But love, as money, is base
and is no reason to marry.
xxxxxxxYou felt I was halfway to a nunnery,
xxxxxxxxxxxindicated so each time you called me stupid, used me.
As always, the tender, naive lass
xxxxxxxmust bear the brunt of the man’s mortal coil.
xxxxxxxI could not watch your flirtation
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxwith that seductive other,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxthat which was not yours,
xxxxxxxtemptress of the undiscovered country.
Why is it women must always believe in God
and men expect to soak it from our mouths?
xxxxxxxI wish I had known the symbolism of flowers
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxand the sugar that crusts ulcerous lies.
I wish I had known it then,
xxxxxxxknown the readiness --
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe readiness is all.
The squeaking of the pail handle,
the dogs' bark
and, in the distance,
something more ominous.
The doves I have been feeding all summer
will now feed someone else.
Such a world is not mine,
but it's not quite the shooter's either.
Years pass as well as seasons
as we lurch our way to
the worlds we choose to dream.
We are but ghosts in those worlds
as the people of our spirit are ghosts before our eyes.
Meanwhile here our dreams grind each other,
and our emotional storms collide
bringing the noise of strife and hurt -
and maybe the whisper of understanding.
Then we can see the ghosts and smile
The trace is
growing into fetor
the flint that
stained your hand
with ash-burns drifts
the room wears you
as a drape
the cat sniffs in circles
searching for you
in your scent
his whiskers spring
over the dress of the bed
the skirt of the recliner
he abandons the
hunt in favor
of crusted provisions
dried out from
the day before
and I will do
We've met here before.
I remember the skin
I wore at the time
Stored in my closet
Along with the husk
of words you assured
promised our future
You stoop and scramble
picking up pieces of myself
scattered on the floor
of words and phrases
you live to assemble
telling you what you want to hear
in a dissintegration of meaning.
On the Bay of Naples Medwen's bones
Tell me that when Vesuvius erupted,
Waves of lava covered her. With my brush
I uncover her and give her life back to her.
In her arms she holds her master's son,
Who mouths a gold teething ring.
When Medwen asks Paulus the boatman
To take her and the baby into the bay,
Paulus says he can't, he broke his arm.
Cynthia, who I think loves Paulus,
Tries to help him turn over his boat.
He drops his end and they know they won't
Get the boat into the bay. The lava,
I hate to say, covers them again.
Looking at the bay, I think Cynthia,
Medwen, the baby and Paulus aren't dead.
They sail away from the ashes,
The lava, and me. I let them go.
This house is preparation. An atrium
Of light invites us up a curved
Marble staircase. When we ascend,
A long hall opens into a library
With ten-thousand volumes and heaven
Painted on its blue ceiling.
A black limo crouches on the pebble drive.
In the rose garden the bees go
About their business. The roaches discover
The garbage hasn't been picked up for days.
The hemlocks in the park sweat needles.
Brother Death knows something's not right.
After dinner Sister Moon winks
At the watcher who talks to the gatekeeper
About the dairy, the new winery,
The repairs to the swimming pool.
Unsettled, Father Sun, peeping over
Pisgah, nevertheless gladdens his heart.
The male approaches the female with caution.
He wants to mate with her not serve as prey.
If she accepts him, then he grasps her claws
With his and they parade for hours.
Sometimes the male ends this display as dinner,
But not until he and the female bring
Their mouths close enough to kiss.
These two then jerk their bodies back and forth,
Keeping their legs still. After they curve
Their tails forward, arching them over their backs,
They may touch or entwine their tails.
The female may them attack the male.
The outcome of this assault is never in doubt.
The female kills and eats her former lover.
After a few months the female gives birth.
She carries her young on her back,
But in a day or two they molt and leave.
She loses her maternal instinct,
For if her babies return, she eats them
As she had already eaten their father.
Jan was sitting at a table in February of 1995
Enrico's on Broadway
before her kidneys shut down completely
I wrote out a check after talking with some people
then sat down with her
looking at her profile searching for her father
trying to figure out what makes us all pass through
like urine like words
like her father said
all his stuff is up for grabs now it's relic memorabilia
now it's scholarly research
or locked up so valuable auctioned off to pay estate taxes
but seldom someone a collector a trivial actor
his own profile surrounded and surrendered in a million photos
what's it worth
his own energy surging up making clutter like my own
as I wonder who will pore over my archives
paw through the historical testaments
and records frayed newspapers of a dying hippies
crumpled poetry lost now in the cracked moments of recurring fragments
flashbacks pamphlets posters homage to the generation
her only son Jack's grandson is he owed anything
like a survivor of the Holocaust
or a shark ravaged teenager who didn't panic
lucky he said
the shark grabbed his leg
not his guts not his belly
in his backpack up on the beach
a copy of On the Road
- after David Baker
Small towns punctuate the highways
leaving Newport, the county seat,
their smallness a kind of grace.
Everything has been left out
to weather, a car on blocks,
a plastic horse faded to dusty blue.
To drive through is the prevailing
viewpoint, though there are other
ways to see the post office,
the portable sign in front
of the grocery, where the specials
every day, are staples: bread,
milk, ground chuck, and all
that's not advertised -- Shirley's crafts
scattered across the shelves
on the back wall, and Wayne's
analysis of the weather. There
are stacks of snuff and Skoal cans
at the register. A box underneath
the counter has all the tabs, credit
where credit is due. Across the street,
at church, sermons rarely leave
casualities. Regular attendance is
the only virtue left; gossip
and family take care of other sins.
Once a train ran through town,
but now only tractors and plows,
implements, pickup trucks on the way
to Walmart, or the big grocery
stores in Newport. Or the John Deere
dealer in Weiner, where they have
the state rice festival every year,
cooking contests and beauty queens,
harvest longings transliterated
as civic pride. Nothing is lonelier
here than attention. This is the season
when crop dusters are blamed
for everyone's dying gardens.
It was the delicate blue of the phrase
that held him, like a neutral sky
in which the sun rests, a white clay marble,
burnished pearl by palms and sweat,
the marble he found buried
in the soil of the barn near the house
where his father had once lived.
He spat on it, rubbed it on his jeans
until the brown became only a stain
of the hue, like tobacco juice, worked
into the dull baked sheen.
So a November sky would hold
his attention, its hesitant blue
soft yet clear, of uncertain lineage,
uncertain ends. So the past rests,
an old discovery, a marble, pale
against hand-me-down denim.
So his younger brother had said, "Maybe
there are some things you shouldn't tell us."
Shared stories diverge in ways
they could never have known. He still
has the marble, and all it represents:
the past he holds -- a fiction
of young boys at play, thumbing random
bonds, vectors of desire and chance, and one
chosen silence, that November afternoon,
resting in the blue spaces between them.
Bath, England, July 1992
Rain descends like afternoon.
There is nothing to do but find
a doorway, or a convenient shop,
or walk into the English light,
where girls in slickers of primary colors
line up a covered stairway, waiting
for the rain to stop, and we,
the newly arrived, jacketed, amble
past, our hat brims dripping.
The walkway is wet, the river roars
over the falls, and in the yellow
windows of the bridge cafes, the tourists
sip their teas, ceremoniously.
Nearby, the steam rises in wisps
from the green depths of Roman baths,
rises like memory into a chill afternoon.
There we watched each traveler
lean to dip a finger in forbidden
water -- pilgrims who disregard
the posted rules, leave a coin
for luck in a clear circle of pool,
coins silvered with forgiveness.
A way to name the past, that
is what has drawn us here, what drew
us to the guards and gates, to histories
sold, a portrait of a goddess in the postcard
shop. Not what the rain says,
not what the river means.
Warm waters still pour from lips
of stone, grow silent in the green pools
below, hoarding archaic coins,
tokens of a time that never
was. We, too, like the other
pilgrims, cast our thoughts in foreign
coin among the steeping dead --
regrets that drain away, that reach
the distant river, where we walk
for now, in rain, where our talk
has turned, almost naturally,
to the difference the rain makes,
to reasons why, to the way
things might have been
There is a certain fascination in on-coming cars
Wheeling out of their subtangence to a curve
Which arches unsubstantial to a partner on the move.
There is in that severed second when the curve appears unreal,
Magnetized self-conscience between bodies on the move
Pulling both together toward an axis of intent
Until distance makes unreal wheels locked there for the touch,
The crush of body into body that annihilates, intestate,
All semblance of their outward selves. And what terrific sight is thus forborne
As passivity outrides a certain passion for resplendent death
After eye met eyes, agreed, and set in motion that great plan?
How puerile to resist unreasonably that sweet, wild pain
Piercing to patterns of each man as shattered steel
And substantial glass would pierce their monstrous hearts and brains.
Effeminate male Antony kissing
All female Cleopatra:
She had balls
And the asp to go with them.
But we went to see
The new Globe Theatre. They thought
The play was good, I mediocre.
And we agreed on the Globe's
Magnificence: a child's crying in the pit
Odors of McDonalds.
Shakespeare likes that;
And the ringing of a cell phone.
Shakespear likes that
For she can grieve and shamelessly.
I bring the gentle fire
That moves through you
With the celerity of Spring time.
In forgotten times,
Covered by the mists
Of fecund dreams dancing
Beyond reach, your moist
Thighs were the beacon
That guided me home.
I bring the gentle fire.