I came from a place of fireflies,
where men were reasonable and tall,
where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his, and his.
Where farmers didn’t block views with trees,
To quickly see at a glance from the kitchen window
How the corn was doing, the soybeans.
Where cemeteries were so old they had no one living who cared
and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car
Because they probably knew your parents:
And you didn’t want to hear at church on Sunday about being rude.
I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a cousin, a mile away;
Where going to hang out meant
Riding the old fat-tired-hand-me-down bike,
With one gear, but was great for
Popping the tar bubbles on hot summer days;
And watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by,
the birds calling from the trees,
And watching my dog chase another rabbit.
I came from a place of spirits, haunted by the land,
by deep roots down five generations;
Where uncles and aunts would come over
for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking,
And how those adult voices murmering made things
Safe somehow as
My cousins and I would chase each other
through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness
on the edge of safety,
Thrilling in the freedom to roam, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put
dozens in quart canning jars
For study, and marveling at yet another mystery.
I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
A place where the farm animals taught
about sex very early, but also about stewardship,
pragmatism, kindness and death;
There were the late nights wading through
snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard,
cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed
to come in bitterest cold—
cleaning newborn lambs off with
old burlap feed sacks
Holding the newborns under heat lamps
until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse,
coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
It was there I learned about birth, and
the miracle of it.
I came from a place that has slowly died since then.
I feel an ache of loss of a place
that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where the places I roamed with my dog
are now owned by Arab sheiks,
where even bigness did not guarantee survival.
It is a place where the invisible glue that once
nurtured communities evaporated from
change and neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights,
calling children to mystery but with
fewer there to hear the answers.
I can’t go home, not yet.
Home is still moving,
When it stops, maybe I’ll rejoin it.
But this moment is real;
I can feel your lips,
and join you with
such easy passion.
I know the heat, the
weight, the wetness of you
In the dark,
or pressed against me
at a dock, oblivious
to jealous eyes,
saying a goodbye,
me what feels right.
Sensing it would not last.
melts in the natural
grace of you.
Stay with me a while, dancer.
For these precious moments.
Let’s walk on the beach,
look in the sands for courage,
We’ll stroll to breakfast
just after dawn,
sit in the temporary
the unworldly turquoise
of the sea
knowing the tide
but, with luck, comes again.
pile of poems,
a scattering of short stories,
a minor mess of manuscripts,
all in a state of perpetual preparation.
I wait to see
what will happen today.
These things, bits of a lonely soul,
Hopeful of attention float into
New Orleans, on a random Saturday morning.
Jock and Michelle
play a mix of the classics
in the next patch of shade.
Lovely, dark Michelle on the violin,
Jock, recently of Columbus,
sits in on the keyboard.
Buffalo, the veteran, hair strapped
by a black cloth band, plucks
a soulful strain from Mozart
on a battered guitar.
Its case is open on the dirty concrete,
a few coins and bills
coaxed from a family from Iowa,
will buy one or two meals,
a share of a dump on
Decatur Street, when he’s
not enjoying the wonders
between a girlfriend’s thighs in
a ratty old apartment in the Tremé.
His trio, assembled for the day,
seem barely out of
high school, or some music program
up north. Each wandered to NOLA
to live the mythical life of music,
for the joy of it, happy
with friends, happy to live
rough, running from gig to gig,
earning a street corner on Thursdays
to seduce tips from tourists,
getting thinner and gradually
realizing that love alone will
not feed the bulldog.
But oh, there are times, just
like this morning, as tourists
walk by and glance at my books
thick air moving into
the square from the river,
the magnolias in bloom,
the smell of overflowing
dumpsters, junkies sliding
along the alleys, looking to score.
And then Michelle,
long black hair gathered in a bun, bare
arms in a small black dress and almond-eyed,
raises the violin her father
bought her for her
promise, for respectable concert halls,
far from the dirty streets
of New Orleans. She
closes her eyes and summons
The voices of angels
to earth to move
among we the lost, but crying to heaven.
The ache and purity of the sound freezes
everyone nearby, even the junkies,
by something holy,
just for a minute.
And my heart remembers what it hungers for.
I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.
I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man:
Gimme a calendar with tricky bits, I said.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future.
The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice.
History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon—
Wouldn’t that be a good trick!…
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers.
It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.
I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.
I’m traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
Good night, good night, my fallen star
I guess you’re right, you always are
I know you’re right about the blues
You live some life you’d never choose
I’m just a fool, a dreamer who forgot to dream of the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
But if the road leads back to you
Must I forget the things I knew
When I was friends with one or two
Traveling light like we used to do
I’m traveling light
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn
A red wing rose in the darkness
And suddenly a hare ran across the road
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago
Today neither of them is alive
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going?
the flash of hand, streak of movement,
rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
Forty years—aye, and several more—ago,
When I paced the headlands loosed from dull employ,
The waves huzza’d like a multitude below,
In the sway of an all-including joy
Blankly I walked there a double decade after,
When thwarts had flung their toils in front of me,
And I heard the waters wagging in a long ironic laughter
At the lot of men, and all the vapoury
Things that be.
Wheeling change has set me again standing where
Once I heard the waves huzza at Lammas-tide;
But they supplicate now—like a congregation there
Who murmur the Confession—I outside,
(Hi. I’m still around, just not posting much. My life lately feels like the scene in this poem. I’ve got a manuscript for another book making rounds at publishers, hat in hand. And I’m mulling, reading and writing sketches that could be one of three book ideas. One’s a murder mystery, one’s a time-travel, sci-fi love story, and the third is hard to describe. Maybe it’s a memoir by the alien who makes first contact with humans and barely escapes by nuking the east coast. You know, cheerful stuff.)
Speed popping, long haul truckers stretch, yak, and
drink coffee with locals searching for pancakes or bacon
and eggs after a night of drinking, dancing, gambling, and
making whoopee at nightspots like the Tower Ballroom,
Saddlehead Sam’s, the 69 Drive-In, Barto’s Idle Hour
and the VFW. The haggard and the high class together.
No place else open. Roy Orbison belts out Candy Man
from the neon and chrome Wurlitzer. Cigarette smoke
curls around the horseshoe bar beneath a large, stuffed
deer head. Three a.m., crowd gone, fry cook leans over a
newspaper. Waitress rolls a nickel from her tip pocket
into the juke, punches in her selection, slides wearily
into a booth, puts her feet up, and lights a Pall Mall. Elvis
begins to sing. She closes her eyes and mouths the words, Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench,
the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.
I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.
What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?
Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.
(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel. Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. . Still, this just proves that any good thing can be ruined by the venal machinations of marketers– the modern source of most human misery now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)
And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.
When I come to the end of the road
and the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not for long
and not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take
and each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
a step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart
go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.
When I am dead my dearest
sing no sad songs for me
plant thou no roses at my head
nor shady cypress tree
be the green grass above me
with showers and dewdrops wet
and if thou wilt remember
and if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not fear the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
sing on as if in pain;
and dreaming through the twilight
that doth not rise nor set,
haply I may remember,
and haply may forget.
Is it possible, can a young person understand what real loss feels like?
It takes the heartbreak of puppy love; a betrayal of trust once…. or twice…or thrice; the death of a beloved grandparent, a classmate ripped from this world by being in the wrong place at the wrong time on a Friday night. Personal failure and the recovery of confidence. Or not.
If we’re not too self-centered, an awareness grows that the world is a complicated place, that people are not all good– or bad.
Time teaches the hard lessons. Losses accumulate like a negative balance in the account books, offset by the joys and happiness that are piling up, too. Life is a double-entry balance sheet. The numbers seldom lie as much as we do.
No one else can really make us happy. No one else can break us without our help. Things are beginning and ending all the time. The world was before us, and will go on long after we are gone. Even the most famous of us will be forgotten. Do you know the name of the Mongol general who fathered many of the children of conquered Russia from captives who were brought before him–in tears, or fears, or with calculating or admiring eyes–night after night? Even the descendents don’t know him.
Or the name of history’s first real musician?
We are both unique and utterly the same: the first and only us that ever was. But others like us wandered the forests of prehistory, or the markets of medieval Paris, or leapt off Viking boats with flashing steel and a roar, or cowered inside during Roman raids. Generations of our line may have labored anonymously in slavery, or murdered and plundered and raped. Yet some of them had the same nose, the same way funny little laugh as we do. The same aversion to yellow vegetables. The same taste for wine. The same eyes.
Those of us who have spent time on the downslope think about these things. Most of us are fools who haven’t learned a thing, too.
If you are young, how will you write this entry when you are my age? Will you be any wiser?
After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.
I know how to make a bed While still lying in it, and Slip out of an imaginary hole As if I were squeezed out of a tube: Tug, smooth—the bed is made. And if resurrections are this easy, Why then I believe in all of them: Lazarus rising from his tomb, Elijah at the vertical— Though death, I think, has more than clever Household hints in mind and wants The bed made, once, and for good.
That Harbor Freeway south
through the downtown
I mean it can simply become
last Friday evening
I was sitting there motionless
behind a wall of red tail lights
there wasn’t even first gear
as masses of exhaust fumes greyed the
and there was the smell of a clutch
– it seemed to come from ahead of
from that long
slow rise of
where the cars were working
from first gear
again and again
and from neutral back to first
on the radio
I heard the news of that day
at least 6
I was well versed
the remainder of the stations
played a thin sick
the classical stations
refused to come in
and when they did
it was a stale
standard and tiresome
I turned the radio
a strange whirling began in my head
– it circled behind the forehead
went past the ears and around to the
back of the head then back
to the forehead
I began to wonder
is this what happens when one goes
I considered getting out of my car.
I was in the so-called fast lane.
I could see myself out there
out of my car leaning against
the freeway divider
then I would slide down to a sitting
putting my head between my
I stayed in the car
bit my tongue
turned the radio back on
willed the whirling to
as I wondered
if any of the others
had to battle
compulsions as I
then the car ahead of
2 feet 3 feet!
I shifted to first gear . . .
there was MOVEMENT!
then I was back in neutral
we had moved from 7 to ten
hearing the world news
for the 7th time
it was still all bad
but all of us listening
we could handle that too
because we knew
that there was nothing
than looking at
that same license plate
that same dumb head
sticking up from behind
in the car
ahead of you
as time dissolved
as the temperature gauge
leaned more to the right
as the gas gauge
leaned more to the left
as we wondered
was burning out?
we were like some
crawling feebly home
The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.
I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.
And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,000 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.
It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.
These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.
The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead.
This life-sorting–patching and filtering—
feels like falling asleep on a muggy
afternoon and waking up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.
The Work, though, goes on.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)
The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.
I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.
I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.
Early in my seventh decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear, I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife had cancer 6 times and
and I have promises to keep, somehow.
I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:
No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.
Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.
Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.
Then give someone else the credit for it.
This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.
I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age old pain,
It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time.
You become an image of what is remembered forever.
You and I have floated here on the stream that springs from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another,
We have played along side millions of lovers,
Shared in the same shy sweetness of meeting,
the distressful tears of farewell,
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.
Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours—
And the songs of every poet past and forever.
The weather kicks sideways this time of year. It’s not always as bad as the year we got 39 inches of snow in one night in March and were snowed in for three days, but there’s always something.
It was warm as a sweet late May in the mountains three days ago, the time the redbuds and mountain laurel are in bloom, and sometimes dogwoods. But now we’re just grumping about it, siting under four inches of fluffy snow. It looks pretty resting soft on trees turning the world a shining, heavenly white in the morning sun, but it isn’t really welcome. Continue reading “That Time of Year”
Some poems make me an archaeologist.
I roll back the stone from the tomb of some
long-buried memory and analyze artifacts.
It seems more and more important to
look for what I can, to catalogue
it and make sure contexts are in order.
I can clearly see a soft brush
moving in my hand, delicately
clearing the dust from that time I was six or seven,
and we were at recess, in the monkey bars at
an old, old school building now
torn down 20 years ago.
The day was warm and bright,
glowing in that special benign October sun,
the girls squealing and running
—just fast enough to get
caught before everyone got tired—
as the boys chased them around and around.
Learning the rules of the mating game.
The lemon-yellow maple and bright-red oak
leaves in the sloping park just off the playground
were down in wind-shaped drifts. Farm kids all,
we simply asked a teacher for the rake
which she got for us, and we
made piles, big crunchy soft piles,
and jumped in them while Mrs. Fish looked on,
her arms crossed, sharing the moment,
stretching recess a few minutes because she knew
moments like this would end soon enough
and we would grow up and be gone…
and of course she was right.
All around town, on lampposts, hang
Boys in uniforms who went to war
in 1941, or ’42 or ’43 or later,
who never came back from that
sunken transport ship, or that
awful night on Iwo,
or who stepped in front of a truck
outside a bar at 1 a.m. in liberated
France, having dodged all the bullets
but not a truck full of supplies.
Maybe it’s that people who live in
mountain towns like this
Just have longer memories than most,
surrounded by the rounded remnants
of a once-great mountain range.
Rocks have long memories.
Or maybe we have a need to hang
onto the deep grief longer than is fashionable
in these throwaway times.
“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.
Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”
–– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
I self-published a book of poetry recently.
(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)
Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.
It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.
An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.
It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.
Practice. That was one reason. But for what?
Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?
I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.
I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.
I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.
(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)
So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.
I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.
Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.
Please call if the Pulitzer Committee tries to reach me. 🙂
I’m happy to announce that Hemmingplay’s alter-ego has published a collection of poems under the title “I Came From A Place of Fireflies.” It is available on Amazon and a Kindle version is at Kindle Link. Buying the paperback version entitles that person to download the Kindle version for free.
It would not have been possible to get this far without the support of everyone here. Even when the pieces weren’t very good, you still gave encouragement. I am grateful for you all.
The time was, we thought we had a handle on time,
but our time here is so short that there’s no
time to really understand what time is–
or even if we ever will.
There just isn’t enough of it for anything.
The pharaohs sat their fat asses
firmly on a people who could not
remember a time before this curious arrangement…
Before there were these arrogant
bastards who thought they knew best,
who thought the world worked best
as a pyramid with them at the top.
In the times of the pharaohs,
time had a different meaning…there
in the dull, slow heat of the desert
in between floods and plagues and
the brief, beautiful springtime.
After a while, the parasites tricked the people,
who were bored and out of work
and likely to cause trouble,
into piling millions of
blocks of rocks in magnificent piles as if
to say to the gods, “See, we can
build mountains, too!”
It also proved the Pharaoh
had the right to be in charge
since no one wanted to go to the trouble
of tearing all those rocks down.
But where are the pharaohs now?
Like real mountains, their piles of rocks will
end up as grains of sand,
blowing across the expanse of eternity
until they drift up against the
base of some other fool’s monument.
I once had an uneasy relationship
with time, in the person of clocks.
I couldn’t wake with the sun, or sleep when
it got dark, and my soul was always
out of sorts, and anxious.
But at least everything didn’t happen
all at the same time…
They say time-keeping changed when
railroad people needed to make things work
across vast distances. For commerce.
Speed made organization and precision necessary.
Then factories needed everyone to begin
making things all at the same…. time.
There’s that word again.
I don’t worry as much about clocks any more.
I let the computers keep track for me
and watch time rush past as if
in a hurry to join its siblings in the distant past
where it can get away from clocks.
There it can sink back into the black
cloud of being, where everything has already happened.
I woke up this morning from a dreamy grey half-sleep
with the February rain dripping off the eaves.
A memory floated by that in a previous life
I was a horse. No question.
A big, brown horse with
soft, knowing eyes. I had been abandoned
out in the high desert by someone,
but didn’t care about them at all.
I knew once how to be free,
and would just do that again. I wondered
about finding water and something to eat,
but horses don’t waste a lot of time worrying.
We’re afraid of things that move,
and afraid of things that don’t.
But we know enough to pick a
direction where it smells more like
water than not, and begin again.
Time and memories intertwine
like a ball of earthworms.
It’s hard to know where one starts
and the other ends.
They say we cannot remember things
before a certain age. The wiring is still not right for it.
We may see pictures and know
we were alive earlier, but that’s just
the picture album version of life;
the real switch in us is still not on.
Mine came on when I was two-something years old.
My parents tore down the old chicken house.
It was in the afternoon of a slightly cloudy day.
I had a coat on, so it must have been
still early in the year. Late March, maybe.
The grass was the vivid, exciting green of spring.
Old boards stained with decades of manure
ended in a pile that would be burned.
Dust and old feathers liberated from hiding places.
A fixture in my world changed.
We can change things,
Even old things.
That was my first memory.
It’s funny, but I cannot remember
my parents that day. Just the scene in front of me.
My dog guarded me, stayed by my side until
the demolition exposed a rat’s nest.
She attacked with a speed and ferocity
that was both thrilling and scary.
There was a brief, violent battle
just feet from me, with screaming, then silence.
She came and sat beside me again.
I felt safe with her there.
And knew the difference
between life and death.
The switch was on.
And I knew why the grass was so green.
My spirit is starving.
How can it be fed?
Not by pain in the predictable future
more the pain in the past
but understanding the invisible flower
within the flower that tells it what is,
the soul of the tree that does the same.
I don’t seem to have a true character
to discover, a man slumped on his desk
dozing at midmorning. I’m an old poet.
That’s it. Period. A three-legged goat
in mountain country. It’s easier in the woods
where you have trees to lean on. There at times
I smelled bears right behind the cabin
coming to eat sunflower seeds put out for birds.
This dawn it’s primroses, pension,
the trellis of white roses. On Easter
Jesus is Jesus. When did God enter him or us?
Got a little bit of good news this week. One of the editors of the 25th Anniversary Anthology Edition of the Austin TX. Poetry Festival reached out to me a few months ago after seeing some pieces I published here and invited me to submit some work for inclusion. In the end, they included six poems, starting on page 111.
“When Time and Space Conspire” is the title. Charles wrote this morning to let me know that the first printing is in his office and he’s starting to send out copies. I’m hoping to get my own chapbook published this year, but this is nice as a first print appearance of my verse. The anthology is available on Amazon@
How long the winter has lasted—like a Mahler
symphony, or an hour in the dentist’s chair.
In the fields the grasses are matted
and gray, making me think of June, when hay
and vetch burgeon in the heat, and warm rain
swells the globed buds of the peony.
Ice on the pond breaks into huge planes. One
sticks like a barge gone awry at the neck
of the bridge….The reeds Continue reading “Walking Alone in Late Winter”
I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.
But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.
I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, ancient spirits lurch.
I’ve had to make allowances.
All through the night unlit by moon or stars, I sensed movement all around, a rustling of hurrying things. As though the trees of the forest were on the move, striding and jostling without words, just the sounds… creak and flex of branches, and the whisper of air through leaves.
When I arrived at the designated place, they were already silently in place, and the air breathed with expectation.
I was just eager to find out what all the excitement was about. What would make the forest walk?
I’ve told the story before, so will be brief.
It was some years from now. I was at a certain age. The gathering was of people in my childhood home town, most long gone, but now just as I remembered them. They expected me, and gave a warm welcome.
You may wish to make something psychological of the imagery. Be my guest. I would be tempted, too. I don’t mind.
But in this case, something is different and I can’t shake the feeling. I choose to believe that this was simply a moment of grace. I was given a glimpse into the future, given to know in advance how long I have. And it seemed quite a generous figure.
The joke could be on me, of course, and Jung and Freud could have a field day with the plentiful neuroses they could find in the symbols.
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
However, I’ve always worked better under deadline. No truer term could there be, but it is soothing, somehow. That’s part of who I am.
It may just be as simple as that.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… I must get back to the work.
Life presents so many impossibles
that some days I lose my ‘can-do’ spirit
and adopt a “can’t do it, won’t do it” sneer.
I’m then like one of those people who
Drives 53 MPH in the fast lane and
refuses to move over,
wrapped in stubborn, brittle virtue.
There’s a bird feeder outside the window,
itself a can-do attempt to
thwart the thieving squirrels. Continue reading “Impossibles”
I may look normal, but I’m not. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head. It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….
“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.
“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”
Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.
So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.
I’m sorry for your pain.
I am. It’s real.
But you’ll also have more. Lots more.
And you will survive.
Because you’re tougher than you know.
Welcome it. Use it.
Grow from it.
My right leg hurts. Nothing new there.
I need coffee, soulful kisses, and more…so much more….
I’m getting old and that pisses me off.
I’ve loved deeply and lost, have known death,
You will do both, maybe already have.
I’ve held my babies, watched them grow,
I’ve seen mothers lose theirs.
We win and we lose, sometimes more loss than gain.
I’ve been around the track more than once, but in the end
It, writing, boils down to answering this question:
That’s the question I put to us all.
So fucking what? Everyone has a sad story.
Answer “so what” and make me care. That’s the job. That’s what I want.
That’s the reason for poetry.
I want more than the lazy, the easy;
more than the ordinary,
more than common oatmeal,
(With or without raisins and sprinkles).
I want to know how those oats grew, and where,
What they felt when they were harvested,
I want to know if they screamed, or just magically
Floated into your bowl, mere reflections of your sadness.
I want to see why I should care about your oatmeal.
It isn’t all about you, you see, but about all of us,
And I’d like to know whether you can see beyond–
I want you to show what’s beyond the
Rustling of your jimmies, beyond being sexy,
Beyond, beyond, beyond.
Jesus H.! I want you to stop settling for less.
Less than you can do. Less than you will do.
I want you to get knocked down,
get up, and get to work
Over and over and over.
To show what it meant. Show me the answer: So what?
There’s no time to waste, you know, Less than you think; no one knows the future.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Which I know now, and pass it along.
Maybe you’ll listen, but if you’re like I was,
You won’t get it and will go on
Thinking the world is here just for you,
Thinking that mere deep feeling is enough.
I have a newsflash from the other side, y’all:
It’s not enough. Not by a country mile.
(And stop rolling your eyes).
I want to feel you turning lead into gold,
I want you to show me– not tell me about– a growing soul,
I want to taste, to see, to feel what you do,
I want you to hunger for something always out of reach
I want you to tap the universal, to move us forward,
I want us all to connect the dots, do the hard work of humanity.
For our own precious humanity,
do the hard work.
do the heavy lifting.
I want you to read the best, then emulate them.
Then be better than them.
Sweat the details, then shine a new light.
Do hard and holy things.
Hard and holy things.
That’s what we signed up for, you know.
Not the ordinary. Fuck the ordinary.
But most of all, right now,
I want coffee.
So much more.
The ambulance driver told me in a bar
about the car accident–Elsa’s head torn off
and her eyes stayed open.
I went to the site with a bouquet of flowers.
The road’s shoulder was short green grass and along
the fence there were primroses and California
poppies. In the field a brown-and-white cow
watched me wander around. I wondered
how long Elsa could see, and what.
I found a patch of blood-crisp grass
where her head must have rested
surrounded by shards of windshield.
She was a fine gardener with a sweet,
snow flurries in the sun.
I encounter many me’s
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I enter
a Greek amphitheater
in ancient Corinth,
my many selves sit on the old
blocks of stone, twitching.
I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.
Today’s your turn to whine about your life.”
We all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.
It was in the fall of seventh grade.
A bunch of us piled into a friend’s car.
I remember lots of laughing, goofing around.
Nearly new teenagers filled with the thrill of being alive.
A girl with jet-black hair I’d known since first grade squeezed in
Next to me and the entire length of her thigh
pressed into mine by the crush of bodies in the back seat.
I fell in love for the first time.
Just like that.
We never dated, and it wasn’t long before my
family moved overseas and our paths never crossed again. .
What is “Dark Matter?”
No one’s ever been able to catch any
in a quart canning jar, as we did as kids
in the summer nights with lightening bugs.
As nearly as my math-less writer’s brain can tell,
it is the power of something unseen, deduced only
by observed gravitational effects on stars, on galaxies.
Something very big, but still a guess, in other words.
Subject to experimentation. Grants. Scholarly papers.
Astrophysicists say this is important, which may be true;
I also suspect sometimes they’ve been smoking weed up
there on the high, cold mountain outside the
telescope house, huddled around campfires,
telling math jokes and giggling, high as fuck.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
Someone said: to get better, read the best
You must be logged in to post a comment.