Reflection in a Pond

My sometimes friend, a lady slayer I suppose

A man with notches on his gun

A chalk’em-up lover with rope in his bed

Confided in me once

 

He said

I’ve lived them all

Every one of my reality based

Non-paranormal sexual fantasies

 

Of those remaining, my favorite will require

A witch, or at least, witches work

And maybe the selling of a small portion

Of my big blond soul

 

He told me he wished to inhabit

The body of his lover while he loved her

 

I didn’t bother asking if he knew

The story of Narcissus

And I didn’t tell it

This would have spoiled some great and ancient

Secret between Devine powers

And every healing tear that’s ever been

 

But I did say

Knowing your desire you’ll understand

It is only your best interest I have at heart

If I tell you to go fuck yourself

 

Not long after this

In the high lust of spring

He disappeared

 

I found growing from his mattress

A single proud daffodil

And cared for it as I could

When it died, I buried it on a low hill

Next to an old dead river

Under a wooden marker on which I carved:

 

God is a magician

With imperfect speckled doves

Hidden under his tattered coat

And flowers up his sleeve

 

single_daffodil-wallpaper-480x800

Pennies from Heaven

 

At a donut shop near the sea

At a donut shop so close to the ocean

they sell surf wax

I’m picking out chocolate

Along side construction workers

And coffee hungry long distance commuters

 

I pick an old fashion compared-to-what-I-don’t-know

But the little happy-man clerk frowns at my money, he wants

Something smaller

Something less

Something not so large

Something more poetic

Like pocket change

Next time, he mumbles

I said, he mumbles these words: “next time”

 

The sun is rising and I am still high from dark room

half awake sex

It is a small throw-away-by-nine moment I cannot forget

A bubble gum wrapper moment stuck to my shoe in a parking lot

full of people who thought I was cool yesterday

When my poems didn’t have trite shinny endings like

 

There is no free lunch but occasionally

A donut sneaks through

Archeology

They will eventually fit together

the lonely pieces

into a whole map.

Being smarter, being the future,

being devoted to their work they

will consult available experts and

reach a consensus.

They will eventually figure us out.

 

This is my left hand waving to strangers,

my right hand touching your cheek.

Don’t tell me

you were expecting red-ruby slippers.

These are my eyes.

Look at them and keep one

if you need.

Or don’t.

But never say I didn’t offer

to go blind

at the first sign of surrender.

 

Your favorite love-disaster metaphor

is: ripping the heart out. Violence.

I’ve been impressed by this.

Your are easy with absence or

never quite motionless or

never caught waiting with your face exposed.

 

These are just samples,

hairline fractures.

 

Without a fist we circle each other.

Famously non-combative

we avoid the throat.

The path worn in the grass is our witness,

explaining each incomplete moment.

Exhale.

This is how they will find us.

The only mistake they will make

is in naming our reason.

A Desert Tent

Isaac

Blind

He waits for me in a desert tent

The wind with sand needles my face

I squint crows feet

I am the son

My mother wraps me in deception

My father waits in a desert tent

I smell the lie that is on me

 

He is old, like the womb that grew him

He is blind

He is my father

His name means laughter

I am still a clinging thing, without a wound

 

I carry the lie in a bowl

I feed it to my blind father

His name means laughter

The lie is heavy with spice

It is a strong lie

That my mother has prepared

 

jacob_esau

Final Trumpettes

On the eve of his destruction he calls you to his table he
Remains proud and defiant full of the strength you
Suckled like an angry lamb kicking at air and empty dirt

His face is bright and still full of the promise though
Everyone can hear the demons in the jungle having
Finally caught his scent and now drooling over the hunt

As if the day was his as if his hands did not tremble he
Insists everyone lift their glass to glory and nobody
Looks down they know their drinks are red like blood

Like Kool-Aid

The Snow and the Grass

The first poem I can remember returning to of my own free will, meaning I read the poem on my own time apart from any requirement for a test or homework, was Robert Frost’s classic, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

BY ROBERT FROSTRobert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

 

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

I still love this poem even though I rarely take well to rhyming poetry. I was in grade school, fourth or fifth grade I think, and it would be years before I ever experienced the utter quiet of snow in the dark. And yet when I read the poem over and over again as a child it was somehow future evocative. When I finally sat alone in the snow at night, perhaps six years after first encountering the poem, it was exactly what I expected because Robert Frost had already told me what it would be like.

This may have been the first poem I ever loved but the first poet I ever loved was Carl Sandburg. In high school I began to seek poetry outside of school assignments. The first book of poetry I ever paid money to own was Poems by Richard Thomas (the actor who41I80Z2YOwL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_ played John Boy Walton), which you can buy now for a penny on Amazon, or $44 for a “like new” copy. What I remember about the poetry of Richard Thomas, who no longer writes poetry, was the accessibility, which is not to say it was bad or less than good. I was exploring poetry and the memory of John Boy, who inspired in part my desire to write, was still fresh in my mind so the poetry of Richard Thomas was my midwife. I had written poems on occasion since junior high but it wasn’t until I read Richard Thomas that I understood there were fewer constraints than I’d imagined.

The second book of poetry I paid to own was Harvest Poems by Carl Sandburg, a thin volume of “greatest hits” covering 1910-1960.  I didn’t know it at the time but Sandburg was like a brother from another poet mother to Frost. They were very different, and were never great friends, but Frost was only four years older than Sandburg, they both lived into their late 80’s.

One of Sandburg’s greatest long form narrative poems was titled The People, Yes (a series of poems actually). He believed in the people. If Robert Frost had produced a mirror series of poems it might have been titled The People, Maybe. Frost was a rural New Englander, suspicious and insular. Sandburg was a Midwestern urban dweller and a Chicagoan above all else, open and extroverted to a fault. Though he relocated to a farm in North Carolina later in life, Sandburg remained a voice for the working class andCarl_Sandburg_NYWTS the city dwellers while Frost remained introspective and studied in a way that could be misunderstood as elitist. Although a modernist for mostly technical reasons, Frost was not an innovator and experimenter and compared to Sandburg was formal. Sandburg was wild and unpredictable, if also at times undisciplined, as a poet. So, of course I fell in love with him.

Frost had the presentation of an academic but it was Sandburg who wrote the first comprehensive and excruciatingly meticulous multi-volume history of Abraham Lincoln. He was a poet but it was history in the form of Lincoln that was his totem.

Such was my love of Sandburg that my best friend in college bought me his complete works for my birthday, for which he paid a hefty sum for a poor college student.  He inscribed the book with a demand that I pay him back with my first born child.

Like Frost, Sandburg wrote some poems that made their way into school text books, the most well-known probably being Fog (remember the little cat feet?). Another is Grass, which has been on my mind a lot lately and in my imagination stands in parallel to Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowing Evening.

Grass

BY CARL SANDBURG

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

What place is this?

Where are we now?

I am the grass.

Let me work.

 

The contrast between these two poems is found not only in the subject matter but the style and form, the line breaks and spaces. The poetry of Robert Frost often touches my heart. The Poetry of Carl Sandburg often reaches much further down.

The poem, Grass, has been on my mind lately because the grass has a lot of work to do lately and Sandburg has been on my mind because he was a socialist democrat. He was also honest, I believe, in a way that is hard to find in the public sphere right now. I know this is likely narcissistic nostalgia because every age has its liars and crooked politician. But every age also has it’s people who stand up and declare that  we are holding the wrong things sacred right now and that people who deserve nothing more than any of us are profiting from the sorrows of the world as if they are too high and mighty now to suffer too. I don’t know how to fight these crooked people but I cling to words and I remember the first three lines of  Sandburg poem titled The Eastland, referring to a touring boat that rolled over in the Chicago river in July 1915, killing 844 passengers.

Let’s be honest now

For a couple of minutes

Even though we’re in Chicago.

The reason I was brought back to these words was the simple plea, which was naive, even silly, 100 years ago when Sandburg wrote it. If we could agree for just a few minutes about what the honest words are…but boats full of people keep sinking, oil keeps spilling, wars keep being profit centers, freedom is still defined mostly by armaments.

And the snow and the grass remain constant and true, at least for now.

 

 

Why The Flame

Like an ant to syrup I respond to this word
“Pure”
In any context
Even the painfully inaccurate
By seeking to savor and store something
From it
Out of it
Drip it Drip it’s Dripping
Slow love if you’re lucky
Are you lucky
That was a question

What about the moth that runs from the flame
That was a question

When you have always known
You are a teacher
And you hate the idea
Which circle of hell will you flat track

That, too, was a question

Like, Have you seen me lately
Or, Does heaven have a landlord
And, How many white doves does it take
to satisfy the devil

Answer as you would if you were naked and
Cold and
Pure

Wrestleair

Jacob was the a.k.a. extra heir
Esau was heir enough but sold room in his lungs for food
(one cannot breath and swallow at the same time)
And as far as we know
He lived happily ever after as a hairy man with many wives
(God bless him)

Angels are often depicted as smooth skinned
Aerodynamic ephemeral creatures
(which is why they refer to each other as “the boys”)
Made of the remaining air from God’s intent
After breathing seeds of life into the foundation of time
(which is why God refers to them as the “sons of exhaustion”)

I wrestled Jacob in the shadow of Esau’s forgiveness
He demanded a blessing which was not mine to give
(the text falls shy of truth: he had me by the balls)
But I delivered it yet so God set me aside in his humor
To be the fallen angel of oxygen margins
(is how he said it, and then smiled)

I am all wind over 30 miles per hour
I am balloons
I am the small gasp at the site of someone you cannot love
I am lost hats
I am under every falling leaf
I am 30% of home runs and touchdown passes
I am the snort when laughter snorts
I am a pause on the radio
I am farts
I am on jet planes
I am friend to the woodwinds and cousin to brass

This is an abridged list, of course

But you know me, the angel of extra air

Once Was

This is the flower
That once was a chariot
That once was a sacrifice
That once was a table
Where soldiers surrendered
A table shaped like a pear
Not a tear but a pear
The table accepted their swords
Weapons without hands are

Even from here I recognize her path

This is the sword
That once was a lion
That once was a snowstorm
That once was a bed
Where women surrendered
A bed shaped like a tear
Not a pear but a tear
The bed accepted their bodies
Women without words are

Now you don’t

If you understand the angle of my chin to mean
The weather will improve

If you choreograph your next three steps
By the shape of my ears

If you examine the wrinkled skin at my elbow
To determine your age

If you wound five enemies with five different knives
Because of the scar on my knee

If you study my hands for any reason at all you should know
These hands are the wrong hands