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On A Southern Snow Day

25 Feb

we observe a Carolina housecat’s stitched together steps,
     open the back door to a bounty of bleached
          yarn in the yard now treadled by her feet.
     Herds of long necked dinosaur clouds,
icicles on the eves, and gray paws
     quick to pick and batten January string
          are a woven hope—a single surety of Spring.

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Final Flood

26 Jan

Beside the toddling Ausable we kids grew to be disciples
of gun oil, varnished stocks, blued barrels, and the old
cash register of Robinson’s Guns and Ammunition,
Grandpa behind the counter packing Half and Half
into his pipe, plucking a paper match.  I’d notice
his fingernail, evenly split and unable to mend
from where a car he’d been repairing fell on him. 

Visiting in summer, we’d walk from Grandma’s
to the store, numb our fingers in the Coke cooler,
wait for Grandpa to offer wet glass bottles of Hires
and Orange Crush, carbonated hiss invoking spirits
of the sugar rush.  Love poured—filled us,
made us less afraid even of the dusty black boar’s head
dead in his dim back office.

The store had, for years, been sitting vacant
when on an August weekend
Hurricane Irene contorted the Ausable,
split the town into floodplain and high ground. 
FEMA gained the land and came with bulldozers. 

Today, Google shows weeds 
and dirt where Grandma’s house should be.
Between those two trees, I point out for the kids,
and the store right where that dumpster sits.
            There was a front porch…

but the image on the screen is now blurred
by a sudden weight of water on the shore.  

The Old Brown Schwinn Blues

6 Sep

I think I’d give a lot to do over the decision:
my father’s ten speed Schwinn Sports Tourer
gone to the scrapyard for money for vacation.
The maxim, If you don’t ride it, you don’t need it,
uncluttered my life a bit, but now that old brown
Chromium alloy frame and those aluminum rims
haunt me like an unforgiven sin.

My father let me ride it so I could still get to work
after he took my driver’s license, a mercy of persuasion
like a derailleur pushing on a chain to move it.
If I could, I’d go like seventeen again,
bomb a long hill in top gear, lower chin to handlebars
and praise wind that brings tears. Instead,
I slow pedal on this one speed poem.

The Wave

20 Jun

The swing set little girl, though flying,
manages to wave as I drive by
in the work van, sweep of hair
and dress turning sight to faith
and I tap the brakes.

Generously her flight curves,
her small hand giving grace
as if she knows it will return.
My hand obeys, and a swerve
of laughter crashes on my face.

Odds On Redemption

29 Mar

I’m thinking of a number
between one and ten
and whoever guesses best
gets the final brownie.
Clamor of voices desist!
Each make a choice
and I’ll reveal what I have hid.

I’m thinking of a hitter
who wishes to be better
than the pitch, not to press,
but to select one he can hit. 
He fights and works the count,
hoping for an offering
to come to him.

I’m thinking of a number
between one and seven billion.
This clamor of faces exists
to be cherished and lifted. 
I’m thinking of a kindness
given to the many, and all
the opportunity to guess.

Affliction and The Writing Life

28 Mar

“Being a writer is an affliction” a friend of mine recently posted to his blog.  I couldn’t agree more.  I write because I must.  It’s a necessity.  This is who I am.  It is a state of being, as my friend suggested.  Ultimately, I did not choose to be a writer.  Rather, the work and wonder of being a writer was placed on me by forces outside myself.  Sometimes I try to ignore it or go so far as to deny my calling.  As well, I take legitimate rest from it.  But always it is calling me back with stubborn persistence.  It is a weight or pressure as formative as glaciers. 

I commented to my friend’s blog that his post reminded me of the 1997 movie Affliction.  Nick Nolte played generational alcoholic Wade Whitehouse in this painfully riveting depiction of addiction.  The film (in which James Coburn won best supporting actor for his role as Wade’s whiskey guzzling father) causes the viewer to feel like an alcoholic, always off balance, never quite able to establish the foundational, the real, the essential way to proceed.  Sometimes when I write I feel like Wade Whitehouse.

Affliction is an apt term for the writing process.  The stumbles, the falters and false starts, the painful humbling that must occur for writing to be anything close to good, are discomfiting.  A friend once called a poem I wrote “dismissive”.  And yet I was compelled to continue with revisions. 

The addict who has come to the end of all hope knows she cannot save herself.  She will either despair unto death or be resurrected to new life.  If she is raised, it will come from outside herself and that too will be an affliction with all its attendant sufferings and humblings. 

Affliction is the way of the writer.  But it is not an empty or self-destructive affliction.  If I merely look within for hope and inspiration I am defeated before I begin.  But if I look beyond myself, listening, investigating, quietly considering the friction caused by outside forces on my person, I become more of who I am.  If my work fails, who am I to demand its success?  If it succeeds, who am I to demand its precedence. 

If I think I know my craft, I do not yet know as I ought.  And thus I am tempted to despair.  I suffer “corrosive self-doubt” (James Lee Burke), but I write because I must, this is who I am.  If you wish for your writing to give you substance, it is no better than addiction.  But if at the center of your substance is a writer, you do well to embrace your affliction.

The Day We Met

23 Nov

you sat like summer in your red pants suit
on the edge of that flabby plaid couch
and, like all of us, did not make sense
of our study in Leviticus.
Sunday breeze roused the sash

and you stepped outside to catch your breath.
I followed, drawn to where
perfume and lipstick lit fires in my flesh. 

We talked and afterward it seemed as if
your long fingers had reached into me
and left prints, like an imp had sneaked
chocolates, then crawled into my heart,
leaving sticky bits and happy remnants.

The Water Oak

22 Nov

My first son and I, both of us long limbed,
just can grasp hands around the rough bosom
of the old water oak out front.  On its south side
large low branches have been removed
and rot makes dark hovels of the collar cuts.
Further up, fractured gray bones jut
desiccated among lithe green leaves.
 
By wind and years once pliant arms succumb,
dropping to the roof or lawn.  And as I gather
for a fire, I pray the long ominous bough
hung with mistletoe to endure over the corner
that is the boys’ room.  This prayer arose
even before the broken top that blew and caught,
hidden, in the last tree my logger father felled.

Prudence demands hiring a company
of men to prune danger hanging from above
though mercy blows extravagant on the breeze
and chainsaws cannot cleave that dominion.
Nearby roots of a younger oak, still growing,
are made known by a crack in the foundation
and a bow in the boys’ north bedroom wall. 

All of us who live within the province of oaks
must contend with the wind, and the creak
of limbs, as we stoop to gather sticks
and broken beauty.  All of us carry
or receive unwelcome news of doom falling
and must permit the reach and roots of trees
to subdue suddenly, or by slow degrees.

River Carver

13 Sep

A photograph from about a year before you died
shows you seated on a large stump hands folded,
shoulders slumped. My brother and I had walked
down from Grandma’s with my birthday camera
never meaning to capture how cancer had deprived you
of Helen years back, how grief had seized you

and your workshop had retired into shadow;
the gravers laid on benches among shavings
sharp reminders of your need to carve reliefs.
They had fit the artist’s hands—hands made
to wield them—and formed many works:
the shields of the apostles on oaken doors, the altar table,
the walnut reredos so beloved by the congregation.

Helen had ever been your blade and stone,
her keen spirit comfort to your war wounds,
but the unceasing waters of bereavement
whittled your bones and finally broke them
at the kitchen table where Grandma found you
gouged by your own hand and that dull revolver…

Once, while in the South Pacific, you had mailed
a thank you to my mom for photographs received
of her, a then months-old baby. Declaring love,
you promised her stories, mud pies, and the circus.
Your works deserve prominence, but you
were carving for an audience of folks along the river
in a town that would suffer many floods.
For Carrol Coolidge (1908-1980)

Given

30 Jun

Our Sundays in the park are not forgotten:
the flowering apples, the plumb and level bees.
At the pavilion, bridesmaids and groomsmen
smoking, waiting for pictures to be taken.

I had a wish to syncopate their laughter
with our cadence and our rhythm.
You concealed, double wrapped in skin.
I your living envelope, your place of origin.

Not desiring marriage, and despite my arm’s petitions
I gave you for adoption.
      Oh, the grip of charcoal eyes, of newborn grace!
      Oh, the place where lightning struck my boughs!
      Oh, the rhythm of rainfall the day you appeared
my rising river, my hidden-to-me girl.

Fall arrives and oaks brace themselves,
the park gathers its leaves—I am familiar with
the hardening of bark, the early freeze,
but could not have guessed what now rolls over me.

An infant cry—a flash and strike—but wait,
a distant rumbled comfort has its say.
I ask the baby’s name, tiny hands are upraised;
The mother and I stretch over the stroller like a canopy.

-for Jill G.

Graceful Rider

30 Jun

I recall the asphalt—a blur beneath—and my days
at the school of tachometry.  Chrome tailpipes
and handlebars shone like a vision.
I leaned into the turns until the foot pegs scraped.
Hardtop suited me just fine.

I evoke the throttle’s spirit—the twist and release—
and the engine’s heat.  They moved me, but pavement
takes a toll and ditches are replete.  All those close calls,
falls, and crashes hurt, but I never refused the road.
I crossed the double line

before I slowed.  Then came the graceful rider.
He rode from days of old on everlasting tires
because the time had come.  When he spoke I shattered,
but he whispered to each piece; for every shard he shouted.
His voice was bread and wine.   

He made pursuit his standard and tattooed me with fire.
I ducked and dodged and rolled with bent desire,
but he planned my course.  He pierced and purchased,
broke bones and mended, then caught me with a look…
He saw a man born blind.

My will failed, he gripped.  He healed my road-rash knees,
rebuilt my make and model, he saw to parts unseen
and my gears made changes.  Rubber on the street
moved me to new places.  Beneath chain and sprocket
I saw narrow roads unwind.               

November Highway

29 Jun

Over radio waves, on a glare November day, a wide sky
transmits Bob Dylan’s boot leg release number eight. 
The buzz of amplifiers rises in the places where he breathes.

He says, Once I had a pretty girl, but she did me wrong. 
Now I’m marching to the city and the road ain’t long. 

I’m driving alone, so I join the sacred melody and the sky
stoops down—to better hear the singer, I tell myself—
as if the buzzing and the breathing are its favorite song.

Beautiful girl

26 Jan

you draw my eyes and I anticipate.
Like on a starlit night, my gaze
rises to your skies and remains.

When I stay too late in town,
full of cares, I remember you.
Street light and cityscape are fair,

but your light is higher, and yours
a darker country.  So take me
where flame will be folded into fire. 

Let us lie close.  Let us make
a space for stars at the window;
they are drawn by our embrace.

Song Of The Sanitation Worker

6 Jan

We, the yellow vested men,
Hold the bar and toe the rail of the county truck
As it jerks, bucks, and grunts its girth
Through city block and subdivision.
We leap down, run-trot, retrieve the bins,
And attend the marriage of a wheeled plastic container
To a greased hydraulic mechanism. 

Laying on gloved hands, we open lids, face odors,
Yank levers—bending, lifting, even reaching in
For the sake of the human garbage mission. 
Ours is the trash romp, the crud collection;
Ours the pride and pomp of rubbish. 
We are the shakers and dumpers.
We are the gristle on the bones of sanitation.

Hidden

5 Jan

Ready or not, the seeker says.
    There’s only so many holes to go down
in this house, but they run to them again
when the count begins.

Who crawls from the laundry heap
or out beneath the bed is musty, dust
and silliness, contented to be found,
or else lodging complaint
if the count was too quick.

They pull my hand, demand, Count loud!
You’re it!  Oak floors bounce and shake,
then all sounds whisper into secrets. 

I raise my voice to reckon time
before ready or not and here I come.
I go slow, but you’d never guess
the way they’ve flown, like ghosts,
behind doors and into backs of closets.

Then I search the rooms of our home;
I seek their faces,
and the light that would be
found in darkened places.

Teller

28 Dec

In books he read aloud, my father uttered charms.
Brave Sneelock, the Heffalump, farmers Boggis, Bean, and Bunce,
the characters by whom he cast a spell.
As a boy, listening, I never guessed an author
and barely parsed the teller from the tale;
all the earth and sky was in the telling—and didn’t fail.

Who told me stories first my heart is welded to
with sentences, is anchored to, as truth is to a word.
His voice turned all to flint and fire,
or else so leaf and green as to be giddy.

Mom says he still reads to her—I can see him in his chair:
lamplight on furrowed brow and legs crossed.
The sun is low; the sky in rows of ruddy men
is marching down to greet him and he begins.
His gift is words—words full of rooms
in which the wonderment of telling is the end.

Supply Yard Etiquette

16 Feb

Behind chain link, a shag dog waits
for the motor groan, the speech of brakes,
the slam-the-truck-door plumber, and the odors:
cheap cigar, pipe cement, fast food leftovers. 

Beer can hands unlock the gate,
deposit breakfast in a pan by salvaged sinks
rusting, roosting angled on their drains.
The dog slobbers, the man spits,

the sinks lean, warily,
away.

If Home

11 Dec

If home is where you go—if, here, you strike accords
between the sometimes angry parties at the table
and are able to heed the bell’s harmonic
when another round begins—you stand on solid ground.

If your pulp fictions hit the trash bin by the gate
before you stump over the back step
and through the door, if home is where
you log the daily lore, your feet are on the floor.

If home is where you laugh, cry, get surprised, listen,
touch, desire someone’s eyes, believe they believe
that you are wise, then you are wise. 
If this is your light and your sanctuary;

if home is where you go to rejoin the fight
after a long day—if your foundations shake
and your pillars quiver at the thought of this,
your beacon, quenched—you are a sage and a seer;

you are a lovely footed messenger in flight.

Love In A Whirlwind

11 Dec

I am memory’s author.
A story’s birth decorates my desk.
By pluck and plot and twist,
you ponder my works.
I write them.

These pages are dim alleys,
snow bright streets,
working hands, homeless feet,
ocean canyons, and a finger
pressed against your skin.

I write a whirlwind,
a burning coal in a child’s hand.
I write your name, your lips,
your chin.  Memory kindles,
a story is born again.

Trail Run

1 Dec

Gray squirrels rustling dry leaves
Skirt runners’ feet on the course;

A tolerant turtle parks and waits. 
But pale blue petals dappling dirt

Lie, and I trample the butterflies.
A crowd of survivor wings rises,

Blinking—the enduring blue
Eyelashes a buttress for my knees.

Meditation On Shadow

20 Jul

Lifted shades—shoulder blades
angled to the window;

Pen jots—mortal thoughts
cast immortal shadows;

Salt shaker, pepper mill
huddled on the table;

I, the paragon of Cain,
extol the offering of Abel.

Morning Reflection

14 Jul

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them… ~John 17: 18

…my yoke is easy…    ~Matthew 11:30

At the kitchen, by the door,
Our heels on morning floor,
We gather and prepare
To cross the threshold.

Our heels on morning floor,
We hesitate or hurry
To cross the threshold—
sent into the world.

We hesitate or hurry;
We sally, stump, or tumble—
sent into the world
to shoulder and forgive.

We sally, stump, or tumble,
Heels bruised and blistered,
To shoulder and forgive,
To receive the yoke of rest.

Heels bruised and blistered,
We gather and prepare
To receive the yoke of rest
At the kitchen, by the door.

Rising

22 Feb

She rubs mist from her drab face,
yawns as the granite moon descends,

ripples and shivers while embers,
buried by night, are stoked and blown. 

    From ash a yellow lobe will rise,
will hold itself, poised, in her reflection.
 
She joins leaf and limb, heralds again
the return of daylight and birdsong,

flaunts her glints and ruffles, beckons
one who, too long, has been gone. 

August Night

22 Feb

Watched by stars we lay reposed, settled on the sod.
The breeze leans—cinder clouds respond as to a prod.

You ask aloud, is smallness good?  I give a little nod
and look up from our cul-de-sac into the face of God.

A thread of light, bluish white, silently is flown—a stitch
to gather tats and rags, to hem our flesh and bones.

Grains of sand ride the sky, a moment they are shown.
We lay reposed, settled, and longing to be sewn.

Balance

30 Jul

A transaction statement arrives, is buried, finally rises to the top
and is opened, whereupon a five-year-old assails it with a crayon.
You find the time to frown check marks by debits and credits
that match your register; black ink corrals numerical larks.

Then, by calculator, I attempt to interpret this art. If only
I could deconstruct the prank figures, but previous and present
balances are stark, like Picasso’s later work: Don Quixote
mounted on a scribble horse, a depiction more likely to be parsed.

Saturday Coffee

25 Jul

I press the chop-saw through a two-by-four
and Van Gogh glares dust down around him.
Above his clay-brown hair, the rim has a big chip.

His expression says, I never asked for this
as if he guessed that fate would glaze him.
I make another cut: yellow dust settles

on the last of the cold black in my mug.  I pause,
arrested by his sober gaze…then check my mark
and raise the piney dust again.

VanGoghSelfPortrait1889-90OrsayAA web

You Can’t Punch The Clock

9 Apr

You can’t punch the clock—
clicking keys for poetry
throws time to the floor.

Instead, punch the dashboard
for this chance car radio
news alliteration,

sources in Sadr
city say certain sectors
of the city seem. . .

Happenstance hardly
hurries handy helps or hints.
Haiku hesitates.

Top 10 Poetry Finalist In Asheville’s Mountain Xpress Poetry Show

31 Mar

Mountain_Xpress_Poetry_Prize_Finalists_Announced

The Poem, Sleep And Dreams

Outside by Caleb Eells, age eight (and Dad)

12 Jan

Miserable, miserable sad cats,
uncomfortable and depressed,
their ears are damp and folded flat;
their tails are limp and wet.

The day is cold as it is long
and makes their faces frown;
their bodies huddle in a throng
and snow keeps coming down.

They sit—their thoughts are on the dog
where fire warms his hide;
they think, if he gets up to go,
we’re locking him outside!

SNOWSTORM 2011 214

Dad’s Journal, Saturday January 1st

7 Jan

Arose, made coffee, oatmeal, and a list.
Hugged and kissed spouse, and prayed.
Discussed a canoe, a massage—a birthday.
Chased, regained, attempted to retain
next door neighbor’s pet, crazy.
Climbed up and down attic staircase,
then folded stairs away.

Exercised paintbrush on desktop
and taught third grader a bit
about how to paint.  Made a lap:
dressed toddler in pink boots
and green shirt.  Went out to help
with fifth grade science experiment
before it rained—got damp anyway.

Brushed and rolled here and there.
Watched fifth grader play computer game.
Watched Popeye and the gang.
Cleaned up for dinner.  Sat down
with family and ate.  Beheld faces,
took up the graces, read books…
then wrote, and hit the hay.