He likes figures in neat columns,
Periods and parentheses
Straight even lines—
A linear plot leading to one
End of the story.
No shadows scale the wall of his mind.
He likes things clean,
Flesh, blood and bone
Just black etched on white
You could beg him
But he will not bend
Or stretch beyond the final tally.
But perhaps if tired and pushed
In the just the right spot
A bit of him would crack off
Like the sharp
Tip of a pencil
Pressed too hard against the paper.
The closed mind
It has not drawn one
Deep breath for years,
Lives in a bottle
with no holes punched in the top.
The self crouches in a corner,
Palms held against its ears,
Eyes squeezed shut.
It you try to coax it out
It clings to its old furniture
So tight that raw skin
Scrapes off its palms.
But still it won’t let go.
A fresh gust of air might burst its lungs.
There’s no use speaking to it,
This hard brittle thing
That snarls if you get close,
Chained dog guarding a gnawed bone.
You’re tempted to grab its neck and shake,
But don’t take the risk.
You could lose a finger,
break a toe if you kick it.
She is half in and half out tonight,
Outer edges sharp,
Center murky as if
Smudged away by a cloud.
Some say she is plain—
No color, no long flowing tresses.
She leaves these things to lesser women
Who flaunt themselves
Under the bold and glaring sun.
She prefers the night sky,
Knows she is nothing without it,
Her light opal, pearl,
No false diamond glitter,
Reveals herself slowly,
Sickle, crescent, half,
Three quarters, full,
In no rush like so many women these days,
Their faces masks
That never look, never see,
Never show what her
Bare face reveals to the world,
A pure light at home
With the darkness beneath it.
They’ll wear you down to the nub
So you think in dull
They’ll push the mute button
And drop the curtain
If you try to sing.
You tap the same keys each day
That spell the same
Breathe in motes, toner, pencil dust.
So days go by identical as ducks
In a carnival shooting gallery,
Your gifts sifted
To leveled-off scoops of white flour.
Your only hope
Is one day
You’ll get a window office.
But if that happens
And you tell them there’s a whole
Sky out there
They’ll never believe you.
The weatherman warns it is coming
Points at the dark
Roiling on the Doppler radar screen
Over the North Atlantic
Headed toward the sandy coast.
Who knows how these things get started?
Bile steams up, boils over.
It cannot be contained
So the water drinks in poison,
Breathes into the sky.
Then it’s the same bad news
Whatever they name it.
I close my eyes and I’m there when it hits,
Wind a shrill scream in my ears,
Branches and leaves
Whirling in electrified air,
Palm trees bent almost horizontal.
A thousand tiny knives of rain
Pelt my face, sting my eyes.
Ocean waves rear up
Like startled horses and crash.
I’m swept off the ground
And then the water—
Warm, pulsing, dark—
Brew of old salts gone wild,
Rises to my neck.
I can’t swim in this,
Must go slack as a log where it takes me.
Soon the sky will drain clean
To its calm pastel blue again
If I wait it out
With my calm still eye
Watching from the center.
All winter your sallow leaves drooped,
Browned and curved up at the edges
Like singed paper,
Then shed on the counter
Next to the only sunny window
Where the two cats
Sprawled like bookends at your sides.
In April I drench you under the outdoor spigot
Until your dirt thins to silt
And you slip out the red
Clay pot as if oiled,
Stringy limp roots hung in shreds,
A soaked mop dripping on my bare muddy feet.
I grasp you by the neck
Between your flared tresses and sagged roots,
Bury you in the new pot,
Pack the black rich soil tight and pat it down,
Mist your pale fronds,
Then set you on the wicker table
On the open porch.
By next morning your leaves are glossy again,
A shade greener,
Tips aimed upright toward the sun.
You were not like the other plant
That withered and died in a bigger pot,
Its thick white roots
Clenched inward in a tight fist
Shaped to the walls that had bound it.
I used to swim to the center of the pond
That was chilly and many
Lengths of me deep,
Flip over on my back,
Wriggle like an otter,
Then grow quiet as I could without sinking,
Arms and legs aflutter
Against the soft tow of the water,
Head submerged except for my face
Turned up toward the sky.
I watched white clouds
Dawdle in the blue sea of the sky,
Didn’t worry about the long swim back to shore,
Fathoms of water beneath me,
Or what swam there—
Pure mind tunneled in silence—
Didn’t know it was a well with no walls
I could sink down into
Where my voice would rise in tiny bubbles
Rise to the surface and vanish.
It was me and the sky,
Ears bathed in watery silence,
Limbs in a rhythmic dance with the water.
Now many years older,
I stay closer to shore
Where trees rise up in fringed shadows,
Secure in the their deep roots,
And dragonflies dart like tiny
Iridescent spaceships over the surface.
My feet can touch the squishy mud bottom.
There are voices, birdsong,
Lapping water and thin
Dangling branches so close
I can reach up and grab them
Though I know they won’t hold.
(at Jackson Lake, Wyoming)
A boy skips stones over the water.
His parents lean against a white trailer
With Missouri plates and smoke.
The woman stubs her cigarette against a bench,
Calls out to the boy,
But he ignores her and skims
The smooth rocks against the glassy water
That ripples and swallows them whole.
Finally he looks back and grins,
While she snaps a picture
With the jagged, ice-capped skyline
Of the Tetons in the background,
Rising up and reflected upside down in the water.
The boy skims one more rock,
Clambers up the sharp boulders to the trailer,
His rocks nestling on the soft silt bottom,
Leaking heat from his young hands out
Fast into the cold deep water.
For a printed version:
Poets of SHR 2014
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