One Day in the Summer – a poem

Huckleberry Hound was a lazy pup
but rounded the corner with raving eyes
lathered and frantic, like he was pursued.

Said, “Mama, he went up under the house.”

“Go get him,” she said. Had to then I guess.

Hound-sized chink in the brick foundation
but if I reached one arm in tucked my head
could squirm through follow him into the dark.

She handed me a flashlight, said “Go on.”

This was something I’d never considered
the underbelly of the house its guts

squared onto a powdery dirt that for
all the age of the structure had not seen
the light of day. Dank dry dust and cobwebs
creepy and cool is why he’d gone in there.

It took a while but that had to be Huck
against the cool concrete wall of the porch.
Paired red dots way back there his trembling eyes
or was that just what my eyes were doing?

“Go on now,” she said. Well, alright then, ma’am.
On my belly toes dug in had to keep
from bumping my head on the kitchen pipes
then past them like diving under water.

Heard him whimper or again it was me
but closer now squeezing midway under
the dining room far up in there was a
private place like nowhere I’d ever been.

Hi ol’ Huck.

Eye to eye it was bad how he panted
neck strained teeth bared in a grin that scared me.
Way back in the day Mama said, “Get him.”
But this was my call. I said, “Hush, Mama.”
She didn’t like that. “Don’t you hush me boy.”

Who knows how long it took? Flicked off the light
dropped my head on my arms. I knew one tune
and sang it. Maybe you know the song, too?

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children
of the world.

I did that a while like a lullaby.
Then this moan shut me up a whole ‘nother
song that right now scribbling can hear it plain.

A lot of time in there to contemplate
the dirt to consider the ticking dark
nose pressed in things I hadn’t thought about.

When I dared to switch on the light again
Huck was different, ribs still, legs stretched out
like he was running someplace, eyes bugged tongue
lolled out and dry. So then what’s the hurry?
In that weird space I sang to him some more.

A slow drag then feet first for both of us
snot slimed to mud on my cheeks shirt rode up
and the rub of the dirt at my belly
press of the house like the flat of a hand
freaked out beneath the dangling kitchen pipes
desperate old drowning man flailing for air
little kid squirming dragging his dead dog.

At the hole, worked my legs out first, but then
got stuck halfway and yelled. Mama had gone
back inside. She had work to do no time
for my triflin’. That was a lesson too.
Sharp brick drew a long red scratch up my back
but wiggled out one fist around a paw
to finally drag him into the light.

Huck was heavy and stiff like all dead things
and dirt had kicked up in his startled eyes.
I said, “I’m sorry” and tried to wipe them
my thumb on an eyeball hard as marble.
Oh man, how I hated that scary hole.

Mama came out laid a rag on his back
and spread it to almost cover his legs.
Said “Huckleberry was a good old pup.”
Said, “Prob’ly old man Perkins and all his
durn chickens,” whatever she meant by that.

When Daddy got home my dog disappeared.
He mortared up the crawl space too but missed
the new one as fathers do opened up
in me where Huck and I to this day lie
flat in the dark far in and away right
up against the hard fact and singing
alone to each other as best we can.


She Said, He Not So Much – a poem

My father hardly spoke.

My mother never quit.

I’ve grown up with this yoke

all because of it.

You want to say it all

like your mama did

but then you get the call

to keep it all hid.

The trick is in the way

you sit the nest

of what you have to say

to say it best,

or if not best than better

than whatever comes to mind,

you try to say what matters

and leave the rest behind.

So thank you Mom and Dad

for the Spratt-like thing you did

in the way you got it said

all the days that you were wed.

Put one and one together

and this is what you get;

it’s just I don’t know whether

or what to make of it.

How to Carry Someone Who is Unconscious – a poem

Why would you want to do that?

Is he lying in the street or halfway in a door?

Do you hear gunshots?  Do you see blood?

Can you detect a breath

tickle the fine hairs of your ear?

Did you see him fall?  Are the two of you alone?

Don’t take forever with it – think!

It’s okay to drag him, if he’s big and you can.

But here’s how:

Roll her over on her back

then reach in at her head and push her up

to sitting.  Take your time with this, don’t hurt yourself,

don’t pull her arms, don’t tug, remember your back.

Maybe you end up on your knees

so your whole front is like a seat back

for this insensate person.  I mean,

you have to understand, this is an intimate maneuver.

But you’re only just beginning, so.

Slide your arms under his and clasp your wrists at his chest.

Make your arms a belt around him, like a big old bear hug.

Then if you can do this, here’s a place where you need to be sure,

get up on one knee, then you and this person

you are hugging tighter than you can believe

use your legs not your back your bodies really sandwiched

you both yes that’s right come to a stand.

This is no joke.

Because now you’re committed. 

Now you could both go down.

It’s like a dance, a kind of shuffle

where you squeeze her even tighter

while you shift your position

sidle around to her side somehow

you really have to practice

and her sleeping arm you need to duck under

so it’s hanging out there zombie-like across your shoulder

but what you’re going for is to block her knees with yours

shove them up straight and locked

so for the first time you see how tall she is

in this high and doddering precarious place

where you’ve arranged yourselves.

But that’s not even all.  Are you ready?  Get ready.

Because now comes the switch.  No, seriously,

this is how you do it.

It’s the weak link in the procedure.

You have to quit the bear hug

while you ease around to his front

and grab his floppy wrists

(it helps to lean forward and crouch

so he sort of drapes across your back)

and then here we go, alright, this is it.

Get in right under her armpits

pull her arms over your shoulders like a shawl,

bend those knees, stick out your butt

(her head may loll or knock onto yours)

and take a tentative step.  You’ve got him.

You can shuffle off to what you hope is safety,

to help, to some kind of better place. 

Maybe his legs are long and drag behind,

toes drawing lines from there to here

if you’re in sand.  People may see you

and not know what to think.

But let me say this.  There is a rule

that we all follow and will hold you to.

Oh yes we will.  If she is unconscious and you touch her.

If you dare to move her sleeping form.

Until you get her the help she needs and can

do this whole thing we just rehearsed

entirely in reverse,

until that moment when you step back,

unkink your knees and spine,

wipe at your shirt and bend gasping at her side

until then — because you touched her —

you own what happens.  You are the responsible

party.  The Good Samaritan. 

In ways you must decide to bear

that is your burden too.

So this.  It helps to be ready, to have a clue.

It’s not for everybody.  I get that.

There are these risks involved

if you dare to cross that line, if

you stop and bend to touch.

You would hope if it was you.  But

I’m not here to judge.  Which is

why we practice.  So here.

A little rude but I call it

try before you buy. 

Blackberry Missive – a poem

July in Virginia

our father skips lunch

to stride the dry pasture

in work brogues

to that thicket

where blackberries

sprout like purple

polkadots and

wades into the briars

and bees until

sweated out

with knuckles

and forearms bleeding

he’s filled two gallon

buckets.  Why? 

Because we love cobbler.

One of the things

the war took out of Daddy

you’d have to guess

was trust in saying much.

So what if he never

told me that thing,

I mean, what’s the worth

in words when you

can taste it like that?

Prodigal’s Return: A Poem

The little pond

back in the woods

was my Walden

before I’d ever

heard of Thoreau.

I’d wander there

to skip a rock

sit ponder

let its shimmer me.

Back home now

things are rotten. 

The old feed store

the depot the cannery

even the yellow

caboose Old Man White

pulled off the track

its roof agape

to the sky.

Leaving daffodils

for Mama and Grandma

walked the cemetery

where all my old Sunday

School teachers lie

beside my brother

my childhood best friend

Steve, Daddy, Uncle Jack

and the rest.

The tombstones

like books on a shelf

each one a story only

those still walking

can tell. Each a volume

of local lore in a

graveyard collection

gone to seed.

I left there in tears

then found myself

walking the overgrown

path that once was the

railroad bed

back down to what

I hoped was still

my pond.

Jumped a fence

fought through

brush to a clearing

where it lay

exactly as always

chatoyant

in its ragged collar

of pines.

A tree down

in a circle of sawdust

chips very recently

gnawed by beavers

And the dam

look how the creek

had worked its way

around

begun to empty out

until the beavers came

in the pond’s abandonment

to make the necessary

repairs,

their lodge a patch

that saved it all.

So I sat again

for as long as it took

for all my tears to dry

left with a rock

in my pocket

and a lesson I think

that some things can last

yet to plug home

and hearth into water

requires a beaver’s

attention

the hard work of

teeth and heart

and yes you pick

your battles

but now’s the time

to start.

Going Back to New Orleans

In April, will be returning to New Orleans after some years away, attending an occupational therapy conference downtown.  And will land aswirl in memories from those sowing wild oats years immediately after college, when I rented a Magazine Street apartment without window screens or furniture, bought a used mattress, card table and lawn chair, and sat on a sagging back porch with my Smith-Corona, struggling mightily with this frivolous puzzle, how to write a poem.  The previous summer, I’d spent at home in Fork Union, VA, working a failing farm with my father.  That time, too, glows in memory.  Here’s one of the first things I’d call a poem written on that Uptown porch:

A FISH STORY

I like a life

that grasps life,

one tipped a bit

to the instinctive

side,

that will dare the

touch of an

                     other.

I like Daddy

cornering a catfish

         pausing

still as a stump

arm-diving

         scooping the

                     yard of

                                 fish

from the pool

                                                        a raving

                                                                     urgent

muscle

and tossing again to cool freedom in the slipping

     water.

I like the background

the one that threw him

in four feet of water

     four feet long

                                 heels up

                    on a fish’s back

and all the brothers

laughing –

Like I say

the balance

slightly

            tipped.

River Shadows – a poem

This poem was recently anthologized in an Emerging Poets volume; came to me after a day of hanging out by a mountain river up past Floyd with my friend David Clark.

Have you seen

the somber

loom of winter

trees lay stripes

on clear water —

maybe a trout

stream

after snow?

 

The penciled

line jagged

along the

rocky bed

overdrawn

by a skittering

rippled lid

 

like time

what flows

like hurt

what won’t

 

a day underway

a smudge beneath

that will not

budge or sway

 

the current ignites

and scatters

the shadows

lay down the law

 

or is it two truths

that interplay

you go you stay

stubborn rule

that cannot hold

the flow at bay?

Space Aliens Come Upon the Dictionary Page that Starts with Colonel Blimpism and Ends with Colorway

Discovering that

a phenomenon

of light or perception

may distinguish

otherwise identical

things, and that this

flourish named

color is often used

among humans

in that way.

 

Though some are

color-blind, it seems

and others call others

colored, and those

without color – because

the definition of color

excludes the phenomenon

of light we call white

these whites block

those with color

(But why? And how?)

from participating

in various activities.

 

Color bar/color line.

 

Why would the

colorless — ie,

pallid, blanched,

dull, uninteresting

do such a thing?

What activities, exactly?

 

And how do they

distinguish anyway?

Is that what this thing

a colorimeter is for?

Are there colorists

who decide?  Do they

fear those with something

called color temperature?

Blackbodies that can emit

radiant energy to

evoke color?

 

That’s it!  (They say.)

We’ve got it.  The key’s

right here on this page.

Now we know what moves

them.  And the word we’ll

use when we go down

to colonize.

A Thing They Call a House

I came back to this box

where we I almost said live.

That’s what they are, of course,

with holes in the side,

through which we sieve.

 

Has the foundation gone off plumb?

Something shuffles in the attic,

shadows dart at the edge of my eye.

Stale breath from the vents,

flits of static. . .

 

And now it’s too big or

probably maybe I’ve shrunk.

Imagine the moment you notice

the echo your own feet make

on the stairs, that hollow thunk.

 

When do you start to pare it down,

put all but one placemat away?

When do you leave the shutters drawn

and forget the mail and fry an egg for dinner

and wear your slippers all day?

 

Or maybe you think it’s time

to leave this box behind and see if you

can find one more compact,

carpeted, cozy, without all the ghosting

features that make you fear for your mind.

 

I’m sure you never dreamed that I would

run into this wall; but then you never

had to watch you go then turn and

lift the lock to this maze of

mocking rooms and narrow halls.

 

This box so empty it rattles, and blinks

and leaks and moans. Weird as a museum

when all the crowds have gone,

a thing they call a house

we used to call a home.