Baby Food – a poem

With both boys home again zooming school, we talk about this corona year and its hardships, and I bore them at dinner recalling my own youth and the lessons there.

We hunted nickels in the cushions
when school lunch was 30 cents
bought kerosene in cans to heat
the house for a day
ran the car without oil ‘til it seized.

You weren’t born yet.
I was younger than you.

We put up a sign when the gas arrived
and cars lined up down the street.
Daddy let them buy food on credit.
What else, he thought, could he do?

When the store failed he walked
the fields drunk as a tattered lord.

So that’s why now here in the suburbs
amidst our cosseted stuff
I come home in a mask with cereal.
Ice cream.  Apple sauce.

You see that’s what he taught me —
find comfort where you can.
In hard times, ain’t it true,
you always run out of spoons.

The Four W’s and H – a poem

It’s all in how you look at it,
isn’t that what they say?
Not what you say,
it’s how you say it,
and even then, who can say?

On a particular day:
Maybe bugs got in the flour
or your kid pooped his pants
the remote control broke

and that guy came to the door.
Or the phone rang and rang.
She bent to kiss your neck.
The dog wouldn’t eat.
You stood up then sat down.

How could you have traced
or navigated all of that
when what we’re taught
is my own free will?

Failing to note
that strand of web
a tactile whisper at your cheek
alerts that eight-eyed wonder
up the line that never misperceives

to its one pure motive
cares not a whit for how
but is all about when.

Tinnitus – a poem

At first it seemed
real, the sound
snow makes in
falling or some
deep night tune,
awakened at the hoot
of an owl.

But it’s with me now
like a bad tooth,
payment due
for all those
concerts set to stun.

I know what it means
to communicate
this insistent single note:

Remember test patterns
on tv’s back in the day?

Says I’m here
I will whine
even when nothing’s on.

All day every day
that alarm.

Antidote: a poem

Confucius say
make a ritual
in order to attend
in order to focus
on what is needed
to calm enough to get
outside the blather
between your ears.

Make a meal and share it.
Taste and season as you go.

Pick up trash along your walk.

Turn off the phone and sit
and wait for what turns up:

maybe a hummingbird?

Next time you point and say
“You’re not the boss of me,”
scowl at that annoying mask
(while I pout back behind mine),

what if we consider
that even now that little
bee of a bird is gaining weight
simply from sipping flowers

to somehow brave the Gulf of Mexico
again so his race can go on?

Hummingbird Poem

My friend dying
on the mountain emailed
talk of hummingbirds
some of the last sweet
creatures she will see.

Wrote me last week not to worry:
“Only continuing my years’ long
evaporative process.”

In this season of our confinement
she sits with my friend her husband
on their porch and tears fall
with no more shame than the rain
spattering the trees.

She has planned it all with a kind of hope
that something like this would come along
some way to share it alone with him
no visitors to spruce up for, no pies
to nibble and throw out, no long sad looks
from those of us still breathing without gasps.

Her head cocks listening
at the flit, squinting eyes marvel
at the sliver tongue sipping
from the livid blossom’s drip.

All the thousand things that persist
as he cups her fuzzy head in one hand
to plump her pillow and she wonders
if she’s smiled in thanks but leaves it
over to trust because after all
that is what we have left
in the darkness in the naked world
when at last we surrender to sleep
and the next thing after that. 

She might be awake when hovering
for what seems like a pause
in time the little hummingbird
she could swear it
takes her measure
nods its glistening head
deftly turns its needled beak
like a pointer on a compass

and zooms away as if to say
the truly interesting
the nectar you seek
it’s over here come see.

Blue Ridge Parenthesis: a poem

For the first time since corona, Chris and I ventured out for a weekend getaway, staying at an Air BnB cottage on a hillside near Bedford, VA. She surprised me Sunday morning with Father’s Day gifts that included a watercolor set and Gary Snyder’s zen poetry collection Danger on Peaks. Which, over coffee, led to this:

On the ridge a neighbor
tests his semi-automatic:

Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!

Funny how it’s then
you notice quiet
a blank sheet seepingly
watercolored by
a distant rooster’s crowing
a mourning dove’s
wooden flute reply
and far down on the valley floor
the trailing hoot of a train.

Silent as a shadow
a skink with a brilliant blue tail
edges onto the deck:

Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!

Space Aliens…poem

This poem is in my new book collection Yearnful Raves, and strikes me as appropriate to the current situation:

Space Aliens Learning English Come Upon the Dictionary Page that Begins with Colonel Blimpism and Ends with Colorway - a poem

Space Aliens Learning English Come Upon the Dictionary Page that Begins with Colonel Blimpism and Ends with Colorway

Discovering that
a phenomenon
of light or perception
is how we distinguish
otherwise identical
things, and that this
inflection 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
do such a thing?

And how do they
distinguish anyway?
Is that what this device
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.

Paired Viruses: a poem

A virus can’t act alone.
Needs your participation.
Just a burr of contagion
sucked in on the air you breathe,
that finds a weak link, a chink in a cell,
then incubates until the fever burns.

Clots your brain, swells your lungs,
inflames the hearts of children
too young to understand.

With this one, we have carriers
who infect others but never suffer themselves
and super-spreaders who sicken whole crowds
as if spewing from megaphones.

How it preys on the weak, the under-served,
those frayed at the end of their rope.

One thing, though, some recover.
Yet speak of its tortures with awe.
How it knelt on their throats and chests
until they gasped their mama’s name.

A virus is a frightful thing.
A virus can’t act alone.

Prison Reviews of my Poems?

Just before the pandemic shutdown, I visited my friend in federal prison.  A couple weeks before that, I’d sent him a copy of my debut poetry collection Yearnful Raves, along with some other books.  Check this out:  I’m standing at the guard box in the visiting room when he strides through the prisoner’s door, and before we even get to the one allowed hug he’s saying, “Man, take this the right way, we liked your novel and your stories, all good, but these poems, that’s your sweet spot, man!”

We took our side-by-side plastic seats and he continued, frankly blowing my mind.  He said (paraphrasing), “I went around showing off the book and guys were like, poems?  I told ‘em they were by the fellow who sends us books, so they were like, okay, show me one.  The ones about your dogs?  Guys went, ‘That’s some truth.’  And a half dozen brothers, I wish you could have seen them debating this one poem.  It’s the one where the space aliens are trying to figure out how to conquer us and they hit on the idea of color?  One guy says, ‘This is about black power!’  Another frowns at him, says, ‘No, it’s the power of words, man.  It’s how just little words can mess with your mind.’  They went at it for I’m not kidding a half hour, and they were still talking about it at chow.  That poem about your brother, that was killer, man.  Guys sobbed reading that! Things you can’t fix in your family, they know what that is.”

I’m sitting in this concrete block visiting room bowled over by the whole idea, prison inmates grooving on my poems?  Anybody’s poems, for that matter.  And then a letter arrives this week from my friend.  He’s included hand-written notes from a couple of his pals that read like reviews of the poems.  He swore he didn’t ask for them, they just wanted to tell me.  So here they are, my favorite reviews ever:

Dear Sir – I want to start this off by clarifying very emphatically that I know NOTHING about poetry…unless Dr. Seuss counts (?) I recently was given the opportunity to read your collection of poetry.  I enjoyed your work.  I must specifically address two of your pieces…your work on the subject of picking blackberries and the lament of crawling under a house to retrieve a dog were fantastic.  The way you “painted” both of these experiences took me back to similar situations from my youth.  I will fault you for having me fixate on blackberry cobbler for the remainder of the day…and going to sleep with the reminder of a long passed hunting dog.  Thank you.  I look forward to your future work.  Respectfully, _________

4 STARS! 

This author does a fantastic job mixing in seemingly humorous concepts with melancholic affirmations of what it means to be human.  The most fascinating of the entries is “Weekend Daddy” on page 12.  Though only eleven lines, it paints a picture that is laughable and yet all too realistic in its portrayal of what must be the titular character’s living situation.  One can readily imagine and “see” the home, and the feelings that come with this flood the mind like New Orleans during Katrina.  It’s a visceral torrent of emotion…all within eleven lines.

Another great example is “Alzheimer’s Poem” on page 26.  Hauntingly beautiful and poetic are the only words I can think of to express the emotions brought forth by this one.

My favorite, despite my feelings about the former ones, is “Don’t Let This Happen to You.” The message is clear and the warning simple.  Through its journeys from present to past and back to future aren’t the most illustrative present in the book, they provide a much needed context for the reader.  This one pulls at the heart strings and plucks at the minor chords guaranteed to leave you wondering what happens next.  Sadly, there is no next, and that means something in and of itself.  From start to finish, this one delivers on the aforementioned concepts and affirmations.

I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of Yearnful Raves even if poetry isn’t your thing.  The three above make it worth the price.  ______________________

One thing about writing, it’s all messages in a bottle.  You hope something you wrote will touch somebody, and you’re grateful for any sign.  My friend and his pals clearly get that.  Locked up and in so many cases forgotten, their whole existence is like that, books nobody reads.  So, as you might imagine, I will cherish these notes.  Only wish I could have been a fly on the wall when those guys were debating that poem! And another thing, consider the generosity of these men, currently in their 50th day of unit lockdown for coronavirus. They knew it would matter, cared to reach out, took the time. They have nothing, but they have this. Thank you, gentlemen.