Places I Still Am, No. 4 – a poem

There is a trick to blowing bubbles
but like so many things you’ll learn
in life, where everything is bubble
fragile, it’s easy once you get it.

That measured puff –
Its reward your own hot breath
packaged in a glistening globe
and floating oh so gorgeously
with its fellows on a current
you can’t otherwise see
before of a sudden expiring
with a silent pop at the prick
of a blade of grass.

Somewhere in my childish heart
I glimpse a glint of the lesson there:

Blow more and more until
the breeze across our yard
is flagged with bobbing spheres
that stir a sort of expectant glee
there not there, exactly!
And the little bottle it came in
gone finally empty, too.

One Small Step – a poem

Daddy said yes to the pool with that girl
so I finished the sign Watermelons
for Sale $1.00: that green and red slice
made a half-moon with bug-like LEM on top.

Oh my in that frilly bikini then
her slim legs churning the bubblegum sheen
of a ramshackle motel’s lukewarm pool
on I guess my first sorta halfway date?

Hair damp and heart thumping back at the store
we locked the door for an hour not to watch
but to buy eggs sold cheap down a dirt road
in the woods. Was the truck’s radio on?
Pretty sure I knew it was coming up,

but Daddy didn’t seem to care a whit.
It would happen or not was just his way.
Something else the war schooled him over
that he couldn’t unlearn is what I think.

The eggs rattled between us on the seat
while I sniffed the chlorine on my fingers
and in my hair and the dust plumed behind
I’d like to imagine all the way up

to where those clunky boots we later learned
stepped down from a ladder to a sea where
even now on full moon nights it all seems
jumbled up like something I must have dreamed

thin legs that splatter a pool’s blue water
fat cleats imprinting a virgin beach
in the eggshell gleam of the moon’s reflection
half forgotten, except everything’s changed.

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 you can.

But here’s how:
Roll her over on her back
then reach in at her head and push her up
to sitting, be careful of her neck.
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 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 bump on 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 to safety or help,
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. 

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 hauled
off the tracks
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
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 my cheeks 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.