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?

3:30 am

Ginny’s gone, but here’s a pome from before all that, in commiseration with all my Facebook friends who post in the middle of the night.

3:30 am

the witching hour

right?

 

Get up to pee

take my thyroid pill

 

tuck myself back in

with three pillows

 

Chris and our dog Ginny

snuffling and puffing

 

in their dreams. All is right

in this best of all possible worlds.

 

Maybe you know what comes next:

You’re out there like me

 

in your warm bed but the swarm

arises in your head and

 

all the tricks you try only

stir the frenzied buzz.

 

Who batted the hive

between your ears?

 

Regrets are the worst:

How could I have done that?

 

What was I thinking?

OMG, what an ass.

 

So then at 4:30 am

maybe you get up again

 

go to the window

where a full moon throws

 

tree-wide stripes

across the lawn and an owl

 

swoops past like some

cowled and fretful wraith.

 

Go downstairs

pick up a book

 

a diversion in hopes

the hornets will gentle

 

which they sort of do. But now

it’s dawn. Chris is up

 

and in the shower, coffee’s on,

Ginny stretches and yawns

 

and finds you lifting a heavy head

to the new day with gratitude

 

for sunlight, for imposition,

for all the honeyed routines that keep

 

things humming. The hours

unwind with things to do with

 

effort this time to do better

maybe learn from past mistakes

 

then fall to your pillows

and let it all flee

 

until at 3:30 am

you get up to pee.

Walking the Dog

A week ago our beloved 7-year old golden retriever Ginny seemed in perfect health.  Today our vet confirmed that the lumps we found at her throat midweek are from canine lymphoma.  She may not live out the Summer.  Our shock and heartbreak may seem silly to you, unless your life has been enriched and in some ways saved by a dog, as ours have.  A couple weeks ago, before all this went down, I wrote a poem for Ginny that seems sadly prescient now, though the “best of all possible futures” cited there will not happen for her.  I’m sharing it here for what it’s worth.  It’s called “Walking the Dog”.

Ginny

our gentle golden

and I walk off-leash

in the band of woods

along a knoll

by the grade school

our boys attended:

thus Crestwood.

 

We drove over.

She sat upright

on a towel on

Stephen’s seat

in the mini-van,

nose divining rod

dipping out

the window.

 

Eager, probably

wishing I’d drive faster,

if gentle goldens even

think like that — just

to race for squirrels

beneath that copse

of oaks then chase

a tennis ball and

bring it sopping

back to me!

 

Ginny squats just inside

the tree line, beside not on

the trail, then bounds ahead

tail high and wagging:

Who knows what our walk

may bring? A squirrel, a deer,

once tortoises mating, his

chest plate flat and scraping

her helmeted back,

reptilian hands squirming

for purchase and she

seeming to smile patiently

allowing the one thrusting

intrusion her armor

would ever allow.  We

animals — how alien

to each other yet how

in our yearning alike!

 

Or that other time

Ginny came bolting back

tail between her legs

because behind her loped

at twenty paces

in no special hurry

a coyote bony

as the wily cartoon

in chilling pursuit

her cousin – what all dogs

would be, I guess,

without us.

 

Most days it’s just

a trudge I hardly register.

She romps ahead then

waits on her haunches

my guide and example

wondering why he can’t seem

to forget himself for one minute.

I mean, how much better to

nose about, to sniff the riches,

all the variants from yesterday’s

adventure, oh here, see this

dead branch has fallen!

 

Begrudge an hour after work.

Let the girl off leash to run,

let me off keyboard to stroll,

and stretch our legs.

Big deal.

 

Exactly. Because

in the best of all possible

futures – we have just

4 or 5 short human years

before this will be too much

for her. Her fluffy coat

thinned, her muzzle grizzled

and yes how I will cry

that day we lay

her ashes here.

 

Because then you know

all these mundane walks

that mean nothing

but catching the air

will rise past goals and

objectives and balanced

books to strike me

hard across the face.

 

While all I fret over, my

schemes and worry my

grudges and drudgery

add up to less

than that cobweb

brushing my cheek back

when Ginny’s tongue lolled

so giddily on her frolic

ahead on a woodsy

lane and oh too late

I hear it now the world

at my knee said, woof.