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.

 

Intimation – a poem

It was that spring

when my heart slowed

I was dizzy.

 

It rained a lot.

I would be up alone

with coffee

on the back porch

and the sun lifting at a slant

would streak the lawn

like Van Gogh with new tubes

of oils slapping on lurid

impasto, I’d say greens but

the miscellany

could be maddening.

 

We were dropping like flies

my ears rang as if boxed

and the darkness reeled

when I’d get up to pee.

On the porch scalloped color

dappled shadow a lurid

radiance that strafed your eyes.

 

It struck me all at once

how it may be to go

that I may even sign off without regret

because none of this was for me

all just an inkling of how

profligate beyond appreciation

a suburban morning can be

 

and will be long after

my slurpy heart slows to a stop.

Some did not go gentle some lost their heads

or fretted impossible cures

and I imagine I may cry

over leaving this complicated heaven

amidst the sure disintegration of whatever

faculties had been mustered to appreciate,

dawdle, play.

 

But here with this oddly slowing heart

another option dawns, that a gift can be

discovering that you are done have

outstayed your welcome now

& your blue mama calls you back to nourish

whatever comes next in the dapple

of the stars.

 

Joey lay down on his bed.

He’d showered, his clothes laid out for work

and I guessed his wow as it all went down

because I would hope the same in my time

but I think now there may be this interim

theatre of lurid color and explosive flavor

of getting walloped on the head with

momentary gaps in the things we ignore

like balance & rhythm & flow.

 

Ears ringing as I stagger to a chair

take a seat and finger the pulse

sumping at my wrist an indication

of when whatever belonging

I’d imagined fails, when all I really was

tumbles into the warmth of a backyard compost

piled with egg shells, coffee grinds, and friends

 

I will go, cracked and ground like them,

and by then one can hope that will be okay

as if it mattered when

of course whether there is anyone

awake to see it sunlight

goes splash like milk

on the porch floor and chimes

tinkle tinkle in the breeze

and seeds across the lawn upsprout

their dream of Van Gogh green.