Eighteen years you beat me over the head
with the butt end of our brotherhood.
So where are you now, Mr. Top
Dog on the Bunk Bed, Mr. Big
Back on the High School Football Team?
You hauled ass out of that town
with its flimsy goalposts.
Now you’re down there with your Dead
Sea, your Jerusalem, busy
with the same old border disputes
that sparked our earliest fist fights.
Israel is just another locked toy
closet on your side of the bedroom, split
by electric train tracks. It’s as if
you never left home at all: Yesterday
in a bar in Washington Heights
I saw a man who could have been you.
The Jets were playing the Steelers with two
downs to go, and in the icy
lightshow of smoke
he lifted a pitcher of beer
and swilled it just as the screen
blazed red with an ad for Gillette.
And I thought, Here is my blood brother
whose only gifts to me were kicks
in the teeth, his cast-off comic books,
and worst of all, wrapped, sharpened
for a lifetime,
the perfect razor of my rage.
I’ve never lacked a wealth of
experience, poignant sorrows
and soaring joys. And always
there were smiling eyes, baby
smiles and soft skin to touch,
touching mine. And standing
by me, my man. And my faith.
Sure, there were disappointments,
duplicities, divorces, incivilities.
Cancer, surgeries, death and
enmities. But over it all, a sense
of knowing love was there
filling them up, already making
everything right, new again.
I can’t forget the beauty I see
each day in waffling leaves,
in buzzing bees, in flowers and
children, my lover, my freedom.
In my travels, my neighbors,
in strangers and answered prayers.
In notes of care, helping hands, poetry,
books and music from every land.
In all that is virtuous and beautiful,
my life is full of riches every day.
(Published in The Rockford Review)
An Amish boy peeks
around the seat back. I wink.
He blushes and disappears
at the sound of a soft German word.
A woman in a business suit stumbles
in her pumps on the way
to the café car. We make eye
contact, but she turns away.
A young mother squeezes
into a seat with a baby and diaper bag
She looks exhausted,
her eyes barely open.
A tattooed teenager with dreadlocks
bounces in Chuck Taylor’s and a White Sox cap.
His eyes too bright, he grins broadly
and I smile back.
(Published in Midwest Review, Spring 2016)
sparkling sun, champagne air
lure us away from
Matt, Al and Willie
from doggie naps
by the back screen door
clear water at the county park
begs for our presence
for our absolute focus
on the shimmering movements
gliding just beneath
an hypnotic, mirrored surface
we are firmly hooked
by this calm, nourishing
exquisite gift of nature
but with innate wisdom
the nearly translucent bass
refuse to be similarly lured
by our perfectly presented
purple, latex worm
or the eager barks
of a joyous old dog
Conversations about Catholicism, Cortes, Cyprus, and Chinese cities
(the alliteration of C’s at Easter dinner)
On Easter Sunday, long-time friend of the family Carol invited me over
for a traditional Easter dinner. Everybody was drinking wine but me.
That’s probably why I remembered the conversation. It started out
on the porch.
C:1 Catholicism; the new Pope
A man said he was taking a trip to Italy. Someone said, “Perhaps
you’ll see the new pope?” One man said, “I grew up southern
Baptist, so I’ve had enough religion for a while!” Someone
said, “I don’t care much for the Catholic church, but I’ve
had some friends who were nuns! I think it’s the Catholic
women who are the best, the men are just…..men!” And
another talked about the pope washing a bunch of people’s
feet, is he truly humble, or is it all an act for political
gain? Is it to lure people back to the Catholic church?
It was a sensitive topic…religion. My ear was hurting
from the cool air, and my teeth hurt from the snacks. I
(Around the dinner table)
C:2 Cortes, Hernan 1485-1547
Somehow, people began to talk of Cortes, the explorer before
Columbus. He came from Spain to conquer Mexico with 15
horseman on board the ship, 13,000 Totonac Indians, and
according to the person narrating the story, one and only
one woman. (You can imagine what her purpose was on
a ship of men.) One woman at the dinner table said, “I
can’t stop thinking about what a nightmare it must’ve
been to have been that woman!” The conversation later
discussed China, how there are more Chinese men in
China than women, which creates problems, but I’m
jumping ahead of myself.
Politics were discussed later on in the conversation.
How the banks and the government are taking
the money away from the people, and they have no
money anyway. They mentioned a man who grew up
in Cyprus and moved to Australia and worked hard
all his life and became a millionaire, then he wanted
to retire in Cyprus and pass his money on to his
family. Now the government is taking it all. In
the United states of America, we’re headed down
that path. Which created the next topic of discussion…
C4: Chinese Cities
Someone had visited China and there were certain areas
where the pollution was so bad it was hard to breathe. Of
course, that could be said of many areas of the world.
But they were talking about how China is building
massive cities, or ghost towns, and nobody lives there.
although, I read on the internet that ghost towns in
America are on the rise, and people are moving
where the work is, although where could that be?
C5 Carol’s cooking
Conversation wouldn’t be complete without Carol’s
creative cooking. The appetizers were captivating,
the salad was clean, the ham was crispy, the
potatoes were crunchy, the asparagus was cognitive,
the carrots were carefully collected from the oven,
the rolls were burnt to a crisp but were constantly
consumed, the candles were lit, and can’t forget
to end it with chocolate or key lime pie. So
why were there so many C’s on Easter Sunday?
Oh, I almost forgot the most important C
on Easter Sunday. Christ, himself! Isn’t
that what Easter is about? For some, I suppose.
Others may choose to Passover….
Drunkards out to fight tonight
With guttering roars of hellish proportions—
Hell is right!
Enter the players:
Drums of thunder,
Adrenaline starts to boil.
Hair stands up,
Gnashing of teeth.
Intensify the nerves.
Hypnotize the soul.
Enter the real hard asses:
Bludgeon me to death.
Fists break jaws,
Elbow smashed faces—
No room for wimps.
On the floor,
Bruised and battered,
My body lies broken.
Thrashing like blood-frenzied sharks:
Moshing, fighting, stage-diving...
Thousands of Slaytanic teens chanting:
I can't wait
to experience Slayer
(Written in high school, 1992)
John’s leukemia, long in remission
has returned and the doctors
speak of lung cancer,
platelet counts too low
for biopsy or chemotherapy.
She rebels against nature’s
hard strike, or was it
the hand of God?
How can you? she cries
to heaven, fate, no one
Breeze whispers through trees
behind the back deck he built,
Raspberry vines tremble
at the weight of a wren.
Chipmunks gather grain
beneath the bird feeders
he set, digging deep
into Indiana soil.
And with the wind, hear
a sigh, her sigh, not so much
sorrow or resignation
but thanks: thanks
for these twenty-one years
since the doctor first said
leukemia, two years to live.
(First published in Alive Now, 2005)
I stand staring
at your favorite chair.
we were such
the perfect pair.
I can't believe,
you're no longer there.
I miss you so much,
I yearn for your touch.
This is such, a burden to bear.
This can't be real, it can't be true. How can my life
go on without you. Yes, I heard the words they said.
In time, in time you'll accept he's dead. Just try to hang on,
it gets better ahead.
Then once again, I remembered when, you were my lover,
and best friend. How I decided not to let it end,
to live my life and just pretend. That you weren't really,
truly gone. That somehow through love, we could carry on.
But it didn't work, no not at all. So I stand here
back to the wall, feeling dizzy I begin to fall. Now I'm lying here,
face down in the hall.
I couldn't deal with the empty space, and this reality
I don’t want to face. So the coward's way out I embrace,
but I did leave a note; just in case.....
They want to know that I've gone—
to a better place.
how that strip of canvas
at the corner of the tent
come loose at the bottom
lifts and falls in the breeze
as if trying to escape
to flee into the forest
where it could hide
in the shadow of a tree
or disguise itself as leaves
somewhere in an overhead branch
how the air moves the knife edge
blades of the fan palm
daggers waiting to strike
to pierce the unwary
who might venture
into the forest in search of
how the muted colors
of leaves and branches
of tree trunks and vines
all blend together on a cloudy day
how the days slide by
one after another
only the small letters on a watch
making any difference
in broadest terms
the end and the beginning
and the beginning of the end
what was but isn't
and will never be again
in particular terms,
not a gentleman
or maybe so,
a last date,
a last ride in the chariot of flame
the final burning of the heart,
ashes or a full compliment
of eliminated voices
of rather sketchy choices
in terms of terms
it is terminal in time of need
it is terminal in line of thrones
it is terminal in line of inheritance
it is a money maker
but not a money taker
the poor soul learns the terms
of those rather sketchy choices
but sometimes rises to the occasion
okay how about this,
the poem is over
but the poet lives
the poet is over
but the poem lives
Growing up, I was rough-and-tumble Sunday
afternoons playing outside in the tall grass, building
wooden forts with Kathy, or hanging upside down
on the neighbor’s fence, watching cotton clouds drift
across intoxicating sky, until we got dizzy or yelled
at (whichever came first), lying motionless on our
bellies, barely breathing, tracking an orange-shelled
ladybug crawl up a dewy twig, or waiting patiently
beside an anthill under the hot July sun, looking
for the queen to turn up so we could kidnap her,
whisking her away to reign over my ant farm, which
arrived in the mail, all shiny green and plastic with
rural motifs like a farmhouse, windmill and faux barn
inside the box, filling it up with special sand (the
tunneling kind), observing groggy ants settle in and
organize: worker ants, forager ants, carpenter ants,
queen—each taking its place in the colony.
My ant farm had another (unforeseen) side benefit, a
magical talisman-like quality that could be counted
on to ward off my older sister, who then moved out
of my room so I didn’t have to listen to her constant
nagging about picking up my side, what I called
comfortable clutter, while hers was parent-pleasing
tidy and boring (I thought). She was hairspray and I,
scraped knees. She was ballet and I, tap. She was all
boys and clothes and Seventeen and The Beatles, while
I was all animals, my best friend Kathy, my dog Muffy
and Motown. And I would never have even thought
about screaming at the top of my lungs or falling down
in a swoon because Paul or John came to town, but my
sister, well she made a paperweight with picture cut-
outs of the Fab Four stuck inside, preserved like ants
in amber—forever young.
(First published in The Rockford Review)
He could cut syntax like a butcher slices ham.
He could pluck symbols from a sentence
like a farmer, feathers from a hen.
He was the oracle of imagery,
a Rumpelstiltskin of anaphora and simile,
but when he eyed her crouching over poems
like a nun in bliss, his tongue hid
behind the fortress of his teeth.
He knew they were for him and
(Published in The Daily Palette,
a publication of the University
of Iowa, in January 2016, written
at the 2015 Iowa Summer Writing
If there were a hill to be climbed
nearby, I’d pass that signpost, stay
on the flat path till time, or weary
turned my steps to home.
High places, mountains, tiers of steps
are for the young, for the soul who
has to conquer, has to claim height
for herself. Me, I don’t need climbs.
But perhaps, in one area, or two,
there is an obstacle, a border to cross,
or a feat that demands a try, that invites
me to stretch, take a deep breath
…and surge upward.
If I sight one of those challenges, my tired
legs might make the effort. I could scan
the daunting upward path for a sturdy stick
to aid my progress.
There would be marching music.
Perhaps she thought of the iberleben,
this woman who peers out from the photo,
standing in the snow in a line of four women,
all with beautiful long dark hair and clad
in white dresses like angels. A German
took the photo in occupied Latvia in 1941
just minutes before the S.S. Einsatzgruppen
shot them. She is the second from the left,
older, her cheeks sallow, face sunken,
her eyes bright. She appears
not horrified, not desperate despite what
is to be done. She smiles, looks hopeful.
Perhaps it is the presence of her sisters
that comforts her. They are clutching each
other’s arms. She looks like my mother,
who died of Alzheimer’s. Did this woman
believe they would survive and outlast
the horror, or ride out the storm? Perhaps
she thought of Martin Buber as she quietly
slipped into the Thou. Oh Mother, where
are you? I see your brown eyes mirrored
in this woman’s face, in all the faces
of the mothers in this museum. I
can’t escape the sadness, the misery
of this world, no matter how hard I try.
The picture breaks me down, breaks me
into the shattered Kristallnacht of the past.
The woman’s hair is blowing in the wind,
blowing softly in the unspeakable wind.
(Previously published in Red Paint Hill Journal)
The rows of white onions
in my brother’s garden
grew straight as virtue,
untainted by the gossip
of a single weed.
On my cutting board
they spill juicy little secrets
held inside all summer,
unaware they are the last onions
to be planted by his hand,
graced by his tender care.
He now neatly planted in his own plot.
I weep, not for onions,
but for brother
as I chop this sweet harvest,
scoop its goodness into a stew
made from our mother’s recipe.
It simmers in a cast iron pot
inherited from grandmother;
she long dead, mother long dead.
My brother’s death only a rumor
until my onion bin is bare.
Enamored by impatiens, their fuchsia
abundance spilling over the edge
of a wood barrel,
I almost miss the bird.
It lies quiet on its side,
eye already looking back
from the afterlife, neck broken,
though its feathers are on fire,
the blood-red epaulets ablaze in sun’s setting.
Whole, in a way, like music remembered,
the red wing lives in death;
the bird in flight more like separate notes,
by the space it travels.
Perhaps Audubon had this totality in mind
when he painted Birds of America,
the reason he shot, and sometimes pinned
them in their last agony—to capture
not only bird in its entirety, but also in
the doing, his own completeness on the canvas.
And I wonder what disturbs me more: the finality
of the last harsh whistle carried by air,
or the absolute perfection
of the red wing’s body, even with its angled neck.
The danger of
dark forests and
is their siren call
to the caged wildness
of my heart.
to their cunning
of not dancing wild
to their song.
Dark drops a pillar
of honeyed wind wrapped
in hail and red rain.
The drugstore’s vinyl banners snap
like rabid prayer flags
then rise to the sublime.
of sirens, rough rumbling
an unexpected music.
Into the vorspiel
a dim sun slides.
Backlit oak trees crack.
Power lines shear with
a bluesick whipping
of corposant fire.
Huddled inside a closet
the woman soothes her shaking dog.
A nebula of broken shingles
carbon bits and dust swirls
like seething broth
a broken jaw of door.
Heaven touches earth
with the sound of
a thousand bullroarers.
In the maelstrom
she sees her father
his sunburnt arms
draped over the wheel
of a ’53 Skylark
grill grinning like a chrome skull
Fall asleep with Einstein, wake up
to strands pulsing neon greens and blues
more elementary and arcane than quarks.
Strings, only in contested thesis,
yet we see them on the screen,
predictable tiny protagonists in a dubious text.
as the particulate voice of God, the point
where God-and-science sigh what can’t be heard.
Name me graviton and seek me in a footfall.
Photon—search for me in the eye dilated.
Sound wave in the blood of vein,
proton—neutron—but smaller than these,
interior, infinite, fundamental, I’m this. And that.
I’m everywhere and you can’t have me.
Your concepts crumble at my little door.
Click the remote. Get up
and walk the empty house to bed.
Something hums and glows beyond
the rusty dogma of the microscope,
the bygone theory of prayer.
crappie fishing movement
in the corner of my eye
riled ripples beside
the bank where a snake
like a carpenter's ruler
through turbid water
two minuscule replicas
mimicking their mother's
slow zigzagging motions
escaping in cursive
(Previously published in The Cape Rock)
Urban towers or rural bowers
Upward stepping seeking home
Winding downward stepping stones
Twisting, turning, picking flowers
Knowing somehow intrinsically
That perching precariously on high
Will someday bring us tumbling by
Until we land on bottom lands of old
From mountains ridges etched to sky
We see the storm clouds rolling by
Until the lightening bolts will strike,
We hover on our stomping grounds
And yet the valleys have their charms
And bison critters seek to roam
Unmoved by progress taking form
Unless displacing becomes the norm
And so we wander to and fro from
Peaceful streams and rocky shores
To climb the cliffs and seek the gold
Of vistas far and creatures small
We walk this place called earth
And know that searching high or low
Means some will find their soul and home
While most will stumble as they roam.
Last night I could not sleep
winds howled, rain beat
on my bedroom skylight
today is my wedding
the morning overcast
the yard exquisitely covered
with bruised pink and dapple white
confetti tree blossoms
a vision of loveliness
trees like lovers
life’s cycle repeats
The orchestra tunes up.
A drum roll of rain hits the roof,
then a few drips, loud, large.
A slash of wind and water against the patio door.
Or just a car turning a block away?
The dog whines.
Winter geese flying
like jacks tumbling through the sky.
Frost gathers on grass.
Purple mountains stare
at their icy reflections
in the frozen lake.
Momma's purple eyes
close for the very last time.
My heart is broken.
We walk on a frozen lake
with creaking ice
thinning and pooling
at the edges
and try to glimpse
what lies beneath
shrouded waters creeping
toward the middle
of our lives.
Knowing that nothing
can last, we keep moving
farther out on frigid surface
into spreading twilight,
searching for a safer path
to the other side
before darkness conceals the way.
I miss the little grasshopper
who twice fanned his little wings
perpendicular to the ground
and went nowhere. He did not know,
apparently, that he had to leap
with his legs then fan his wings
in clicking sound so common
in Arkansas woods in mid-August.
I look outside my window.
I will not see him again.
(Won 2nd Place in Poets’ Roundtable
of Arkansas nature contest March, 2011)
Uncle Bill's piano rolls mellowly along,
Touching dim moods and whispering old warmth.
In its ethereal arc outside the window
The full moon is smooth and slow.
As Uncle Bill's fingers coax the keys
His cigar in the heavy green ashtray
Emits a flimsy plume of fragrance.
The smoke, like Debussy's essence,
Rises straight up and flutters a bit
Before it disappears.
Aunt Martha's supper dishes
Clatter a counterpoint in the sink.
(From Sparks from the Flame)
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