Stopwatches of Desire: 34th Post

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I’m sorry so many of the poems come out of the dark side. I’m trying to keep myself in the light, but that’s not when writing occurs.

 

The Word “Are,” for Example

Raised to be frugal with self pity,
I hesitate to complain.
Alibis run from my mouth
like ants from a flooded hill.
I went there directly from the funeral,
weary of the mourners, severe,
time-spotted, hunched like flowers graveside.
I went there wanting to speak in tongues.
I went there, where attraction divides itself
into hungry collisions and sweaty testimonials.

I met a charismatic,
pierced his ear with a sewing needle,
scrubbed his stubble with my gums,
licked his sagging pockets every one.
He said what we need is sleeping pills,
stopwatches of desire,
cheap insurance.
I killed him for his assumptions
scratched on tabs of paper in his insoles:
“all” and “never” were some of his claims.

The Good Girl: 33rd Post

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While the meaning of words can and often does shift over time, there is often an echo of the original meaning that lingers.

 

Urtext

The Good Girl sleeps quietly
with other women’s husbands.
Dimples cast in concrete,
she cleaves a breast of white meat;
a potato bursts in the oven.

At first, the word ‘win’ meant merely to struggle.

Homeostasis: maintaining a couch,
a fire, a coffee table behind your ribs,
fine art on your turbulent heart.

At first, ‘attack’ meant to stick a tack into.

The Good Girl has forgiven music
for the pain it has caused her.
Bathing herself in vanilla and almonds,
she gets a job and keeps it,
collecting her pay like rainwater
in clean pools and pockets.

Here are the morning, the noon, and the night,
her silent partners, investors
in waiting, their solar and lunar coins
strung out like a dazzling bracelet
shimmering a dance of lust.

 

 

 

Good Writing Habits: 32nd Post

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Not About

Poems often are about
exactly what they are not about.
This poem, for instance,
is not about the person
all those other poems were about.
Good writing habits forbid my telling
what this poem is about, but I
assure you
it is not about
what it is not about. Here
you see no mention of smooth hands,
no sly references to sex disguised
as descriptions of long train trips,
rivers slamming into bridge pilings,
or autumn trees bursting into flame,
no metaphor comparing that person’s eyes
to whatever the next best thing was.
Not even anything like a simile.
Not in this poem that is not about that.

 

 

 

 

We Eat the Seeds: 31st Post

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This poem first appeared in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2.

 

FIVE PEOPLE (HOMELESS)

  1. Sally, Inauguration Eve

This dirt gone?—white.  I am
and Everyone says He’ll do the job
Give us hope but I was
wearing wool A-line skirts with
the very clouds above for shirts
last time, when my opinion
meant something.  Click click
my tiny Italians on polished
boardroom floors Gentlemen,
I said I fail to see I
did fail to imagine this cardboard
throwing its brown cast on me.

 

  1. This Red Scarf

White clothes mean sticks in the arm
but if you stay clean sheets
one night or two.  On the lake bank there were
white trees!  I had ice skates.
They had no leaves so the light came through.
The Polish girls wore scarves tied under their chins.
I was no Polack but see, I tie this scarf
tight and keep my head down
watching for ice.  You fall here
no boys laugh or help you up.
But if they stick you
they help you up real nice.

 

  1. Richard

I’m used to being in charge
so this will be about you.
I want you to know I appreciate the aluminum cans
so neatly stacked beside the trash can.
I see you see me take them, see you hurrying
to meet my six o’clock pickup daily.
I admire your scheduling abilities:
kitchen scraps to the chickens before work,
the soft globs of their droppings to the compost heap
before dark; the garden weeded Saturday mornings,
fruit plucked and distributed to neighbors in the afternoon.
I would have hired you in the old days—
kept an eye on you, as they say—
recommended you.
I keep you a secret now,
for the cans.

 

  1. K.L.

What’s left of this planet is my home.
Birds are not afraid of me, curled in this bush,
unless I jerk my legs, dreaming
I fly with them over the roofs
and across the highways.
We eat the seeds that drop
and peck at the not-ripe pears,
scattering when the farmer comes
to nail his straw-filled savior to a post.

 

  1. When I Was One of the People

All these things I shall tell you are true.

When I was a warrior my skin flowed yellow, red and green

like the sashes of the old ones.

When I was a warrior I devoured the night

and spit stars at the immaculate moon.

When I was a warrior my courage rode in front of me,

a blind slave stolen from an enemy camp.

When I was a warrior the wind and I embraced with great joy

and we brought forth spring, summer, fall

and the weaver child, winter.

When I was a warrior I kept sadness behind my eyes, mute as light.

When I was a warrior I could swell until the earth was inside me,

feverish and bloody,

and I could sweat until the earth was healed

and I could bleed until the earth was whole.

I am the owl and the darkness now.

I am the hawk and the light.

I am the crack in the clouds now.

I am the wind in the night.

 

The Mockery of the Swollen Garden: 29th Post

Sunflower & bees

 

After the Death of His Twin

—for John Fuller, age 80

 

The solo creak of his Naugahyde chair.

 

The excess of fruit broadcasting its ripeness.

 

In the closet, twice the needed pants and shirts, twice the needed gaping shoes, worn at the heel.

 

The nervous voice of his landlord, trying to remember which one passed.

 

The sniff and yip of the dog, double-checking under the table.

 

The mockery of the swollen garden.

 

The sports section left folded with the classifieds.

 

His unspoken opinion of the news story about welfare mothers.

 

The uselessness of the second bookmark pressed into the novel.

 

In front of the TV, half the snoring noise to waken him to his started insistence, “I wasn’t…”

 

The other narrow bed, tightly tucked.

 

The hearing aid left on the end table for the first time.

 

In the bathroom mirror, only two hips, two nipples, one penis.

 

The surprising regularity of his heartbeat.

We Call Our Game ‘Knowledge’: 28th Post

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What It’s Like to Be Adopted

Ah, my pretties, there was a stillness
think of it as sphere-shaped
a ping-pong ball without the ball—
and perhaps before that grand explosions
around other emptinesses. Our stillness
collapsed, smashed itself white and blue
flew red and purple
out, we say. Flew to what
we call here and there.

Sweet ones, the pieces moved this far and
that far until
divided by now and then we called their changes
speed, their journeys time.
We call our game knowledge
as we hold hands and live its fun and terror
for, dearest listeners, each particle attracts all others
so we know of gravity, love, luminosity,
and the shifts of momentum called history.

We play here
in this tiny history
the balls we toss falling
(where we call down) like the bits
of what we do not know
flying toward the center of another
stillness
before they what we call begin
what we call again.

 

Cast & Wait: 25th Post

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Fishing the Coast

The spatulate surf heaves
against the arc of rocks, exploding to opalescence.
Boulders the size of house trailers stack and sway
as the surf recedes,
returns,
pulls away, returns.

Four men cast about for meaning and find it
in remaining upright in the roar, in slipping
a silvery bite of food out sideways, in failing to see
the faces of loved ones in the clouds overhead
or the foam below.
They fish. They merely fish.

To catch is to eat is to live long enough
for their bones to barnacle up with salt,
their dreams to crab against what they know:
that you need strong arms,
good line, patience,
time, and sadness you swallow

like a shard of mirror,
hunger you feel like the pleats in a man’s pants
bravely failing to accomplish anything.
The men cast and wait, cast and wait.
Cast again and wait, not planning
to forgive anyone.

Wanting to Shout: 24th Post

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Being quiet has its advantages as well as its ability to kill one.

 

I Want to Shout that My Hurt Is Greater than Yours but I Mustn’t

Locked in the apartment she rented this morning
she wrote on a calendar cover: This is because,
She could smell the last tenants in the flattened areas of the carpet,
in the air in the nightstand drawer.

In the Central Valley a foreman hands out long hoes.
Drive by: look to see if workers bend to the cabbages and garlic.
Imagine the turnips’ moist bodies, soothed in dirt.
Drive by: crop dusters rise and dip and roll away just behind you.

The body stretched, running away.
The body shapely against angular gravel.
The body in the center of my memory.

In the Central Valley rows of stakes
with seedlings lashed to them. You drive and drive,
relieved to see the quick curve in the rows where you think
a tractor driver may have swerved to miss a rabbit.

Cupping a two-month supply of Prozac in her left hand
she walked from bed to couch
and back to bed. No, I would do that.
I imagine she does it.

The body tossed in the field for owls or coyotes.
I suppose that’s where you put it.
The body still on the gravel in my memory.

In the Central Valley almond trees seem neat and classic as penny loafers.
I hit a hawk, even after swerving.
A hundred miles later when I had to stop for gas
its body and wings were still there, fanned out across the truck grill.

I drove past parked trucks: TNT Reddaway, Dole, Reliance,
CWX, U-Haul. She was my lover’s most recent ex-lover.
I let the 5 a.m. red sun burn a hole in my sight,
only to see I’d made a perfect black backdrop for my thoughts.

I pried the bird off with sticks
and carried it to a row of bushes. Those stiff
angry-looking hedges they force to grow behind some gas stations.

 

Those Awful Heads: 23rd Post

Amish Dresses Drying on a Clothes Line

 

This poem was published in The Centennial Review (Vol. 38, No. 2, Spring 1994).

 

Esther

Are all the doors locked?
Is the stove on? You’ll
check it? All right then
I’ll leave that to you.
Do you like colored glass?

See this clear blue vase?
When I was five I’d
say to my aunt where’s
my pity pitcher? She’d say
here it is darlin and

she gave me that pticher
I treasure it more than
anything I have. My grandmother
never gave me anything. My
daughter says I shouldn’t remember

such but how can I
help it? Is the stove
on? Do you think the
stove is on? No? Well
then all right. And as

I was telling you we
had geese in a pen
about as big as this
room and one time they
jumped up and flew and

a coyote got one of
em and carried it off
too far our gun couldn’t
shoot so far you know.
Have you ever heard coyotes

howl? My mother said they
shouldn’t have left their nice
pen. Are all the doors
locked? We’re isolated here you
know. Though I could swing

a polecat by the tail
I guess it’s OK you
say they’re all locked? Well
then all right. Are you
going to be here in

the house with me all
night? Will you sleep up
there or down here? As
I was saying one summer
a woman visited me at

our cottage up north and
she hated the woods. She
didn’t like the spider at
the swimming dock either I
told her it was my

pet and how did she
like my other pet this
garter snake. Well she went
home after two weeks though
she was supposed to stay

with me all summer. But
that was better don’t you
think? Are you going to
be here in the house
with me all night? Are

all the doors locked? You’ll
check them? Good then I’ll
leave that to you. Do
you think the stove is
on? No? All right then.

Do you like to travel?
It’s good for a person
to go places while they’re
young. My parents went up
to the Black Hills once

oh they were pretty that
was before those heads were
there. The Indians were real
mad you know when they
put in those awful heads.

Moving, Listening, Leaning: 22nd Post

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These 3 haiku were published in Haiku Zasshi Zo (June 1989). The photo is from a cornfield after harvesting by both humans and assorted undomesticated animals.

 

haiku for changing places

1.
moving through the fog
the wary fox approaches
a sunlit hillside

2.
in the hot stone flute
a listening woman walks
where the wind spirals

3.
fleshless cornstalks lean
like cartoon figures begging
in brown unison