Out of rhyme
Out of reason
Out of time
Out of season
FALLEN BEHIND A HEADNight swimming, St. Anthony Bay.
The tide rises with a familiar spirit,
dark as wine and smelling of brine…
of initiation, there where living was dying
and suicide, preservation.
Brother of slumber, Thanatos was calling,
the lovely deep, it was calling…
calling itself courage
a riotous surge, lives swept under.
He fell back, shivering… living — something
wet and warm exposed.
in waves as unsheathed silver furls forward
and more… raised arms and
the forehooves of the saddled,
wild horsehair and the whites of many eyes
With polished indifference, the black beach glistens,
slick as whale skin. The enemy is dead
and cannot be defeated; the enemy is
death, which spurns dramatic flourish…
the reincarnate swells
waves which collapse in waves —
compressions on a wooden chest.
And so it goes, the rising, falling, and fizzling
as leagues heave and retreat
swept like sleep under the curtained deep
as if there were safety there
Swimming in these waters, he feels as he did then,
that there is no loss, but for the sense of it.
He recalls the purple sand, how it sponged fortunes —
lives backwards flowing,
the red shift in a blue eye, and he was sure
he was unsure of what he shouldered,
but dying always and anyways,
he lay at ease among spent shells.
When dawn cracked, he woke to
great fans in the sky, and the bare feet.
Stars glittered in the blood clouded marsh,
daybreak withstanding. And still,
all this glittering….
If only a shore would accept it
or a bird come lift it away
all draped in white. Perhaps then,
unburdened as a child, he could again enjoy the ocean
as metaphor for nothing
SANDUSKYMy old man eyed me like an unpaid debt.
The hours between sunrise and sunset
are a child’s eternity. I knew the value of fatherhood;
he knew the cost — and paid in full… paid in blood.
The yokes burst and were scrambled at dawn.
We all miss our fathers before they’re gone.
At leaving time, I’d cling to his leg,
screaming and crying and spitting up egg.
Wondering over my whereabouts, he’d loose a comic yawn,
check his watch, then drag me across the lawn.
Pried loose like a barnacle, I refused farewell.
Gravel spat from the tires of his Chevelle.
painted blue as the sky — and I know why
he left me bawling in the drive.
It wasn’t to get to work — no —
it was to go.
Maybe it’s something in the blood; maybe it’s fear,
but I’m driven to wander like a pioneer.
I crank the radio, crane my neck out the window,
and careen through the cornfields of northwest Ohio.
It’s all so perfect, the car breaks down.
A wrecker tows me forty to the nearest town —
not unlike others around, with their all-pro dreams
and homecoming queens.
Waiting out the repairs in some little dive,
I’m booted from my barstool when the cameras arrive.
It seems a local cheerleader — after turning eighteen —
bought new pom poms, and leased ’em to a men’s magazine.
An hour later she’s in a pig pen kicking up dirt
with a telephoto snout up her miniskirt.
In a confusion of genetic pride and Puritanical shame,
her pa eyes his new Caddie, says he’s happy she came.
Freckle faced boys shadow the crew down Main,
idling their dirt bikes, praying for rain.
Broke now that my car’s fixed, I jerk her in gear.
Most with drive are propelled by fear,
with nowhere to get but somewhere they’re not —
like it or not, an impossible spot.
As for me, I’ve no destination — just driving —
with the goal in mind to always be arriving.
To my right, the sky bruises all purple and crimson
as the sun splashes into liquid valleys of Vermillion.
Dusk brightens yacht lights of the well-bred
crawling toward condos on Marblehead.
Wind-washed, I shed my face in the crush of air,
feeling lean, clean, stripped bare,
and strangely essential. Amid furrows freshly mowed,
I spy a trooper by the side of the road.
Invisible crickets hum in tall grasses.
His cruiser shudders as mine passes.
Turrets flash in my rearview mirror.
He sidles up — a ready hand on his holster.
“Any idea how fast you were driving?”
“Too fast?” I say, more dumb than conniving.
“I’m also really poor and really sorry.”
“…And drivin’ a Cutlas like a Ferrari.
Chasing sunsets ain’t cheap, Mr. Croft. Best wait till morning,”
but then he smiles, shreds the ticket, lets me off with a warning.
It is mid-summer. People tune out the crickets,
but will miss the riot in the autumn quiet.
At an alley named The Broken Wall
starched bowling teams polish their balls
and throw them through unions of picketing pins.
Dusk settles over the hills like a woman.
A gentle smothering darkness follows her.
It is beautiful here,
swimming through June.
Family rooms glow sulfur blue.
Hunkered over TV dinners, husbands watch their teams,
while wives wash dishes and clothes and dream
of new endings.
On a day like today I can drive away trouble;
whether ahead or behind, half-speed or double.
A breakdown can be a lucky break;
with the ocean to absorb, why leave a wake?
Today life seems conversant with me —
every road-sign, personal, every bird chirp in key.
And there’s that song again. God, I love this band!
and these watery wave swells of green and gold land.
Like a bowling ball I’m rolling down this road that’s unscrolling
through all the political polling and turnpike tolling.
A blue ribbon of highway, as Guthrie would say —
America seems more than a brand name today.
I miss you dad — remember that riddle? —
What’s round on the corners and hi in the middle?
Uncle Tupelo hints with a pretty little fiddle.
Tweedy and Farrar accompany me through
a smalltown sundown, with the world gone all black and blue,
but there is a light,
shining behind a wedge of knitted night,
cut by tree tops
and this winding road.
CONRAD(Response to American Pictures)
In umbrage of a stone Virgin,
Conrad wonders how the others
can look so at home. It is Christmas
in Christmas, where winter is just a word,
where sisters frisk and chasten you
if they find your chalice; and for what? —
have they better medicine?
He misses False Cape,
with its wave wracks thundering,
with that smell all around, and
those tourists — plentiful as stars…
sky-gazers, who hadn’t come to see him.
But then up strolled that odd couple —
shell collectors — happy as
seniors in drug commercials. It was
as if they could see how
empty he was, as if they could
hear the ocean in the cavity.
They offered to save him…
gave him a whale bone rosary,
and Job for comparison.
So now, leagues from the coast,
Conrad squeezes in palm shade.
He tries to be a good Christian,
just for lunch. He can’t run.
He believes —
not completely, but enough.
His eyes open the sky. The sun
is rising, and it’s hot as hell.
STAR THE MOONThe beggar moon and secondary stars
stand against the blue black curtain of night.
The trees applaud, the chirping begins.
Behind the scrim lady sun waits patient.
Soon the weight will fall, as it does, the hem updrawn —
all left blinking in that burst of apple light.
And I can’t help wondering if God is back there
pulling ropes and throwing switches till the fanfare withers.
One day no warmth will hide under the gown of night
no star will answer the applause, and
the cast will gather in the only green room, burning
the fat, drinking tea and waiting for revelation
as the Almighty plucks splinters and reconsiders creation
wondering what to do differently in the next production.
REMOTE CONTROLAfterthoughts are all; the sound of clocks
and trees ticking, a dog down the block,
crushed by dusk and howling, like my knee
my back, the ache of the lonely….
At home far from home, my daughter,
she sends money with love. And this chair —
a marvel. It keeps me comfortable and still.
She calls when she’s busy, a bird on the sill.
I limp to the window and peel back the blinds.
As always, the boys have occupied minds.
Brushed blue in the wash of a Magnavox,
they feed like grubs on the pulsing box.
Tuned in, they tune out, content to borrow,
plugged to a disconnection that feels like sorrow.
Rooftop dishes gape at the heavens,
with a hunger lacking only discrimination.
The boys glow red as bombs ignite —
a fireworks spectacular, a blockbuster fight.
Time once spent checking newsroom facts
is diverted to package and sell attacks
with digital stripes and multimedia stars —
just enough candy to get the kids in the car.
It’s no wonder the boys can’t tell wrong from right;
their nest invaded by parasites.
The cuckoo flies on, a satellite,
star bright, yet dim as a wish in the night.
Closing in on a colder season,
hatching stories evict all reason.
It’s too much trouble, sorting truth from lies,
so the boys pack pipes; the boys get high.
Spun dizzy in the light of dead stars,
their eyes suck the electric milk of mother
Hollywood from sixty-six stations —
all downsized by campaign donations
to avert charges of obscenity,
which, though unfit for TV, suit reality…
as bombs fall in the night,
as fictions warp wrong to right.
A new day; the boys next door have lost their keys.
Moonlight filters through the side yard trees.
The short one tears a hole in the screen,
then slides it up so he can fit between.
I get two stations well — four others
with binoculars. A second third bather,
I watch from my window;
The neighborhood theatre, the sideyard sideshow.
The cat mews, the wind blows;
leaves cling, but will soon let go
a bored kid kicks a can down the lane —
its clatter echoing deeper pain.
Remote control, pay per view,
I already know the late night news.
The trees beat the shutters
as the wind tears their clothes, but no matter…
all that you keep forever
is all that you lose. The anchor
loosens his tie, says we’re out of time.
The pendulum swings, the cuckoo chimes.
“Good night,” he croons. “God bless.”
A blizzard snows the screen, a fuzzy mess —
the sound of rain… pitter-patter,
a quantum disaster of little matter.
When the sun is done, I watch the moon —
There’s newness in these reruns; we cut away too soon.
FALLING FRAMES(Response to American Pictures)
What in hell are you doing Madeline?
Why wearing long sleeves so deep in August?
She trips over herself, drops her bus bin.
Her eyes are glossed red, her lips, painted rust.
At shift’s end, she can guess how the night will.
She runs to the Lady’s Room to unwind.
She masks signs of use with white and a blue pill.
Bob grabs a stool, “Hey babe, runnin’ behind.”
“Good luck,” she reminds, “comes to those who wait.”
“…tables?” he grins. “I must be your good luck.”
She bites her lip, winks, elaborates,
“Nothin’ I won’t say for an extra buck.”
They met the night before, “Any friend of Teddy’s….”
“Anyone ever tell you how pretty…?”
His lines weren’t new, but what’s old feels steady.
He spoke country, but dressed for the city.
He looked too poor to tip too well, but did.
He looked too sad to laugh too hard — but told
his jokes, too many to be too candid,
or funny. Broke or broken hearted, and old.
Soon, she’ll need him like he needs to be needed,
as her eyes roll away like strange planets.
She was wrong. He is flush and conceited.
Rich as sin, he is — drives a red corvette
and golf balls on weekends. Rains thunder, drains choke.
He takes her by the wrist, rolls up her sleeve.
She asks where he gets his green. He puffs smoke,
“Money trees,” he says. “Remember to breath.”
Ice cold tile. She’s sprawled on a restroom floor,
where she stumbled through a shimmer for relief.
Forgetting what for, she regrets it the more.
We all know because in the hall we hear her heave,
with soft grip on the frayed rope of, Some life.
“My Jesus, what have I done? Oh brother,
I need… shit….” The man had an estranged wife,
a serpent tattoo, and his way with her.
“Those are wings,” he whispered, “beating inside.
Why not, heh Maddie? We’re all gonna die.”
She wanted to fly, so she closed her eyes,
but the wings weren’t those of a butterfly.
Though hard to shoulder, she didn’t ask why.
Never in her life had she been so high.
She climbed like a rocket through a dream sky
then stalled, then sighed, then began to cry.
Everything slowed to an ocean of mud.
Strange hands were molding her breasts like wet clay.
She refused in quiet. Now she spits blood.
He is gone, bad dream-like. It’s a new day.
Over the drain, crutched by cool porcelain.
She is somewhere, a party or a bar.
She levels her gaze to meet her reflection.
No self, just cracked eyes in a cracked mirror.
Her senses stir on a lake of sprayed silver,
but seeing the damage, refuse to see more.
They come unhooked, and dive back inside her,
and again, she’s a stranger at her door.
And tomorrow’s another Saturday.
With it comes another Saturday night.
Tomorrow couldn’t be a sadder day.
Too little time to make things right.
Midnight past, she’ll dawn a murderous disguise
with her rust red lips and suicide eyes,
another Bob bobbing between her thighs,
and buzzing inside like a jar of flies.
“Mary… oh God, the devil stole my face.
Sweep up and fly me to a higher place.”
INK AND HEROINE(Response to J. Holdt’s American Pictures)
I am a kind of pharmacist.Teeth clench a gnarled strap,
I take my wares with me.The needle finds the vein;
I have traveled from innocence to experience,A buried splinter, an opening door
But have come back to her, sick child…Her eyes: pregnant with death and flowering.
Experience taught me: beauty is naught butHer heart, how it rises: a phoenix to her throat, wings beating in her ears,
A half-eaten apple lying in the grass.Dew-lipped, she floats, golden in dawn’s chill,
Quiet. It’s just the strap. There is no serpent.But her heart, it chases her. A cat, spinning.
You can devour it all — all pain, all doubt, even yourself.Distended, the balloon pops, the red giant collapses,
One more…. You were so close.Only a vacuole can accomomdate Creation, an empty spoon and
We will all be fallenThe cat tires, the great bird descends,
I am just a salesman.Ashes to ashes.
A green paged book of poems?But the coffee can is empty.
They’ll put a fresh coat over all of this.Colors gray, dimensions curl — the walls closing.
You’ve nothing? — not even in trade…?Paralyzed, still clutching the strap.
Ink drips from lip to chin.
Blood spatters her shirt.
Even a cripple can romp free as the mind of God.She bites her tongue to keep from swallowing it
They will take you away fromThis hovel, where rats scratch between the walls,
This God forsaken place —Where the child lies dead in the next room;
Yet you still expect he will riseWrapped in swaddling bands of toilet paper,
To guide you as you wander,Under a phosphorous star.
LANDThis land, strewn with debris,
where fathers collapsed and boys patched the canopy.
He was a revolutionary here; he befriended kings,
he was an Indian, a cowboy, and other strange things.
But then the sun would drop, the porch bell would clang,
and it’d be time for Samuel to go in again.
Clouds billowed from his lips.
Fluidly Van Goghish, they swirled and dipped.
Skull buttressed over pizza and law books
he planned his nostalgia in a library nook.
There’d be a wife, and heirs to bear his name.
They’d all come true like dreams — yes, just the same.
But now, in delirium, the cherubs arrive,
clown-white, ghosts of nothing but dreams deprived.
The stars, like a switchboard, twitter white, blue, and green.
The pond frogs’ nocturne — that slow machine.
A feverish city, cooled by smokestacks,
lies beyond leagues of moon-stained sowbacks.
Blunt verticals pierce the belly of heaven.
The lost soul of concrete — unnatural, but to men.
That wild plant — the sad industry of fruit flies;
it goes on in his lungs; the city multiplies.
Collapsed in a thicket, he gapes at the sky.
Through artless limbs, the meteors fly.
Pregnant with death, and ripe as a peach,
the harvest moon’s low, and just out of reach.
Curled like a question by a cairn of stones,
the tides at last answer, and take him home.
THE DYINGthese moon hands
in the off light
still hold their lines
eyes ache to open
the fear of simple sleep
the ache lets go
in a moment
I never remember
and I wake
in this room
made for me
by white-stockinged angels
the boy comes in again
sits at the foot of my bed
silent as the pale blue walls
I tell him
that they will not let me up
my legs, I tell him
we walk corridors together
in the afternoon the man
who was the boy
comes, but can’t stay long
he shows me pictures
I don’t see
tells me that the flies aren’t
real, aren’t swarming
I ring the nurse, demanding
she fetch the boy
but the man
when he has left
I can still feel him
coming back to me
from the middle of
a field of asphalt
looking up at the sun
glinting off my window
like a wishing star
I know, I know
so in the evening
more beautiful than ever
I embrace her
out of this room
as again, I assume the hands
of the man I was
and together, we slip the moon shell
MERCYin the next room it is twice dusk
the daws wait impatient on limbs of night
to carry him away
outside his window moonbeams
rake across the blackened lawn
moonlight… a resurrection if only
it were her own
he can hear
the slumping pulse of the street
blood horns and motors
headlights flash across the darkening walls
there is a cry when he hits water
then curtain rings squeal
sparing only a drawn
silence that questions mercy
POST SCRIPTGray and lonely as barren towns in early morning’s rain
As the inhuman distant midnight cry from a coal carting train
As the trembling hands of TV preachers, slacks cut for the flood
As pollen dusted city streets wet with prodigal blood
As empty windows late at night in ghettos far from home
As the slippers on grandma’s hands, abandoned and alone
As my father’s face, gone pillow pale with the climbing of moon
As the coffin empty of all but fear which found me far too soon
As the dire cry for help in a dream with words without sound
As dipping waste deep in black water — nothing lost if never found
As the terror in the lens trapped eye, enlarged by boundless dilate skies
And as this orbit by which I hide, the secrets of a darker side
What’s left? — a call for truth to rhyme; this, a trial I can’t decide
Whether mercy gives this verse more time, or mercy lets it die.
Move on to Part II