BURNT ORANGEfire bursts flare over the hills,
wet like jelly… hot like napalm
indian summer, and maybe
this is more than just
the color of ruin.
clothes caked in mud
kids in the park
fight over a pigskin balloon
the leaves of stripped trees
are swept away like eraser grit.
night began falling at noon
the boys will have to be home soon
their voices — pared thin
for the crossing into winter
gray smoke rises from chimneys
cleaning women with dirty secrets
leave houses on the upper west side
and walk evenly to their trains
it always looks like rain
the birds will not be fooled this year
the sound of rakes in the wind
the feel of nails across the skin
ROOTSMy mark on the tree
warped like print on stretched putty.
Late August, blue dusk, I climbed out my window —
my brow white with moonglow.
And I sat there — sat there listening
as wind filled the tree, leaves heaving
the sound of fire, but cool, the ground
wet with dew already and there, crowned
in blonde, an undarkened youth,
I’d thought I’d found some core truth
to all of this. The night before
my dad tied my tooth to the bathroom door.
So little yet uprooted; there would be more.
Scores in the molding of the bedroom door
revealed how far I’d come,
till every inch gained began to feel a loss of one.
This is where I grew up, this is home.
And now, bald as a Krishna, and fifty-four
I count thirty odd rings inward
paring my life to my father’s cancer.
His breathless trunk too well I remember…
and remember too his knotty eyes and withered limbs —
nothing left but a shell of him.
I kissed his crown and touched his wrist,
hoping fingers might bloom from his fist.
But like a tree with black rot spread within,
his shape, held only by a frail bark of skin,
was lifeless as a month old carnival balloon’s.
Out the window a pillow of cloud smothered the old moon.
The tree sighed — a groan which rose from the roots.
A week later I brought home a flag and a bag full of soot.
So today, under a September sky that seems the same
ghetto gray and threatening rain
I strap on my work boots
and tromp through the young shoots
of flowers weeds and trees —
so many yet unnamed to me.
The gaps between memories widen like tree rings;
so incomplete, the mind’s hold on history.
It’ll be thirty years next week — thirty…
thirty years grown over me, like a coat of ivy —
and so heavy an obligation.
But physical labor is a necessary distraction,
for it too is a great healer — as wisdom and clarity
often come from the periphery.
Knowing that the days when all was gain are gone,
I work until the ache of being alone
has a friend in my likewise aching body.
And with now a constant reckoning,
I look to my hands — laced
with time lines — and my face —
scarred as a moon with traces
of myriad collisions of times and places.
From a branch felled at the crack of late August thunder
I’ve fashioned the handle — content to let it sever
its own ties. The man with the Ford Ranger
said the roots threatened my foundation, so I am chipping
through years of growth and rings of being.
I was left the house when my mom died.
It was easier the second time. I was dignified.
No threats to God, cigarettes, or cynical jokes.
Trying to find the acorn in the oak,
I cry as if peeling an onion.
They planted this tree at my inception;
I’m chopping through to a reunion.
The rings shrink and seem to blur,
as I close on the singularity.
There is an increased density of
time, a unity of ryhme, a blending
of lines, as sap drips from the wedge,
as the years are magnified by tears, and the yard —
now littered with pale chips; my coat too, covered
in white curls, sweat-drenched, eyes aching, there
is a deep groan, a creaking. The tree’s shadow
shrinks into itself and — a tremendous
earth shattering crash. I eye the ax, amazed…
such a little part of the whole, when
severed from it, can bring the whole
down — like a cell that
forgets its purpose.
So I kneel beside
the old tree, and
TREESthere is a time
in the spring
when the trees
burst forth new
in old robes while
the silent trunk
buries her secret deep
in black soil
there is a time
late in summer
when the sound of
September’s endless rain
reminds the leaves of something
they could never know
there is a time
late in fall
when willow birch and pine lean
over evening’s pellicle waters
look deep through present reflections
to the petrified wood rocks
in the pond shallows, and there
is a time in the
white heart of winter
to say goodbye to the tattered robes
to watch the feather leaves fall
while listening silent to the rasping
the scraping of the forsaken ones
PIERSthe arms of stone
extend from the rocky coast
holding up a ship light
in outstretched hands.
Drawn like so many to
the beacon, I hop rock
to rock. I need that terminus
in a life where dreams go lost
like ships and perish without proof.
Sad shadows haunt the widow’s walk, or
mabye they are my own, but I want that light,
to touch it, to be found. Yet there is no reaching
the reaching; the light races from me, scatters across
the black water. So I crawl, out of myself, and I wait
quiet, like a gypsy
for the touch; a
leap of faith, I
flirt with the idea,
thinking if the light
could hold me, but
the stone-dumb dog
washed back on the
jagged rocks supports
no illusions; this liquid light
unsettled as a white sheet
falling through darkness
to a bed
SILENCEtime moves within him
until it moves
clip clop, like hooves
as leaves fall through black
the wall clock
died last year
time passed it by
his wife passed
left doors unlocked
wading in gathering dust
he eyes the clock
as always, accusing the hour
of its death
stiff in his chair
he draws breath
with thought the old man
lets go a sigh
then runs his hand
along the line
of his thigh
to feel certain
of feeling, of being alive
now through trees
foreign feet amble blind
but meaning to abide
a younger mind
the old man climbs
into sky lifts
a heavy limb
he catches a leaf
by the stem
saved from the mulch pile
he’ll slip it in
his father’s Bible
an autumn album
as he waits for his winter
to fall, watching from his chair
the clock on the wall
NIGHT WALKINGstreet lamps
cast down the white cat
warily, it shadows me
across the skins of puddles
the trees are rusting
a lone cricket saws
— the last I’m guessing —
for it is now late October
and the air is soiled with death
fall begins the mortal wonder
LOSTWith a foot gone heavy as my heart
I need to finish so I can start.
Wipers ticking back and forth
I’m heading south, but wanted north.
Cleveland-bound, but with a sinking feel
that home’s receding faster than my wheels.
Thirty degrees, yet everywhere the sizzle
of ten days in a constant drizzle.
Droplets cascade down the window.
Lovers consume others as they go.
Pea-soup clouds of carbon and sulfer
billow from the stacks of coal-burning boilers.
Stopped astride a pudding green truck,
the driver nods like he shares my luck.
Filthy dusk. It touches like the gray eyes of the lost,
or a handful of pills. It falls on the empty lots
of the town mall — a pallor pink, stained ochre —
the color of gnarled toenails. …Grandmother.
Her house always smelled of pressed flowers and snow.
They say she flew the river years ago.
Yet sometimes, like now, I’ll sit right beside her,
as she tickles my toes, sings of pigs and spiders.
We’ll play cards all day through rain, then snow.
War was the only game she knew — the truest peace I know.
THE FALL OF THE WESTERN FIELDAnd the man cleared the fields
he called his children,
planting crops to the east and west
of the home he built with his own two sons.
After the soil had turned fifty harvests,
a summer came with an empty heaven.
Alone now, the old man chose to save the window field,
the field of sunsets.
He wakened winter’s snow,
melted in the well, with buckets
that were filled to be emptied
Stalks grew over the western field —
ominous as cloud shadow.
All this while, the eastern field lay fallow.
Had it a voice, it might have cursed
the old man, playing favorites.
A day though came when, in the August
of his eighty-sixth year,
the old man sat behind his west wall window
and never rose.
The clouds disappeared from the fields,
as the stalks, heavy with grain,
fell under their own weight
in piles of rotting gold.
THE CROFTERThe book opens. Morning…
light, crisp as cut paper.
I kick apart the covers, rise from the sheets.
I pick berries at the bookstore —
Berryman, Ashbery. Poetic names…
mine is Croft.
It is curt like an article.
It is also
like this page
a small plot for planting
even if only a fruitless poem
growing on a widening estate of mind
through the shared the expanse of a day
where we all plant dreams and pray.
THE SECOND PERSONWhy do I look for her by the river
where in mid-August we crossed together?
Autumn rains have swallowed the jumping stones.
I hike to the woodland shrine, but no one
waits by the felled tree. Reverie’s absurd;
she’s not in memory’s worn reel of words,
as I expect its answers unlike hers.
She left with summer, and took warmth with her.
The sun’s now cold; squirrels hoard for winter.
I cannot find her in scrapbook orchards.
Some wells of pleasure leave hunger tortured.
I cannot look for you, but do, when stirred
by the pump squeak of the old bucket man —
a dated weight, but hell, I understand.
OUT OF YOUR HANDSthe unwashed shirt on the hanger
it yearns to be vanquished in dust
but the sight of it
prompts a returning
the shirt — filled again
he never should have left
but time grew around him
and it was no longer home
wait on racks
to be filled with your future
out of your hands
Move on to Part III