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It’s About Time – Part I

falling behind a head

sandusky

conrad

god on broadway

falling frames
ink and heroine

land

the dying

mercy
postscript

It's About Time, Part II It's About Time, Part III
It's About Time, Part IV

The Fallen Trees

Out of rhyme

Out of reason

Out of time

Out of season


 


 

FALLEN BEHIND A HEAD

Night 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.

Guilt returns

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

or need.

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


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SANDUSKY

My 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 sulphur 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 unscolling

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.


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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.


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STAR THE MOON

The 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.


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REMOTE CONTROL

Afterthoughts 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.


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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 winge 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.”


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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 but

Her 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 accomodate Creation, an empty spoon and

We will all be fallen

The 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 from

This 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 rise

Wrapped in swaddling bands of toilet paper,

To guide you as you wander,

Under a phosphorous star.


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LAND

This 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 cherubes 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 smokstacks,

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.


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THE DYING

these 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

are strong

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

she returns

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


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MERCY

in 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


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POST SCRIPT

Gray 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.


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