The Bane of the Blooming Moon
In a cottage
at the end
of a trail of tears
a newborn baby
was cradled in a doctor’s arms
the father snatched the boy,
and raced outside.
With an axle
he crushed the icy lake surface
and plunged the child in.
It came out crying.
The old rancher
with uncouth manners
looked upon the tiny infant
and predicted its demise,
but it had other ideas
fighting off the convulsions
that wracked his body,
nothing but a bathtub of ice
With his parents
traveling the vaudeville circuit
he slept in the drawers of cheap hotels,
was cared for by chorus girls
took a very public dose
though her marriage
As he retraced the steps
to his ancestral home,
and the moon transformed
between words and thoughts,
shadows at the bottom of his soul.
The church bells chimed
across the makeshift bases
set up in a field
of weeds and thistles.
Near the swamp
a wildcat’s back arched
to the sky
as if to ward off evil.
Storm Ending by Jean Toomer
Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .
Bitten by the sun
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.
The Great Barrier Reef, 1945
with a coffee and a cigarette
a brilliance of colors
and a flotilla of ships
stretching the expanse
like a yawn.
Lyrics aren’t always what you imagine them to be. Perhaps like me, you’ve misunderstood a line or two. What the Lizard King was wailing was actually, “If you give this man a ride, sweet memory will die.”
Even if you do happen to understand the words correctly you may not know what all of them mean. I’ll confess being none the too wiser to the meaning of turnpike in Simon and Garfunkel’s lovely America. And I’ve only just realized what a flat-bed Ford looks like; it is not at all what I imagined.
From the microphone
aimed at selling
shunning the wind
as it blows canopies,
leaving in their wake
remnants of a voyage,
which must be cleaned if
you’re to get any work done.
does the trick
and makes you think
your fingers may be safe again,
but the keyboard
no longer responds to
Raised in the suburbs, I knew only a little of the difficulties my parents faced growing up. My mom’s parents were immigrants, and she was a child of the city surrounded by a mix of Irish, Italian, and French-Canadians, all struggling as best they could in a new country at a time in which things were terrible economically. My dad grew up on a farm so in many ways had it easier, and while only only eight miles from the downtown area, it might have been hundreds.
Since my maternal grandmother died when I was only seven, I have few memories of the farmhouse with its ornate curtains and the sun pouring in through the windows. I can remember sitting on a slope that led up to the cornfields talking with a cousin. Another time dancing about as the marvelous seedpods from a maple twirled like helicopters as they fell. Near the large oak with the tire swing was another tree, and all about its trunk in a circular pattern were crab apples, which I examined to see whether they had holes before brushing one against my t-shirt and biting into it, tasting a tartness that remains with me to this day.
while we were all on stage
countless vaudeville acts
and that bear,
which must have been
as we were playing the sax,
and swooped its paw
over our heads
but the rest of us
being too high
Although the universe
may not weigh anything -
positives and negatives
equaling each other out -
it is refreshing to know
the chemical element
of which so much matter consists,
which makes balloons float
and voices sound funny,
was there in just the
first few minutes.
He hung out mainly
by the trash bin,
which he’d jump inside
with such ease
it could have been
specially designed for him.
Instead of a smile
he wore a
His walk was such
you were sure he felt
everyone in his wake
But two weeks ago
when we saw him last
his sturdy body
We expect he’s gone
out of the way place
where it’s said
when they know
their time has come.
“‘Alabama’ is a composition written by John Coltrane that appears on his album Live at Birdland (1963). It was written in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963, an attack by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four girls.”
- Wikipedia entry for Alabama (John Coltrane song)
The Tiger by William Blake
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service. That’s not a real policy, is it?
I’ve decided to disable the like button on all posts from now until the Day of the Lord. I hope you’ll still visit and comment if you like.
If I do get likes (from the Reader), it will happily bring to mind:
“Suppose it were the life-view of a religiously existing subject that one must not have a disciple, that this is treason to both God and men; suppose he were also a little foolish (for if it takes a little more than mere honesty to make one’s way in the world, then stupidity is always necessary for real success and to have many properly understand you) and said this directly, with unction and pathos, what then? Well, yes, he would indeed be understood. Soon ten would apply, asking to be engaged just for a free shave once a week to preach this doctrine; i.e., and as further confirmation of the doctrine’s truth, he would have had the extraordinary good luck to acquire disciples who accepted and spread this teaching about having no disciples.”
- Soren Kierkegaard – Concluding Unscientific Postscript
At the little league park
where he graciously signed his name
he was different than
the times you saw him
from the bleachers
charge the pitcher’s mound
like one sees in drunken brawls
kicking a cloud of dust
into the face of the umpire
who himself part of an act
not far from pantomime
rotated his arm
like the hands of a clock.
A Certain Sound
Before his cadaver was on the gurney,
the life had already drained
from his face.
His once fleshly cheeks
no unused vein remained.
Only those around him knew
what lurked behind
that dreamy look.
Jazz lost a certain sound
but the world
by all accounts
Today’s poem can be found in my new collection or in accompaniment with John Spiers’ wonderful sketch.
My dad was a dreamer, a word that some people (not anyone here I’m sure) use dismissively. I never have.
He had many dreams and while this was not by any means the most important, it was one that had a direct impact on the way I view life.
All dreams don’t come true, of course. The rain does fall on the just and on the unjust.
Although my dad mainly made map and roads, he did on occasion put up buildings. The particular ones in question were townhouses, which were not then the ubiquitous phenomena they are now. There was every reason to believe the development would be a success. Its location would be just a short commute into the metro area once the proposed freeway was completed.
But then the 1974 US recession took place and the freeway was delayed.
The comfortable life I had led was no more.
No, it wasn’t the Appalachian poverty you read about in Winter’s Bone but our new home was very old and in very bad shape, and though I always had something to eat, we ate what we could afford, and during that four-month period we consumed more eggs than we probably should have mainly because they came free from the ornery hens in the chicken coop in back.
It was difficult being uprooted, and I absolutely hated my time spent there. However, now that I’m much older (in fact, the same age as my dad was then), I can appreciate that the experience gave me an understanding I might not have had otherwise. Empathy is important as is a willingness to lend a hand. There but for the grace of God go I.
The Color of Movement
A university student
spent the summer cycling
with a controlled substance in his
At a bar on Route 66
he had a drink
with a local man
with the gift of gab
before going outside with him
to the alley.
They talked and joked
until a cop car peeked round
He quickly put away
all incriminating evidence
and stood perfectly still
convinced of his constitutional right
against unlawful search and seizure.
His newly-found friend, however,
was less convinced,
sprinting off like
a bolt of lightning.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Street Scene I (Athens)
The city does not sleep
as the sidewalks steam
with a thousand suns
hardly made to stand still.
Smells rise through drains
as if from the bowels
of an ancient earth.
Those with palms outstretched
lie on grimy cardboard carpets
Time never tarried in the mountains you called home
in the summer
when the sun never ceased to shine
except when the monsoons came
and the rain poured down.
You bought the only national newspaper available
not for the drivel about morning dawning
but for its baseball scores.
Pool was played over pitchers of beer
with your German friend
who taught you what you always knew
and with others
whom alcohol did nothing to improve.
Late at night
you read in bed
the precious cargo
the yaks had delivered
from distant lands.
A Late Walk by Robert Frost
When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.
And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.
A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.
I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.
“A hundred cares, a tithe of troubles and is there one who understands me? One in a thousand of years of the nights?”
(James Joyce -Finnegans Wake)
Ireland is a beautiful country. Its luscious green landscape can calm the troubled soul.
As an English speaker, there’s the added advantage that you’ll never struggle to communicate or make yourself understood. There’s also that lovely Irish lilt. It’s been a favorite of mine since I can remember and one I heard my grandmother use growing up. I always try to include a shan’t here and there in honor of her.
My grandmother and her sisters had left the poverty in Ireland for a better life, and while before their marriages they worked as domestic help in the home of one of the U.S.’ greatest railroad barons, that was the closest they would ever come to wealth; their lives were a struggle to get by.
When their parents, who had not come with them, fell ill, Mary, the oldest sister, returned to Ireland. In the meantime, WWI broke out, and she was unable to return to America. It was her son and family I visited.
I had not warned them I was coming, and when I arrived at the doorstep, he was not exactly sure who I was, but a little explaining convinced him, and I was welcomed into their home, where they fed me well.
One day we took a trip to see what remained of my grandmother’ s house:
The view from it was absolutely gorgeous:
Their idea of America was greatly influenced by the movies they saw, and they just assumed everyone had a gun. Now this was in 1984 when I’m sure everyone didn’t have a gun. If they were to ask me now, what would I tell them? I know what the NRA would like me to tell them – no, but if they did, everyone would be a lot safer.
They believed in spirits – no, not the Holy Spirit, formerly known as the Holy Ghost, which they no doubt did believe in. But other ones you might have read about. While on the side of the materialists without their rigid arrogance stance that everyone is in error and could see right if they’d just listen, I could understand as we drove through the mist like I understood on those windy roads in Germany’s deep forests how Grimms’ fairy tales had come to be.
They asked me what my parents’ reaction would be if I married a Protestant. Their Catholicism obviously meant a lot to them in a way that it had never or would ever for me. They took me to a place called Martyrs’ Rock where the Catholics had prayed when their religion had been forbidden under English rule.
After a few days, they drove me into the city of Sligo where I would take the train, but not before I thumbed a ride to Yeats’ grave.
I also thought to drop in and see what The Yeats Society was up to. I can only guess they didn’t know what to make of me. Very unlike Copenhagen a few weeks later where at the tourist bureau they put me on the phone with a Danish professor whose expertise was Kierkegaard and who was willing to meet up for a drink to talk about the great Dane:
All roads, and train tracks for that matter, lead to Dublin.
“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay…”
(James Joyce – Finnegans Wake)
By all means enjoy the pubs:
Whether or not Guinness is actually the emperor of malted liquors I can only say if you do drink it, you will not forget it.
If you find a place with live music, by all means indulge. Irish music has a real soul to it. In case you doubt me:
Enjoy both the city and the country in this lovely enchanted isle.
A Dry County
as those in the Midwest do
a beer or two.
You did not see
the wind sweeping on the plains
as much as the sun
beating mercilessly down.
A landscape with oil rigs turning about,
mechanical drills set to bleed the earth dry.
A windmill whose parts had been
as those in the Midwest do
a beer or two.
I’m happy to announce I’ve just published my second poetry collection, Water and Silt, on Amazon. It’s cheap as dirt or perhaps even cheaper (Have you gone to a gardening supply store lately?).
As those of you who visit on a regular basis know, every month (okay, nearly every month) I write a little background on one of the poems in my first collection, Watercolors. If you haven’t got it, it’s free. You can download it at Smashwords by clicking on the cover on the right or here at Barnes & Noble. By all means, write a review.
Anyway, our poem this month is The Final Embrace. It’s about learning of the illness that would eventually take my dad’s life and journeying back to him.
Before I got the news, I was sitting in my apartment, which had a wonderful view of the sea and listening to James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. Because I didn’t have a phone (At the time, the waiting list for one was something like eight years.), my mom had called my next door neighbor.
Living in a relatively small city, I had to fly out from a larger one about two hours away. It was before the days of the Internet so I had booked my tickets through a travel agent. Unfortunately, I had found a very greedy one. While in the street with my suitcase waiting for my taxi, someone from the travel agency told me they’d made a mistake in the pricing and needed more money. I thought I’ll give you whatever you want – I’m not going to argue. And I thought how I would give all the money I had if only my dad would be well again.