Poems

This page has poems I wrote, oh, 20 to 25 or more years ago when I was seeing things as a poet more often than I do now. I’ve done some editing and cutting now to make them less embarrassing, that is, less pretentiously poemish. It’s fun to play with language, but to wallow in Poet-Speak is nauseating, and if you spot me doing it I beg you to mock me cruelly online or in person.

For me these are about images and the feelings they evoke, not as much about meanings.

I just dug them out recently, and they’re giving me a glimpse at a past it’s nice to revisit. But the opinions expressed here are those of a younger lad and do not necessarily reflect those of the current management!

 

                       Your Friend

Why did I make this?
Why? You know what I mean by the question.

I've long not been a child
asking, Why is milk white?
but the bones of my hand are not milk.

Look inside yourself,
look in yourself to see what I mean.
Aren't you the same, a tangle
of Christmas lights in the box?

Where is your friend, then,
the one who knows everything you don't know,
who knows why you are,
whose shadow you are,
who remembers your dreams,
who wields years like hammers,
and who still

runs ahead opening the doors,
who picks their locks with petals from a daisy?

              The Distance

I begin by thinking about Who
will replace Whom when Whom
jumps off the ladder.

So: When I say the ascent and plunging of
the birds far off from the window
is a string section to my thoughts

understand that I know it's not,
and I don't expect you to believe me.
The poem is not about the birds.

I am the topic here.
That, and I won't demean the birds
or you by telling you their meaning.

So: The sky is a melodrama heavy
with strings. A giant Edmund, maybe, is leaving
a giant Ashley, perhaps, alone beneath

a sky-colored sky. In the last
meaningful distance the birds (really)
trail away and vanish, like the dust of horses,

and now, the poem is
about them, and the sky, which,
like melodrama,

is always more important than those in it.
So: I go down into the world, replacing the birds, and find
without strings, without window,

no drama,
no topic,
no thinking.


             This was First


Why should it begin with a word?
Of all we could say, This was first, why a word?

The sun, if we could look,
  holds the names
  of many things. Read the names
  for long enough
  and they will be instructions: first the way in
to nouns,
  then to verbs of doing,
  then to verbs of being.
The moon's dark side
  holds the words breathed but not spoken.
The deep, hollow words
  make the whisper side of the moon:
  words rasped by criminals in the dark,
  by pranksters,
  by soldiers in the hole, by the dying.
Oh, but the planets! Each of them holds
  a single word, but it is
  the one you need. It is the one word
  in each dream
you can't remember,
  and it is so sharp,
  so high, you can't hear it.
Dogs can't hear it, nor can bats,
  nor whales,
  but they dream,
like you do, and try.



             Your Hands

Turn the other way.
Take yourself away, because

we don't need the part of you
that made us love you —

your hands — having seen them
and formed our love.  "Love" in the general way

as in loving everyone in the room with us,
but not in the next room over,

unless an attack fell on both rooms
at once, which would make us love them too.

Always it is love in reaction.  If not to
a threat, then to the suddenness

of the empty place that says,
Come here and feel nothing; come admit

you don't care.  Any port in a storm:
we'll settle on hands.

But now that love is in our pocket,
and knowing we are safe with you, you with us,

believing the danger is gone,
we let the games of love begin:

playing with loving too much,
or loving some less because we trust

someone else will fill in.
As if fragile alliances

born out of a fear of falling
could stand that manipulation.

As if love will not swamp all
but the steadiest of us!



    
         Something that Always Needed

How do I say goodbye
meaning, I've watched the sea
redefine the shore again;

always a new and larger sea each time,
always a new day but always
the same. How can I make 
goodbye not mean you

are lost but rather
I let first a river, then a lake
between us, 
now the widening seas; and every day,
used to having their way,

they change the shape of the distance
separating me from you.
You are not real, and

you have been at times anything
from a breath to a shout, to

a candle, a rope, a rose,
to something that always needed

a shoreline -- but

if I needed proof that you
were real enough 

to matter, it would be my trying
to explain a simple word of goodbye.


            For a Moment

Never was anyone flower and stone
as much as you:
at night,

you drop heavy as stone
to bed, and make sounds
like a boulder falling

down a hillside of young trees:
crackling, and moans,
and sounds of abandonment.

And then a quiet snore.
Sometimes in the clicking relay
of breaths

there is my grandmother's dying
(though she was a young tree,
and unwilling),

and each breath is like
breaking off
another tooth of a comb.

But who is this, who spreads open the morning
like a sunflower breaks the soil?
How am I drawn

from the watery world
through you
into flame? So that

each day for a moment
we lie in time's
canopy, where

time's breath
proves to be uneven, too.



             God's Yellow Car

I made a prayer once for my father to win
that yellow car. I prayed my way to sleep
for God to give him that.

I may have thought having the yellow car
would make light the burdens of his work and family;

it was an unquestioned good. But there was
the problem of God.
God worked on humility, earnestness,

and begging, and even then
could refuse.

The convertible was bright but creamy:
sun with clouds. It was what any boy
would want to give his father,

without needing explanation.
I imagined other boys
praying themselves to sleep that night,
but it wasn't that there were so many

or that one prayed harder than me
that the prize never came.
I knew even with each word of prayer,

each Please bringing me closer to Heaven's door,
that there was more to God's life than
hearing and choosing,
and that for reasons not meant

to harm or deceive, God
would be keeping the yellow car for himself.



            Artifacts

 What if our house failed?
What if the lights, the rain,
the prying eyes and hands
fell upon us
after our solitude?
And the distance between us
no longer what we knew and lived with

  --the third seat at the table--
but a space
forced between us like a wind?
Would someone see in us
just artifacts?
Suppose after all the examination
that we become bookends.
That we would have to live
and die apart, with the words of
someone else's knowledge
between us.


             Everything

 
i. Wood is secret as metal,
metal as stone.

By caring for me, you have been a curse
since the night we met.

We met in winter, and I regret everything
I ever did in winter,

because of the grit on my hands, 
and always having to be the lesser man of great power,

great power turned in, 
power put to no use. Because of you my poetry

is like this--"mature," and in pieces,
even though that isn't what you meant at all.


ii. This house is still a secret after ten years.
Life, of course, is still a secret.

Even if I let go of everything,

even if I let go of everything--I like saying that,
because I mean it. Even after

everything, there is still a choice:
to laugh or to cry.

Do I really want to pull the bookshelves over,
put a rock through every glass in the house?

Or is it the sound I crave, the way three years ago
I felt I had to have an orange shirt, for courage?

You had some nerve, being you.
I miss you, and I hate winter more than ever, 

like I hate the graying
of my spine.

I don't know what love is, but it is like
knowing you (not everyone, I mean you) were human, 

and are still human, and will ever be, and will be.



The Office on a Sunday

is lit only by the windows.
From the elevator to the hall's west end
is a newsreel in black and white.
I see 
the shapes of people 
awaiting the return 
of their bodies tomorrow.
The shapes are trying to hold on
as they are nibbled by ideas.

The computers are quiet.
I am reminded by the silence why
I loved this place.
Whatever I have amassed to me, or mastered,
has passed through here
as through a filter.
Left behind is a thin layer
of soil on any surface I touched
often. Not enough to plant in.

Tomorrow flesh will return here
and with noise and pores take up
the space again. 
Ideas will retreat. 
The human side will win.

I gather up; my hand starts
to set the calendar page, 

then, no.



             Willingness
 

My day lived backwards:
The light over the bed comes back.
I am pushed out of the covers and upright.
Hands give water back
to the tap, bubbles to the soap;
a filip of spit leaps from the drain 
to my mouth;
I pedal back to draw a stream 
from the churning waters of the toilet 
and calm them again.
Dutiful pants, socks climb up me.
Now back to my armchair and pen,

to lift a few trails of ink 
off the paper. (I note, Doubt 
feels the same in both directions.)
A book hops open to my hand;
words fly from my eyes, fan my nose
on their way to their lines.

I empty my head of music. 
I lift dishes
from the sink, water recoils,
I make food in my throat, my mouth, 
and with it construct shapes on the plate,
fill a wine glass.  Like this
I go, to the beginning, 

growing younger,
lighter; giving back colors to the yard,
smell to the lilacs. 
Everything pushed away
returns, everything clutched escapes.
This way,

countless acts of giving, things healed. 
And the willingness of things to be exactly 
what they were not! 
Even dawn is repealed.



            Willfulness 


The sun is emerging: the chick crawling from the egg.
We are conspirators and, the dew now risen
from the grass, I am piecing together
my own view.  Perhaps I am striding with a will
to Hell, where I worship nothing.  Or am I more

the boy grown restless minding sheep,
barking alarms I know are uncalled for,
when quiet is demanded?
I must rebel;
I must juggle sin 
and forgiveness, though they are the grown-ups' toys.

The mounting sun brings
familiarity, and I stand in the time of balance
between the weight of the fog 
and the lift of the warming earth,
and I must have confidence.

The devil has planted marigolds here, or has found
a person not yet easeful with the bland decay of aging
to be his spade.  These bright heads, and the billow of heat
starting in the browning grass,

prick me to my cause: to stand away.  That's all.
If I'm allowed the years, if I don't put up
a rival good, or hate more than my share,
then soon enough I will eat the quiet foods
of the old, be blunt and repetitive, content
with the stained glass colors:

impervious.  My fear of growing old
will chip away, replaced
by the fear of not.  So let the ladies clench their lips;
I've skirted them, I've stolen their milk,
and my body is wet, let them wonder how.

The child of this union will master something, God willing,
for toys are tools.  The rules are simple, really:

Handle them well; Explore; Use them 
as they were intended.



[Here is an oddity, a form poem with some first-word-last-word tricks in it. I 
like it even though one reader in a poetry group said, "Who cares?"  Harrumph!]



                   If I Could Not
 
        If I — and this is only a wondering — if 
         I could graze you with a magic breath I
     could not forget from younger days (when we were
  not seen as toxic, but clean like baby's hair), and not
see the logic that attracts us here, could give up watching
         the clocks and rather look dead on at the
                    time, the time,

              then how would, I wonder, then
                          how
        would we turn and point another way? Would
 we begin to retrace our way, and once begun, how would we
               begin to know when to stop?


          Summation

The city, the state are waiting for me
to become the next Poet, and I don't
even have a clean shirt, much less
smell good. And the contents
of my mind's kit today are: The pain of gravity,
and how to avoid one more battle with it;
women; two lingering grudges with no
personal basis; and the desire to yield
to one word that would summarize me,

make it easy to say why I did one thing
I did today: Why I killed
this bug but let that one live,
or felt fear for the sureness of 
my speech, my work.

I can't get started without the biographers
to tell me how I started, and why;
and they, of course, are waiting for me.