THE GIFTS

They brought him myrrh
on a flaming salver and all
he could do was say
“This is something I would expect
from a butcher or a carpenter,
and the camera angles
would never work, so bring
me napalm or punji stakes
that we have proven to work.”
They brought him ripe oranges
and the sweet meat of the pineapple,
its juice dripping from his chin,
and all he could do was tighten
his grip on the AK-47 and dream
of night on the edge of the jungle.
They brought him Rodin, Matisse,
Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake,
but all he would see was
Bosch and Goya, and then
only by the light of fading candles.
They brought him the String Quartet
in A Major played on Strads
and Guarnaris, but he
wanted the retort of the howitzer
the crump of the mortar,
the screams of the child.
They brought him his child
wrapped in bandages
missing fingers and toes,
and all he wanted was
the nursery, a newborn
in swaddling, suckling her breast
as he stroked her head
and remembered the moment
of her creation.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

BACK IN THE DAY

My uncle and I would sneak away
from the seemingly endless party,
no one wanted to attend and couldn’t leave.
We go up to my room and turn on the radio.
He’d want to look for the Senators game,
but they’d left town and
no radio could pull in Minneapolis anyway,
but despite Killebrew, Arbitron sealed their fate
and this was Yankees country as well.
I try to pull in C H U M from across the lake.
It played music the local DJs wouldn’t touch,
in which never found their constrictive playlists,
provided by dad’s pal, the local rack jobber
come self-assumed all label A&R man.
Still, Mel would listen with me until he was missed
then try and sneak back to the party, while I
listen Don into the night, hearing songs
I have to hunt for at the record store,
for one thing I knew was that it didn’t
have a section marked Canadian Content Rule.

THE LADIES

It is an ungainly beast
and its cry, as much a bleat
as a roar, can pierce the air
and is never easily ignored.
There are far larger to be found,
and far more beautiful.
Some have voices that melt anger
incite passion, alleviate pain.
Some sing in a register so low
touch and hearing are merged.
Even this beast has its smaller kin,
gentler, if not ever soothing,
happy to fill a room, not a universe.
But the great beast has
always known its place,
held in the arms of and cradled
informal procession, carried
forward into battle by
the so-called Ladies from Hell.

A NIGHT AT THE ROSE

Three beers over two hours
and, giddy, I want to sing
along with the Irish house band
in my horribly off key voice,
just two choruses
of Irish Rover or Four Green Fields.
It’s beginning to snow outside
and it’s a four-block walk
to the Government Center station.
I suppose it would sober me up
but a couple of more songs
couldn’t hurt, I’ve got two hours
before the last train and we can
walk across the campus
through the tunnels
once we’re back in Cambridge.
I probably should have gone
with Coors or Bud Lite
but Guinness is, all said,
a meal in a glass.
I would stand now,
but my knees seem
comatose, so let’s sing
to Auld Robbie, a verse or two
of Scots Wa Hae, it’s damn
near Irish anyway
and from this seat
in the Black Rose
Cambridge is a world away.


First Published in Celt at Aberffraw (Wales, UK) 2000

FESTIVAL

They ebb and flow
like tides down the half-empty street
from venue to venue,
many with that lost look
of years in the desert, driven
on by promised
the land of honey notes,
the mother’s milk of jazz.
The event passes flap in the breeze
created by their wake, some
checking programs, their
personal map to the festival.
We stand on the corner
watching humanity engage
in the ritual we, after 14 years,
have chosen now only to observe.

KEYS

He sits, suited in black, with 88
keys at his command,
and we fall silent.
He opens the lock of joy,
the lock of sadness,
the lock of elation,
the lock of tears,
the lock of laughter,
the lock of darkness,
the lock of light,
the lock of surprise,
the lock of compassion,
the lock of love,
and we peer through each door,
unable to enter fully
unable to turn away.
As we walk out, we know
we have tasted Buddha’s promise truth
and we go off in search
of the 63,999 remaining Dharma doors.

AROUND

What they simply cannot understand
is what his take as a vinyl disc
is a moment in a life, a memory encased,
over which a dancing stylus bleeds dreams
and a history of time is written
on the back of its sleeve.
They cannot grasp that music
doesn’t fit neatly in your pocket,
that your neck can grow tired
from the weight of the headphones
bringing voices and instruments to life.
They want all of life portable,
we only want to sit, to be anchored
and watch the disc and our lives
spin slowly around, in a musical kinhin.