Tomorrow this poem will most assuredly no longer be here, though when during the night it will slip away, never again to be seen, I don’t know or perhaps it will return in a form I would not recognize, recrafted by the hand of an unseen editor.
It may take on a meaning unfamiliar, or translate itself into a tongue that I can neither speak nor read, or perhaps, most dreadedly, assume the shape of prose, accreting words until the embedded thought is bloated and wholly unrecognizable.
Even if I tried to stop it, watched carefully, it would no doubt remind me that poems have a life of their own once cast to paper or pixels, and I am at best only another editor or reader, and it takes kindly on most days to neither.
He had always imagined covering his body in feathers. He knew it wouldn’t make him able to take flight, but it would, he was certain grant him a certain lightness that gravity and daily life denied him. And he knew that once covered in his dreams he could soar free of the restrictions that his conscious mind imposed on him, restrictions, he knew, that were the only reason he wasn’t even at that moment peering down at the world while moving across the sunlit sky of an autumn afternoon.
It wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but you probably wouldn’t have been all that upset. It was all about you, but not for you, that comes later, and we know you’ll be pleased. This one was for some of us who needed this to be able to keep going, to keep from looking only back, into the darkness that is our shadow. He said it was a celebration, and it was that, and we put on our best faces, hid our tears as best we could, and as we stood in the cold air in the cemetery, we only wished it over, and when the sun appeared suddenly, we knew you wished that as well, but in your case, it was more likely that you wanted us working on the party we will soon throw for you and that one, too will be for us, but among the things we miss you for, was your willingness, you desire to share.
It would help, she said, if you would stop imagining your life as a barge moving slowly down the Mississippi River, one in an endless procession, following like so many lemmings looking without hope of finding a cliff. Yes, she adds, from time to time one may break free, it happens but you have to admit that is usually a disaster requiring a significant clean up, not to mention countless hours of hand-wringing and questions as to just how something so untoward could have happened. And, she concluded, it just so happens that I am sick and tired of dragging you along on my path to the Gulf.
We now live in a strange world where nothing is as it was mere weeks ago. I am blessed to live on a small nature preserve and have been spending my afternoons with camera in hand. So if you want something other than words (which follow) you are welcome to visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/98342503@N00/, my Flickr site, which is updated daily. A sample of what you will find:
It seems odd how often our fathers depart suddenly, our mothers make a slower retreat, slipping away while always still present, a death by 1000 days, the cuts inflicted on our psyche, small wounds that never fully heal, but fade, so the scars are only seen and felt from the inside. My parents never did things as expected, so my mother complained bitterly of the small difficulties of life, until the morning she suddenly departed, at the stroke of 6:15 while my father lingers, still happy in ever shortening increments, both of us knowing he is fading away and I may never know he has departed after he is gone.
She carefully hangs her life
on the tautly stretched line
across her small back yard.
A sun faded floral housedress
a pair of bib overalls
knees worn white on
the kitchen linoleum,
cracked and dingy.
She waits patiently
for Humphrey Bogart to arrive
and carry her up
the river of her memory.
The chicken threatens
to burn in the cramped oven
and she is again without napkins.
He will be home soon
his six pack chilling
in the old Kelvinator
and she feels the slap
on her bruised cheek
as she fluffs her pillow
where she will soon hide
her purpled face.
Recently appeared in Aurora, Down in the Dirt Vol. 167 (2020)
Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon or Porto looking into the faces of older men and wondering if this one was my father. the father I had never seen, never known. Was the one my Jewish mother described in detail to the social worker who took me from her shortly after she gave me life. It is many years later, now, my mother has a face, discovered in the twisting path of a double helix, good West Virginia Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind. I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear it is a lovely city, but the faces will all be alien to me, and there I will dream of my day touring the Highlands of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which of the McDonald’s and McAllister’s might be kin and which Tartan I can now rightfully claim is my own.
“Probable metastatic lesions secondary to breast cancer.” Complex words set at the bottom of a page, impenetrable jargon.
Two spots where pelvis and spine are joined, where motion fulcrums down legs, a torso and its twin concavities lever up, fold down, torque in slow rotation living.
The words stare out from the page; defiant, aberrant cells nestling bone foretell a pillow blanketed in hair, rosy skin sheltering burning flesh beneath. I offer platitudes, empty aphorisms neither she nor I believe. For me self-serving hope, weak bracing for a hastily built bridge spanning a gulf of absence and neglect: a young girl abandoned, a woman rediscovered.
For her, baby sister, a smile born of the pain of the surgeons’ hollow handiwork across skull and chest, an unguent smile to soothe my festering guilt.
We watch words shatter against the impenetrable reality.
She could barely move her head the cancer climbed her spine reaching upward, clutching vertebrae reaching out, tendrils grasping tearing fragile organs. She would cry, but that would be an admission of defeat, a welcome to death.
I cried out for her, entreated our God for compassion that she might stand by her sons when they uttered the ancient words, by her daughter, adjusting the white lace veil, but he would not answer, drawn into catatonia, seeing severed limbs of children littering the streets of Sarajevo.
She clings tenuously to life as I cling tenuously to faith.
First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006