HARLAN

You came, Harlan, to Rochester
somewhere in an endless winter,
“Ellison in Tundraland” you said.
We all chuckled approvingly.

You said a short prayer
climbing into the rusting Opel,
sliding on the edge
of oblivion, and
the approaching snowplow.

You stood, hoarse, smelling
of Borkum Riff and English Leather,
a tweed jacket over a polo shirt
and thinning jeans
and told us of the insanity
of television, a medium
pandering to idiots.
We nodded, hoping
you would finish before
the Star Trek rerun.

We sat in Pat and Sandy’s
as you consumed two orders
of fries, and a dwindling
bowl of ketchup. Later
we sat in the Rat, staring
at the empty bottles
of Boone’s Farm until
you took pity and ordered
two pitchers. You were
our patron saint.

Solzynitsyn was exiled
to a cabin in Vermont,
staring as the leaves greened
and fell under winter.
You served your banishment
in the land of lost souls,
miles from any reality.

First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)

FOOTHILLS

The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?

The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.

The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
more powerful
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?

First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020

PANDEMIC DREAMS

What I most want to do now,
locked in by something unseen,
is to wander the streets of cities
here, Europe, it hardly matters,
and find statues whose plaques
are worn away or gone missing,
now nameless souls of once
lesser fame meriting a bronze
or of such ego as donating
their own image to the town.

They are forgotten souls, often
rightfully so no doubt, but even
the forgotten deserve a name
merit a history and higher purpose,
and I would offer those, with
Banksy-like labels, this old bearded
man, now Ignatius Fatuus, best
remembered for inventing
the pyramidal bread pan, where
each loaf is uniformly burned on top,
and there Shoshanna Chesed,
who pointed out that if we were
created in God’s image, it is
likely God is a woman given
the planet’s gender distribution,
before the zealots stone her
for blasphemy, insuring their own
ultimate, eventual ticket to hell.

But perhaps the virus will grow
tired of us, mutate, and go after
one of the myriads more intelligent
species we have not yet foolishly
or greedily rendered extinct.

First appeared in The Poet: A New World, Autumn 2020

CHANGE

They lie in the field uprooted
slowly desicating in the harsh sun,
the fruit they might have borne
trapped in the dying flower, the seed
of another generation denied.
It was not supposed to be like this,
the sun should have fed them,
the soil nourished their souls,
their stalks growing thicker, drawing
ever more life from the earth..
But here they now lie, torn away
left to wither, and we mourn them,
and the loss of what might have been.
The question how we or those like us
could so callously disregard life,
and know that this part of our nature
will never be easily overcome.