"Res Judicata" - The S. T. Stearns Issue   Friday, February 25, 2011


VI.3.1.




This week's "Big Deal" is a 30-poem sequence by S. T. Stearns - details on that when you get to it.

The pictures this week, all but the first and the last, which were taken during earlier visits, are from a trip I took this week to the coast for lunch with a friend. The city is Corpus Christi, on the south Texas gulf coast. A wonderful city with terrific people which we lived in or near for fifteen years before moving to San Antonio in 1993.

Visiting is a little sad sometimes, because when we left, we left behind some of the best, most interesting and productiv years of my life. It's also sad because while the city has always seemed just one step away from becoming one of the crown jewels of the gulf coast, it has never seemed to take that last step without stumbling.

Anyway, here's this week's posse.


Michael Earl Craig
The Plane
It
At the Acupuncturist's


Me
the Great Oz will notice me and reward me appropriately

Cha Shen-Hsing
The Customs House at Weed Lake

Chao Chih-Hsin
A Mid-Autumn Night
Fireflies
Presented to a Mountain Dweller


Chiang Shih
Crossing Several Mountain Ridges on My Way to P'u-ch'eng from Chian-Shan after a Snowfall
Getting Up Early at Lakeside Pavilion: Two Poems


Me
thirty-four years ago, tomorrow

Czesław Miłosz
A Song on the End of the War
Flight


Me
“shit”

S. T. Stearns
Res Judicata

Wesley K. Mather
On a Driveway

Me
jeez

Gary Snyder
For a Fifty-Year-Old Woman in Stockholm

Me
reply to a critic who takes himself and me much too seriously

Lorna Dee Cervantes
Starfish
In January
Spiders
From Where We Sit: Corpus Christi


Me
my secret no longer safe in the company of shorter men
whatever the problem, I know the solution


Simon Armitage
Gooseberry Season
Shrove Tuesday


Me
deep thoughts to be thunk in 2009
in the news today










I start this week with poems from Thin Kimono, a collection by Michael Earl Craig published last year by Wave Books.

Craig was born in Ohio in 1970. He earned degrees from the University of Montana and the University of Massachusetts. He has published two previous books and is a certified journeyman farrier, living in Montana where he shoes horses for a living.



The Plane

1

When someone feels they know you well enough
they might bear your children.
I was thinking about this when the plane took off.


2

The girl next to me is Russian.
Stewardesses aren't stupid.
It stinks in here like anchovy vinaigrette.


3

The plane's wing looks like a stage prop,
like a pretend wing, like a child's idea
of a wing.


4

When stripped to your socks,
all your coins in the tub,
you are moments away from being a terrorist.


5

The stewardess took from a passenger
a sugared walnut, and ate it.
The passenger had a bread sack full of them.


6

I'm looking out the window at the wing again.
It's like looking into someone's
girlfriend's ear, as she's sleeping


7

I'm sound asleep when they come through
with the drinks. Dreaming
I'm have drinks on this plane.


8

Grown men who carry sugared walnuts.
Grown men who offer walnuts
on airplanes.


9

The back of the plane smells.
What kind of work does
the word smells do?


10

The man in 13C says "ballsy"
twice in five minutes. Over
the wing's edge, the snow-dusted mountains.


11

I do a lot of listening.
I am a good listener.
I am entering a shrinking violet phase.


12

When people use the word ballsy
it always makes me smile. Far off
blow, the snow-dusted mountains.


It

Little black ants are invading our bathroom.
They're coming in through a hole in our ti8le.
Tonight I look at one walking all over my floss case.
I have trouble crushing the ants.
But if I inadvertently flick one into the sink
and stare up at a spout on the wall
I seem to have no trouble flipping the faucet on,

full blast, and hosing him down the drain.
Grandma says I should write "it" - should hose "it"
down the drain. "Him," Grandma says,
"is too..." and she pauses...
I'm on the phone with my grandma
She has no idea what the fuck she is saying.

They say one of the hardest things
for the young monks to master is
tennis.

I close my eyes and see a very large man
with a bright orange vest and hard hat.

When a young monk is battling distraction
they send him down the mountain
to take tennis lessons from the heathens.

The large man is yelling own
into an open manhole in
the middle of 42nd St.
Something about Gustav Mahler.

It's convincing, the young monk in the rain
with his wire basket and new balls.

"Mahler had vision, Douglas!
Hallucinations, Douglas!"

The new balls smell like Magic Markers.

Grandma is still making her point.
This is what I like about her.
Her voice comes somberly through the little grate
of my cell phone.


At the Acupuncturist's

I was laid out like a mummy on the table.
It was my third or fourth time.
What don't you understand about take
you socks off
she mumbled.

Have you been taking your Chinese herbs?
Yes.
All of them?
Yes.

A small bird hit the glass window;
it made a sharp sound.

I asked her, what's the most needles
you've ever put in someone?
She wouldn't say.
Fifty? I said.
She wouldn't say.
Seventy?
She pretended to be selecting the next needle.

I I strained I could just make out,
in my peripheral vision,
a wax ear over on the counter.
It was loaded up with needles.








Something I learned many years ago - one must make do with such reward as one is given. Whatever, grand or piddling, none last long in this life anyway.



the Great Oz will notice and reward me appropriately

it
was supposed
to rain this morning

but it didn’t

I
was supposed
to wake up this morning
young
handsome
virile
and immensely wealthy,
the material reward
for my work
as a world-famous
poet…

that
didn’t work out
either

so
I end up here,
on another dry day
writing another poem
that will not make me rich
nor make the list
of great
twenty-first century literature,
this day
following a long line of days when
it
did not rain
and I did not write a poem
destined to to place me among
the immortals

but
it will rain someday,
bringing
nourishment to all
as spring approaches, some trees
already ahead of the curve, budding
out little green shoots,
waiting
for their wet reward
as another year
passes,
seasons cold and dry,
wet and warm,
passing in obedience to the
great planner
for whom all passes, according
to design
and predestination

and
though I do not expect a day to come
when a great poem
emerges from my fading bowl
of cranial mush,
there is ahead, sometime, I’m sure,
the Gold Watch Award for
poetical
persistence
and perhaps a certificate
as well
which will hang, proudly, from my
grandchildren’s
refrigerator
doors








Next, I have three poets from the anthology Waiting for the Unicorn - Poems and Lyrics of China's Last Dynasty, 1644-1911. The book was published in 1990 by Indiana University Press.

One of the things I like most about early Chinese poetry is the way they, like me, report on their life and times through their poems. Reading them is almost like reading a chatty letter from a friend. I like the immediacy of that approach, as well as the look it gives me in the daily life of people long ago who, judging from their work, could be me.



The first of my poets is Cha Shen-Hsing. Born to a respectable but not wealthy family, Cha had to forgo studying for the civil service examines when his father died, taking such work as he could find, serving as secretary to officials, tutoring their children and various scholarly endeavors. He finally took and passed his exams in his mid-fifties, he took a civil service appointment, but, after a few years, retired. He and his brother were sent to prison after his brother picked the wrong side in a political dispute. His brother died in prison, while Cha died shortly after his release in 1727.


The Customs House at Weed Lake

Yesterday, we left Dragon River,
Arrived this morning at Weed Lake.
A following wind filling the sails,
We passed the customs station in a flash.
An officer, duty bound to impose the levy,
Blocked our way, loudly shouted at us.
The boatman, not daring to proceed,
Shifted the rudder, hauled on the windlass.
I smiled and spoke to the customs officer:
"Of rare goods, I have none at all!
For linking verses,only one short short brush,
And, as ballast, one hundred scrolls.
In the prow, there are two chests;
In the stern, a jug of wine.
Beyond this, what more can there be
But my companion, this long-bearded servant?"
Distrusting me, the officer advanced
To overturn chests, topple wicker baskets,
Ignoring not a single article.
Regarding one another je fixed me with his gaze:
"To buy us drinks,the law requires payment."
He turned away as if I was a tax dodger.
If one has goods, officials press for the levy;
If one has none,officers are perversely harsh.
Goods or no, neither can be avoided,
So how can one console one's self on a long journey?

This poem was translated by William Schultz


Here are several short poems by my next poet, Chao Chih-Hsin.

Chao, born in 1662, was a precocious young scholar whose civil service career ended when he was only twenty-eight years old because he went to a play during an official period of mourning for the death of a member of the imperial family. After spending most of his life traveling through southern China and writing about it, he died in 1744.

These three poems were translated by Michael S. Duke.


A Mid-Autumn Night

The autumn air banishes lingering rains,
An empty courtyard invites distant breezes -
One glass of mulberry dew wine,
At midnight in the moon-bright season.
A longtime traveler feels the night is endless,
In early coldness grows drunk too slowly.
Still resigns his bleak and lonely feelings
To a rendezvous with far-off chrysanthemums.


Fireflies

Once more coming through the door with rain,
Suddenly flying over the wall on the wind,
Although they need grass to achieve their nature,
They do not depend on the moon for light.
Understanding he secluded one's feelings,
I briefly invite them to dwell in my gauze bag.
Just look: falling through vast empty space,
How do they differ from the great stars' rays?


Presented to a Mountain Dweller

Looking like wild deer sleeping against the cliffs,
Casually wandering out of the valleys with flowing streams.
Since the travelers asked him about the frosty trees,
They all came to know his face, but do not know his name.


And, finally, two poems by the last of my poets from the anthology, Chiang Shih, about whom almost nothing is none, other then that he appeared to be active as a poet from 1851-1861. He is not remembered for anything other than his poetry (not a bad fate to my mind), apparently never serving in no official capacity, probably making his living as a tutor.

His two poems included here were translated by Irving Lo


Crossing Several Mountain Ridges on My Way to P'u-ch'eng from Chian-Shan after a Snowfall

For nights on end,I've been pursued by rain and sleet;
Now inside a sedan-chair, I long for sunny sky at dusk.
Myriad bamboos are without a sound only when snow is falling;
jumbled hills are like my dream: forever cloud-capped.


Getting Up Early at Lakeside Pavilion: Two Poems

    I

Morning light floods my room overlooking the lake;
Last night's dream, so vivid before, quickly fades as I get up.
I recall only the dawn bells from two temples:
The sound of one bell short and one long.

    II

Vapor rises from water's surface at dawn;
Coldly forbidding: the color of the cliff to the south.
Look, a tiny raft heads for haven on the Western Shore,
It carries three people, two of them are monks.







Dee and I celebrated our anniversary last week.



thirty-four years ago tomorrow

thirty-four
years ago tomorrow,

in a small church
in the small South Texas town

of San Benito,
the play began…

I was thirty-three,
approaching my expiration date

for such events
as this,

my bride,
ten years younger,

a flower
fresh picked from the field…

my father,
stubborn German Lutheran,

still fighting Reformation battles
500 years after the fact,

had never been in a Catholic Church before
and never was again,

but he was there for this day,
a surprise when I saw him

in a back pew
as we made our recessional

walk back down the aisle,
a thumbs up

he gave me
as we passed,

the strongest expression of approval
to be expected

from this non-demonstrative
man…

then a reception and a dance,
very Mexican

and traditional, with the Noe Pro
Orchestra,

salsa, pop, and a slow and uncomplicated
tune for the mother-in-law -dance,

and the next day,
a sleep-in Sunday,

then Monday,
both of us back to work

in new jobs
in a new city, new responsibilities

new life…

in the years since,
a son, several moves,

ups, downs,
going rounds, to this end,

no, not end
but intermission,

a stretching before the third act
when all questions are answered,

resolution
before the final curtain

to applause
and a gathering of coats

and cars from the auto-park,
our story the end to a day

of someone else’s
adventure…

and as this poem
wanders

to its interminable
end,

as this between the acts
intermission

threatens to forever delay
the third act,

I step through the third wall
and tell my bride

directly
how the story will end

as it began,
everything said then

true today, every promise
made then,

still binding
today -

today, tomorrow,
and all the days after -

love
is what we called it then,

about the only thing in this world
unchanged

since








Next, I have two poems by Czesław Miłosz, a Polish poet, prose writer and translator, born of Lithuanian origin and subsequent American citizenship. He defected to the West in 1951 and his non-fiction book The Captive Mind (1953) is one of the classics of anti-Stalinism. From 1961 to 1998 he was a professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1980, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The two poems are from his collection, Selected Poems, 1931-2004, published by HarperCollins in 2006.

Milosz, born in 1911, died in 2004. Both these poems were written the year I was born, 1944, which, somehow, gives them special meaning to me. So much was happening then, and I knew nothing about it then and can barely imagine it now.



A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women Walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn.
Vegetable peddlers shout 8ih the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island.
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expects signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a silver-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's too busy,
Repeats while he bins his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

    Warsaw, 1944


Flight

When we were fleeing the burning city
And looked back in the first field path,
I said: "Let the grass grow over out footprints.
Let the harsh prophets fall silent in the fire.
Let the dead explain to the dead what happened.
We are fated to beget a new and violent tribe
From from the evil and the happiness that drowsed there.
Let us go" - and the earth was opened for us by a sword of flames.

    Goszyce, 1944








I wrote the next poem this week. I doubt that Milosz would have thought much of it, but I'm sure, he who lived the better part of his life under one oppressor or another, when words both weapons and a great danger to their users, he would have appreciated the thought behind it.



"shit"

“shit”
a word I used in a post

on Facebook,
earning chastisement

from one of the many people
in the world

who see language
as a box of certain approved words

from which one
may not stray - excrement,

for example
is an approved word

but imagine driving peacefully
down a city street

and having some dingbat
in a Lexus SUV

run a stop sign
right in front of you

do you say, in response,
“oh, excrement!” -

not me, I say, “oh, shit,”
along with some other words

also not in the box of proper
verbiage,

because all the approved, ever so properly boxed
words

are not
the appropriate words to use in context...

every word
has it’s own particular and distinct meaning

and appropriate usage,
and while the words “shit” and “excrement”

are very close to meaning the same thing,
they are from different worlds in terms of context

and context is an essential element
in determining word usage,

“fuck” for example is an old word
with a long and distinguished history

(as are most of the “improper” words, words
from a rougher and more impolite past

we would like to deny, as in proper Victorian
times

when legs became limbs) but really
I have to cringe

when I hear some twenty-something talk about
taking his fucking car down to the fucking gas station

to get some fucking gas if somefuckingbody
will just give him some fucking money…

a linguistic travesty, this kind of talk,
not because it’s dirty or improper, but because

it denigrates
a great, centuries old word -

a word embodying
salty, steamy, sweaty, mind-blowing lust

unleashed, stolen from context and
turned into reflexive babble…

I just don’t think we ought to put up with
that kind of disrespectful

shit








Next, I have a stunning 30-poem sequence by S. T. Stearns.

Stearns lives and writes in snowy Central New York. He has been married for 27 years, has two grown sons, and is the former managing editor of a nationally respected poetry publication.

He is a housemate on the Blueline's Poem-a-Day forum and says he is ever grateful to the forum for the opportunity it provides to stretch himself artistically. He swoops in on the "House" ever several months like a comic book superhero and leaves behind after thirty days of daily poems the most amazing collection of poetry. Unlike the rest of us in the House, his thirty poems form a complete narrative, in this case a narrative of lose and pain and grief and the ripples that spread through time and space after tragedy interrupts the normal flow of normal, ordinary lives.

In this case, it is a tragedy you will probably recognize as you read.



Res Judicata


1.

Hierarchy

Beneath your rings of heaven,
beneath the corporate structure
of your angels,
I take my stride among the miscreants,
the blamed and damned, among
those named in books
that no one reads
or even cares
to think about:

That directory of strangers
from which you thumb a random number
when you need someone to curse at
for making you late for coffee
on the clock.


2.

Hold these Hands

We are holding these hands
at the table: Mother, Father,
Daughter and done;
not spoken, words,
but we trace
these harbored prayers
along our neural networks,
pulling back a single moment
from all our hours of squander
and misdeed.

The day is long
but dinner steams invitingly.
White potatoes, salt and butter;
scallions. A round
of blunt red apples,
sectioned thin
to share.


3.

Egg

Since you were very small, since the days
you tucked, as neat as an egg, into
the lap of laundried cotton,
you liked the windows open,
blue windows, black windows
I like the way the sun falls down
you said,
one evening
in your early summer clothes,
I like the way the sun falls down
my window.


I remember the dark
and how it creased the sky
and how easily back when
we let things go.


4.

Ronnie Buys a Browning

One loves the bite of the hammer spur
between one’s thumb and finger
the short recoil
the throaty oil
heavy
single action pull
cases spent, ejected
damage
as expected
one might laugh
might pull on the cold
like a Kevlar jacket
walk these urban furrows
until it means something
or something enough—

until the job gets done.


5.

Zoetrope, Last

If you could frame for me existence,
could place your clearest, thickest
window glass—
glazing points like railyard spikes—
there, preserving
the last,
where last
it hurts the most
the way she turns
her blameless face,
the pop
the punch of glass
how impossibly
she snaps her head
my way
and falls
without kilter
as if thrust

where the world runs out of my shoes
while I scream her very first name
for the last


6.

Ronnie Buys an El Camino

Buddies are for suckers:
Your two hundred bucks
isn’t getting you shit,
you dumb pinhead fuck, standing
in the rain
with your wife’s red umbrella,
waiting for that sweet white, for that
little extra push
so you can stand
to put your dick in her
again.
Thanks to you

I curl this town
from out my rearview window
like some sticker
from a place I never visited;
a couch in back, my mattress box,
my Rubbermaid keepers
and china.
If this run-down old bitch
will get me to Tampa
my Uncle will rent me
some room. Just

give me three packs
of Newport, a Crush
with sweat on its lip,
and beneath this seat
let there be one’s Hammer,
its exclamatory voice
held locked
in a chamber of fire.


7.

Mrs. Jenkins Who Has No Coat

Mrs. Jenkins who has no coat
picks up something for her throat
turns toward the candy rack
when by the counter in the back
the clerk yells thick and foreign
in alarm.
There will be harm
she thinks,
the youth in the pea-coat is danger.

She curses her life among strangers.
The boy fires three shots
at the man in the store
and then he just turns

and he keeps firing more.


8.

Ronnie Buys Some Cigarettes

There was something about him,
you know, something about him
looked like very much trouble.
He wore a large coat, he shuffled his boots,
he smelled like stuff gone bad
from far across the store,
like cigarettes and give-a-fuck;
I work alone, he comes in here, his car,
his car is very loud, his car has muscles
and he scares me, nearby the fat lady
turns her head, she sees,
she is feeling something, a man
crossing the window,
holding his daughter’s hand,
a man outside in a car
with a paper;
everything stops. There is a button,
I am reaching, there is a button,
the manager says
help will come
there is something
there is a shot
there is not believing
there is not


9.

The Dead Girl by the Window

Fer chrissake
I said I remember
throwing down the paper
fer chrissake Lyla’s in there
and all I could think
was that I had her coat
and someone was shooting
how cold it was
a boy
in green pac boots
ran out
jumped
in a loaded down
Chevy
I heard then
Lyla screaming
and a man
who yelled a name

there was a dead girl

by the window
and he held his face
like a round of clay
he was trying to reshape
for grief

I had her coat
fer chrissake
it was cold
that

boy
don’t stand a chance

some things
there just ain’t no escaping.



10.

Home Any Minute

Ketchup isn’t everything,
but that’s the way he is with her,
always spoiling, always laughing,
everything she wants, she gets,
he fills her cones with ice cream,
rolls her pastel socks up neatly
in a dresser drawer.
I never thought

for a moment

it would be like this,
the way she mirrors in his glass,
the way he holds
the light
that fires her candle.

And off again,
and they are off again,
French fries going cold,
sweating on the paper plates
while the puppy prowls
beneath the kitchen chairs
for little bits
and favors.
Ketchup

isn’t everything, and
if they don’t walk in the door
this very minute , I swear,
all this food may just as well
be gone.


11.

There is a Moment Before Everyone Knows

There is a moment, after the child
has been discovered missing, after
the house combines with oxygen
and they begin to count the bodies,
after the ineluctable bullet comes
and leaves its rudimentary path
in the fine and delicate tissue
of the human brain,
a moment where no one knows,
or only one of us knows
and that one must carry
the burden.

Every such death, we must shoulder.
Only asking why it should be so.

We lift,
therefore we are.


12.

Someone Made the Call

for me. You were there—
your mask of terror—and
I recall there was
some

error,
some terrible mistake
had been made
and I wondered

why you wore mascara
if all you were going to do
was cry.


13.

Yo,

we’re, like hardly out of school
and you got yourself shot, I saw
on the news, dude, I know
you didn’t mean to shoot that girl,
but I knew, someday,
you would be packing
and someone would piss you off,
but the El Camino
it was hot
looked good on TV
and I remembered that night
that you and Leah Curtis
picked me up
and we drove into the Adirondacks
in the dark.
Everything flew by
and by,
and when you clicked off
the headlights,
it was like
you were dead, like
we were dead

with the stars
all swallowed in blue
our destination.


14.

Coming Home Without You

There will never, there will
never
be again that moment, be
opening that red front door
long after the ambulances, after the
doctors, after what is, beyond all,
the proclamation of your loss
unrolled
and heralded in this land
my land where you are
gone;
after what is, beyond all,
the place I can no longer deny
my abdication
of responsibility
for you.
Behind this door,
an empty chamber,
a table for parties
and tea
just then put aside
by a girl who was tiring
of little pots and handles,
a girl who was growing
to love pencils
and paints,
who could already
frame
a landscape,
green like heaven’s window,

only closer, only
real.


15.

Borrow

That first night we cried
together, long after the last
answered phone, the final question,
the last dish left, then left alone,
we tried all the arts of comfort
we could spare, all the craft
and care that we still had strength
to weave.

Bereaved;
and of what
we held for you,
the measure we made
of tomorrow.
No inch to beg,
no inch to borrow.


16.

Hello this Other World

Hello this other world; hello dinner.
I’ve avoided you (gotten thinner).
Last time we ate I thought I saw…
my nerves, he mentions, getting raw—
If I starve myself, no one’s a winner.

Shell inside a shell: the inner,
thin as the excuse of any sinner
facing hell. Its steel and ceaseless jaw.
Hello this other world, hello dinner:

Her wings are useless when I pin her
to some donkey of despair. Begin her,
somehow, I must. Again. To win her,
reclaim some piece from the final law,
from the fire, the dark, the ugly maw.
Hello my other world. Hello dinner.


17.

She Checks the Windows

Poor thing, she checks the windows
every night at nine, she set the locks
and slips the chains, double-bolts
the doors.
Her child remains a restless ghost,
my mother would have said: Poor thing,
she been through hell’s own mill,
outside in her dirty house-shoes
at all hours of day,
She shuffles
like a dust-mop,
dragging her fringe
through the market,
while her azaleas wither unwatered,
seething with ants,
bright waxy petals
left brown on the lawn.
Later and later,
her husband comes home;
the automatic door opening,
closing.

Every light,
burning until morning.


18.

Courier (Dear Teresa)

She is home with her blame
and her television,

stick-spined
and poised at the edge of the couch
as if something were about to happen,
a call, a knock at the door,
a telegram
to say her loved one never died,
to say
Dear Teresa,
it was all a mistake.

Stop.


There are a million miles of pavement
between death and the bearable world.
I am driving them.
Over your still, your
tended Avenues;
your Parkways, Drives and Circles.
On every street, small children;
in every single window
a family, a candle,
dinner on linen
and china.
If I watch over, everyone wins.
I suddenly have a need
for someone to protect,
and how urgent
your need for protection.
I was like you once,

denying the things that can come:
In the dark in the day.

She is home with her reality shows
and all her well-meant medicine.


How the prescribing finger writes,
and having writ moves on,
and how she walks
the bright unleavened morning,
lost in the machinery of grief,
electric with calm by the window.

I have no answer
to discharge the current
of her anger.
I am the man whose shirts she has laundered.
It is I who came home, stained
with the blood of her daughter.
These

long miles,
the length of these miles;
this exile. I am gray with it.
I have wintered.
See me

standing in the checkout line.
See me pay the cashier
before pumping.

See me pay.

Dear Teresa.

Stop.



19.

Valentine

I could tell you how death comes through windows,
but there is no use in explaining it to you, explaining
to my useless husband, explaining to the world
how horrid bright he is, unmasked;
I see him now, since the night she died:
There are no secrets between us.
We are almost lovers,
except we always speak the truth.
I hate his putrescent face,
his cheap mask, and tell him so.

He hates my mortal clothes,
the still-warm meat of me;
my thrum and nervous tenor.
He hates my world,
its liquid foundation
and shadow.
He hates the costume jewelry of life.


20.

The Fight

He came home late, I threw a shoe,
called him a name, he
called me two,
he’d had a drink,
I saw the flush, his words,
the rush;
his hands would reach,
then pull away,
there was nothing
he could teach, nothing
he could say;
his pale imagination, his
crosses and his stations,
his dirty, wimpled shirt,
and tired brown shoes;
all his don’ts and dues.
Men and their blues,
old news, old news.

How sad he was—his sex
(the smell of Aggie’s blood)
—the implications of his text,
what’s next,
what’s next

he has to ask me—
to task me with
a future
that no one ever gets to.
All we do is make do,
all we do is wake to wake
to wake again
pencil-dull with words.
In the morning there are birds.
I wonder why.
Is it the sky needs them,
or is it they


21.

Recrudesce

So. Here, beneath your rings
of angels: Named,
Lost, Blamed, another
lost-luck number
among the numbered luckless;
set out in the wind,
in the where of things
where things are barely promised—
not delivered— not.

Were I to tear these bleached-gray linens,
were I to rip the putrid print
from the panels of this room,
were I to rend
the rust and fabric
of the world as it remains,
would I find you back
and back again?
Would I find my way home
to a brighter room,
to a dripping candle
full of light; the sound,
the sound of you laughing,
I’d think, the sound of your Mom
by the doorway
in the very next room?


I hate the way the sun falls down my window.


22.

Buddy Film

He shows up drunk, collects a beer,
turns the music up to here,
and man, he doesn’t look so well,
for weeks, he’s flopped in some Motel
out on Route 5, The Milton Ranch,
two miles down from that First Trust Branch
that gets robbed like every week—
it’s just like doing business,
but no one dares to speak.

It’s not like I avoided him, I made
the normal calls,
I attended sad and private hours,
leaned against the walls
and talked with strangers that I barely knew
and would never know again, their names
now tagged with grief they too
will tag with mine;
with when.

I heard that he had left his wife,
I heard the muttered tones,
bereft, at home, her broken life;
how she unhooked her phone. I called him then,
out there alone, awkward with a friendship
so long known, so little tested—
so much weight,
such interest vested.
He never returned my call.
Not once, then not
at all.

So he shows up drunk,
he grabs a beer,
I ask him what he’s doing here.
Getting drunk
he screams
above the pulse of sound
and then he starts to laugh
and then he’s falling down.

Like some goddamn buddy movie
at the multiplex downtown:
I’m the foil, and damn it,
he’s the goddamn clown.


23.

Heal to be Home

Come late the summer all down your street.
Green has deeped to black; deeped to blue
the sky, my negative space, her stars.

There is a single lamp in an upstairs window,
a nightlight in the vestibule. I see
you turn more lights out now, the ghost
that you’ve imagined having gone,
or having garnered your acceptance
and hung its tattered wardrobe
in your closet.

A casement window open
in the upper hallway.

Parked out here,
a half-block down,
I think about the summer night
when Aggie was five,
and she slipped out through the gate
to chase the cat.
It only took a second;
she was only gone around the corner,
picking twigs of chicory
on the blind side of the fence.
Even then
you said it:
I thought something
horrible had happened, that
someone up and took her,
that she was gone
forever and for good.


You made me swear I wouldn’t tell.

You were afraid.
Of what people would think.


24.

Notice Him

It is not that no one sees him,
parked out there,
blurred soft music
in the thinning dusk,
now and then a light,
some smoke,
a nervous cough.

They watch for me,
these friends that I once owned
—like crystal eggs inside
a dish—
until I struck them
with the leather of my sorrow,
the flagellant end,
the flail. (There was nothing
they could know.)
And yet they watch.

They turn
their carts my way
in the supermarket,
ply me gently
between rows of local produce,
extending gracious invitations
over frozen chicken
and microwave pizzas.
And they watch.

Notice him,
I want to say,
the way he never
checks his watch,
the way he tips his chin.
The way his shadow
has a smile, his smile
a shadow. That
was what did it for me,
that very first time,
the way he tipped
his chin; the
lean persistence/the sunburned neck
above his shoulders.

No one told me love
was like your mother’s icebox:
in the end it swallows
so much energy;
in the end
it costs so much to throw away.


25.

You Call Sometimes

You call sometimes
to ask me things. This,
all this
is new.
You call sometimes
to ask me things
and yet
you never do.

You tell me I can come
tomorrow,
in the morning,
pick up my gray unlaundered suit
if I give you two hours warning,
if I am sure to take the garbage out
and lock the back porch door.

But there is something more.
There is a catch behind the air
inside your throat. A note.
All those things
you never wrote
that burn black
in the back of your brain.
Why did you take her
why did she die
must every future be a lie

why did you leave me here
with her ghost

and nothing
would be the most I could say.
She slept
with your ghost every night.

I lived with your death
every day.


26.

Breakfast At

People think we don’t know them; they see
the changing faces at the counter—
every day a new girl takes your order,
every day some earnest, befuzzled
young man bags up your groceries,
keeps your eggs and precious chips
above the crush of your carrot-mango juice.
There is always a pretty girl at the bank,
her professional hands counting out money,
a twinkle of rings
on her fingers.

Take those two having coffee
over there, at a table
in the corner by the window.
They started coming in
the day that we opened,
always dressed for business—
zippered bags and driving gloves,
Visa Gold and folded tips
beneath the sugar.
He would embarrass her
with love and stupid jokes,
she’d hide her face, flutter
her pretty lashes behind the menu
as if she wished he’d stop.

And then,
for a time,
they came alone.

He would come late,
later than normal,
dressed down in untied duck boots—
on vacation, I thought—
he would slide his paper on the table,
sit down and order coffee,
watch the traffic stop
and go.
And go.

She would rarely come at all,
maybe once or twice
the past six months or longer.
Her glamor, it
was rumpled.
Her hair, it shone,
but did not bounce.
She mumbled, she stirred,
she stared in her coffee.
Something

lay between them.

But here they are again, as if
the accident will.
His bagel’s gone cold,
her coffee
unsugared.
He pokes with his fork
at a napkin.

It reminds me exactly
of that particular moment
when a someone drops a tray of dishes
and, for one split second,
everybody wonders

who the hell
is going to clean this up?



27.

Sandwich

I see him in town now and then,
picking up a sandwich at Mozzel's,
getting a number
and waiting in line,
an emotionless consumer,
neither cursing the wait
nor getting anxious at the cusp
of his appointed moment:
Pushed along by happenstance
and the wrapping of pastrami.

A terrible thing, a terrible thing.
My wife remembers to this day
how happy they looked,
running through the parking lot
just before their world exploded.

In her dreams, she is calling out to them.
In her dreams they are impaled
with shards of glass
like icicles,
long and perfectly cold.


28.

Gown

I walk my gown from room to room, I fade and wither, I wilt, my skin,
its leather, this husk, this moon, this room-to-room. I breathe like
wind, my skin, this shape I'm in. You win. And where will be
my recompense? There is no sense to this: I die, you live,
if I should now forgive, what value there? (So much to spare:
When the cold hand comes, you find forgiveness everywhere.)
In the very air. And so little air left. The heft of things unsung :
My girl, my little one, so small and so undone.
And will I meet her there? What will we share?
I am an old woman who carries a cancer.
And she still a girl.
Full of questions to answer.


29.

Her Daughter’s Eyes

The last time that she left me
she left from out our bed,
all the hum and clutter
put to rest, all the plumbing
and electric,
all things done
that could be done.

Wrapped in Mother's afghan,
her daughter's favorite blanket,
pulling down the generations
in her wake:

She always had her mother's face.

She has her daughter's eyes.


30.

Res Judicata

Down on the beach
there is a man
with his feet in the surf.
He holds a shell,
studies the whorls
of color,
the detailed sketch
of its making.

They told him every shell
contains the sea.

He holds it to the creases
of his ear,
tips its mouth
to drain its lung
of sound.
He hears
the drowning heart;
how it thrums,
insistent,
even under water.








Here's a poem by Wesley K. Mather, from his book, Into Pieces, published by iUniverse Inc. in 2003.

Although Mather had written for a number of publications, this was his first book.



On a Driveway

After a long stupid day
of dealing with too many personalities,
I finally got to sit.

It is a mild summer around seven in the evening.
I sit in a lawn chair in the middle of the driveway.
I drink a glass of red wine and read a book.
All of my neighbors take walks.
Some walk their dogs, some walk just to walk.
Some say hello; most don't.

It is a very calm and peaceful evening,
the kind of evening you wait for.

There are four insects:
two horseflies, one bumblebee, and one big yellow jacket.
The horseflies buzz around my head like worries.
The bumblebee minds his own business,
tiredly amusing himself with my neighbor's flowers.
The yellow jacket swirls around
making no clear indication of the direction he will choose next.
Then the yellow jacket makes a kamikaze drive for me.

I am just about to lose it.
Next time that bastard attacks he had better hope
that I don't see him coming.
I'll put down my pen and smash his fuzzy thorax
with my brand new copy of Factotum.
I wouldn't mind getting his guts all over the cover,
then I'd go after the flies,
but I'd leave the bee alone.

So, to sum it up,
I dislike horseflies because they annoy me on purpose,
I respect bees for staying away from me,
and I hate yellow jackets because I haven't yet been able to
smash them.

It's strange how I pay more attention to insects than to my
neighbors.








Here's one of my old poems, written in 2008 and included in my latest book, Pushing Clouds Against the Wind, available at an E-reader near you.



jeez

ok
i’m getting
really really
bored with myself
again

thought about
getting rid of the beard
and shaving my head
but then i’d be
just another
bald beardless boring guy

not much of an improvement

thought about
joining the Marines
but think they might not want me now
and back when i was of marine age
i did every thing i could to avoid
all Marinish ways
except for the drinking
and carousing
and i’m too old for that now
too

thought about
driving down to the coast
to take sailing lessons
but i get seasick
if i fill the bathtub too full
so my guess is
that won’t work either

could have a deep romantic affair
with a beautiful
dark haired
woman
but already did that once
and after 32 years, though
it is
the joy
and comfort of my life,
it is not the
wild
shoot the moon adventure
that by the blandness
of my nature
i would most certainly
reject

maybe
the beautiful
dark haired
woman
and i
could have a romantic interlude
on a mountaintop
somewhere

but,
wait
i climbed a mountain
once
and it wasn’t boring
but it scared the crap out of me
and scared crapless
is even worse
than
bored

i could write
a truly great poem
i suppose
but it has come to me
as i edit poems
for the new books i plan
that they are
entirely
about me,
like transcripts from inside my head,
which, sad to say,
is much like
being in inside the head
of the guy ahead of you in the grocery line,
preoccupied with what it is he’s forgetting, thinking
jeez, i should’a made a list

jeez







Next, I have a poem by Gary Snyder from his collection, Axe Handles. The book was published in 2005 by Shoemaker and Hoard.

When I've used Snyder's work before, I've concentrated on his longer nature pieces. This poem is shorter and a bit different.


For a Fifty-Year-Old Woman in Stockholm

Your firm chin
    straight brow
        tilt of the head

Knees up in an easy squat
    your body shows how
You gave birth nine times;
The dent in the bones
        in the back of your pelvis
    mother of us all,
        four thousand years dead.

            X, '83, The Backaskog woman, Stockholm
                Historic Museum









Here's another of my poems from 2008, my own anthem, self-serving, no doubt. But then what anthem isn't.



reply to a critic who takes himself and me much to seriously


look
there are no babies
being fed here,
no tyrants being brought
to heel,
no visit
to the home-bound,
no rehab
of housing for the homeless,
no justice
for the poor and downtrodden

there
are no cures here
for diseases
that maim and kill

no
philosophy
to light the way
to personal fulfillment,
no formula
for turning water to wine,
lead to gold,
scrap bobby pins,
electric toasters,
and old video games
to a clean, inexhaustible
energy source

there is none of that
serious stuff

it’s
just a damn poem,
an old man’s game,
an alternative to daytime TV,
a reminder that there is still life
in this husk and thought
in this drying
shrinking
brain

if you read it
or
if you don’t
will have no impact
on the reality
in our struggling
needy world

i can live with that








Next, I have four short poems by Lorna Dee Cervantes , from her book Emplumada, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press and winner of the 1983 American Book Award.

A fifth generation Californian of Mexican and Native American (Chumash) heritage, Cervantes was born in 1954, in San Francisco, and raised in San Jose.

She is the author of several collections of poetry and appears frequently in poetry journals and anthologies.

She is also co-editor of Red Dirt, a cross-cultural poetry journal, and her work has been included in many anthologies, and has received many honors, including a
Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award in 1995.

She was an associate professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder until 2007 and continues to live in that city.

From the poems I've selected it appears she may also have spent some time in a city on the Texas coast where I was pleased to live for fifteen years.



Starfish

They were lovely in the quartz and jasper sand
As if they had created terrariums with their bodies
On purpose, adding sprigs of seaweed, seashells,
White feathers, eel bones, miniature
Mussels, a fish jaw. Hundreds; no -
Thousands of baby stars. We touched them,
Surprised to find them soft, pliant, almost
Living in their attitudes. We would dry them, arrange them,
Form seascapes, geodesics...We gathered what we could
In the approaching darkness. Then we left hundreds of
Thousands of flawless five-fingered specimens sprawled
Along the beach as far as we could see, all massed
together,little martyrs, soldiers, artless suicides
In lifelong liberation from the sea. So many
Splayed hands, the tide shoveled in.


In January

The old man at the corner
keeps casting his rod.
What can he possibly snag
in this invisible season?
He reels it in.
He is all smile and bulging pockets.
His gray eyes are glazed
with the iridescence of s age.
His cheeks hold the last ash.
And though his daughter
is bringing him pillows and tea
an the handsome son-in-law
bends the line, a slow thing
stirs in the shadows of the bougainvillea.


Spiders

Above the calm exterior of roses,spiders bloom
fat with the afternoon buzzings.
They are harmless.
They are keeping the flies
off my back porch.
They have beautiful women
drawn on their bodies.
Their legs are ugly
but useful;
look what they leave
in the dew. Look.


From Where We Sit: Corpus Christi

We watch seabirds flock the tour boat.
They feed from the tourist hand.

We who have learned the language
they speak as they beg,

understand what they really say
as they lower and bite.








I had a birthday last week. There were a couple of things I noticed in the days immediately after.


my secret no longer safe in the company of shorter men

another year
older
yesterday,

at least in
the annals
where such records

are kept,
one day a spring youth,
the next,

just an old rooster
cackling alone
in the hen house…

a few things
changed
since a year ago,

saggy places
got saggier, wrinkle-
creeks

edged
further along
to wrinkle-canyons,

all this
according to the plan
known to all who have seen

a plump purple grape
turn to raisin
in the course of a sunny day…

~~~

but
the hair thing
I did not expect -

early gray
fading to white
from my mother’s gene side

but
forever full,
I thought, from my father’s genetic

contribution,
forgetting that my father’s life
ended when he was two years younger

than I am
today,
meaning, perhaps

I am in new
territory
genetics-wise

and though
I do not know what that might mean
in years still to come,

I do know this,
last year
an observer had to be six foot four

or better
to spy my bald spot -
today

five-eight,
five-nine
is about all it takes


whatever the problem, i know the solution

so
the hair thing
wasn’t enough,

the bald spot
on the top of my head
going from pending

to pronounced,
that wasn’t enough
for one birthday,

now,
accidentally catching a glimpse
in the mirror last night

of my backside,
I discover that I now have
a wrinkled butt,

I
don’t know,
how does a butt get wrinkled?

stress, worry, emotional
upheaval are known as causative factors
for the development of

wrinkles
I’m told, so is my butt
having an emotional upheaval?

do I suffer from worried or over-stressed
butt
syndrome?

that all sounds pretty
ridiculous
to me

but
I don’t care -
whatever the cause

I know what’s needed -
a butt-lift
is the only solution








Here are two poems by Simon Armitage from his book, Kidd, published in 1992 by Faber and Faber.

Armitage was born in West Yorkshire in 1963. He works as a freelance writer, broadcaster and playwright, and has written extensively for radio and television.



Gooseberry Season

Which reminds me. He appeared
at noon, asking for water. He' walked from town
after losing his job, leaving a note for his wife and his
 &nsp;  brother
and locking his dog in the coal bunker.
We made him a bed

and he slept till Monday.
A week went by and he hung up his coat.
Then a month, and not a stroke of work, a word of thanks,
a farthing of rent or a sign of him leaving.
One evening he mentioned a recipe

for smooth, seedless gooseberry sorbet
but by then I was tired of him: taking pocket money
from my boy at cards, sucking up to my wife and on his
 &nsp;  last night
sizing up my daughter. He was smoking my pipe
as we stirred his supper.

Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The
 &nsp;  watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over
 &nsp;  that razor's edge
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.


Shove Tuesday

That evening over pancakes, when you told me
it was not for love, not even for money
but just for the children.
then ran through all those other women.

I must have looked for all the world
like that lost, knocked-sideways, bowled-over girl

who, at odds of more than
a hundred-thousand-million

to one
had come

so far but never dropped across
the word or the idea of snow. Then there it was

one morning, acid-white and waiting
as she reeled back the bedroom curtain,

the lawn and the street,
the whole picture ankle-deep

and crisp and even and still snowing.
Incredibly she was twenty-something.








This has turned out to be a pretty long issue, so I think I'll stop now and close with two old poems. The first is from January, 2009, and could apply as well for today; the second is a just-for-the-hell-of-it from later in that year.


deep thoughts to be thunk in 2009

dedicated to all the deep thinkers at "National Review," "Weekly Standard" and the like as well as all those deep thinkers formerly occupying high levels of government and currently seeking to hock their GWB magic decoder rings

as with many people
i like to think deep
thoughts
about things i know
nothing
about

an explanation,
some might say,
as to why
all
the world’s problems
i solved
last year are back on the table
today

balderdash,
as we
deep-thinkers like to say

obviously
the world wasn’t paying
adequate attention

meaning
i’m just going to have to
deep-think
louder
in 2009


in the news today

we break
from our Hallmark Hall of Fame
tele-drama
"Lucy & Ethel's Secret Adventure"
for this headline news update


shuttle launch postponed again

NASA head
goes house-to-house
for parking meter change


suspect in slayings of 2 cops kills self

future
potential suicides
to be given marksman training
so they might better get it right the first time


Chicago shooting kills 3 teenagers

cure
for acne not yet
perfected


drought to halt water for farms

saved for priority uses -
spokesman says,
no water for swimming pools,
no starlets
in tiny bikinis -
mental health of Hollywood
producers on the line


Clintons’ cat Socks dies at 18

last surviving
eye-witness to Monicagate
is laid to rest -
tell-all memoir due next year


holocaust-denier bishop to depart

he
denies it


some convicts to get amnesty

human rights advocates
decry
terms of amnesty -
claim
kissing the robe of
the Great Oz
just goes too far


boat cuts ice, rescues dolphins

boats crew
fired by their employer
Starkist tuna
for missing the dolphins
and hitting the ice instead









Done. Insert all the normal stuff here.

I'm allen itz, and it's mine, all mine, I tell you.

Except for the stuff that isn't - that stuff belongs to whom so ever created it.

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Layman Lyric
Scott Acheson
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