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.