Thursday, April 29, 2010

And suddenly I was Nigel

I only got the DVD
To see the fuss
Those forty-four days
Of rancor
And the Damned United

Instead I met
A father and his boys
Brian brash and 30s
Simon ten
And Nigel barely eight
Scything through West Yorkshire
Wipers flailing
Against the heavy rain.

And suddenly I was Nigel
All comics and crooked teeth
Short trousers
Licorice and trust
Wide-eyed at me dad
Tilting at the big world beyond
Our little car.

(After watching the movie: The Damned United)

Moorgate, February 28, 1975

Stomach knotted in
Pride and disbelief
I labored painstakingly
Through two full pages
Of dense black prose
Mourning the loss of
Forty-three people
Just like me

The driver never
Touched the brakes
Never raised his hands
As the train accelerated
Into a brick wall
Yet in his pocket were
Three hundred pounds
To buy his daughter a car
When his shift was done

Was this stupidity or suicide?
Distraction or despair?
At age seven
I learned
We never really know
The contents of
Another person’s mind.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Uncle Lawrence's Trees

Uncle Lawrence
Had the college plant
A hundred thirty-eight trees
When he began his job
Spindly little things
The mayor called them
Vulnerable yet full of promise
Perhaps for a philosopher
A seedling tree is the best answer
For human frailty
And the limits of our perfection.

Today those small signs of hope
Have grown to more than
One thousand strong
More than even he envisaged
Many of us have flourished
Also in unexpected ways
Watching from the window
He is old and frail
A spindly little thing himself
Folding in upon the promise
And yet he still commands respect
As he implores
For the trees – and all our dreams
Keep them growing
And replace them as they die.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Every other fortnight
Is one magical hour
We can lie here
Sated, luminous
The moon pouring onto our bed
Like the fresh cream
We drizzled over apple cake
The first night we made love.

Friday, April 23, 2010


When normal couples
Go on vacation
The waiters don’t have shifty eyes
International drug rings don’t happen
To be using the same hotel
An evil genius isn’t living up on the hill
Installing a giant laser gun capable of
Melting the UN building
They don’t get run off the road
By short foreign guys on mopeds
Or locked in the basement in a skimpy bathrobe
When all they wanted was a pint of Ben and Jerrys
They don’t get shot at with poison darts
Or find boa constrictors in their beds
The guy from the embassy really is who he says he is
And none of the relics in the local museum
Glow mysteriously in the dark
Or cause one to levitate
There are no Nazis
No Mafia
No monks
No mad scientists
No ancient runes
No secret panels
No digital countdown clocks
No explosions

Just the sun and the sand
And a tall glass with an little umbrella in it
Is that so much to ask?


Kneeling on this
Sun-baked square
Back aching
Between straight rows
I slowly tease
The interloper free
Dividing friend from foe
Tracing backwards
Till I find at length its origin
Buried deep beneath.

This work can not be hurried
Go too quickly
All you do is
Surface work
Snap a dubious vine or two
You gain only temporary victory
The deeper threat remains
Prepared once more to spread
Its sinewy embrace

I ask myself how often
I have moved too fast
Broken off a troubling shoot
All the while avoiding
The deeper work
Which only comes
On dirt-stained knees
And with great patience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

According to the box

According to the gaily slanting letters
On this multi-colored box
Our product make you
Happy pretty too and funny style

As if determined by a cell
Of linguistic terrorists
Dangerously dangling prepositions
Bent on blowing
Fascist grammar up

Or perhaps it was a dozen
Thesaurus-toting monkeys with a typewriter
Who broke into the warehouse
And after swinging from the rafters
Left their longings on the page.

Shakespeare it is not
And yet this phrase compels me
With its newly minted spark
Of awkward mangledness
Funny style I like
But oh to be happy pretty.

First day of camp

We’re going to be late Dad
She clutches tightly to her sleeping bag
Her backpack, clothes and bug spray
Straining eagerly to see the
Rough track leading to the woods.

We join the line of awkward twosomes
Quivering like bow and arrow
My heartstrings taut and singing
She impatient for the letting go.

A familiar voice rings out
She looks up delighted
And as I busy myself
Putting twenty dollars
In her store account
She says quite simply:
“You can go now”
And walks away.

Speaking of death

By tide of trivial
And quotidian use
We wear our language well
Into a manageable size
Obscuring the mysterious
The awesome and the fey
Until we do not blanch
Upon the mention of their name

This is a perhaps a good
And necessary thing.
I had a friend once tell me of a child
Who dug a sandy hole beside the sea
And played long hours in that tiny pool
Because the ocean was too much to bear.

So perhaps it is with our mortality
I so easily pronounce the end of little things
Appliances, vehicles, projects and dreams
All these have died for me a hundred times
And their passing feels quite natural.
They died, I tell myself, and it is all right.

I face into these little deaths
And name them so
To fit me for the journey
Of a day yet undisclosed
When I step lightly from this tiny pool
With faith full-grown
Into the wider sea.

Teaching Leon (a deadline poem)

Leon, I will count to five
And if you’re not back here
By the time I get to zero, I will have to tell
Mr. Myers that you are not cooperating today.

Leon, it’s no use hiding
Under the table.
I can see you with the bag over your head
Now get back here please.

Leon, don’t you realize I’m only doing this
Because I want to help the school and teachers
And be a good citizen
And soothe my bleeding-heart liberal conscience about
The sorry state of our public education system?
Come out of that locker.

And no, Leon, you can’t go to the
Bathroom right now, even if you
Need to do doo-doo. I don’t care any more
Just cross your legs.

Leon, it’s your final chance.
I would still love to read with you this exciting
Blue-level book about Bob and his dog.
Thank you.

Bob has a dog

To a small midwestern town

What arrogant
Corn-fed Bonaparte
Dared bestow upon
This two-bit crossroad
The name we give with justice
Only to the great:
New York, Paris, New Delhi, Sao Paulo
A city?

Your upstart streets
Know nothing of
True city ways
The grit and grandeur
The grotesque lassitude
And violent optimism
That beggar and boast

No, you claim your title
Not by achievement
But by counting heads
The weathered and illegal countenance
Of those you summon to your trailer parks
And to your factory floor
Yet neither wish to clothe nor feed.

And then you gather
In the barber-shop
At the soda-jerk
On the hallowed bleachers
Of the high school gym
And watch each other
Sweat and gasp
For air.

Brother Funk

A jackass and a joker
Tyrant and typhoon
He forsook the city lights
To live in sepia on this basement wall

Sometimes a vision grows quick and lithe
Sinuous out of bare earth
Other times is sold laboriously
Like soap from door to door

That winter he stood just briefly
At his daughter’s early grave
Then returned grim-faced
To his predestined rounds.

These tired bones

This trellis of anatomy
This carry-all
I portaged grudgingly
Across the evening
Is finally spent
And now thrown over and arranged
With loving care
Upon uneasy sheets

Each crooked piece is balanced
Tensely horizontal
Independent yet beholden
Of all its nearest kin

Afraid lest I disturb
This fragile truce
I lie awake and contemplate
The home I make
Among these tired bones.

Sharing Time

Oh Lord, we thank you
For miracles
Of parking spots
And orphan dogs
Successful colonoscopies
And diarrhea cured.

For making Wanda celibate
For bringing wayward Jimmy home
From San Francisco
And for the anonymous guidance given
To the Wilsons as they raise their four impossible children.

And lest we forget
To tell you what you didn’t know
The pancake breakfast is on Saturday
And tickets are only five dollars
In the foyer
Right after this prayer
Is over.


Poem-a-day Challenge

I'm now in day 21 of the Poem-a-day challenge on Robert Lee Brewer's "Poetic Asides"

It's been a blast having to write each day, and to compare notes with other poets - including my beloved mother-in-law, who roped me into this to begin with. I'll post a few of my efforts here on the blog.