Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why did you eat my homework?

It’s hard to explain
My reasoning to a kid
Who leaves his best friend
Locked up in the house all day.
Let’s just say that I was bored.

Against the grain

(a sonnet)

To those around the little farming town
The newly-married couple weren’t the same
As they had been before the summons came
To wrap them in a missionary’s gown,
And after blessings at the church rained down,
Departed, as their parents tried to tame
Their mix of grief and pride – and called their name,
Reminding them they were their joy and crown.
A hundred dusty years have come and gone
And separation is much harder now
Than when my mother’s parents took that train.
I put aside the chance to lean upon
The siren Holy Call, and make my vow
Instead to stay – and grow against the grain.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We grow together as we grow apart

(a villanelle)

The restless yearning of the heart
Finds truest freedom in this paradox:
We grow together as we grow apart.

It is not wise to think that Cupid’s dart
Can tranquilize and lock within a box
The restless yearning of the heart,

For though we fuse together at the start
We must acknowledge lest we hit the rocks
We grow together as we grow apart.

The taste of love can turn from sweet to tart
When forced conformity cannot outfox
The restless yearning of the heart.

Much better to acknowledge, and then chart
How as each partner’s calling comes and knocks,
We grow together as we grow apart.

This wisdom long experience imparts:
It is our trust which at the last unlocks
The restless yearning of the heart –
We grow together as we grow apart.

Are we there yet?

Come on
Come on
Step on it
Are we there yet?

Hang on
Hang on
Edge of town
Are we there yet?

Shut up
Shut up
Quit yelling
Are we there yet?

Breathe out
Breathe out
Don’t bear down
Are we there yet?

Fourth floor
Fourth floor
Are they nuts?
Are we there yet?

Eight nine ten
Are we there yet?

Right here
Right now
Don’t care
Don’t care
Don’t care
Oh my good lord…

We’re there.

It's easier to shop than practice

Long-haired Dave calls me from the music store
To see how I’m getting on with the amp
I bought from him – his over-friendly tone
Annoying me because he calls me “Dude,”
But even more because I recognize
That on Tuesday I once again succumbed
To the illusion that my lack of skill
As a guitarist could be swept away
By the purchase of one more piece of gear.
Sadly, I am still not Eric Clapton.
“It’s easier to shop than practice, Dude,”
I tell him. “I’ll be returning the amp.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On Hampstead Heath

(A rondeau)

On Hampstead Heath, we watched the golden light
Bewitch and then seduce the coming night.
A space like this no lover wants to leave,
When there is so much magic yet to weave,
And so we walked home slowly, holding tight

And laughing, as we tried to write
The story of our future, just to fight
For one last memory we could retrieve
On Hampstead Heath.

That was the place, in black and white,
We promised it would be all right
To let each other go, and grieve
While many miles apart – and yet believe
That we would one day reunite
On Hampstead Heath.


(a cascade poem)

After dark on Halloween
She stiffly gave to all the kids
A tract about the fires of Hell
Thinking grape juice would make them Baptists.

Perhaps I’m just naïve
But it would not occur to me
To hand out day-glo propaganda
After dark on Halloween.

So when she opened up her door
And smiled at us invitingly
I just assumed that it was candy that
She stiffly gave to all the kids.

But no – more absurd than any
Costume made of scarves and silly hats
She took the chance to threaten them with
A tract about the fires of Hell.

At evening’s end, what caught my heart
Was how the children laughed about this saint:
Her Christianity was just a joke –
Thinking grape juice would make them Baptists!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Painting Beethoven

Beethoven, by Ferdinand Schimon, 1819
Bonn, Beethovenhaus

Ludwig sits,
Impatient at my
Trying to catch genius
In a few swift strokes.

The deafness
I had expected.
But the stare
And the stark
Intensity of purpose –
These have unnerved me.

In his head
He is already
Pounding out
The first chords
Of his B-flat sonata
The Hammerklavier.

No matter
That other mortals
Cannot hear
What he does,
For we could not comprehend
Such insanity

He fidgets,
His lithe mind slipping
To thoughts of
His nephew
So recently ripped away –
The sting of that loss.

And I know
Our session is done
With his face
Rough sketched
And no sense yet of his eyes.
They must come later.

I leave him
His back turned to me
Counting out
Sixty coffee beans, as if
He never saw me.


The scariest dog
I ever met belonged to
Old Mr. Kittman.
Both man and dog seemed to have
Lost a few of their marbles

After the sudden
Death of house-proud Mrs. K.
So when I appeared
At the door to pay a call
I could not say I was shocked

To find the chaos
In that musty living room.
I sank, uneasy,
Into the depths of a couch,
My knees akimbo, at which

The aforementioned
Dog stepped forward with a growl
And placed his muzzle
In the absolutely last
Place I would have wanted it.

Incredibly, my
Host seemed not to care about
My future family
And so we spent the next hour
In muted conversation,

His voice low with grief
And mine restrained so as not
To excite his pet.
Having made its point, the hound
Finally stood up and stretched,

At which I bolted
Ashen-faced for the front door.
But out on the street
I swear I heard them howling
As they watched me through the blinds.

What I love about North Side Gym

In 1954, our small town
Built the largest high school gymnasium
In the whole entire world.
Week by week, eight thousand fans would
Jam the wooden bleachers to marvel
At the ice show, laugh at the circus,
Stream forward for an evangelist’s
Altar call, cheer for the Globetrotters,
And most of all, scream until
They were hoarse, when the
High School boys took the court.

Half a century later, I sit on a
Folding chair behind the baseline
As my angular thirteen-year-old
Head-fakes, then drives the lane.
It is quiet here today. The coach
Concludes the practice and a janitor
Materializes silently to tend the
Sacred parquet floor.

While the boys huddle up,
I walk up to the rafters, and breathe
The heady mix of dust and dreams.
In this place anything can happen.
That’s why they play the games.
That’s why I keep coming back.
This monumental folly of fifties optimism
Is my favorite place in the world.

Déjà vu

It was October.
My English teacher in a
Sudden reverie
Fled weeping from our classroom
Eyes glazed, only to return

Seemingly restored
Indeed philosophical.
“In measuring life”
She said, “I do not believe
That time moves in a straight line

But rather it is
A never-ending spiral
On which we all cross
And then cross again our path,
Sensing that queer resonance

We call déjà vu.”
Perhaps she said this with the
Hairs stiff on her neck
Some chance detail whispering
She had taught this class before.

This morning, with the
Scent of rain whipped in across
The urban prairie
I stand, my neck electric
And hear her voice behind me.