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LATER YEARS

Poetry Collections from the 1990s to the Present

13

The blood that splashes is neither mine nor your’s.
I’m sure it’s from a dream, or something left,
a horrid mistake, an accidental spill;
but there it is, drying on the tiles,
a gross reminder that forces are at work.

But still the birds are singing, burros call,
a rooster crows, an unfed dog is barking;
the sun has dried remainders of the storm,
sweet basil lunges through the morning’s heat.

In all that heat the blood becomes a pattern,
tile to table, table to the past.
It would take more tears than I have left
to clean the stain that’s brown now like the earth:
it’s part of what we are, just let it be.

18

He hung from railroad ties behind the house
until she cut him down and washed his face
and wrapped him in the sheets her mother left.
I never knew his name:  she would not say.

An old movie flickers through broken dreams
from waking to waking until the sun is up
and shadows pull into trees that line the hill,
and I remember a piece of the shattered past,
a friend who never calls, an old attachment
that rusted out and left the gate hanging.

Later, when shadows crawl from the far side
and the last freight heads slowly for the west,
I see his body swinging against the sky
and wonder how she managed all that weight.

22

The glass shatters as easily as my heart,
a sudden, silent fall and then the crash;
immediately my fingers feel the shards,
the splinters, the fine piercing of the skin.

“But you’re not hurt,” my father said, turning
to others who were there.  So I went out
and climbed a tree and tried to see as far
as China, beyond the hearing of the news,
beyond the listing of the dead, beyond
the midnight introversion of the world.

The wine spills at the other side of the room,
a calligraphic movement in the air,
as if the mind were stretching crimson light:
I lift my hands to find them wet with blood.

41

The end of the story:  curtains everywhere
have fallen, lights are out and stage boards creak.
I blink and try to focus on empty seats,
listen for distant traffic, swallow tears.

Or is it laughter, coughing in the wings?
I’m restless, with a touch of panic, sweat.
“You’re there,” I call and listen for the words
to rise through balconies of memory
and hope, for words that will reverberate
like instruments from another place.

The longer that I linger on the stage
and wonder where the switches are, the less
removed I feel:  I balance on the edge,
peer out and finally remember lines.

46

A narrow boat leans sharply against the tide;
the prow slaps the waves and takes my breath
until we’re steady on the way again,
somewhere between the past and what comes next.

We’ve not arrived, we’re somewhere halfway here
where the wind clears out the air and the sun appears,
the gulls circle, and the horizon disappears.
We move beyond the shiftings of the day,
by islands struggling close above the sea,
and houses that crumble slowly into mud.

We’re neither there nor here, we nod or smile
and speak in latent gestures of the heart,
no words, a lifting of the lips which crack
and bring a lingering gesture of the pain.

ESPINAS I
Vol. 1:  A — Bazouki

When Scottie was alive and blowing his bagpipes
at the county fair and church suppers, he taught us
to listen for the droning “A” that was there
before the melody and echoed afterwards
among the dry-stream rocks and dying elms.
And one afternoon in a small valley below
the last hill farm, as he played a pibroch that once
lead men to battle as it sang of an eagle’s strength,
the neighbors grew silent and even children stared:
beyond the piper, beyond the rocks, until
the last drone of that “A”,  an eagle circled
slow and high, catching light from the last sun.

His instruments have gathered dust in the rooms
that overflowed with books and photographs
and the wooden implements, inefficient and fine,
that craftsmen used to make a source for music.
He would not light the lamps as shadows fell,
but swept us up into the dark with songs
we’d laughed at back in school:  he’d push away
a block of wood and in a voice we strained
to hear, as if it came from some far hill,
naked and groping toward the moon, he whispered
the words we could never understand, his voice
not lifting far from the drone of his own worn pipes.

I pull a finger through the heavy dust
and feel a pang as the polished wood recovers
a little light and vague potentialities;
two violins, clustered pipes, and, to the side,
an old bazouki, a Grecian mandolin,
still lie as if in process of repair.
I strain to hear the sounds we’ve lost, his voice
in the corners of the room, the drone of bagpipes,
the falling clatter of a mandolin.
A silence lingers in the rooms where once
the cry of an eagle sharpened the afternoon;
I have felt the weight of tears and could not cry.

ESPINAS VI
Vol. 6:  Follow — Haswed

Can you test the strength of a rope, leaning back
from rock, knowing a drop of a thousand feet
and still hear the hawk that calls in the spaces above?
Can you slip through a sea out there within the reef,
among a panic of fish being herded
by barracuda and watch the fall of sun
through plunging depths into infinity?
Can you drop down through a narrow slit between rocks
and feel your way through the slippery darkness of nowhere
and be undistracted by a dream of the sun?
Can you follow with the arm and not pull back,
and let the heart speed on toward Armageddon?

Every line that falls across paper or canvas
has run the risk of dropping out of sight
as we hang from rock in a panic of indecision
or make repeated stumbles in the dark.
I’ve seen Arlene at a muddy entrance pause
and hesitate before slipping away
beyond the sound of a voice and watched dear Lee
push out from an anchored spot and teeter wildly
on a swaying line, laughing through clenched teeth
as he calls to the air, “I’ve got it, damn it, I’ve got it!”
and waited for Andrea to descend from darkness
at the top of the house with an image of light and pain.

We age with the dropping of a line, afraid,
reluctant and full of hope.  The backs of our hands
are creased and stained; we glance in a dusty mirror
and suddenly see we’ve got a haswed complexion,
grey at the edges, blotched in the harsh fall of light:
for a moment the irregularities
are more than we can bare, until we rip
the mirror from the wall, exalted, puzzled
by something just beyond our reach, a bolt,
a twisting of the line, something not
yet seen, a turning of mirrors, that face to face
plunge us into the depths of ecstasy.

ESPINAS XI
Vol. 11: Ow — Poisant

I had a friend who laughed at anything,
who gave me hell for my solemnity:
he’d walk about and pause before a painting
of a heavy bishop I’d just bought from Lee
and shake his head with a guttural dismissal
and turn and ask for a better glass of wine
than the last we’d had.  And once or twice I tried
to explain just why I took such pleasure in a work
of such indictment, where the paint ran down
like blood and the cross became a heavy club;
but all he’d say, in Cockney tones, was “Ow,
come off it, mate, let’s have a bit of a laugh.”

And when I placed St. Agnes beside the desk,
the split in her body at the level of the eye,
he took one look and said he’d seen enough.
“Enough torn bodies,” he muttered and went outside
and leant against the balustrade, waiting,
I suppose, for some illusive laugh to break
the tensions of the afternoon. I’d hoped
to sit him down beside Arlene whose strength
had made that break, who wears her heaviness
like a chain of gold and polished stones; she cuts
to the armature and pulls the inside out
and outweighs me with her solemnity.

He never returned. Oh, once or twice he’d call
and ask with what poisant matter I cluttered up
my life; he’d laugh and recommend a wine
and disappear again. The years have passed
and I laugh no more than ever; more paintings hang,
more figures crowd the rooms, and there’s not one
that makes me laugh. Arlene’s bodies bend
and break across such heaviness as I
rejoice in, going nose to nose with bishops
and Lee’s demonic guardians of the house. 
And still I wonder what he might have found
had he let his demons meet their match in these.