All for a Flicker

I must admit to the numbness,
the loss of feeling, because
I’ve gone too long since
feeling warmth against my cold self.
Whatever coziness within
comes from a fleeting flame,
a lick of yellow without a spark,
providing little light with which
to inspect the darkness within.
The occasional obsession,
the headlong chase for no other reason
than to fan the ephemeral flicker,
burned me since I followed two miles
a block behind that girl in grade school,
all the way to her home.
Burned but not really illuminated,
I acquired this soot-seared heart.
But outside?
Scarred and bruised.
Chill and unfeeling.
I cannot accept what I
cannot give; cannot give
what I no longer can feel,
and have lost the key
to remembering.

That Momentary Beauty


“Top view of a dandelion” by Angel caboodle at English Wikipedia.

These unwanted memories are like weeds.
They’ll pop up where you think
you’ve got things all neat and
maybe looking pretty. They mar
views of the pastels and primaries
we wish to keep. Sure, they’re green
and bend to the wind, playing
the same tune as those blossoms
in the window box of your heart.
I’ve tried jerking these weeds
from the soil of time, the time
we spent pollinating a failed hybrid
that could never take root.
That’s the problem. I can pull and pull,
but their roots go deep, deeper than
they can climb, and they always return.
I considered poisoning them,
but then I recalled the short time
they show such pretty little flowers.
I’d miss that momentary beauty, no matter
how much it make my eyes water.

Rooftop Icarus

I recall how the tiny bits of gravel
on the shingles dug into my bare knees,
leaving them looking like a scraped
old orange with a sample of the
gray or brown grit dug in there
to remind me about the slipperiness
of gravity. About how the higher you climbed,
the greater the fall. About being an Icarus
with denim and flannel wings.
That’s what I most remember, even more
than seeing a larger world from above,
while so much below appeared smaller.
Lying there, the flat of my back to
the pitched drape of decision my climb
to a higher plane offered.
In the morning or evening you had
a choice of staring into that light
or skittering over to the solar leeward side
of the house, where a too-quick move
could leave you scraped and bloody
or sliding with a skipped heartbeat
and then the air-hammer nailing of
that very abridged account of
your existence to the inside of your chest.
Believe me, it is the only time in your life
where you’re happy to end up in the gutter.

I Hear the Angels Humming

Out under the maples, noon light
dappling the scene like drops of sun,
Joe strums his Martin, humming along
his own accompaniment. His fingers
glide along the ebony board,
pressing the strings into tuneful
Cs and Gs, and even the F-sharps
and B-minors that come out like
the ragged brushing of steel-string
corduroy trouser legs when I try them.

I’m a little jealous as I watch
and listen, hacking away at
my fallow word garden,
pressing my uncalloused fingers down
in search of the chords
to some sort of art, too.
Mine is an arrhythmic melody
played on a soulless keyboard,
the worksong of one lost in empty silence.

I heard it first from the angels
who whispered in my ear
the last five nights, while
dark dappled on dark and
my instrument gathered dust
as it lay upon the pillow.
Mine is a solo piece, I know,
but I hear the angels humming
along with me anyway.

When the Poets Got Together

When the poets got together,
it was like when lawyers do.
The same intellectual insecurities
and jealousies, arrogance and aural
daubing en plein air can manifest themselves
in a coffee shop or gallery
the same as in a courtroom or boardroom.
And everyone will laugh,
ha ha, titter, haw,
maybe like a cocktail party laugh,
because we’re all so adult and smart,
so attuned to the knowledge
not many can do what we do
with words, ideas and the courage
to stand there peeling back
the layers of poesy in a cerebral
dance of the seven veils.
Most of us never quite expose
the full monty, just show enough
skin to keep the listeners interested.
Or figuring how big you think
my ass looks unwrapped from this
gauzy ghost or canny canvas of a metaphor?
Ha ha, titter, haw, indeed.

May 4, 1970 ~ Recollection

It doesn’t feel like that long ago, but it is the equivalent of more than the sum of two of the lives lost that day. Believers in peace faced Saturday soldiers over a shooting war a world away from Ohio. Four young people died on campus in Kent that day. So much innocence lost with them. So much anger and sadness and fear took its place. I can still hear it.

A week later, this high school senior and his parents visited the campus he would attend come September. As we arrived in the lecture hall, the head of the campus’ student government was doing what student government heads did those days. He shook his fist and warned that if it could happen in Ohio, it most certainly could happen in western New York.

This of course, put Mom on edge. She never said she worried about me getting shot. I think she was more concerned about me diving into the deep end of adulthood after 17 years in the wading pool. I of course, a worldly-dopey teenager suddenly gushing testosterone for the first time in my life, couldn’t wait to cannonball.

My first night on campus, all of us tucked away in our dorms, we were rousted by the fire alarms and hustled away from our buildings. As we guys meandered around campus on that warm September night, we scoped the girls in their nighties and all considered this extremely cool. No fire. Just cops and fire engines and campus security and girls in their nighties. No harm, no foul.

It was on our way back, after the all-clear, that I heard a cop talking to a fireman, saying that word had it the Black Panther Party in Rochester had called in a bomb threat on campus. That was my adulthood belly flop. It stung a little.

A week later, a day after my eighteenth birthday, I was required to wander (not yet march) into the local office of Selective Service and register for the Draft. A short while later, when the draft lottery numbers were pulled for this batch of eighteen-year-olds, I received number 46 out of 365. That was my belly flop from the high board. Peace with honor became a yearning just for peace.

I only bring this all up because of the date. This anniversary seems particularly poignant for me, maybe because I don’t know if I’ll even be around for Number 50. And because memory has become such a brittle, such a fragile, such a valuable thing to me. And maybe it’s because I’m sensing so many echoes of 1968-69-70 in widescreen high-def, surround-sound these days. Isn’t it terrible and wonderful what recollections of a boyhood crossroads can stir up?

I know now that if it could happen in my United States in 1970, like it happened in a nice midwestern college town like Kent, Ohio, it could just as easily happen for some reason important to different groups of people in 2015 somewhere near all of us.

Sorry, just an old man recalling and thinking out loud. Carry on.

The Discovery of Grass

Grass. Photo by Nevit Dilmen

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. ~ William Blake

I saw grass for the first time today.
Oh, I’ve seen, sown and sawn Suburbia’s
mostly-green undergarment all my life.
But today it glowed upon my mind’s eyes like
a child’s first birthday present inside a shiny box.
I enjoy that infant-like discovery
of something I know I’ve held in my senses
since first I sensed. Maybe it’s
the light’s different angle reflected to this
ever-shrinking man, or this shallower air
I breathe that, say, a pumpkin pie baking
can infuse with the aroma of earthy heaven
upon heavenly earth.

Or perhaps it’s just me, searching for
something new in a life of so much now old.
Like today, the cords in the blinds
in front of me never had that figure-eight
infinity-upon-infinity existence before
my vision’s finite reach captured them here
in I’s, Y’s and F’s like this.
Such observations make me wish
for a few infinities so that I
might try discovering
the Whats and Whys of your world,
which I’ll never see, and those of mine,
which you’ll never understand.
Nor, apparently, will I.

Behind the Curtain

I might be disappearing for a while.
Don’t know when I’ll return.
I’ve held this message behind my back
for a long time, like I’m some facile,
dawdling, magician, and it’s that
Nine of Hearts we wrote your initials on.
I am in fact that prestidigitator, though
much taller, younger, better looking,
with a soothing baritone and a shock of
windblown black hair here in this
deck of illusions. Unfortunately,
even a conjurer like me can’t hide
these muddy brown eyes that occasionally,
and only for a second, ever looked into yours.
I hope you’re buying this patter,
letting it carry you deeper into the finale,
because I’ve been an honest man,
always pulling these words out of my hat and
leaving them like suicide notes
for you later to parse what’s
bothering/haunting/inspiring me
when I draw away the velvet curtain and
you find I’m not there anymore.
Actually, I never really was.