And Sometimes How

The season must’ve changed because
there you are again.
Every time I feel that first burst
of the What, When and Where
of climatic change,
I know the Why of your Who
will blow full
my thoughtful sails today.
Is it my first sensing
of those lacy spring blossoms’
or the panting earthy exhalations
of autumn’s leaves?
Is it the heady summer sweat
that chills me,
or the icy bite of winter
that flashes warm through my body?
Are they reminding me of those
foolish feelings and misdirected dreams?
Those are rhetorical questions, actually.
I don’t need answers because
tomorrow it just won’t matter.
And I’ve long since sailed past
the self-inflicted How of it all

A new free-write from the past-informed fiction side of my head. And maybe my once-romantic reporter’s soul.

River Dancers

(Photo © 2015 Diana Matisz)

It’s almost morning and the music
comes across muted in the mirror ball
near-light reflecting on the dance floor.
All night the couples have swayed
and bumped with one another,
even grinding their slippery bodies
in the moaning dark to the tune
that’s played in this joint since
the big bottoms shook hands
and opened it.

The aroma of old smoke
and older subterranean sweat
drifts heavy to you on the shore
and then come the voices signaling
Last Call, turning on those too bright lights,
pushing and hustling the dancers
on their ways to their daily jobs
filling these arteries with the ichor
from the black heart of the Alleghenies.

They’ll be back tonight, because
the rhythm of these rivers is all
they know, the blood-pumping
life of these sooty coal buckets,
these rusty barges with names like
painted ladies and otherwise
forgotten river men. Tonight they’ll
close their eyes and lean into
one another in the dark again.
And oh how they’ll dance!

This poem was inspired by the photo above by my friend, the super-talented photographer/artist/writer Diana Matisz from The City of the Three Rivers, and is used with her permission. She wrote of it: “A morning in which the old-bone creak of coal barges scraping against each other, is the only sound in this river valley…” Beats any poetry I can make.

The Costumes We Wear

Ever since I was a little kid,
I’ve cringed at all your
Happy Halloween hoopla.
I never connected with assuming
another persona, another life,
whether fantastic or unremarkable,
whether for an hour or a day.
I had enough problems wearing Joe,
fitting in all the bulges and baby fat,
the fumbling and mumbling
brown-eyed bookworm,
he who the world recognized as
eminently barely acceptable,
even after I grew out of that me.

Maybe I’ve changed in my later years,
daily donning this digitized costume
of the possibly brave, sometimes sensitive,
and occasionally romantic,
reflective scribe… just for you.
From this side of the mirror,
though, I still recognize younger me,
now only with wrinkles and
chair-molded middle-age spread,
all typos and too metaphoric diction,
scarred with that mortifying memory
of once agreeing to wear
a candy striper uniform
just to get the girl.

The Angel and the Velvet Box


I look at her sleeping and I wonder
what will come.
No one can remain
an angel forever
in a world full of big-brained
bi-pedal beasts with free will and
no good reason to be angels

Her soft skin will toughen
because it has to, slapped
as angels’ so often suffer the slaps,
spiritual, emotional, maybe physical,
from the hands that’d once caress
the downy pillows upon which rest
pert lips, pursed, ready to pronounce, “Hi,Pa,”
upon awakening.

I can’t protect you forever, angel,
from the swinging hands of time
that have beaten me down.
But I can hold this and other moments
in the velvet lined box no one knows
I hide here on the dark side of my heart.
The one I’ll only ever share
with you.

A 15-minute Sunday afternoon free write. I know not from where it came. But I’ll share it with you.

Second-Hand Heart

I was never supposed to be
the first one, so I got his.
Perhaps that’s why this heart
never fit me as it should. Always
half a bump behind the beat,
stiff and tight across my chest.
It should have been his,
so it could never be yours,
never really mine to give.
Mine is the hand-me-down heart.
Maybe that’s why these hearts
never meshed, never conjoined
on whatever level hearts
are supposed to. Or I wished
they could.

I wonder if I had my own heart —
Swiss made, custom fit — if
the lives it brushed against
would’ve been different.Probably not.
This one was always supposed
to be good enough. Not like
the hearts in your closets,
all made of silk and flannel,
all soft and smooth, as I wished
mine might be, if I had my own.
Not this awkward, second-hand,
second-place heart they’ll eventually
bury me with. When they do, though,
promise you’ll wear one of your old
pretty ones, even if it’s
an uncomfortable fit.

Mine’s never fit either.

Black on Black


Vantablack, by Surrey NanoSystems, via Wikimedia

I don’t dance, though I admire
you hurting souls I sit in the dark
and watch fly and dive and
wince through your blazing art.
My stabs at music returned
muddy chords upon that ebony fretboard
collecting dust in the lightless corner.
I used to draw pretty well,
but gave it up when I found
you can’t draw black onto more black.

However, I learned you can write it.
And so I did, because there are some
who will read their own stories
in these inky tea leaves.
They’re the ones who sit so quietly
in libraries, so they can hear
the voices of those dark lives they’re
trying on for size. If only for a page.

Mine never has been thus tried,
and now never will be.
This mourning suit, dirty,
taut at the seams and buttons,
shiny at the elbows, ragged at the cuffs,
is nothing but mine.
You may bury me in it if you
can find me here in my shadows.
Shhh, the rest is silence.

Copper and Ice


When I look behind me
through the dust-covered window,
down upon the frost-topped grass,
I see oak leaves dropping one-by-one,
each a gentle touch of cold hands,
a tap on the shoulder, signaling
another cycle of life is ending.

The silver trees’ niggardly scatter
of their lifeless copper reminds me
of misers confronted by their mortality,
prompting an uncomfortable distribution
of their wealth to the cold, unloved needy,
an apprehensive hedging of bets
against a hot hereafter.

I’ll be the poor collector of these riches,
each the recollected hopes, the disappointments,
the punches, the caresses, the love I’ve given,
exchanged or dropped in blind ignorance,
each a look over my shoulder through
the dusty window of time in the fading
light of the ice-crowned autumn of my life.

Over and Out

What’s my world come to?
It’s a rhetorical question.
If I welcomed you to my world
you wouldn’t see much different
from your own, I guess, except for the
“wouldn’t see much” part.
It’s an outwardly quiet place,
sometimes placid, others foreboding,
everywhere I look. But mostly that’s
in the mirror or in the dark above my
bed each night. That’s it, my world.
Always looking and dreaming
in the same direction…
I trust my sense of direction,
just never trusted myself to take it.
On this ledge above your world
I’ve always perched, facing out there,
sometimes dropping a sigh or a tear on you.
Sometimes I spit.
I like watching them twist and drift
before spattering the world,
where you pick them up upon your shoes,
walking through all your worlds.
I swing my shoes over the edge,
bravely dangling them in a dream
I’ve finally jumped over too,
somehow joining you on our march…

A Face Out of Focus

Out of Focus Green Backgrounds-9, by Victorgrigas, via Wikimedia

It’s funny how often when I sit down
to chronicle my mind’s journey,
the one that took a handful of decades
to make yet can be read cover to cover
in the instant I step off on my imaginary
left foot, only a handful of images
spring to view. I can only hold that
five fingers’ worth of life within this cloudy
scene of greensward and foggier memory.

More often than not, there’s this face
I once knew hiding just off the margins,
or in that park’s oak tree shadows
of ever more feeble remembrance.
I’d describe it to you, but its edges
have become fuzzy with the years
and its colors indistinct, like that face
in the mirror when I’d shave with lights off
and dawn not yet over the window sill.

The other day, I placed my imaginary thumb
over that blur of memory, and the remaining
images lost the sharpness of their being,
smudged as if rain, or even tears, fell upon
a fresh watercolor. I pulled back,
and everything became sharp again.
Strange that when we try losing sight
of one piece of our story, so much
of the rest of it loses its focus, too.

Sorry for the run of longer poems lately. After completing a book’s worth (actually two) of 100-word poems for One Hundred Beats a Minute, I guess my muse needed to stretch her legs. I’ll tighten things up again soon, I hope. Or maybe a poem’s length is like Abraham Lincoln how described his legs when asked how long they were: “Long enough to reach the ground.” 

Seeing the Sad Songs


Sunset over the Red Rocks area of Arizona, by Harvey Stearns

We really listen to the sad songs.
The happy tunes blur in a whirr
of beats and snappy melodies
past our ears. But the lonely,
wistful ones capture us with words,
aurally beheld concepts
that could actually appear as
something tangible, touchable,
or maybe once that way,
within our minds and hearts.
The non-touchable hearts, that is.

I wish I could write sad songs,
framing my words like little houses
on 3/4 waltz time, punctuating the lines
with rhyme, putting up walls called verses,
painting them a memorable color
in the chorus. Not black or gray, though.
My sad songs would glow in
noon-bright yellows, Big Sky blues
and maybe earthy adobe reds.

They wouldn’t be country songs, though.
Just sad and maybe hopeful words
carried by the winds of music,
songs you saw with your heart,
enjoyed in their gentle passing,
and stayed with you even after
that purple and gold fadeout,
like a sunset cover of Arizona Highways.