I know it’s out there,
the blue sky and bright sun.
Yes, all we can see today
are low gray clouds,
the smudges of lower and
grayer smearing those.
But I saw a momentary
streak of blue and a slash
of sunlight this week.
Just a peek of heaven’s skin,
like the strippers used to
tease us with when strippers
used to just tease.
I know it’s out there
beyond this darkness,
this fatigue assailing life
right now. I hope I’ll be here
when it comes back.
It has to, because
I don’t think I can go on
if it doesn’t.
And I intend to go on.
There’s no name in his spot
on the screen mounted at the end
of the hallway in ICU, not like
where it says RICO or MV.
There are just tiny numbers
in red and blue, along with
two jagged horizontal lines,
miniature versions of the ones
across the hall in this buzzing room,
the one marked with a big black 8.
Out there they trickle across
the tenth of the glass identifying
the inhabitant as BED08.
But his name is really Andrew,
and he’s a husband, a father,
a brother, a friend, a blue collar
who got sick, and then sicker,
and went from being BED5225A
to BED5228, before he eventually
became the so terribly thin man
the machine breathes for in BED08.
And I sit here next to him, barely
recognizing the burly guy whose
diapers I once changed when he
was a wee one, and I’m wondering
how this happened, how I just
saw him in that incubator only
yesterday (forty-nine years ago
yesterday to be exact) and now
we’re back again, only here at BED08.
I sigh, I’ve become quite practiced
at sighing lately, when I recall
at least in that little hot box
where my tiny pink brother
whisper-cried and slept, the card
on the front let whoever saw it
know he was a person, even if
all it read was BABY BOY HESCH.
British and German troops meeting in No-Mans’s Land during the unofficial truce.
Liebe Mama, the letter began when she opened its mud spattered
paper, unfinished, like the life that penned it. On the other side
of The Channel it read Dearest Mum. And then their stories began
of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when the guns ceased
their booming bursts for that time and young men
peeked over the mole-run, rat-hole front lines
with no fear of dying without a head to send with their bodies,
home to Liebe Mama and Dearest Mum.
They told of going over the top clutching tobacco and biscuits,
candy and sausages, instead of Enfields or Mausers,
to trade season’s greetings instead of death.
And carols were heard instead of the screams of the shells,
the wails of the wounded, unanswered calls to Mama and Mum.
But these were mud soldiers, the ones whose bodies would fertilize
the poppies one day, perhaps, when church bells would ring
for Christmas services and not to bury mein junge or my boy.
It’s said the clean uniforms at the rear called a cease
to the cease fires in later years, because such fraternization
was not in keeping with victory for King and Country.
And so barely again did boys in Khaki or Grau join hands
in the brotherhood of men who looked alike covered
in the mud of Flanders or to the addressees of these,
their last letters home. For after the final strains of
Stille Nacht, there’d come no more silent nights except
where now poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row.
The Christmas truce, Weihnachtsfrieden in German, was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. Maybe this free write poem is a reminder that it can be done, if only for a short while, with hope for something more permanent someday.
He could sense the holiday
in his nose more than
in his heart, but his nose stood
more blatantly exposed
to the environment than
his figurative ticker.
It’s not that he was blind
to all the lights and crowds and
super sales that assailed his vision
whenever he peeked above
his snow-wet shoe tops.
But the aroma of gingerbread
and evergreen braided with
a certain chill on the air
from the north by east or west,
–it didn’t matter–they all
brought forth flurries
of memories from his past,
ones that attached themselves as
“pleasant” and “family” and “home”
to his madly visual mind.
He grinned a childish grin,
pulled his hand from its
warm flannel resting place
close to his literal ticker and
touched the cold skin on
the part of him inhaling
all those Decembers past.
Cold felt the warm and
warm felt the cold and
together they awakened
what was always that certain
joy in his world-frozen soul.
On Christmas Day, Dad would always smilingly
watch us tear into the gifts Santa “left” us
(even as a kid, I figured—incorrectly—no one
“gave” you anything just because)
and then he would head to the kitchen
to begin making the Christmas feast.
But even after the ham assumed its place
in the oven beneath brown sugar, cloves,
pineapple and ginger ale, Dad didn’t
resurface much into the rest of the house’s
rampant, raucous, ripped-paper riot.
He kept to himself a lot, parked in the kitchen
as Dean Martin or Perry Como warbled
Christmas tunes and he sipped at little glasses
of Manischewitz wine or big ones of beer.
If I gave this any thought at the time, it was fleeting.
I sparked this moment of an old man’s out-of-focus
recall yesterday, as I wrestled with my own
emotional solitary confinement amid
the warm and spectacular sharing of familial joy
surrounding me at this blessed time.
It was both frighteningly revelatory
and a comfort to me. See, I considered myself broken,
a disappointment to my loved ones, who try so hard,
with great affection and understanding,
to buoy Dad-me amid my Christmas castaway ways.
But it turns out I’m just a man who loves
his family and loves Christmas, just not himself,
no matter how he’s wrapped. I’ve thought a lot
about this lately, now that rampant, raucous,
riotous life is fleeting, and I realize I
might just be a regifted version of my dad.
The burning man, from the Burning Man Festival © Aaron Logan
It’s funny, but not in the laughing way
of funny, the differences in their fires
they once huddled so closely to.
Hers was usually touched off in the tinder
of passion, a desperate fervor to burst into flames
that would burn down all her past mistakes
and blaze a bright light across her nights
His would smolder in the fluff of belonging,
a dust of me-and-you, he-and-she,
discarded by others,
that would smolder and flicker a flame
he’d never feel, even in the palm of his hand.
Both of them burned a green kindling of need,
always sparked by some dreamy hope,
The fires, though always warm, inviting,
blinded them with smoke, choking out
the maybe and might have, turning them
from one another. Maybe that’s
the funny part. How the fires made their eyes
glisten and shine with a reflection
of themselves, who they really were trying
to love in the first place.
Crazy free write that I thought I saw in the smoke of my dampened creative fire.
There’s an icy down
on the blades of grass.
atoms of winter have scraped
the little green that remains
of the blanket spring and summer
wove upon this bed where now they sleep.
I move outside, slowly stepping
my way west toward
the oaken stump I once built,
with my own blade,
my own knife-edged intent
to bring color to the spot
where light refused to shine.
Upon this veil of rime,
the hazy shape of a man appears,
stealing what I sweated so hard
to free. I turn to discover
the tide of another day
inching over the rooftops,
turning the frost to
a million million prisms
that will soon surrender to dawn
and a wave of dormant green
that inches toward me, warm upon
this shore of a December night.
Here, take this for your journey,
the one we all must wander
and ultimately finish alone.
That’s how I’ve made my way
across this expanse — past you,
the hope in me, the dark, the light,
that unrecognizable song on the wind,
the shaking limbs of trees
and those of my body.
I’m presenting it to you
with these shivering hands.
It’s too heavy for me to carry
anymore where I must go,
but it’s too dear to bury,
becoming some treasure forgotten,
its loving shine grown tarnished.
I didn’t mint it for saving,
but to pay the toll on this
lonely road I’ve traveled.
And the jingle of it in my pockets
is killing me.
The rain falls gently all around,
touching my face like an ancient great-aunt,
her cold slick fingers trying to recall
what warm and soft felt like.
Easily forgotten, I’d imagine,
if I didn’t know the truth,
I suppose I could slap my cheek
and then brush my fingertips
against a freshly shaven expanse
of warm pink flesh, but that would be
like touching a medium rare steak,
lifeless and ultimately not good
for what ails me.
The wind’s shifted and the rain
comes harder now, stinging my cheek
with the old slap of reality
that I wouldn’t recall warmth anyway.
See, I’ve always been a medium rare
kind of guy and this rain’s just a reminder
of what really ails me.
Street gutter in Old Town Stockholm, by Bengt Nyman via Wikipedia
It’s me, the out of mind one, more than likely.
But just this once more, unlike all those
other times when I didn’t push SEND
or wrapped the messages in so much thin metaphor
it looked like a confused, opaque mantle
to everyone but me, I hope you don’t turn away
as I raise my chin and burning cheeks and then
scurry back into the shadows.
Seems my time’s growing short, bodies falling around
in some sort of how-to for writing an itinerary
to the complete darkness, when it’ll be okay to forget
I was worth a conversation.
I don’t have time for the old obsessions,
the past mistakes of diving head-first into puddles
that looked sky-deep and as cloud-comforting
as a bed upon which an angel would keep a side open.
I get it, there are no angels, no companions to serve
as wingmen on that last trip…and fall. But maybe,
just once more, you might think kindly enough of me,
the good side of me at least, to walk there
for a few metaphoric steps, a couple more smiles,
where we can say “See ya,” and I can drop this
in that shallow gutter to float away with the rest
of those thousand thousand words.
Been a while since I cranked out one of these. But the “whiles” a growing sparser and this just happened. Must be the time of year.