Like Carl Sandburg’s Hair

Edward Jean Steichen, Carl Sandburg, photographic montage, 1936. © Joanna T. Steichen – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

I wish I had hair like Carl Sandburg,
silver and smooth, with a near-center part
from which would curl horns of cool
hirsute parentheses that would occasionally
encapsulate the brown and gold irises
of my poetic vision.

I wouldn’t like hair like Walt Whitman
or even Ezra Pound, though, all kind of
wind-wild and wiry. Sure, damned
arty-looking, best kept under wide-brimmed
slouches, but probably troublesome
containing beneath a baseball cap.

Robert Frost’s hair, silver like Carl’s
and mine, just seemed as weedy as
a New England pasture, unfettered by
the neighborly fence of brush or comb.
Emily’s, while smooth as a Berkshire pond,
never made it to silver.

I didn’t slick it back like Stafford when
I had enough to slick, nor even now when
it borders the vacant shores of Lake Roethke.
No, I want Carl’s hair with its quotation mark
cowlicks speaking louder than little cat feet,
as big-shouldered American as the prairie.

Another Waste of Time

Sleep and lust once shared
with me this bed where I lay.
They were my youth’s balm,
my refuge, bedmate and love.
Now we are estranged,
Nights are but numbed-over Days.
Mirror images
reflecting dark dawn’s light
on old eyes that see
how Night and I have wasted
each other again.

Went back to the origins of my poetic life, writing of my wretched sleepless or fitful nights in links of haiku-like lines of five and seven syllables. Restful sleep has once again become my obsession and unattainable treasure. And whatever facilities I have to speak to you suffer from this loss. With this numbness I grow more mute and isolated by the day.

The Climb Left Me Breathless

Now I know. But I wish
I didn’t have to.
Then I’d be able to look down
that deep well of recollection
and enjoy seeing the reflection
of the guy I used to be.
Instead, I focus on the skin
of memories I scraped onto its walls
in my halting climb to today.
And as fallible, forlorn and
sore as that climb has made me,
seeing that hopeful face
staring back, framed by all those
slime-coated scars, breaks
what’s left of my heart.
Funny, even though I’m standing
here on the ground, peering into
this well feels like I’m looking
down from some mountain top.

That view of my yesterdays
often hits me like a gut-punch, 
taking my breath away.

I quickly wrote this poem in response to the prompt set in that photo at the top of the piece. It’s from my friend Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines Challenge.

Struck by Lightning

The power went out last night,
the only illumination,
until I found the flashlights
and lanterns, were the lights
flashing in the sky.
I asked, in vain, if we could
keep the emergency in-house
lights off so I could watch
the outside electrical ones.
I’m sure that sounded ridiculous
to someone who hasn’t spent nights
on the back porch trying not
to fall asleep as the gods
struck sparks across the sky
and Hendrick Hudson’s crew keggled
in booming strikes and spares.
So last night I took to the dark
back bedroom and marveled at
the light show and the shadows
of the trees dripping down the hill
like rainwater, not just for
its natural majesty, but also for
the power it turned on to make me feel
like a twelve-year-old again.

As Far As I Can See

Dewdrop diamonds glitter
in the brush of a lawn that
gave up its grass majority years ago.
But it’s greener than ever.
As far as I can see.
The housetops across the road
wear halos brassy as church bells
this Sunday dawn. The sun’s probably
as bright as it was when I was a kid,
but I can’t say that for a fact.
Now it filters into my eyes past
progressive lenses, gestating cataracts
and glaucoma’s shrinking field
of left-right and up-down.
But I notice so much more of its
intrinsic glory now then I did then.
It means more to me now, as I write
each day’s biography from my obsolescent
point of view. Probably why I wake
so early and go to sleep so late.
Sight might be leaving me with each
sunset, but more vision comes with
the next dawn.
As far as I can see.

Asking for Directions

Robert Earl Keen tells me
the road goes on forever
and the party never ends.
But sometimes you reach
a crossroads, or a fork
in your life’s road.
And if you have no map,
or go off the reservation,
you could take a wrong turn,
if there’s such a thing
as “wrong” on your journey.
I only know I never could
remember the way back
from those corners I cut
when I left the path
others set for me.
But these latter days, as I
grow old on the trail,
no matter which way I turn,
I see nothing but dead ends
and I’m not ready to stop.
So that’s why I’m asking you,
since you’re still running
and look like you’re enjoying
your trip more than getting
to that dark place where
the exit signs are turned off,
“Which way to the party?”

With Stars in Our Eyes

I closed the book, put down the lighted magnifier and realized this might be the last one I’d ever read.

You think of these things when you’re going blind. And fast. Ischemic optic neuropathy is what the doctors called it. On top of that, I had something called low tension glaucoma, something the regular eye exams would never pick up.

They were something I’d had for decades as my eyesight deteriorated and the doctors just gave me stronger eyeglass prescriptions and the lame, “You’re getting older” jive.

“Another headache, Dave?” my wife Jen would ask.

“Yeah. Work’s just been a bitch and my sleeping has sucked.”

“When are you going to see a doctor about it?” Jen would always say.

“It’s okay, Jen. Just migraine or something. I’ll take an ibuprofen and it’ll be fine,” I’d reply. But then the ibu didn’t seem to hit it anymore and my peripheral vision seemed to be shrinking.

After I nearly rolled off the shoulder of the country road out near Oneonta, almost taking out a jogger, I decided I’d better see the doctor. But it was too late. The damage was done, my optic nerves were dying and the world was going dark faster than the onset of a January night. Only no dawn was riding to my visual rescue.

To her credit, even though I deserved it, Jen never pulled the “I told you so” card on me. She was calmer than I thought she would be, though in no way unsympathetic. She just was Jden, the woman I’d loved for over forty years.

She found me sitting in the dark, moping, feeling sorry for myself. I’d become your typical panicked patient. You begin groping even before everything goes dark, pondering how you’ll survive in the perpetual night coming in just a few months or even weeks.

“Hey, why so dark in here?” Jen said and flipped on the lights.

“I’m trying the future on for size. Now turn out the lights, Jen, and let me think, okay?”

“I wasn’t talking about the lights, Dave,” she said.

“Wouldn’t you be upset if you were me, Jen? Tell me you wouldn’t,” I said.

“I would be and I am, Dave. But sitting here silently raging in the dark isn’t going to change that. Now let’s about this some so we can figure out what we’re going to do when…you know.”

“Are you kidding?” I said, jumping up from my chair and moving toward her voice. I tripped over the ottoman and fell to the floor, banging my head and seeing flashes of light like I hadn’t seen in months.

“Dave, are you okay?” Jen said, hitting the light switch again and rushing to my side.

“See? See what an invalid I’m becoming? I’ll be nothing but a fucking burden on you and useless to myself and everyone else.”

She stood up and looked down at me. I could feel her eyes boring a hole through mine. I recognized that energy from all the other times I’d been a self-absorbed asshole with her.

I scrambled off the floor to the window, embarrassed for my whining outburst. I opened the curtains and looked into a darkness that might well be my view for the rest of my life.

“I can’t even see the stars anymore, Jen. Our stars, the one’s we’d stare at from the bed of my pickup when we were 17.”

“We can get through this, Dave. We’ve been through worse. What about my mastectomy? Fucking cancer and you never wavered in your devotion and care. You’d hold me every night, loving ME, not just some bra mannequin, as much in love as in the back of that pickup.”

“I’ll never see the kids faces anymore, never watch the grandkids grow up. And worst of all, I don’t know how I can take never seeing you again, Jen,” I said with a catch in my throat.

“I’m right here,’ she said, putting my hand to her face. “I’ve got your stars right here,’ Jen said, touching my fingers to her closed eyelids. “And I’ll keep them for you, let you hold them, bring you every bug or vista you’d ever want to see. That’s what we do, Dave. If you can’t see that, then you’re blind already.”

Slowly, her face so close to mine I could feel her eyelashes and a dampness on my cheek, everything became so clear, even with our eyes closed. So clear a blind man could see it. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?

Quick first-draft flash fiction in response to Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines challenge based on the Sara Teasdale line, “Give me your stars to hold.”