If I was to ask you,
“What is it you want from me;
what is it you expect me to be?”
I wonder what I’d hear from you.
Am I a trash heap for sorrows,
the already flaming dumpster
of self-inflicted woes or those
committed by others upon me?
What’d be the harm in tossing
a few more on the fire, right?
Or am I an ancient outcropping
of granite shoulder that will
support you and you and you
if you’re searching for a clear view
of this cloud-bound world?
Is it more tears than your own
you seek, mute nods of understanding,
even if I’m as numbed by this
shallow section of life as a puddle?
Or is it sorrowful, powerful words
that frame your worries in radiating
ripples built of nothing but 0’s and 1’s?
Perhaps you’re hoping for me to create,
with these countless lies I splash
into existence, tiny prisms,
each containing a view of a world
in all its squint-eyed beauty?
I’m tired now, barely capable of spitting
these droplets of words out here.
But you know I’ll do my best to be whoever you need.
If only someone would do the same for me.
As I sit with her sleeping on my chest,
I wonder how her world will be
if she gets the chance to be my age.
Will she ever be able to swim
in a clean lake, hide beneath a dock
where you can clearly see all the way
to the shore from beneath the water?
Will she ever return from a visit
to The Great White North and be greeted
by border protectors who only mildly mistrust her
because she might be hiding duty-free booze
in the trunk, rather than meeting scowling guys
who mistrust everyone coming across
the Rainbow Bridge who have the dark tan
and jet black hair I did at 18?
Will she be free to read, write and speak
about anything, in any manner, for and against,
as I have my whole communicative life?
She makes a wiggle and opens her gray eyes
for a second, sees someone who loves her
holding her close, safe and warm, and I wonder.
Will she one day hold her grandkid and realize
what a special thing we had in this little town,
in her Grandpa’s old big-hug country
I once thought was full of possibilities,
back before the precipitous fall into
a land of Not Anymore?
I’ve always wondered, with both my granddaughters, the blue-eyed and the gray, how the future will be for them. It’s always been windy at the top of this mountain, but these days I worry more than I ever have a rank gust could blow us off.
If I, in thought,
felt not her very sorrow,
then I, in being,
am not very much a man.
If I, in jest,
made light of her plight,
then I, in the light,
am darker than the night.
If I, in belief,
see her as less than I,
then I, in truth,
am immeasurably less than she.
If I, in verse,
did not address her horror,
then I, in truth,
must never speak again.
If I, in thought,
felt not her very sorrow,
then I, in being,
do not deserve tomorrow.
Inspired by the current scenes that I can’t unsee and those first two lines, which are from Act 4, scene 4 of Two Gentlemen of Verona. No, I won’t illustrate this piece. You know what I mean.
Lately, this same dream comes to me every night. It’s a dream in which I’m treading water in the middle of a vast ocean on a night of the new moon. I rise and fall on the swells of this inky deep that fills the great depression beneath me. I can tell I’ve been in this water a long time because my fingertips are pale prunes and my eyes sting from the tear-like waters that splash my face. Occasionally in my dream, I sense a vessel approaching, but my voice makes not a sound, my words, my cries for help lie stillborn. I am silent, invisible, mere flotsam as far as they can tell. Often, I recognize the passing craft, perhaps as if I launched it myself or I once sailed with it in my younger days of even a great grey ship of the line bearing a USS (insert some President’s name here) on its prow. And as they drift by my silent kicking and stroking that keep my head above the dark void that would consume me, they toss something over the side. I always hope perhaps it’s a life preserver or line with which to haul me free. But it inevitably turns out to be more ballast that snugly tangles around me and smugly seeks to pull me down, down, down below the surface again. Sometimes it succeeds. But I’ve always had sharp teeth and a sense of survival and place to know in which direction to swim for the surface again. Lately, though, I’ve lost my bearings and the weights have dropped upon me all at once in a tangle of knots and cables I can’t seem to chew through. And I’m going down, down, down. The interesting part of all this dream scenario is that I don’t think of the things above, below and all around me in any concrete terms or even ideas. They’re all just vague faces floating around in the darkness that consumes me. It’s all dark clouds, but not in any poetic sense. Almost literally dark clouds is all my brain can conjure. And when I finally find the emotional and intellectual wherewithal to chew on something for a moment, it just gets covered up by all the other things spinning around me. This sounds scary because to me it isn’t scary anymore. It’s nothing. I’ve become nothing along with it. I believe I’ve gone under, disappeared for good this time. I’m alone, and the dark grows darker and I’m exhausted beyond words from the fight, and just as my breath is giving out, I close my eyes and let the nightmare take me. Then, with all hope lost that this dream will ever end, I finally drift off to sleep.
I saw another one just yesterday.
Caught him staring in my window
before he could jump into my shadow
to pull me down to levels
even lower than I lie already.
They usually hide in darkness,
stealthy creatures that fill
your well of woes to overflowing
to drown your soul in their inky ichor.
Stealthy, they carry their own shadows,
that can hide comfortably within your own,
like a friend who’s faux, whose open arms
wave empty hands, yet somehow still
heap the ashes of spent heartache
in your eyes when they leave.
So you’re left blind, left groping
in the dark trying to find your way
to some bit of light in what’s become
this life overshadowed
by a cloud of spiritual death.
For a second, a stiff breeze,
like a prayer answered, blew away
the tormenting face in my window,
which really was only four leaves
situated just so. But in the reflection
left in the window, I saw the haggard face,
the downturned lips, the brows broken
over the knee of self-loathing and
the ash-filled eyes of the real demon
who’s ever plagued my life.
The car runs a straight line
from Rocky Mount to Raleigh,
or maybe the road runs beneath me.
The pines ahead are playing Chicken,
only to break left and right in a blurry zoom.
And when I exit onto the serpentine
county road, the scene changes
as if I’m breezing through a gallery
of rural landscapes, studies in contrast,
where here sits a McMansion
across from a trailer park.
A strip mall or Food Lion or gas station
breaks up the chain of tobacco field,
corn field, fallow field, pasture, tobacco field…
That’s when I wonder why am I here?
Not on this little trip to Angier,
but on this long journey from childhood
to some ultimate destination.
Perhaps the pines are actually curtains
opening on another moment of unknown to known,
the roadside gallery pages in my book of days.
I slow down for a stretch outside Asheboro
as the other cars rush by me.
I may have reached my destination,
the reason for this trip or wherever I go.
It’s for the daylilies, the bookmarks
that divide each furlong in orange and yellow.
They write each trip as the destination;
they festoon my destiny of wherever
as my somewhere.
The last time we said goodbye,
it felt like it could be forever.
The finality hit me as soon as
you disappeared from my view,
well after you left my line of sight.
And so what if it was our last goodbye?
What memories will we hold
when or if we are moved to think
of one another again?
Will you recall how I made you laugh?
Will I remember your smile?
Will you recall my arms around you
as you drift off to sleep?
Will I be able to feel your cheek
against my recollection’s scratchy face?
I can’t answer these questions.
My mind may not hold the blessed
sensations of you that enriched my life,
and yours will doubtless fade
the longer we’re apart.
But that’s life.
When death of the body finally comes,
death of who we were to each other
will have already dug its grave.
Could this time’s have been the final one?