The Starry Night

Tonight my warm chair wrapped
itself around me in a room
illuminated by a TV
and thoughts of Christmases
I missed, though albums
of photos prove I was there.
Over in the corner stands
the new Christmas tree,
bedazzled in ornaments
of new gold, like Hanukkah gelt,
and in old silver, shiny
and cold as a dead fish
on some frozen shore.
It has yet to be lit
for more than a minute since
that angel alit on its tiptop.
So I withdrew from my chair’s embrace,
crossing the room to plug it in.
But out the window, I saw how
the moon had risen above the trees
and how it ignited swirling breaths
of snow that danced in the dark
like Van Gogh’s stars over Arles.
And above them actual stars
roamed in their courses,
as if looking for Bethlehem
or maybe even Albany.
In that moment, with stellar
guidance from light that traveled
for two thousand years,
traveled past all those nights
I spent without any Sleep to knit up
my ravell’d sleeve of care, woke
warm memories of Christmases past.
Of winking lights in blue eyes
and glittering packages as full of love
as they were knitted sweaters.

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Heaven, From Eleven to Seven

Finally asleep at 1:30,
awakening again around 4:00,
and here I’d hoped
I’d see this affliction no more.
The thoughts that prod me
and keep me from sleep
have changed over the years
yet still tend to seep
out from my heart
and into my mind,
even though I recognize
them now as all of a kind
of confusion, delusion
and hope I can’t reach
from this place on my back
where even experience didn’t teach
me to leaven with sensibility
the gut feelings of sense.
Which is why, after four hours,
I awaken, staggering but intense,
fighting my way through the fog
that comes with this deprivation.
And yet, once again by day’s end,
I’ll lie here in resignation
that I can’t control the world,
you, your future or the past.
Maybe that’s why I toss until
I drop into darkness at last.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give
to nod off by eleven,
awaken around seven,
and worry less about you,
and the sadness you live through.
I’d lay my head on the pillow,
where soon sweet dreams would billow.
In peace, eleven to seven,
knowing that you
are sleeping peacefully, too.
Yeah, that would be heaven.

What Was Found Above the Lines Has Been Lost Between Them

Aerial photograph of a Bristol F2B fighter aircraft flying above the clouds.

Above the lines you can see the scars etched
into the beauty’s countenance, crisscrossing
ones old and new, some smeared with spoiled
face powder trying to cover the pocks
and failures of old men’s vanity.
But that’s only if you regard them with some
romantic aesthetic you lose all too quickly
as you are assailed by the scream of
the engine in your lap, its heat of no use
in the freezing air and wind in your face,
redolent of burnt petrol and cast-off castor oil.
You dare not wax so poetic that you stare
at billowing, sun-painted clouds as if
they were masterpieces like great Cathedrals,
or as the marble imaginings filling them,
wrought by some absent God’s immortal tools.
No, above the lines’ beauty and cleanliness
are mere primer for a blank canvas, one yet
to be spattered with the black and red blooms
of Archie shells, the yellow tracings of bullets
as they pierce your wings, fuselage, or someone’s son.
You chance a glimpse of the slanting or spiral
chiaroscuro of a funeral pyre in descent,
in a hurry to bury another boy in the box
within in which he tried to stay above all the mud
And blood below, only to be lost between the lines.

Inspired by a picture and conversation shared with my friend, the novelist Julia Robb. These days, I feel so much like one of those young men of the Lafayette Escadrille or the Royal Flying Corps in late 1916/early 1917. I see little beauty in what I’m doing here anymore and feel my time at this is growing as short as my next climb into the cockpit of this desk. 

The Beard

I found it while culling old photos
that no one need keep — nor even see —
once I’m gone. It shows dark-haired me,
clear-eyed, smiling, hopeful, happy me.
At least I think it might be me,
despite that captured joy and smoothness.
The other reason I’m somewhat unsure of
the subject’s identity is because
the young fellow in these photos has
longish hair and a pretty nice beard.
A full beard, on a face shining with optimism,
even if it is out-of-focus.
I placed the photo in the bottom
of a shoebox in the closet with
the full-length mirror on the door.
The mirror that shows the image of
the silver-haired guy whose mouth sags
on the left side when he attempts to smile,
as if he’s afraid his face might slough off
the front of his head if he gave in
to full expressions of joy.
That’s the mirror where I stare into
the pair of burrows where nest the windows
of my soul. Deep within, it’s like I
can see inside the shoebox behind the door.
I still wonder what happened to that youngster,
but I at least know I can still find him.

Celebrate, Celebrate

In the service area waiting room,
most of the people waiting
for their cars to be healed
are older men, retirees who sit
and gab about cars they once owned,
or that white Shelby Mustang
they wish they could. Some wear
baseball caps emblazoned with the branch
of the armed forces in which they served
when they were kids.

The 70-something gent in the dark blue
Navy cap caresses the Shelby’s curves
as the bright lights gleam off
the embroidered “CV-34” and “USS Oriskany”
on the front of his cap.
I want to ask him about the fire
on the Big O, killing forty-four
of his shipmates in ’66.
But you probably shouldn’t bring up
such stuff at 10:20 AM in a place
where the only thing to drink
is bad coffee and Three Dog Night
blares a harmonized “Celebrate, celebrate…”

I drain my coffee and recall
my Draft physical and wonder
which of the guys who stood naked
in ranks of eight with me for some
perverse inspection on that
cold tile floor could be sitting
in the blue leatherette chairs
on this tile floor, bouncing
their knees and waiting bareheaded
for their names to be called again.

Been a depressed dry spell for me lately. But being out in the world this morning, seeing guys my age waiting around in somewhat jovial moods for ‘something’ spiked my imagination.

One of a Kind

A Collective Collection Poem

They call a group of lobsters
from Down East Maine a Risk,
even though soup on the menu
containing said Risk is a bisque.
Since collecting cats into a herd
is considered a feat beyond daring,
I suppose a Pounce of them
is as good as a Glaring.
A bunch of peacocks isn’t a flock.
In grand array, they’re an Ostentation.
Swans on the pond may float in a flotilla
dolefully christened a Lamentation,
When snails meet it’s an Escargotoire,
though they can also gather in a Rout.
Chasing each other is a Scurry of Squirrels,
while still waters hide a Hover of trout.
Even Humans, who made up these names,
don’t get off scot free without one.
Foresters fell trees in a Stalk,
a Superfluity counts as more than one nun.
Not sure why a tribe of boys is a Blush,
or how hermits as an Observance come a’meeting.
The Lord of the manor pours a Draught of butlers
while outside a Hurtle of sheep are a’bleating.
A pile of poets can be a School,
so I guess I’m just one of many.
Looked half my life for others like you,
but no bevy exists ‘cause there just aren’t any.

Another Bend In the River

Life is a short thing
we can make seem longer
just by thinking about it.
A night can be long thing
we can make seem shorter
by not thinking at all,
simply closing our eyes
and allowing sleep to snip
short the string we follow
from today to tomorrow.
Time is a river, so they say,
a constantly moving stream
of here to there in its own
temporal course. It has its
gently flowing stretches where
joys float within arms length,
as well as it rippling runs,
swirling eddies of stasis
and buffeting rapids where
Time can speed you along
as easily as it will beat you
fearsome sore for the toll.
I’m speeding by one of the final
waypoints on my journey.
Only now I spend my time
sorting through the remaining
recollections of this trip,
though not as much as I ponder
the flotsam of memories
I’ve lost to the relentlessly
restless nights.
I see only a life unspent
playing out in the spaces
where missing experiences
once were laden, albums
and journals lost, floating me
lighter and higher,speeding me
along to some great sea where
I’ll become another drop,
a vague dream, drifting eternal
in a night never-ending.