Some nights, when the temperature drops,
the house clenches its shoulders,
gives a shudder, nails trying to make
a break for Florida, and the whole shebang goes…
well, BANG. If you’re asleep, It can sound
like someone’s breaking through the door.
For a second, your heart bangs, too,
racing in a potent flight-or-fight mix
of adrenalin with sleep’s melatonin.
Then you realize you’re not flying
anywhere with the covers wrapped around
your ankles, entrapping your knocking knees.
And fighting? You’ll never stop any
2×8 interlopers with your usual weapon
of glib insincerity. And why oh why
did you leave your chain saw beneath
the kiddie pool in the garage?
Your only defense is to assume
nocturnal marsupial mode, rolling over,
assuming make-believe moribund possum
pose with a shrug of armadillo blanket
wrapping and allowing the furnace’s fresh
hot breath to sniff you and sedate
the house until the 6:30 alarm trumps
any more temperature-touchy timbers.
I like to sit in the dark and look out
at how the night develops the snow
like I used to develop photos
in a different kind of dark room.
Out there where the trees frame
the blue-white possibilities
clouds dodge the moonlight,
pulsing life into shadows and
wind-carved ripples that might
have been born of my tossing
a coin and a wish out there.
I’m wishing to see
the murky moon-sketched beings
leave those shadowy scars
of here to there, life to death,
on that slick, icy memory
I wake to each morning. I fear
closing my eyes will rend another tear
in this net of dreams with which
I captured all the memories
of you and them,
me and I, each morning lost
to the sleeping night,
to the changing seasons,
tracks of my time melting
Image Credit: James Speed Hensinger | Vietnam 1970
That dream returned last night, the one where shadows
dressed for bed crawl toward my resting place.
All I can do is lie there and wait,
knowing it’s coming, pickled in a perspiration
exotic, torporific, frantic, paralytic.
I dream these nights of being in-country,
asleep in a faraway land I did not know,
but in a bed I do.
The dark figures, with faces vaguely familiar,
sometimes raid my slumber when I see
their waking work in an old friend or
in scorching color on television.
My dream-self awakens to the nightmare pop-pop-pop
of small arms fire, the b-r-r-rap-b-r-r-rap
of the M-60 spitting All-American fireworks
into three-dimensional silhouettes, and then
comes the tripwire boom of upright, soaking reality
in which I do not wear olive armor on my back
nor upon my shoulders lug a sackful of
the things they carried.
My burden has no measurable weight but that
which I give it. My rank is guilty civilian,
a lifer who lucked out in the 1970 lotto
that saw boys next to me busted by
an insane spin of numbers.
Awake in this safe and dark bedroom,
I envision bodies and lives broken,
maimed, lost. And God help me, there are times
when I lie back down and stare at those ghosts
on the dark ceiling, and in some distorted sense
of shame and confusion, I may envy some
I had a hard time with this one. I wrote a very “Joe” fireworks poem yesterday in its place, but every time I looked at the photo up there, a prompt from my friend Kellie Elmore, this new (too darn long) poem came exploding back at me. It’s something that’s been simmering inside me — even wrote a short story about it — since long before I ever saw that photo. I post it with great reservation because I revere what these guys suffered and endured and don’t wish to diminish or dishonor that with the prattling of some stupid hump of a middle-aged “poet.” I guess what I’m trying to say is I had to write this someday.
I emerge from enveloping shadow and hear
my feet slap the pavement, feel my breathing
deep and even. Brownstones whiz by
my fluttering eyes and I recall the last time
I whizzed this effortlessly was forty years ago.
A rumbling regiment of cavalry cuts off my route
at Lark Street. Smart in their dark blue uniforms
trimmed in gold, black hats sit jauntily upon their heads
just as the riders perch with élan upon cantering steeds
that match their headwear. The echo of this mounted
all-baritone chorus out of a John Ford western
follows me north. That’s when I see him again,
standing on the corner, at the corner of my eye,
and spy him through the open doors of a UPS truck.
Turning west toward our old place, I sense his back
quickly turned toward mine. A bus grumbles by
and I catch a new aroma, its exhaust like coffee
from the kitchen. I snort, lift my head from the pillow,
realizing with pounding heart, I have run my covers off
in dreaming my first dream in months, or at least
first I can remember. When I slap my feet upon
the cold true floor, I realize I do not like your
night-time dreams. To me they lack meaning,
a beginning or an end. I prefer my waking ones,
like this one, in which you and I may not know
where I’m going, but I’m pretty sure
we’ll be somewhere when I’m done.
An unfortunately true retelling of one of my fever dreams from last week. In truth, I do not dream much, at least anything I remember upon awakening. But if this foolish thing was any indication of what I’m missing, maybe I’m better off. At least the colors were nice, though.
When I was young, darkness held
the heartbeat thump, the maybe crash,
of unknowns, inevitable, evil,
death-dealing dread only defended
by bedside night-lights and Pater Nosters.
But the shadow creatures never came
and I grew to welcome dark’s embrace.
Only during those times was I truly alone,
empty of the harsh light, the reality
of crushing days, perfectly comfortable
and conversant with myself in ways
daylight and I would never share.
Now, it is the dark upon which I dote,
the dawn and its daylong drudgery I dread.
Not even closing my eyes to the glare
of day is enough. You probably wouldn’t
understand this reassuring touch,
this love I feel in the unlit,
though you might catch a glimpse
when I shine my darkness upon you.
Mine is a life of words, I fear.
Any deeds I’ve lived solely in my head
as I would the lines of this story
I shall never write.
They are threads of worthless language
strung over and over,
woven into the discomfiting comforter
I wear each night, eyes open,
staring into the dark ceiling,
where brightly plays the fantasy journal
of the young, brave, athletic, loving
writer’s days that never were.
Then comes the eye-blink sleep
without dreams and, too soon,
creeping dawn. It drags with it
my hope merely to stand and
sumnambulistically beat my breast
from inside out through another day,
only to live again for those seconds
in which I lie and lie, playing once more
with the words that are my life.
American Penny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Thin crescent moon shines so brightly,
casting wavering tree shadows
that pace my bedroom floor.
That long stretch of brilliance reveals
the penny resting before my pillow.
I turn down the pale green bedspread over it
as I climb within the bed’s embrace.
That penny and I will sleep in that hug tonight;
I’ll be on my back, Coppery Abe on his side.
Whether face-down, or tumbling within
or out of my pocket, he’s always on his side.
I don’t think he’s much of a snorer, though
I tend to sleep dreamlessly, snorting,
occasionally gasping or grasping
and kinda of thrashy. Thus, the great
splitter of rails will probably bail for the
Dust Bunny Soldiers Home by 2:00 AM.
I’m not sure of the meaning of all these
ghostly impressions of shadow and light,
but you can see what distractions beset
my restless mind, in total dark or lunar light,
once we’re all tucked away for the night.
They come even when I don’t have
a penny for my thoughts.