The last time I saw your face, I couldn’t see it all. It wasn’t that you were in profile, or lowered your chin in sadness, though sadness stalks your eyes too often, just waiting there for a sag of your shoulder to pounce. No, the last time I saw your face we wore masks for Christmas, perhaps to see New the Year, perhaps to see one another again at all. But I know the last time I saw your face, your eyes told me a smile was crossing its Tropic of Capricorn, since I’d come back safe from my own Tropic of Cancer. And I held your face close, its Equator to mine, our cheeks at anchor for a long moment, because what if this really was to be the last time I saw your face?
I know it’s never been a race, but I only know what it’s not. You’ve already passed me by twice; don’t know how many more laps I’ve got. I’ve given up trying to catch up as we’ve always run round and round. Our strides so evenly match up, but yours are swift, while mine pound. As along I plodded, I’ve pondered all the laps we could have shared, if out of my lane I wandered, if only I’d sped up and dared. I’m nearing the end of my run, and I just can’t catch up to you. Since we don’t know when we’ll be done, here is what I thought we could do. I’ll never get back my old zest, catching up I won’t even try. So I’ll wait here and rest and jump back in as you go by. And as I did, you turned and said, “Thanks for waiting ‘til I caught you.” Seems I was the one laps ahead, now we'll finish as we ought to. I think it’s seamlessly ironic, knowing how I get bogged down in my real life and the hundreds of lives banging around in my head, that I’m a day late in finishing this poem. The prompt was to write a “Catch up” poem. Indeed.
I think it might be lavender mixed with a little lemon zest. The memory of how you smell still lingers in me. Who’d have guessed? Perhaps you. Certainly not I, my memories now are hidden. I think I lost them in the dust of the desert years I’ve ridden. All by myself, but not alone, Imagination rode there, too. A third shadow sometimes appeared, so suspiciously shaped like you. When it cast itself on the sand the desert would begin to bloom. Instead of the dust and dried sage, the air was filled with your perfume. At least that’s what I could recall as each sundown you rode away. Even sleep would leave me alone all night as I daydreamed you’d stay. Now I’m old, and rely upon your grace for any second chance to leave loneliness just once more, and between us its vast expanse. That’s all I ask, just to get close, close enough to finally see if lavender and lemon were what you wore, or hopeful fantasy. Since I’m a day behind, I combined two prompts today -- a second chance poem and one using the sense of smell.
The tracks they all leave criss-cross and follow, stretch and tangle and some just up and disappear as if their signatories ascended in some great leap to that better place. And so with us on our journey between unknown and known, confused and understood, apathy and love, love and some other kind of love. Maybe the tracks form at the corners of our eyes, where tears can pool or joy marks its trail so as not to get lost again. Or perhaps they step one into the other’s so that it looks like we’re walking alone again. But that would mean one following the other and wouldn’t it be better if, for at least the part before one set finally disappears, our steps walk side by side?
The old man’s creation days have long since passed. Says he feels useless as a bucket full of nothing but holes. Every day he still shuffles to his well of invention, but his arms aren’t long enough to reach whatever new is left way down that once splashing shaft. And even if he could reach whatever sloshes down in the dark, by the time he hauled it up all his creation would’ve run through that old bucket. This saddened and perplexed the old man, who judged his worth by what he could create. “I’m done. I’ve no reason to go on,” he said to his muse, who never gave up on her creative old man. “You can, too, still create,” she told him one night in the dark, for this is where they did their best work. “If you can’t reach a shiny new creation, why don’t you create a well-polished old one all over again? There really isn’t anything new anyone pulls from the dark out into the sun.” The old man spent but a minute pondering his Muse’s inspiration, because she always was the smart one, and said, “You know, your favorite’s a squint-eyed look at one of Stafford’s. Over here’s a slant re-telling of Emily.” And so he began to recreate the created. Because this is what poets do until they stumble over the new. And that’s what muses are for -- tossing inspiration out there in front of their old men to stumble over.
Among the papers that I’ve kept to remind me of who I was, I found a story, and almost wept. Not that it was sad, just…because. Because it stirred a time so bright when this was like respiration, autonomic, just sit down and write, instead of wheezing desperation. The open vein has run its course, I can find nothing left to bleed. When you were my art's driving force, of these banal rhymes I had no need. Perhaps the old I shouldn’t see if all they did is bring more pain. Maybe I should just reinvent me, and tap some imaginary vein. No, you could tell it wasn’t real, and more fraud than ever I’d be. So I’ll just tap the scars I feel, a roadmap to my heart, maybe. I’m not that same man, no longer, but a poet of love and light still. I cheated his death, now I’m stronger. Just need time, my life to refill. If I recall, a sorta-kinda translation of the French phrase “tromp la mort” is something like “cheating death” or someone who does. And it looks like I might’ve done just that.
What do they see when they look at me? I’m not sure that’s who I really am. And if it’s not, who then could it be? I’d like to settle this today, ma’am. I think the structure of this guy, Me, and I’ll betcha likely even you, was built of stuff folks wanted to see and I guess we wanted for them, too. So what we have are these fine facades, callouses made by heat and friction. We hardly said No, mostly Yes and nods, to feel loved, but that kind’s pure fiction. Whenever we stepped outside our shields and tried thinking of ourselves a little, chaos or blame would become our yields, so we’d jump from fire back to griddle. I’ve grown tired of toting their good boy, hands too full of an image to play. The love we sought might have brought us joy, though probably not enough, I say. I’m calling out, so come see the real. Just for a mo, world, but I’m trying. I’m warm just like you, come on, just feel. What? Must be dust. Why’d I be crying? (Count the beats per line. ~ JH)
The famous Ides is still three days away and, like Caesar, maybe we should listen. But a late-Winter storm’s dropped snow all day on this landscape with the green still missin’. The scene before men ruin it’s so benign, virginal as pages ‘fore I scribbled. Elsewhere, the tracks of men will leave their sign, an angry ink that’s splattered, not dribbled. Yes, the Ides is still three whole days away and Spring, I believe, another five more. So much ugliness snow can hide today, but a storm’s white lies and black can’t hide war. Sure, the wind just turned my whole view so pure, but time and trial, truth will always reveal. Fear of seen and unseen we must endure, until rebirth, while messy, becomes real.
When the lights go out, will it be like all those nights I spent in the dark wondering? Only not wondering anymore? When all is revealed, will it not have been worth my asking over all these years? Though I finally guessed the answer. When the time comes, will you mourn the days, the hours, the minutes we could have, probably should have? Don’t answer that until then. When I’m not there to reply, will you ask yourself why you couldn't answer the question never asked? Probably as afraid of it as I was. And when the words finally stop, will anyone but you notice the echo in the empty spaces between the lines? It was the wonder, the revelation, the answer, the syllables surpassing all others when the sun shone upon us, the candle would dim and flicker between us… and the lights finally went out for good before we were ready.
Wishes are the foundation of my life, so many, like grains of sand on a beach. The truth of this story cuts like a knife, they never came true, ever out of reach. Anything you build on a bed of sand will always topple in the wind or surf. Don’t matter if your life's wish-castle’s grand, it’ll fall as if built on clouds above earth. So I stopped wishing when you went away, and my sturdy life became earthbound. I never figured you’d be back one day, but now here you are and here’s what I found. Those wishes like sand made by younger me didn’t really fit when I got older. Except this one that's mostly come true, you see -- the wish-castle I built on this boulder.