It’s Complicated

I wondered if you’d ever ask if,
in these cryptic columns of words,
I’ve drawn portraits of you.
No, I’d say, adding some gibberish
about craft and imagination,
sounding as pretentious as me
in a Bond St. suit and silk cravat.
But I pulled out some of these
heart-stained Rorschach blots,
turning each 360 degrees,
like scanning the whole horizon,
squinting to muddy the bloody,
searching for an expression of you.
Failing, I tossed each to scatter
in an array of wounds, of joys,
of so many of my life’s
moments I’d all but forgotten.
In a momentary glance across
the topography of them upon my desk,
one overlapping another, piles of
disparate drops coagulating into one,
I saw your face in a moment of grace,
and each time I blinked, I saw another.
Once, even my own. So, in answer
to your question, I can only say…
No…
Yes…
Maybe…
It’s complicated.
So goddamn complicated I can only
do it with my eyes closed and
consciousness tied behind my back.

No More To Soar On Eagles’ Wings

Bricks fall daily
from the temple,
mortar crumbling
like stale bread,
raining the crumbs
of best intentions
upon whoever walks in
its proximity.
But so few do now.
Within its walls,
words that stirred
hearts and souls,
echo like dust shrouding
its empty tabernacle.
The book lies on the pulpit,
its leathery covers shut,
gilded pages tarnished,
closed to what small
light teases that eyes
will unlock its words.
Someday.
A pigeon whispers
hosannas where once
verses rose to the steeple
on eagles’ wings,
ignoring the signs
it soon will fall,
unnoticed, silent
as a tree
in an empty forest.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Only mad hogs and English majors
would go out in this midday’s sun.
The bacon on the cloven hoof
gallivant because they’re demented
and likely angry they can’t find
a shady mud hole in which they may
submerge their psychoses and hide
their sensitive pink hides.
We who emerged from college with
a passing acquaintance of Chaucer,
Wharton, Cheever and seducing
steamy allusion between the sheets
of their oeuvres, walk from our
comfortably cool writing bogs
for the blast furnace outside
because to sit here and compose
something only we’ll ever read
seems more demented than strolling
Albany’s Venusian sidewalks.

It’s a hot one here in New York’s Capital Region today. Yet here I am sitting at my writing desk, once again wondering why I continue to do what I do here if not for some madness afflicting writers who don’t finish what they stated. For better or worse, I’m a finisher. Oh, and  that illustration up is the 2:30 PM weather graphic for Albany. Oh, and for my non-American readers, I believe 93°  F converted to Celsius is “too freaking hot.”

The Empty Dotted Line

You never signed up for this,
I know. But neither did I.
The fact you’re a part of this
one and that and who knows
how many more of my fragments
of lives lived and unlived,
loved and unloved, shouldn’t
leave you too surprised.
You lurk in the shadow places
my memory can’t fully illuminate,
the wells once full of possibility
of what could have been love, back
when love actually meant something.
But I stumbled, mumble-mouthed,
in my one chance to connect while
my words carried might, but not
the light for you to find my
dotted line.

So Easy, So Easy

The first time I heard you
in ‘68, I stopped as if
a rider pulled my reins and
I heard a someone shout, “Whoa!”
It was my own voice.
When I finally saw your face,
those big hot chocolate eyes,
the Cheshire cat lips from which
came an angel chorus that could
coo babies to sleep or roar
the rust off a battleship,
a lifelong crush began.
Now your gift is silenced.
But older me maintains your
image and voice inside,
where that boy keeps burning his
torch to the nail-hard, yet
cloud-soft spirit carrying you
through your days and mine.
The youngsters can’t yet know
what it means to fall in love daily
for half a century with the
unattainable nonpareil. I do,
each time I spin “Heart Like a Wheel.”
Then, it’s so easy to fall in love…

Every now and then, though I try not to think about it, I realize what we lost when Parkinson’s Disease  silenced the brilliant gift of singer Linda Ronstadt, the artist I’ve crushed on since 1968. This poem reads like teen-aged fanboy blathering because one wrote it. It just took about fifty years in the writing.

They Often Come Out At Night

If a story is in you … It has to come out.” ~ William Faulkner

I woke at 4:03 this morning,
a not uncommon fact of middle-aged life.
But what rousted me from slumber
wasn’t the siren call of
the porcelain throne.
Inspiration nudged me for snoring
too loudly,
my muse kicked me for stealing
the blankets,
my gut, like an old dog, woke me
to let it out for a walk
to the notebook.
This is the mid-night urge
to relieve myself of a poem
or story that can’t wait until
morning reveille to turn from
night dream to written reverie.
And I never hit that snooze button
when I hear that call.

Wrote this while dinner was cooking tonight, in response to Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt from this past week. It’s that quote from Faulkner. I’ve been a little tied up with writing something or other a day April and May, but I try like hell to get Annie’s challenge in.

STET ~ A Story

After reading his latest message, Alice Blanchard had enough of Clive Swindell. She balled up this note, tossing it at and missing the wire wastebasket next to her writing table in her tiny apartment.

“Honestly, Lucy, that man makes me so angry I could…” Alice finished her sentence with a sob.

“What’d the jerk say this time, Alice?” her roommate Lucy Watkins said as she picked up the offending projectile and smoothed out its prose, which, essentially, was what Swindell was telling Alice to do in the first place. Only Lucy did it much more gently.

“He says this latest draft of my novel lacked any discernible plot, was short on dialogue and action, and long on exposition and, what he called ‘the mewling and mawkish meandering of some high school girl.’ The publisher is expecting this manuscript in two weeks. Now I’ve got to type the whole thing out again with the changes he’s ordering based on what I think is his personal animosity toward me,” Alice said as she pulled the marked up manuscript of her second book from a large manila envelope.

“Looks like it’s bleeding blue blood, Alice. Like Swindell took out his poison pen and just kept stabbing it.”

“The publisher loved my first novel. Not sure why they assigned their — and I quote — best man to be my editor. He’s downright rude and demeaning. I’m going to take the train downtown to his office — uh-gain — and confront him with his edits. I followed every one of his ‘suggestions’ last time, the time before that, and the four or five times before that, and look at this,” Alice said, fanning the pages of her manuscript in such a way that its passing pages looked like a light blue wave crashing on her writing table.

“And all he does is look at me, barely blinking, saying, ‘Well, Mis Alice Blanchard, I’m trying to help you make a success of this book and we’ll keep working on it until it shines,’ like I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Maybe he hates women,” Lucy said.

“I just know he’s mean to his secretary and pretty mean to me,” Alice said, putting on her best hat and gloves and heading for the door. “Don’t hold up supper, Lucy, I should be back before 5:00.”

Alice silently practiced what she planned to say to Swindell when she got to his office. She recalled the meeting with the editor where he had tossed the third draft of her novel manuscript at her from across his desk.

“Not nearly good enough yet, Miss Alice Blanchard,” he said. “I wish to be carried along on the emotional wave of your heart and voice in this work.”

“He’s never written his own novel, you know. He’s really just a poet,” his secretary told Alice. “Probably editing and polishing it until he’s satisfied…which will be never. One of his authors told me if he’d kept rewriting until Swindell said his book was finished, he’d be waiting until that Hitler fella came over and planted a kiss on President Roosevelt.”

Alice grinned and rose from her seat in anticipation of the subway grinding to a stop down in mid-Manhattan’s Flatiron District. She walked right by the secretary and knocked once then burst into Swindell’s office.

“Why, Miss Alice Blanchard, what a surprise to see you here. Have you completed your redraft already?” Swindell said, not the least startled nor perturbed by Alice’s abrupt entrance.

Swindell was a man in his late forties who always wore a suit, keeping his jacket buttoned and rep tie knotted at his starched collar. On his desk stood four columns of manuscripts, each about a foot tall and as perfectly square and plumb as the building in which they sat. In the darkest corner of the office, a Victrola played a recording of Leopold Stokowski leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in Brahms Symphony No. 4.

“No, Mr. Swindell, I haven’t completed my redraft. How many redrafts do you expect me to do when you have me change something only to mark that you want it changed again? Sometimes back to the way I had it in the first place.”

“Believe me, Miss Alice Blanchard, I have only the best interests of this company — and you, the author — to ensure this novel will shine to the sun-bright promise of my not insignificant editorial gifts. And yours as writer, as well, of course,” Swindell said. Then he just stared at Alice.

“Well, Mr. Swindell, I think you and your ‘not insignificant gifts’ can take a long walk off a short pier. I want you to take one more look at this manuscript, not with your eyes, but with those of the readers who might plop down their money to buy it. Show it to your bosses, too. See what they say.” Alice pushed the marked up manuscript across the mahogany desktop toward the editor.

“I expect you’ll be sending it back to me, a mess of blue pencil on each page, but I don’t think I can make it any better than it already is…and has been,” she said, turning and walking out the door without waiting for Swindell to reply.

On the train headed back home, Alice thought, Well, that’s it for this publishing house. Maybe I can take this manuscript to another one after I it back with my letter of rejection.

Two weeks later, a fat manila envelope arrived at Alice and Lucy’s door. Inside was a proof of her manuscript and a letter from the publisher that said in its first paragraph they were ready to take it to print.

“Yee-haw, the Texas-born Lucy shouted. “That’ll show that tight-ass Swindell. What’s that other one?” she said, pointing to a second envelope with the publisher’s address in the upper left-hand corner.

“Don’t know,” Alice replied as she sliced the top open with a steak knife. Again, it was a pile of pages, wrapped in brown paper, with a cover letter on top.

Alice took the letter and began to read it.

“It’s an apology from the vice president for my having to rewrite my book so many times and go see Swindell about it each time I did,” she said. As Alice continued to read the letter, her face grew pale and she gave a short gasp.

“Lu, Swindell’s dead. Found him slumped at his desk over a file with my name on it: ‘Miss Alice Blanchard.’ The letter says they decided to send them to me because…”

Lucy unwrapped the brown paper surrounding the envelope’s contents and said, “Honey, these are all hand-written in blue pencil and they’re poetry.”

Alice took the first page and read:

If Only Alice
When the light of day follows the sun
to its westward bed, and clouds tuck in
the moon and stars, I sometimes wonder
what it would be like.
If.
That’s when I see my clearest,
when the distractions of the real
don’t encroach on this vision moment
where the voice in my head echoes the same
sad reverie as perhaps yours might.
If.
That’s why I share this bed with
naught but a weighty conjunction,
a supposition called on account of darkness,
a two-letter regret wrapped in desire
and a vision of you in the not-there.
If.

“They’re all love poems, honey,” Lucy said. And it looks like they’re to … you.”

“I was so sure he hated me. Why else would he keep sending me back edited and re-edited manuscripts? Oh. Oh my, just so I’d come down…”

Alice took the pages from Lucy and fanned through them, seeing her name here and there, as if floating upon the emotion, hearing it in Clive Swindell’s voice above the roar of his final heartbeat wave of blue on white.

Rough two-hour first-draft story in response to Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the lines prompt of this quote from William Wordsworth: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” I thought of setting this story in New York City in ,ohhhh, say 1934. Don’t know why. It’s just how I saw it.

That’s one of my old poems I repurposed for the scene. Oh, and STET is editor code for “let it stand,” an instruction on a printed proof to indicate that a correction or alteration should be ignored.