I started out with a length of golden thread
with which my life’s tapestry one day would be read.
But, Oh what a tangled web I’d weave
when first I set out not to deceive,
but to become he who I’d be proud to call Me,
the man I and they always wanted me to be.
But I was the guy who’d fall for a girl
who’d never fall for me, and instead would curl
into the arms of another’s possession,
only strengthening my ardor into obsession,
which always clung stronger, in fact like a glove,
to my oft-scarred heart, than affection or love.
I was the man who with artful words
built billboard ads, where nested birds,
upon which footnotes called “news” were hung.
I crafted webs of truths (full, half and un-)
to snare those who’d read them with their heart,
missing the fine print and calling it “art.”
As a youth I somehow viewed, through history’s haze,
certain learned men, who back in their days
owned other men, as being “of their time”
and somehow not as culpable of the same crime
as those who’d as soon destroy the constitution
they built and defended, for their “peculiar institution.”
This web, strung with self-deceit and knotty lies,
supports and ensnares he I’ve come to despise.
So I bid you and they and the old me goodbye,
leaving behind the smug mug I wore while I became I.
I hope you’ll forgive me my many transgressions
and pray for any and all divine intercessions
on behalf of the boy who always meant well,
but ultimately found he wove his own private hell.
Edward Jean Steichen, Carl Sandburg, photographic montage, 1936. © Joanna T. Steichen – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
I wish I had hair like Carl Sandburg,
silver and smooth, with a near-center part
from which would curl horns of cool
hirsute parentheses that would occasionally
encapsulate the brown and gold irises
of my poetic vision.
I wouldn’t like hair like Walt Whitman
or even Ezra Pound, though, all kind of
wind-wild and wiry. Sure, damned
arty-looking, best kept under wide-brimmed
slouches, but probably troublesome
containing beneath a baseball cap.
Robert Frost’s hair, silver like Carl’s
and mine, just seemed as weedy as
a New England pasture, unfettered by
the neighborly fence of brush or comb.
Emily’s, while smooth as a Berkshire pond,
never made it to silver.
I didn’t slick it back like Stafford when
I had enough to slick, nor even now when
it borders the vacant shores of Lake Roethke.
No, I want Carl’s hair with its quotation mark
cowlicks speaking louder than little cat feet,
as big-shouldered American as the prairie.
There on the road ahead,
a mirror lies. It tells
a story so slant you can
see up by looking down.
But that’s a mirror for you,
always showing you
the opposite of the truth,
though still truth, nonetheless.
Everyone knows when mirrors
fall to the ground they’ll
shatter into any number
of pieces, all of them
complicit in the same
conspiracy to tell the same
story, though some lie
bigger than others.
This mirror is antithetical
to the opposite kind gracing
your wall or dresser.
It began as pieces that fell
to earth in yesterday’s storm,
each reflecting the same setting.
Once on the road, it formed
the scene I see within its margins.
When I entered this watery one,
suddenly, there are more liars
than when I left the roadway.
But that’s a puddle for you,
splattering its own prismed
fiction all over you.
Liars lying no more.
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…
So goddamn complicated I can only
do it with my eyes closed and
consciousness tied behind my back.
Bricks fall daily
from the temple,
like stale bread,
raining the crumbs
of best intentions
upon whoever walks in
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.
A pigeon whispers
hosannas where once
verses rose to the steeple
on eagles’ wings,
ignoring the signs
it soon will fall,
as a tree
in an empty forest.
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.”
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