Frozen in Those Four-Alarm Feelings



She asked me what it was like 
to live up there where it 
got Winter early and Spring so late. 
I had to sit for a second to remember. 
Even though remembering’s 
almost all we old guys do.
Mostly what I recalled was the heat 
on my face and the chill on my back, 
like when I would chase the sirens 
and lights to those trailer fires, 
where someone’s whole life, 
and few lives themselves, 
would go up in a smoke so stinking 
it clings to my memory harder 
than it clung to my clothes back then.
But the fires weren’t the recollection 
I was thinking of when she asked me.
No, it was heat of your breath on my face 
and the icy chill of the known unknown 
coursing down my back and how they melted 
together and steamed within me ~ and us ~ 
that one night I’ll never forget. 

All Aboard ~ Finding Christmas Under the Tree



We used to put tiny tablets, 
like Lionel locomotive aspirin, 
down the engine’s stack to make it 
puff out white smoke while it circled 
beneath our Christmas tree.
But that was back when I was small enough 
to crawl beneath the real tree’s 
real branches that would stick me 
with its real needles while I rectified 
the inevitable headache derailments 
certain O-Gauge Casey Joneses always seemed 
to perpetrate when our Christmas train 
was rounding the turn behind the presents 
into the corner of the living room.

I didn’t mind too much. It gave me 
a good reason to roll over again to look up 
the inside of the tree and get enveloped 
by the lights and delicate glass ornaments, 
the tinsel tickling my face like some 
Christmas angel I didn’t know I’d wish 
to feel until Christmases to come.
Too bad I had to grow up and lose that feeling 
of being inside Christmas. 

I don’t have an electric train under my tree 
anymore and putting all the decorations up 
can be kind of a headache, but the other day 
I dropped a plastic ornament in the corner, 
and something moved me to crawl under 
my fake tree’s fake branches where 
the fake needles stuck me and, for a second,
looking up at those twinkling lights felt like 
I was back inside Christmas again. Funny, 
before crawling out I decided to reach back 
further because somewhere in that corner 
I might find more Christmas to re-rail inside me.

Your Feelings of My Feelings



I like the way you hold me 
when I try to speak to you,
how your hands close ‘round 
what my fingers wish to express.
I love how you might understand 
what I have to say, even though 
I’m not making a sound 
anyone but you can hear.
Perhaps that’s because no one 
listens so closely to my
clumsy, earnest efforts to let
you know we’ll be all right.

I blush when I see you looking
at me so attentively the way
you always have, parsing meaning
from between my creases and
lines that speak to you even
when our eyes are closed.
But mostly I love how you've 
always kept a place for me 
within the warm spot few 
have entered and even fewer 
you’ve let stay, even if what you 
hold, hear and see of me are just
your feelings of my feelings.

Being Human In the Headlights



Wednesday morning, the big doe stepped 
from the brush girding the stand of pines 
on the north side of the yard. 
She was a majestic dream of a deer. 
Grandest female I’ve ever seen, even hiding 
her beauty beneath that late autumn coat. 
Idling halfway across the yard, she stopped, 
brown eyes looking into mine as I froze 
in the kitchen window. This dull grey human 
in the headlights. I broke the connection, 
blinking loud enough I spooked her.

Who am I kidding? She stopped to spook me.
How she knew I was intently eyeballing her 
is probably the same superpower you have 
when I stare at you, even standing there
in my imagination. You just know.

So, just like that, soon as she knew 
I’d been whipped, she trotted 
the rest of the way into the southside shadows, 
disappearing with a shake of her tail 
and three four-beat cloppities of her hooves. 
And now you’re both shrouded in my forest, 
your own stand of memory within me. 
I hope you’ll come back around and see me, 
even in your dun autumn coat,
still shining as grand as you really are.
I promise this time I won’t blink.

Once I Was A Sky-Gazer



I used to notice so much in the sky,
airliners writing travelogues 
in white contrail ink, birds penning
songs in feathered bunting strung
tree to tree, castles and dragons
and here and there your face sculpted
in billowing vapor, even the poorly
cleaned blackboard ceiling upon which
crows would scratch their calls.

After sundown I’d watch the winter moon 
rise working hard to escape from the net 
of limbs the maples tossed skyward 
to no avail, watch the escapee glide 
behind windblown clouds, follow stars 
as they ran their courses as if the gods 
were twisting the dial on the firmament, 
and wonder if I was hearing the invisible
vee calling the cadence as it sky-marched 
from Canada to the Chesapeake.

I don’t sense so much anymore as I wander 
alone beneath that world flying above 
since my neck doesn’t bend back far enough 
to scan the great dome covering 360 degrees 
of horizontal wonder. But over there 
an empty bag of chips is chasing a squirrel 
up that oak, at dawn the neighborhood windows 
glow like apricots or 65-inch rainbows, and then
there’s this flat me-shaped guy who tripped me 
the other day when he caught me while I tried
sky-gazing again.

As New As This, As Old As That



It’s special, this time, 
as my life dwindles down. 
I look back at what 
I can remember of the days 
and nights that led me 
to this place and time. 

But I can’t remember 
as much as I’d wish, 
those experiences as much 
a mystery to me as who wrote 
the good stuff in these books 
with my name on them. 
Or who I was to the world, 
or to you. 

I don’t envy those with 
memories of each little thing 
most find important. 
It’d be stupid to envy that
which I cannot hold, and, 
in truth, never did.

I do envy those who got to, 
though I pray that’ll slip away, too.
But this time’s special, 
indeed, because you’re now like 
a new discovery to my eager, 
raw and just-learning mind.

And that, dear one, is a gift
just behind this life and your love
to me.

Because I got a late start (Let’s admit it, I forgot about it), I combined a batch of Writer’s Digest poem-a-day challenge prompts in this Sunday catch-up special. In fact, one of them is a Special poem. I also tied together two title prompts, the “As (Blank)" and the "(Blank) That” prompts. Finally, I made this one of my Memory poems and threw Raw in there just to complete the handful.

Anything Worth Doing Well Is Worth Doing Slowly



I’m sitting here watching the oaks 
slowly shed their ragged russet costumes. 
They tease me like a stripper might,
dropping one leaf from way up there, 
only to stop the drop on 
a well-placed limb just below.
Maybe this tall lady outside my window 
is like one of those Gypsy Rose Lee 
talkative strippers. Where a big part
of the act is the teasing patter
as much as the ecdysiastic matter.

I can’t really hear the leaves fall,
though. Not from behind this window.
I just remember the lyrics of the song 
they sang when I was a kid,
and I’d look upwards along the trunk 
and watch oak leaves big as catcher’s mitts 
drift like tulle all the way down 
atop me there in the first row
while the north wind band blew and, 
just like today, I thought I heard 
the leaves whisper, Let me entertain you…

Combined two prompts today, because I’m running behind. Had to write poems based on Nature and Memory. The title is a quote from Louise Hovick, Gypsy herself.

City Skin



The heat of August remains in the sidewalk 
after the sun goes down, like a memory of the day. 
The girls, barefoot and playing at being ready, 
would remove their sandals on cool nights, 
dangle their toes off the stoops 
to massage them on that warm concrete skin 
of the city in the humming wake of street traffic. 

We boys would side-eye stare at their 
ostensible nakedness, from dirty soles 
to Promised Land thigh tops, from their 
bare shoulders to fingertips so small in our hands. 
I’d dream of massaging my fingers on their city skin. 
I’ve had such warm memories of those nights, 
now lying, as concrete as any I recall, 
in this sun-going-down Autumn of my life.

A reposting from my first poetry collection, Penumbra: The Space Between.

Leaving the Straight Lines Because



Memories fade in the growing dark, 
which has increased its pace and 
one day soon will grasp his shadow,
the long cutout of light in the shape 
of a man as featureless as his life.
The sun sits lower on the horizon
than he’s ever seen and blinds him 
to what lies ahead as much as the dark
conceals the nothing he’s seen and been.
He stops to wonder if it’s even worth 
taking another step toward a future 
as featureless as his shadow, one 
he knows will be more nothing and 
nothing more than a monotonous shuffle 
of heartbeat steps.

“Let the darkness have me,” he sighs, 
consigned with becoming part of the forgotten.
That’s when the voice comes out of 
the dark past, growing louder and warmer 
as its memory approaches him.
“Why are you in such a hurry toward a light 
that only blinds you to all around you? 
And if life only needs you staying one step ahead 
of the darkness, why must you always walk 
the straight line, my friend?” the voice says.
“Because…” but he could find no answer.
He realized while the shortest distance 
between two points is a straight line,
it can be fully colorful off the lines
they give you.

When the Sun Finally Came Out



Remember when we’d lodge complaints 
with each other about the dark clouds 
that followed us everywhere, back 
when all we needed memories for 
was what time we had to be back, 
instead of what we might’ve been.

There were some sunny days 
back then, too. Even I can recall 
squinting at how it pinked 
your shining cheeks and gave 
my own nervous flush a glowing 
alibi of plausible deniability.

Recall how the breeze would cast
a field of diamonds like miniature suns
across the lake's glassy surface?
Then it would rustle the leaves, hiding 
and unveiling the gold dust in your eyes,
a magic trick that was no illusion.

But it was an illusion I remember best
of those shining days, when the sun
revealed what we didn’t yet understand.
It joined the shadows of our hands in a bond 
later hidden by those dark clouds and we only 
grasped once our storms pushed through.