Maybe they’re like notes
I tied to doves I’ve tossed
to the air, hoping one’ll
light outside your window
and you’d see what I had to say.
Or perhaps I wrote these words
on blue-lined yellow paper,
folded them just so to slip
them under your door.
For sure I’ve penned
more than a thousand such
things, expressing doubts,
affection, hopes aborning
and dashed, telling lies
based in ironclad truth and
truths steeped in my wildest
imaginings, hung them
in this public square,
hoping perhaps you’d recognize
one as you passed and consider
turning it over to write back.
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.
Dewdrop diamonds glitter
in the brush of a lawn that
gave up its grass majority years ago.
But it’s greener than ever.
As far as I can see.
The housetops across the road
wear halos brassy as church bells
this Sunday dawn. The sun’s probably
as bright as it was when I was a kid,
but I can’t say that for a fact.
Now it filters into my eyes past
progressive lenses, gestating cataracts
and glaucoma’s shrinking field
of left-right and up-down.
But I notice so much more of its
intrinsic glory now then I did then.
It means more to me now, as I write
each day’s biography from my obsolescent
point of view. Probably why I wake
so early and go to sleep so late.
Sight might be leaving me with each
sunset, but more vision comes with
the next dawn.
As far as I can see.
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.
This time it’s for you,
about you, because of you.
You who bumped my skiff
of folded paper into the
heartbeat rapids swirling
and crashing over
unknown emotional rocks.
I who became captive to
the eddies of obsessive stasis,
grip on my oars lost,
forced to paddle my way out
with these ink-stained hands.
The scenery’s still a blur.
Then, because it all
moved so fast in rosy hues past
my infatuation-blinded eyes.
Now, because my memory
fails but for those
too-close instances to
the falls and the too-long
from the thrill of dropping
into certain oblivion.
The rain’s still falling,
I can hear it on the roof,
beating a tattoo of the
but one that makes the ink
flow indelible in my skin.
It never wakes me up anymore,
only keeps me awake, unless
it expands the rhythm section
with a thunderous tympani
and the flash like I saw
in your eyes when I was
the lucky one.
Through the curtains I see
the footprints of a billion
soldiers marching in a column
of the uncountable, from above
to below where I fold boats
of white paper and float them
and their crew of words
to shores where they’ll
disembark in hopes of again
establishing a beachhead
and conquering you.
I once loved a girl,
though it could’ve been three,
and she (or they) could
very well have loved me.
But we couldn’t stay close,
or too close is what I stayed.
More than likely we never became We
because one or both of us was afraid
to express the dream within ourselves
and believe we stood a chance
to be more than just friends,
maybe not lovers, but maybe a romance.
So I and this girl,
and maybe the other two, too,
parted with sorrow, though it could’ve
been more “It’s not me, it’s You.”
Now I write poem after poem
here alone in my room,
pondering the “what-if” of us together,
lyrical lamentations of love never to bloom.