Fear via Place
South by southeast, I suppose, where thickets grow
and tangles weave green until it's black.
Places blind with growth blinding me, where I walk
right through a face in the day's brightest hour,
where I miss by a mile the hand that grabs a tree.
And if there could be shadow, that hand would cover mine
before it let go. But south by southwest would do,
where thin leaves grow, or even in the lava caves
where the mineral drip adds little to itself
and you would not know the person next to you
unless you talked real close, recognized the breath
and knew the sun was burning everything outside.
". . . a Canadian yacht soloist had his throat slit
and was left for dead . . ." - Peter Munro
What are the swells
but a long note with a pulse
a string thick as a redwood
with a wide vibrato
the yacht another note
more felt than heard, a slap
of intent we might hear if
we hear a prow in the air
mainsail full of wind, a wake
reaching every shore
but the soloist's throat is cut
and the lazy boat has only
the wind's direction, its song
stolen, its voice adrift.
On Visiting My Brother Shortly Before His Death
We're enjoying after-lunch TV
as an excuse to not really do much
except sit with the front door cracked
and a fan going, moving fetid air
and wisps of neighborhood noise
around the room. Every home
has its smell, and yours is not very
different from mine: upholstery
and carpet not cleaned in some time,
mildew on whatever collects mildew.
Dogs barking next door augment
the whir of the fan, the staleness
rising from couch and recliner,
and four or five words strung together
around the same names, highschool
names coupling. But I don't listen
because your weight drops, hair grows
shiny with pomade and you're Jerry Lewis,
whose style you mimicked once. Then
you're as old as me and you're asleep
in slack weight, eyes fully shut,
mouth slightly parted. All I did was
look away a moment. You look
exactly the same lying down,
though now the mouth is firmly shut
and eyes slightly parted,
no picture in them, like the TV
I turned off so you could nap.
Both Silence and Speech Transgress
Goods can be defined as final product
or as intermediate goods
used in producing other goods.
Thus the smile without a future,
or its short-lived erasure, when
this moment can be taken into others.
Call the waiter to intervene
or break the lull yourself, begin
to tell the story you'll both forget,
which is important, and is not.
Maybe it's the word-idea of "sunrise"
that makes it into every day.
Both silence and speech transgress
what customers take for themselves.
Like random words in a future letter,
the speechless moment asserts itself
in troubled silence when the check arrives,
forgotten music, forgotten food in every day,
memorable in every sunrise.
How Dreams Resolve
I am holding the hand of a hideously androgynous
man and woman who will not make up his or her mind
and return to being the brown-haired woman on the escalator
who turned and touched my shoulder one second longer
than a stranger should, transmitting to me on the gliding
upward moving stairs the push, resistance, warmth and
acceptance of her naked body, though she was stylishly dressed
in a brown tweed suit the living color of her hair, a dark tone
against which her paleness flashed at the very moment
her braids untwined, floating us off the escalator mid-floor
onto the dirt of our nest with a pleasant thump, her buttocks
and thighs picking up the grit but with no objection from me.
from Temporary Meaning, Hamilton Stone Editions, 2006
* * *
In the West
What do you do
out in the West
where the proud remnants
of European aristocracy
climb down from their phaetons
in haughty disarray
and walk, bare-headed, into the desert
never to be heard from again
unless it is in some dusty town
called Drygulch or Sidewinder,
bypassed by the railroad,
wells long ago gone dry,
where they take their parched throats,
their sun-cracked faces,
into the only saloon left in town
and ask the one-eyed barkeep
for champagne, and are told that
there's one bottle left
which he's kept for just
such an occasion?
- Halvard Johnson
Drinking Down the West
You toss it
you savor afterlife
in the aftertaste
you wine and dine
angels caught like wisps
on an ocotillo
you mistakenly tell others
of a white owl
swooping on a full moon night
down from red mesas
tell them of a column
of blue light spotlighting hardpan
from a star beyond Orion
drink til the dawn
join the tenors
in coyote requiem
roll with the sagebrush
hold hands with a skinwalker
learn you can drink the dust
- James Cervantes
from Changing the Subject, an exchange of poems with
Halvard Johnson, Red Hen Press, 2004
* * *
"When the flowers bloom, so
will great joy in your life."
- Peking Noodle Co.
How easy to be humbled by the Peking Noodle Co.
in a time of great joy for a Ram in the Year
of the Dragon. Not that you pay attention
to these kinds of things, but fortuitous circumstance
has put a flower in your face, comically sometimes,
and with surprise enough to make you Bobo-the-clown
reeling backward from an air-punch.
You should be wary of good fortune when it comes
in dozens, for the one who sorts messages
may have fallen asleep on the line, and someone
in Seattle may hang their head, having received
"Stay alert in time of crisis" fourteen times,
or at least "Walk the even path."
Or maybe Peking Noodle Co. is in Des Moines
and they've hired college students who dress in black,
one of whom writes, "You are a sow and the rest are pigs,"
followed by tons of overweight confetti whose type-size
gets smaller and smaller until the paranoiac
in Santa Fe takes out a second mortgage
for laser surgery and an electron microscope.
But what do you expect from the hollow of a free cookie.
Maybe you should pay more attention to the meal
and perhaps the cooks peering out from a small window,
waiting for you to rub your tummy and kiss the eyes
of the person who can't believe his good fortune,
holding an unbroken cookie with one free hand.
The Singer Sits Down
Too tired to sing, the singer sits down
and folds her hands in her lap,
looks down at the plain, white piece of cloth
she clutches, the one she would have used
to wipe away perspiration
in the middle of a wild, scat run.
Or she is lost in the shimmering
pearl-gray dress beneath her hands,
where red and blue spotlights
sink into its folds and the hotter
white lights linger on a gather
that sparkles when she moves.
She looks up now, gives a quick
audience smile that fades as she turns
to look offstage, probably deeper
behind the curtain than the banks
of switches or the door quickly
opened and closed that lets in
one or two notes of traffic, then
the late-arriving fumes of night.
from Live Music, Pecan Grove Press, 2001
See http://library.stmarytx.edu/pgpress/index.html for
* * *
Gulf Coast Blues
The boy kicks gravel in his drive
and up pops a scallop shell. Grave
shadows of cumulus turn it gray,
but in the sun, country-western,
gospel, and violin love music
mix like rusty wire and vanish
like a fuse of laden air.
You can almost see a fish drying,
a woman's leg drying, the smoke
from a stack and from a barbeque.
Saturday morning's first beers
sweat in all those right hands
while the left ones power-steer.
You do see the woman's bare leg
and foot stuck out the window,
so still, and the dune grass
bending over, turning silver
like some new revolving world.
The Headlong Future
The home of Judge Roy Bean,
the crypts at Queretaro,
the Concord meeting house,
they all breathe the same air,
that of a barely remembered rain
or the invisible cloud
after a scattered pile of leaves.
It is air
not used to exhalations,
but one that breathes into us
and breathes into us
a long slow intake of breath. Now
does not exist, nor then,
and we continue breathing in. Take
it says, and we do, until we topple
into the headlong future
that never was
but is with the next breath.
from The Headlong Future, New Rivers Press, 1990 (o.p.),
is accessible in its entirety at CAPA
* * *
He's the boy jumping a fence,
vaulting for his life, a man's throw
felt in the stone that strikes his ankle,
somehow attached to the bone, hitting again
as if the hand were there.
As a man, he would measure the fence,
maybe try it again, reddening as that same ankle
struck the boards. What was wheelwell then? Gravel
spewing. What damage the man could not afford, there,
and throw a stone?
His wife does not hear him on the bluff,
where a large cumulus opens
and a portion of the water becomes mirror,
blanking out a small boat, eating at the edges
of a larger boat.
Here's a candid photo of his wife,
reading under a cat that is asleep, one of a woman
whispering behind her hand
into the ear of another woman, an older photo
of a child whose bare hand
is in the mother's gloved one, which is raised
as if to receive a falcon.
Everyone looks away.
It is here, traveling before the averted faces,
that the stone hits and the sun blinds. Everyone
looked away. He turned to see that hand.
The Hero's Ceremony of Possibilities
Somewhere on the hard finish of this shell,
deep in the tightest whorls
toward beginning, is the evening light
like afterthoughts of beginning: traffic as mirage,
complex, disregarded for one fluid line, the closed car.
"Are we going back," she asks.
"Is there darkness back," he asks, for that was the start,
and it is like two arrows repeating, demonstrating.
So the room is dark,
and though they are not alabaster models
this body can see
that body - just enough, like opposite walls
on the last curve out, the shell
is inside itself,
spiraling to know itself,
or known through a sudden cross-section
at a daylight cafe, where there is nothing
on the table and no one across.
is its family and belladona
the one specie.
It's a lily, a tropical flower.
The ovary is congenitally joined
with the external envelope, a green star.
Amaryllis is the woman of fields and sheep,
flower to her chin, herds below,
the shepherdess of the Idylls.
Amaryllis is a print,
the plant roughly done, three faces
as its flower. Its leaves convey ash,
poison, and armor, protective of their little freak
and immune to falling fire, desperately garnishing
the stalk, the hallucinatory wand.
And there on top are the crippled smiles,
three women locked up, joined at the neck,
no hands for their hair.
from The Year is Approaching Snow, W.D. Hoffstadt & Sons, 1981 (o.p.)
* * *
A Hard Little Moon
I have located the noise in a hedge.
It's a parched mouth with bad news,
saying you've gone so far away
none of us has money enough
to bring you back. You, so full
in memory, are drawn
beyond the brittle end
of hope, a hard
little moon, as native
as the natives. We knew you
like the mulberry against
the oleanders. Now I
hold my hands over my ears
as if against music. You grow loud
that way and I am unprepared.
Nothing fits: what you wore, your hair
when we whispered to you, the last drink
you raised to your lips - all are flight
outside a shuttered house.
A hummingbird leaves
this swaying wall of green.
I had never been thankful for that before.
The Fires in Oil Drums
In winter, the fires in oil drums
are like a crone's voice
repeating a child's complaint.
In our search for a likeness
we have come to these endless stoops, where men
and women stand hunched
over the red domes, fallen
like the stone finials behind them.
We see her features
scattered among them - brother, cousin,
the child - but our hope
is the white parabola above each fire,
where there is no threshold
for warmth, just ice
in the lungs, as when one
turns from the drum for the door.
Now smoke complicates dusk
in the east, and evening
is a cafe on the dog-leg
of twisted summer, or a close roof -
the nakedness that drinks
an after-image of fire.
from The Fires in Oil Drums, San Pedro Press, 1980 (o.p.)