Wanting the Storm to Break

Michael, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I was feeling agitated the other night. It was an old familiar feeling of confinement, constraint, that 30 years of sobriety has not erased. But later, when I began to hear the storm in the distance, I realized it was low barometric pressure and ozone coming together with memory to push all my buttons.

Wanting the Storm to Break

In the falling dusk the red maple leaf buds dim to violet,
the greening grass grays and the pines blacken. The sky
is iron end to end, fading down, fading down toward night.

The woodpecker that pounded all day has finally wearied.
Squirrels that ran up/down/up rest quiet now, nose in tail.
Only I at my window and the hawk in the fir still keep watch.

It takes no genius to know the sharp-shinned hawk’s mind —
ever red with appetite, pitiless and free — but what of me?
Once the last light fails, the window makes a muddy mirror.

“If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much,” I’ve said —
from experience, too. Would that I could take my own advice.
Long ago, when this mood was on me, I’d wander lamp-lit streets,

head downtown where liquor poured to pounding rock & roll, 
or drive half the night, hoping someone’s light would be lit, or
sit in the dark below the roaring dam, red with appetite and free,

if for a moment only. I’ve had the American kind of luck in life —
to be free from need, but rarely free from wanting. Wanting
more, though I can’t say what, wanting whatever it is you got.

And now the air has gone electrical and I smell the oncoming rain.
There is thunder in the distance, drawing near, and flashing light. 
If it storms wild enough, long enough, I might lose myself to sleep.

Note: unpublished draft

Posted in Poetry, The Other Village | 1 Comment

Cinders

Over time, most people begin to revise the past a little, romanticize it, pretty it up. I may do so myself when I come to the later 1960s, but my memories of the ’50s and early ’60s seem to come through without a rosy glow. But I do wonder how much of history one can credit, once the events have passed out of the direct memory of the living.

Cinders

When we moved here, the village burned coal.
The roar of a ton of anthracite pouring down
a steel ramp to the coal bin is burned in my brain.
The molten heat on my face when feeding
the furnace, shaking down ash, the sulfuric reek
that stained the air, still is burned in my brain.

Our driveway was cinders, a few feet longer
each year, and more ash piled by the fence.
The school track was a quarter-mile of cinders.
And the soot — snow gray by end of day,
clean curtains gray by end of week, salmon
sandstone blackened; windows opaque with it.

At night I listened for the ready flight, the B-52
with its nuclear cargo primed to fly over the Pole,
circling all night from its base on Lake Champlain.
School was duck and cover. Same for kids in Russia
in their uneasy village, wrapped in its fug of coal.

There was lead in the house paint, mercury
in the ash, DDT in the dirt, water and drumsticks.
Half the men in town had PTSD from WW1,
or 2, or Korea, though they had no name for it.
They drank at the hotel bar and worked themselves
into heart attacks for overtime pay at Alcoa.

That village has blown away now like coal haze
on the wind. Coal cellars long remodeled
into rec rooms, laundries, or man caves.
Grass has grown over the ash piles as rain
leached out the toxins and leaf litter rotted.
The smokestacks, jobs and the old folks — gone.

Memory, these cinders of the past, are all
that remain And when we who remember pass —
what? The tales of trench war and bootleggers
will join tales of loggers, river drivers, quarrymen,
of midwives, farriers, nurses and wheelwrights —
those already vanished into history seldom-read.

Note: unpublished draft

Posted in In current ms., Poetry, The Other Village | 1 Comment

As April Comes

Snowdrops. Photo: Susanne Nilsson, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The hinge of the season is an interesting time. Not the one, not the other, but blending both. Its own thing, really, were we not so ingrained in our dualisms. April only seems a cruel month if you have no memory of January.

As April Comes

As April comes, winter wrestles spring again,
winning one day, losing the next, losing more
and more often as the southwest wind gusts in,
drives rain, liquefies the stinking soil, hooking up
jumper cables to the life which bides sleeping.

And inside me, where life has also lain sleeping,
I hear the wakeup call of the roaring night wind.
Its electricity in my brain shakes me from sleep.
I emerge from blankets like a bear from its lair
and stumble-foot to the kitchen to make coffee.

Water stands now in those hollows of the yard
that yesterday held snow. Good; good. Too long
has this world been frozen. A bit of greening
by the south-facing wall, which tomorrow (should
weather hold) might pop a spray of snowdrops.

A day, for once, for walking ’round the village:
going to the church for tai chi, going to the stores
for food and resupply, chatting with friends
not seen for months, moving on to the diner 
for gossip, burger, fries — a day for the library.

A day, perhaps, for driving nowhere in particular,
just because the roads are clear and because 
the winter coat, the hat, gloves, scarf, and boots
can stay behind in the hallway back at home. 
A day of lightness, warmth, and ease. Yes, please.

As winter ends, but before it really ends, it’s sort of 
Rip Van Winkle, sort of dubya-tee-eff. Tomorrow might
be “Remember me?”– back to drifts, shivers, shovels,
back to hunker down. But that’s what makes today
so sweet. It’s freeze and thaw that makes the sap run.

Note: unpublished draft

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Beyond our Power

Storm and Moon over the Black Sea. Photo: Alex Panoiu, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

While I have never seen the creator behind creation, and have no information to impart about what it all means and how it all ends, I feel that creative force whenever I look upon the beauties of creation. And never more so than when times are at their worst.

Beyond our Power

Driving the wounded woods across the county
I see cumulus clouds pile up through blue, floating
like a wedding cake above the shambles of winter.

Later, as the equinox sunset burns in the west
lurid as “the fire next time,” I can hardly 
keep my eyes from it as I pull into the village.

There, in the recital hall, a trio — clarinet, cello, 
piano — plays Brahms. If they can conjure up such 
beauty and still not weep, what excuse have I?

Though all four Horsemen now ride roughshod,
still, creation refuses to be anything less 
than beautiful. Explain this to me if you can:

How the death of millions dims not a single star, how
the moon floats untouched above the sea off Odessa,
just as if there was some power beyond our power.

Note: unpublished draft

Posted in Poetry, The Other Village | 2 Comments

News of the World

Photo: Apostoloff, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

The other day I fell into the war news and couldn’t climb back out. While I should have been in meditation in my Tai Chi class, rockets and bombs were in my mind. My dreams were hellish and it all seemed too freakin’ much. My friend Karen, who runs a crisis hotline, told me it is too freakin’ much and this is why…

News of the World

According to Karen, our bodies haven’t figured out
that we no longer hunt and gather, living in small clans,
that we can drive cross-country, fly around the planet.
She says we are built for the caves and the steppes 
and for knapping flint points, same as we have ever done.

We are built to cope with only such trauma as can be found
within a day’s ride on horseback. We aren’t meant to know
about the child in the well in South America, the shooter
in the Midwest schoolhouse. Distance should shield us
from the bodies in rocket fire rubble across the sea.

It is enough to deal with knowing how fire displaced 
dozens of families elsewhere in the county, or that
an enraged man shot his partner in the neck in the next
village to the west. We just aren’t equipped to bear the news
of the world. The talk of the diner weighs heavily enough.

Note: unpublished draft

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Watching Snow

Photo: Xena_bestfriend, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Watching snow fall and blow outside the window is a winter pleasure — standing in the kitchen while coffee brews, while bagels brown. There’s something soothing in the constant downward flow like bathing in fast water, in a world obscured as by fog off the river.

Watching Snow

I watch snow falling, filling in tracks
of deer, rabbits, and mice that ran
about the yard as I lay sleeping.

Soon it will be as if they had never been,
the way waking thoughts blur and then
dissolve the convolutions of dreams.

The tale told by printed wings where
the frantic mouse tracks end is blurring 
away into the undifferentiated Tao of snow.

The face of an old friend who had to tell
me something so urgently is blurring away
into the undifferentiated Tao of his passing.

It all comes down like snow: dreams, lives,
deaths, tales, fears, the leaping of the deer,
the stillness of the night — all fading into white.

Note: unpublished draft

Posted in Poetry, The Other Village | 4 Comments

New Year dreams of spring

In some ways my property looks like the aftermath of battle. Blow down, cut-down, deadfall, invasive species, overgrowth, old farm ruins. But snow covers many sins and cold weather gives the armchair general a perfect chance to game out his next campaign.

New Year dreams of spring

It’s too cold to go outside (unless strictly necessary), but
not to peer out the upstairs window over sunstruck snow
at that stand of old white pine looming behind the yard.

Now that leaves are down and the rotting boxelder dropped,
I see how stately they are, upholding their bright white offering.
I see now how little labor it might take to fashion there a bower.

Just there, a trail cut through the mock orange and knotweed–
under the pines, a little deadfall and undergrowth to clear away.
Then a picnic table or some Adirondack chairs, a stone firepit.

I could write a poem there, perhaps about the does browsing
in the sumac. Clear of limbs for many feet, the pillars of pine
support a deep green cathedral ceiling and a nest of squirrels

that I could watch as they leap from limb to limb, chasing
each other around the circle of trees. Or you and I could kiss
there beside a fire while a big moon runs in and out of clouds.

This is just to say the old place has possibilities. But for now
the wheelbarrow is covered in snow and the ladder frozen
to the ground. Spring is far off as something seen in dream.

Note: unpublished draft

Posted in Poetry, The Other Village | 1 Comment

How Everything Didn’t Change

Photo: Steve Crave, FermilLab

Terry called me just after the second tower fell. My first words to her were “We’re going to war.” And of course we did, several times over. The catchphrase was “Everything changed after 9/11.” But it all looked like business as usual to me. Just missing a little of the candy coating. Here’s a poem I wrote shortly after waking in the night to hear the endless line of transports carrying 10th Mountain troops to Afghanistan in October 2001.

How Everything Didn’t Change

Just after the shotgun blast the maple shakes off
its cloak of blackbirds. They shriek, dive and rise.

Three times round the field they flap,
wheeling this way and that, and all together.

But it doesn’t last—the flock returns and settles,
in order, each to the same accustomed perch.

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After Ida

Photo: Zach Frailey, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

After Ida

A week later, I still can’t write the poem I wanted
to write about Cape Cod and the ocean, the storm
and after the storm. I wanted to write about fear,
being awakened at midnight and told “take shelter.”

But there was no cellar, nowhere far from windows.
I wanted to write about waiting out waves of lightning,
torrential rain and wind as long as we could stay awake, 
then giving up at last before dawn, to hope, faith, sleep.

And I wanted to write about the awe with which
I always approach the ocean – endless, infinitely
mutable but always itself. The cleansing simplicity
of sand and surf, its peacefulness and its violence.

I wanted to bring in natural history, how the Cape
was laid down by glacier, how the ocean was comet
melt and volcano breath from before life began
and long after the Cape washed away would remain.

I tried to write it four different ways and couldn’t reach
that point where I say “hmm,” say “done,” and turn
away. It was all too much for one poem. So instead,
this, the few lines that always rang true in every draft:

“Next day, when rain ends, we walk back through 
pitch pine, white oak and holly to stand again
above the beach where the ocean, wholly wild
now, pounds out its oneness on the drum of sand.

“My body, itself a bag of seawater, feels the drag
of the yellow moon rising at the world’s edge.”

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Chill before Dawn

Photo: Michael McCollough, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Being unable to sleep while alone can be awful. Being unable to sleep in company can be very sweet.

Chill before Dawn

Waking in the chill before dawn, I spoon to your back
touching warmth from chin to knee, one arm draped
to draw you in. You tuck it in between your own.
Content now to be sleepless, I listen to you breathe,
feel your pulse, each little adjustment to our fit.

I could stay this way until morning, but then you turn
in sleep to face me, tuck your right leg between mine.
I hook my left one over yours and arms pull us close.
If not sleep then peace – this knot of limbs and skins
that unknots care. As we lie the light grows bright.

Note: unpublished draft

Posted in Poetry, The Other Village | 2 Comments