Billy’s Bits

It is true the ash-to-ash and dust-to-dust stuff
Of life. Proof? I saw bits of Billy poof up airborne, a tiny human contrail in the wind. A grit that could fly in your eye or a mote wedged under a fingernail.

She had taken the plastic lid from the cup and so we just lined up, dug in with our fingers, grabbing up a handful of Billy

To carry to the surf’s edge and drop into the foam and bubbles and sand. A short fall sure, but, oh some flecks flew! Particles of heart? Or toe? Phosphates and salts, brine back to the ocean.

Most of us had a drink in the other hand. Here’s to Billy! on the beach.
Somebody might have said something. Who could hear anyway?

And we didn’t pray or ask God for a thing.
The day was God enough with clear cool blues over ocean and sky and an early afternoon sun squinting our eyes as the dogs woofed and played and a patrol of pelicans peeled off toward the breakers.

Met last at this beach house a year ago, we were friends for three whole days. A fifth of low-end Kentucky bourbon between us at the rear-end of our lives.

We shared upgraded memories with lies about the growl of greasy motors we had known, and the grunts and grabble of girls we had known, and the grace that we had known that and brought us this far. “If you’re lucky and you know it, grab your dick,” morphed into AC/DC over my ukulele and on her birthday we shopped Wal-Mart for cake and a Wi-Fi booster.

We did talk of death – only as it applied to others, our dad’s and mother’s

Then, on the fourth day of our friendship, I held a bit of Billy, carrying him from the cup to my hand, down to the coast, to the shore, to the edge and poured him right in. Except for that fine dust that clenched to the air.

Billy’s Bits

It is true the ash-to-ash and dust-to-dust stuff

Of life. Proof? I saw bits of Billy poof up airborne, a tiny human contrail in the wind. A grit that could fly in your eye or a mote wedged under a fingernail.

She had taken the plastic lid from the cup and so we just lined up, dug in with our fingers, grabbing up a handful of Billy

To carry to the surf’s edge and drop into the foam and bubbles and sand. A short fall sure, but, oh some flecks flew! Particles of heart? Or toe? Phosphates and  salts, brine back to the ocean.

Most of us had a drink in the other hand. Here’s to Billy! on the beach.

Somebody might have said something. Who could hear anyway? And we didn’t pray or ask God for a thing.

The day was God enough with clear cool blues over ocean and sky and an early afternoon sun squinting our eyes as the dogs woofed and played and a patrol of pelicans peeled off toward the breakers.

Met last at this beach house a year ago, we were friends for three whole days. A fifth of low-end Kentucky bourbon between us at the rear-end of our lives.

We shared upgraded memories with lies about the growl of greasy motors we had known, and the grunts and grabble of girls we had known, and the grace that we had known that and brought us this far. “If you’re lucky and you know it, grab your dick,” morphed into AC/DC over my ukulele and on her birthday we shopped Wal-Mart for cake and a Wi-Fi booster.

We did talk of death – only as it applied to others, our dad’s and mother’s

Then, on the fourth day of our friendship, I held a bit of Billy, carrying him from the cup to my hand, down to the coast, to the shore, to the edge and poured him right in. Except for that fine dust that clenched to the air.

Star of David, Christmas Eve 2012

Certainly the shepherds must have seen the same star that pulled Gaspar, Melchior and Bathasar from their Persian wizardries and kingdoms
Their wonder long worn away by its routine night after night after night until they were bored of it and lately annoyed that it confused the flocks, the bleating keeping them all up by night.

And they refused to see it

So weary and sleepless they were when that one emerged from it, whispering, Don’t be afraid, loved ones. Don’t be afraid. Come to Jerusalem and see.

He learned about heavenly hosts at the edge of a pond fed by swamps where alligators were said to come rising up from the languid surface when one was most unaware and their hungry jaws wide.
There, he saw clouds of great and snowy egrets and the white ibis, their wings so wide, the feathers grabbing the air as they pulled themselves to the top of the maritime forest.
So slowly they rose and so gently did they land upon the loblollies and the oaks.
So silently did they shout out Glory to God.
So securely they slept that night beneath the light cast by stars at creation.

So Dark in Alaska

Then there was this night in deep Alaska
So dark
So dark
So dark
That the stars mattered as points of reference
And the tip of her glowing cigarette could have been a galaxy
So far
Far
Away.

Geminid Shower, 12-12-12

To see a meteor is don’t look above your small space
These travelers know vastness; so
You must turn your face to Orion or Jupiter with your back to the moon
And if there is horizon in the darkness, look into the whole and wait for this thing to appear as a grace, a nod from God itself.

 

Thanksgiving, 1963

It was after dinner.

Maybe the television was on in the back room Cronkite recapping in black and white the unthinkable thing, the murder, not even a week ago, two bullets that changed the whole world.
His father sat in the blue and orange flicker of the gas heater waiting the weather report.
Maybe there was the smell of reheated coffee from the kitchen and the ring of dishes put away, the sink plug pulled, the greasy, soapy water spiraling down the drain.

Maybe an uncle said something about Ruby or Lee Harvey Oswald, or those Kennedys or the Communist bombs and missiles sure to come now that we were weak in our grief and only God could save us.
Maybe a neighbor stopped by with a slice of Dutch apple pie. His father now in the kitchen with the other grownups smoking cigarettes. The metallic ding-pop from the beer can top, an uncle sipping loud and finishing his gulp with I-still-can’t-goddam-believe-it.
Maybe his mother remembered when the radio said Roosevelt was dead but that was so different; and maybe he and his brother mourned the loss of cartoons.

He was old enough to burn  trash now. So he took his father’s Zippo and a sack out to the barrel at the back fence. Someone up the street was burning leaves. The clink of the lighter, the easy spin of the wheel on the flint, the spark, the poof, the  flame. This time,  he started the fire at the bottom of the paper sack.

He saw the football in the middle of the yard.
He picked it up, tossed it up there. High in the air!

And ladies and gentlemen, here we are at the last second of this game and this was a Hail Mary!  pass of 60 yards into the end zone to perhaps the only kid on the field capable of making such a catch against all odds and the ball hangs up in the gray batting of clouds as the downfield rushers pound into each other, as the defenders cluster, their eyes on that spinning ball as it comes down, down, down. And he leaps and reaches way above all other’s clutches and snags that ball, both of them in mid-air, and the defenders punish him with crushing tackles so hard it sent his helmet flying from his head even as hugged and tugged that ball against his young heart and went down in the muddy end zone as the last second, gone forever, that very last second

Ends the game!

The October Born

This is for my family, who, except for my brother, seemed to have been born in October.

The October born open their eyes to orange and yellow and red trees
And the soft light gold dripping through soon to leak leaves
And a world of ripe harvest resting on summer’s yielding fields so opened all season to sun and to water for growth unto
Fullness and festival.
The birth right of October born.
When the ready is delivered in the afternoons and full-filled expectations in the morn.
For the October born.

There also is chill for the October born
They are first to feel
The cold disguised between the warm when it arrives in the night
When frost falls down on picked fields deemed fallow
And boo! Is the night of Halloween
When spirits arise for the October born.
And whisper warnings of what could be real.

The October borne arrive in time’s in-between
Neither winter, nor summer
Neither sweat, nor shiver
Neither ice, nor scorch
Neither snow flake, nor clod
Neither cross, nor nativity
Yet, in winter they were come
And in spring, they were seedlings
And in summer, they were ripening.
The October born,
Borne between solstices.
All Souls, us.
The October Born.

Edgerunner

We had walked the easy trails earlier, the yellow red orange forest slippery with last night’s wet,
The latest leaves shaking off the rain into stump puddles pooled in the roots of the sassafras and sycamore.
The splash of the stream tumbling over the rocks, over itself, rushing toward the falls, turning white and froth in that plunge as it broke apart on stones below and ran downstream or diverted itself behind the storm-felled tree-trunk with its branches splayed in the current.

You and I looked for a fish that might have been trapped in that net of twigs and leaves.
You poked a stick in the water and I stepped back with my camera and caught you there forever and ever.

Somehow, we slipped and slid and clawed our way back to the top of the ravine where your mother waited.

And you escaped the grip of my hand and ran toward her
Racing on the very edge of that ledge!

Me, seeing the jagged stumps way below you
The slick moss under your running feet
Your eyes on Mom
You, so unaware of all the danger — no, just say it – the sure death below on shale shards and limestone that awaited for eons your misstep, a stumble.
Me, seeing how everything could just drop away and be gone just like that.
My warning yell caught in my heart .
That you would hear me and try to stop, but slide off into that gorge
That you would hear me and turn the wrong way at the wrong place and the outcrop would not hold

Just a few yards away, your Mom’s eyes on you. Her eyes loaded with fear.
But her arms open, all ready to catch you, as she caught you.

Hip-hop, Billy, Bill, Bob, Dave, and Rob

The other day I was thinking that men just don’t deal with poetry much these days. I was thinking how much poetry had changed me in my lifetime, how it altered my notions, gave me a new perspective and why haven’t I ever actually been engaged in a discussion of poetry with another guy — except in college?

Guess I hang out with the wrong guys.

Because a car came by…thundering with bass and non-stop hip-hop lyrics and I realized this is poetry!  Poetry on wheels. Listen up as it passes!

Then there was this young man at the Metro stop with earphones jammed deep in his head, not lip-synching but mouthing the lyrics to a song I know nothing of except that it, too, is poetry. And he was not ashamed to recite it over.

So, if I could form a hip-hop group of guy poets, I think I would pick from these guys:

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.
—David Whyte

***

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

–Robert Frost

* * *

Snowbanks North of the House

Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
books;
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.

The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.

And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.

The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust …
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.
Bly, Robert

* * *

With Kit, Age Seven, At the Beach

We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.

Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.

Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
That was an absolute vista.
Those waves raced far, and cold.

“How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?”
“As far as was needed,” I said,
and as I talked, I swam.

William Stafford

…one more by Stafford:

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

——

I am just going to list this url for Billy Colins poems. I like em all.

http://www.poemhunter.com/billy-collins/poems/

I especially recommend Madmen.

——-

If you can, find the book, Work for the Night is Coming by Jared Carter. The poetry and imagery is Indiana distilled. I used to tell people if they really wanted to understand Indiana, go listen to about anything from John Mellencamp and read Work, for the Night is Coming.

——

I’ve Had My Share

I was never much for fishing or hunting. That said, I’ve had my share.

There was that time on the Wabash.
The blue oily paisley  swirl slowly spreading on the water

Below it, beneath it, a writhing worm on the hook
The thing my brother dragged up and dropped in the boat.

Watch it boy, a gar! It’ll bite your toe off.
A black green thing flopping all over our gym shoes. Its  jaws like a little alligator, saw teeth chewing and snapping at the air that was killing it.
My uncle’s knife, fresh flash from the sheath.
The blade in its head.

Wait till it’s dead.

Then, later that summer.
On a pasture’s pond in Perry County
The smell of cow crap and cooked asphalt wafting from the hot country road, fumes trapped in the humid night
My other uncle with a frog gig; we trawled the water edge
The flashlight prowling  for the reflection of the  frog eye
As it sat in muck and the mud, betrayed by its deep belch.
The barb sunk  in its side;  its legs slowly death-dancing  the night; we held it up to the light. Water dripping from its webs
Then scraped it into the pickle bucket.

I had no patience for fishing or frog-gigging, so I waded back to the ground
And waited until I had no patience for waiting
Then went to a scarp of shale and pulled away at its flimsy foundation
Exposing a nest of snakes.
Or at least so I thought.

Then, there was that Thanksgiving with my wife’s sister’s husband
Hell-bent on shooting birds flushed from the brush which had grown in the gouges of last year’s coal shovel.
Showing off his new dog’s new skills
Learned at the jolt of an electric collar.
His shotgun uncased; extra shells in his jacket.
Birds! He whispered
As the beagle shot off toward the slag heaps
Baying and howling
Chasing a freedom well worth all that shock and pain and a punishment sure-to-come.
* * *
Like I said, I’ve had my share.
Some things are best left up to others.
I have no problem with fish that have alligator heads
And frog legs don’t taste like chicken even if they’re Kentucky fried.
Snakes, they’ve always appeared when and where I never expect them
I’m happy to feed my backyard birds or watch them possess the sky.
My dogs never sought freedom; they’re content on the couch where we lie.