Saturday, November 24, 2012

This from Boulevard, 2000

Appalachian Gothic

In early fall, my walnut tree turns brown,
when, despite the season’s fanfare, its leaves
curl-up and shed. In just three weeks, the limbs
are bare, the sidewalk draped in drab confetti
children shuffle through on their way to school.                                            
And all around, yellow birch and maple
festoon the hills with gaud and decoupage 
the roads in rain-glazed scraps of gold and red
lapped in jigsaw patterns. Then day by day,
the light distills a blue so bright it burns
my eyes and graphs the walnut’s screen of stems
into a tracery that holds the sky
like bits of glass, no two alike, a globe
within a globe and made from what we breathe.

This from Southern Review (2007?)

Easter Freeze

The resurrection was a bust this year:
dirty weather, sneak-thief wind, dogwoods stripped
of leaf, the daylight stretched like soiled silk.
So she put by her white shoes and sheer skirt,
her pastel blouse and breezy reveries,
to wrap herself in lamb’s wool, then stood 
inside the open door and looked down
the frost-slicked streets she would have to drive
to hear again how the observant woman
kept death’s offices, but found the tomb-rock
rolled aside; and how the death den kept
no scent of death, nothing but dank air
and gore-stained grave clothes, strewn—
her vials and verses, useless; how she told
then showed the baffled men; how they looked
and left her there, alone.  And how she wept 
until her name was called, and so set forth.

This from Sow's Ear Poetry Review, (2002?)

Directions to a Ruin

Follow Spoon Gap Road past the Free Will Church
and find a wide-hipped chimney stub
girdled with a snarl of berries, dark and sweet
this time of year, rooted in the fireplace,
blacksmithed pot-hook curled like a come-here finger,
but the house is gone.  Lightning burned it down,
the crooked stroke still scarred across the hearth.
In easy view from where a doorway
might have been, several generations lie
beneath a hill toothed with snaggled headstones
tilted by a hundred years of freeze and thaw
where love’s observance long ago succumbed
to underbrush and new-growth oak and grief’s
alphabet weathered to a palimpsest
on lichen freckled slates. You might rest there,
stretch out in the chimney shade and taste
the wild blackberries, slightly tart with ash.

This from Nebraska Review (1996)

The Lord sits enthroned above the flood.  “Psalm 29"                                                  
for Glen Vecchione

Lost in rural Georgia, we did Jesus
one better and drove on water,
hydroplaning gully-washers
churned up by mid-summer heat.
The Caddy shimmied in the curves
and fish-tailed down the straights,                                                         
past red clay archipelagoes
of tenant shacks and trailer-parks
rinsed opal in the shifting squalls.
We lunched on RCs, Scooter Pies,
and watched the wipers skim
momentary half moon vistas
lush with peach and pecan groves
whipped by drenching scarves of wind
while gospel stations ghosted by
then crinkled into static shards.
and billboards asked if we were saved,
promised Hell if we were not. 
But the hootchy-koo Savannah 
kept low-country holy-rolling,
swinging through her tangled banks.
Shimmy, dear old Caddy, daddy’s car,
shake and roll, old rattling gospel–
the waters came, we skipped like calves
across the rich and sinful south.

This from Southern Poetry Review, (2003?)

The Sympathy of Dust

Her Hoover Vortex Master hums,
the house a diary of dross,
Pop-Tart crumbs, playground grit,
wicked grains of glass
the broom did not pick up
when her boyfriend broke
a long-neck Miller Beer,
fragments of a narrative
she tracks from room to room,
cobwebs, dead bees, scented talc,
pollen shed by Easter lilies
one week past their prime,
and later when she cannot sleep,
the nightscape fills with cosmic dust
she heard Carl Sagan talk about
on the old Tonight Show,
comet ash and star-chaff
settling on her sleeping son
and on the now remembered face
of the whiskey-crippled father
she tried not to love,
how it falls, the dust of genesis,
until she falls asleep at last.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This from Rattle, 2012

Blue Plate Special

Pork chops, potatoes, beans, gravy, and grief,
seasoned to taste and shared by the dead girl’s
father and boyfriend, the table talk sparse,
the dead girl not much mentioned, especially
the dead part, or how she dumped the boyfriend
a week before she died. The boyfriend drank beer,
the father, iced tea. The boyfriend had plans,
the father did not. The brother came late
and skipped dinner (not hungry, he said),
went upstairs and cried (they seemed not to hear). 
Then he came back and cleaned up his plate.
Then they all had coffee, ice cream, and pie.
Then they looked through a box of old photos
and then said goodbye, over and over again.

This from Kenyon Review, 2005 (?)

Feeding the Fire

Down the chute the coal chunks come, black and brittle
from time’s press, packed with essence of dim forests, 
funk of flora, fungiforms, relics of the Paleozoic
destined for my furnace, fire-bellied Baal that warms
the innards of this house.
I toss the flame a shovel-load
and feel the blaze of opaque past transfigured into infrared,
then kick shut the furnace door and wipe the smudge
of pitch-black dust that seams the lifeline of my palm.  

This from Southern Review, 2007 (?)

for Beth and Lucy

Cindy Shepard—I remember—
gold hair, brown eyes, soft voice,
a smell like toast and apples,
what I ate each morning—
the classroom sweet with Cindy,
where, one day, when asked
our fathers’ occupations, Cindy said,
a spaceman, and suffered mocking
from her groundling classmates. 
But I stayed quiet, and on the bus
that circumsailed our orbit,
I told her I believed her, 
because I couldn’t in much else.
Years later, Commander Shepard
rode a Redstone into space,
and my own trajectory carried me
to distant schools, and Cindy became
Connie, Caroline, and Shiela,
became the smell of toast and apples
my daughter eats for breakfast, a moon
that wanders wider every year,
my gravity diminished, my orbit
more elliptic, the sun’s grip growing
weaker, stars more than ever kin,
as I drift closer, devoted spaceman,
to worlds where trees bear golden fruit
plucked by golden sisters.

This from Zone 3, 2011

Durable Goods

She knew the fridge and stove would outlast her,
washer and dryer, too.  And her car was good,
her son had said, for more miles than she’d ever drive.
So what to do with what lasts, like the four-post bed?
Well, that she hoped to die in, as her husband had,
ten years past.  But she’d made sure her will was clear—
who got what, not why.  Details wore her out. 
Some things last a good long while.  She would not.
“The body’s estate?” she said, “just stuff to stuff,
amen.  Burn it and be done.  Sell the house,  
divide the rest—and Joe, you can have the car,
but Susan gets the silver.  Give young Louanne   
the four-post bed now that she’s found a lover,
and dare her to wear it out, if she can.”

This from Southwest Review, fall 2012.

for Tom Bell

Time, a star, sextant, and chart will fix
your place on the ocean’s shifting page
while its transitive grammar slips unread
past hull and spars—the run-on syntax
of currents and winds, the tidal motifs
and punctuation of reefs and lee shores.

Sight the sun at noon and note the degree
of its height at the moment of its fall. 
Reckon your place, mark X on the chart, 
and there you are. Now plot your course
to virgin beaches you’ll never reach.
Turn from the wind, trim the blank sail,

watch it fill with the log of your voyage,
which will only reveal where you have been.