Please, No Afternoon Poetry
Poetry welcomes mornings
to compare foggy dreams
over crisp white tablecloths
and dipped coffee spoons.
Afternoons a blur of noise,
traffic volume entirely too high
to settle the rightest words.
Poetry craves quiet candlelight;
her favorite time of day is night
to put her finger upon the pulse
of clock-watchers everywhere
bedding down their burdens.
The Use in Pretending
She takes two steps for each of his,
strolling with Grandpa along a chain
of frosty Fifth Avenue windows.
Letting go his gloved hand,
she glides toward closer inspection,
peeking through glass to spy
a face like hers in need of a mother.
Little else matters now but the doll,
glass becoming a giant holiday card:
on the cover, a crayoned stick child
holding her baby up high over head,
stick Grandpa nearby, smitten.
He joins her for a look inside, recalling
generations of Christmases, birthdays—
how toys can patch a family together.
Mostly, he sees his own reflection,
a face like his in want of another,
the drawing one figure short this year.
He considers the use in pretending,
imagines a life still there, her doll
and his angel, topping this season’s list.
April Showers, 2013
Once again, writers take off
to the nearest blank page, hoping
words might stop the bleeding.
We want bone-deep prompts,
ambulance chasers hurdling
after fresh-meat images,
blindly passing scores of survivors
confused over dream or reality.
I realized after 3407 fell nearby,
its long descent rattling my walls
ever since, even marathon mouths
need to know when to quit running.
No Longer Afraid of Lightening
There's little left to want or need,
only the kids to follow up, then theirs.
I often wonder which would hurt least,
work best: the fall, hang, crash.
Lightening answers my question,
the loudest speaker having spoken
enough to split me down the middle.
So much rain mixing inside today:
love and in love, little ones laughing,
books not gotten to and likely never.
Should I decide it's worth the pain
of this aging vehicle, I just might
stick around for the storm,
forget what needs forgetting.
And if the choice isn't mine?
Oh, how very much easier.
Shirts, too loose, in a plywood closet,
staff in and out, all hours, my pillow
and blanket stuffed in a roller chair.
Maybe then you'll see how young
you were now, even though we met
late in your life, midway through mine.
I hope by then you'll come to believe
I meant what I said, and you'll never
have to ask me again if I'm sure.
You never needed to look far
to learn me better, or for more
I wouldn't say between sheets.
When maybes become dids or didn'ts,
maybe time will rewrite our history
to show it spanned a lifetime.
Perhaps by then you'll agree:
I had every reason to love you,
and you, every right to let me.
But it's the having / not the keeping that is the treasure. -- Jack Gilbert
The heart will always find its way;
ask your grandmother, not your mother.
She'll say love is never a lie, or a waste,
measured worthy by how long we stay.
It's why maps never start at the treasure.
An Easter Epiphany
"I'll Have What She's Having" -- When Harry Met Sally
I found myself hoping my ankles never sag
over my shoe straps some day, like hers,
the egg-shaped woman near us at brunch.
My hair should know better than to thin so,
my back smarter than to roll forward--
boy, it hurt that woman to walk to the ladies' room.
More bunny-hop than wobble, she scrambled
chair by chair, the way a kid follows a fence,
hand over hand, balancing along a beam-like border.
Shoulders, don't let me down the way hers have.
She must've caught bowling balls for a living.
Soon, she joined her girlfriends back at their table,
a compact mirror and shiny tube of lipstick
reddening her plump lips into a contented smile,
confidence transcending any reason to pity her.
Suddenly, the dated floral pattern on her dress
seemed no longer a Golden Girls estate sale find,
but a sold out--albeit ad nauseum--Vera Bradley pattern.
The large gold beads strung around her neck
reflected me asking for a doggie bag big enough
to cart home my over-boiled first impression.
Up, I told you I planned to sleep
later today since it's Saturday.
Dawn is a time to contemplate,
investigate something pretty.
Soon, we'll stretch the sunny day
sliding down subway banisters,
one more chance to climb back up
into a weekend corner of the city,
cabbies leaning on yellow cabs,
brides posing on City Hall steps.
Courtyard tulips, overpasses,
butterflies, office blinds--
all higher because of you,
my favorite companion.
In Your Tribe
(for Natalie Merchant)
Native, working-class Buffalonians,
who dismissed you, never got it;
still, they went to your shows, curious.
Graduate students got it. Old English
folkies did too. They listened closely,
studied tiny lyric inserts, a labor of love.
My booking agent came to see you;
those smart-ass hippies scared him.
He joked about turning you down,
couldn't understand one Goddamn word,
hated your filthy bare heels spinning
bar floors into stages like pottery wheels.
Every night an impromptu pow-pow,
fans followed your circle dance,
smoke signals to some higher ground.
You'd never aim to steer the eyes of men
from their dates: ladies tightening,
wishing your peep show would end.
Your gift: to remind women what they are,
never what they're not. I finally get it.
Now, to find purpose in Gaga.
After Reading Your Friend's New Poetry Book
I feel for your friend who misses her friend.
She writes you convincingly, but knows little--
wouldn't even recognize you in our world.
Fantasizing you in easy code, she weaves
old meeting places into near-misses,
husband shrugging off each glaring page.
She preferred when others marked you a pair,
visits you in couplets, admits "time isn't kind."
Writing of unforgettable sweetnesses,
she notes your tight hand guiding her elbow
across streets, the same unique gesture
I noticed early on. Conceding the joy
in delivering your coffee just right,
she inks you in hard on her calendar,
an empty chair at her next gathering,
an intimate souvenir left dangling.
Red rouge deepens her best cleavage,
a birthday gift to you, a take-that to me,
the new woman always in the way.
Her need for you palpable, she mourns
her favorite self, lost in a fog of boundaries,
paler without you. Before I read her book
I tried to be a friend, but I stand firm now
upon my resolve, a more reliable afterword.
Before We Were Too Good
We used to have Christmas Eve
at our Grandmother's house
before we too good.
Around the smoke-filled dining room
we'd slowly mix, kissing, laughing:
Uncle Jim, before the cancer,
inviting the men to watch basketball
away from that cloud of noise.
Uncle George, a smiley oil painting,
contributing perfect, spit-shined cousins.
"Gram," before the nursing home,
opening presents, saving the paper,
handing out boxes of footed pajamas.
My father, before the accident,
impersonating Gleason, The Godfather.
My mother, French and Swedish,
somehow made the best red sauce,
but kept it home, afraid it'd be too good--
sat deciphering codes in our Little Italy.
Uncle John, before his secret life unraveled,
my favorite to kiss hello; a little Sinatra,
a little De Niro--who cares who he slept with?
Admired by my father for his winter-less cars,
resented by his sisters for scolding their vices,
he married a nice Italian girl, giving us more
shiny cousins: suburbanites mistaking
rear cottages for heated garages.
They clearly learned the art of pretending,
or maybe they just gave up on us Dickensian
street kids clowning around like our parents.
Aunt Grace, before she told me to go fuck myself,
cupping my face in her Marlboro hands,
during a card game I misheard as Pinocchio.
Her husband, Uncle Bob, all tickles
and raspberries before the head-first fall,
could change moods like roof tiles,
startling us as he chased Bobby upstairs,
back to their carpenter's flat, a beer-breathed
full-Catholic-name reminder shouted to boot.
Then all the goodbyes, only in reverse,
starting with the sports fans, always first
to ease into a back-peddle toward the door,
the longer drive a perfect excuse.
The rest, careful not to seem bored,
or the others might grumble
through one more cigarette,
one more round of Pinocchio,
one more "King John" finger-wag.
You never wanted to be the topic
of post-party criticism,
the first or last to leave,
or the only car without
at least a little dirt,
too good to park on the street.
"Don't forget, students:
thoughts belong in italics.
What we say gets the quotes."
Those are not the words.
"Tall house, cream."
Fifty handicap spots in one lot.
Shopping like some chick.
Those are not the words.
Forgot to eat again.
Curse the knowing night.
by television light.
A Penny for His Thoughts
An alphabet tumbles over the falls,
even the moon unsure tonight.
Words begin forming, then spring back
fearful of drowning in the rush.
It's a new way to hear your voice,
the one this place wants for her own.
Showers muffle the conversations
you've worked so hard to protect.
There must be a way to just listen.
We walk away arm-in-arm, sure,
but you miss the raspberry I aim
toward the over-confident stream,
so proud to have etched your secrets
on the walls of her water castles.
Reflecting my pitiful face, she knows
she'll never share, even when she rains.
Stupid Shiny Floors
I wanted to see Harlem's Audubon Ballroom.
I imagined what the room would look like
where Malcolm had fallen forty-five years before,
his wife and daughters front row, twins on the way.
I just missed his birthday celebrations.
Expecting a thickness in the air, I anticipated
stepping in, as if through my own magic window,
to feel that booming voice shake the very ground
where he'd soon land riddled into silence.
I hoped to witness his followers grab hold
of his empowering gift to lift their scripted lives--
hands waiving, women wailing, veins popping.
What stories would spill the walls just for me,
a white girl wishing an unlikely reconciliation?
I thought I would cry, practiced my apology,
inhaled deeply in search of some spiritual thunder,
or internal warmth, but felt more like Kerouac
after his two-month stay atop Desolation Peak:
hoping for enlightenment, leaving only,
in his words, "a pile of feces the size of a baby.”
Was I really disappointed I didn't break down?
Did I expect my knees would give in at the door?
I couldn't stand that pretty blonde floor;
Malcolm would certainly never have chosen it.
Kindergarten wing murals left me downright glum.
Flourescent lights made my mood even worse.
I wanted plain, dangling fixtures, bulbs strung
like "Strange Fruit," a lasting reminder of how
it must have felt to hang tight for better days.
There was nothing so bright about 1965.
Where did you fall, long-ago "Red"?
One corner of the room roped off the exact spot,
a few original floor boards displayed like purple hearts.
I donated a few bucks on the way out
realizing most of the room's soul had been lost:
tables and chairs traded long ago, his podium
dumpstered, or maybe Farrakhan garbage-picked it.
One recent headline read, "Malcolm's bloody, bulleted
diary, found in his coat pocket, could get fifty grand."