Eight Months On
Time, tidewater near, headlong has ripened you
to this glowing fullness, clumsy in dormant love.
Nothing can take you back to remembered couches
carved for bodies’ other sinuous life in the taking only.
Giving swells its selfish possessor for the unbidden
bringing forth, so fraught with blind conduct
both charges in time may mutually assail the point
of beginning, neither having asked to be,
yet both in their endurance verging on prospects
worthy of the last exhausted sob, the first triumphant cry.
When my father died we took in boarders,
old wives, widowers to bide their time.
Wakened by my mother after midnight,
I stood with her outside the bathroom door.
“She said she was feeling ill,” my mother said.
I opened it and went inside. She was
standing by the sink. Tiny wraith in gown
and thinning hair. She looked up at me and smiled,
then drifted into my arms and died.
I carried her weightless to her room,
laid her on her bed, which smelled of sachet
and age. Her gentle rattle startled me.
A year of falling leaves. The cold bricks
of Germantown were leading nowhere.
Now I am as old as she was when she went.
The rings slide off so easily, at night.
Her weightlessness is almost more than I can bear,
such a wordless thing to have carried around.
When I went back a lifetime later,
everything had shrunk, the house, the room.
They’d taken up the bricks and cut the trees.
London, I recall, had not yet begun
to burn, and I, small Heracles, stood braced
waiting for the whole wide blazing world.
(For the nomenclature committee)
Bird watchers band their joy
in the vanishing
Appellations in dead cabinets
to page a scholarly approach
that Audubon first rendered
with a bullet in his brush
(Dr. Gray’s airborne
The bird, russet at dawn,
starved of name—
thrush or thrasher—
Sang the morning clear.
Song in a tiny bag
of skin and feather,
to draft the firmament
against the field-drab weather—
his pipe and signature
a rubric flame.
A Touch of Rosemary
A poorly dressed, bandana’d lady bought
his dearly coveted leg of spring lamb
at the supermarket checkout, paying for it
with food stamps denied him, right behind her
with his bag of 85-percent fat-free
burger meat. Of course, he fumed, the fare
of a retired history teacher like himself,
and off he stomped to vent his spleen. New Orleans
or Charleston, he muttered to himself
en route to Halligan’s for a drink or two
to think the matter over with the care
it so rightfully deserved. In which process
he grandly spent the spread between lamb and beef
and a bit more, as his thoughts warmed to it.
Having chosen his southern blitz, in history’s
carnal intercession, he recalled
Sherman’s bloody march through Georgia, down the route
from Atlanta to Savannah, laid waste
for spring plantings of both of their allotments
(oh ravished soil enriched with burghers’ mete!)
to help shed a nation’s long dishonor.
Our real birth in the world of freedom,
he thought, although there’s still a way to go
with food stamps for some, and sots like me.
Fueled with such insight, he tipped his glass
to her and hers. Bon appetite, he grinned
as much from whiskey as an honest wish,
and hoped she’d use a touch of rosemary.
Shagging flies at fifty was no big deal.
The field, illumined in the glow of three a.m.,
carried echoes to fly with the high-hit ball
bleak against the sun, and he took it loping
toward his comrades waiting. Breathing hard,
he saw the clock white against the dark,
waking from bedroom bench to meet the adult
hour, a game of faces turned expectant,
watching: paper-bound, desk-ridden, names
forgotten who ran armies and made laws
iron-veined as nature-loves too, stumbled on,
discarded, illnesses ignored, outgrown,
leaving the hided sphere for epitaph,
honor mettled in the dying air
of ancient afternoons to scroll how tall
and sure of foot he’d been, how strong and good.