For Fred etc.

For Fred

(Veteran’s Day, November 11th, 2004)

We miss you, Mr. Rodgers.
You told us straight.

You were not purple Mr. Rodgers,
not an extinct species
that sang about the sun,
ripping off the melody from
“This Old Man, he played one”
pretending you loved us.

Mr. Rodgers, you had boundaries.

We flew over your town
and into your living room
where you magically transformed
from a man in a suit and tie
to a man in a sweater, gym shoes
and a tie.

We watched in awe
as you fastened your laces.

You played us Jazz.
You fed the fish.
You baked us pasta.
You once were a pilot
and dropped bombs
on foreign countries.

We forgive you, Mr. Rodgers.
Come back, speedy delivery.

You never had a television
in your stomach, never an antenna
jutting from your slicked back

50’s hairdo that went from pepper
to salt and pepper, and then just plain
salt.

You taught us the joy
of public broadcasting.

Can you say “broadcasting”?
Yes, yes I can.

Mr. Rodgers, you were friends
with inanimate objects.
The mouths of your puppets
did not move. You performed
all the voices. Henrietta Pussycat
meow mya mya meow-meow.

We followed your ringing trolley
down a dark and foreboding tunnel
in your window seat,
knowing we would arrive
at a blue and white castle.

You never scared us, Mr. Rodgers.

You taught us gently about death,
divorce, and handicapped
saxophonists. You spoke slowly
so we would understand. You told us
we were special.

Mr. Rodgers,
you talked us down from the ledge.

 

Grinder’s Stand, Tennessee

(after James Wright)

Meriwether Lewis, honest frontiersman,
what’s the use? I think of you
solemnly unlocking the Gates of the Rockies
after trudging the Missouri rapids,
towing the canoes towards the western ocean.
You reached the coast by November, 1805,
after hailstorms on the prairie, the Continental Divide,
where all the old myths of blue-eyed Welsh Indians
and unbroken waterways
scattered avalanche rocks as they careened
down the canyons of the Bitterroot Mountains.

But it is now the third millennium, and the rock piles
of Bismarck, Omaha, Kansas City
build us our new White Cliffs of the Missouri.
Where is Clark, the friend you loved?
whose bed-side manner nearly killed you
prematurely.
Sacagawea’s face is golden now, nestled
in our pockets, her people a remnant
of what they once were, the fur-traders
broke all your promises.

Upon your return Perseus becomes you,
chasing various Andromedas around the maypole
of Polaris. Did those women you courted
see Medusa’s severed head
concealed at your side,
afraid they’d also be turned to stone?
And at your journeys end down the Natchez Trace,
did you at last discover the pass to Pacifica?
Or have you been staring down a pistol barrel
for two hundred years?

 

Open Letter To Meriwether Lewis

Once I saw an historian
weep for your death
on public television.

About the night you stayed
at Grinder’s Stand
on your way to report to Jefferson
of your failing Governorship.

And you were heard to say
as you mounted the stairs to bed,
“In the morning Clark is coming,
Clark is coming,”
but he was miles away.

It wasn’t your first time shot.
You caught a bullet in the buttocks
during the return trip of the expedition,

thought it was Blackfoot revenge
for a brave you killed in self-defense
on the westward journey,

but it was a hunter
from your own Corps of Discovery
whom discovered you weren’t an elk
reclining in the long grass.

Jefferson and Clark were convinced
the weight of your thoughts finally crushed you,
but what of the murder theorists?

Shot in the head, shot in the heart.
Two guns, sure, but can the brain remember
to shoot the heart
with a bullet already in it?

Phinneas Gage survived a railroad spike
driven through his cranium by an explosion,
so maybe.

Did you hold your breath
and count to three?
Who else would want you dead but you?

 

Light Strikes

The rumors you’ve heard about light
are true; how it moves really fast,

gets caught in our eyes and has
sharp edges, bleeds forth from flame,
et cetera.

We once thought of light as merely
appearing, due to the invention of dawn
and switches,

back when we stole lightning from clouds,
stuffed it in our walls.

Light was never in motion
beyond waning and waxing,

never a thing that got into a car
and visited relatives.

It just was, like God, who is—
a be verb.

Light found its way into everything,
especially the black hole of our poesy

and never found its way out again
till now.

Light wants a holiday.
Light wants me to stop writing about it
and get on with its demands:

better pay
shorter hours
royalties
travel expenses

It wants contributing credit for its subsidiaries fire,
shine, beam, gleam, illumine, bright, radiance, and even
effulgence,

all of whom owe light
their glorious livings.

Light says it isn’t bluffing.
Light says it wants us to put cash
in a brown paper sack,

drop it in the dumpster in an alley
off of Wabash and 8th.

If we meet its conditions,
light will again appear in our literature,

or else we will open Shakespeare to find
“But soft! What [delete] through yonder
window breaks!”

Light was last seen on a match
traveling northbound towards gas.

 

Dawn

The poet prays for a beak
wishing he could whistle
staccato ramblings

ditties ’bout nothin’
but happy to see the sun.