Things That Come in Waves*
I. X Rays, Gamma Rays, Microwaves, MRIs
How deep must we go--
past skin, past bone, past muscle?
Descartes thought the soul resided
in the Pineal gland.
A pea-shaped bleb of light
cleaves to something anterior,
or caudle, or posterior.
Eventually we are all read-out
by someone in a white jacket
we don’t know; a stranger who,
between a sip of diet soda
and a bite of peanut butter bread,
counts the peaks and troughs--
calculates the dead.
II. The Gravitational Harmonies of Deep Space
We were never a beginning, only
the other side of a collapsed star,
black hole excreta; random
whim of an indifferent singularity.
The Big Bang: the next feature
after a celestial intermission
between a gazillion cosmic films,
an astrocinematic ructus
with no beginning, no final act.
Only we end, eventually
not even a mote bowered
in some defunct god’s eye.
Our son, his world, my wife’s hand,
my myopic Everland.
That finds itself
then gets lost
drops into splendid solitude.
Goldberg Variation number twenty five
deliquescent embryo come alive
but barely so--
the question, will it survive,
Glenn Gould’s hum carries Bach’s song
to its refulgent end.
We strive to grasp its meaning.
It eludes us now, then, and again.
IV. Weather Fronts
It can get so cold
that your soul turns to frost
like rime around a cocktail glass;
so hot that your heart bakes
your writhing lover’s back;
so rainy that retted streets
flow like the River Lethe,
your essence a flood of melancholy;
and the wind, the wind turns
your wheat field pages
like ancient sacred screeds
caressed by cowl sleeves.
Are you listening Heraclitus?
Change was all you left us.
*Titles taken from The Windward Shore: A Winter On The Great Lakes, by Jerry Dennis
The Great Tactician
There you were naked
at the river’s edge,
after your two day swim.
Nausicaa stood over you
when you awoke
a smile of yearning
on her soft lips.
You thought she was
beautiful and terrifying.
You didn’t know whether
to grab her knees
and hope for mercy,
or use your honeyed speech,
beg some clothes,
the direction into town.
You chose words and
she showed you a mercy
that, had you paid attention,
could have changed Western Civilization.
you ate her father’s food,
tossed the discus around,
impressed her brother
and all the boys,
but once back in Ithaca,
you destroyed your enemies
with a wrath that would have shamed Achilles.
Your boy even hung their lovers,
watched, with glee,
their tiny feet dance to death.
What of their pleas for mercy,
What of Nausicaa’s compassion,
man of all occasions?
You chose words and so did they,
but your heart was cold with greatness.
We could have had
three thousand years of mercy.
your savagery endures:
the glory of dead heroes
Chasing Jesus ☊
Ohhhhhh Jeeeeesus, I’d yell,
and Zorba would redefine desire,
reconfigure yearning, reconceptualize predation,
and lose it in the way only a 95 pound
white German Shepherd who thought
that Jesus was a squirrel could.
After “sit,” “come,” “stay,” and “down,”
I’d taught him that the true vicar of Christ
on this earth was a squirrel.
Interrupting his wails and squeals at the door,
his psalms of religious fervor, I’d imitate
a southern Baptist preacher. “Do you believe?”
I’d ask. “Do you accept Jesus as your personal savior?”
“Yes!” he’d bark, “Hallelujah,” he’d cry.
When his zeal reached launch-strength
I’d let fly the door. He’d scream down our porch
like a Comanche in those old racist westerns,
or like fat Auntie Ursal when she caught me
spying on her flesh-folds during her bath.
Imagine a young squirrel
as this white toothy blur blasts
across the yard; a vision of massive jaws
closing on its soft, crunchable, body.
Imagine the shrill realization
of being food. Even before terror,
the squirrel brain transmits scram,
guides it to the nearest tree
where safety hides in tall branches.
Their parents, who know this game,
wait until the last second,
then bolt up a sycamore
leaving Zorba to dance,
a squealing sparring partner,
roping-a-dope for Jesus.
He’d stand guard, like a soldier
on Mount Olivet waiting to drive
his sword home, although the Z man
would never vinegar a wound.
At night, when raccoons and skunks
made it too dangerous to let him
run untethered into our yard,
I might yell “Oh Jesus” anyway,
to test the verisimilitude of his faith.
The Zorbster would run panicked circles
round our living room, screaming
and moaning, dog language for,
there must be some way out of this house
without relying on these human nitwits
to open a door. Clearly he was hoping
for a miracle, the parting of the walls,
the dissolving of the windows, or visions
of many Jesuses dashing around the house,
on top of the bed, under the bed, in the bathroom,
caught in the sink, ready to sacrifice themselves
on the altar of his ferocious delight.
But there were no miracles for Zorba,
whose happiest moments were
with us, wherever we were.
Last week his great legs finally failed.
His decline was swift. He still sought Jesus,
but a viewing reduced him to a mournful howl,
front paws painfully raising his kingly chest,
then back down. He could do no more.
His execution was scheduled
for 3:30 in the afternoon.
At 9 that morning he made it
20 feet down our walkway.
“We can’t do this today,” I told my wife
who, always more connected to reality,
shook her head.
At noon he soiled himself in our front yard,
his sphincters deadened by his diseased spine.
His desire to please puddled in shame,
he turned away from us, the lake, and life.
I held him when the doctor started the injection.
He took it sitting up, too regal to lie down.
I told him how much I loved him,
and what a good dog he had been.
He’d catch Jesus now, I said.
I told him this and patted his soft white fur
until he no longer felt my desperate touch.
Those cottonwoods were thrilling,
they danced like ballerinas,
and sometimes went mad
throwing their white blazon
all over the city like furry confetti.
“He daydreams,” my mother
read aloud Sister Susanna’s
terse and torrid critique.
“What’s a daydream?” I asked.
“It’s when you look out the window
and stop listening in class,”
my mother said.
But the music I heard/
saw out that window:
The Nutcracker Suite--
elephants scattered like leaves
across the sky. Jesus jumped
from his cross and chased
Lazarus to life.
Someone picked up the end
of a river and found frogs
reciting the Baltimore Catechism.
Streets rolled up into concrete
spirals like the toffee we bought
in Jackson Hole.
“Don’t daydream,” my mother said.
Sister Susanna, so gray, read
everything to us third graders
out of a black book packed
with prayers, pleas, and
Out the window she danced
like a sailor, wore a parakeet
on her shoulder, a patch
over one eye—Sister Long
Joan Silver yelled,
“Ahoy, matey,” and swilled gallons
of rum while the St. Mary’s Marching Band
played Mussorgsky, “The Great Gate of Kiev.”
“Stop daydreaming,” my mother said.
We'll All See God but Not with Our Eyes
What was Jim Harrison thinking
the day before Easter 2016,
the day he died. He lay
on his studio floor
pen in hand. He’d
been writing a poem
when his chest closed. He
believed, despite all evidence,
in the resurrection.
Was he thinking of Jesus,
His blood spoor lancing
the atmosphere as He ascended,
or was Jim preoccupied
with holding on as he fell
through the upended sky,
grasping souls of the Anasazi,
not yet inured to the mud bath
of death, or the nitwits
he’d have to put up with
in heaven? Was he thinking
of Linda, his wife of fifty years,
gone only months before,
or of the many bears he knew,
revered, and feared?
Was he scratching the chin
of a favorite birddog, maybe
his hound Rose, whom he loved
beyond expression? Maybe
he had a vision of the rear-end
of a waitress he knew in town,
how she smelled, to him, of roast
beef, potatoes, and gravy.
Was he thinking of the meadowlarks,
crows, kingfishers, and cowbirds
who accompanied him on what
he called “this bloody voyage?”
And what of the pounds
of pork roast, foie gras,
and quail he ate--
the gallons of vodka shooters
and Brouilly he drank,
the packs of American Spirits,
the brisket from Zingerman’s,
buckets of tears shed
over impulsively opened
and consumed cans of Hormel
Chili, or the Herculean effort
expended on that famous
thirty-seven course thirteen wine lunch
he ate in France with a few cronies?
Or maybe he finally became
a bird, his lifelong ambition,
and flew into that cloud he dreamed
and shared with us.
Put Them All Together (With Stage Directions) ☊
(Sing to the melody of the soppy Irish song M-O-T-H-E-R)
M stands for the murderous feelings you had for my father,
wishing him dead the day before
he died from a heart attack.
O stands for the ostracism you endured when, after you attacked
me with a broom, I didn’t speak to you for a year in the eighties.
T is for the trial you put me through when I brought Judy, my Jewish
home to meet you and you bragged how you had “Jewed-down”
Mexican merchants on a trip to Tijuana.
H is for the humiliation I felt as you boasted to your friends
that I wore “Husky” pants when I weighed 164 pounds
in sixth grade and you didn’t think I was fat.
E stands for the psychotic envy you displayed when, in your seventies,
you proclaimed that you were “prettier” than me.
R is for your favorite name for my father: “Rotten Son-of-a-Bitch,”
which you called him when he was drunk and didn’t care.
Put them all together and they spell … regret.
They spell … I loved you anyway.
They spell … I’m glad you’re out of your misery.
They spell … it couldn’t have been otherwise.
On Wealthy St. in Great Rapids
I look at a window
that isn’t anymore, a plank
of sun-bleached plywood
where the pane should be;
the weatherboard, splintered,
worn by days of snow and sun,
survives long after the sill’s decay.
Judy couldn’t make
this trip; pain weathers her body,
arthritis in every joint—Crohn’s Disease.
Thirty years ago her surgeon
drew a circle three inches west
and two inches south of her belly
button—the spot where he’d construct
her cherry tomato stoma.
Every day of her life she
attaches her ileostomy bag
after cutting out the flange
and carving flesh-colored glowworm
strands of silky paste placed
so to affix the pouch
to her tummy. Sometimes Judy
and I dance naked and wild
around our bedroom. I say,
I love you in your birthday suit. Judy
says, My birthday suit plus one,
worried that I don’t love that extra part
clothed with a red flowered flannel
cover, like one of her nighties.