John the Author
So John it is. Not the King. Not the Baptist.
A discussion of dust...a pillar of ice.
Moonlight scavenging my eyes at night
like gulls at a picnic plate.
Always one step in the circle,
always beginning again,
in this house, a place I know
more from memory than feel,
surrounded by the yawns of empty coffee cups,
closets stuffed with past lives.
back cramped by chair in which I carry on
changing short sighs into long sentences,
on this latest round trip called writing
Thursday is it?
I abandoned the calendar years ago.
I am an inspector of study windows.
of illustrated books and dictionary meanings.
I surrendered my claim to life
the morning I noticed the dew
like diamonds twinkling on the grass.
"You can't eat grass," my mother said.
But fawns do.
And here you are, come visiting
as if I'm nothing but a street sign,
as my life is not lived between
a bookcase and a trash can filled with
crumbled up sheets of paper.
I do nothing whatsoever outside of here.
And yet you speak as if I'm standing
in twenty acres of land.
No, this is my tomb.
You speak to the dead
in the clothes he slipped on this morning.
But you arrive with love,
the universal predator.
And what do I have to fight you off with.
A keyboard? The Complete Works Of Shakespeare?
For all this, I conform.
Your head rests on my shoulder like a cloud.
I kiss your check, that treasure of last century.
We make love, rows of faces,
sweaty, unkempt, fading into night.
"You can't fade into night," my mother said.
But fawns do.
We meet up again
in an east side cafe
after ten years -
I won't say
ten long years –
our words of greeting
send old angers
into battle with
the heavenly tenor
of current situations -
and some particular riffs
on the unspoken:
would you like
with my unanswered questions?
how about a Danish,
to go with
real or imagined hurts?
we laugh together,
catch up on a decade,
end up feeling better
for the encounter –
accidental reunions are
all the rage so I've heard -
funny but I used to think
that rage was all the rage.
Looks Looks Looks
I have respect for these bones
I wrap my odious flesh around;
they're like an audience who won't leave
no matter how bad the jokes;
they're serious, inflexible, solid, stolid;
have to love that in a skeleton.
My priest always warns against
the "sins of the flesh" but he never
shames the tibia from his pulpit.
I'm willing to believe that God
made the bones and the rest was left
to the devil and fashion magazines,
and of course the odd dermatologist
and plastic surgeon, at our instructions of course;
so I have to admire the quiet assuredness
that seats me in a chair, lays me flat out
in a bed, and sure the muscles do the
hard work, but fingers without bone
would drop the planet on my foot,
likewise bone-less legs would have me toppling,
and thigh-less thighs would see my head dangling
like a limp flag from my knee,
except I wouldn't have a knee;
but then another woman comes along
to test my frail sincerity:
she runs her fingers down my cheeks,
says she likes my face.
My skull deserves the compliment
but it's my tan that quells the blush.
I'm too comfortable, too accepting
of my current situation, to pay any
attention to what got me here.
And, as for the others who have it worse,
my self-centeredness can't get out
of its own way.
Starving children without a
slice of bread between them,
fleshless skin, morbidly morphed faces -
I can't see a thing from my window.
And the yard is too serene,
too closely clipped, to be a war-zone.
If there are bodies out there
then they sure do resist my eyesight.
No floods, no droughts,
no drive-by shootings,
no anger, no guilt, nothing.
I’m too immersed in kindness
to even get a line on cruelty.
I do read the newspaper,
watch television, but still
don't recognize anyone I care to know.
At sunset, my wife sits beside me
on the patio and we sip wine together
as we watch the sun go down.
For all the fire, the primeval forces at work,
that sunset seems to me quite uneventful.
Likewise the coming of night.
It's never the coming of darkness.
In the Crowd
An overweight bruiser
and a woman with a stomach
as hard, as rigid, as the base of an equestrian statue -
that's just some of my competition
for the limited amounts of air in here.
All of us are where we are,
at the behest of someone else's elbows, their thighs.
I am no longer singular,
just part of slowly moving whole,
lungs fighting for breath,
feet carried along by the legs of strangers.
I don't move as much as I am moved.
And there's no way for me to
set out somewhere on my own.
Even the slightest opening
doesn't quite squeeze my way.
The space is so populated
that everyone is oblivious to direction.
Are we here? Are we there?
Will we ever get there?
Will we ever get here?
Where are we going anyhow?
Maybe it's tickets for the show we're after.
Or we're just struggling to get into the ball park.
Or we're nudging toward a famous author signing books.
In the midst of a crowd, purpose gives way to sweat,
to pushing against my own grain.
I'm just lucky if I'm not trampled
or I don't trample somebody.
I see a space but it's quickly filled.
I'm constantly clashing with the nearest flesh hereabouts.
Arms reach over me like waves of water.
I could drown at any moment.
Somewhere, in the distance,
I do believe that someone actually makes it
through the turnstiles or into the club
or to the ticket window.
So now I know why I'm here.
I'm lining up to be them.
My Hard Times
I have so much to tell you
but let me make myself comfortable first.
The fire's been lit
and I've never seen a brighter,
felt a warmer, flame.
And I'm seated on this couch.
Let me just say that
if these cushions were any softer
they'd be breath.
My legs can touch the floor
if I want them to.
Or they can float in mid-air.
I'm in robe and slippers
and, had I been born a hundred years earlier,
I'd no doubt be reaching for my pipe.
I pat that soft fur of the spaniel
at my feet.
Does that count?
And here comes my wife
with two steaming cups of hot cider
that my nose has already succumbed to
while my taste buds are licking their lips.
She cuddles up beside me
and the beat of her heart
takes center stage
while, in the wings,
her head drops gently onto my shoulder.
Now...where was I...my hard times...
let me begin...
Do I Stay With Her or What?
A few thoughts hung around
like bad kids that won't go to bed -
what about? who am I to? why not?
so she had a heart as big as a ballplayers ego -
but her dress fitted her like the skin of a mermaid
and her thighs were a busy reception desk
with a flask of whiskey in the bottom drawer -
I live in total ignorance of them -
it's only sometimes bliss -
and the air was a spider web
that clung to the edge of my throat
where I made animal cries for help -
my body was tense, arms wearying
as if I was holding up one end of a bridge -
darkness from an abandoned church,
prowled slowly through the rooms -
the cat showed up
with a malignant face
and tight green eyes -
I hauled my real opinion of her
from my head down to my mouth
and I vomited -
but I still wasn't really convinced -
my stinking breath was a curtain of small clear beards
it didn't dissolve, didn't float off, didn't move -
still hasn’t moved
An Aging Writer
Possibly there is something on the bed,
and possibly this something is an old man,
And what then?
Archaeologists suggest digging in the bedroom's
formal arrangement of elements
where bony cheeks glimmer in morning sun,
nostrils flutter like flags,
waking can be viewed as complete.
He is no longer judged by the quality of his flesh,
merely his inscrutable artistic intent.
Age is eighty or so
but intention knows no limit.
Nor does imagination.
Something is incomplete.
The insoluble needs solving.
It is not about belief. That's his priest's domain.
And there are no leisure options - just interruptions.
There's pills of course - to tune down the heart,
to regulate the stomach.
And new studies suggest...
but he never reads new studies.
Doctors, he reckons, only exist
to bother the intelligent.
Not even accounting for the size of the bills
they send him.
He grabs hold of the bedpost and stands.
For a moment, he's bones, skin tissue, hair.
but then his mind kicks in
and he rubs droopy eyes with droopier knuckles.
Another day on his own terms.
It will take the form he's planned for it.
A history of Thomas Jefferson.
A primer on Lepidoptera.
Maybe something in the middle.
American history versus moths.
Writing has always been an impulsive media.
First, coffee to evict the ghosts.
Then, as per protocol, that old creaky chair, the typewriter.
It's how he's been doing it for sixty live years.
Arthritic fingers take to the keys
like a fish to a puddle of rain.
The Dying Delta
After a Southern dream
of a young woman in a white dress
sprinting across the lawn of an antebellum mansion,
chased by some bearded guy with a gun
waving the flag of the great disorder,
I get down to sadness in a cypress swamp.
Landscapes suffer and who knows a delta's needs,
a blue sky in brown water,
a marshland getting by on luck
and the dutiful splendor of the merest forms of life.
In sweaty khakis and heavy boots,
I trudge through the swill clouds of a lowly heaven
where egrets are angels
and the alligator is god.
Time to pray, I'm thinking. Time to pray.
There are laws of nature
that are not themselves anymore.
Yet their small print holds me up
though knowing it's the likes of me
who made them what they are -
shrinking waters, ghost trees,
decaying mangroves and a vanishing frog.
Your killers once ordered slaves into the fields
to the great whip of heat
and called them songbirds.
That's how they abandon their true history.
Now you are nothing but the lie behind the legend -
an estuary of a once mighty river,
a waif abandoned to the homes and highways,
and we all know what charity that brings.
First light flakes of snow
fall onto the sidewalk and poof!
No use staring down at the cement
when more of the things
are alighting on my hair,
vanishing among the flecks of gray
without a hint of dampness.
Across the street, a couple
are speaking to each other
but their words do not carry.
And a car is ambling down
the road, so slow, so quiet;
its engine doesn't register as sound.
More flakes pat against
the sides of buildings.
Without my witness,
they would never exist.
A block down, a pretty girl,
long, lanky and blonde,
even with fake fur to thicken her,
awaits entry into the hardware store
where she surely works.
The snow-flakes that disappear
in her tresses, down her neck,
across her cheeks
are as invisible after contact
as the key she does not have
to let herself in.
Eventually, of course,
enough next to nothings
will create something out of this.
The word "accumulate" comes to mind.
But am I not accumulating:
flakes and couple and car
and building and loveliness.
A weatherman might forecast me
as just a dusting.
But I'm out on the sidewalk
on an early December morning,
taking it all in,
and ready to be deep.
I depart my pointless job,
cross the parking lot,
one of the minority
who are not yapping into cell phones
as the sun too clocks out.
The briefcase is the millstone of choice, these days.
In my grandfather's day, it was the lunch-pail.
The old man used to tell me
how grateful he was
to earn an honest regular paycheck.
The office squeezes what it can from me
then the traffic applies its own version of that ever-turning vise.
By the time I turn into my street,
you could mistake me for a clam shell on the beach.
My neighbor waves
as I extract bills from the mailbox.
I don't have a white flag in me
so I wave back with my hand.
It's not so cold
but I start up the fireplace anyhow.
I need to do something that's just for me.
I even prepare an actual meal.
The company thought they had all of me.
But I was saving myself for this.
Warm skin and satisfied taste buds -
a salary commensurate with the effort required.
Any overtime is sleep.
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