Published on: 1/4/2011
In the glove compartment of my neighbor's Volvo
hid always a fresh pack of cigarettes.
His son and I liked to steal a few whenever
the frustration between us made our company
whenever without some soft presence
like the talcum-white smoke from the breathy
glow of tobacco cherries
to salve the hurt of our musical shortcomings
we risked dwelling on our failure to release
the turmoil trapped within our bodies -
the turmoil we resonated with, but lacked
the skill yet to perform away.
His father's cigarettes held for a time the frustration
at bay, but even music yet unheard
pulls for resolution and when after
his father's heart attack
the glove compartment
stash changed to Menthols we began buying
our own flavors,
that with each box came not only
twenty moments of fire and salve but also
the slow pull of independence that drove us
to choose different solutions
to our musical shortcomings.
My friend chose to away deeper into the turmoil
by fleeing Van Nuys for Paris and a conservatory
where he could spend his days and nights
becoming a fount
of endless melody that draws upon his frustration
instead of like me who chose the work-a-day worries
away from music
to smolder out under the promise of security -
a computer, a cubicle, and little compensation
for the regret of my never becoming or for the fear
that my becoming was possible and ignored.
When my friend walked on stage to perform
his senior recital he sat down at the piano
The keys were splayed as they
had been for semesters and centuries, but he refused
to play them and in refusing
he chose - out of pride, pretense, or paranoia
I can not say - to shun
success by choosing not to graduate.
Years later, his father suffered
a predictable but premature death. Decades
of cigarettes taken one sigh after another
took him into a hospital where
divorced and alone
he soon checked himself out into night to die
in the hospital parking lot.
Last weekend, I found myself bumming
cigarettes from a bartender who knew
about the greats of Jazz
and, for several hours, I recounted the names
from my musical youth and enjoyed more
bodily the smell and flavor
of my nicotine memories
than I had in their making
because choice was the bitter threshold
where my youth passed into the wilds
where fear, refusal, and compulsion
can quiet you face-down beside a car tire.
Published on: 1/4/2011
Alone in the Killing Jar
The jar itself would have otherwise pickled
cucumber or preserved jams,
but my friend's father had smeared the insides
with a nebulous amber film
like clotting honey
and instead of thereafter sitting sealed
with the fruits of labored months gone by,
it killed, but it killed
gently and in a manner of patience - if patience
could come and embrace you, surround you,
and slowly take every panicked breath
until the terror passed into drowse
and the drowse then into death, leaving only
the unbruised body you once crawled among
the short grasses with
or fluttered around
the honeysuckle and citrus with
quiet and empty.
Published on: 1/4/2011
My poetry's hobbler is meaning.
despite my vow to write well-wrought
thought that moves from hand
to page and page to print with margins
meant for readers' gloss,
a meanness of meaning
and never get anything
So, say I'm writing the climbing
of stairs to my door,
where over and over the stepping and straightening
of my leg on the left with the
compression hip screw
plays itself out up the flight
in my head, but
I don't write it yet
because my limping left leg
wobbles and wavers
having disremembered the muscles and methods
my right leg can't remember needing.
There I am, sitting and writing
about stepping and straightening
watching it turn to
sitting and quitting
because the lack of meaning anesthetizes my pencil.
- I mean, who cares? . . . stairs?
It's a dull conceit at best,
and a cliché at, well, it's a damned cliché!
But I can't stop
sitting and quitting about stepping and straightening
and trying to extract some meaning
from every foothold in my mind
and my phone rings.
"Why are you breathing like that?"
- I'm writing a poem.
- Steps. I'm walking up steps.
- Yeah. I live on the third floor
and my leg makes it hard to write poetry.
"Oh. So you're not thinking about her?"
(Then I remember
how I could
driving into the snow.
You nodding away on the bench seat beside me,
layers of soft bundling around you
fighting the fall your head wanting to make,
and me -
whispering in wordless aspiration,
"let the chasm between us fill with
the mountains around us,
and let us finally meet with each."
But your temple
never finds my shoulder
and we never share that gentle
when two trust the gentle between.
You vanished down the slope.
I wasn't fast enough to find you.
I couldn't turn, I couldn't stop.
Before the ambulance
that drove me
under the scalpel
that parted my skin
for the drill
that opened my bone
for the metal
could swallow me,
I tell someone,
to drive you gently
because quick mountain curves
would leave you sick.)
- No. I'm not thinking about anything.
I'll call you back, I'm in the process of quitting.