He Knew the Worth of Tools
He was a man who knew the worth of tools.
How having just the right one for the job
Was worth a lot, but clearly not as much
As knowing what to do with ones you had,
And what to do with tools he surely knew.
When just a boy on a Missouri farm,
He started hanging round the blacksmith shop
Whenever he could catch a ride to town.
Old Henry Ford’s new-fangled auto car
Had sparked a need for handy fix-it men.
He joined the revolution, then and there,
Brought by the horseless carriage on the land,
And learned mechanics on a Model T.
He mastered use of wrenches and of pliers,
Learned lessons he would use for decades hence.
To make it through the Great Depression’s dearth
He took whatever labor he could find.
He hoed bean rows and stripped bluegrass by hand,
With just the simplest tools to do the job.
His daily wage back then was just a buck,
But any honest work beat none at all.
To earn his daily bread he tilled the soil
Just like his male ancestors all before.
But he saw tools of farming changing too,
With tractors putting horses out of work.
He gambled on a combine harvester
That reaped and threshed and winnowed all at once.
Then hiring out his cutting-edge machine,
He saved enough to buy his own small farm,
And one by one he added to his tools.
In time he sold the farm and moved to town
To try his hand in the commercial world.
Still very much a Ford man in his heart,
He bought a dealership of farm machines—
The boldest speculation of his life.
But business wasn’t really his strong suit,
And when it failed, he carried on with tools.
He built a practice fixing implements —
Hay balers, corn pickers, tractors — all repaired
Right where they’d broken down out in the field.
And farmers round about began to say,
“If Ray can’t make her run she can’t be fixed.”
When he was well past sixty years of age
He got a crazy notion in his head—
He’d always dreamed of having his own shop—
So he measured out the plan in the back yard.
And there he built the thing all by himself
With salvaged lumber gotten almost free.
Of course, it looked just like a barn.
Because, well, that’s only thing that he’d built before.
But he knew well enough the tools required.
Beneath his hammer, nails sunk into boards
With just two strokes, or maybe three.
His singing handsaw made the sawdust fly.
His level, plane and plumb line kept all true.
Out of a worthless demolition pile
He fashioned form where there was none before.
His barn still stands though many years have passed.
With paint and care could stand for many more.
It needs someone with tools to care again.
And when his wife of more than fifty years
Grew absent minded and began to fail,
He looked in vain for tools to fix her with.
Installed a cook-stove, gas-line, shut-off valve
When she began to start forgetting things,
Like if she’d turned the burners on or off.
Nowhere on all his cluttered workshop shelves
Was there a tool to fix her slipping mind.
The final years he’d visit every day
Ensuring that she ate her rest home meal.
The only tool of any use a spoon.
In time, the spoon was of no use as well.
My work today requires different tools.
I toil in neither soil nor wood nor stone.
Instead of grease my hands are stained with ink.
I polish common syllables to rhyme.
I calibrate my words to find a song,
Fine tuning—like a carburetor—lines,
To make them run not either rich nor lean,
To purr and roar without the gassy fumes,
Obscuring sense and choking with the smoke.
My father’s tools lie idle on the bench.
The workman will not use them anymore.
With all the craftsmanship I can bestow,
I carry on instead with tools I know.
She Knew the Names of Things
She knew the names of things, knew them by heart.
Not just the farmwife flowers of the yard,
But the wild ones in the hidden woods.
And in the woods, she knew the names of trees.
She knew quaint sayings about country ways.
“That’s no sign of a duck’s nest,” she would say,
Defying explanation even then.
She knew the names of birds, common and rare:
The Red Wing, Meadow Lark and Mourning Dove,
Brown Thrush and Gold Finch and sad Whippoorwill.
She knew them by their call as well as sight.
She knew the names of lonely widowed aunts,
And she knew dates and anniversaries,
And surely, she recalled that doleful day
When the son who called her “Mother” was fished
By divers out of San Diego Bay.
For grief, she never spoke of it again.
And though she’d barely gone to school, she
Had sense enough to hang a dishrag up,
She knew her Whitman and her Bible well.
And when the door-yard Lilacs bloomed she paused
Amidst the sweet perfume, breathed, and recalled
The poem and soft fragrance that she loved,
Sweet messenger of spring—but not too sweet,
Not like the syrupy Petunias
That she also loved, but differently.
She always favored the modest flowers
That had a tinge of tragedy and loss
Like Lilacs and Lillies of the Valley,
Named for the suffering Savior of mankind.
She knew the things she loved, and she could name them.
But winter of the mind came drifting in
And names of things were slowly covered up,
As when the snow erases hue and shape
And leaves the garden white, formless and blank.
The soaring Hollyhocks were overcome,
Begonias, Honeysuckle, Marigolds,
The Morning Glories high atop the gate
Were covered, as was Aunt Minerva, too,
(Whom she loved like the mother she had lost),
And cousin Gene undone at Normandy,
And buried there amidst a cross-white field.
Peonies bowed their heavy heads beneath
The heavy snow and disappeared away.
So too, the old folks’ graves that she adorned
With their bouquets each Decoration Day.
Wild Lady Slipper too did not escape,
Entombed beneath its own soft shroud of white
With Buttercup, Catalpa, Trumpet Vine,
With Thistle, Jimsonweed and Columbine.
And covered too were Maples, Elms and Oaks,
The Willow tree we started from a branch,
The stately Cottonwood that soared above
The old farm woods, completely covered up.
And covered too were barefoot childhood days
On Clear Creek growing up carefree, before
Her still-young mother died of Spanish Flu,
And left five other kids for her to raise.
Those days she loved them, and she knew their names:
Hayward, Walden (though others called him Joe)
Jesse, Vivian, and the youngest Bill.
All these names buried and forgotten now.
Gone was her motto written out longhand
Held by a magnet to the old icebox
With wise and frugal counsel: “Use it up
Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.”
Old photographs stuck in a musty book
Assembled even as the blizzard blew,
A vain attempt to thwart the mounting snow,
The names obliterated anyway
By endless pitiless nameless white.
I walk now through the fiery leaves of fall
And ponder piles of faded photographs,
Repeating names I learned so long ago,
Recalling things and places I have loved
In hopes this recitation will forestall
My own impending blanketing of snow.
Perhaps my winter will be mild—or not.
Perhaps I will become snowbound as well.
But I shall say the names of things ’til then
And recall her who taught them first to me.
Remembering, turn my face to winter’s blast,
Defying it to dare to land a blow.
For I shall sing the names of things until
I lie here frozen stiff beneath the snow.
The Yuletide lights are packed away,
Grey leaves creep down the street.
The trees at dusk are shades of grey,
Grey sky makes grey complete.
The old man mutters as he scrapes
His trash can to the curb.
The trees complain and sway their shapes
As gusts their peace disturb.
A solitary sparrow picks
A solitary seed
Out from the desiccated sticks
To slake its piercing need.
Thin clouds scud past the frozen moon,
The distant highway drones,
Debris from windy storms lies strewn,
The path gives way to stones.
We’ve reached the nadir of the year,
The time when flowers sleep.
No wish can make them reappear
From their repose so deep.
September’s sun has come and gone
And now the fall is here.
October’s blaze adorns the lawn,
The swan song of the year.
The bonfires of my autumns past
Burn cool as I recall
The hayride loves that failed to last
Beyond the end of fall.
Out on the gridiron battlefield,
Where so much toil was paid,
Where cheers and chants once loudly pealed,
Now flags and glory fade.
Our friends and kinsmen now are few.
Our lovers are all gone.
All those we thought would see us through
Cannot be counted on.
When we were young we loved the fall.
We loved the leaves aglow.
Knew always we’d have one more fall.
Those days, what did we know?
Preparing to Go
As you distill your life, some sounds you keep:
The creak of joists, the refrigerator
Humming through the night, lulling you asleep.
Even in the dark you know every door
And how to find the switch for every light.
This house for all these years has been your home
But very soon you know will come a night
When you must leave these rooms, perchance to roam
Down fairer streets to dwellings not yet seen.
You’ve read the ads and glossy sales brochures,
Which promise life both active and serene.
You’ve bought the dream and all that it ensures.
You’re guaranteed a lot next to a green …
And yet … you fear your life there won’t be yours.
Perhaps it Was in Athens
Perhaps it was in Athens that you found
A glimpse of what you vaguely hoped was there.
You stood atop the pagans’ holy ground
The golden light shone all about your hair.
Perhaps it was in Florence when you stood
Before the boldly sculpted Hebrew king
That something stirred within you, something good,
Suggesting that one day your heart would sing.
But who would dream that your epiphany
Would strike in places both obscure and spare–
A country town on life’s periphery–
Or suburb that might well be anywhere.
Improbably, inside a darkened room
The golden light shone all about your hair.
Please Tell Me
Tell me the photograph I lately spied
While idly searching round the internet,
One of a greying woman and a bride,
A common scene of longing and regret,
She’s fussing with the buttons and the dress,
Just doing what brides’ mothers often do
To stall the creeping sense of uselessness …
Please tell me that this woman isn’t you.
Her eyes are heavy-lidded widow’s eyes,
Not wide and worshipful how I recall.
Her weary face with sorrow etched likewise,
Not fresh and freckled tempting me to fall.
Her lips so tightly clenched that I surmise
These can’t be lips that once held me in thrall.
When May Bursts Forth
When May bursts forth all moisture and mirth,
And birds bestir while you are still abed,
With everything bent on fostering birth,
And balmy blossoms like a banquet spread
Call to the wanderer weary and wan,
“Close your eyes and breathe and remember nights
When you lay upon the redolent lawn,
And took your bashful taste of love’s delights.”
For though that time is but a glimmer now,
And keenness of the night is now subdued,
A fragrant echo still awakes somehow,
And stirs again a near forgotten mood.
One kiss with wonder could the world endow.
In one embrace you found all you pursued.
I Sing Not for Glory
I sing not for glory nor for bread,
Nor for the praise of the credentialed clique.
But for hire more valuable instead,
To touch the honest kindred heart I seek.
I sing for lovers when love is green,
When time stops for a solitary kiss.
When light shines anew as with new eyes seen,
I celebrate your fey and fragile bliss.
I sing for the lonely, lovelorn heart,
When light grows cold and aching will not cease,
When your enchanted world falls all apart,
I offer modest salve to give you peace.
I sing for the pilgrim searching soul
Pursuing the heart’s true cause and treasure.
May heaven’s hound, you hasten to your goal,
And propel you to your proper pleasure.
I sing for the wise who see their end,
And, too, for those who have not yet awoke.
For to a common home we all descend,
With common dirt for all our common cloak.
I sing not for money nor for art,
Nor to amuse curators of our trade.
The simple wages of the simple heart
Will satisfy when my accounts are weighed.
That Bleak Season
That bleak season the cold creek ceased to run,
Grey weeds withered beside the roadside ditch,
Flat leaden clouds obscured a sullen sun,
Winds lashed ice-lacquered leaves without a twitch.
Field stalks bowed down to winter’s weary weight,
The world conspired to pile pang upon pang,
Even the crusted snow cried, “Much too late!”
Caged by a skeleton hedge, no bird sang.
That bleak season love went the way of leaves,
Good green seeming, but poised to take the fall,
First frost stunned then assailed by windy thieves,
Some futile few sought stubborn to forestall
The impending end ’til a fell gust cleaves
Asunder with only a scrawny squall.
Wafting comes the mower’s comforting hum,
Assuring all is just as it should be.
Our gates and fences all are rightly plumb,
We celebrate our capability.
New curbs and gutters sluice away wild rain,
Alarms and locks protect our doors from breach,
Our lives arranged to minimize our pain,
Designed to keep us safely out of reach.
But wreaking roots upheave the sidewalk path,
And worms devour our precious woolen thread,
The black and red mold creep into our bath,
Insomnia disturbs our peace in bed.
Despite our engineering and our math,
Our paradise is something less instead.
That Day We Lay Upon the Grass
That day we lay upon the grass,
A luminescent green.
The sparks that arced from arm to arm
Across the space between.
Our bodies quickened by the sun,
The willow leaves aflush,
The sunlight sparkling on the lake,
Our blood bestirred to rush.
Up and down the parkway, flowers
Enticing with their blooms,
Our loveless winter ended there,
Emerging from our tombs
For we had slept as sleepers sleep,
Unmindful of the world,
Astonishingly we awoke,
Much like a rose unfurled.
I choose to walk the old familiar ways,
To wend ways where I’ve put my foot before,
To gaze anew on views seen other days,
Which, though familiar, never seem to bore.
The changing light and seasons have their ways
Of making old things new: The light-laced hoar,
The first-flush, green-glow, bursting-forth spring days,
The growing tinge of gold we can’t ignore.
Each day, my dear, I choose afresh our trail,
The one we blazed so many years ago,
Eschewing other routes that might avail,
And hewing to the well-worn way we know.
Forsaking novelty need be no jail
With your face bathed in sunset’s golden glow.
The Day the Call Came
The day the call came
We had just dished up the ice cream.
A special treat for a Friday farm dinner,
(Not to be confused with supper.)
Mother had made it early that morning in ice cube trays.
“Freezer ice cream,” she called it,
Vanilla, made with Junket tablets to keep it creamy,
Even as it froze.
Not as good as the real, homemade ice cream cranked by hand,
But a whole lot easier.
And America was just starting its long affair with convenience.
The call came over the telephone
Mounted on the farmhouse wall.
With two bells for eyes,
You spoke into its honking, beaklike nose.
The earpiece cradled appropriately
Where the right ear should be,
While a hand crank made a poor excuse
For a drooping left ear.
It was a party line,
So the snoopy widow woman down the road
Knew as soon as we did.
The call came, and the man on the phone
Said Grandpa had just keeled over dead
At the auction over in Poosey.
So, we all got up—Mom, Dad, Big Brother and me,
And climbed into the ’50 Ford sedan
Dad was so proud to own.
The first car he’d ever bought brand new.
By the time we got to the auction –
It was a farm sale, really —
Where the worldly possessions of one farm family
Were being sold off.
One at a time.
By the hypnotically fast-talking auctioneer.
Not as depressing as the foreclosure sales
That were all too common
Just a few years before in the Depression.
This was a voluntary sale,
But a little sad nonetheless.
Some farmer was getting too old to run the place,
And didn’t have kids—or leastwise kids who wanted to farm.
A lot of boys joined the service in those days,
Or headed to Kansas City to find work, and a little excitement,
Rather than stay and try to coax a living
Out of that hilly, rocky dirt.
The man at the auction told us
Grandpa had been standing there in the sun with everybody else.
They were just about to start the bidding on the John Deere hay rake
When he grabbed his chest and fell right over.
Years later, they told me when he was a grown man
Grandpa had gone down to the river,
And been baptized, and filled with the Holy Ghost,
With the evidence of no longer speaking in profane tongues.
For, it was well known Grandpa had been gifted
In the art of colorful language.
“He used to could cuss by note,” was how Mother put it.
But after the washing with water and the Word,
Grandpa was never heard to swear again.
I only knew him as a white-haired old man
With a merry smile, and infinite patience
With Grandma, who required it.
And that was it, really.
Nothing more to say,
Except for the understated condolences
Of the country folk.
Nothing more to do,
Except for my father,
Now lately promoted to the role of the family’s eldest male,
Who assumed the duties and made the necessary arrangements.
Although I didn’t know quite what had happened,
I felt a lurch … as something shifted beneath me …
And I was yanked one more notch forward.
By the time we got back to the house,
The ice cream had long since melted
And now was returning back to solid state,
As it curdled in the September heat.
Illusions of Innocence
Time was, the sun stood high and corn grew green,
The juice of youth coursed through our throbbing veins.
Love easy and free as the night was keen.
The grass our bed, our bath the gentle rains.
We took up books of verse and lingered long,
Imagined we were wise as those in odes,
Took guidance from the lyrics of a song,
Cast off the quaint restraint of outworn codes.
All along, ignoring every sign:
The chill that comes and strikes the landscape dead,
The smut that spoils the corn and rots the vine,
The vulture drifting gravely overhead,
And, one subtle clue even less benign,
That not one selfless thought entered our head.
I saw you first in jonquil time,
When you were bathed in grace.
You sat aglow with fire sublime,
And golden shone your face.
I loved you first in lilac time.
A bloom I plucked for you.
I wrote you verse with song and rhyme.
I hoped you loved me too.
I kissed you first in tulip time,
It must have been a sign.
The buds and we were in our prime
When your two lips met mine.
I married you in daisy time
On summer’s longest day.
We traded rings and heard bells chime.
We pledged always to stay.
Too soon we’ve come to aster time.
The days are shorter now.
Would stealing some be such a crime?
We’ll make it right somehow.
Should we endure ’til wintertime,
The time when flowers sleep,
Dreams we’ll share of a gentler clime
Where we no more shall weep.
As the Oyster Forms the Pearl
As the oyster forms the pearl,
So the poet pens the verse
As balm for the current ache
Born out of the ancient curse.
As the oyster feels compelled
To shellac the sandy grain,
So the poet feels the urge
To transmogrify the pain.
So the pearl grows rich and round
As its luster covers the sand.
So the verse unseen takes form
In its way, designed unplanned.
Sad the pearl that lies unseen
In the depths of the murky sea.
Sad the verse that dies unheard
In the heart clandestinely.
So the diver frees the pearl,
Breaks the stony shell apart.
So the poet frees the verse
Ripped out of his broken heart.
The old hometown is aging, as am I.
The once wide streets grow narrow with the years.
As night descends, you all but hear a sigh,
For what once was has gone, and twilight nears.
Now, friends and kinsmen number fewer too,
And memories fade just like the painted sign
Proclaiming that the city “welcomes you!”
Strange how one’s soul and place so intertwine.
Life used to bustle round our stately square
’Til commerce shifted to the edge of town.
The grand facades are now much worse for wear.
Some landmarks have been torn completely down.
The business of my life took me elsewhere.
Cracks grew in walkways of both man and town.
I have walked now and then in rain,
Walked until the road gave way to stones.
I have known a thing or two of pain.
I’ve returned home alone at night
To rooms that don’t speak back to me at all.
I have stayed up late without a light.
I have watched the half-moon disappear,
Watched until the frost benumbed my face.
I have seen the seasons of the year.
I have left warm, pleasant rooms for plain,
Left without a word explaining why.
I have known a thing or two of pain.
SOMETIMES IN THE
Sometimes in the moonlight
The feeling comes afresh,
The old familiar feeling,
The aching of the flesh.
Sometimes in the summer
The noisy locust strains
Against the skin that holds him.
To shed his crusty chains.
When the trees grow weary
Of their summer masquerade,
And fallen leaves are gathered
I hunger for the shade
Of limbs that never falter
And love that never cools,
Where ruin never alters,
And where death never rules.
Here Comes Midsummer’s Milestone
Here comes midsummer’s milestone of our love,
Years since our selfish selves we pledged to yield,
So we’re as broken-in now as the glove,
I wore so long ago while in the field.
Fresh from the store unworn straight to my room,
Rubbed in the oil and every crease explored,
All through the night I savored the perfume,
The musky linseed leather I adored.
Come sober daylight with our job to do,
All awkward stiff not giving either way,
How many sweaty strivings’ deja vu
It took before we as one flesh could play.
Some ragged days I’d spit and pound the palm,
Or hurl the thing against the dugout wall,
But all the while a magic mute and calm
Mutated hand to glove with every ball.
The softening was gradual but sure.
Soon nerves and muscles seemed just like they spanned
From fingertips to join the glove secure,
As if I had been born with one webbed hand.
We’ve come now to the eve of middle age,
Well worn but with a lot of sport to go.
We must each for the other one assuage
Those stinging blows life certainly will throw.
We’ve held through wins and losses and through rain,
That etched new cracks not there at all before.
But loves like this were made to take the strain,
Just like that piece of cowhide that I wore.
What I miss most …
What I miss most when I’m away
Are the small shared jokes, the spoken and unspoken
Tokens of affection, the markers of our common history.
Like whenever you can’t find some misplaced thing
And I say, “It must be with your credit card,”
Which you lose like clockwork once a week
And then miraculously find again after a couple of days.
Or when all I have to do is ask, “You awake?”
To get a chuckle from you remembering
That old joke about Swedish foreplay,
Which leads to the joke about Scottish foreplay
And one of us saying, in a really bad accent,
“Brace yourself, Lassie!”
And then there’s that good old standby, “Want a backrub?”
That holds the promise of so much more.
Then there’s the way you have of so badly mangling
Ordinary, everyday sayings so as to make them
Almost unrecognizable, yet which make sense
In some altogether new, mysterious way.
How can I be jealous when you see some actor on TV,
And offer your careful, studied opinion,
“I wouldn’t kick HIM out of bed with a ten-foot pole.”
Or even though you may be mad at me
How can I do anything but laugh
When you stand there hands on hips and scold,
“You don’t listen to me two hoots!”
And I had no idea what you were talking about
When you said, “It was spreading like hotcakes!”
But I knew, whatever it was, it was going to be a big deal.
And of course, I had to just stop and marvel
When you described some half-baked effort of mine as
“Just a dent in the iceberg,”
And I didn’t even care that I knew I had a lot more work to do.
And it’s funny how our daughter seems to have inherited
Your gift of mixing words to make brand new verbal gems,
Or, as she so aptly put it just the other day,
“The spawn doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”
And there’s the way we can order dinner for each other
And just about always pick the right thing … because we just know.
Or the sound as you talk on the phone to some girlfriend
And I don’t even care what is being said on the other end
As long as I can eavesdrop on the music of your voice.
Or the way you propose some outrageous adventure
And then shortly thereafter change your mind,
Just to, I can only suppose, keep me on my toes.
“Never a dull moment,” is how I describe my life with you,
And, really, can there be a better endorsement?
There’ll come a day …
There’ll come a day when I shall no longer buy clothes.
I’ll eat fried chicken and biscuits smothered in bacon gravy
And wash it down with bourbon, and smoke a cigar.
And I’ll tell the waitress a joke and she’ll blush and she’ll scold.
And it will be alright.
And on that day, I’ll cancel the newspaper,
Or maybe just stop sending them my money,
Unless they beat me to it and go out of business first.
I’ll drink strong coffee and stir in heavy cream
And if I want, I’ll stay up late and sleep ’til noon
And I’ll go outside without a hat and walk on the grass
And turn my face to feel the sun
And I’ll give my cash to bums and beggars,
And make a trip to Goodwill,
And bring my college books,
And the suits I wore for business.
But I will keep my poetry,
And my old Bible.
And my photographs of you.
To remind me of all I know,
Or ever need to know,
Of truth, of beauty, and of love.
I heard them long before I saw them
Like a cacophony of oncoming clown cars.
Rising up out of the valley
And breaking over the Douglas firs.
The biggest formation I’d ever seen,
A magnificent wedge of geese all headed somewhere fast.
There must have been a hundred of them
Flying so low they went by just-like-that
With two hundred wings pumping urgently in unison.
And then they were gone
With just a fading honking echo left behind.
Was it a flock like that, dear brother,
That enticed you to run out of the barn door
That evening so long ago, shotgun in hand,
Thinking you might have a chance at bagging one?
Mom and I were up at the house making cookies,
And I remember hearing eerie wails and noises
Coming from the dark outside
And laughing, thinking it must be some strange animal
Making its strange animal sounds.
But when the cries went on and on
Mom got worried and went to look.
It could have been worse, you know.
You could have blown your head off,
You big klutz.
As it was, you only tripped over the threshold
And broke your elbow, which was bad enough,
So bad you couldn’t wrangle open the barnyard gate,
And so bad it made you moan like a dying beast.
But we drove you all the way to Cameron that night
To find a doctor who could set the bone.
And you got a cast and it healed up mostly,
And though you’d live another 60 years or so,
You never would be able to straighten out that arm.
You did your best to teach me how to hunt
But I never was much for killing things,
Yet … any time I hear wild geese approaching
I still run to where I can get a clear line of sight,
If only to shoot them with my eyes.
This piece of Baltic amber that I hold
Preserves a moment dangerous and fey,
A scorpion stands poised, erect and bold,
To strike and kill some unsuspecting prey.
So like our ill-timed love so long ago,
Sweet agony and trembling wracked our clay,
Cut cataclysmic short ere it grew cold,
Entombed alive and buried quite away.
And so, my dear, I pen this amber drop
In hopes some tell-tale evidence gets caught,
So fossil hunters eons hence might stop
And marvel how a love so fierce did not
Decay one whit past passion’s surging top,
Suspended thus within a sap-like thought.
PASSION LIKE A FLOWER
Passion like a flower must expire.
Nothing can be rigged to spare desire
From life’s rigors — magic nor petitions.
Petals fall to various conditions.
When the dizzy petal-peak is past,
Some folks act as if the bloom could last,
Pick some wilting lilacs for their table,
Haul them homeward just to show they’re able,
Plunk them in a fruit jar lately washed
Clean of last fall’s bounty, cooked and squashed —
Like they thought the glass itself had power
To delay the spoiling of the flower.
It may work a day, two days, or so,
Then the smell and color start to go.
Nothing glassy can preserve desire;
Passion like a flower must expire.
THE UKRAINIAN CANDIDATE’S FACE
“Ukrainian Presidential Candidate Poisoned.” – September 10, 2004
The day the Ukrainian candidate’s face
Erupted with boils and turned ash-grey,
Nowhere to hide with the whole world watching,
His cosmopolitan good looks marred
Beyond the power of greasepaint and powder,
Did his young wife then love him any less,
As the life mate who made her heart beat fast
Transmogrified before her very eyes,
Some curse spoiling his original face?
She knew (wives know) that something was amiss
The night before, when giving him a kiss,
She tasted something strange upon his lips.
Did she curse his drinking and say harsh words?
Perhaps suspect him of unfaithfulness?
(There are diseases you can catch, you know,
From Russian whores, that will pock your skin, and
Ruin your health like Chernobyl ruined the land.)
Who’d blame her for a thought or two like that?
His already fallen foe cleverly
With toxins the potato soup did lace,
Beguiled the unsuspecting innocent
To taste the apple-of-the-earth puree.
What would we think if we could only see
Before-and-after pictures of ourselves?
What wormwood dioxin pox concoction
Would we say has over-swept our race
More like a glacier than the mushroom patch
That blossomed in Yushchenko’s garden face?
A worm works through the apple of us all,
A mold grows slowly over all our work,
Our vaunted gleaming towers all will fall
As delegates palaver jackals lurk.
Anesthetized within our paneled homes,
Believing what has been will always be,
With weariness we author countless tomes
That give not wisdom nor help us to see.
A dust has settled over all the land,
Our wise men jabber loudly on the wall.
As good is named for evil, good is banned,
In silent shadows meanwhile serpents crawl.
This proud and stiff-necked people shall not stand.
The tribes of earth shall marvel at its fall.
“We’ll Sell No Wine”
“We’ll sell no wine before its time,” we’re told.
The fat and famous spokesman made it clear,
Each vintage has its period of gold.
(You must assess the pressing and the year.)
So, likewise, for each vintage comes a time
The point past which there’s no return at all.
Decay and oxidation work their crime,
And turn your sweetest nectar into gall.
So come, my dear, what are we waiting for?
Our cellar holds a few more bottles still.
Pick one and brush away the dust before
Time turns its contents back to must — time will.
Cast off our caution and our clothes and pour,
And drink with joy until we’ve had our fill.
Late Summer’s Sun
Late summer’s sun has baked the grass to brown.
The days grow shorter with each passing day,
Soon, autumn’s chill will make the leaves fall down.
All of this aching beauty will decay.
And yet I love the shadows’ slanting trace,
The once green grain gone golden in its rows,
And how I love the lines etched in your face.
It’s funny, as love ripens how it grows.
The number of our days we do not know.
No sleeper knows if he will ever wake.
So come, let’s join above, between, below.
My dear, let’s cause our fragile clay to quake.
Let us make love as if it’s our last go.
Let us embrace like dawn will never break.
Grapes of Wrath
Once I loved a Jewess,
Tenderly and fair.
I was her gentle gentile,
She my queen with raven hair.
She fed me cheese and crackers,
We followed mountain streams.
We slept outside on winter nights,
And traded smoky dreams.
We cried outside a movie —
Our comfort caused us shame —
Mascara stained my sweater black,
I whispered close her name.
But when I loved another Jew,
She could not understand.
She thought he’d died in Palestine
When Romans ruled the land.
I sometimes think I see her still
Though many years have passed.
A glimpse of black hair in a crowd
Still makes my heart beat fast.
We come now to the winter of our years
(Where did the autumn with its pleasures go?)
Our roof will all too soon be cloaked with snow,
So, come, let’s stoke our fire against the fears.
It seems another life ago, my dear,
That full of grace you pilgrim sat aglow
Enkindled so this prodigal would know
That grace was free and grace was very near.
Midsummer’s eve brought more epiphanies
Of spotless bride adorned, redeemed, in white,
Too ill for customary liberties,
So wan, yet still for these sore eyes a sight.
Then! Over Lake Champlain the full moon sees
A railway sleeper car rock through the night.
The wind and you played in my hair,
You lambent in the moon,
The night arranged as by design,
Afresh the breeze and warm our hands,
So lately introduced,
Traced so gently new found lands,
From tyranny aloosed.
While all around with fire and bang
Our freedom was proclaimed,
A nation’s liberty was meant,
To us, two hearts unchained.
THE PASSIONATE WRITER TO HIS LOVE
Come live with me and be my love,
Assured before you voice your fears
That we will meld as hand to glove
With tender wearing through the years.
How could I love another more,
Or ever you abandon me?
So come, our prospects let’s explore
Assay our hopes in honesty.
I’ll write old-fashioned poems for you,
The kind that sing with foot and rhyme,
To soothe your ear and gently woo
Your cautious heart in its due time.
We’ll stay abed when springtime rains,
And care not if it’s ever done;
We’ll pedal wooded country lanes,
And bask beneath a merry sun.
In lilac-time I’ll break for you
The heart-shaped leaf and purple bloom
That flourished when our love was new,
And filled the night with strong perfume.
Like hardy husbandmen of old,
Who ploughed and tilled the fertile soil,
We’ll give ourselves to labors bold,
And harvest children for our toil.
And when the winter of our years
Bespecks our thinning hair with snow,
We’ll stoke our fire against the fear,
Companions though the chill winds blow.
Relentless time moves on apace,
Time leaves its vanquished under stone.
But we can win at time’s own race
By choosing not to run alone.
Defying reason, let’s unite
To form a sturdy three-fold cord,
A braid miraculously tight,
Of bridegroom, bride and gentle Lord.
If my proposal your love stirs,
If this be your desire for life,
If to my faith your heart avers,
Come live with me and be my wife.
A Short Philosophical Love Note
Of what does missing consist?
(But first, know this, you are missed.)
It could be the lack of tender attack –
++++++You see, I’ve missed getting kissed.
It might be like a disease
That only your treatment can ease.
The symptoms persist and although I resist
++++++I wind up down on my knees.
It’s metaphysical tricks –
That’s strange, I know, but it sticks –
What else could explain the internal pain
++++++When my heart my law contradicts.
It could be all in the mind,
If mental’s the way we’re designed.
But wishing you were does not make you here –
++++++That’s truth of a different kind.
Who plumbs the depths of the soul?
And who knows the depth of the hole
Gouged when a lover heads for safe cover,
++++++Exacting outrageous toll?
The places we once went I often haunt,
As one cut off from sensibility.
The willing women are no threat to me,
While others dance seducing I sit gaunt.
Oh some, their new-found liberty might flaunt,
And advertise their eligibility.
I vex the lookers’ curiosity —
It’s you, it’s you, not others that I want.
Yes, mine’s an old, old story that’s well known:
How he who’s loved and left still walks the nights
And stalks the long-gone pleasures all alone,
Appears from nowhere at familiar sites,
Hears leaping laughter as a monotone.
Unable to partake in their delights,
He dents their merry with a glance of stone.
COME GENTLE SNOW
Come gentle snow and cloak the ground,
Shroud budding branches all around,
Let not one scent of spring be found,
Make flowers wait.
Come frost and freeze the throbbing juice,
Break March’s short and shaky truce,
No sprout nor songbird yet aloose,
Let spring be late.
Come wind and make the oak leaves hiss,
When they descend no one will miss
Their brittle shade — no artifice
Can bring them back.
Come night and steal the season’s gain;
The verdure will begin to wane
Despite the wealth of easy rain
If it stays black.
Come sleep and shield me from the past,
Help me forget her I loved last,
Wrap safely me in sanctums vast,
Away from pain.
Though I am not a bearded man nor burly,
I love you with a lumberjack-type love.
The only axe I take in hand securely,
This meager pen across the page I shove.
Please treat me not so fickle nor so surly,
Don’t shield your limbs below nor lips above.
I aim to fell you skillfully and purely;
Each word’s to chip the bark around your love.
A wise man once opined
That nothing so focuses the mind
Quite as much as knowing
That you’ll be hanged in the morning.
And while that may be true,
That knowledge is not really new.
Another wise man said
Soon or late we all wind up dead.
FALLING LEAVES LIKE LOVERS
The leaves, the leaves are gone except the oak,
Which cling to trees and rattle needlessly.
The others flame and fall for all to see.
They streak and sizzle, leaving only smoke.
But oak leaves hang as by some unseen yoke,
All browned and curled awaiting sympathy,
Or sap to course and lend vitality —
The leaves cannot perceive the sorry joke.
For spring will end the lie and they will drop,
To drift and rot and turn in time to dust.
As sure as buds will burst to make a crop
Of new, the old will flutter down — they must.
The falling leaves like lovers never stop.
It’s hardly gentle, but ’tis just, ’tis just.
Afternoon in late September
Shows us signs we both can follow,
Shadows where there were no shadows
Days before, encroach on meadows,
Turning brittle brown and yellow.
Six o’clock’s a dying ember
Causing grown men to remember
Another fall’s disturbing echo.
When, unnoticed, fell the first leaves,
Yellow elm leave tired of sunshine?
Who suspected seeing such ease
When the first chill stunned the green vine?
Is embarrassment the reason
Sumac’s crimson hides its poison?
When was foliage last so supine?
Rainy night in mid-October
Brings the icy confirmation —
Twigs encased in shiny coffins
Clenched in cold that never softens.
Even daylight’s ministration
Alters no repose so sober
As the sleep of mid-October,
Sleep of spreading desolation.
FROST IN MORNING
When the willow world is with hoarfrost hung,
And the white fog lifts leaving trees bright new,
The foliage flashes with a crystal clue
Of how the world looked when light first leaped young.
Before man’s weight and weakness had begun
To break the branch or bruise the sodden slough,
The garden grew unburdened, bathed in dew,
Grew like a canticle, perfectly sung.
Dear gentle woman grown so early old,
You’ve all but left us on our lonesome own.
Now after many years to spirit sown,
A creeping glacier scrapes your memory cold.
You, greener days ago, recited verse,
And planted hardy seeds of simple song
That rooted deep, perennial and strong,
To flourish in the shadow of the hearse.
Today your weathered hands no longer know
The jonquil from the mum, nor how to weed.
Today you prattle on without the seed
Of sense, that for so long you toiled to grow.
So now for you I pick this small bouquet,
Out of the garden patch you used to tend,
Now choked with worldly weeds from end to end,
In need of hands to cultivate its clay.
©Bobby Ball 2016