You say cicada, I say locust

Cicadas shed their skin
Back in Missouri where I grew up, we had an insect about the size of the end of your thumb that folks called locusts.

The proper name for these critters was “cicadas,” but for me, they will always be locusts.

These bugs made a terrible racket when they started their serenade. Some sources say the noise is so loud it can damage the human ear.

I won’t take that bet. They can be exceedingly annoying.

But they are also fascinating because they molt and leave behind an almost perfect exoskeleton. As a kid, I would collect these artifacts like little relics.

My fellow poet over at Dancing Echoes recently wrote a haiku about these creatures.

Dancing Echoes does a great job coming close to the original idea of haiku.

The old haiku masters combined words with beautiful calligraphy and drawings to form a total experience.

Dancing Echoes pairs each poem with a beautiful photograph. In this effort, she approaches the complete experience achieved by the old masters. You could say it’s haiku for the modern age.

The cicada haiku from Dancing Echoes reminded me of an old poem sitting in my files gathering dust. It’s not haiku. But it does feature a cicada — or rather, a locust.

SOMETIMES IN THE
MOONLIGHT

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.

A poem about a glove, and love, and my wedding anniversary

Here comes midsummer's milestone of our love
Just like that piece of cowhide that I wore

Long before I discovered girls, my first love was baseball.

I cannot begin to total up the hours spent playing baseball, watching baseball, collecting baseball cards, sorting baseball cards, reading about baseball, and dreaming about playing in the World Series.

I knew the starting line-ups of both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City A’s by heart.

When I played one-man whiffle ball against my friend Royce, we would pick a team and go through the line up as each individual player. If the guy batted right, we batted right. If he batted left, we batted left.

(We drew the line at pitching left-handed, because neither of us was truly ambidextrous.)

Our spare time was spent searching for discarded pop bottles which we could turn into the neighborhood grocery store for two cents apiece. Every 5 bottles meant we could buy two more packs of baseball cards.

Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 13, we moved on to other interests. A long and winding path led me to the love of my life.

We were married 30 years ago today.

The inspirations for this poem are multiple. Several years ago, it was coming on to midsummer and my wedding anniversary.

I was feeling that sense of my youth slipping away. But I was confident that good things still lay ahead.

I was also listening to a lot of Van Morrison. His song “Madame George” was stuck in my head. (Quite possible the more poignant song ever written.)

In particular, I was hearing the line where Van does his improvisational thing where he repeats the words “love” and “glove” over and over in an almost hypnotic chant.

My story is about a very different glove, and a very different love. But that merging of the two words was lodged in my mind.

The result of all of this ferment was this poem.

The only time I’ve ever read it in public, I was told it was “an audacious metaphor.”

I’ll take that.

Today, upon the occasion of my 30th wedding anniversary, I submit this little poem. It’s as true today as when I wrote it years ago:

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.

A birthday poem for my wife

Never a dull moment with you
Never a dull moment with you

Today is my wife’s birthday, so I’m giving her a little poem.

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?

Carver’s best poem?

Raymond Carver wrote “Hummingbird” for his wife, Tess Gallagher.

Raymond Carver wrote a lot about his difficult youth, about his battle with drink, and about fishing.

But he also wrote about love. Early on in my reading of Carver, I would skip over a lot of his poems because I detected early on the subject matter just didn’t grab me.

But I stuck with it and started finding gems. Like this one written to his second wife, the poet Tess Gallagher. I believe it was written late in his life when he knew he was dying.

Hummingbird
(for Tess)

Suppose I say summer,
write the word “hummingbird,”
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box. When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.

I’m not sure it this is Carver’s best poem because I haven’t read them all yet. But, it’s a contender, in my book.