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1/120th of A Second

 

Is sometimes all it takes to capture happiness.

If you’re lucky.

I’ve done it. Thousands of times.

 

One shot at a time, I would repeat to myself,

While double checking focus and f-stops.

The best it can be. All you can do.

 

Move on.

No hope of meeting client expectations

Not on this job. Thankless really.

 

It never felt like a Nikon

I was holding in my hands

But their lives.

 

The hours alone are punishing,

arriving at first light at the bride’s parent’s house

before the makeup even goes on.

 

Forty pounds of equipment in tow

Sunrise, and nerves already

beginning to fray.

 

The bride for starters is never quite satisfied with

her dress or her hair

or her bridesmaids.

 

The groom often bears the look of someone

who has just been given

some very bad news.

 

Groomsmen are a particular challenge.

Lining them up,

they visibly stiffen.

 

Roll your shoulders, unclench your jaw.

Pretend you have actually met, I cajole.

To no avail.

 

And there’s always the visual artiste in the crowd

who tries wresting the camera away from you,

just for fun.

 

By the time I get to grab a bite

the buffet has been ravaged.

The wedding cake looks like a Dali painting.

 

Drunken husbands and wives

remembering their own ancient vows

push themselves in front of me at night’s end.

 

I still love her, you know, he slurs.

She rolls her eyes, shakily fixing her lipstick

before I freeze them in the blink of an eye.

 

I am always the last to leave

in the wee hours

just as the cleaners arrive.

 

I gather them together for the last image of the day.

They wonder why the fuss.

They wonder about this woman

 

Heading off alone in the dark.

Exhausted

after chasing happiness all day long.

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Equine Therapy

 

They remember you:

Their  heightened perception always at work,

An enigmatic sixth sense,

So rare in humans.

 

They open wide their huge liquid alien eyes,

Shift quietly in their stalls.

Their huge nostrils flare in welcome

At your approach.

 

For you carry with you

The scent,

Indelible in their memory,

Of someone once kind to them.

 

Astride their backs

We borrow their majesty.

We borrow freedom.

 

 

resized low res cover photo for The Music of Leaving

Funeral Sandwiches

 

It comes down to the ceremony now, the detail.

Pressing your shirt with the cutaway collar, not too much starch,

the way you liked it.

I sent the shoes that were a bit small,

but they were so fine-looking and you would approve.

At the last minute I remembered your favorite photo of all of us

for tucking into your suit jacket pocket.

 

Now to prepare the food for the mourners,

sandwiches to begin.

Made differently today,

the correct word is painstakingly.

The butter must be spread

to each and every corner of the bread,

sliced precisely

from freshly-baked loaves.

 

Heap both sides of the bread lavishly with spreads,

no scrimping.

No celery, you hated it.

Remove the crusts.

 

Assemble them ever so gently

before making the final cuts

into perfect quarters.

Clean the knife after each one.

Display them proudly

on my most treasured serving pieces.

And cloth napkins.

Only cloth.

 

All is ready.

Invite them in.

I’ll get this right

for all the times

I didn’t.

scarlet soda

Thirst

 

The sun was hotter.

You can tell.

Look at us squinting against it in photos then.

Everything washed out by the glare,

cheekbones, jawlines,

all detail surrendered.

Dazzled,

we could be anybody.

 

The gardens, look,

they’re parched.

It hurt to walk on the grass.

We lay in scorched backyards

slathering butter on our chests,

chain-smoking, eating fluorescent cheesies,

swilling bright red soda.

Everyone burned raw.

Everyone looked deliriously happy.

 

We knew

nothing could go wrong.

Our lives lay ahead of us.

Men were above us,

landing on the moon.

 

da-vinci revised

Past Master

 

Among da Vinci’s countless notebooks, all written in code,

or backwards, to ward off thieves,

is found a jotting that translates to:

“Tell me if I ever did a thing.”

 

Hardest on himself,

his abandoned projects haunted him,

and those completed offer little solace:

scissors, the parachute, a clock with a minute hand,

the helicopter,

the first contact lens.

 

An upstart, he sketched Mona Lisa, no doubt, just to keep us guessing.

Her lips alone took him 10 years.

Voracious curiosity fuelled him,

climbing a mountain outside of Milan to understand

why the sky was blue.

dissecting human cadavers to perfect his anatomical drawings and,

it is rumored,

lions!

 

When he was commissioned to paint the Last Supper

he reluctantly put aside a joke book he was writing,

and throughout his life was convinced that if only we had wings

we could fly like birds.

 

Imagine this man’s to-do lists:

“Have Avichenna’s work on useful inventions translated.”

“Buy mustard.”

“Get a skull.”

 

 

 

The Trouble with Science

 

If it’s true

as grim neurologists now claim,

that our memory is far from intact,

that the very process by which we retrieve the past

is flawed, random, that it plays fast and loose with

fact, detail, even

colour. Then how exactly do I conjure

what was us.

 

If it’s all up for grabs,

all bets off,

what was true?

The way you looked at me that evening

on the boardwalk,

was it as tender as I picture it now?

And your kiss. As deeply felt?

Did you profess your love in three languages

or was it just two?

Before you round the corner do you actually

turn to look at me

one last time?

Are you in the blue shirt

or the red?

Are those actual tears?

 

But science falls short. It overlooks

the power of the human heart

which has a memory all its own,

where the moments of our lives never alter,

fade

or grow old.

Where a look remains as tender

as when first it was delivered,

a heart quickens just as it once did.

Yearning as fervent,

passion as acute,

and in that special place

the moments worth remembering

lie in wait for us, inviolate,

undefiled by time

or synapse.

OLD SHOES

Coming to Nothing

Coming to Nothing

 

The day-to-day momentum

carries us with it,

making it impossible to imagine

this all shall pass.

 

Too much to think this will end,

carrying us into oblivion alongside

all of our carefully honed plans,

our exquisite attention to detail.

 

Who can contemplate that one day

and not so very far away,

another, perhaps even a stranger,

will be charged to sift through our lives,

tossing into random piles

our old day timers, nail polishes

and favorite sunglasses,

expired library cards.

 

Who can comprehend that one day

Some distant cousin may glance

at a dog-eared photograph

of a laughing, red-haired woman,

and ask with fleeting interest

to no one in particular:

Wasn’t she a writer?”

 

 

book revised

There is a Poet I’m Reading

 
There is a poet I am reading
after coming upon his dog-eared collection
while cleaning a bookcase.
I had forgotten even owning it.
His name won’t mean anything to you, never famous or fashionable.
But it draws me after all these years,
this slim dusty volume so long abandoned.
And how quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice, resurrected now
line by line in the slate gray light of this autumn afternoon. 
 
His father’s nurse says she’s too tall for marriages.
The younger poets are ample in their margins.
The migrating salmon leap like sparks from some windy chimney.
The sound of his son’s bat on a baseball, sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s arc making the field small.
 
It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
his particular genius now back in my life.
I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
And I don’t have a baby. Now it’s too late.
I pull you close. We have missed nothing. This is our only life.
And just when I think he can give me no more
Comes his closing prayer:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.