church-cross

Reverence

I can’t step into a church without being reminded of Leo.
I see him, leaning heavily on his cane, waiting in the vestibule
to usher the parishioners to their seats,
his labored gait up the aisle, one leg stiff,
the shoulder of his Canadian Legion jacket strewn
with medals and ribbons.
In the stillness the rubber tip of his cane
squeaks loudly against the polished floor.

The star resident at her mother’s boarding-house,
my friend Linda said we should visit him.
He’d insisted,
and there had been toffees promised.
Restless and bored one spring day I relented,
followed Linda home and climbed the stairs lazily to Leo’s room.
Unlike the others his door was open.
There was Leo, lying on his bed, his cane alongside,
rest the only respite from his affliction.

Come in, close the door.
Feed my bird Charlie.
I worried then about telling my mother this.
But Leo wasn’t a stranger.
Everyone knew Leo.
Father Blackwell told us in catechism class
it was men like Leo who had kept us free.
The shabby room smelled of wet wool
from clothes drying on the radiator
and of Old Sail, his pipe tobacco.
A bowl of sweets beckoned by the bed.
Charlie was bustling about in his cage.
Sit beside Leo, honey.
A good Catholic girl, I did as the hero said.
The bristles of his beard stung my face,
his breath turned to a rasp.
I smelled something fetid on his breath.
When he released me
Charlie was singing,
still.

book-1696642_960_720

While cleaning out a bookcase.

For Richard Blessing

There is a poet I’m reading
After being surprised to come 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,
His slim dusty volume so callously abandoned.
How quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice,
Like that of a long forgotten beloved friend,
Resurrected now line by line,
Rising off the yellowed pages
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, as sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s leaping arc making the field small.

It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
Someone I didn’t even know I had lost,
Relieved to have unearthed his particular genius, restored it to my life.

I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
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, this long dead poet
With no name you would know:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.

glass-resized

Face Value

John Wayne hated horses. Took a truck whenever he could.
Esther Williams hated water. Couldn’t wait to dry off
after every shot.
Dr. Seuss was annoyed by children, their unpredictability.
Beiber probably hates his own music.

Whatever you think is true about anyone
turn it on its head then flip it again.
You’ll be closer.

Next I’ll be telling you Marilyn Monroe hated sex.
But I bet you a year of Hollywood’s grosses
she did.

It gets worse:
The flawless model: photo shopped.
The philanthropist cheats on his taxes.
The environmentalist cannot live without A/C.
No one throws it back like the prohibitionist.
The priest,
I hate to say it, the priest’s no saint either.

Assume everyone you meet is revealed to you
Through a prism,
Leaving you one option: to tease out
the viewing angle with the least distortion.
And even then.

Jeff-Phillips-Reflection-in-Puddle_840x400

November Came to Me.

 

Without warning

November came to me

In June.

The morning primrose newly budding in their sun warmed beds,

Always a welcome harbinger,

Now meaningless to me from

The dark and deep quiet of my bedroom above.

 

The stars when they appeared seemed meant for others

Capable of joy, even simple recognition,

My November revealing them as distortions,

Pinpoints of lights in the torn fabric of a distant

Foreboding world.

 

November came for the best of me

To extinguish my light,

My peace,

Leaving behind flats of nothingness

Hours, days, never to be accounted for,

Regained,

As I groped blindly through them.

Or slept. Or stared.

 

Laughter seemed inconceivable.

Sadness lay deep in my marrow

When November came to me

In June.

 

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Philips.)

SW06

How Things Happen

 

And you had no idea
They were coming.
The neighbor who turns ugly about your
Dog.
The girl you had your eye on all those months at night school
And you hear she got engaged to the dullard two rows
Over.
The audit the year you got
Sloppy.
The partner you thought had your back
Who contradicts you over a triviality among
Friends.
The doctor’s news when only that day
You’d ran five miles and met your wife for
Cappuccino.
The toddler not perfectly buckled
Up.
The gift of white designer jeans
Confirming he has not the faintest idea who you
Are.
The cop at the door
When things were going so
Well.

sepia photo for Brothers In Arms

Brothers in Arms

 

Writers are the most natural of allies.
We inhabit the same landscape.
The three a.m. grope for the right word.

We try not to wake anyone.
We stare at a comma. Just stare.
We wrestle with line breaks.

We start again.
Our drafts sit in piles.
Semi-colons mystify us all.

We find fascination in minuscule detail.
The girl’s hair down, or should it be a braid.
The navy shoes or the pale blue.

Was it raining or threatening rain.
Did she say the word goodbye or whisper it after.
Was the door left ajar on purpose.

We know there is a perfect title. A perfect modifier.
If only we can find it,
Tease it out gingerly.

Recognition is hard won.
What do poets do, they ask, mystified.
I’d write too if I had the time.

We creep into bed in the wee hours
Still wrestling with the last line.
Wondering if we came even close.

But if we get it right
We dare to join the pantheon of immortals
Before us,
Who persisted in that same dim light for the one word
Just out of reach.