Love and Time
who’d have guessed
when we watched
that first red dawn
come over the rooftops
of the tenements
together, first night
talking all night, hands
touching & caressing &
bodies warm & softly
that years later
I’d be lying here
admiring the curve of
your breasts & back,
the pleasure of your
greying hair, & thrill
still to your hands
touching my shoulders &
caressing my breasts.
O let’s be
immortal long after
to earth at last,
for those to come.
all our jams are up,
& our watermelons, tomatoes, cukes & peaches.
cruising past these fields of corn,
their tassles shining in the sundown,
already I’m dreaming of Thanksgiving.
in fall I can’t help but think of death,
what a dear color it is:
already here & there the maples turn;
here is a funeral cortege, holding up traffic,
the women covering their faces,
heads bent, the men solemn, staring straight ahead.
a whole life passes before me,
someone I never knew:
the sun shines over the hearse, thru the windows,
onto their laps where their hands are folded.
home, sitting on the porch with you,
these sweet short moments
talking & looking over our marigolds
never come often enough.
yet together our lives are kind; we get by,
savoring this time
as the gardener puts his yard in order.
everywhere I look, people are whistling, busy:
now’s the time to read Whitman again.
together panting at
each other’s lips, their
pressed hips & thighs
where the moistened lips now
swelled around the hot
& she rolled him over & forced
on him, forced
the rod up & in &
she rocked & rocked
on him & he pulled her
her swollen nipples at
his hands now rolling her
hips in a wild rhythm
gasped & plunged
& gasped & plunged
the head suddenly
swelling within her, she
splashing across their
now motionless bodies—
curve of her back
curve of his breast,
his small nipple hard, exposed—
sitting up, he brushing
her hair back, his
finger running across her
calm night, still night,
where the lovers lie,
night with dew on the petals,
night where the rose bends,
fragrant night whose trees now
singing in the clear white light
of the still leaves in the garden.
the doctor says to go in after midnight.
we drink coffee & mark time, eating oranges.
thru the Emergency door,
she waves as they wheel her around the corner.
soon we’ll be together
passing the long night.
when I arrive, they’ve given her ice chips.
the pain’s more intense.
we breathe together, but it does no good;
by morning, I’m exhausted, she wants drugs,
holding back the screams. her cervix won’t dilate.
I can’t calm her.
now they want X rays.
I’m shaking, draining off coffee,
staring out the window at the expressway,
watching a nurse change diapers in the nursery,
I keep dreaming about birth & death,
how close they are, doors into new worlds.
now they say they’ll do a caesarian;
we’re cut off completely.
how long can this go on?
the nurses change shifts.
a birth is announced, the father’s beaming;
the rest go on trying to read magazines we can’t read,
fidgeting, staring out the window.
finally they call me:
I walk down the halls listening to my steps echo
& there they are,
Suzy, incredible smile,
& that bundle with blue eyes at her side.
October, shotguns blast the air
all thru the valleys;
the sun bursts thru cloud
lighting the browned grass before me
as I’m wandering thru this field
choosing flowers for your bouquet.
blood in the toilet
& cramps like labor, tissue
settling to the bottom of the water:
outside, the moon’s cut in half,
frigid in the mist. man & wife,
they cry softly together,
& look into each other’s eyes.
Sky Spread Out with Stars
unborn child kicks her, kicks her,
& I awaken to her groans & calm her,
walk out into the cold January night
to see the sky spread out with stars, remember
echoed across the vast wilderness
now echoing back in the inner ear:
as childhood friends died in war
I walked the old paths, obsessed,
hearing my bones talk as joints moved,
first time I knew the myrmidon within
& felt my eyes revolving in my skull—
she’d visit the village in
where her father was shot,
wondering if walking where he walked
could ever piece him together again
who knew him mainly thru stories
told by elder relatives
& by the purple heart handed at last
to her, the eldest child—
would she have known heart & desire differently
with a father at home,
I go back to my bed where
this mystery haunts me still:
thousands of babes descend into this vale
nightly landing in mothers’ arms,
old man & woman pass peacefully in sleep,
feet first floating up to stars—
waves of disease, accidents, wars pass,
grinning medieval reaper waits—
hordes hack & stab each others’ hearts
for all eternity—
sun & moon shine down
on this tiny spinning planet,
crumbling at last to dust
where oak or cypress rise thru broken tower or
cracked library floor,
dead voices echoing yet as babes
in the hollow chamber
of the attentive ear—
under my hand,
Sue looks up—
the doctors cut
thru flesh wall,
their gloves redden
with her blood—
she is purely
calm, her calm
& now the doctor’s
hand enters her
the aide pushes,
a blue head appears
as the whole
blue body appears,
cut & clamp,
weigh & check
& suck out nostrils,
hand her to
the father, me,
who sits amazed
as blue flesh turns
Sue’s hand reaching
The Hard Truth
she’s angry with me,
I’ve been thoughtless,
angry with me,
I’ve been thoughtless,
angry with me,
I’ve been thoughtless.
not roses sent, nor work done,
nor breakfast in bed
will calm her.
she wants me—
to sit on her bed,
talk whatever comes to mind
& listen as well as talk,
listen as well as talk.
that sense of efficiency, that
order that drives a man mad,
put back in its place—
that kind heart
I’d show anyone
shown to her, too,
my most beloved.
The Lights of St. Ignace
heavy slapping rain over their heads—
windshriek thru the cedars along the shore,
whitecaps row on row, thundering against the beach,
visible even in the dark:
she lay on her back, looking up
as the tent poles bent farther & farther down,
each gust slamming the canvas closer to the ground
as he fought his way from corner to corner outside,
pushing the stakes back in place, adjusting guy lines,
the wind whipping his coat loose around his waist.
far out, the searchlight on the island
lit the clouds in its turning circle,
& to the right, across the long bay,
the lights of St. Ignace shone peaceful as a quiet day.
Anne at fourteen:
yellow & peach
roses, daisies, lavenders,
one by one in a slender vase.
rush hour, fumes over the fence:
how many die today,
how many tomorrow?
car crash here,
government goon fusillade there,
by hydrocarbons or
a hopeful dream—
peaceful passing in one’s bed,
lilacs at the door.
the vase is full,
the last daisy now in place,
& Anne dances
alone in the kitchen,
her darkened form
her invisible partner,
graceful in her abandon.
today, overcast but promising
on the green earth:
open the door.
your time is now.
the passage isn’t simple
but for those who will
what your father
& mother suffered,
what you suffered,
no promises! wake!
has a proper place.
if you’d be clear,
child, young man,
sage, old fool,
make it what you will.
will to make it well.
for tender touch.
your ear & eye,
will see & hear
freely bend your will.
Two Lost Dreams
watching another’s agony
I remember my own—
nights when I’m alone
with moon & passing clouds
the dreamed faces appear,
those two we lost, growing up—
I see them racing thru fields,
staring out school windows,
rapt in love, struggling
with worklife & disappointments—
as we, in separate minds & ways,
still mourn, bearing those
hollow spaces within, far beyond
daily pleasures & sorrows:
so in moonlight I come to you &
say nothing, search your eyes,
our living babes asleep,
dreaming, one room away.
lost again in the twilight garden among
fading flowers & the season’s last crickets,
I wander among mothers’ tears & old men’s sighs,
the last forlorn embraces of lovers, boys
torn from tender arms & loaded onto trucks
as brass bands blare over camouflaged brims
hiding downcast eyes. tonight, hundreds of
thousands bed down in the desert & hear
their hearts for the first time—cry softly
in the deep night as the moon rises. I pass
thru the now silent garden remembering others,
& see the speeches & the firepower arrayed
& the orators on all sides crying right—
kingdoms rise & fall & threats become histories
& the agony of thousands fills the wink of an eye.
I turn at last & come home where Sue waits
in the doorway, taking my hand & looking me
eye to eye, the moon risen, full, beyond.
thru the tentflap, with Anne,
half-asleep, distant rumbling
thunder coming on fast—
I wandered in circles staring up—
stars thru dark branches,
valley to valley—
I dreamed of you, waking after
102 years of dreaming
enclosed in flesh,
gone the dark way now—
visions of puritanical
ancestors passed, Wiltshire
the dinosaur bone collector,
efficient & ambitious,
whose skull is now some
& my grandpa, wandering
thru his fruit trees—
the thunder’s closer now, now
torrents of watch crash thru
the rain’s steady, flood heavy—
rivers spring up in pathways to camp—
the earth, which
trembles, shakes beneath us!
thru camp past the tent, again!
we speak in high voices to be heard—
what branches above us might shatter,
crashing thru our skulls to earth?
we lean to the open flap to know
the splendor of the torrent.
in dreams my father
sails out of a starry night
& wrecks where
bones are washed & sink in sand—
last route to
died bringing words
to confuse natives who knew
well enough the spirits
that speak for earth & water.
my father ages at the wheel—
hands grow gnarled, winds cut
in his face, yet
his eyes flash as he closes
on the dawn,
his genoa full of wind as he
plunges thru heavy seas—
later, becalmed, he sings
an incantation for the
that he might move calmly toward their rest.
the morning after
is calm, cloudy—
fishermen wade in the swollen river,
casting & casting &
the silent heron
move out across the open plain toward
the lake, where they lower their heads
& lap the still water,
in this intense silence—
our hearts beat like
hammers now, sending out waves of sound
over & over—
is a wind that
stirs up all the world.
The Lovers Sleep
all winter, the wind carries loam aloft from the stripped land;
the lovers sink further into sleep, the moon rises over
frozen furrows & lines of lights race across the vast prairie
where no man sings alone by his dying fire among constellations.
when stars fall, the caged shaman sings, his guards hearing only
silence. the millennium approaches in a raging human flood,
the swarming intellect polluting its own skull, cradle of dreams
where fields might blossom to meadows in singing silence.
the unruly master bangs away in the chest, summoning
blood & obedient hands to turn the wheel on which a sparrow
hangs & sings; tomorrow the shriveled finger points within.
so the lovers sleep, locked together beyond their spinning songs
in a dream where light rises to light continually.
below evening clouds racing beyond
the treeline’s soft red glow, winds bluster
in the olive tree, the candy lily’s furled bloom
shakes among balloon flowers & sea holly
we planted. young, we couldn’t foresee
our love’s journey, dreamed what would be
& seeded our dreams which come again
& again to bloom. I was no great lover,
breathing fire into every passing whim—
I was steady in my way, and you stood me,
stood by me despite what I was not.
I bring you armsful of blooms borne
of our dream—let these grey hairs attest
we have at times earned love’s rest.
The Lovers at
a cup of tea, sliced fruit—
a long gaze still swimming in moonlight
fills the cool sharp light of an autumn dawn,
cherry trees full of blackbirds—
their eyes return
to each other, naked together:
the hands inter-
twine & they move slowly, turning
together in the sunlit room.
for Suzy—“let’s be famous lovers”
sunlight thru an open door,
crimson blooms swelling to burst:
who can say
what love is? you take a friend
in hand & roar down blind road after blind road
wandering thru private rooms
in each other’s hearts, sailing thru whole histories
of pain & rage to find a quiet morning,
dew on the laurel leaves. love is not
in the eyes, in the heart, in the entryways
& hotspots of flesh, in heavy breathing—love cannot be
contained in soft arias
whispered at dawn—it is neither two together
nor apart: the eye
is in the hand, the heart in the eye,
the song exhaled & inhaled
& suddenly your dreams fill rooms where others
pace & sing softly of what you were—
steady rain on the city of the dead,
teardrop on a granite peak, clear day,
angel ghosts circling
the flowering black oak in every long-gone summer
night full of thunder,
sunlight thru an open door,
crimson blooms swelling to burst.
Night & Dawn in
all night at the open window
I sat & dreamed as
winds raged in aspen tops,
shook the larches,
hissing under the roar of breakers
on sand bars & breakwaters.
she lay in the ark
& watched me dream
& in half-light
we wandered out to watch the sun
soaring into black cloud banks
across the white sky:
the cool rain sweeps
across the parched land,
across our upturned faces—
leaves & branches,
gulls & hawks
swept aloft in ripping winds.
she lay thrashing—
her head in
waves of pain—
he had only
his hands, pressed
against her soft
behind her ears
& back & thighs—
little more than
brief diversion, yet
her soft whisper
drew him nearer—
no healing but
the worst of
I see my parents still
wailing in the living room
a grey day, no wind
& out the window traffic flashing past—Aunt Fran’s
husband & son Dutch, my older cousin who’d
filled his room with electronics, a genius at 13, killed,
accident in the
& she in the hospital, her arm broken—my first
memory of lives, faces swept away from my life—
later, when the sun broke thru,
wondering where we go—I was six—
& after that, Dutch’s oak furniture arrived,
his bed to be my bed, his mirror where my face
would stare back, sigh & dream of love—
& Fran, recovered, circled the world alone, sent me
mysterious envelopes that arrived in the mail
worlds beyond my suburban sidewalks
& mystery gardens where I’d pause
before an open rose & lose a day in dreams—
later, her house burned & she escaped
miraculously, settled &
as my parents’ marriage cracked up,
grandpa died, I raged at fallen love & lost my heart
until, lost child, I found myself in Sue
& found my father again & heard
my long-lost grandma’s sighs,
Fran the oldest child who’d seen more
& kept herself apart, learned to be alone—
& after the loss & the fire & years apart,
met her Hale & danced in her 70s like
a teenager, a few years without pain—
a few years blooming in the fullness of her womanhood—
who guesses how much we can know even of those
nearest us, how others cope & sing above their suffering?
she’d refuse a funeral, would
go home to lie with her Hale—
these last months
awaiting an end that now comes swiftly--& I, learning of it,
sit with my sisters & my family, my 50th birthday
stilled with this quiet moment filled with her life,
flocks of birds wheeling in slow motion, hovering around
the feeder in winter snow—
that she can
speak to him, with him,
if she could, pull him in—a great fish,
a great beast—
but he resists,
taut against the line, unwilling
to leave that rocky bottom, that
fallen anchors & snapped chains,
dead men’s bones
he would imagine)—
so that this, after
tugging, is where
he lies, waiting
his ridiculous rages that
love, being loved,
is more than dreamed ephemera,
a muddy bottom swallowing
a hope, horizonless—
a further stage,
ER Saturday Night
she staggered out of mass after delivering
scriptural readings, burning
pains in her chest, face flushed—
now, he sat by her in the ER, silent years
flashing by in a confusion of images, wedding
bells & tenement years & groping thru babes
& miscarriages & shitty jobs, her eyes
now questioning, she talking thru
her pain as the interns wander thru with
questions & questions, the machines above—
green readouts, peaks & valleys charting breath,
pulse, life itself—clock relentless as an admitting
nurse’s keyboard, the drunk two sheets over
howling at the attendants, “fuckin’ bastards, you
can’t do that to me, try it, you fuckers, try it—“
finally, she must stay the night—blood work,
chemical readouts, studies to see whether it was
indeed a heart attack—& he is out, in the
cold night among the stars, helpless, looking back
at windows where she must be looking down, her heart,
their lives, in the balance of relentless day & night.
She makes her way
she makes her
again in her own skull—
lavender flowers swaying
slightly in the breeze—
gone, gone, gone
what she'd dreamed in the dark, so many silent rooms
fingers touching for a brief
moment by candlelight.
turns to the stained-glass lily in the front window,
to the couch
where they'd first
declared their love and sang the delirious
their hearts had borne in silence
first night out:
outside my window, a truck roars into the lot,
driver leaping into the street,
a real “king of the road,”
four day beard—
thick fingers caress wrinkled brow.
he looks up into the dark sky & breathes
I close the drape—
too much sorrow to bear tonight. it is good
to be alone,
I have no way, numb even to sorrow.
$39.99 a night
draped across the outer wall—
mad traffic hurtles past, endless lights, even at 3 a.m.
I have a corner room,
far from the truckers
partying down the hall, away
from the hollow-eyed woman
who posed near the ice machine,
looking long as I passed,
her hand at her hip, a cowgirl indeed.
a shower is good,
standing naked before the mirror:
sagging breasts & belly, phallus curving to life at a touch—
flesh once tight, turning a young girl’s eye.
a grey-haired elder,
distended phallus now aching for a plunging distant memory,
moonlight sighs echoed back from the inner ear.
looking out my window in deep night,
snow now howls across the sky, through the parking lot’s lights—
lines of taillights, breaklights all flash red at once.
I will not speak of her now,
nor of what led to this impasse.
I am become the beast wandering at the edge.
tonight, out my snowy window
electric grid of the city, boxlike transformers hum
endlessly, the roar of six-laned downtown expressway
muffled in the wind.
in this flophouse, I’ve found a quiet home for a time:
bed, light, TV, dead phone, yet also a moment
staring out into the storm,
flashing waves of snow blasting thru
crowns of Austrian pines lining the lot,
my car outlined beneath.
soup and salad at the mall, dinner with Anne:
a scrawny black man limps thru the dining suburbanites,
eyes bulging, saliva drooling from rotted teeth, arm twisted—
I recognize Billy, ghost now of a friend once ripped from
his own life by his wife’s crack habit.
now he is closer to the end, incoherent,
shunned by the smug diners.
I offer him my change
& ask of his life, yet he mumbles, “thenk-yuh, thenk-yuh,”
not recognizing me. Anne asks for his story.
it is a good sign.
the white p.m. sky is lined with steel-grey near the horizon,
spreading upward. wires hum outside my window:
by day there is a small field here, remnants of meadows & woods,
a few crooked crab apple trees, an oak, brush that could be
honeysuckle, stands of sumac—
the picture would be complete with a doe delicately placing its feet,
working its way to the horizon, stepping deliberately—
this fantasy a history, a glyph in stone.
I lie abed, my dream wandering to Sue, her silent movement
thru the empty rooms of the house, sitting, reading on the couch,
she too looking up into this strange sky, lost in sorrow,
perhaps moved by naked stems trembling beyond her grasp.
her solitude, like mine, must be complete.
the father, scarecrow in a Marlboro Man black stetson,
dumps suitcases into the back of the rusted Chevy wagon,
one taillight covered with red tape.
round as a turnip, the wife stows gear, herds the children
into the seats.
they have been here two days, yelling thru the walls,
children crying softly, moans of terror in the background.
I’ve heard bathwater running at midnight, Spanish lullabies.
I’ve seen the boy and girl wandering into the brush,
shouted back by the wife’s shrill voice rising
like steam in a shrieking kettle.
their car rattles to life, mufflerless,
the night coming, on the road at last.
near miss turnoff from freeway, sleet in heavy traffic,
horns screaming around us all: shaken,
I head for my room thru the warren of the flophouse:
my neighbor, a black man with salt & pepper beard,
sits in underpants, door wide open, his bum leg
wrapped in knee brace,
workboots & soiled pants scattered across the room,
TV blaring. seeing me pass, “hey brother!” he shouts,
“brother! welcome home!”
after workout: his face is unremarkable, his voice
a chatter of platitudes & biblical quotes, yet
his penis hangs achingly low, its huge barrel
a lovely pink, swollen even limp, its head curving
thru its ellipse to the cupid’s bow where the lines,
lovely & delicate as the curves in a lily’s flower,
join. others come & go, yet this his flower
is a work of art, worthy of lips & tongue, an icon
of tenderness for a heart aching & charged.
my therapist, a stately woman, observant eyes,
apologizes for jumping from question to question,
asks me to be patient as we dive into the pool
of my life. her office is a quiet glen.
suddenly, I am a child, wandering naked
in the woods of my childhood: Indian pipes,
mayflowers, the dark earth under leaf litter,
the shimmer of the canopy, hint of blue
beyond,where my canoe awaits, & there
the voyageur & Anishnabe of my dream,
the mirror where that child face looks back
without pain, without a thought, mad to go.
when she thought
the children were finally asleep,
she wept softly into her pillow
in the late-night silence.
the eldest boy lay
still in his bunk & listened,
her tears punctuating the soft
splashing along the riverbank,
the far off scream
of a rabbit dying, the screech owl’s cry.
above, the stars shone, a net
winking out over the long valley.
59th birthday: tonight
I must face the woman I love
& have loved, the woman
I have hurt.
I must look into my son’s eyes
& pray they haven’t gone stone hard
in this long night,
as mine once did. how
long a journey one must make
to come at last
to oneself, & see the patches
one makes of his life, those
he would never harm—
crushed & in agony. then,
too, my mother lies dying
& I have not seen her,
nor visited. she must lie abed
& now may not even recall the day.
what is this cool
water, running over my ankles,
my toes sinking in sand?
I awake as from a dream.
it’s raining softly & rush hour has begun.
the drops hang, diamonds
beneath transformers, wires, along chainlink
topped with barbed wire,
& in apple branches which no longer bear fruit.
I am lonely, yet this is home.
what must it be to have a lover, one who
welcomes a touch,
whose skin trembles
as mine does in dreamed memory, when
skin brushes against skin, casually?
the grey evening comes on,
as deeply moving as any postcard dawn.
soon, I know, I will return home.
she & I will try again, hold hands,
& while the sighs remain, the love is true:
this will be a gateway, & I will pass thru.
if the path has led thru horrors & I awake to see my own face in the cracked mirror,
if I stumble out of my bed in darkness & am lost in the sliver of the shattered moon,
I see now to seek deeper love in she I almost lost, in the silence of shared years—she
who has sustained me thru all my deeper agonies & brought me up short, a nightmare
dreamer, wayward child in mancorpse thrashing with fear of betrayal & abandonment
borne like a poisoned blade thru childhood to middle age—she who took on this pain
& gave back the fruit of unicorn & millefleurs, the orchid’s delicate curved cup,
a tender hand for the foundling raven—& laid them all at my feet as gifts—she,
who bore three children & our two lost babes thru the long dream & struggle of birth,
whose groans brought speaking tongues & bright young eyes to my life & hers, she
who stood by me when another would’ve cast me adrift & called out “good riddance,”
she who took my hand & would not let go. I rise today to sing her praises: she
has borne deep memory of generations coming & going to the altar of our love,
given language to those who had none, tutored the broken child & raised her up—
skilled gardener training the vine she nurtured it to reveal the passion flower within
when none believed it would live again. I come to sing her praises, she who is
neither a little flower nor
lost child & teach her to sing, him to heal his wounds. grant, you with good hearts
who bear the weight of deep love, that such love as hers must bear us thru all
the sorrows we ourselves make, the wounds for which the spring’s balm flows.
unspoken sorrow of upturned faces, crowds on
scurrying, whispering their quick talk staving off the night—
torrents fall into the streets below, scattering the thousands
yet we too must descend into the thundering siren-filled streets,
lone sax blowing on the corner as richly dressed strangers press
thru the livried servers clustered under their canopy—
the heavy rains now passed, new loves & old reclaim sidewalks,
idle chatter lips & eyes necklace & silk tie seeking the next doorway—
we among them race into the midnight market ablaze in light,
shoppers meditating deliberately, turning slowly thru plums, berries,
Italian sodas, young stud crumbling cookies into organic ice cream—
we giggle like two young lovers wandering here picking fruit,
marveling over orchids—how did we come to this, two alone apart
from the family we raised, to find ourselves again & grope toward
a new gaze, holding hands? lightning illumines skyscraper roofs &
screaming streets alike, O Love, as we head back to hotel room
& quiet dream, tears for the inevitable turning, the vast day ahead—
fold a bill for the sax player, his high strut signing Time’s slow move.