Mar '03 [Home]
Poetry Feature: Departures
Guest Editor's Preface by George Wallace
Departure ~ Steve Abbott | Getting Free ~ David B. Axelrod | Leaving ~ Anny Ballardini | Leaving ~ Joseph Bruchac | Against The Flow ~ Bill Costley | Bittersweet ~ Ruth Daigon | Of Lavendar and Wool ~ Adriana DiGennaro | At Fair Street Fair ~ Charles Fishman | Remnant ~ Carol Hamilton | I Worry About Your Seizures ~ C. E. Hegarty | Leaving ~ Tamara Jenkinson | The Art of Finding Shelter ~ Kate Kelly | Birthday Poem ~ Charles Levenstein
Tempting Traffic ~ Stefanie Lipsey | Unemployment ~ J. Rutherford Moss | The Little Yellow Wheel ~ R. S. Plath | Cedar Beach Under Snow ~ Orel Protopopescu | Blended Space: Seascape With Buildings ~ Lauri Ramey | Fiddling While Rome Burns ~ Michael Rothenberg | Greedy ~ Patti Tana | Bedside Observations ~ Mary Jane Tenerelli | Old Girl's Self-Portrait Collage ~ Susan Terris | Traps ~ Jim Tyack | The Geometry of Dreams ~ Barbara Nightingale | My Father Said, Reading The News, "It's A Good Time To Be 90" ~ Barry Wallenstein | The Dense Forest ~ Marc Widershein
This moment, the one before
the mumbling train
lurches toward memory,
a hand half-raised
toward the departing coach.
We stand frozen, unable
to form another word,
unable to alter this image
in the cascade of still photos
that shaped us.
The past piled like baggage
on the platform, somber
as the brakeman thinking of home,
slapping his leather hands together
in time with the night's clear whistle,
a harmonica's blue vibrato
in his ears, and thinking of
home this moment.
Each impulse to move is suspect.
Each thought borders a foreign country,
the conductor's timepiece and
its sober limitations are as close to truth
as the eternal graveled distance
between the rails.
~ . ~
David B. Axelrod
Used to be we spoke of being "clear"
of memories that haunt us. Now
it's "freedom" I crave and cry
to get it, attached to electrodes,
interrogated for whatever truth.
Don't they know I've nothing to con-
fess? The hostage can't be guilty
if the crime's coerced. So what
about Patty Hearst? The Stockholm
syndrome. Lord, I love my captors.
Take me out and shoot me. Any-
thing to stop this suffering.
How can a man love with nails
under his nails? Over the gates
"Arbeit macht frei." I've
worked my ass off. By now
you'd think that I'd be free.
Lying bastards. Not even
a hearing for parole.
~ . ~
little light beings look lost over the deep beam
/in a backward image
an inclement invisible hand slashes down
cuts detaches cracks the enemy is watchful and attacks
a cry mixes with the roaring of the storm leaves torn apart from almost barren sights
/// departure ///
i am leaving
seas and seas and sails and wings of winds sprouting blossoms on the eternal thinking
no more time to waste and pick up this and upturn that and see
see the habits a promised youth secures how stars are different and brighten anew
the sound of it sinuously constructed attentively desired absorbingly believed in
and he wakes up and looks for her and she is not there
walls are empty and home
where is it?
~ . ~
Already almost too late to leave,
my son off to one state and me to another
and both of us deep in the state of confusion,
phones ringing, and usually welcome friends
unexpectedly knocking on our opened door,
our dog vomiting on the rug
and the furnace in the old house coughing,
then breaking down for one final time
as I say to my son while we struggle suitcases
out the door, put this bag in the backseat for me
and he does—his backseat, though, not mine
and then, before we know it, roars off
in his big Ford Expedition.
My heart is clenched like a boxer's fist,
my head feels as if this ultimate turn
of a crazy day's vise will make it pop
like a cantaloupe under a tractor tread.
Already almost too late to leave,
my luggage gone with my dutiful son
and the airport still forty miles away.
All of my own father's familiar anger,
and all those old unforgotten phrases
begin to fill my mouth with bile —
then I push them away before my face
grows as red as my shirt and before my wife
leaps out the door of the moving car
that I'm driving too fast and then slow down.
I am on that plane now, although left behind
are books and catalogs, audio tapes
and all my new folded underwear.
In flight, on my way, I begin to recall
so many other hurried departures,
some of them too early and all of them
much easier than we ever expected.
As earth falls beneath me, I need to remember
how little it is that we truly take with us,
how soon we all will be on our way.
~ . ~
Against The Flow (contra success)
(from "The City of Virtue" series)
Almost nobody's heading outside the suburban perimeter,
contra-Success, against the flow to the City of Virtue;
you're alone @ your stop, awaiting the outbound 07:14 a.m.
reading Bertram D. Wolfe's A Life In Two Centuries
(knowing yours will likely span this one & the next);
this is the economic low-riders' milktrain, riders:
some random Spanish-speakers,
2 young illegal-Irish navvies,
1 young (black, female) Private Jones, U.S. Army.
& a sniped-butt ignites dark-brown oil-soaked timbers
under the outbound platform, curling white smoke
gradually chokes all fleeing disembarkees
until 1 silent red firetruck arrives &
douses & pickaxes the smoking timbers,
leaving them intact. Nothing happens
here not plainly rationally
The firetruck leaves
as silently. Smoke
~ . ~
these are the falling years for them
they will go deep and remember
how they flew the ecstatic moments
and returned to an indifferent earth
and what they never knew they invented
caressed by a wind
stirring their deepest sleep
where the elders walked the paths of earth
leading them step by step stone by stone
until parachutes of light announced the dawn
youth was once a gift they could afford to lose
but now as the moments spin retreats
every day is strung
and restrung like broken beads
the storehouse of the past guards
the silken clefts of the body
the straight secret of the spine
the winged scapulae
with their recurrent hints of flight
and the blind hours before dawn to midnight's blaze
the heart recalls
the suddenness of trees
and flawless entrance of morning light
spring blooms and impermanent buds
flowers so fragile and generous
willing to fade
giving way to the fruits of summer
ripe and bursting to bloom
the juice flowing from within
and the rich life reaching down to the roots again
~ . ~
Of Lavender and Wool
With the first step
comes a heavy floral scent
a fragrant prelude
something vague and womanly that I don't recognize
filling the still air
I ask what it is, knocked woozy
by its beauty and wanting to fall over
Lavender, she tells me.
I recall the perfume I once kept
in a tiny brown bottle
and used to wear on my pulse
If this room is a heaven,
each drop in that bottle was a prayer
This place has always been fascinating, elusive
from outside a door always kept closed.
Time and again I've stood looking at that door,
facing the whiteness
the hinges and knob
she let it go unadorned
and kept silence within.
Before we met I remember thinking
I loved that mystery.
And everything is a mystery now
that I'm on the other side,
in my head to ask her and wondering
Will this shell I'm in
be lifted, will she ever
Insecurity is cumbersome, a
load I buckle under
and each cap I put
on each valve in my mind
promptly comes unscrewed.
Listening long and hard is new to me
where each pause, each inflection
I concentrate the way I
never can when I'm working
I absorb every word
about her organ lessons as a child,
nodding in attempt to disguise how I'm
studying her face
the features of this dryad-nymph-
fairy-woman and her living-space
This dancer, with a grim past, a grim voice
Everywhere thin tapestries,
a small wooden altar, crushed
butts in a strange ashtray
The bed a futon mattress in the corner—
perfect for a danseuse
who rolls in sleepless slumber
and hunkers toward the floor.
From a pile of fabric
she wove herself
in her room, barefoot, on a loom,
she shows me scarves, off-white accented
reds that stare back at me blankly while I
consider every thread
set into a pattern she created
everything glows mutedly
everything is almost holy
In her room, even air is precious.
This is the space she fills with her body, her things
and any peace found.
I have found
that something warm inside me is cracking open
and I've been entered and stirred
and lavender has crept
into my very marrow.
~ . ~
At Fair Street Fair
At Fair Street fair, sunlight lit the church pews
with the torch of the great front door the sexton
had flung open. It was a day of sweetness
and danger: cotton candy disappeared
from a small boy's hand, jugglers tossed
sharpened knives and wands that were gaily,
showily burning, and little girls, cherubs,
still floated on the fresh dew of the morning:
angel wings and scepters. It was noontide
in Nantucket, silver-white and golden.
Then an ambulance shrilled, its red lights
tolling. The sunlight grew turbulent,
the paved street buckled. A young child
was being carried on a stretcher, held rigid
like a bier. She was kneeling, her forehead
angled forward: village police and firemen
bore the weight of her most vulnerable moment.
They would not let her move, not to see the fair
grow dim nor to weep to her frantic mother:
she was their blonde-haired daughter, too.
They would make a lane for her and carry her
to safety or, at worst, to dignified stillness.
Yet they knew she would not die,
though death would be changed by her,
for they had chosen her to live.
~ . ~
I left her long ago,
young, there kneeling at the low window,
painting with white enamel over chipped
paints of the past,
a child tucked asleep in one layer of the house
as in a wall of the dead piled
one above another. I heard the news
that last day might come tomorrow,
all for a political posture, one among
millions of such dares. She is still there
when I go back and when I return
to here and now. She waits
to say goodbye to the scent of enamel,
the frame house with its long history,
the child, especially her own muddled self.
I don't know what to tell her,
even now. Only that she will be gone
tomorrow and can never return.
She will only sometimes remember
that one moment of that one long day.
Tomorrow the faint furnace hum
that just switched off, the grainy creaks
and high whine of the computer shifting
uneasily, waiting for me to notice,
these will have slipped into limbo,
and I am too busy now
even to tell them goodbye forever.
~ . ~
I Worry About Your Seizures
C. E. Hegarty
& the nun who rides your knee
As you swim, rising
Sadly through broken water
When you can't hear anything but
The buzz of the big machine
That runs the world, especially you
Who survives by ordering
The hearsay of important events
With a red, coercive pen
The nun is anachronous
She wears a habit
& a shoulder-holstered gun
In her big pockets
Drugs in tissue paper, you see
Through the scented aura of her skirt
She holds a crucifix to your cheek
After your money
Shoving your empty
Wallet in your mouth
Sleepy & buzzing, you want sex
& before electricity
She shoots you in the face
And you are still not quite here
& you are not dead
Grounds you — bullet tight
Before you sit up, saying, "I'm all right"
& Wet yourself with tears
~ . ~
She is so happy preparing.
She loves this part,
mostly the repeated,
"I won't need that
And I won't need that."
She dwells on the concept
She is so happy
because she is leaving
but not yet gone.
All the things she will leave behind,
She must first put in order,
sort through the mess and present it
the very best she can.
There are some things she just won't
Have time to throw away
Although she'd like to.
~ . ~
The Art Of Finding Shelter
there is a path and a clearing
mountains of ice shifting
frozen rivers thawing
in your skin the hunt
you swallow light of day
a great downpour douses the fire
it is an arduous task to face the opening
where sorrow holes up
it is the place you belong to
there is a longing for morning
there is a hearth
inside the painting in your eye
an impregnable silence
the beast eyes you
you gesture and say nothing
lying in wait
to surprise your kill
you've reached another shore
on the other side of an unnamed sea
you sniff the salt on your skin
fashion from clay the dish
make of fish bone a spoon
partly open your mouth
the walls with openings
fear pride suspicion
in half darkness
naked odor of prey
on a spit
~ . ~
The Fall is officially launched,
radiators squalling in honor of my 64th birthday:
No denying it — something I say, watchwords,
every year now. Cancer is sprouting among
friends and acquaintances, diseases of age,
of misspent youth or chemical dessert.
This summer when the miners went helmeted
into my gut they clipped a polyp and threw it
on the pile of parts for recycling. In time
I'll have my skin scraped to see if any
of these new flaps and warts are interesting
or just the usual secret ugliness of old age.
I wonder if I will kiss my grandchildren
with sloppy kisses, forget to speak English,
complain that my children have abandoned me.
Will I be reduced to bananas and milk,
leap from a Bronx roof rather than go on welfare?
Perhaps I am destined to become a Miami geezer
when E. leaves me for a handsome young painter —
I'll buy a short-sleeved floral shirt
to mask my belly. I'll buy a gun
and pay for sex.
Maybe not. October's flaming trees are late this year,
the leaves are gnarled and old, but still green:
I could pass for 62. I creak and groan
like the radiators in yoga class; the heat
of asana, of the sun, of Kali inspire me.
Some cells die, others flourish, still others
are born: no suicides, heavy traffic does
the job. Weightwatcher ladies induct me
into the cult of conscious eating,
I meditate on points, transported
by the mindful child's eye, Kabat-Zinn
attention taught in the basement of Holiday Inn!
And why stop there?
I leap on the stationary bike,
play basketball, ride into the lives
of Mexican soaps and MASH,
catalogue ER and Seinfeld,
and when sufficiently bored, stop
to lift tiny weights for old people.
When I am fit and slim
as a Yankee tanned in the Everglades,
I will contemplate Thanksgiving, prepare
a seder plate for indigenous people,
including bitter herbs and tortillas,
wonder what the children of Iraq are eating,
not much, but they pay the price that Texas
exacts from uppity rivals. It's good to be old,
the mind can wander after Hansel and Gretel,
nibble the crumbs of hope they left behind.
What mad Designer did this to us!
Just when I am becoming not-an-asshole,
the innkeeper announces last call!
Oh, Lula, if you had only won on the first round,
I would dance in Bahia,
I would be a child again
with wide eyes and hope for the human race.