the promise

promise me, son
that you’ll feel–
the hawks’ umber-wing September-shrill
that you’ll learn the voices
the deathless legions
borne upon her solitary cry
as it slices open a reticent sky
top, split from bottom
east, from west
north, from south
each, again halved–
and within each space
another world, gifted
if we’d dare its grace, and its peril
within each place
a secret, for those ready
a religion, without gods
a scream, fallen– within a whisper
a poem, greater than any sonnet
ever written
or any ever
to be
promise me, my son
that you’ll live
and achieve
if ever
you even bother
once you truly know–
promise me this
that you’ll notice
the dulled-shine eyes
of the children of the streets
and that you’ll love
without words

tho our sparrows may whisper

where once
we’d walked
climbing over
our wooded-path stones
now, love, we live
walking these paths, alone
distant, our villages
finding ourselves
in different planes
of existence
tho neither of us
nor lower
than the other
aye, nor be we beside
our differing history
quite nearly belying
even those daring moments
neither, thrown–
by fate’s reckless whimsy
nor by the pious condemnation
of our disjointed destiny
but rather, simply
diverged, crookedly
upon twisting, tangled tangents
abstruse, non-linear
still, a harrowed voice
only travels
as does love’s arrow
and tho our sparrows
may whisper
their lonesome songs
and tho we may
on some misty morns
to once more–

muttering shadows

a few key-turns
and a mash of the rubber pedal
she started right up, eager–
front wheels spinning with zealous fervor
spinning freely, in the black-morning air
going nowhere
after a while, I realized
the car was perched
up on a bent lamppost
the windshield, smashed on the driver’s side
the crash, right next to a boarding house
where two whispering-hippies
a man, and a woman
took me inside, as I staggered
guiding me to a small room
at the front of the house
a gruff shadow at the top of the stairs
stood there, with one arm extended
balancing against the wallpapered wall
it was the color of poverty’s smoky filth
the tarnish no one can wash away
the shadow asked what was going on
down there
the man told the shadow
it was nothing, to go back to bed
and then they shuffled me away
the shadow muttered
and the man muttered
in the small room
just a double bed and a small table
they asked for my phone number
and if anyone could come to get me
I slurred my reply
and the man wrote down the numbers
in pencil
his hands shaking
but his soul filled
with a sudden sense
of worth
the woman dialed
in the darkness
on an old black phone
the kind with a rotary dial
whispering again
telling my fiancée to come
and that I was hurt
the car had to be left behind
perched on the lamppost
going nowhere
strange, the things that stay with us
the bits of memory, faded colors
stitched together, like a quilt
stuffed, bulging with the mystery
of missing details, of lost moments
and of things, unspoken
pushing at the fraying seams
musty with time’s steady perspiration
tho never giving way
when the police came
to my apartment
I was passed out
at the door
my fiancée told them
that she had been the one
driving the car, left behind
perched up on the bent lamppost
they didn’t believe her
she wasn’t bleeding
but I didn’t go to jail, that night
just to the hospital
where they stitched my mysteries
and lost moments
and those things, unspoken
back beneath the skin
two weeks later
I married her
and tho it doesn’t seem
nor– have I always been fair
she looked beautiful
on that summer-sunshine day
dressed in white
with tall curls
and small, white flowers
in her hair

red swelter

in the drip-paint barn
to the south, and slightly west
of the mountain-house he’d built
there were hundreds
of glass trinkets
small, abstract sculptures
and such–
glittering baubles
that he’d blown of molten shimmer
aye, the small ways
we fill– the red swelter
of our days
still, I had to throw them all away
after he passed
along with most of the other
they say
he was a great teacher– of history
and not half-bad, as a rifleman
tho who should dare opine?
our beautiful madness, misconstrued
tho still beauty, lovers
and still
and– I didn’t notice
any students
at the end
and– I didn’t notice
anyone else
at the end
just the sudden sound
of bulbous glass
the tall silence
which always follows us
into the red swelter
of our days

suburban gardens

crawling in the garden
its stinging tail, twitching
long, and pointed
such anger
such compulsion
to injure
a murderer’s quiet rage
jailed behind tiger-hide stripes
black bands painted upon saffron
leaving me curious, and fearful
I watched as it twitched
my skin chilled
under summer’s red zeal
knowing– if it came at me
if it dared approach near
I’d kill it
grinding its saffron pulp
beneath my shoe leather
to be sure
and why not?
with a million more, just like it
twitching somewhere
terrifying the men, the women
and the children
of suburban gardens
how might this
be missed?
and who would even know?

Tall Glass Windows

Tyson might have been the last of them, an Eighties killer who captured our hearts for a time, but it ended ugly, and it was the darker parts of our hearts which were touched, awe mixed with fear, sprinkled with hate– something primal, a shining-sweat mingling of pride and shame. There were a few after: Holyfield, Bowe, Lewis. Still, boxing wasn’t the same after the Seventies. Sure, there were plenty of men who could fight, plenty who had heart. You need the heart of a lion to even get into the ring, ready to go the distance with another man who hits just as hard and trains every day to be a murderer with his fists.

Ali though, now there was a hero. There was a man who brought us out to cheer, and when one slipped by– when he got hit, we got hit as well, we all felt it. In wood paneled living rooms, and in the worn-door corner bars, we felt the gloved fists slapping against our own flesh, smashing against our own bones, left woozy for a half-moment, but determined, as the impact echoed out of plaid covered speakers, Howard Cosell provoking in a toupee amid the squelch and static hum.

But when Ali was on, when the universe reminded us of forgotten divinity, you could hear music– old street-corner soul, diving and rolling, sliding ‘round the side as he moved– and the magic was dancing around the ring. Watching, or listening, we all knew we could do anything, while still high on the fight’s intoxication. And even the men he beat loved being beat if they were beat by Ali; they cherished each bleeding wound. Though it hurt their pride, and yes, they went home without the belt to a quiet room while fist-raised crowds cheered Ali in the streets. Still– if you had to lose, and everyone loses sometime, it was alright to lose to Ali. There was no shame in that.

It was Ali Frazier 3, the Thrilla in Manilla, two titans fighting half a world away. Most of the fights had only been broadcast live on the radio back then. We’d be able to watch on TV days or weeks later, seeing the pictures of the the red-gloved gladiators slicing though the hot-light atmosphere in the sports section of the newspaper long before the fight lit up the dark gray convex of our small screen televisions, bringing the sagging-shelf boxes flickering to life.

But for Ali Frazier 3, they simulcast the fight through closed caption television. The big venues had it, crackling through black wires, and even the common man might witness the electricity. And we did, though I was just a boy. The horse track in the next county, 30 miles away, had the event playing. My father and I watched on a bank of television screens hung high in a loud, white room with tall glass windows and speckled, beer and coffee stained tiles. I strained my neck and stood on tiptoe to see past and around the checkered flannel men. The black emptiness of night stayed outside as our hearts filled with hope for heroes in a gray decade.

Frazier had been the first man to beat Ali, and for sure he was a man with heart, but it wasn’t enough to mend a wartime nation’s broken hopes, and we all wanted Ali to take the belt home, to win– for us. Even though Ali could be a real ass, crossing the line when taunting the other fighters, we all forgave him, even laughing, glad we hadn’t said the things he’d said– but often wishing we had.

And that was nearly forty years ago, with no impossible heroes arising to save us from our melancholia in the decades between. But the coffee is good today, as is the company while I write, and February’s sunshine is warm enough– if you’re inside, watching old reflections dance and weave on tall glass windows.

thus, without measure

the age of a soul
never known
by time’s ticking animus
thus, without measure
only this flesh– burns to ash
under the pyre’s spiraling swelter
and an expiry
thus, just more dust, scattered
but shall we ever return?
the way Benny was screaming
his hoary desperation
into the tall night
aye, into the deafened desert
in that moment, I’d believed him
yes, he’d loved her
and isn’t that
that any of us
really needs?
to believe
before we depart?

immortal teacher

sunshine-summer love
we’d deserved more
than what we’d taken
of this dusty place
that poverty which we’d accepted
our souls, displaced
we’d given enough–
we haven’t much time
these amber days fall over
and when the moon is full
laced, and sheer
in its mist of tears
too distant to capture
on the warm tip of a finger
aye– I can recall
our wilderness, shared
then– when we’d danced
within our doubt’s shadow
this– still, held closely
thin and dark, it whispered
and seduced
tho we’d wished it be gone
tho we’d wished it to stay
for what then, would save us
from our loneliness?
such a clumsy beginning
and the door-slam, stark ending
tho the first, always–
begets the next
always, in time–
you’d deserved more
you’d deserved more
of me
regret, I’ve known–
to be
the immortal teacher
and the only deity
and tho you’d never read
my poetry
these black-rose words
kept, then, only by my heart–
I know not
if I’d been
a lesser man
or if I’d been blessed–
a winged-spirit, greater
when known
in part
tho I smiled in your sunshine
and tho we often laughed
I console myself
now, with solitude
and with these small notions
which pretend to be large
it’s better this way
yes, perhaps–
aye– every poem
I’ve ever written
both before, and after
has been
a goodbye

Questionable Behavior

“To be, or not to be– That is the question.”

As this famous phrase spoken by Prince Hamlet was, in fact, spoken by Hamlet, a man, and not by Ophelia, a woman, there was only one (solitary) question. Were Ophelia to have asked the question, it would have been followed by several other questions, dozens of questions, swooping in from darkened skies like leather-winged harpies, and then shadowed by hundreds more, each spawning crawling legions of new questions, and each of those, eyeless, clawed and fanged, tugging at the puffy trousers that Hamlet wore like sunken-faced starving, mutant orphans. It’s no wonder he was considering offing himself.

In fact, and I may be breaking the ‘man code’ in confessing this publicly if any women might happen to read this, but many men consider ending it. For instance, when shopping for tools in the hardware store, we might be seen thumping a hammer’s head into the palm of our hand. To a female onlooker, we’re considering its multiple uses, its utility in building new things, or in the fixing the broken things that we’ve been asked numerous times to fix. But any male onlooker knows– we’re also testing its suitability to render ourselves unconscious if the questions should start, or resume, or increase in velocity. During particularly inquisitive durations with one’s significant other, many a man has asked himself the same (solitary) question.

“To be, or not to be? ..and maybe I need a bigger hammer.”

History tells us that Van Gogh cut off his ear to give to a prostitute, a twisted gift of a love, limitless. We men know better. He was hoping she’d keep asking questions into his abandoned ear, unaware that he’d slipped away on tiptoes to a quiet hillside to finally get some painting done. I’m betting she figured out the ruse quickly and then hunted him down when he failed to nod, or to answer. This, of course, resulted in more questions. Still, it was worth a try, and someone had to go first. Now the rest of us men know that even dismemberment doesn’t help, and we won’t bother trying that one. Thanks, Vinny.

Some lesser-known historical texts have also speculated that without an ear, Vincent simply couldn’t hear the questions anymore. Perhaps DaVinci wasn’t the only genius of the past millennium.

Now, men have questions too; we’ve a natural curiosity– within the limits of our universe of thought, though these are questions of a different sort.

“Why won’t this damned lawnmower start?”

“Who invented grass, anyway, and why weren’t they shot?”

“What the hell is wrong with the Phillies this season?”

“Did you pick up some more beer, lovey-dear?”

These are questions that don’t really require answers, except the beer question, and in fact, like most questions, are better left unanswered. We didn’t really want to mow the lawn anyway. Now we can pop the top on a cold one instead, sit on the couch, and bitch about those miserable Phillies as they miss the catch, both at first and at home plate, up on the wide screen– at least until the real questions start again.

Not only do we men not have many questions, we also don’t have many answers. More accurately, we don’t have the right answers, or answers that are clearly understood. Over hundreds of centuries, our gender has learned that no answer we might provide, no matter how thoughtful or well-articulated, and not even if we use colorful charts or Power-Point presentations, nor if we utilize emphatic gesticulations, is ever accepted. So, we have our ways of avoiding answering altogether. It’s a losing game to do otherwise. Much like the hare, camouflaged, hides in the brush from the hawk, as she circles hungrily overhead, we have learned to evade the gleaming-black-talon questions asked of us. It’s a knowledge passed down in our genes, like the instinct to protect our delicate testicles. We are simply born knowing of risk and vulnerability, and the first strike to the groin, no matter how slight, or the first question volleyed, is a sage reminder that primal wisdom should not be ignored, nor questioned.

We’ve developed various strategies for avoiding answers, knowing that each answer given will only bring more questions. Though some strategies have proven better than others, which one to employ at which time really depends on the severity and context of the situation.

We can, like Vincent, or Beethoven, just pretend not to hear. This, unless really missing an ear, or truly deaf, won’t work for long, and can only be used effectively in situations where it won’t be challenged, like in public, but that’s a big maybe. The hope here is that the question will be forgotten, drifting off, gray and forsaken, to the place where questions go to die. Again, this doesn’t usually work. Questions, like regrets, are immortals.

In some situations, we can utilize the ’emergency contingency’. This strategy, when cornered by questions pointed at the throat and threatening our tender loins like shining spears, is to invent an emergency. For instance, screaming, “Fire! Fire! Run for your lives!!” and then fleeing the area. Being able to run for long distances is imperative before trying this. There’s nothing worse than being caught crawling at the end of the driveway to a house which is, decidedly, not on fire, left panting, clutching your stabbing-pain chest, and then still being questioned anyway as you lay there, likely dying. It’s been noted that, assuming you make it past the driveway, this one works best if you have no intention of ever returning.

In lieu of any other strategy that is 100% effective, most men play dumb. This is an art, not a fact. We act as cretins, not because we are cretins, but because it works. If we feel a question coming on, or if we see a full infantry division of them coming over the hill, bloody bayonets raised, we can easily circumvent the situation by doing something cretinous, like belching loudly, passing gas audibly, or scratching ourselves whilst making satisfied, bestial, groaning sounds. No woman alive, or any ever having been alive previously, has ever wanted to stay around while any of the above was going on. If all three are performed simultaneously in a trifecta of audacious symphony, one can expect a few hours of ‘quiet time’ while she goes out shopping. Hey, maybe the game is on.