Let's back up to where we left it
like a collection of summers, each
a crown, but some misbegotten.
And share liberally the leftovers
but don't sulk like a slug in a ditch.
We have to accept those sodden
remnants of his suit draped
like rags over that gleaming shield.
I'm taking tango lessons come fall
but for now I've escaped
the breathless rites of passion,
like opening records with a knife
or selling lemonade door to door.
Green leaves are all the yield,
oh, and cicadas, if that's reason
enough to close the windows. I'll
come in again. I was just saying
we kept the lights dim, took
always the top or bottom floor,
dressed as little as possible
and never felt that real life
was happening elsewhere, or rarely.
Someone sprinkled water on it
and yet it still works, barely,
or at least that's how it looks,
sometimes appearances are all
we have, the haircuts, fraying
shirts, jeans, ties, aged jackets
we'd rather discard, writing idle
notices as we go, improbable
as that may be. We're under covers
for the moment—bring matches.
I hope they're coming tomorrow
those aunts you mentioned,
the ones with the recipe
For now we will all make do
with the last faint glimmers
of this late day, poised
the lessons we tried to mind,
didn't want to acknowledge
but are we fear forced
At a table in the shade, breezy,
we spoke of how our brains
were stretched by all those
words we'd read.
And it was as if Imogen herself
sounded the alarm, but alas,
not soon enough to save
us poor fools.
I'm leaving a book out in the rain
for you: turn to any page, read
the sodden lines in their wet
Find her keepers. Lose her.
Weepers. Choose a side, say
you came from such-and-such a place
to be here, now. But you aren't
and I'm not either. The train
just left and we're relegated
to such ordinances as apply,
mostly having to do with what
we may buy, what eat, wear,
who see, where go. A landfill
is the best we can hope for
in this climate, joyous just now,
if you haven't been keeping up.
I'm encouraged by the glimpse of her
in my mind right now, stepping up to me,
magenta lips and a pony tail, or maybe
riding past on a bike, or across from me
at the table, a jukebox behind her,
at the bar with a tall glass of white,
with her man at an exhibit where folks
come to see foodstuffs as sculpture.
She might be rounding a corner
in boots and tights, or favoring skirts
long and peasantlike, or in black
against the kitchen counter, maybe
wearing a leather jacket, shoulders
in spaghetti straps, or bare above
her cello, wearing those shoes
so impossibly pointed on the elevator,
sporting a wide-brimmed hat, or toque,
or in the library, the coffeeshop,
stepping outside for a smoke,
in engaging profile, or musing
at the desk, on the misty beach
so near the tide and me, lingering
in pleated pants and vest in the hall
outside the studio, in her short
salmon robe at the breakfast table,
in cut-offs for yardwork, walking with me
to get somewhere, jogging downhill,
pausing on the step above, standing in line
when her face becomes its features,
a benefice, swallowing her words
for the sake of being seen, selfless
as a photo would look if it could,
waiting for the train or on the bus,
passing through doors or turnstiles,
emptying a space or coming to fill it,
legs and feet bare, or kneeling nearby,
pursing her lips as she hears me speak,
stretching, reaching. laughing, eating,
serving, driving the car, looking back,
bending for a moment wherever she goes.
We’re not embarrassed by epic recall,
but are glad we're all the same in the end,
each freely distributing some essence
for the sake of his memory, surrendered
to dust or what can never be stated
well enough to matter. “He gave us,”
we'd like to say, “reasons for trying,
an occasion or two that might shatter
if not for that patient unfolding,
might shiver to pieces like aged wood,
a usefully familiar implement
in the bright catalogue of days.” If we make
his delusion our delusion, we might find
some respite from kitchens, parks, books,
beds and shops, streets and corridors,
all those tangible spaces he found us in,
might allow that a ray of light rounding our curves
matters more than anything he could say,
might grasp the abundance of objects, even
sun on bright water, the bliss of apples,
consistency a tune like fluted columns,
mica, hand-pressed cider, tended grounds,
“penguins and dolphins and seals, oh my,”
all our craning adoration for the majestic
like a motorcade of stretch limos lining
the boulevard, instead of finding, tired
of it all, our position annulled, our sorrows
multiplying and enumerated, our
making-of videos never aired. Asked,
we always say we hadn't noticed,
fatalistic, ready to be regarded like ships
diminishing on the horizon, or a bee
but lately clasped upon a petal, a chair
where once a speaking eye sat, a smile.
She never told me what welcome she found
for her photos, nor how she got so many
things ready at once. Accepting a hand’s
pressure is saying a lot, it seems, or
maybe it’s only a presentiment of more
shallow networks. There’s always a street
with you on it, dividing before and behind.
It's not like there's room for us
in the lacrimonious bed, Maggie dear.
When you sort your orts,
leave some at the desk for me, you hear?
I've never plotted a roadtrip,
just knew when the Great Lakes would appear.
In the time it takes to sign,
it's easy enough to look in the glass and sneer.
We're good people. Honest.
When you see us salute en masse, you’ve nothing to fear.
And I'm able at last to tell you,
unequivocally, that some of us are queer.
Wouldn't you know the sale was over
long before I got there? In any case, it’s another year
and I’m no nearer that expansive tent,
so I’ll have to find some other way to interfere
with the consensus, consensual
as it may seem. Let me buy you another beer
and introduce the next song.
Don't wince. I know it's getting hot in here
and you're hoping the limo driver
will be someone who knows how to steer
and who can keep his eyes peeled,
not spend half the night trying to find first gear.
The fen's so spooky around the edges
like, I should say, the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir,
or maybe it's just so unaccommodating
like, for instance, the blasted heath in King Lear.
Don't tell me how it all turns out.
I don't want to be the last man standing, a seer
who finds himself talking to himself
as one by one the last listeners disappear.
Crisscross the pediment. Don't
keep talking, or not like that.
Everyone memorizes the blazon
then forgets it, piecemeal. Like toast
I find myself face up on a plate,
ready for butter. Annie’s got her
stockings on, God bless her. Dark night
lurks beyond the window, blue-black.
And what can be the harm in that?
A tangle of hair, a haunting face
and all the gift-wrapped surprises
drop into place. “Aardvarks amble,”
Seth said with a grin, as if winking
to the wings where only the stage manager
waited, keeping his mop slightly moist,
a long, tall drink up his sleeve.
There’s more salt on this side, keep it
upright and don't request more troops
unless you can supply them or at least
give them interesting work to do, like
his son told him about, navigating
remote control air missions with bombers
signaling their positions over cities
ripe for destruction. It could be you
in this picture, could be your task
to close in on your mirrored image
just to make it squawk. I hear
the barmaid lived in Romania once
“long ago,” after the fall, with
human trafficking on the upswing.
Everything children remember
is more recent than they think. And
all their yesterdays, you know, can't
hold a candle to a cocked hat
but not for lack of training.
I still see me crossing the bridge,
finding over there in Greektown
a delight in my need for roots,
the ethnic kind that always elude me,
unless we count skinny-dipping in the pool
or climbing trees all sticky with sap.
Beyond the screen door the dark is alive
with mosquitoes and crickets
and the murmur of water through a hose.
Is that it, acushla, the Delaware
and the people living near it?
Come take me to that place ahead
where you found the others
because there's no escaping the fact
they were here first, no matter what
the caption says or how creased your hands
with all the toil you've wasted
rebuilding what no man put asunder,
no, nor woman neither, and the kids,
guiltless in their lonely self-absorption,
are happy to laugh at any silliness
that smacks of death at its most absurd.
Canaries dart through gelatin, beetles affix
to your socks, and the shed we hid inside
smelled of oil and gasoline. Wells
once held buckets in the dank evening
and the peal of bells patterned the air.
Under a stone we hid photos of nudists,
soggy, tattered, stained with leaf mold,
as if concealment promoted romance,
or remedies like lemon balm and rue.
Clucks of delight signal a vibrant revival,
our eyes dazed by the clerestory
where lapis glowed in daylight
as we returned the tables to airy storage.
We were taught by elders
to consecrate our time with hymns,
then stood in a field of dandelions
with our shoes off, our knees grass-stained,
peeling bark off trees used as bases.
I know every one of you had a father once
and in his image you fought some great lie
if only to make possible and fruitful
your own life. I'm leaving now,
but I'm taking a thimble to sip.
Mind that chair, it smarts.
©Donald Brown 2010/2013