Life Goes On (poems and paintings)

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Contents

 

Life Goes On

The Surfacing

Still Life with a View

Raining

Tempest Variations

The Hurricane in Arizona

Villages at Vigneto

Lost Time

West of Lukeville

Night Upon Night                                        

 

 

These poems first appeared in:

The Blue Guitar (Unstrung)

The Cactus Wren-dition

Canyon Echo

Cholla Needles

Dissident Voice

The New Verse News

Poem

Slipstream

Verse-Virtual

Life Goes On

 

Light in the window blinds marks a beginning

and the historians are busy.

Sparrows in the orange tree

sing morning news

as coffee water wakes up to a boil.

There aren’t enough votes

to stretch the darkness into one more hour of sleep.

The choice is rebellion

or breakfast. Waffles today,

served without discussion

over anything but music. A bad dream

sticks to the plates though,

and won’t wash away. The water swirls

around and around

in the eye of a storm.

 

*

 

A wounded train cries out to the rain

that there is still far to go.

The sidewalks are polished misery.

In the park the cormorants rest on their island

with the dripping palms

and hang out their wings to dry.

When the telephone rings

somebody speaks in Spanish, so quickly

the words fly off around the kitchen

where they can’t be caught

and understood. I’d like to be friendly

but this isn’t a day for it. It still feels uncharitable

to simply hang up

and a weak apology is the best I can summon.

There goes my voice

through the wire stretched across the yard

where the pigeons with their cold, pink claws

are waiting, whatever the weather.

 

*

 

There’s a somber warning

in the news again, and hummingbirds

flashing their gorgets

against a morning thundercloud.

Weeds take hold

of more territory each day

and legislation of hurricane force

is being signed into law

as we pull them.

 

*

 

Between the cats who show up to be fed

and coyotes running wild in the neighborhood

we’re not sure which side to be on.

The yard is eerily still this morning

 

while the sky fans its feathers

and a talon scratches the silence open.

Families have been divided, friendships

 

broken, but the homeless men

sitting in a vacant lot

have nobody left to betray them, and nothing

 

but the cold wind for company.

No use telling them

to join the crowd now gathering to make the best

of the situation, having learned

 

to laugh away our anger

and play the rain like harp strings when it falls.

 

*

 

A Fire Department ambulance blocks two lanes

next to the light rail station

where a man is lying down, too far gone

to appreciate

 

that the day’s faraway events might

have repercussions for him

when he awakens

and attempts to stand up

with nothing to hold on to. Flashing lights,

 

a siren, and the ambulance

leaves without him. We don’t know the protocol

for stopping to smell a person’s breath

 

and test his viability

in a time so burdened with violence and tragedy

that we bleed

from other people’s wounds.

 

The Surfacing

 

Fear holds its breath under water

as it rises from the dark

and wet way down, navigating

every narrow turn along

the network of pipes by folding back

its ribs to fit

in places you’re too anxious

to inhabit. It doesn’t make a sound,

surprises everyone

with its ability to swim,

and stops at nothing to appear

when least expected

with its little nose twitching

just above the water level. Here

it comes, soaked in nightmares,

where you are about to

sit, and O God, the most

surprising thing is

the sweetness of its face, the insatiable

curiosity dripping

from its whiskers.

 

 

Still Life with a View

 

Begin with an operatic

crockery item:

                     place it at the center

of the world where it

engenders fear that a wrong touch

will send it tumbling into shards

with the desert shimmering

behind it. Now arrange

some stones,

                 but with more balance

than in nature; almost enough

to tip the table to the right

were it not for the soft weight

in a peach positioned

to facilitate comparison

between flavor

                    and the solid Earth.

Make space for green

to break through: the slender leaves

that tap into air, the fleshy

ones whose world

is a clay pot, and the ones that flow

toward the foothills

                            where they turn

into light. Have the room

be a refuge for birds who accept

whatever space is given them

to animate the foreground

while in the wide expanse outside

a hummingbird

                      is perched

on the whorl of a fingerprint.

Take this moment

as a breath

               being held to preserve it,

an exercise in swift

creation with no chance

for redress should the mountain collapse

or the photograph pinned to the wall

fade when rain is all

that remains of a forest in the clouds.

Raining

 

It’s raining poison dart frogs, raining

leaves onto leaves, raining hours,

minutes, and seconds filling up

the years.

            Each afternoon at two o’clock

it rains. It begins with a few drops feeling

their way back to colonial times

and continues until

the Quakers arrive and clear a space

for rain that turns to grass

when it touches the earth.

                                   The bellbirds

have grown quiet

waiting for the rain to stop

and the strangler fig

tightens its grip.

                      Down one flank

of a volcano it rains ash,

down the other orchids, and rivers

leave their banks behind

as they race each other

to the sea.

             The rain subverts

the roots by which trees grip

topsoil for as long as the water

has strength to hold them; it softens

the ground where a jaguar walks

and washes away its scent

when it has turned into steam.

                                          It rains

nails for thunder

to hammer down, rains dance steps

on a tin roof, and beads

the strands a spider weaves between

one storm and the next.

                                There’s an antshrike

rain, tanager rain, a rain

to guide leaf cutter ants,

rain that thickens into mist

and rain as green as the macaws

that streak across the canopy.

                                        There’s a

spectacled rain that looks down

with the owl from a branch

above the river

where a caiman’s eye

is floating.

             An iguana

gives the creases in his skin

up to the rain, a blue morpho folds

its wings around the only secret

it has to keep, and on the lagoon

reflections scatter beyond hope

of reassembling.

                     Lianas are draped

between showers, while the palms

that walk, step a little

left or right beneath

howler monkeys hanging

from the rain.

                  Rainwater flows like sleep

on high ground and the low

in a nightlong rush until

the forest is calmed

with rain sliding from the foliage,

but trying to hold on

                             and inside

every drop as it falls

is an insect singing.

 

 

Tempest Variations

 

I

Comes a moment when the river

slows, the summer heavy foliage

falls silent, the city walls turn pale,

church towers shiver

against the blackening sky

while the young man in his uniform

loosens his collar and wipes

the lightning from his brow.

 

II

Thunder fills two porcelain

jugs to overflowing

where they balance on a wall

between moths drawn to the light

that is the universe

and the one whose wings vibrate above

a single, colored flower

of the Earth.

 

III

All the skyline is a madrigal

and the ruins sing of long ago

while the river does not listen

as it follows time

to the beat of raindrops,

slow at first, then

building to a gallop with nobody

holding the reins.

 

IV

Behind the clouds an angry god

is beating metal sheets

where once

he hammered sunlight

from a forge.

 

V

The first flash cleaves the sky in two:

half for the few

who own all the land, half

for the many who work it. And alone

at the roadside, a woman

weighs an empty hand

against the one that holds her child.

 

VI

The light lasts a second

that reveals a soul

inside everything alive.

 

VII

In the calm before

there’s a scent of jasmine

and a bramble with blood

on its thorns. In the calm that follows

there’s a soldier who’s lost

and a ripple in the clouds

where a thunderbolt passed through. 

 

VIII

It happens unexpectedly, the darkening

and the taste

of moisture in the air

before a drop has fallen. There is

silence deep enough for a fox’s

den, then the crack

in an ornamental vessel

is the first sound. It becomes

a glacier when it breaks.

The Hurricane in Arizona

 

Pictures of the hurricane

wash across a television screen

with a diagram revolving

in one corner

showing red and yellow

energy like anger

that doesn’t care which way it goes.

A news anchor’s voice

 

is audible from the porch at a house

in dry country, whose monsoon

season is fading to a final

rumble from across

the mountains to the south

as hummingbirds around

suspended glass feeders

are constantly in motion. The Rufous

 

are pausing from migration

and the Broad-billed preparing for theirs.

While they anticipate

the flight and water

has its way with Florida

the hills close by

don’t know the plans

to strip and drill into them, using

a billion gallons in a year

 

of prying silver from darkness

beneath the summer swallows,

oak trees and mesquite

that survive on seventeen inches

of annual rain. A six foot

storm surge is making easy work

of the Keys, weaving power lines

 

into a tangle, and taking trees at will.

The forecast is for

more destruction as the eye

steers north; buildings swept aside;

 

diesel in the air when

a column of trucks carries off the daily

waste on the once quiet roads; poison

in the water, and a monumental appetite

for minerals. In their brightly

colored anoraks, reporters

sway on their feet

 

and describe what water

is doing right now. The view

across the valley here

is almost lush in its September glow

and the streams that run there

are clean. We say

still clean, as everything is still

what it has been

for life above ground, for the Violet-crowned

 

hummingbird suspended

from the sky

like a drop of bright moisture

with wings.

 

 

Villages at Vigneto

 

Turn on a faucet in the kitchen

of a new house among houses

built close to a river that has been

redirected to serve

domestic needs, and out comes the first

Vermilion flycatcher followed

by Yellow-billed cuckoos, a Gray hawk,

grosbeaks, warblers, vireos, doves, jays,

and struggling through the plumbing

a badger prepared to gnaw through

every chair leg he can find.

It won’t be long

before the orioles appear, and after them

a Coachwhip and a garter snake.

Some turtles thud as they drop

into the basin, then two dozen

sparrow species come

back into the light

after their journey through darkness

left behind when the current

weakened and the water was too little

to sustain them. A bobcat shakes the last

moisture from his fur

as sunlight spreads its dusk glow on the window

and the bats arrive. It’s too late to turn

the faucet off. Too late

to put the river back

where it belongs.

Lost Time

 

My wake-up call was a request

for my password to enter the day,

following which

my rights were read concerning

the choices available for breakfast.

I forgot the PIN

for opening the door,

but remembered the number to call

for assistance, which led

to a long conversation with a recording

that knew my every question in advance.

The postman delivered a sack

containing requests for money

from candidates and volunteers

and institutions, every one

of whom insisted that the world would end

should I refuse them. I spent

the afternoon learning

my social security number by heart

and addressing envelopes

To Whom it May Concern

in hopes that somebody would know

how to log back in

to my life, and turned on the television

to watch the day’s news

but a voice announced This is only a test.

Then the power failed, the computer screen

light shrank to a dot,

and the credit cards wilted in my hand

when I was ready to pay any price

if I’d only have known

what it was I wanted back.

 

 

 

West of Lukeville

 

The ravens don’t much care

about the border, bouncing

as they do

between one country’s light

and another’s. And a hawk can cast

its shadow on both

sides at once

with a wingspan as wide

as a bobcat’s leap

and an eye as focused as a border guard’s.

It’s mostly quiet

here, except for the trucks

that move in their sleep

while the desert shifts beneath them

faster in Spanish

than this gravel road allows

as it dips and crackles

underfoot. The vegetation

greens into sunlight

and dries back to desperation

depending on terrain

while mountain after mountain

cuts into a sky that burns

at its edges come June.

Right now, a hammer taps

in a mechanic’s tinny workshop

where his radio is tuned

to salt and teardrops.

There’s a heaven

for the poor who look across

at where they’ve heard

a land of plenty

is at hand, but all they see from here

are saguaro

and the buckled ground

where a mule is a man with no face

and coyotes

dispense promises

of work in one language,

pay in another,

with a long walk through the night

and slow death in the sun

for those whose mariachi prayers

go unanswered. Supply

and demand are the laws: the land

demands rain

while the sky won’t supply it.

The doves call

out to springtime, and a breeze

responds. Who’s there; who wants

to enter? Who is it

wants to build a wall

to keep the heat away?

Night Upon Night

 

“Do things look in the ten and twelve of noon as they look in the dark? Is the hand, the face, the foot, the same face and hand and foot seen by the sun?”

            Dr. Matthew O’Connor, Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

 

Beneath jasmine scented stars

a mountain settles back

upon the heavy Earth

while night opens its wings

and coyotes spill from the moon

to slake a day’s long thirst.

 

Moths peel away

from a movie screen sky

and into the real world

just as a silver glow

begins shining from inside

desert rocks inscribed

for those who enter darkness

with directions to the soul.

 

Nighthawk by nighthawk

the last minutes of light

tick away from the roofs

of houses, and sink

beneath the surface of the pond;

down, down, to where

time is not measured

but preserved.

 

When the moment

comes for bats to shake off

the dust from attics in the suburbs

to fly between knowing

and unknowing, they bring

secrets too intimate for daylight

and each of them has

the face of a fallen devil

and the purpose of a god

seeking someone to believe in him.

 

An owl’s claw snags

on a mouse’s breath

as it cuts the velvet open

and reveals

a drop of blood inside it

the color

of absolute silence

and a soft shadow passes

across the face of the moon.

 

A breath or sigh can separate

one instant from the next

when the fang burns

in a snake’s mouth

and constellations rush

into a milky swirl.

 

On a cottonwood stripped

bare, or sycamore

whose white

limbs shiver in the dark,

Turkey vultures sleep with backs

hunched against a summer rain

waiting out the time

before waking

when they strip a morning’s bones.

 

At the most remote

points on the clock face,

when numbers don’t follow

in order, when three

is the predator and midnight

is the prey,

the jaguar pulls free

of the stone into which

his image was carved in the long,

long ago when men

sought spirit enough to guide them

from dusk to dawn

and imagined

themselves possessing

a jungle’s heart.

 

All sounds here are in the key

of infinity: a forest

speaking as a million insect

trills; ground alive

with moisture until a hiss

and slither in the mud

sink back

into primeval silence;

 

into the original dark

before the first comet

left a trail of sparkling dust

as it continued along its trajectory

to where even wolves

could not follow.

 

“As for me, I tuck myself in at night, well content because I am my own charlatan.”

            Dr. Matthew O’Connor

 

Upon the endless highways

traffic tires

but will not sleep.

With caffeine in the fuel tank

trucks move according

to their orders, coast

to coast, and powered by

a heart that will not die.

To a steel guitar soundtrack

their drivers steer through

miles of history without

ever leaving the present

moment in time

with its radio glow and

the rumble a country makes

as wheels devour it. Their world

is all electric, and the ice glow

from headlights

sweeps the road ahead

while the sky hums in sympathy

with the distances

that comprise a life when it takes

directions from the stars.

 

In the stillness offices

become when business

goes on hold, the cleaning staff

waltz buckets

and brooms to the tune

of minimum wage.

 

The ice cube in a gin glass

is melting slowly down

while someone’s aunt in Dallas

all alone

watches prophets on the TV screen

offer one-eight-hundred

promises that she’ll

be saved.

 

In alleys

back of restaurants, under bridges,

in the parks,

beside multi-storey

parking structures, with blankets

pulled up to their chins,

the indigent lie

with no medicine to cure

what ails them; only night

as the pill

to dull the impact of each day.

 

Ambulances travel faster after

sunset, when every fear becomes

an emergency. They scream

all the way to

the hospitals, racing bad luck

and traffic lights

as they carry old wounds

to be treated

by an intravenous drip of memories

from a happy time

while the patient lies unconscious,

being monitored until

dawn shines brightly through

the plastic blinds.

 

While the monk

prays a stone silent prayer

in Cistercian cold

the constellations sharing

Heaven with his god

reflect interstellar fantasies

for spirits so lost

they can’t find

home on the Earth,

 

but there is always the veil

that falls between the seer and the seen

that turns whatever is mundane

by day into a mystery at night:

the illuminated theaters where gas

is pumped; the dragon’s tail of rear lights

along a highway; the cats

who rub their fur

against starlight, and the approaching

freight train with an eye

so bright it sees

the future.