PATCHWORK MUSIC


When nothing here is certain
but that time is rolling on,
ring up your eyelids’ curtain
and greet rosy-fingered Dawn,
and ivory-footed Sarah
in her floor-length purple gown,
tapping time on polished floorboards
waiting till the sun goes down.

Let’s forget the slings and arrows,
and we’ll rosin up the bow!
Call the tune and pay the piper
so he’ll play a song we know.
Pay respect and pay attention
when you pay a living wage
to the slatterns in the kitchen
and the yokels on the stage.

If you’ll be my two-bar pickup,
I’ll play rhythm to your lead,
and we’ll truck across the ballroom
as our righteous feet take speed.
Cut a rug or cut a caper,
if you’ll just cut to the chase –
get your picture in the paper
where the footling folk embrace.

You can cross my palm with silver,
since I’m easily led to gold,
and I’ll be your major miner
till the Kingdom’s keys are sold.
Here’s a penny for your thoughts
and a dollar for your day,
but that’s what you get for thinking
when you dance the night away.

 
March 28, 2006


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GOODBYE TO PETE


The floodlit fountain in the winter pond
lighting the water from underneath
lifts a plume of chill spray into the teeth
of a sleety wind across the trees to the road beyond.

The same road, the same sleet, and the same night
unroll before the wheels of your decrepit car.
The radio is on. You’re content where you are,
with a hand on the wheel, at the edge of my sight.

The lighter flicks to a cupped cigarette under
your face, and the smoke blows out the window vent.
You turn and grin. It makes me wonder
how you could be gone, and where the years went.

The words will come, but words are no good.
You were patient and loyal and good and true.
The heart must go where no words could:
on this side of the veil is no likeness of you.

The ground has been closed now, and there you lie,
breathing the sod from underneath,
while above you grass blades bend in the teeth
of a chill wind, with a few flakes flickering by.

The ground has been closed; the world waits for the sun.
Some have tomorrows. Some must wake
and roll away the stone. It is for their sake
the verses continue, the song not quite done.
 
February 28, 2006


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SONG OF DETERMINANCE


The early leaves must steal the sun;
the roots must drink the rain.
So call the tune for everyone
to sing the sad refrain:

As prescience in retrospect,
the seasons must unfold.
The Word devolves to dialect;
the new brings forth the old.

As footprints to your snowy boot
your wandering steps precede,
noble events along their route
the churlish moments lead.

So things must be the way they are;
there is no other choice.
No use to wish upon a star.
No need to raise your voice.                                        

Decide instead to make believe
what freedom would provide.
Decide to practice to deceive.
Pretend you can decide.

 
February 28, 2005


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THE LOVE SONG OF ANNE HEDONIA


I vow that I will learn to love Dysphoria:
You surely will become my latest craze!
The question must be: How do I adore you?
It’s too much work for me to count the ways.

So here’s to misery! I salute you,
A succotash of suffering to behold,
And pray that no morsel of joy pollute you,
Nor ever turn my woeful lead to gold.

Bring on the armies of lugubriation!
Each gloomy foe I will embrace as friend,
And so await with dread anticipation
The melancholic dirge that knows no end.

My head is in the sand. My ass is in a sling.
Discomfort, ‘tis of thee! Of thee I sing.

 
February 23, 2005


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TEMPORAL JIGSAWS


Look back at one whose whole life lay ahead,
the tolerant master of unfolding time,
a future locutor of words unsaid
not yet supine in any unmade bed
nor revenant to uncommitted crime.

Look back and claim a prize now judged complete.
See, instead of a looming ouverture,
an oeuvre borne by an oaf on stumbling feet
headlong downstairs to crash into the street,
a fallen egg past any hope or cure.

Will men and horses put this puzzle right
here on the table? And under a chair:
the missing piece! A wedge of summer light
slips into place. Observe this gorgeous night
and depart, to take refreshment elsewhere.

 
October 15, 2004


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REMEMBERING SHELAGH


Of the many who knew the many of you
there were few enough who knew you well,
and of the stories that are ours to tell,
a myriad versions, and all of them true:

A gutsiness of life and love,
an eyebrow arched, a toss of the hair,
the level gaze and the withering stare,
a fist of iron in a velvet glove.

Mother and daughter, sister and friend:
how shall we cope with your laughter gone?
Too lately begun to have reached this end,
a spring afternoon on a shaded lawn.
Accept if you will this bitter rhyme,
and be with us here this one last time.

 
May 8, 2003


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VERNAL REBUS


Translucent gold in the canopy;
raspberries and cream at eye level throughout the woods;
damp underfoot and damp overhead;
the necessity of a verb:

A newly-awakened tree frog
balances on a flimsy branch, while below
the coil of a black racer unwinds
an iridescent rivulet across the asphalt
in search of the warmth from
a newly-emergent sun.

                                     Just down the hill
the scattered petals of peach blossoms
eddy in a placid pool before draining
in a trickle between twin banks of new growth.

Read it from the script; chant it; shout it;
celebrate in counterpoint with the wren
all the secret blessings of the light!

 
April 10, 2003


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THE MISTAKES OF HISTORY


One-eyed now, with a stump for one leg
and a wide healed-over shell-crack,
an ochre-blotched box turtle sets out
across the hot asphalt in a rapid ragtime
whish-whish-thump, whish-whish-thump.

Is it just plain stupidity, belying the innumerable
worn annuations on the shell-scutes?
Or is it simply absolute determination?
Whatever the answer may be, the red-freckled eye
stares unswerving through the heat-shimmered morning
as he crosses that road again.

 
November 19, 2002


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TURN AND BOW


Hold up a mask before the heart.
A comedic grin or grotesque grimace will suffice
to hide the raw red pump and squeeze.
One might glimpse the soggy mass through an eyehole
or the narrow gap in the picket teeth,
or maybe not. Still, it would remain the same.
Remove the mask and the blue and pink
of all too fleshy throb and flood of viscous life
are there exposed...

To understand it, shrink down small and go inside.
Traverse the arteries and veins, observe the plaque,
dodging corpuscles on the way.
But remember that you ride with Heisenberg:
your presence matters. Watch out for vigilant leucocytes!
Or, impacting the vessel wall, you may cause a clot...

Best to withdraw and replace the mask.
All the other parts have theirs, one for the lungs,
another for the feet, and all are moving in the dance.
Assume a stance under the flickering crystal chandelier,
arms poised, ready to begin the grand pavane.

 
November 7, 2002


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DISAPPEARING ACT


Drive down White Rock Road on a bright February day
and see the cedars suck up all the light,
leaving a token remnant of red wavelengths
in the outermost and upper fringes
but taking everything else, all luminance gone
except for the holes where sky color peeks through
the interweaving of tiny branches.

Feel the wind that feathers through the trees,
drying up all moisture, turning skin into crackling,
and sniff the lack of smell: no piny tang
or scent of bare earth survives its desiccating chill.

Return next week and hear sound hushed by snow.
Bird calls, idle chatter, flageolet and sackbut —
all vanish into the baroque silence.
Strain to detect even a thin whisper
in the falling flakes.

                               And so the poet,
now a mere shadow of his former self,
creates new absence. In the white page
black cutouts of words appear, recounting
once and for all, in bold and orotund detail,
that which is most emphatically not here.

 
February 22, 2002


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THE AMPLITUDE OF TIME


Year after year the tread of the tractor wheel
rumbles over same patch of ground,
imprinting in the dead vegetation
the same flat chevrons, just ahead of the discs
that that turn it all again to earth and worm,
and, after ordering the components,
convert them to the sap and flesh of spring.

Some years the land lies fallow for the hay
to be taken twice if the rain is right.
In the winter of such a year the haloed moon
throws deep shadow across a tall cedar
down the ravine straight towards the pole star,
rippling over the withered corpses
of blackberry and honeysuckle there
beyond the jurisdiction of the plough.

Next day in the field just before the snow
the remains of grasses, almost purple,
pick out the orange stubble of the broomstraw,
and the ever-optimistic wild onions
form a haze of teal among the gold of flattened stems.
They all combine to fling down a quilted grid
over the knees and ankles of the entire ridge.

And so this intricate colored inlay
dogs the footpath that leads to the muddy track
and the gravel that empties out onto the county road,
following the fencerows all the way to town,
where the street lights flip by, passing the brick school
from the thirties behind a grove of bare maples,
a darkened classroom, and a blackboard,
where, year after year, a history teacher
writes and erases the same three words.

After the snow, when the thaw begins, stalks and husks
reappear cross-hatched against a whitened base,
and a line of dark melt picks out the old path
that once ran from the spring to the first house on the ridge,
circling the site of the foundation
whose absent stones were hauled off long ago
to build the chimneys at the main house in the grove.
After the fire in sixty-five they collapsed
between the ancient oaks which stand there yet,
rusty lower leaves still clinging tenaciously
over luminous patterns in the snow.

 
February 12, 2002


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SUZERAINTY


To be a lord, to loaf again at ease
and guard anew one’s old ancestral tongue,
preserving all its might intact among
these ancient juvenile subjunctive pleas;

Or owe fealty to a lady who stays
beside a loaf fresh-sliced, a glass half-full,
the one whose smile and hooded glance can pull
a voice from stones and set the ice ablaze:

To this selfsame sovereign liege I kneel,
proffer a pommel-end with nape exposed,
and rise to find a path yet unforeclosed,
where shadowed foliage does not conceal.

A cup inlaid with finest filigree
still licenses the errant eye to see.

 
February 2, 2002


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