The River Where His Lover Lies

The river where his lover lies
is not too wide from bank to bank.
The water eddies here and there
as it flows down into the sea.

The ferry carries cars across
from Chester on one shore to Lyme.
The surface of the water’s calm,
there’s not a lot they have to say.

He took the boat so they could see
the swans that swim along in pairs.
They mate for life, he’d said; the plank
was lowered, so were her eyes.

Something was amiss that day,
some inner peace, some needed balm.
He calculated there was time
to stem the tide, avert the loss.

The water made her paleness stark
against her hair, as she sank down;
and now he has to damn or thank
the river where his lover lies.

 

The Last Beach Heather

At the end of each summer they would cross
Uncle Tim’s Bridge in Wellfleet and clip some
beach heather—sea lavender, some people
call it. Soft, pink-purple flowers, that
she would dry upside down and then put
in a pitcher or a vase, to give some color
to the apartment over a grey Boston
winter, as a remembrance of summer.

One winter it wasn’t enough, and he moved out.
There were periodic attempts to reconcile
but he had settled down, and she still
wanted to be wild in her ways, to prolong
their bohemian days. Never one to save,
she’d spend her paycheck on a harpsichord
concert, or violin lessons for herself, still
a beginner at twenty-five.

He laughed at that behind her back,
but she laughed too, at the dinners
they had to go to now, where the laughs
were poured out in miserly fashion like
the more-expensive wine they drank now;
Instead of manic tears flowing down their
cheeks, each little titter was weighed and
savored; good God, she said one night,

I hope we don’t grow old like that!
But he saw nothing wrong with the men
who’d given him a job that paid the rent
at the lovely little terrace apartment
she said was what she’d dreamed of
for so many years in the woods of
Connecticut. He reminded her of
that one night; love isn’t logical, though,

and that was the end of that. She moved
to a garrett on the back side of Beacon Hill
where the sun seemed never to shine, while
he moved to the sunny side of the street in
the Back Bay. Eventually he met and wooed
and won a woman more like the man he’d become
and they went to Wellfleet, where he wanted to
show her where the beach heather grew.

They crossed the bridge, and he was bending over
to clip a sprig at the end of the summer, just as
he had before, when a voice called out to him:
“This is the National Seashore—you’re not
supposed to cut any plants,” a woman said.
He stood up and turned around, and yelled out
“But I’ve been doing this for years.”
“Well, you never should have, so stop now.”

Not one to break the law now, he put the clippers
back in his pocket. They crossed the bridge,
got in their car and drove home. On the way
they bought some beach heather—
and much more–at a cute gift shop that
his wife had spied. Things, he thought,
that were free before, were now bought
at a high price, and came wrapped in bags.

Ichor

 

. . . either you have it or you don’t,
no amount of MFAing will give it to you:
1. the ethereal fluid coursing through the veins of the gods;
2. a thin, acrid, watery discharge from a wound or an ulcer.

Take your pick.

blake1

Either way it brings on those ecstatic states,
verbal snake-handling, that
make the poet’s eyes roll back into
the sockets, bringing on singing
glossolalia, delirium from which

the rational scribe returns later
to get it all down on paper–

weave a circle round him thrice
and all that jazz.

coleridge

Poor Tommy Eliot, you can imagine him
saying “You can call me Thomas,” then
leaving the New World for the old one,
thinking if he got nearer the source
he’d have a leg up on the barbaric yawpers

in his native land.
Fat chance.

As if climbing higher up the social ladder
got you nearer the daemon.

philoctetes

Philoctetes-like,
you need the wound
to pull the bow,
the wound from out which ichor flows,
the sacred lymph that
mediates between man and god.

Bats at Twilight

The bats are out tonight,
I said. She looked up and there
they were, silhouetted against the dying light
to the west. Over our shoulders
to the east it was dark, but from where

bats2

we sat, we had an intimate view of the two,
engaged in some sort of courtship ritual
I surmised after a while; the urge to do
as lovers everywhere do. They dipped
and soared; I assumed it was very traditional.

“If we had more bats we’d have fewer bugs,”
I said. She shrank back into her sweater,
and gave me a look, then a shrug.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t like bats.”
I knew, no matter how I tried, I’d never get her

bats1

to agree to let me put up bat houses.
It was a little thing, nothing I cared about much,
just at the corners of our lot. One’s spouse holds
the veto vote on such matters, over
all the earth and every creeping thing and such.

Abide by this rule, or find her colder
once under the covers you have slipped:
As to animals other than dogs and cats,
forswear them all, and love her.

The Men on the Moon

It was the summer of ’69, and men were preparing
to land on the moon, at the same time that
an event of far greater consequence was
about to occur; a declaration of troth
between two star-crossed lovers here on earth.

The girl was unknown, disreputable; the boy,
from a family that mattered, trying to catch
up with her. His parents had asked where
he would watch the historic event, and he had
replied, to their consternation, that he had a date.

It was a gesture on their part, an act with meaning;
they didn’t care about country or science; their love
was their art, their art was their love. They cared no
more about the men on the moon and all it meant
than—they laughed—the man in the moon.

They walked out in nature; it was summer-hot, and it
wasn’t clear where they were going, but they knew why.
The field was buggy, though, and so after a while
they went back to the car to consummate the
collision of their worlds in air-conditioned comfort.

He had chosen words he’d heard, he wasn’t sure where,
“When you cry, I will taste salt.” That’s how close he
promised to be to her as she straddled his lap in the front
seat. She laughed, thinking he was striking a pose. He wasn’t
hurt; these misunderstandings would happen, no big deal.

He took her home, after pizza and a Coke; he wasn’t
old enough to buy beer, and didn’t have any pot to smoke.
Her mom wasn’t even home; he could have spent the
night except that his parents would have raised holy hell;
he was going to college two months later, in the fall.

He never went back to that little town, but years later,
looking out the window of a women’s apartment onto
a parking lot below, he listened to Louis Armstrong sing
“I could cry salty tears,” and thought back to that solemn
promise that was misconstrued, and laughed at his innocence.

The Unfinished House

There was, on the street where we lived, an unfinished house–
incomplete in ways you didn’t notice at first;
no stairs up the porch to the front door,
no walkway to the porch. The type of details
that were left undone let a person know that
tradesmen, visitors and strangers were not welcome.

Inside lived an old woman, or at least old to us kids.
We’d see her sometimes through the windows, which
had no curtains, or maybe in her car before she drove
into her garage, which opened into her house. You saw
about as much of her as somebody’s gin rummy hand held
close to the breast; in plain sight, but her back was turned.

Such a provocation to a gang of young boys, and yet
none of us had the guts or the callousness to
bother her enough to react to us. She had a chain-link
fence around her yard, all the way out to the property line
There was no gate, so none of us ever got any
closer to trick or treat, or to chase a ball.

The story our parents told us was that she’d figured
out a way to save money on her property taxes.
Until her house was finished, it was undeveloped
even though she slept there every night, and kept
a fire going in one fireplace all winter long.
She was shrewd, crazy like a fox, my mom said.

I don’t know who told me the other version of her life,
and which was true; that she had been engaged to be
married to a man more dashing and handsome than
she expected. That she had built the house with money
she’d inherited from her family, and that the money,
and not love, was the reason he was attracted to her.

The banns had been published, and they would move in
when they got back from their honeymoon, the
house would be finished by then. But something happened;
the man discovered he couldn’t live for money alone,
or maybe he found another woman just as rich
but prettier. Either way, he was gone.

And so the house stood there, unfinished, like the heart
she had built for him. She saved on taxes, yes,
but also on expenditures of emotion. She needed
nobody, and nobody needed her. She grew used to it
and, like an unused chimney that’s bricked over to
conserve heat, she was as cold and indifferent as stone.

The Snake and the Robin’s Eggs

There was a snake on the stoop this morning,
my wife said, I nearly died. That had never
happened before, and we surmised it was
the robin’s nest in the holly bush out front.

robins

We’d watched the mother build her nest,
then left her alone once she laid her eggs;
we knew she’d leave them if we touched
the muddy sticks she’d stuck together for a home.

The snakes come out of hibernation in the
spring, when birds lay eggs, and climb up
trees to get them. By spending time
in back perhaps we emboldened

snake

the reptile to take a chance; no one in
the rocking chairs to snap his spine.
The next day the wide-eyed young were gone,
it had been the two weeks we’d read it

would take for the mother to push them
out and lead them away, on the ground
at first and then, if they ran faster
than that snake could crawl, on the wing.

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