Category: poems

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It’s these soft and summer-still Saturday evenings
that bring it back. When the weight and press
of the heat makes the air tangible, touchable,
and the drone of the city is dampened,
as it drips down into the grates —
like the sweat on the back of my neck;
a delicate and curved trickling, undulating downward.
It’s evenings like these, in the dissolving light,
as night writes its name on the still-warm sidewalk.
that brings it back.

Uninvited

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Never welcomed here:
Once a prison, once an asylum,
once both: no clear distinction
between violence and lunacy.

And then the closing. Windows blinded
and doors shut, sealed off from the
outside world. Sealed in from us.

We are uninvited,
not permitted to peer inside
the chilled and shadowed rooms,
not allowed a whiff of damp
or madness.

We remain unincluded
alone and isolated on the periphery
with our own dark thoughts, wondering.

How tragedy teaches geography

Hearing today’s horrific news about the shooting deaths of twenty young children and seven adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gave me pause for thought (of course). But it also reminded me of a poem I wrote in 1996:

Tragedy teaches geography

How disquieting that earthquakes,
airline crashes and murdered children
help to impress location in our minds
more clearly than a textbook;
how in a few minutes of news we learn
those key details: the topography,
climate, and exact longitude and latitude
of a town split wide open by death;
how suddenly we know the weather
outside a small cathedral in Dunblane.

Similarly and no less tragic, in the Dunblane school massacre sixteen children and one adult were killed before the shooter committed suicide.

This is more of a fragment than a poem; I could never seem to arrange the words to evoke the feeling or bring the meaning intended. Over the years I added place names and took them out — Lockerbie, Bam, Waco, Oklahoma, Hungerford, and then Phuket, Haiti, Columbine, Blacksburg (I could easily, and sadly, go on). But I always left in Dunblane. It was that shooting that prompted the poem. It was that shooting that I remember most as I watch news coverage of the Newtown massacre.

In 1996 I was in my twenties, a few years out of university. What struck me in the following days in that suddenly I knew exactly where this little Scottish town was located. And I will continue to remember. Like a pin pressed into a map marking the latest location of profound tragedy and human loss. Those pins, glowing red across the countries. Towns and cities I may never have known until a bomb exploded, a earthquake rattled, or a shooter opened fire.

This fragment will be revisited again and again. I’m quite certain that it will never quite capture what I want to say. Maybe I’ve already said it here.

Light leaving

Writing is best when the light is leaving,
as clouds cling to dimming reflections,
as the last traces of the day dissolve into dark.
Until the last clinging arc of blue
drips down and joins the liquid evening.

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Anywhere diner

Booths

Eating diner fries at the corner grill
everything is on the menu: burgers to Chinese.
Reminds me of that place where we used to meet
when the late afternoon released us
squinting into sunshine and snow.
Our hands unwrinkled, faces unfurled.

There is comfort in these everywhere places:
the too-familiar scent of old grease and vinegar.
The waitresses: kind but worn, tired,
like this floor. Like the faceless
and frameless anywhere artwork.
But the walls, they remember us,
would still recognize our lined faces.

In these places, a permanent grit exists:
a little bit of everyone left behind.

Pepsi sign

The air in Liverpool

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The chill, the smell of the air:
it stays with you. It doesn’t smell like this
anywhere else in the world, but here.
And it clings to your clothes, your hair.
If you’re here long enough, it seeps
into your skin, pools in the blood,
climbs into your bones and settles in.

It never leaves: this pungent scent
of seawater and salt. It mixes with the mud
and blood-red of brick and iron,
dissolves with the damp and heavy exhalations
of dock workers, their corrugated hands betraying
an eternity of work and worry.
— Their skin and sweat is here, too;
it paints this sombre city’s walls.
The rain washes them into puddles,
drains them into uneven streets,
Pulls them back into a mighty river
that holds them, that won’t let them go.
Keeps their scent close.

Disappearing act

The crack in his skin falls down to the bones
a split that starts here at your feet
and stretches upward. As far as you can see.
Cleaving the plain in two.

Which side are you on? Are you hiding
in the bumps and fissures of old wounds,
waiting to crawl from the the scars when darkness
blurs the edges of here and now?

Or will you travel this fresh path
straight and chiseled, to its unseen end?