Now that my heart is about ready,
who are all those gracile creatures
moving smooth as air around me
while I rest on my assistant, the stair railing?
I’m thankful not to know a one of them
and interrupt their neon-darting need
for somewhere else to vanish in.
I could almost disappear right here.
The one who I would talk to is ahead,
not because he’s hurrying,
that’s just how things work out
like his cheap, cement Buddha
achieving perfection losing its eyes and nose
in nothing unusual sun and snow.
He’s not moving either.
Me, him, and sleep that’s inside everything
like a tree’s shadow in the tree at night,
while the crickets won’t let go.
In another life I was always drunker.
Planted bulbs. Liked how my arms felt.
My friend, when he talked about heaven
seemed to have nothing wrong with him.
The gravy came out. Jim would let the water run
the whole time he did the dishes
when it wasn’t his turn to dance the baby
and the stars felt their way through the lilacs
or frost whatever holiday.
I don’t know the eternal.
Don’t even feel kindly toward it.
The champagne I bought was so-so
but it was still champagne and lots of it.
You don’t have to do anything
to deserve sleep.
Inside every one of us is a staircase.
I have seen my love turn and look
down to me then continue her climb.
The smoke in her hair will keep finding me
until the world is all smoke.
I don’t know, something will carry me forward.
Drift of snow, hummingbird,
a baby’s birthday balloon.
I can’t think of my kitten now
rubbing his face against mine,
not while I’m trying to get out the door.
Every day is spring.
Lilacs, come fetch me.
Every day is winter.
We make no sound over pine needles.
On a Thursday Afternoon of His Life
my brother-in-law wrote a letter he never mailed.
In it he explained what a dog smells when it smells fear.
He described what he saw when he saw blue.
He mentioned a moment that afternoon:
he was alone in the house,
somewhere not too far off was the rumble of heavy equipment,
then he heard his name pronounced by a familiar voice he’d never heard before.
He gave two options for how things would turn out
and wrote “one or the other.”
He noticed how “or the” was almost “other.”
He mentioned that in the next line of the letter.
Why am I telling you this he wondered next.
He said Friday was his favorite evening, in the fall, the team just taking the field.
He knew he would not mail the letter but wrote it out long-hand with the pen he kept by the phone for taking messages.
The letter will be found years from now in the back a drawer that contains a hinge and a set of brass keys to doors that are long gone or I should say now always open.
The closing was good something, the last word smudged,
good luck? goodbye? good something, good.
Introduction to my Latest Effort
I wrote the next poem I’m going to read this
morning on a plane
I’m not sure it’s very good
but I kind of like it and I thought I’d share
my latest effort with you.
Would you like to hear it?
I think it’s going to be the first in a series
of poems about emergency exits
because I was sitting in the emergency exit row
and the flight attendant came around and asked me
if I was willing to assist in the event of an emergency.
I was tired and didn’t hear him
correctly and I thought he had asked if we were willing to exist
in the event of an emergency.
Which startled me because sometimes
I have suicidal thoughts and I must have looked
alarmed because he asked me if I knew
how to speak English and if I wanted to be moved.
I told him I thought he had asked me if
I was willing to exist and he laughed and said,
Oh sir, we assume the answer to that question is yes.
Last night, I dreamed I was in the North Atlantic,
far from the mainland, standing atop high swells,
the water dark as oilsmoke, laced with foam,
when you came along, at once sublime
and casual as a whale. We stood and talked.
I leaned against a lamppost that wasn’t there.
And you, laughing, suggested we make love
floating on air, a few feet over the chop,
like mythological Greeks, or characters
in Shakespeare, dreamed up sometime late
in his Stratfordian retirement, lost,
never discovered. So what was it then
that kept me there, in bed, alone, listening,
after I was startled awake, to the neighbor’s dog
barking at shadows in his own back yard,
the streetlamp outside, orbited by moths,
obliterating the stars and making the moon
seem pale? Why didn’t I rise and go to you,
sailing the streets between my room and yours
to enter, godlike, riding on a wave?
all from New Ohio Review (nor) 8: Fall 2010, Ed. Jill Allyn Rosser
I’m in a sort-of-weird mood today, so the oddness of “assist” vs “exist” in Hemley’s poem and the dream in Norwood’s really caught my attention.