For whatever reason,
I was dropped like ketchup on a picnic blanket,
smeared a bit,
and enrolled in the tutorial of a grand event of dirt
where I watch growth twine on itself,
untangle what my immaturity
concludes is bad décor,
And wait for the dripping spigot of my life
to wear a clean spot so I can fully understand.
I know now the benefit of give, and take,
To stick my tongue out
only when I absolutely have to,
To allow for difference, withhold plucking,
Laugh whenever I can on the potholed trip,
Bloom to my highest color
Regardless of weather, forecast, and the twist and warp of memory or perception of any path behind or that before me.
CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE (where it all began)
In a rock driveway between FOR SALE and FOR RENT signs,
a red Pontiac ignites with spit and polish.
A fruitcake-colored cat sniffs a dead-bird tenement for worms at the curb.
Spotted pups yap in the baggy basket of a backyard fence.
They kick up crap, and crap on crap.
First Class seedlings run with empty-lot cargo waifs.
They combine at root for the climb.
All over town, buds like pimples set themselves in place
for Spring to achieve itself, and mosquitoes start their cycle.
In a house with a one-lock statement about security, (Its the 40s, after all.)
a parakeet strikes chipped beak on chipped beak in the mirror.
Steam fills the kitchen. A big pot of corned beef and cabbage cooks.
A petite woman with prominent eyebrows and heart-shaped, chestnut hair
lies splay-legged on a coil-spring mattress.
A man crawls on top of her. His shifts lean weight and grunts.
Summer harangues blossoms into harvest.
Winter makes a quick kill of the freckled, red-haired gal of Fall.
A fern with tobacco-stained fingers
reaches toward filigreed ice on the bay window.
A pot lid clatters. A big pot of corned beef and cabbage cooks.
A woman in the back bedroom moans through a break in pain.
She apologizes for bad roads and the blizzard,
for disheveled appearance, for a messy house,
for her own water and her blood.
A man combs mouse-brown hair with wax-white digits.
He laughs as he asks the doctor for an extra stitch or two.
He says, Harry Junior will be the name of my son.
The doctor jokes, Its the fathers job to eat the afterbirth.
The woman screams.
I shoot through tatters, like meat loaf pinched off and neatly folded.
Theres no sign of a penis.
I howl in the red cup of a strangers hands.
Mist fills the kitchen. A big pot of corned beef and cabbage cooks.
He lies on the tweedy sofa, snoring,
mouth busted like a boot-heeled plum.
His tongue is scorched by white lies,
gelatinous and mucked.
His socks are off-white, stiff.
His feet stink.
Often, he sets those socks
on Sisters head, and mine,
and is amused by my twisted face,
He reeks of physical exertion,
gas, trombones of letting go.
He is a gyroscope, good at spinning.
When studied, predictable:
Hes a sparrow, a peasant,
a spit ball launched
by a big-ass rubber band,
An olio barbed to a branch
with a nest pressed to its bosom.
He has a burnt-match life
of scratch and peck.
With sleight of hand and duping dice,
(All right, he doesnt play fair.)
he wins passage through all seasons.
Hes a scrap bird,
a peewee high wire walker,
a neurotic pilot of a tiny wire bundle.
He is barber, barbarian,
tavern clown and heavens truant.
His fig leaf is nastied
by an earthy sense of humor,
But not now.
NOW he sleeps,
But sister is sneaking up
to pull his nose and get her butt beat.
She moves like a Fourth of July sparkler through rooms
of cracked linoleum, doilies,
and wallpaper, henhouse brown.
Her mouth is puckered, eyebrows arched.
She is a prisoner of reflective glass,
Warden of a treasure box:
Black-seamed, nylon stockings,
When she kisses buggered elbows, she leaves a mark.
She smells of Sen-Sen when she reads us Sunday funnies.
Otherwise, she seldom speaks. It makes her difficult to know,
She is a dragonfly, a bright parasol and colored stick.
She is hieroglyphic opacity above the river musk,
Silver whispers, wings and wand
that weaves chains from prominence to basin.
She is a seamstress, Devils darning needle,
A hovering rainbow with diametric focus,
A fine, green-feathered fan to cool a face of stone.
She is a bead-eyed broach on a Southern lady landscape.
She looks sorta like Liz Taylor, more like Vivien Leigh.
She is too pretty to be real (at least in Tiny Town, Nebraska).
Pops puts her in her place, and the same as forgets about her.
She makes the best of it, her greatest skill.
By barricade of beauty, and under thumb,
she is slowed in personal development,
remains painfully quiet, shy, and small,
and when reaching, reaches blindly,
As when she studies multiplication tables in preparation
to take a drivers license test.
DEATH BY BEDTIME STORY
The Big Bad Wolf stops at the Corner Bar
before he blows the house down.
Between patent leather shoes and apple peeling curls,
Sister is a soap eraser, fading, retrograding,
smearing window glass.
Flame licks faces inside a rotted refuse barrel.
Manmade hair attenuates.
Doll heads smoke. Faces buckle, boil, evaporate.
Betsy-Wetsy goes to ash and hits the dirt.
Between calloused feet and scrawny snakeskin braids,
I battle word swords with the bent ridge of my spine.
My pennies build a copper city on the dead-grass carpet.
Eyeball and quiet cadence set things
Mama does her mannequin impression at a treadle Singer.
The mad-dog-feed dog drags the cotton in.
Daddy makes Teena the terrier sit up for no less than an hour.
He cleans guns,
He SHOOTS holes in the floor,
He exiles me and Sister to an upstairs room to sleep,
without our favorite dolls.
The Big Bad Wolf whips out the garden hose
and takes a shower in the yard.
Neighbors bolt their doors and turn out lights.
Me and Sister hear the wolf, and fear the wolf
because we have heard the tale.
We link hands.
There is no other for the clutching
in the expressionless expanse
Of a small room grown huge from darkness.
We press to keep a vow of courage, silence,
NOT to call for Mama,
NOT to wet the bed,
And to wait for what comes first:
Sleep, the sunrise, or death by bedtime story.
THE OLD MAN AND THE KNEE
Grandfather looks like an old prospector hunched under a rucksack.
His words are heavy rainfall on ground unprepared to take it.
I listen, but Im only five.
Grandfather squints and leads his word-burro sharply down
To deep-seated canyon water that insinuates fault
where delphinium and poppies
along with white thistle and desert cacti put on a color show,
juniper, alpine, spruce and fir practice posture,
and the mountain lion swags torso
and covets bighorn sheep at preclusive distance
between stiff stacks of colored blankets.
In the Golconda of Grandfathers eyes, wealth is time.
Wealth is always time.
Grandfathers river bides time through a sedimentary tablet,
Reminisces cream and gray,
Sand, shale blushing,
Lavender rock, red,
Bones given; taking bones,
And making fossils of many bones about it
In geologic script I must grow to translate to understand,
The honor of inclusion,
The righteousness of joy, of strife,
And the duty to pull more than a dollar from a solid handshake.
My philosophy, Grandfather tells.
Its too much fellofftheflea for me,
And too much time to sit here.
I squirm. I wet my pants.
FIRST I LOVE A TOAD, THEN PAUL (I TREAT BOTH THE SAME)
Something scuffles through the underpinnings
of a haggard, autumn garden.
Toad, squat rock,
hunkers like a horse biscuit among the gourds roughed up
like small goulashes.
He twitches his body up and throws it down
as he parallels in springy mulch
the side rule of the garden.
I follow. I poke him with a stick.
Toad plops over battered shoes,
tries one on for size,
peers over ragged laces,
propels himself against the shoe scraper,
He stuns blunt weight and burps it.
I press him with my shoe. He squawks.
Toad vaults to the porch and lands on a patch of WELCOME.
I pitch him toward spiraea that lead to the gravel road.
He bounces broad-faced, short-limbed, in gray-green, granular apparel,
Lobs weight away from cultivation,
thump-thumps over frazzled thatch,
and accumulates a belly full of insects
As he hurls rubber attitude and spastic inches
toward the horizon
In pursuit of shelter or at least a sliver of reception.
I remember I kissed his stiff and bitter lip. (Pauls, that is. )
I wipe my mouth and spit.
Night breaks its back over another day wet with color.
Dawn, another dawn in a hospital room:
Breath is mechanical.
Heartbeat is a pulse of light.
I sneak in, hang on the door like shadow.
I hear doctors give your shattered nucleus zero-chance to fix itself.
The old priest dabs oil and kisses glaring cloth.
He says your soul hangs above an empty parcel.
I was a mile away, eating French fries, when you fell.
Dont talk to that old, white-haired busybody, Daddy says.
Shes a mackerel-snapping Catholic.
But, but she tells me stories, gives me treats.
I look through walls and miles toward hills that are full of gunshot.
Deer season has begun,
And something with a neighbors face goes down
far from houses bright-eyed in the throat of autumn.
The moon hangs on like a skull balanced on the bower.
It recalls birds born in wooden baskets,
And those that fell.
What do you remember, dear old, albeit Catholic friend?
Outside the window, leaves tremble.
Bark quakes in pattern as autumn organizes death
into a nostalgia of yellow pictures.
The earth knows when to let things go.
I inch closer. I gaze across your slack expression.
You would not want me to see this.
You always wear a hat to hide your thinning hair.
I hold the jigsaw geography of your hand
until a passing nurse sends me from the room.
Your daughter blubbers in the hospital corridor.
She wonders if she unplugged the iron at home.
the heating pad with its modicum of migraine comfort.
I walk faster, run. My vision blurs.
Along the corridor, picture frames let go.
Lions once contained by wooden border,
lambs like pillows,
orchard primping with ripe fruit,
Fuse, soften by act of fusion.
And go free.
Daddy dives. The john boat rocks.
I watch the river stretch into an ocean.
I am lost from solid ground, and understanding.
(Through plankton, nekton, benthos layers of drifters, divers, squats,
footloose, collectibles and bundles,
The ocean feeds itself with day-to-day provisions, often scarlet.)
Daddy? Daddy? The John boat rocks.
(Clockwise, counterclockwise, spinning force through electric fabric,
ambidextrous churning land to land through the soup-to-nuts
of deep and wet dominion,
The sea is misconstrued to level surface, while below, utensils tap
and stomachs growl.
In underlying currents, the ocean sweeps:
Where life depends on life, life, careless, dies.
Where life sticks to life, life, stuck, survives.
Sorrow is little spent on brief marbling of blood, or eulogy.)
Daddy? How can you hold your breath that long?
(The sea is wise from latitude and longitude,
experienced in range and depth and parenthood
not to judge conclusion by one motion.)
What if some monsters got him?
What if some monster holds him down?
(Ocean is an open weave and shift of walrus, halibut, bat fish,
sea cucumber, eel, hatchet fish, devilfish, sperm whale,
sponge, squid, lobster and seven gill.)
Daddy, (sob) are you drowning?
No, please, (skyward) dont let Daddy die!
(Salt, magnesium, sulfur, manganese, nickel, copper, fluid gold--
All the building blocks of earths crust,
All the fine detail of man,
To interact beyond fixation with event
or chronicles of shape to take from or leave on land,
To shift cooling, pole-ward parcels
beneath the grand attraction of uncompromising moon and sun.)
Water breaks at distance. Daddy gasps. He laughs.
Dentures fly. He enjoys his trick, my panic.
His death-dive will come, but not for forty years.
Today, the cost is my terror, and, of course, his teeth.
His touch is figurative
and yellow from deep-seated yellow eyes
At a time when men do not embrace each other
nor abide children beyond instruction.
Each time I sit in his classroom,
a whip of numbers crackles on the air
from the black-on-white insistence
of his mind machine.
Add it up, he says, 281, 714, 997, 1,026.
I shrivel in his stare.
I am ten, and so far from understanding death
I wish him dead.
I do not know he is not well.
I think exactitude presses harsh changes
into his stature,
that the parts of him that will not bend
will grind to dust
and pass as dung and dandruff.
If any man can carry foreign influence,
tote cancer, sequestered,
It would be the math teacher.
How quickly it happens that he bungles
through his mental tricks.
In the Fall of '56, he falls in the corridor
outside the ladies washroom.
I freeze, gawking, while others drop to offer comfort.
Yellow eyes smolder like oval afternoon
through a Catherine wheel.
A dry hand gropes for touch
that might be morphine.
The ambulance is slow.
Pain chops him down to size.
All I can do is tremble,
Release the grudge that he is more than me,
Relax the pout that I am less,
Throw out whispered words, Add it up,
and numbers, 744, 386, 291, 333...
And still not know the answer.
Deep under bulky layers, clashing, buttoned tight,
Miss Persell teaches Science. She holds chalk
in both hands like the handle of a cash box
and clamps down on privacy like bad meat
in her bowels.
Flatly, she says,
Life is fundamental, deep pocketed,
where cactus, agave, mesquite and sagebrush
Xerophytes make vertical and lateral provisions.
They specialize in basal strength and keep a distance.
The Gila monster beaded blush and black
chews to spread toxin through living pump of casualty
snatched unaware from pediment and life along arroyo.
The lizard too, rattlesnake, horned lizard, scorpion,
horned toad, pursues infrequent food and water
over coarse-rock pavement plain,
through drifts that swivel hips to wide horizon
and whisper flaxen brush strokes
in constant change of little difference.
The tourist finds the desert not impressed.
What stays, learns environment with the tough hide
of its skull and features wizened,
and wisely accepts limitation
to reach equanimity in an algebraic tract.
Miss Percell lives in a house full of sinus shadows
and cloaked in conifer. Sunlight pares through jade,
splinters, falls apart. In places, it mocks as stitch.
At others, it feigns flame. The rim is ticked off,
haywire. Much like static on an old radio,
Or stuttering secrets in the Science teachers eyes.
NEW GIRL IN THE SIXTH GRADE
Passion Moon floats into the room like a jellyfish,
an invertebrate suspension,
systole, diastole of seamless water,
dimensional with twisting.
She is a provocative decanter
drifting through hormonal seas--
hit-and-miss and lacy,
like a hanky dropped.
Shes a pink bowl Monday, blue Tuesday,
reversed from soup or porridge
for whipped cream and coconut events.
Passion is spectral circuitry, hoopla, hoopy skirt,
Hootchy-koootchy, tossing curls.
Boys dent each other for the front line.
They draw titty circles on their shirts.
Passion responds with Act I, Act II,
Act III of individual drama.
Her arms extend twice normal affection.
She spreads to listen, pulls herself together
And settles decidedly over whomever she,
For a moment, edibly admires.
The other girls move like garden hoes
or John Deer tractors.
Some know how to big-girl dance.
Others can Mother-cook and Granny-knit.
But one giggle, and the jiggle of a pastel bodice,
bugs eyes, tickles groins,
and puts the white stuff in adolescent zits.
The new girl from Sacramento has a sequined name,
But more than that, the California girl has tits.
ALLEN HACKLEBIRTH WINKS
Allen Hacklebirth winks.
Mama says, Ignore him. Cross the street.
(Drought: Tough times torture nuts to tar and lecture fruit to leather.
A black cat crouches in dry grass and cheeks a crooked stick.
Sawblade carp go belly up, or suck up to the rivers tattooed skin.
Night pushes a new white loaf into a crusted oven,
And the earth breaks its jaw to chugalug moonshine.)
Allen Hacklebirth smokes a Camel and struts his stuff.
That rogue is penitentiary bound, Daddy says. Dont look at him.
I do. Allen winks.
(Sun runs rough shod through a field of silage? Clover? Corn?
Its all crap when agriculture doesnt boot up and make a choice.)
Allen was practicing his fast draw when it happened, they say.
Whats one dead Hacklebirth brother, more or less?
The Hacklebirth harvest is eleven boys, one down, and a dead father,
all bowlegged, long-legged and thin.
They move bloody-knuckled in blue collar shirts,
stuck tight to this georgic set.
Their off-brained mother complains.
Talk is: Theyll soon tie her down in the Countys hollow-head place,
Let her rave at calendars, white doorknobs,
White bread, lace and the fragrance of lavender.
I guess dementia is like boobs or anything else.
When it gets big enough, you cant ignore it.
Till then, Beth Hacklebirth is a crumpled sack in a vagabond hat
and filthy under frill.
She kneels at the grave mound as at a butchers block.
(At least, she knows where one son is.)
And grinds hands like headless chickens
That flop, twist, turn,
And drive bloody necks against Nebraska dirt.
I look up.
Dark clouds sidle up to the sun like a bad boy in a leather jacket.
Allen presses a Camel against whitewashed flame.
He winks and keeps on walking.
BLOOD AND CONFUSION
Gray matter squints.
Arterially it beats for sake of repetition.
It squeezes childhood and condemns it,
puts pastels systemically to death with adult colors.
Butterflies and bees ignite.
They brood to stay in bloom.
They brood to leave the stubs of flowers.
The brain is the rock base of the water fountain.
It insists green against a blue reflection
and cancels shine to feed the fish.
It catches coins and loses them, and ties
the tongue with symbolic interpretation of a wish.
Bats insinuate themselves in creases.
Flies assemble on a carcass reddish black.
While the woodpecker is hardheaded at his wooden task
above grass that keeps on being tailored and harassed,
Breeze laughs into stained crotches of ladies underpants
along the laundry line.
Pop beads part with nipples and a sucking sound.
A softball goes long into the dusty glove of sky.
Buck teeth bite the blushing, harvest moon
as another Tomboy fingers the ghetto of the flesh,
watches it flounder, fumble, bud
toward change in motivation.
Blood. Night wads its gut and wrings.
This is sticky, bitter scented acquisition.
Daylight comes as daylight oughta,
with a rattail comb tucked against its salmon belly
to curry knots from tresses on the playground,
and call out the name of Woman.
A RIDE WITH BILL
(A duck kicks ripples
and spins to impress decoys in the reeds.)
Bill is lean and military,
He is an ant excited by an apple core.
(A coyote howls.
The hill lends trespass to vermillion appetite.)
Bill is busy with the black earth,
preoccupied with bits of skirmish,
spark plugs, prophetic script,
(Cumulus crumbles against the sun.
Carnivals raise tent flaps on straw-filled
Teddys and gold-plated, horse-and-carriage clocks.
The dupe begins.)
Honey, Sweetheart, Gum Drop, Baby,
Bill calls his girls with sticky mouths
and laps of cupcake beads
as he inflates tales of
scurrying through the pebbles,
racing down the alley,
pressing his belly to the grasses,
in his cat-burglar uniform.
(Breeze cops a feel beneath white crinoline.
Yellow, blue, redheaded flowers open kisses
for a point-blank sun. Another baby book burns.)
Today, in the humidity of August,
while locust conjure up bad company
in the green and golden fields,
and mosquitoes hunch over blood-filled targets,
Bill pulls to the curb beside me.
With his arm around my shoulder
and fingers hovering over tissue
stuffed inside my training bra,
we ride for fifty miles, laughing,
with all the windows down.
A mouse in a cereal box
drowns in what the moment
calls good fortune.)
The moon is a white disk over Crab Creek.
Green plays and white plays on the water.
Clouds drift in a ceiling wind
but the ound is little touched.
I blend here, blend there with the darkness.
Dark doesnt scare me. Its no more than visual imposition.
I follow the water that follows the moon
that takes on an occasional scarf.
I best a menagerie of devil weeds and tough-guy rocks.
Its not such a frightful night.
Frozen yes, but not frozen tight,
with all the nice smells of things not tightly frozen.
Here is where squirrel skit in the fall
and hunters lure them to upright lines
with the rappy-tap-tap of quarters.
Here, and ahead,
bright birds are scared up to burst in feathered explosions.
Here the hunter spits and does his best thinking,
and plays rough.
Nature plays rough.
It moves ice pieces on a checkerboard of blight and harvest,
sharpens knives across its own bloody knuckles.
It wraps slender young bodies in fur
then sends in fleas, foul deeds, and cockleburs.
Everything has its right, wrong, ease, obstacle, and moment.
In my effort to heal and not to judge, I wish no harm on hunters,
nor on those with other-meaning mouths, hands,
nor those who fill burlap bags with rocks and kittens,
I wish one thing, that each man with appetite for blood or trespass
climb inside himself, press hard against corneal glass
To see, and truly realize
his own bullet, blade, big rock, body bag will come, And then, in fear, if fear is what it takes,
though I'd rather it be kindness,
To live accordingly.
And it bears repeating -----
A LITTLE RELIGION WOULDNT HURT
Where sunrise ravels timberline into a metal sky
and puffs across the mouthpiece of horizon,
black woods ooze from darkness.
Feathered woodwinds perk and rustle sheet music.
Incisive voices in three octaves of announcement
set center stage for sun.
Water finds seeds or seeds find water, soil and sunshine,
however partnership begins to build an all-faiths chapel.
Something honest shakes a seed sack.
Something holy splashes water from a pan.
Woods from one seed unshackled, spinning,
bursting with good intention,
From one cone, then two that hit the ground with inner promise,
a home, and woods begin.
Here lie the rudiments of life---
Opportunity for broadleaf, needle leaf, evergreen,
hardwood and soft,
For mosses, shrubs, herbs, and wildflowers.
Ground bids some come, and others go,
insects, birds, mice, turtles, snakes,
the raccoon, deer and man,
To where water places hope within the saplings,
Saplings hope with wood to make a stand,
And each new seed sets a new example
and falls, rises, drifts, falls rolling as it learns
to believe the dream of peace
And trust an aching heart to land.