Curio

I take things and keep things, no sense of regret
but things still remain there, right where they were set

I take things, display things, and covet them too
but I am no thief sir, look here’s what I do

I take with my eyes a thing’s copy in light
and things with my ears, when I did hear them right

I take what I felt with a brush of my hand
and the flavors from dinner, unless they were bland

I keep things in memory, my curio shelves
describe to my guests what they can’t see themselves

I touch things by knowing and recall things, and yet
do forget things as well now, the older I get

~

When the lamp in his curio finally grows dim
it will flicker, go dark—oh well, too bad for him

Delta

I was barely in the door when she spoke, without looking up. “The devil’s layin’ for those who walk the path of righteousness,” she said, apropos of nothing.

She put on an old delta blues record and started a little striptease to it. The bottleneck slide put a sadness in the air, becoming of her dim little bedroom. Sun dapples of late afternoon played on the shear curtains through the crepe myrtles by the window, and the walls glowed the yellow of candle-lit paper. I sank into the springy seat of a musty old wingback as she moved in fluid half steps, her petite form swaying. The record popped and hissed and a gravely old voice tried to warn us about some beautiful true thing. Some unavoidable thing.

I thought about God’s righteousness. It’s a suit of clothes. We play dress-up and save virtue for a rainy day. Always a goal, no more livable than a memory. There’s your devil, right there. The good in me is almost close enough to touch, but church people rub me the wrong way. I caught her eye and she gave me a wink. We go way back. You’d need a passport to get there, and better go soon. The memories have already lost a shoe.

There was always something of the healer in her, and she knew things. Myself, I never got away with anything. She could out-think the natural, make ailments shy away—or become severe if you had crossed her in some way. The rain would stop, even, if it sensed she’d had enough of it. That’s how people saw her, anyway. They would seek her counsel in matters of personal doubt, like you would a preacher. She had that reputation, and a kind of congregation had formed around her. She tolerated the hangers-on with a resignment that troubled her not so much. I was one of them, come to think of it. Closer than most, but not apart from them, or above them, as I sometimes wished to be.

She paused a moment and fixed me with a look. “Who are you again?” A good question. I supposed I was following the natural order of things. You lead yourself around by your own nose, and then wonder why you end up where you do. I told her I didn’t really know. I used to think I did, but not any more. She nodded thoughtfully and continued swaying to the music, working the sweater draped across her shoulders in a provocative way. I always felt forgetful around her. Like memory is just a treading water. The song ended and the phonograph lifted its little arm and clicked off. I felt pressed to get out of there.

“We’ve got to get going, mom,” I said. “Where do you want to eat? Let’s try to keep our clothes on, okay?”


Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

All Hallowed

A black cat arches
its bristled silhouette
against a sour green moon
in a newspaper ad
for mattresses.

September thumbed its nose at one keen summer and abruptly closed that happy book. We turned out each day after school to a gradually shifting light and a sense of turning. October’s grid of even and odd days played out like a roll of tickets and we slashed out the calendar squares one by one. Now it looms. It’s Halloween.

We dress out in style, not costume, and hit the pavement, the night before us rising in imagination. We meet up at our usual haunt and set out. The evening is drained of its color and clouds hang like wilted lilies at the edge a tree-clawed horizon, still glowing in the daylight’s wake. Mist is creeping below our knees. Flashlight beams vivisect the malign shadows. But the senses cannot claim what unknown dimensions might intersect with the ordinary on a night when saints and ghouls mingle together.

An election of angry spirits descended upon the hordes of feral children. Eyes open wide, the youngsters saw nothing amiss. They felt the strangeness of a life-eclipsing moment, no more palpable than a sense of being watched. It went unnoticed in the excitement of the holiday. Soul-snatchers unseen drew the essences right out through their tiny pink nostrils, and their animated costumes continued as before, lurch forward from house to house, shouting for sugar treats at the neighbor’s stoop with the echoes of little voices they no longer quite possessed.

We don’t see it happening like that. We are counting candies, sneaking cigarettes and breathing free, wandering the neighborhood with a sense of power over destiny. We have mischief in mind. Trick-or-treat is a make-believe protection racket and every kid knows it. Nice place you got here. Shame if your landscaping got TPed. All this youthful energy and potential, radiating on the hailing frequency of the vampiric, hungry spirits. A dead chill arrives on a gust, like a summons, and we disappear into the cavities between street lamps, wild spirits revolting all around us. We can’t see them. These ghosts, they would burn down this sleepy borough if they could even grip, yet strike a match. But their rebellious fits are as unknown to us as heartbreak.

On the night called All Hallowed the living do perversely antagonize the dead. A police cruiser slows, shines its beam on some trick-or-treaters by the side of the road. Their reflective costumes and glo-sticks shimmer at the burning edge of youth. He sees who they are, there is recognition but he sniffs, like a wraith, to be sure. The officer was himself robbed of spirit as a little punk, on this very lane. His memory of it a latency sunk like stone into forgotten water. He operates on instinct now, pulled out of nowhere. Pulled out of the darkness.

We meander down the last alleys there would ever be, fleeing the warm safety that has driven us, by the length of its boredom, right out of childhood and straight into a kind of nightmare we could not have hoped to guess. We laugh and chatter and eat treats. The glow of our cigarettes, like sprites or faerie traces, inscribe with movement cryptic runes in the darkness. The subtle chill of a watchful gaze seems to tingle upon our necks, we are so ready to be spooked.

Self Adhesive

I look to make minor improvements
In the way I remember my life
And select very carefully the things
I bother to remember at all

Always endeavoring to be the best
Person I can remember being

Patching up the gaffes and goofs
As they appear (if they even dare to)
And doing a damn fine job of it too
If memory serves

Parts Per Million

Because I breathe the way we do
makes me one of  ‘who we are’
and happy knowing you are too

but then again this fence was put
that keeps outs out and ins within
stuck between us way back when

by one of us, which of us two
tried Moses-like to part the air
I don’t recall, was it me or you?

at seven, at dawn

At seven, at dawn
the sky changed its mind
and rain drummed to the
gutter talk, and set off
a car alarm, the clouds
coughing up a shutter flash
blinding, stopping all the clocks
who all had memorized
what you forgot:

my birthday, my damp firecracker
with fizzles for wishes
and no funny paper hats, just a
sheet cake looking dumbfounded
like a hostage forced to read
his captor’s proclamation:

that every day is reason
enough to mark a year begun
or ended, so just go with it
what’s your problem?

reminderesque

electronics chiming, beeping
calendar boxes addressed to us
reminders joining, streaming
it is all an insentient reminding

reminding me of something
the watched pot ever boiling
calling things to mind
sorely lacking for things, this mind

like things won’t come anyway
bursting in unsummoned
like water won’t seek
won’t join its own level

at least a paper calendar
can be twisted into kindling
that burning, hisses at the touch
of remembered raindrops

what are gods if not remembered
what is power, outside of
obedience to memory
what is the next thing

the corrections of matter, atoms
seeming indivisible memories
and forgetting our way in
breaking, entering, knowing

what shall I do
come these demands to my
bed, nudged from this sleep: the domain
of unknowable appointments

rushes are meeting, courting, mating
broods of baby rushes, feeding
reminds me all of something
temporarily lifelike

Finishes

DISTRESSED FINISH

PEELED OR RUSTED THROUGH

WET THEN DRY THEN WET AGAIN

AGING AS WE SPEAK

GATHERED UP FROM FAR AND WIDE

HEAPED UP IN DISHEVELED STACKS

TEASING AT SOME DEEP MEANING


Photos gathered from junk shops and scrap yards in the Northeast when I was traveling by car there a few years ago. What exactly is the appeal of rusty old things? Do we think we can get a glimpse of the extent of time’s doings? Yet it’s not even a clock-tick in terms of imaginable natural history.

oolong cools

the days seem long
though living

while the children
play leap frog
and the oolong cools
to the warmth of your lips
as I remember them

plots against its own containment
with every

(breath)

thing forgotten


After yesterday’s crude and infantile rant
about things that don’t matter,
I felt I owed you a poem.