After

After the explosion,
That really wasn’t an explosion-which would have been preferred-
Probably more an implosion;
a cave in
Where everything that had been built 
-nope, too passive-
Where everything that I had built-crumbled in on me
Suffocating
Crushing.
Had it been an explosion all would have been blasted free and gone.
To the four corners, as they’d say
Leaving me free under the stars,
With space to walk around,  free to look for 
Pieces that might fit together again in some form or fashion.
Maybe even better this time. 
First the moon, then the sun,
Light my path across fields, dusty roads,
Swamps, fetid drainage ditches that never drain.
Under bob wire, along streams,
Finally to the hard pack just at town's edge.
There was nothing. 
Not a piece of a shred of a shard,
Of the lies that had built my life.
It might be a good thing,
That I was still wearing them where they’d collapsed across me 
like bloodied drapes or entrails of a gut shot buck. 
It was night again.
So unimaginable. 
I’ll wait till morning-there’s one more place to look.
Why tell the truth, my old man used to say,
When you have a lie that fits so well.

Need Rain

i

Her legs seemed impossibly long,
Like they were telescoping as he rolled
Her underwear down her thighs
And finally past her bent knees.

Outside, buzzard shadows scudded 
across the ground, in ones and twos at first.
Then, as she rolled onto her side, offering,
In groups of eight or ten.

He had no desire 
to step out into the hot sun to count
Not because they’d see him.
They knew where he was.
They could sense dead things-
Even souls and spirits.
The parching wind crackled through dried leaves,
Drought doing autumn’s work
Ahead of the calendar.

She had cried earlier.
Though he had felt bad at the time,
He had no recollection of why. 
Now spooned against her 
He pushed in slowly-
Over her hissing.
She was as dry as the yard
And he had nothing to change that. 

Hooooooot!

Blinking awake, I couldn’t immediately place 
The sound. 
But at three a.m.
Any sound that’s not the buzzing of cicadas
Or tree frogs,
Begs attention
A clatter? A clicking bump?
There had been serious rain.
Was the river on the rise
Banging the boats together?
Might have to go down and lengthen the lines.
Grabbed the flashlight and stepped out into the damp chill
Where the halfmoon light glowed 
Weakly through the fog.
Hadn’t taken the time to 
Pull on my wet sneakers
-an ordeal in itself-
So buckled immediately when an acorn cap 
Bit into my bare foot.
Then again, on the next step when it stuck there.
I had to lean against the cabin’s slippery wall to lift my foot;
In my dotage I need either two feet on the ground 
Or a hand assist. 
I envied the horses on this, lift one leg still three down. 
The river was in good shape if a little murky
from the storm but the boats were riding fine. 
Cans were scattered around the patio
Probably a coon-long gone now.
A skunk would have left his aromatic calling card and coyotes would have announced
Their presence. 
I hadn’t carried the .22 out with me
Because shooting guns in the middle of the night
Just out of a dead sleep is 
The most appalling kind of folly.
Then, from somewhere on the mountain 
Came the mournful call of a Great Horned Owl
Too faint to have heard from inside. 
I tried to answer but sounded ridiculous. 
Embarrassed for the owl, I shut up.
He moved and called again.
Then again from the triple sycamore just downstream.
I’d clean up the mess in the morning. Appreciative. 
The owl was worth getting up for.

Transience

It’s full summer now,
Too late.
Two months ago
A pair of Orioles were tending their hanging nest
In a drooping branch of the old shag hickory
Not ten feet from the corner of the deck.

The industrious feeders bringing morsels to the three
Gaping beaks, snug in their bag.
Are gone now. 
Their hardscrabble life
Was entertainment for weeks.
But it’s ended now. 

The Orioles are still around
As visitors.
Flashes of orange crossing 
The river from side to side
Stopping occasionally to tweet.
But gone

My tired eyes follow an orange streak
Down above the shallows 
Where my old man, hunched in his jon boat,
Cigarette clenched firmly between his gums, 
Would take smallmouth on a spinner. 
In his time he killed more 
Bass than anyone along this stretch.

That time has ended.
Now his ashes settle in the same  shallows,
With the darters and minnows
Mingling with algae among the gravel,
Hopefully food for stoneflies... 

Insomnia #43

The double call of the owls in the hardwoods
Had become threads in a dream that made no sense.

As a boy he had confused the deep throb of the towboat diesels pushing coal upriver,
A sound that could only be heard in the dead of night, with his own heartbeat.

When the tow went round the upriver bend and faded, 
He awoke with a start fearing that without the deep vibration he would die. 

The soft coo of the mourning doves finally woke him. 

The mossy boulders where he coiled had held the sun’s warmth well into the night 
Rattlesnakes and copperheads also liked the warm fissures
But he never minded sharing..he’d had worse in his bed.

The buttery glow of the pallid morning sun
Did little to dilute the haze shrouding the ridge.
 
He had not planned on sleeping up there
But the long day-spooked by the moon-had abruptly fled
Leaving him unsure of the path.

It was hard to imagine, so many years later
That he had touched him just the once. 
Had he meant, just the once, in that one night,
Or more than one time within that night. 
Or just one time every night of many?
His explanations were never made clear. 

Even a child knew he was full of shit. 

The overlook revealed buzzards below;
Pepper specks riding the updrafts from the valley floor.

She knew the whole time
Which was probably why she had never touched him
Which would have been his clear preference. 

But all is forgiven
Nothing forgotten

Or is it the other way around?
It would make all the difference.

She was open to him  later,
But he never lay a hand on her
Until much later when she pleaded that he wouldn’t.

Now he heard them often
Treading the squeaky floorboards at night
As he shuddered in his bag
Behind a locked door 

That wouldn’t keep them out,
If they wanted to come in. 

But all is forgotten
Nothing forgiven

February

Between melts, the frozen river is slow enough
That the  ice seems motionless. 
Hard and gray it could be immobile until the high sun, 
Shining coldly, opens the cracks that had closed overnight.
Floes move only in relation to the skeletal sycamores whose wide green
Leaves will block the view of the water in five months.
Not “short” months, the frozen ones are the longest.
Salvation is knowing the mud of March is weeks away. 
How many would join me in hanging  from those 
Same sycamores if February had thirty one days?

Not Fast Enough

Her cabin was the next one along the road.

No more than fifty or sixty yards down what amounted to 

a rutted cow path.

It was a distance easily traversed-even skipping-in day light

now after ten, full dark even in mid summer with no moon

relying only on the smattering of stars above the canopy of oaks,

Black walnuts and gnarled locusts, to avoid the cow pies and puddles of piss. 

My tread was lightened because she took my hand and let me lead slowly. 

Until she squealed, certain she had stepped on a snake, and bolted like a spooked colt

almost pulling my arm from it’s socket.

We ran the rest of the short way, me dragging behind like a bag of potatoes.

My fantasy of being her lord and protector, dashed by my father’s 

Squat little legs.

The Fire Next Door

A pack had moved in after picking the place
Up for cheap In a sheriff’s sale. 
Their addled plan was to rehab, then flip it.
A scheme that fell to pieces once the meth dried up and
Their meager talent in the trades became obvious.
The best of them was an agreeable mutt named Doobie 
who grew fond, not so much of me, but of the kitchen scraps 
that found their way over the fence.
Over time, he got some of the best cuts 
as he needed them more than I did. 

Jamie, still in boots and slicker commiserated
over a coffee in the yard once the fire was out.
Judged it a total loss.
It was that before the fire I told him, and sure
He’d take a shot of Crown in the coffee.
He pointed out that they had raised pretty decent kale
But who couldn’t do that?

Around the corner of the collapsed porch
Entwined in the fence, were the last red tomatoes of the season,
Most gone brown now under weeks of frosts,
The hard green ones will stay that way over the winter.
Stillborn. Come too late. 

Night Watch

The chair in the garage came recently to mind;

Straight ladder back, built for utility not comfort,

Heavy enough for leaning back front legs off the floor;

Thick glossy shellac,

Chipped and yellow with age, 

Cigarette burns like smokey teardrops circle the seat.

It was the one my grandad sat in, to observe

The workings and comings and goings, when he was

Too old and infirm to work the saws and airhammers.

People still stopped to see him and commiserate as he sat, 

Shirt buttoned to his neck; hat pulled down

 Waiting patiently to be asked

A question or given a beer. 

There was talk that his father had used the same chair

To sit by the open door and take in the morning sun;

But that was well before me.

After grandad was gone, the chair stayed largely empty

But for short respites from labor or concrete floors. 

Until my dad settled into it after the first surgery. 

He had taken to wearing a hat 

and buttoning his shirt to the top. 

I’ve wondered about that chair;

If it stll exists in the building long sold

I need a place to sit now and watch the parade

That continues, but includes only my shadow. 

Elephant Rock

From downstream-coming up on it-
It does look like an elephant. 
Massive head and shoulders, reclining
Leisurely almost, facing the current,
Watching for what might be floating around
The upper bend and into its patch of river.

It’s watched as my old man taught us how to
Catch bait in it’s shallows and bass in
It’s channels or off it’s weed bed. 
It has sat unperturbed as generations 
Jumped from it’s head, climbed up 
It’s back and swam around it’s bulk.

My old man tried to capture it in
Water colors, oils, pencil and chalk.
It’s been photographed from the water in
Summer and from the shore when it
Sat alone, icebound and snow swept.

It looks no different today than it did
In the fifties when my old man sat me 
Up on its head and snapped away with
His Argus. 
On videos, forty years later, my daughters 
Hop and wave from its back. 

Today, as the canoe bounces gently against it,
I reach up and rub the warm, gray shoulder.
“Hey, old man”, I say-not knowing if I’m 
Talking to the rock or the man who had
First sat me upon it. 
I pushed off, passed through its shadow
And continued on-
Making one last cast into its eddy.