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. 

On My Way

September Sun never quite rises,

Choosing to slink along the ridgeline,

Never overhead

Collar turned up against the coming darkness,

Bound for the back door and it’s own

Irish Goodbye. 

Glancing sideways at the forest on the way out

It cuts sharp shadows never seen in summer

That split the stream and 

Frighten the trout.

One Tent

Let's sleep in the same tent for awhile.
Hold up beside a river, 
in a place nobody knows.
Up off the gravel in the high grass
We’ll tend the fire and 
gather strength.

We’ll spend the night 
dancing in the starlight
Making love to the light of the moon.
We’ll invent a language-
Secret looks, words and winks
That only we understand.
Then we’ll sleep and dream 
the same dream.

We’ll share the sunrise,
Pack and go on;
Knowing the world will never look
The same again. 

Written for my brother’s wedding which took place on a dock on a glassy lake tucked between rolling green mountains and high blue skies. We were surrounded by friends, families, feasted on chicken and good wine and danced under swinging lanterns to mountain fiddlers. The marriage lasted years, through two farms, six dogs, a couple of herds of delicious small goats, countless chickens, ducks and many good dinners. But I knew from that day on the dock that she was crazier ‘n a shithouse rat and it was only a matter of time. Of course, I’m sure she would have a different perspective but this isn’t journalism. I couldn’t give two shits about her perspective. 

Lazy Bugs

The stars are reflected in the grass tonight,
as fireflies refuse to fly anymore. 
They lay about in the thick brush,
a flickering blanket answering the twinkle
from on high.

Do they act like this on long summer evenings?
How could they?
Kids would scoop them up by the million!
Jar them, squish them,
write their initials with glowing 
firefly goop on their arms. 
Boy kids chasing girl kids squealing
with glossy boogers of firefly goop.
No, they wouldn't lay about like this
in the summer. 

But now they seem tired, these flies.
These non-flies. These fire layabouts. 
It's September after all.
Dark at eight thirty,
kids busy with their homework,
staring at their screens.
It's safe to lay in the weeds,
done with the darting and flying
exerting minimum effort.

If a firefly's flicker is meant
To draw a mate,
these lazy bums should 
go home alone. 


© TDR - 2020

Late July

The heat even stifles the birds-

In no hurry to begin their morning chatter.

There are more nests than usual this year

But fewer eggs.

Fewer hopping fledglings. 

Maybe it’s the full moon gliding across the sky

Wearing Jupiter like a hat and filling the valley with

A gauzy glow.

I’ll have no problem seeing the deer if she trespasses 

Into the garden again. 

The rocks-chosen carefully for size and weight

Line the table beside the steaming coffee cup.

Best to drink it now, it will be too hot once the sun rises.

There was a time when a plundering doe would have left

Here on her last gallop spurting crimson where the arrow had pierced her.

Hard to remember such things with St. Francis smiling

Benignly in the moonshine under the grapes. 

But still, a solid rock to the ribs will serve as notice to 

Go and eat someone else’s tomatoes. 

They are tireless, though in their labors,

Building frantically as if a new nest, near the old one,

Will make their eggs viable. 

They couple and squawk and dive and scree, not understanding

Why none of it works anymore. 

Up on the back street Rudy’s truck slips quietly into

It’s spot under the mulberry. 

He must be back at work.