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.

The Bird Watcher

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There was the time that cousin Jeffy came back from a morning in the fields and breakwoods out back carrying an old cigar box full of songbird eggs that he had pilfered from nests. There were different shades of blue ones, white ones, brown speckled, black speckled…a kaleidoscope of small, some round, some oval, unborn birds. His father, a birder with a long life list positively raged at the carnage. “You must take them back immediately”, he roared. “Put them back where you found them!” Jeffy, the ever obstinate, said no. Then, to perhaps appear less confrontational said he couldn’t remember where he got them all. Uncle, not a big man, sputtered, balled his fist and punched him square in the nose. Jeffy was ten or eleven at the time and took the punch well though he sat down hard on the floor as blood flowed apace. With a stunned grin, Jeffy opened the box on his lap and picked out a sky blue egg that even I knew was a robin’s. He popped it into his mouth and swallowed it whole while Uncle, roaring, reached for the belt he wasn’t wearing because it was the weekend. Then, with both of us frozen, he picked out another-a small speckled one-and held it up between pointer and thumb. “It’s a chickadee Jeffery. Put it back!” Jeffy’s low giggle was more of a growl, coming from deep within his chest. This time, when he popped the egg into his mouth he bit down with a sickening crunch then opened his lips in a ghastly smile pushing yolk and bits of shell through his gapped teeth. His father, apoplectic, screamed and pulled the china cabinet over trying to brain the boy. He missed as dishes crashed into shards across the linoleum. His voice choked with fury, he ran into the next room looking for something to beat the boy with. Jeffy looked at me with wide, wild eyes and picked another egg, this one larger than the others. With another growl he smashed it into his forehead and laughed as the yolk and slime rolled down his face to mix with the blood. Fearing finally that whatever brand of crazy was going on might have been catching, I bolted through the backdoor, knocking it off its hinges and stumbled over the garbage can. “Not the Lark!!” I heard Uncle cry as the tea kettle came crashing through the kitchen window behind me. 

Hash Browns

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The figs were trimmed like hedgerows under the back terrace. 

We took our coffee there overlooking the river. 

The fruit, thick and heavy, awaited her soft hands to get there before the wasps. 

Her tarts-light, sweet and savory, garnished with purple chive flowers-were a seasonal attraction that almost rivaled the fishing.

She was Irish, who kept the place.

Ruddy and cheerful. Efficient. 

No hint in her green eyes that she’d lost two boys. 

One in the war.

One soon after, of grief.

Sorrow did not hang on her. 

Did not shroud her as it rightfully might have. 

As it could have with a lesser spirit.

Of course, no one sees her in the kitchen, 

Where a chance tear might drip into the diced potatoes,

Salting the morning’s hash browns.

Lover’s Song

The lover’s song hoped to chronical the sad, continuing struggle to find someone who could make it all seem right. In the pictures all the men looked like thumbs, big and vacant, hats at a jaunty tilt. Rich girls with backyard fences, angels coupled with sailors and airmen. Dreams watch each other warily, not wanting to draw first. Soft luxuriant curs loll in the faded light. Girls and drivers tricked out to get liquor and better clothes. Half gallons of sweet wine, six packs of beer and jeans that rode low.  Jump humped, born to suffer, made to undress in the wilderness.

He threw on the businessman’s Stetson that belonged to his grandfather, a renown liar, and sang:

“I will never treat you mean,

Never start no kind of scene

I will tell you every place and every person I’ve been

I will always be true,

Never go sneaking out on you…”

It was easier to lie when he sang. But he wouldn’t let it bother him because he knew beyond doubt that she would kill him.

Eventually.

Lying April

I’m out in the back working the compost again, pulling the sweetest and darkest for the garden that still mostly slumbers. At this particular moment, the sky is a heartbreaking blue with painfully white clouds smirking down through the lie that is April. I uncovered the fig and threaded the grape vines two weeks ago when the forsythia blazed and the first groundhog of the season wandered into my trap to be ferried across the river to the church grounds where he’d cavort with the hundreds of bunnies and hedgehogs that had made the same trip over the years. I’d caught trout on Good Friday and, forgetting sunscreen, burned my nose and cheeks. Now for the past three dawns, I’ve sprayed water on the buds to ward off the frosts that have rolled through and right now, at this particular moment, wearing sunglasses makes as much sense as an aqualung. She’s yelling for me to come in before I catch my death, but snow squall or no, I’m putting lettuce in. Today. Why do I always let April do this to me?