Turbid

CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX

Stenciled letters emblazoned in yellow

On every black coal car that roared too fast

Past his window.

CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX

He got dizzy and stopped counting at forty-nine

And just stared. Mesmerized.

But they kept passing

Until there were no more.

His vantage point so narrow he never saw the end coming.

When the rumbling subsided, the warm salty silence

Coursed through him again.

He lifted his eyes to the river beyond the tracks where something:

Ducks, geese, gulls, buzzards, crows, tow boats, was always happening.

Except now-everything blanketed in a frigid winter fog

The color of rumpled old bedsheets

Revealing nothing but the darkly spectral fingers of denuded maples

And the big sycamore

Sliding in and out of focus

on the near mud bank.

Still he stared, willing something to happen.

It probably wouldn’t.

As would happen at times like this, he remembered.

He was in bed. That he knew.

But it seemed to be daylight-not night.

Was there light coming through the thick drapes,

Or was it a lamp?

He was young. Not little, little…but young.

You’re not going to like this, she said, sitting on the bed beside him;

Causing him to slide toward her.

Why was she in her underpants if it was day time?

He remembered “turbidity” from his years on the boats.

It referred to particulates-mud, sand, what have you,

Clouding the water.

Was there a similar measurement for air? Or for the fog that pulsed and pressed?

Or for memories? Or his own soul?

The more he stripped away, the cloudier everything became.

Upstairs a thump as the cat jumped off the bed

Probably smelling potato chips.

He sprinkled some small fragments on the floor.

He didn’t mind sharing.

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Rapeseed Oil

Twice this month alone

I’ve read poems that allude to

Rapeseed oil.

Two different poets writing about different things.

Once, I could see.

Twice?

Or do poets all write about the same thing?

If so, what’s with the rapeseed oil?

What did I miss? Why didn’t I hear about it?

I’ll stop with the poetry for a while.

A third would be too much.

Across the way the cat pads at his bed

For what seems like hours with that stupid face he gets.

Drives me nuts until I throw a pillow at him and scream for him

To stop.

He hisses and stomps up the stairs, each loud creak

Echoing through the house.

Coffee tastes like burnt wood without half and half;

There are no more cookies and

Only ten oxys left

in the Imodium bottle in the fridge.

Enough for three days if I’m careful.

Then I have to make a move.

“Hey pastor…”

Hey pastor,

Hey pastor she cried,

Runnin’ up red-eyed and blotchy

After the service.

Lookit this she said,

Opening the postcard that had been folded in her purse.

Lookit what he sent.

He’s in Wyomin’ now, she said.

Settled up on a place, she said, hissing

Giving him no time to read the note.

He’s fixin’ fence, he says, runnin’ wire and is that walkin’ horses?

What’s he know bout that? She asked,

With his rickety knees and balky hips.

He’s a townie kid like me…and I never wanted to run off like that.

What’s to become of him?

Of me?

You mustn’t worry about him, little darlin’, the pastor said leanin’ close,

Allowin’ his gaze to hungrily crawl acrost her bodice.

The lord will pervide for them such as him.

You come with me lil darlin’, he said.

I can’t tell you what he was thinkin’, but

I allus thought you were a sweet little one.

Let us git you into the back…

Git some coffee in you….

Turtle Heart

Snapper

Took this a few hours before this guy became a base for an interesting spaghetti sauce. Because soup would have been too much of a cliche. From the period in my life when I had to eat things.

An hour after it’s been shot between the eyes-

Beheaded, hung to drain and gutted-

The snapping  turtle’s heart will still beat.

Cut from its carcass and left on the cutting board,

It will beat, regular and strong-

pumping nothing-

but air.

Until finally, frustrated with nothing to do, it stops.

Doesn’t quit;

Stops.

Old timers-Turtle Hunters- reach into holes along the mud banks of rivers,

Happy that snappers crawl up into their lairs

Head-first.

But all could tell the tale of the contrary turtle that backed in-

Catching the contrary bastard that made a habit of reaching into

Holes in mud banks.

Turtles don’t let go.

They can be caught on a hunk of rope if they’re pissed off enough to bite on it

And be hauled into the boat.

Splayed in their mud cave, they can’t be pulled out.

Shovels are brought and mud banks are torn down to rescue the hand;

Sometimes minus the thumb or finger. But rescued.

And the turtle is still soup.

The brain that makes men reach into turtle holes

Is the same that makes them go into the mines.

Because their daddy did.

Because someone has to.

Because everyone else is afraid to.

Because we’re convinced that peace must be bought

With suffering.

 

TDR-2017

February Rain

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I don’t think I’ll live through this,

He told his friend as they watched the cold rain

Glisten under the oversized fluorescents outside the window.

What?

Life.

A car pulled up to the service island dinging the bell.

His friend pulled on gloves and headed for the door.

May there never come a time when you say that with relief

Instead of dread, he said with a wink as he ducked out into the weather.

Reflection

reflection-2

So I guess it’s kind of funny how
I loved you so way back when
You say I wouldn’t know you now
Well I didn’t even know you then

-Avett Brothers “I never knew you”

I buried an old lover last month.

Of course, I didn’t-not actually. We were years ago.

What I did was read her obit and have a few drinks.

That had been an odd year of comings and goings and she’d dug her elbows into the middle of it determined to claim something. As if there was anything to claim. As if there was anything to be had.

She pushed and I pushed back. Territory was won-lost-won again.

Exhausting-

Such relief when she left.

Could never have calmed her.

A friend had seen her a couple of years ago in an upriver joint that we frequented back in the day.

I showed up there a few times at the end of long drives just to….

What exactly?

Could not imagine.

She died with her father’s name.

Evidently, I was not the only one who couldn’t calm her.

Her picture looked as it should have. I would have recognized her on the street or in that bar.

Now she’s gone,

But in a different way that she had been to me for years.

Now she’s a shallow reflection of me-no longer herself.

Actually closer now than ever-joining the chorus of the dead who follow me, laughing when I piss on my shoes or forget to zip my fly.

Rain

Bend
“Mommy, Mommy” he cried,
As best he could
Around the tubes that snaked down his throat
Pumping air into his lungs.

Why “Mommy”? thought his old man
Sitting at the bedside.
He immediately felt horrible for thinking it.
But there it was.

They said it must have been what he was yelling
As he lay on the bottom
Settled among the stoneflies, crayfish and slippery rocks.

Sun shafts sliced their way down to him-
Ladders for mayflies to climb.
But no one could see.
Minnows kept their distance
Snapping at the bubbles that rose.
Fewer now-and tiny.

It seemed too long when one of them
Finally found him-upstream from where they thought-
Gently curled and blue between two rocks
No deeper than six feet.
Traditional grave depth.

When he choked and sputtered-
Gave up the river on the shore
It seemed he would be fine.
That’s what the ambulance driver had said.

But it had been too long.
The nightmare of three days in a backwoods hospital
Only prolonged the agony
And cast shadows of regret and blame
That darkened decades.

The water that poured from the boy’s lungs that day
Flowed to join the North Fork where it sluiced through beaver dams, across gravel bars,
Then down to the Potomac, over the falls, and finally into the Chesapeake;
Across the gills of red fish, through jelly fish then north-
To ride the sun into the clouds and spatter as chill rain on a stony pasture
In the Scottish Highlands.

Big bass still lurk between the rocks where he had lain
So many years ago.
Now they are all gone-buried with their memories, nightmares and torments
While the river is still here. Still everywhere.
And minnows still dart after bubbles
That come from nothing.