I've been found out.
I knew I was in trouble
when he started counting
the beers in the refrigerator
and I started hiding the empties.
He roots through the garbage
like a pig after truffles.
He doesn't know how lucky he is
that I don't drink martinis.
All I ever wanted were the olives.
We once had a row at a family reunion.
The grand dame had been sipping
her martini all afternoon,
saving the olives.
Anticipation is everything.
I should know.
I stole them,
both of them.
They were perfect.
The disciple left
His stained Koran
inside the strip club.
The bluesman wraps gauze around his fingers
and holds the quivering note beyond its value.
Grandmother had hands of steel
that whipped egg whites into soft peaks
and eroded the corner of the cake spoon
we all covet.
My sister's hands are bare.
She drinks cherry juice for arthritis
and sharpens her knives to an edge.
The piano is out of tune and the garden lies fallow.
It’s in our genes. The hospital had to cut
my mother’s ring off her finger.
They put it in an envelope
and gave it to me.
The artist holds her left hand perfectly still
and draws it with her right.
The teeth that fall out of her
great grandmother's mouth in her dreams
are in the center of the palm.
The hardest things to draw are hands.
West to east, with speed
to loosen the cuffs of gravity,
we fly across the dark Atlantic;
sprawled in silent waiting,
it doesn’t trouble us
but no one sleeps.
The flight attendants dim the lights,
whisper in the galley
and make coffee. Cups rattle
above the drone of engines
working beneath my feet.
The window glass is cold to my cheek
and conveys a feel for the water beneath.
The night thickens with lost time.
We pour over maps and make plans.
Fast moving clouds shadow our walk
from Kensington to Hyde Park
where anyone can speak their mind.
It is Sunday so there is religion—
urgent voices and eyes that would drain you.
At the far edge is a Marxist with a different stick.
His long hair whips across his face
as he extols the virtue of public transportation
from atop a cardboard box.
Across the green, the park moves with soccer.
(Unfolding the map)
Every pub has a beast.
The coffee is warm and weak.
People drive small cars
and sail through the roundabouts.
Every window has a flowerbox
and fuchsia grows wild in the ditch.
No one is overweight from meals
that are rich and frequent.
People wear sweaters without coats
and tromp around in boots.
Bitters are smooth
and blood pudding is black.
There are no washcloths.
Toilet bowls are deep and efficient.
(Driving on the Left)
We reached the city at dusk,
our point d’appupi, circled in red.
Flower of the North Sea,
hearsay invented but still . . .
romance in a name.
Through rain and gathering gloom
our spirits plummeted,
Grinding gears and missing signs,
Keep left keep left keep left keep . . .
we clung to the curb like a suspect to his story
and watched through closed windows
for postcard promises.
After a day of searching graveyards for namesakes,
we’d have settled for less,
but the streets and alleys were lonesome as a crypt,
and the rain, the rain . . .
We needed a room and followed the first road west,
leaving Newcastle behind.
On the road to Hexham we recovered our vigor,
nosed up to the red door of Coaches and Horses—
lights and warmth and modest smiles.
We settled into the comfort of a table in the back.
Two pints later we began to feel better.
Guinness cures disease and this is true.
I had a friend who fell ill at three
of a blood disease.
Her parents rushed her to hospital in London
where she was nursed on Guinness.
She remembers feeling light-headed then getting better.
Our surge of well-being
multiplied with each pull of the tap.
We ordered off the chalkboard
booked rooms overhead
and made amends.
Nothing moves on the mountain
except water tumbling in mad want of the sea.
Silver ribbons of falling water
rolling green, falling, falling water.
We trudged along rushing rills
and found a pub sandwiched between.
The inside was warm and comfortable
The regulars talk up the hunt in coal smoke.
A tall, gray man enters with a dog
that looks just like him,
a massive poodle with long legs bred to hunt.
He walks his dog to the pub every day,
(he tells us this) his name is Clyde,
and he is content to lie across the man’s boots
and follow us with his great liquid eyes.
Other fellas are over from Finland for the hunt.
Handsome and laughing, they tell us to stay here.
There is plenty of fun at night
and you can hear water falling all day.
The bartender lines up the scotch
in measures of crystal.
His hair is black and cut above his ears.
He keeps a towel on his belt loop
and speaks in a rolling lilt we can scarce understand.
He tells us his two-year old prefers his cartoons
in Gaelic, the lost language.
We are twenty-six miles out of Dublin without a room.
He rings the B&B we missed in the dark
and our host-to-be hobbles in to collect us.
He orders a round and rubs his hands.
We consider one another. He is eager and red-faced,
but it’s late and his price is right.
Denis wipes down the bar and nods goodbye
with eyes for which one would linger.
(An Alien Sky)
The Big Dipper hangs low over the Irish Sea.
Stars seem brighter in the black of this northern crossing.
The seas are rough and even through the steel-belted bowels
of the ferry, we feel the swells.
Salt water sprays through the fencing
strung across the back of the vessel,
warning us away from the allure,
of a wake churning to heaven in the moonlight.
Lights fall away from what was Dun Laoghaire.
Our straining eyes can’t keep them from slipping
into this, the coldest of seas.
We draw a new line in our mind
for a closer constellation, turn
and walk to the bow.
(Crossing the Bridge)
For the great fireplaces, wood beams
and stone floors of England, a hook for your hat
and solid four top for your elbows.
The Gatwick Manor, of Lowfield Heath
is a moat-enclosed refuge. An inn of company,
as solidly placed as a tombstone on the old road
from London to Brighton-on-the-sea.
Old Speckled Hen helps acclimate you
to rambling rooms, uneven floors, and low ceilings.
Later, in the middle of the night,
a train rumbles through the countryside
on an endless run, fading then growing,
the heart of mourn.
In my mind, the train still goes.
The Central Plaza bustles with vendors.
A small woman trailing necklaces from both arms
implores me to buy from her.
Remember Ruth, she says with a smile.
I remember her.
People brown and sturdy as earth,
travelers of space and time,
owners of the maize—
red, black, and gold.
I wish I had something of Ruth’s . . .
jade at my throat,
a runner for my table,
a blanket for this January night.
Eyes like that to lift a glass to.
BOOTS FOR CHARLIE
We ride the bus into the Guatemalan town on a carpet of dust.
Stores with rough-hewn fronts line the wooden sidewalk,
like a scene from Gunsmoke.
But we aren’t extras, just Gringos with dollars
searching for leather bargains.
But cheap is never cheap enough
for Gringos with clumsy bargaining skills.
Snakeskins swing their emptied heads
in darkened doorways,
and hides readied for the cobbler’s blade
are stretched taut across clay walls.
He sets out his work with leathered hands
and a smile that bridges language.
No frills or lavish window displays
boast these boots to sell.
A shot of color attracts my eye.
A group of flowing-skirted women,
colorful as Quetzals,
await the bus that will take them away
from this town.
Sun glints off silver barrettes and bracelets,
and red scarves swirl like parasols.
Like a painter searching for inspiration,
I study their faces,
round and curved with expectation.
OBSERVATIONS FROM NEW YEARS EVE
Dick Clark needs to retire. He comes across as a freak with the dark hair and tight skin of a plastic surgury addict and now the stroke-induced speech ailment adds a pathetically sad postscript to his otherwise prestigious career. He should've gone out in style about five years ago instead of putting us through this torturous yearly event. Las Vegas is still trying to steal the show from New York with the tired motorcycle escapades of another showman, while New York thinks the rest of the world wants to watch the Clintons kiss in Times Square. Where was the ball? Hidden behind dozens of neon ads and Toshiba billboards; we never saw it drop (maybe it doesn't do that anymore) and the channel we finally settled on didn't even have the countdown. We would've been better served by staying at our card table with our euchre game. After ten minutes of TV commericals and the afore-mentioned trivialities, we went back to our game, our homemade bourbon balls and our cask ale. Visible through the picture window was the winter constellation, Orion, companion to the slip of a setting moon, both outshining Times Square. Frost coated the doors and kept the beer cold on the porch and nobody even pretended to make a resolution.
More depressing news from the world of print. Even newspapers are teetering on the edge . Our state's largest daily has just announced that they're downsizing to a three-day delivery schedule. Three days. This is truly devastating and little consolation can be found in the news that they will continue to publish a daily online edition. Not even getting into all the people, namely the elderly (a newspaper's best customer), who don't have a computer, who wants to read a newspaper online anyway?
How can I fold an online story in half and sit in a favorite chair with a cup of coffee? How can I fold it in fourths and do the crossword puzzle on the porch in the summertime? How can I wrap up frozen meat and jams in my online newspaper for a road trip? How do I snap this online newspaper open and spread it cleverly over my lap at the coffee shop? How do I read the travel section in the bathroom? How does my poor technically-challenged husband read his comics and cut out his favorites to tape on the refrigerator?
This is a call to everyone to buy books for Christmas presents. And not from Walmart or Amazon who are part of the current economic problem. Buy from your local independent book seller. Go out of your way, go a different route, challenge yourself. Look around on back corners and side streets. Used book stores are even better (if I can find one in my small town, so can you!) Browse and be amazed. Buy books for children (no lead paint or melamine) buy books for adults (nothing to put together), teachers and grandparents, that Secret Santa you need to buy for, the new spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. Books books books…they’ll love you for it. And books are made right here in the USofA.
I particularly like little gems for stocking stuffers. If you could buy one book for yourself what would it be? I’d like to get Gargoyle. Anyone read that? Do you think it's possible to turn the struggling publishing industry around this Christmas? One book at a time?
Leaves rustle across the roof
and wind sucks the blinds against the screen.
Your leg warms the length of mine.
She is alone
in the house across the road.
We baked scones,
cream puffs, and coffee cake.
What we could.
The mums are in full dress
against a fading background.
So many die in the waning of the year.
Count the number—
I fill my hands.
The front of the house is dark.
The rush is over,
dishes returned, clean and empty.
(The first two pages of my novel in progress)
The vultures circled high above the trees that lined the drainage ditch on the Sopal family farm with the deepest part of the gully the pivot point of their compass. In spring it would be a respectable creek feeding the Black River, but now it was just a ditch. Something of substance was dead, Boyd thought, or close to it. When he’d first noticed the circling there had only been two. Now he stood at the back door with the morning chores complete and wondered at the ever-growing number. By their size he knew they were native to more southern climates and had no business hunting carrion in Michigan, but hunting grounds for bloated warm-weather species had expanded north along with planting zones. He stood there for a while, thinking. The rain had turned to snow during the night and a good four inches were on the ground, a good tracking snow.
He pulled his rubber boots back on and took off across the wintering field to see if he could find what the buzzards were interested in. Better a walk over frozen December pasture then a pass through the house, the inevitable questions about where he’d been the night before. Better a trek in sub zero weather then that. Although it didn’t get as cold as it used to, not the way his granddad described—frozen pipes and water lines, frozen lakes you could drive a car out on and snow banks along the road like toboggan runs, a deep relentless cold that needed the fabled January thaw so everyone could catch their breath and prepare for the second half. He didn’t know what a January thaw was but it must have been something to look forward to. This snow wouldn’t last; it never did anymore. Well, he had this.
Their prized herd of organically raised cattle was huddled around the feed wagon and he made a mental note of the contents as he passed. The snow wasn’t deep but there was a layer of ice underneath so he walked carefully across the field. He had his uncle’s walk, his mother said, a cautious saunter. He was never certain if the constant comparisons were complimentary or merely another one of her mysterious resentments when it came to her brother-in-law. But, regardless, there was no rush. The cattle had enough hay to last the afternoon and if he took his time, maybe he could compose some clever answers in his head for those questions. And how could one change the way one walked? Or help it if they reminded somebody of someone else? And he realized he resented it, like someone naming a baby after you, and then assuming you’d be flattered. He was his own person and he wouldn’t want another Boyd in the family.
A flock of crows had entered the scene, passing the word and filling the trees, not quietly circling like the vultures. Smart birds—the crows—with eyes like binoculars. His approach flushed them out and they settled in a more distant roost to watch, already knowing what this man would find.