Poetry - July, 2014


The station band

      RAF Binbrook—1953

We practiced at “The Decontam”—
clumsy name for an ugly place—bare concrete rooms
buried beneath a protective pyramid mound of soil, turf,
and God knows what, designated sanctuary nonetheless
for any unlucky enough “in the event of nuclear attack” to survive
the initial blast and burn to reach this subterranean space of hollow refuge.
The Station Decontamination Centre—to rhyme the place in full,
an—as yet—unfrequented location (praises be . . .) where, Tuesday nights,
an ill-assorted crew of horns and woodwinds—sackbuts, cornets,
clarinets, even the occasional bassoon—would fumble-stumble
along through “Colonel Bogey,” “The RAF March Past,”
old favorites from Gilbert and Sullivan, “Chu Chin Chow,” and Noel Coward,
rehearsing for the CO’s garden party, full-dress dinner evenings at the Mess.
They echoed so, those naked rooms and sounding corridors, as if our music
might drown out—yes, decontaminate—the cold, blind fury
cradled tight beneath the wings of our sleek avenging bombers;
full squadrons perched above in laden readiness,
paying no heed to our hapless melodies and marches.


At dusk

There’s a black cloud over the hill.
There’s a black cloud over the school.

The grass shoves the shed to the fence
at property’s edge. Rumor says under the shed

there’s a copperhead or two. Rightly, crawl space
is what these burnished snakes are banished to,

but the nettled grass, the chain link fence
fail to bar them from the dappled yard.

There are grackles under the trees.
Under the trees at dusk there are grackles

that peck and crack pecans near the hedge.
A squirrel skitters and scats up a scaly bole

in fear of these dark birds with squatters’ rights,
while the sky . . . ? It folds and is quietly stored away.


The poem about what it’s about

Here’s my question. What if there was a poem
That didn’t know what it was about until it got
To the end of itself? So that the poet’s job isn’t
To play with imagery and cadence and metrical
Toys in order to make a point, but rather to just
Keep going in order to find out that the poem is
About how hard it is to watch your kids get hurt
By things they can’t manage and you cannot fix.
If I had been the boss of this poem I would have
Made it so they can manage things, or I could be
The quiet fixer I always wanted to be as a father;
But that’s not what the poem wanted to be about,
It turns out. This poem is just like your daughter:
No one knows what’s going to happen, and there
Will be pain, and you can’t fix everything, and it
Hurts to watch, and you are terrified even as you
Try to stay calm and cool and pretend to manage.
Some poems you can leave when they thrash too
Much but kids are not those sorts of poems. They
Have to keep writing themselves, and it turns out
You are not allowed to edit. You’re not in charge
At all—a major bummer. I guess there’s a lesson
Here about literature, about how you have to sing
Without knowing the score . . . something like that.
All you can do is sing wildly and hope it’ll finish
So joyous and refreshing that you gape with awe.



where’s alfreddy who cuts
your grass or lifts your rake
when you’re not looking and
where’s the reliable gunfire
from the deuce-eights’
section eight doorways down
on twenty-eighth on
this last day of August lavender
all rotted at the bottom
splayed across the concrete
walk as you sit
barefoot on the porch steps
and watch without a thought
honeybees and bumblebees
ascend and drop in praise
of higher fragrances
and offer thanks there’s no
parade today for trayvon
on your street named
mlk jr way
because you’re that weary

so for this moment with
this breath you God
bless the bees


Bangor to Holyhead by bus

There are no plumy accents
when traveling by coach,
just ordinary people
going about extraordinary lives.
The bus grinds through
small, forgotten villages,
stops for elderly women
with rheumy eyes dragging
plaid shopping trolleys,
stops for old men
under flat woolen caps,
hearing aids at odd angles
whistling in their hairy ears,
stops for weary young mums
with impossibly complex prams.
We bump by sodden fields of sheep,
into market towns no longer
proffering produce, only plastic.
Yet three times on this journey
I have seen standing stones,
great, gray plinths alone in fields,
reminders of time immemorial,
reminders there is more
than what appears to be.
They watch us hurtle by.


A reckoning

                              “Hata si si vijana wa ghetto tako.”
              We slum youths are also a force to reckon with.

They are hoisting young Tirus shoulder high
on the streets of Korogocho. Tirus Irangu
Maina has dreams of studying law, why

not shake off the dust of these streets, through
studies even take a shot at politics. Today the news
he tested highest among students in primary schools

all over Kenya. He is beaming, sharing his view
that politicians take his people for a ride, gypped
the slum dwellers of Nairobi, so he’s out to improve

the livelihoods of his people. Today, on the lift
of this celebration, he’s cadging well-wishers for spare
change, the shillings needed to continue studies. If

this chosen one can shoulder it, his investors may require
a reckoning one day, exact their ration of his power.


Changing a bulb

I’m always thrown by how fast the ceiling
comes to meet me. To step toward it
is to cross a bifocal line in my balance.

And then to loosen a darkened little one
and cradle it into the last semblance
of warmth. It’s like violating a nest.

Remember the calls of morning after the dusk
we sawed the low branches off the cedar,
the unfledged cardinals still alive on the ground?

So I step listening toward the suddenness
of flight; this time at least with no choice
but to be there when the light is born.