Wednesday, April 11, 2018

DINNER AT ANNIE'S


At Annie’s, a little gay
bistro just off Dupont Circle,
I am sitting across
from my college roommate’s
older brother’s Portuguese
husband whose name I can
never remember.  I call him
Raul, which I do not think
offends him, at least not
tonight as his lithe olive
hand stirs the straw of
a Hendricks and soda.
His husband, a tall man
with soft Gaelic features,
smiles easily and holds
his Cosmopolitan like a Martini.
He is a thicker, more elegant
version of my roommate, and
while asking a question across
the table, he moves his hand
to Raul’s knee.

The other two guests
at our make-shift dinner party
come in like a 1920s
vaudeville act.

The first, a lawyer,
is unpolished and gruff
for this delicate, music box
of a restaurant. But when
he speaks, his prose
rattles like timpani.
He orders off the menu,
hoping the wait staff will
bring him a slightly incorrect
version of his meal, which,
of course, they do.
He does not, however, admonish
them; instead, he begrudgingly
eats enough to be satisfied
but not so much that
he cannot wipe the corners
of his mouth with a brow
furrow of contempt.

The other one, a dandy, is, I think,
the closest I will ever come
to meeting Oscar Wilde. He is
one liners and innuendo.
He sips his Martini like a
Cosmopolitan and fills conversation
with a Southern lilt and
timing forged only in the mouths
of antebellum matriarchs
of Georgia and Northeastern
gays who have slid geographically
and linguistically as far south
as their politics will allow.

He takes small bites of
his dinner and a young waiter
until both are just bones
on a plate.

And I am a guest and an
anthropologist, eating the last
of my steak salad while scratching
Sanskrit fieldnotes on the
cocktail napkins that cover this
place like Autumn leaves.

And I doubt this little poem
shows how scared I am—how
my heart is racing and my hands
tremble like the cherry blossoms
which hang, with their weekend
grips, on the last days
of their season.

Because while stultified, while
barely hanging on to the
last days of the only season
I have ever known,

I am still, of course,
a scientist, and we only look at life
with glass eyes.  We only look at love
with hearts, already dead.

CHERRY BLOSSOMS


In D.C., the cherry blossoms
float like small balloons
tied at the wrist to
the wooden hands of dying
trees.  Here, where the
white skin of halls and
monuments throws the sun
about like children, the
cherry blossoms still pink
and white after an early
April snow, clutter the
radial roads of this
anachronistic city.

The tourists, wide-hipped
septuagenarians from Tallahassee
and St. Paul, gather around
the trees with their
goose-necked cameras.

They don’t know that the
trees, like you, can’t be
trusted, and that while
the balloons they hold will
eventually deflate and fall
into district gutters, the
wooden hands are perennially open
reaching up to this east coast sun

pulling
                pulling
                                pulling

down a sky they’ll say
they never promised.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Walking

There is a small pond
near my house, and in
the evenings when the
wind is high and the
sky is alit with the blinking
traffic of a nearby airport,
I go walking.

There are seldom people
at my pond, not in the evenings
when the young and the old
are both in varying degrees of
sleep. The night hours are
reserved for the middle-aged
who without child or parent
to make demands can
stretch their legs and
beat the beaten path.

I share my pond only
with the barking dogs who
eye me suspiciously through
iron gates and the ducks that
land and take-off like the
nearby planes and their Morse-
code murmurings.

I did not start walking to be
alone, but somehow, each night,
I am. The sweeping sound of my
sweatpant legs a light percussion
in an orchestral performance whose
audience is one bald bearded man--

Not particularly sad, not
particularly glad.

Just walking.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

FISHING IN NORTH CAROLINA

In September of 2016
I caught a spotted brown
trout in the Davidson River
just south of Ashville.

I was using a dry fly,
they later told me. We
had been fishing near
a hatchery. The water
was clear but slow.
The river, it seemed,
was crawling. Among
the stones and logs,
we could see several
fish darting in and out
of pockets of light.

I flicked the thin rod
to my left and right,
setting the end just
up river of a nice 20”
sleeper. She moved to
the right as the hook
drifted by. We played
the same game three, four,
five times, and she, like as though
choreographed, would move aside.

While watching the monster
of this Pigsah forest stream,
my hook and tippet drifted
down river to a  small covey
of spotted brown trout.

As I saw the striker dip
beneath the surface of the
water, I pulled up on the
top of the pole. The hook
set, and the fish swam
quickly upstream. I held
the slack of the line and
pulled her under control.

Her track became smaller
as she swam to my left
and right. My friend
slapped me on the back
as he dipped a net just
beneath the snagged fish.

I reached in to take the
fish with my bare hand.
I lifted it, and it fell back
into the net.  I took a picture.
I tried to work the hook
out of its lip. The line broke.

With help, I took the hook
out before setting the fish
back in the river. The
fish, a delicate creature, I
was later told, did not move.
I saw it turning its soft
white belly to the light.
Another friend, a river guide
from Montana started waving
the fish in the water from
his left to his right. The
movement, he said, would
get oxygen to the fish’s
gills, revive her so that
she could swim again,
and she did. And then
she stopped. He once again
moved her in the water
until she started moving
on her own. She swam
upriver, and I lost her among
the light and the fallen leaves.

My friends assured me that
she would be fine, and while
small, to pull a fish from
a North Carolina stream
with a fly pole was a
worthy victory. Later, my
friend, the river guide,
sent me a trophy picture.

The fish looked small
in my hulking hands, the
unflattering pullover I wore
distorted my chest and
stomach so that I looked more
like a monster than a man.

My beard and my hat
framed a disbelief in my
eyes, and an apology pulled
my shoulders to the muddy
river bed. I prayed for the
fish like a prayed for the
dove I shot when I was 12.

I prayed in hope that my
friends were right, that
the small 8 inch trout
was swimming upstream,
recovering, telling stories of
her thin escape. Or swimming
but unaware of why she
feels something that she has
never felt, something that
we would call pain, something for which
she does not have language.

And how many times are
we too caught and thrown
back? How many times do
bare hands slide against
our skin? How many times
are we held up for pictures,
gasping in the autumn air?
How many times do they
try to take the hook out, leaving
it in as we fall back into
the net, ripping our lips
as they pry off what we
once thought was food.

How many times are we
set back into the river,
gently moved left and right,
so that we gain a little
momentum.? How often
do we not have the language
to say to others what happened,
what’s still happening?

How can we avoid the
hook when we have no
word for it? How can we
explain the pain when we
have no memory?

How can we leave the
river when there is no
word for river, no article
to suggest it is a specific one,
no verb that means “to leave?”

And how will she know,
as she swims among the stones and
dappled riverbed, that
I wrote this for her, that
I too fear being caught, that

I too, know fear is not the word?

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Dream Defeated

A friend of a friend
won the Stegner fellowship.

In a couple of months, he will amble
toward Stanford and begin a two-year
commitment to write poetry.

The world does not care. Only the
MFAs with pedigree are eligible 
and only the ones with influence
are chosen.

It is a Publisher’s Clearinghouse
and they bought their way into the raffle.

The fellowship itself is a course in masonry
where they teach promising poets to wall
out what does not sound like they are writing.

And so they gather and mortar and I
am left here, typing on a blog for an 
audience of one.

I can’t help but think that between
the geometry tests I am grading 
and the Ludlum book I have yet
to finish, there was a moment
I too could have held a spade.

Great regrets are not taking advantage of opportunity.

Our greatest regrets are the moments we thought the opportunity was ever ours.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Prepare your heart



They told me to prepare
my heart; so, I bought
a store brand marinade
and 7 bell peppers.

I made an incision just beneath
the ribcage, reached into
my summer garden of a chest
and plucked it like an heirloom tomato.

I set it on the drain board
and covered it with cumin.
I sliced it into 14, quarter inch slices.

I put them in a bowl,
added my father’s Polish herbs
and soaked them in the marinade.

My heart is now in the fridge
beside a jug of milk
a 7 brightly colored peppers.

They told me to prepare my heart
Another, I suppose, will cook it.




Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diana Nyad

She drank water no tongue
has touched, above orcas
and eyeless lobsters. She
saw sun sink in water that
was warm then cold, that
opened like a grave, that
spoke secret words of
regret and retreat.  She held
two countries in white
hands.  She pushed and pulled
her way to Florida. Her heart
is full of jellyfish, her skin
a soft legume.  When I am
old and grey and barely
awake.  I hope I have the
strength to say "The sea
waits for me."  I hope I
have the strength to be
blue and bloody, to hold
discouragment by the throat,
to drink redemption like wine.