Heaven

You told me there are rules
about how babies are born,
about how clothes are worn,
about gluttony and adultery

You spent every Sunday chatting
with your Brothers and Sisters
about how the rules apply
to everyone

There are no exceptions

Then your Husband wrote a letter
about getting out early.
He quoted Seneca, who said
that the wise man will live
as long as he ought

There are no exceptions

So do not talk about heaven

There are rules, after all,
and certain rules apply
when the wise man
cashes
out

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3/10/10 – 3/11/19

1.

it was unseasonably warm that day
and the day before, too,
and it was windy. I remember that much,
and the sun in my eyes
on the patio
through the plate glass
on the short drives
here to there and here to there
while our friends traveled through Germany
for the sixth or seventh time

there was nothing but time then
drinking black coffee in jackets
with the traffic hustling by
whispering about ‘forever’ at 20
and I remember meaning what I said out there
and I remember the look in her eyes

2.

Time has a way of stopping sometimes
with a phone call for example
in a tacky Chinese restaurant
surrounded by our people
while the sun set just outside

and I told the people what I heard
after I pressed the End Call button
while our hearts all stopped beating
forever, I think,
for just a moment

3.

I drove to her in darkness
and she was all alone
when she let me in to her sitting room

There were no lights on
but she could see me
and she hated every word

I don’t know if I’d leave her now
but I left her then,
nine years ago

4.

We sat in a cafe
in silence
for what couldn’t have been
forever
and my tea got cold
as the weather had
that night

we talked about your boots
not in detail
but we did

5.

I remember you
Warmth in March
sun in the afternoon

I remember you
black coffee
downtown patio

friends in rooms
and cars
and futures
and that goddamn
cul-de-sac

and I
still remember
to remember you

boots and all

Rob

You are dead and gone
and I still do not know
what that means

In eighth grade we were seated
at a table in a corner
in an art class
and I don’t why that was enough

We talked every day
and sometimes we walked home
together

One day in the summer
you and your neighbor came over
unannounced
so we walked a long time
and found another friend
from that art class

Then I was in high school
and you were there too
so we memorized each-other’s
home phone numbers

We played games
every weekend
our junior year

The next step we planned together;
community college until
both of us slept through
the bus to our second
semester finals

We drove a lot that year

Then we found jobs
and you worked until you didn’t
so you moved away
while I stayed
but you came back

I was a manager then
so I hired you
and we did what we always had
but sometimes you got things wrong
that you never had before

Then Matt died and you left again
and I blamed you for a long time

but I forgave you when you came back
when you told me you were schizophrenic
when you showed up at a show to scream
when we fought in the parking lot
when you sped away drunk
when you messaged me angrily

I forgave you
but I never called your phone again

Then it was Christmastime 2 years ago
you were sick, you were tired
you were sorry – you swore you were sorry

you were dying from bone cancer
in a broken arm

I told you that I loved you then
and I meant it and I still mean it
I told you that you’d be OK
and I’m sorry that wasn’t true

When they took your arm you said
all you wanted was a life

When it didn’t work you told me
you just didn’t wan’t to die alone

I’m sorry.

Sarah

I met you on a Wednesday night
you were twenty one years old

Your flight to school in the Netherlands
was only two days away

We left the bar to play music
and your drumming was perfect
for all the tunes he called

and I saw you smile at him
when you caught him smiling at you

You were bright as a beacon
at the center of a starless desert

You were going to be a neurologist.

He will miss you every day.

Length / Breadth

We walked from the east forever ago
dragging our belongings in burlap bags

You were with me then
with a smile that stretched as far
as your eyes tended to wander

and I should have known
that you couldn’t stay

When we reached a strong, shallow river
I said I’d take your load
but you swore you couldn’t swim

So you headed south
when I waded in

On A Country Road

Rosie was eleven years old
she told us, as the overweight bulldog
began to wheeze near her feet
while a television program murmured
in the living room

A tree had fallen on the property line
so now she was all alone
except for old Rosie here

He was driving their big-wheel tractor
with the mower deck running off PTO
maintaining 28 acres on an August afternoon
when suddenly he succumbed
to a massive skull fracture

She warmed the other’s coffees
but she didn’t need both her mugs anymore
so she sent one out with me

‘No more air piano,’ she said
trying her best to smile
As we bid farewell to Rosie
and left them both
with the upright grand we’d come with

Bygones

Suddenly
there was a shrill sound
cutting through the autumn air
as triumphant as it was discordant
summoning in me an unease
I had not often felt
in the comfort of my father’s home

I rushed to the doorway
and flung the storm wide
to the fire and horror
to the siren sounding louder
to the smoke a mile away

They were flashing over head
a half-dozen at a time
less a swarm than a saber
slicing and buzzing
and bringing bright lights

and I stood like a statue
on the front lawn
of my father’s home
as the roof fell to the foundation
as the bright lights overcame me
as sulfur filled the air

Railing

I dreamed I was a Bangladeshi shipbreaker
toiling in the tropical salt air
with taut muscles and hard callouses
with cuts on hands and shoulders
with burns from oxy-acetylene flames

I worked on the deck of a broken ship
a behemoth with no back half
like a tuna with its tail removed
floating dead in the shallows
in a harbor with a hundred ships like it
on a sandy coast with no end

There were thousands of us working
stretching our rice-fed bodies in the heat
flattening tanks with mallets
taking torch to hull
glancing at the sea a hundred feet below

I was paid in cash each week
enough to buy a bit to eat
and pay for my worker’s flat
a room in a building off the dockyard
where the company provided one bed each
for only two-thirds a month’s wages

My brother died the week before
he was working a few ships down from me
tearing pipe from a plumbing run
pulling copper from rusted conduit
loading pump parts on a limping wagon

I was told it was eleven PM
that a chain had wrapped his ankle
that the other three men faltered
and dropped the bilgepump engine block
off a deck that had no railing

it had long been cut away

Surprise Street

We wandered through hard-luck places
exchanging change for bits of candy
at corner stores and chasing them
with peach soda under burned out letters
in the humid summer dusk

We’d found a couple couches
and dragged them in to the garage
so most of us could sit comfortably
as we passed the microphone around
putting stupid jokes to worn-out tape
for posterity

the snack food would run out eventually
and quiet would come just before the birds
with bodies snoring softly on every floor
dreaming of promises and plans
that never came when the morning did

One at a time we would come to
pouring 7 kinds of bowls of ceral
gathering in the living room
kicking children’s toys around
waiting for the van to park outside

I left Surprise the following spring
tying shoes and trying my best
not to forget my coat in the warm
my strap on the old classical
my CD in the system near the television

I never went back

Reptile

I would look for frogs near rotting stumps
in the summer evenings of my younger days
collecting them in jars for a few hours
until I set them free
or cast them against the pavement
to be fed to baby snapping turtles
else be let in the tank for the corn snake
to have her way, at her leisure

I was a cruel god then,
my subjects kept nourished
with the blood that I saw fit to spill

Woe are the frogs of the summer evenings
of my younger days, flailing in clenched jaws
or stunned and rent to shreds

I was a cruel god then

Frog that I am now,
I pray my god finds mercy.

Giving Ground

I.

The air was cement
in the afternoon sun

I counted the stains
on the upholstery
on the backs of chairs
until The Law walked in

I was brighter then
I am warmer now


II.

At Eleven O’Clock
the pain set in

I clutched your thigh
through gritted teeth

I’d heard what you said
I never heard you say a word


III.

The Law was restless
pistol hand on grip

I tried to keep my eyes down
as her visage shook my soul

The air in my throat
grew thicker still


IV.

There were just us three,
two tables and a pistol between

You stood to leave with elegance
as I floundered, chair to floor

I spat your name as the door swung


V.

The Law saw my despair
and her pistol hand was mercy;

She shot me twice

and waited

for the light in my eyes to go out

The Devil Never Settled

I sat for perhaps a lifetime
my hands clutching nothing
as I rocked in the perfect black

I found my feet slowly
When finally I could breathe again
and found the pool more slowly still

“Further West, I’d wager,” I whispered
as I eased in to the frigid water feet-first
and filled my lungs with all the air they’d take

In a moment I was submerged
in another I was swimming under sea and stone
It wasn’t long before I saw the sun again.

Almost Paradise

“You’ve come so far,” you whispered
as you wrapped me in warm arms
robbing all my breath from me

“You know I can’t come with you.”
I felt you say in to my chest,
my arms finally overlapping yours

“I swear you’ll see me again.”
you crackled, tightening your hold
even as you began to fade away

You took the light when you left;
With hands and knees I found the cave floor
and laid my tears there in the darkness

The Queen A Muse

I came to on a slab of hard rock
my eyes adjusting to the soft blue light
peering through a thin crack in the cave roof

Seasoked clothes clung to my skin
as I rolled my sore body to the side
working slow to stand before gazing around

You were there next to a gentle pool
there was a glow about your bedclothes
and a gentle brightness in your smile

We stood in the cool of our breathing
until you stepped forward to touch my shoulder;
I couldn’t say a word

The King A Prophet

I made tracks through the sandy beach
closing on the vast blue sea
which calmed and quieted with each step

There was only a yard between us
when the sea became stock still,
the air a perfect chill, and silent

I stopped a moment, hearing only my heart,
the quiet breaking as the sea exploded,
thundering upward in a great pillar

The watery monolith roiled as it blocked the sun
“Hello, old friend,” I whispered in its shadow;
it shuddered once, then crashed down to consume me

Gates of Paradise

I made my way through sand-set grasses
beneath the heat of the high noon sun
falling forward with each soft step

The salt-air harassed my hair and clothes
The rumble of the unstoppable growing louder
I found myself on a short dune-cliff

The sea stretched out immeasurable
rolling softly beneath a nearly cloudless sky
its vista unmarred by passing ships or seabirds

“As cold as it ever was,” I murmured
as I dropped my pack in the yellow stand
climbing down to the beach below

God was a Sailor

My body rose first the next morning
awoken in part by the rattling cold
I stood watching the sun a horizon away

The tin kettle was near the top of my kit
the black grounds in the bottom were thick
“Just a taste sometimes,” I muttered, stoking smoking coals

When I descended toward the water
it was full on oats and coffee
and with steps unsure as they were careful

By the time the sunrise had ceased
I was half-way down the mountain
with only the great blue sea in my sights

Breadth of Heaven

It must have been twelve hours
Though the dark laid useless my pocket watch,
I could have counted clacks

As the car slowed beneath my flour-bag perch
I pushed the slide-door wide
leaping to beat the bulls

I rolled to and stopped in a pile
my eyes finally finding me on a mountaintop
overlooking a great wide sea

The dusk set in as the freighter set out
“Mountain’s cold as scorn,” I mumbled gathering fuel;
I found no serpents under fallen brush

Northport Angels

In the afternoon sun
I could have heard my fits of coughing
but for the freight train’s clatter

you were somewhere near the ocean
“I’m sure of it now.” I said from my knees;
My feet found ground beneath me

My pack lay heavy on my shoulders
the blood nearly reddening my cheeks
my tracks leading to the freighter-line’s

the clatter had ceased by then
and it was just a short climb inside
to the long ride up the mountains