Robert N. Lawson
Copyright © November 2000 by Robert N. Lawson
|The Good Neighbor||3|
|The Courting of Geraldine||25|
|The Red Shirt||27|
|The Chartreuse Horse||29|
|She Comes to Me in White||30|
|When I Was a Boy in Illinois||31|
|A Boy in Illinois||32|
|A Citizen's Hymn||34|
|Comment on a Communal Camping Experience||35|
|Our Little Dancer||35|
|An Italian Form / Point of View||36|
|Please Be Kind / Woman's Liberation||36|
|Those Bedroom Eyes||37|
|Something Is Missing / Sunday Morning Music||38|
|Technical Compensation / Tonsorial Problem||38|
|A Letter to the Manufacturer||39|
|A Layman's Question / Poetic Flight||39|
|The Dentist--Friend or Foe||42|
|Meeting the Wise Men||44|
|The Empty House||46|
|My Green Hat||48|
|A New Father's Prayer||50|
|Ode to a Local Bar / Poetry and Wisdom||51|
|Traveling the Colonial Parkway by Tanka||52|
|Aeneas Looking Back||55|
|Dido and Aeneas||57|
|A Bridge of Dreams||79|
|The Bridge of Dreams||80|
(In Five Spenserian Stanzas)
HeredityThe product of a million years of change,
I am my genes, reflect biology,
As DNA works patterns in a range
Of proteins just to fabricate a "me
Of little cells, repeating endlessly
Some simple combinations that define
A complex that's unique, as I can see
When I look in the mirror--the face is mine--
So long in evolution, but, I think, "Looks fine!"
EnvironmentStill, every time I look is here and now--
I am my time, determined by the place,
Its mores and its myths, its why and how--
That's why I wear a tie and how my face
Gets shaved, electric'ly. The human race
Now races to the market in a car.
What I was taught in school provides the base
For what I think I think. Look up! A "star"!
Indoctrinated locally, I can't see far. (1)SocietyAnd man's a "social" animal they say.
I am one of a group, a family,
A married man, defined, at work or play.
A father, teacher, citizen--that's "me"--
My family name is half my destiny.
American and Kansan just as much,
With numbers that insure "security,"
Certificates, and licenses, and such--
And credit cards define a me they all can touch.
ChoiceBut yet I feel I'm capable of choice.
I am a creature exercising will,
Can choose to read a book, can raise my voice,
Can write a poem, refuse to pay a bill,
Can spare an ant, or elephant, or kill--
On impulse, or on calculated plan.
I say I have a spirit, dreaming still
Of what I might become, and still be man,
Imagining no limits when I say, "I can!"
Published in Inscape, Winter, 1990-91 (2)FateSo what is man--the dancer or the dance?
Am I the sum of four? Of two times two?
My mother and my father met by chance,
Their genes combined, one evening, as genes do,
And there I was! The social forces knew--
They'd married first, an act of will, sublime.
And fate then touched that moment. Something new
Began to be, was then informed in time--
An accident, 'twould seem--who sits composing rhyme.
For one fed up with Pound and Eliot,THE GOOD NEIGHBOR
(In Sixty Four Ottava Rima)
Who finds himself immune to sonneteers,
Who reads some Spenser (but would rather not),
And has to laugh at half of what he hears
About those "grand old poets," that old rot
Passed out by fuddled scholars up in years,
It's good to meet a poet with a smile--
I sigh, and say, "By God, it's been a while!" (3)Byron will do (just as he pleases); he2
Could perpetrate his literary crimes
While lesser poets sipped their tepid tea,
And shied away from courting female rhymes--
Or brought their suit off unsuccessfully.
So he survives, in these, the worst of times,
To offer comic verses at their best--
And spiced, just right, with females soon undressed.Ah, in our age, so little taste for verse!3
A bard who seeks a public must begin
With Whitman (or someone a little worse),
And hide his meaning deeper than his sin,
Avoiding meter, "Shakespeare's evil curse,"
Till everyone accepts his stuff's akin
To prose--for if a reader spots a rhyme,
The TV's on. "Read poems? Why waste my time!"Still . . . let me honor one who was a poet,4
And tell my tale in batches of eight lines
(Though if I'm having trouble you'll soon know it,
For in the rhyme and meter there'll be signs;
The phrasing and the syntax, too, will show it
(It's lucky that their laws don't call for fines,
But if there's tax on sin it's other kinds--
What poets do to language no one minds)).I'll tell this tale complete with lass and lover,5
But will not tell it from their point of view
(The point of view, you know, is just a cover
For anything a writer wants to do),
And in this case I'm sure you'll soon discover,
Whose side I'm on, and what I'd like from you--
Your sympathy, of course, for my man John,
Just like you gave old Byron for Don Juan. (4)(I know I should pronounce the name Don Juan,6
That otherwise you don't get Byron's rhyme.
Pronounce it Juan (you know that that's the true one,
In Spanish, where they say it all the time)
You're one beat short--the line will still be due one
(Parentheses were three sets for a dime--
If I get tangled up in all this stuff,
Please tell me when you think you've had enough.))You may think, "I believe I'll call a buddy . . .7
And go play golf . . . then maybe have a beer."
All right. But some day, when the course is muddy,
Peruse my poem . . . well . . . just because it's here.
You might decide that I'm a fuddy-duddy--
But you'll soon see my moral's crystal clear:
If we're to save the world (I think we should),
We ought to start right in the neighborhood.Heroes are out of date, and, for my plot8
I've picked one who's a sort of "also ran,"
For I can't help it if there aren't a lot
Out where I live who'd match the Marlboro man.
So . . . let's admit . . . he's not the fastest shot;
He'll never say, "Wait, Tonto . . . here's my plan!"
In line of work he's just an English teacher
(In Byron's day he might have been a preacher!) (5)He lay there on the sofa with his book,9
Cigar smoke rising in a lazy haze,
Though often from the page his eyes he took,
And off into the distance he would gaze,
To visualize a marlin on a hook,
Or Southern belles from antebellum days.
His wife was in the kitchen with her dishes,
And, running through her mind, a woman's wishes.The still of evening lends deep thought its aid,10
As on his chest the open book reclines.
Romance is mingling with the lengthening shade--
He dreams of Zulu wars, of diamond mines--
Though those exotic scenes, too, start to fade.
Is it to thought . . . or sleep . . . our John inclines?
But if a nap confounds vicarious life--
'Tis not for long. In breaks the worldly wife."Oh, John," says she, "I've noticed that the hedge--11
Between our house and Mr. Harper's place--
Needs trimmed again. I'm counting on your pledge
To do our half this time. It's a disgrace!
He does more than his share . . . far past the edge
Of his own yard. I'd think you'd hate to face
That man! He knows you're in here on the couch."
That grouch (there on the couch) just mumbles "Ouch!" (6)And then, "I didn't want that hedge, you know.12
I liked it fine when yard met yard in grass.
The only thing a hedge can do is grow!
Let's build a wall, topped off with broken glass,
If you think they'll attack, and want to show
A solid line no Harper'll ever pass!"
He looked at Sue. She didn't even smile.
"I told him you'd do our side after while.""Well, he's the one who needs a hedge to clip!13
Why send me out to spoil a neighbor's fun?
He loves to watch the daylight softly slip,
As, clip by clip, he sees the setting sun
Go out of sight. While me . . . I'd rather sip
My coffee, thanks . . . if you'd just let me, Hon.
And, anyway, I wouldn't cut it right--
Too tall! Too short! So why provoke a fight?"I'd let him trim his dear old hedge in peace14
He'd like that best . . . and asks no help from me."
"Just clip our side! That may be in the lease!
I feel so guilty every time I see
Him in our yard . . . clipping away. I'll cease
Suggesting jobs around the house. I'll be
Content if you'll just clip that hedge!" He knew . . .
She had long lists of other things to do. (7)Sue joined with women up and down the street,15
Would help in planning showers, hanging drapes,
Looked in upon the sick . . . was there to greet
Kids coming back from camp (those "wild young apes"),
Would bring petitions home, after they'd meet--
Want him to sign! "Sam did . . . no one escapes!"
She badgered John to "get involved" as well;
He, reading Dante, wished them all in hell.He had a few defenses he could use,16
Time-tested methods that would seldom work,
The screens to paint (some job of Sue's he'd choose),
The coffee pot to fix so it would perk,
The car to wash, and then--the final ruse--
The balk direct: "Just tell them I'm a jerk,
A lousy neighbor . . . hate to join or mix . . .
Please . . . take my wife . . . but get her home by six!"He hated "group events," as Sue well knew17
(And once or twice he'd thought she'd understood);
He didn't want to hear them all review
Domestic problems of the neighborhood,
Or spend long hours hearing what they do
With their long hours--though she thought he should.
So when he'd hear her talking on the phone
He'd hope that she'd . . . and they'd . . . leave him alone. (8)One day they'd planned a picnic ("with champagne!")18
Against a forecast that would curl your hair,
And when it rained, like on that plain in Spain,
John said to Sue, "I guess He heard my prayer.
Just look at that! Against that window pane!"
(It wasn't often Sue was heard to swear.)
But she'd called Dorothy Harper (who was pouting),
And used the time to plan another outing."We want you men to take more time to play . . .19
So you'll know Sam as well as I know Sue,"
Said Dorothy, sitting in his chair one day.
"You've lived here for . . . three years? We hardly do
A thing together . . . let's . . ." He said, "No way!"
Then "Dot" went home, and Sue said, "Shame on you!
Whatever plans we make, you sit and mock.
You haven't made a friend on this whole block!""I've got a friend," he said, and then he smiled.20
"Who might that be?" Her move. The question came.
John savored it, like candy from a child,
"Why Old Man Burns--they tell me that's his name--
Who sits there on his porch, while weeds grow wild,
And spits tobacco juice . . . yeah, that's his game."
(The juice he spat between his stockinged feet
Would seem to land in parlors down the street.) (9)The neighbor women called it "a disgrace"21
For Burns to "let his yard go" like he did.
"Because he's got no wife to run the place . . .
He doesn't seem to care! Why he told Sid . . ."
They talked about him (never to his face),
And hoped he'd sell. He laughed at every bid.
"I built this house with Mae when we were twenty."
"He'll never sell . . . though he's been offered plenty,"John told his wife. "No other house in sight.22
He hammered every nail, laid every brick,
While Mae laid out her garden, took delight
In flowers everywhere . . . 'her bailiwick,'
He says. 'Those were the days . . . no one to fight
About some hedge . . . no trash thrown in the crick.'
He's hardly touched that yard since poor Mae died--
'Once thought I'd trim her roses . . . never tried.'"He laughs at what he calls our 'store-bought houses,'23
And 'neighbors' is a word he seldom uses.
We're 'newcomers' to him. 'Look at those blouses!
These men just let their wives run loose! Excuses!
Of course they're not at home!' It just arouses
His thin-skinned pride to talk about abuses
That he inflicts upon this neighborhood.
'When wives have time to kill . . . well, that's no good! (10)"'Then criticizin' "neighbors" never ends.24
My Mae, thank God, had better things to do.'
Yeah, me and Old Man Burns . . . I guess we're friends.
We let each other be. I like him, too--
In part, I guess, because he bucks the trends . . .
And minds his own affairs. I'll tell you, Sue,
This 'Let's both clip a hedge' . . . I bet he'd shout,
'That hedge be damned! I'll have my side ripped out!'""Well maybe you could get your 'one good friend'25
To paint his porch . . . or have his crabgrass mowed."
The voice came from the laundry room, to send
Her parting shot, as Sue prepared to load
The dirty clothes, and then sit down to mend
Some socks, or patch his pants, in where she sewed.
And, as she moved in there . . . got busy, too . . .
To pester him was difficult to do.And soon that friendly sound, the welcome hum26
Of her machine, gave evidence that she
Was working on a shirt, or blouse, or some-
Thing from that pile of hers. She had to be,
For it was 7:10. The time had come
She always used to sew. John would not see
Sue's face for half an hour. So, book in lap,
He often used this time to take a nap. (11)He finds his book has fallen to the floor.27
Where was he, then? . . . ah . . . Queen Elizabeth . . .
But happy hum has met with rumbling roar,
A raucous rattle, worse than wailing death,
A cross between a scream and full-scale war.
John knows the sound . . . damns it beneath his breath,
"That teen-aged punk . . . and what he calls a car . . ."
No other noise precedes its source that far!The gentle buzz of early evening sounds28
Is gobbled up by this cacophony--
Then (like the yelping of a pack of hounds
That has a wounded lion up a tree)
That horn! Could signal ends to boxing rounds,
And then announce, "Here comes the cavalry!"
But it's just Geraldine's Romeo--"that jerk!"
McDonald's shift has changed--Joe's got off work!The woman at her sewing mutters "Joe,"29
Identifies by sound (no need for sight)
The lad who oft descends with twilight's glow
To rout their neighbor's daughter, and affright
Their neighborhood. "Good God! There's Gerrie's beau!"
Just drop the name, say "Joe," they're all up tight.
He heralds each new coming with that horn,
And Roland's ne'er projected half the scorn. (12)
Yes, "Joe," that rowdy gallant in his teens,30
Has come, a modern swain, to see his girl,
Will court fair lady in his faded jeans,
And take her for a ride, "a little whirl"
Around the town, a tour of Dairy Queens--
And with some luck he might take out a squirrel,
Or smash a can, or spin his left rear wheel--
In any case, young Geraldine will squeal.Joe built that car, composed of traded parts31
(And some he's stolen, as he tells the tale),
To seem alive. It coughs before it starts,
And anyone who sees it knows it's male,
As down the road it growls, and howls, and farts,
Maneuvered like a bull, or home-sick whale.
By instinct, then, it seeks out Geraldine,
Our high-school belle, our local beauty queen.The color of the car is "Chinese red,"32
But fenders here and there are many-hued,
For Joe ran into things--"Their fault," he said--
Then painted over, as he felt the mood,
In color code--in black for something dead,
Green for a tree, and blue if he'd been sued.
"They're only half symbolic," smiled the lad,
"Are really just the colors my dad had." (13)A connoisseur of ornaments was Joe,33
An angel on the dashboard bowed in prayer,
A license plate that said, "Hey! Watch Me Go!"
A monkey bobbing, waving in the air,
From his rear window as he went. And so
They watched . . . the car, the red-haired boy who'd dare
To blow that heinous horn . . . go passing by,
In such delight, offending earth and sky.Now here he comes, with car that he's designed34
To alienate the senses (jar all five),
Leans on that horn, slows long enough to find
Her drive for two quick squirrels to dive
Into that hedge, leaving their nuts behind,
While Harper (as his hedge becomes alive)
Stands still a moment, then, with nerves ajar,
Attacks the hedge as if it owned the car.Still on the couch, John contemplates his book.35
Where was he then? It seems he's lost his place.
He sips his coffee, has another look
At his cigar, annoyance on his face,
Then settles in (and that was all it took--
There goes the horn again). The human race
Must suffer many things, but nothing worse
Than teenage noise--an omnipresent curse. (14)John lifts the coffee cup, another sip,36
Lights his cigar, is puffing up a storm--
There comes that horn again! He bites his lip.
"That kid is on a roll . . . in 'concert' form,
No reading till he's gone" . . . a paper clip
To mark the place . . . the evening seems so warm.
The only train of thought John can sustain
Involves a boy in jeans who's suffering pain.He calls a malediction on the clan,37
The race of men who'd spawned this damned youth,
And raised him up to damn his fellow man
With that damned car. Not even John Wilkes Booth
Was hated more by this Abe Lincoln fan
Than this damned kid, with manners so uncouth.
He wished that he (the kid) had ne'er been born.
That wish worked like a trigger--there's the horn!Fair Geraldine could never seem to hear38
That strident horn, those raucous engine races,
Till they'd been there, say, almost half a year.
She'd cultivated female social graces
That said a man who waits will rank more dear
Attentions paid when he's put through his paces.
She seemed a simple, friendly little thing,
Yet she had all those charms (and she could sing). (15)John gave his poor cigar a dirty look,39
Then ground it in the ashtray by his side,
Skipped back a paragraph . . . laid down the book . . .
And there's the horn again. He can't decide
Just what to do. "By God . . . by crook or hook!"
In his mind's eye the vigilantes ride;
He gathers up the neighbors--"What say we
Just hang that youngster from the nearest tree?"The horn again. He speaks, "That damned young fool!"40
His eyes in irritation search the room.
There on the desk he spots a mislaid tool . . .
His wire cutters! Since he can't resume
His reading, he'll accept this as a duel!
He'll dedicate that weapon to the doom
Of this offender of his evening peace.
Cut off that horn . . . then that much noise should cease.John sits him up, puts both feet on the floor,41
Then stands and stretches. There's that horn again!
"Well, my young friend, I've suffered you before,"
He says, and tucks the handy cutters in
His pocket as he heads toward the door.
"But this time you and your unholy din
Pushed me too far. You've snapped my tranquil mood.
I'm up . . . so feel committed to intrude." (16)
Published in Inscape,He pauses at the door, surveys the scene,42
The car two driveways down, between them Sam . . .
"Old Harper" . . . in his summer cap of green,
Stalled in the task of cutting hedge. "Well, damn!"
John's wife, still hard at work, cannot be seen;
She hears the screen door close (just close--not slam).
"He's going out," she mutters, with a smile,
"To cut that hedge? I'll check . . . but after while."John walks along the hedge, toward the car,43
And Harper, with his clippers, watches him.
"It's like I've always said--these hedges bar
The way . . . impede the flow. I ought to trim
A path straight through! What obstacles there are
Between a man and destiny . . . or whim!"
'Good hedges make good neighbors,' someone said--
But he who said it [now, not then] is dead.His neighbor's "Ev'ning John" is understood,44
But John neglects to answer as he goes
Around the hedge directly toward the hood.
The horn again--up close, uniquely Joe's--
He's made it as distinctive as he could,
A Chinese gong played by a flock of crows
Would sound as sweet. But then, as John goes by
(And Joe sees John), the crows all seem to fly. (17)The boy who blows the horn looks up to see45
A stranger (who he thinks he's seen before),
And watches him with curiosity,
As he approaches, not his neighbor's door,
But Joe's own car! "You think he's after me?"
Thinks Joe, and then, "I hope he isn't sore.
I wonder what he thinks he's gonna do."
John lifts the hood, to hear Joe cry, "Hey, you!"Just two short beeps, defensive little jabs,46
As John lays back the hood--and what a sight!
A hundred wires marked with colored tabs
Go everywhere. The horn has red? . . . black? . . . white?
In his left hand John all three colors grabs,
His wire cutters cradled in his right,
Looks at those wires, saying, "Do, Re, Mi,"
And, not sure which one won, he clips all three,Returns the hood, just as it was before,47
As if he were concerned to scratch the paint,
Then, looking up, sees standing at the door
A wide-eyed girl, expression of a saint
(Though gossip said the morals of a . . . modern teenager).
"One thing's for sure, don't think that girl will faint!
She's prob'ly wondering why the horn stopped blowing.
But now . . . that's done . . . I guess that I'll be going." (18)And so he turns to go, smiles as he sees48
Eyes blinking fast, young mouth a little slack
In sheer surprise, framed by the summer trees
As he goes by. Then gravel at his back,
An arm around his neck, and two young knees
Strike from behind, as in a fierce attack
A tiger just escaping from its cage
Might pounce upon its victim in its rage.John's turn to be surprised. "He's strong as sin,49
For just a kid," he thinks, ". . . but jumping me?"
The arm that's wound around his neck is thin,
But wiry as he twists to pull it free,
Then turns to face the boy. Again a grin--
Not at the boy, who's serious as can be--
But at a picture tempting to a bard:
Old Harper, poised and speechless, in his yard,Hedge clippers hanging limp, while there he stands.50
"Each man his tool," thinks John, putting his pair
Of clippers in his pocket. "Need two hands."
The boy's fists flail fantastic in the air,
As John just holds him off. He understands
A fight with such a child would be unfair.
The boy is just a symptom, not the cause--
How was it Plato put it . . . in The Laws? (19)"He's still a force to deal with," John then thought,51
And marveled at the wildness in those eyes,
For that young face was frantic, as it sought
Some way to get at him. Like swatting flies,
Both arms went round, the body tense and taut,
As fists struck empty air. "At least he tries,"
John thought . . . began to think he liked the kid.
"Got qualities that he's been keepin' hid."Still . . . first things first." John grabbed a slender wrist52
And tried to get the boy to settle down.
But Joe swung out, swung back the other fist
To catch John on the jaw. That brought a frown,
A dizzy blur of vision, like a mist,
Changing his mood. "Hey, now . . . you little clown . . ."
Then, as he had to duck a second blow,
"Enough of this! Afraid you've had it, Joe."A wild mosquito zooming in to hit . . .53
The boy's long hair was flying everywhere.
"Swat him, I guess. No sense in getting bit."
John drops the wrist, "Hey, back off . . . and I'll spare . . ."
Joe lands one on his forehead. "What I get!"
While one hand winds its fingers in that hair
The other, open, strikes below the ear.
Those eyes go wide . . . amazement . . . laced with fear. (20)That urge to kill an insect dies as fast--54
John's sorry that he gave him such a slap--
But part of that base impulse must have passed
Across the old communication gap.
The anger in John's eyes, which didn't last,
Had still been real enough. "Disturbed my nap . . .
That always makes me cross," John thought, and sighed.
Then he relaxed . . . as all his rancor died.The boy's face, too, was changing rapidly,55
As all the blood ran to the side just slapped,
Each finger outlined in a murky sea,
Like islands in a region roughly mapped
By pirates, long ago. "What can it be?
Not something I imagined while I napped--
No, some old chart I've seen in some old book."
Releasing Joe . . . a look around he took.Poor Geraldine was standing at the door56
Half in, half out--her bubble-gum un-popped--,
The screen door, like her mouth, still open, for
She never did shut anything, just hopped
From this to that--"Why bother keeping score?"
"She feels betrayed now that that horn's been stopped,"
John thought. Then as, again, he turned for home,
He let his eyes toward his neighbor roam. (21)"That holy hedge," was all that he could think,57
"Suppose I'll have to clip our side some day . . .
But not today! I'd still prefer chain-link . . .
And two mean dogs . . . to keep the world at bay."
Sam Harper gasped when John gave him a wink.
Then back toward his house, where he can lay
Him on his couch. But first he'll find that book
That has that map, reflected in that look.To reach his porch, John gives a little hop . . .58
Then, "Shhh," the screen, like entering a tomb . . .
Still, once inside, he hears the sewing stop.
"Is that you John?" comes from the other room.
A pause. "Where did you go?" "To kick a cop . . ."
He starts to say, but knows he can assume
Before the day is done she'll hear it all.
"Just out," he says, "to pay a little call.""What?" He can hear her slippers on the floor,59
As he stands at the bookcase . . . finds the book.
Then, shirt in hand, she stands there in the door;
"I want my questions answered," says her look.
"I thought about the things you said before,
And how a 'neighbor' gave more than he took . . .
How I should give . . . a little of my time.
The way I treat the neighbors . . . is a crime." (22)She frowned. He dropped his eyes, looked at the shirt,60
One elbow mended, one a little wild,
Where he had torn a place. That didn't hurt,
For she'd saved extra pieces . . . had them filed,
"Since when I made that shirt," she would assert.
And then--he couldn't hold it back--he smiled.
She frowned again. "Now what's all that about?"--
Then to her kitchen window to look out.The rumble of the car is heard again,61
And from the kitchen comes philosophy:
"I guess that being young is no real sin,
But Geraldine and her young man must be
The youngest kids that there have ever been.
As I recall, you never honked for me.
I guess she finally heard, for there they go . . .
Our local belle . . . and her obnoxious Joe."John moved his cup . . . re-lighted his cigar.62
The car could still be heard from down the street.
"A bit subdued," he thought, "as, from afar,
The sounds of trains or tractors can seem sweet;
It's when they roar right over you they mar
The tenor of the times, the moods they meet."
Someone who knows enough ecology
Could tell us what the principle must be. (23)Another pause. The woman's voice once more.63
"Where's Mr. Harper? He's not finished yet.
He left one corner . . . and an open door . . .
His shears are near the sprinkler . . . getting wet!
I've never seen him act like that before.
What did you say? I hope he's not upset."
Back at the door, she looks at John again,
Then turns away with, "Where'd I stick that pin?"The answer from the couch is just a grunt,64
As John has settled in to look at maps.
Some like to read, while others like to hunt . . .
And some trim hedges, mow their lawns, perhaps.
Some like to lead, but yet, to be quite blunt,
There's some of us depend upon our naps.
"Let others fight those battles, win those laurels"--
Which gives our little tale at least two morals. (24)
THE COURTING OF GERALDINEMy mother always told me, "Look both ways,
(In Seven Ottava Rima)
Before you cross the street . . . or pick a wife!
Look at those pictures from her childhood days . . .
Then at her mother . . . and her father's life!
That 'charming girl' is just a passing phase.
Step off the curb, step into toil and strife.
But I know you! You'll no doubt trust to luck.
Some day . . . swish, splat . . . run over by a truck!"
I met this girl (her name is Geraldine),
And brought her home. I thought poor Mom would burst.
She called Mom "Mom." Mom thought that was "obscene,"
And told her so. But that was not the worst.
Mom found fault with the way she'd cook, or clean.
"The man who marries her will be 'twice curst,'"
Mom said, "Because, first thing, she's pretty wild,
And second . . . don't expect a normal child!"
Once I'd told Geraldine these awful things,
She challenged Mom on everything she'd said.
"You talk about my cooking . . . my offsprings!
Look at your own . . . I wouldn't be caught dead
In that red dress. And when your 'dear son' sings,
Your own dog runs and hides beneath the bed."
They had that final showdown late in May,
When Geraldine curst Mom--then stomped away. (25)
Well, I pretended I had seen the light.
"No girls for me! This lesson's been enough--
I thank my lucky stars she didn't bite!
I'll just find other interests . . . sort my stuff . . .
Or watch TV . . . become more erudite."
Mom'd played her hand, so now I'd call her bluff.
"I'll spend my afternoons restoring cars,
And then, if I go out, I'll cruise gay bars."
Some weeks crept by. Mom's mood began to change.
"That Geraldine, you know . . . at least she sings.
Remember how she sang 'Home on the Range'?
I'm sorry that I said those nasty things.
Why, she can learn . . . that wouldn't be so strange.
She cooks some things I like . . . like onion rings."
Mom called her up. I'd told her, "Fake surprise,
And tell my Mom you've heard that I like guys."
When I came home from work one afternoon
Mom met me at the door, with that big smile.
"Surprise," she said. "Guess who'll be coming soon!"
"Don't know." I knew, but tried to miss a mile.
"Old Uncle Pete? I hope he brings his coon."
Could be I overdid it . . . guile's not my style . . .
But Mom took that in stride. "No, your best girl!
Your Geraldine . . . let's give it one more whirl."
The two of them were soon as thick as thieves--
Invited me to picnics in the park,
Or helped me wax the car, or rake the leaves.
Then, after dinner, Mom might just remark,
As we sat on the porch, beneath the eaves,
"Can I trust you two children in the dark?"
Then off to bed, so proud she'd set the scene.
Well, thanks to Mom, I've married Geraldine. (26)
Won first place for "Whimsical Verse" in the Kansas Authors ClubTHE RED SHIRTHis hands were sweating as he held the bow
(In Four Spenserian Stanzas)
And watched intently from behind a rock
For Lew's red shirt along the trail below.
He'd shoot this arrow through the pocket--zock!
Right through the heart--should give ol' Lew a shock.
He thought he heard a sound. Behind him? No.
He shook his head--some echo from the stock.
"Just nervous, Billy Boy. Don't let it show.
Let's hunt like Lew, 'Apach' . . . like ol' Geronimo.'"
He'd learned from Lew, the vet'ran, in Vietnam.
"No one like Lew to teach you how to kill,
To twist a knife through some gook's diaphragm,
Or use a garrote, in the night . . . 'pure skill!'"
Back from the war, they both were hunters still--
New Mexico--he'd come back home with Lew.
"Why Lew taught me to use this bow . . . the thrill
Of killing deer . . . we both have bagged a few . . .
Now I'll bag Lew! The money! Nothing he can do."
Their money gone, Lew'd said, "Let's rob a bank,
Go hunt Montana . . . but with all that loot."
He'd laughed then, said, "Hey, kid, I'll take the flank--
I'll go alone . . . wear your red shirt . . . and shoot
And pistol-whip a few. Give some the boot!
That's all that they'll remember . . . just the pain.
Back to the cabin . . . change into a suit . . .
Then ditch the horses, and we'll catch a train.
You just be ready!" Billy thought, "It sounds insane!" (27)
Still, he was ready. "Look! Down there! The shirt!"
"They'll know Lew did it . . . me, they'll never see!
One step . . . one shot . . . and then I'll hit the dirt."
The arrow'd pierced a dummy . . . horse ran free.
There was a noise behind him, by the tree.
Barechested Lew, the "Indian brave," sat squat.
"Hey Billy Boy, who taught you that? Not me!"
In Lew's hand was his pistol. "I hope not!"
He saw the flash (I think)--but never heard the shot. (28)
THE CHARTREUSE HORSEOld Uncle Ned
When drunk once said,
"A chartreuse horse
Is strange, of course,
But stranger still,
When on a hill,
A girl in black
Hops off its back,
Like once I saw
He shook his head,
Old Uncle Ned,
"Both he and she
Had stopped to pee.
That horse might boast
He peed the most,
But that girl's style
Beat his a mile.
Then, like a pup,
She hopped back up--
And, that same day,
Just rode away."
His weathered face
Stared off in space--
He's long since dead,
Old Uncle Ned.
Competition in 2001. (29)
SHE COMES TO ME IN WHITEAn earlier version publishedAs unbelievable as it may seem,(Villanelle)
I've always seen that vision just this way--
She comes to me in white, as in a dream.
At first it was an aura, or a gleam,
There in the dark, across from where I lay.
As unbelievable as it may seem,
I felt no fear. As if in some grand scheme,
Like morning mist, or like the breath of May,
She comes to me in white, as in a dream.
And sometimes she'll come floating on a stream
Of blooming flowers, an immense bouquet.
As unbelievable as it may seem,
I'm drowning in their perfume, so extreme,
When, through it all, extending just one spray,
She comes to me in white, as in a dream.
She comes to raise my spirit--to redeem!
And so it happens on this wedding day,
As unbelievable as it may seem,
She comes to me in white . . . as in a dream. (30)
WHEN I WAS A BOY IN ILLINOISWhen I was a boy in Illinois,(Villanelle)
The clover would blow--a purple flow--
In Illinois, when I was a boy.
The scenes I'd enjoy time can't destroy,
As to school I'd go, at dawn's first glow,
When I was a boy in Illinois.
My sled I'd employ (my fav'rite toy),
And the tracks would show in soft, deep snow,
In Illinois, when I was a boy.
My mother's joy suffered no alloy;
She'd sing and sew when the lights were low
When I was a boy in Illinois.
I'd oft deploy through the woods, annoy
The river's flow, as a boat I'd row,
In Illinois, when I was a boy.
Time cannot destroy, nor mar, nor cloy,
Fond memory's glow, from so long ago
When I was a boy in Illinois . . .
In Illinois . . . when I was a boy. (31)Late spring brought baseball to the radio
A BOY IN ILLINOIS
Back in those years of Gabby Hartnett's fame,
And sports-page pictures were my special joy--
My scrapbook on those Cubs--and every foe--
Then, as I'd listen, I'd score each day's game . . .
When I was still a boy, in Illinois.
And barefoot through the summer fields I'd walk,
A slingshot in my hand, without a word,
The hunter on his mission to destroy.
Through seas of purple thistle I would stalk--
Not cured until my stone had killed a bird . . .
When I was still a boy, in Illinois.
Then in the fall, down through the hickory trees
Where Blackhawk camped when Indians roamed the land,
I'd plan the ways I might my braves deploy
As, crouching on the bank, I loved to tease
The sand along the river through my hand . . .
When I was still a boy, in Illinois.
The winters I remember pure and white,
As we'd go crunching up the hill to slide
So quickly down again. How I'd enjoy
The way she'd laugh. Then came that long day's night,
When that whole life was gone. My mother died . . .
When I was still a boy . . . in Illinois. (32)
in Inscape, Winter, 1982.
The center of the world is where I stand!FOCUSING--ON 1976
A focal point in endless time and space!
Topeka, Kansas, center of this land,
Of land and sea, whichever way I face.
This day, this month, this year I have of life
A moment in a vast infinity
The summing up of all of human strife
That was, projecting all that's yet to be.
Both time and space go endless out of sight--
From here and now, this bi-centennial year.
"America"--you know the time is right;
"Topeka" (it's an Indian name) is here.
And who am I if not American?
A Kansan, a Topekan--forty-five--
My time is now. Whatever I may plan
Must be done here . . . while I am still alive. (33)COMMENT ON AI'm proud as any man could be,
A CITIZEN'S HYMN
A citizen of Rome,
A land so brave, so strong, so free,
This noble land, my home,
First settled by a Godly race,
Directed from above,
Predestined as the source and base,
For universal love.
All other lands embrace our cause,
Acknowledge us their lords
Love Roman roads, and Roman laws--
And fear our Roman swords.
The future will reflect our mind,
The history books display
How we united all mankind,
Beneath our righteous sway. (34)
EXPERIENCESheOUR LITTLE DANCER
When she has reached the age of twenty-three,
A rose in bloom, if she should strike that pose,
In clothes that make a woman--slick, sheer hose,
A free and ample blouse, worn carelessly--
How he will gasp (whoever "he" may be).
Who knows what hidden power lies in toes
Like those she twirls upon, in that pert nose
I see between those eyes that laugh at me.
We two are lovers now, love peek-a-boo . . .
These best years of our lives. Come here, you pest!
But who can stop the clock? They'll come to woo . . .
The rest of those who'll love you. Why protest?
I'm due to be retired . . . watching you
Head West . . . in clothes I'll buy . . . for your screen test. (35)TRAVELING THE COLONIAL PARKWAY BY TANKA
AN ITALIAN FORM POINT OF VIEW I trust I have seen In me That rare face You see In a place No lust. So obscene It's just That a queen That we Dressed in lace Agree In such case Your bust Would seem mean, Should claim But I thought The prize. Her so fair So shame Soft light caught On guys In her hair Who blame That I sought My eyes! Not to care. PLEASE BE KIND WOMAN'S LIBERATION Please be kind She'd wear his ring Until day (But just for fun) To a mind For he had run In dismay, Through quite a string, For all hope Said, "No big thing," Now seems gone. As, one by one, I can't cope He had undone Until dawn A girl each spring; With this fear But this was fall, Of dark things And she'd just see Pressing near If, after all, On huge wings This male might be Unless you Brought into thrall-- Press near too. While she stayed free. (36)
Published in Inscape, 1981
"The passion pulsing from those bedroom eyesTHOSE BEDROOM EYES(In Three Ottava Rima)
Would melt the ice cubes in this orange juice glass,"
I said, "so let me call and tell those guys
I'll come another day . . . will have to pass
That meeting on their contract . . . otherwise
How can I stay with you? She smiled. Alas!
We knew this deal should make our future bright.
One kiss . . . one more . . . then off to catch my flight.
But now I'm back . . . forgot it in my bliss.
"Run in and grab that contract . . . by the phone . . .
Then . . . on my way . . . I'll grab one extra kiss!"
The door's unlocked, "So careless, here alone."
Surprise her in the kitchen . . . "Hey, what's this?
Not here! Upstairs?" Halfway I heard her moan,
Then sounds they should have kept much more discreet.
An open door . . . I only saw their feet.
Quick, back downstairs. "It's there . . . the same old place."
Then up those stairs, in rhythm with the bed,
Into "our" room. I cannot see his face,
But know it's Alex, for his hair is red.
Look at her eyes! . . . transported into space
In ecstasy . . . this woman I have wed . . .
Those eyes see me, then widen in surprise.
I aimed the gun--between those bedroom eyes. (37)May we ask the young woman who is out to amazeSOMETHING IS MISSING
With opinions she has when she goes to see plays
To apply the same rigor (it's like paying your dues)
To the art she attempts as to that she reviews.If I am a goldfish, and life is my bowl,On Sunday morn I turn the dialSUNDAY MORNING MUSIC
As raucous, righteous sounds go past,
Until I note, with rueful smile,
Some sinner's music soothes at last.TECHNICAL COMPENSATION
And what I experience shapes my soul,
Then changing the water a bit at a time
May not be good allegory . . . but does help the rhyme.As the time comes round when again I goTONSORIAL PROBLEM
To the barbershop it reminds me so
Of the other times when it's I must care
With my barber's skills to earth's head of hair.
But when I get done with that verdant mass
And pull the coarse comb through new-trimmed grass
It's no dollar tip meets my outstretched hand
Nor a word or smile from that silent land.
While I take great pains trimming round each tree
And pluck every weed that I chance to see
Still the haircutee, in so aloof a mood,
(Though our own backyard) can seem awfully rude. (38)Dear God,A LETTER TO THE MANUFACTURER
I know I should not complain,
Or protest your design for a new little soul,
But each day it becomes more uncomfortably plain
That our model should come with a volume control.Aristotle, tell me, who makes the world go round?A LAYMAN'S QUESTION
Is it Father Zeus?--the only answer I have found.
It is some great unmoved mover? Well that I cannot see!
I guess belief in Father Zeus will have to do for me.Hey, you kids over there! Help me find my green hat,Our Mitzi was asked out to dine;When lyric song refuses me
And nothing stirs my heart to see
Across the scene of blank despair
A single inspiration there
I contemplate the touching sight
Of fledgling birds attempting flight
Who strive like eagles high to soar
Then tumble to the woodland floor
And hope my unsuccessful trials
The scraps of paper heaped in piles
May lead in time to some success,
As swallows summer's skies do bless. (39)The DebutanteLIMERICKS
(on a picture of a dog in a dress)
She replied, "Well, I think that that's fine--
But my hair is a mess,
And I'll need a new dress."
Now she's got one more stylish than mine.These poems concern ladies in treesDeck Chair SyndromeThey would go on a luxury cruise
Every time that his wife had the blues.
He would gaze at the foam,
And then, just like at home,
Settle back for his afternoon snooze.Ladies in Trees
With whom apes do whatever they please
If you write one a day
From September to May
You'll become an insufferable tease.There once was a fellow named ZenoParadoxically Speaking
Who asked questions that really were mean-o
He had lots of queer notions
About relative motions
And those notions are still on the scene-o (40)Here came this new chairman, named Stein,Stein
Who declared, "All decisions are mine!
My whole tenured staff
Just provides a good laugh
And the dean seems to think that's just fine."There once was a girl named MarieMarie
Who declared, "Well, now, nothing is free!
So you'll all have to pay
If you're going to stay . . .
I mean for the room--not for me!"In the black of the nightDianeThere once was a girl named Diane
Who stumbled whenever she ran
And that was the way
She'd wind up in the hay
She's never outrun any man! (41)THE DENTIST--FRIEND OR FOE
It may seem strange that most of us
so dread the dentist's chair,
For one would think a troubled mouth
would find much comfort there,
That we would see a dentist as
a friend in word and deed,
A noble soul, whose special skills
address our desperate need.
But we must sense that underneath,
and chuckling all the while,
A fiend lies hid, who cloaks his glee
behind that unctuous smile.
"Now open wide! A little more!
Now wider once again!
We'll have to probe around a bit . . .
say, tell me, how've you been?
This may hurt just a little." But
we know what he implies--
It's going to hurt a lot, and he'll
enjoy it as he pries.
He turns to his assistant, say-
ing, "Size ten pliers, Jane.
Then that big drill. No blasting caps--
a shade too near the brain."
That gorgeous young assistant (who's
been straightening out her hose)
Procures the gruesome instruments . . .
then asks, "In through the nose?" (42)
Then everywhere you turn your eyes
a tool for torture stands--
And you've become the sacrifice,
in diabolic hands.
Now dentists will say, "Nonsense, friends!
All this is in your mind!"
But . . . test your own experience . . .
it's all to true, I find.
In fact, the more I ponder it,
the more I'm sure I'm right.
The next time you encounter one,
play safe--and shoot on sight! (43)I came into a crowded room--MEETING THE WISE MEN
they'd all assembled there.
I found a place where I could hear
and settled in a chair.
A gentleman in coat and tie
introduced himself to me,
And, as my host, he let me know
who the other men might be.
"Spinoza here, and Leibniz there,
and over there Descartes.
Now all of them have much to say
we'd better let them start."
Then they began to talk a bit,
of thoughts "distinct and clear."
I thought I'd ask just what that meant
when at my other ear
A man named Locke began to speak
of things he knew not what,
And Berkeley rose to challenge him,
while I was thinking, "But . . ."
Then all began to state their views--
no two could quite agree.
The confusion was enormous--
(especially so to me).
"Now, gentlemen! Please, gentlemen!"
I finally shouted out,
"My head begins to whirl a bit
with so much thought about.
I cannot take you all at once--
intending no insult-- (44)
Ideas that you all express
are just too difficult.
I trust I'll form real friendships . . . ah . . .
with some of you at least,
But feel I must excuse myself
from such a heavy feast.
I ask that you come be my guests
(one at a time, of course) . . .
Please come and visit in my room,
where each may then discourse
On all these points you know so well,
that I find all so new.
I hope that you can help me to
distinguish false from true.
I'm happy to have met you all,
and, yes, I am impressed!
But now, if you'll excuse me, I . . .
I feel I need a rest." (45)
I try to flee that empty houseTHE EMPTY HOUSE
Run down deserted halls
While vacant rooms keep echoing
Her laughter from their walls
And pictures hung in other days
Of smiling innocence
Bring back their mocking memories
With ghostly eloquence
That vibrant life that once possessed
This empty empty place
Was then reduced to silence in
A bed of silk and lace
And I began to run and run
But never got away
I stand before her coffin still
In psychic disarray (46)
Glowed the eyes of the cat
In the dark at the top of the stairs.
From that dominant height,
That aloof autocrat,
Had assumed her imperious airs.
Then a flutter of white
Where the animal sat
Caught my senses off guard, unawares.
In a moment of fright
I forget where I'm at,
As sheer gossamer floats--raising hairs.
All my muscles grow tight,
And my eyes start to bat,
As old memories come out from their lairs,
While I stare at the sight,
A ghost poised for a chat,
And forget more conventional cares.
Then I switch on the light,
Knowing that will be that--
For these ghosts seldom haunt me in pairs. (47)
MY GREEN HAT
For I can't go to town if I don't find it soon.
Of the lids that I wear I don't mind wearing that
When I rant up and down (which I won't after noon).
After noon I will rest, wearing thongs, with my cat,
Drinking tea, feeding seeds to my bird (hear his tune?),
And I'll croon all the best country songs (they'll like that)
Just like me, they have needs (it's our third lonely June).
Lonely June--since our dog used to bark at the moon--
Poor old pup stayed out late, wouldn't mind, got too fat--
So a loon, in a bog, in the dark, with a spoon,
Ate him up! But my date! Help me find my green hat! (48)Published in Quill,Ooohh, my name is Socrophanes . . .(to the tune of "MacNamara's Band")
I was the greatest of the Greeks . . .
In epic I beat Homer,
Of whom everybody speaks.
(May be whistled.)
Euripides and Aeschylus . . .
Both envied my best plays . . .
For when it came to tragedy
I really did amaze.
And in dreaming up philosophy . . .
I was quite a whiz . . .
Old Plato once admitted
That mine refuted his.
But I hope to kiss your elbow
It wasn't worth the cost . . .
They published all these others . . .
(Tap, tap, tap--of foot)
And all my stuff they lost.
(Refrain, with flourish,
repeating last two lines) (49)
University of Kansas,
Spring 1955.The lure of something trivial said wellI gaze upon your helplessness my son,A NEW FATHER'S PRAYER
And I affirm I shall not leave undone
Parental chores from which a man is spun.
I'll lead you in the paths I've found to be
The best routes through the trials of life for me
Point out to you the things that I can see.
I'll fondly whisper wisdom in your ear
And school your virtues so you'll never fear
To laugh, or in its time, to shed a tear.
I contemplate the pleasures I will find
In opening new doors of every kind
And leading you to puzzles of the mind.
My fond ambition charts your happiness
In all the high adventure of the quest,
As you discover fields where you'll be best.
And yet your breath of life still baffles me.
Surrounded by this vast eternity,
That spark of being's still a mystery.
The face I look at then becomes a mask,
And those young eyes look up and seem to ask,
"Well, Father--are you equal to this task?"
And I must answer that I hardly know--
The future, like the present, changes so--
We may get lost. But still, I long to go. (50)I will not despair when the trees are bare--ODE TO A LOCAL BAR
But plunge out into the cold.
Through the frost and sleet I'll direct my feet
To a spot where drink is sold,
Or I'll go by car to a local bar
Where I'll buy them all a round,
And might sing along when a bawdy song
Fills the room with raucous sound.
I affirm indeed that my basic need
On a cold and wintry night
Is a fine warm place and a friendly face--
As I grow a little tight.POETRY AND WISDOM
May draw one from the tomes that wise men spell
In phrases dry and cold,
But when a wise man has a gifted quill
We seek his work, and find that oft it will
Meanings of life unfold. (51)
Earlier version publishedPublished in Inscape, 1982She dominates the myth, that tragic queen,A little ribbon
Running the twenty miles from
Jamestown to Yorktown,
You can walk through in a day.
They called it Jamestown,
Those Englishmen who landed
Looking for another life--
And found Pocahontas there.
When he was a young student
Walked through Williamsburg
On his way to the White House--
A town still worth walking through.
The end of the road
For General Cornwallis
(And for the tourist)
The battlefield at Yorktown
Where Washington won the war. (52)
DIDO(In Eight Ottava Rima)
Who welcomed poor Aeneas from the sea
Into her arms. A man she'd never seen
(Just heard about) stepped from the mist as she
Invoked his name, a hero, yet so mean
In spirit he could waste her love--then flee!
Romantic, generous woman--to a fault--
Her tears of rage would plow her land with salt.
Call Love the cause, who called that man her son,
Yet met him as a maid, to lay her plan;
Deceiving him--and her--was half the fun,
To move him as a pawn, that pious man,
Until the queen herself would be the one
To make the move from which her fall began--
With Cupid in her lap, those squirming hips--
Requesting Troy's sad story from his lips.
He told the story of the Trojan horse,
And how the Greeks had played them for such fools,
Through perfidy and subtle lies, of course--
The Trojans fought quite well in corner duels,
But fell before the greater Grecian force--
That day the gods themselves had changed the rules.
He saved his son, his father, and his life,
But (Dido might have noted) lost his wife.
His story finished, our poor queen was caught,
Not thinking of her husband, in her bed,
Which Juno seeing, calculating, thought,
"If love, then marriage might run in her head--
An interesting idea!" So she sought
Coy Venus out. "I'll join the game," she said.
"Two goddesses together, we'll conspire,
Amuse ourselves by playing with this fire."
The hunt's the thing, a festive, wild affair
Out in the woods. He offers her his hand.
"A dark'ning sky--a storm is coming there.
We'll have to find some shelter quickly," and,
"Why there's a cave!" Confusion in the air
As Dido and Aeneas leave the band.
The storm that came upon them, wave on wave,
Pale echo to the passion in the cave.
To her it was a marriage, not to him,
Though for a time he thought he'd found a home--
With her responding to his every whim.
Forget about the future fate of Rome,
Fill up the cup in Carthage . . . to the brim.
Then Rumor ran, and Jove, across the foam,
Sent Mercury to let him know that he
Must gather up his men and put to sea.
"And put to sea? How can I get away?"
She was a queen . . . but might act like a girl
Who'd been betrayed. He'd bet she'd find some way
To take revenge. Could set things in a whirl!
He'd work through Anna . . . leave today . . .
Not tell the queen. Surprise! Hot passions swirl
As his ships leave the shore. "If not his wife . . . "
Into her heaving breast she plunged the knife. (54)
Our pity to the one left in the night,
Bewildered as her sister's body burned.
Then Dido's funeral pyre cast its light
Far out to sea. One lesson he had learned:
To satisfy her boundless appetite
Required more. Her scorn was all he'd earned.
The memory of it went with him to hell--
Her curse would take their peoples there as well.This elemental, classic tale of loveThe sea so dark and calm, the storms behindAENEAS LOOKING BACK(In Five Ottava Rima)
That he'd survived, exhausting sail and oar,
But memories remained to haunt the mind
Of angry gods who'd chased him to that shore
Where she was queen. How could he hope to find
The spiritual resources, left from war,
To stay true to his mission, through those nights,
Yet satisfy her boundless appetites?
He'd known it from the moment he had seen
Her regal gaze appraising him, she who
Had suffered storms herself, and now was queen
To people who were hazarding anew
To build a city. Yes, that noble mien,
But in those eyes he saw the passion, too--
With Cupid in her lap, those squirming hips,
She asked to hear their story . . . from his lips.
And so he'd told about the fall of Troy
As she looked on, enamored by the tale,
While in her lap, in likeness of his boy,
A god applied those charms that could not fail (55)
To work upon that passion, Venus' toy,
By Venus sent, as male protecting male.
When they were done, a woman went to bed
Where lustful thought ran madly through her head.
How could he put to sea, abandon her
Who was his queen . . . despite her searching eyes.
She'd feel betrayed. And she'd respond! She'd lure
Them back to burn their ships! She'd now despise
The memories of moments when they were
Lost in each other's arms. "I hope he dies!"
Her passions in a whirl, "If not his wife . . .
Into her heaving breast she plunged the knife.
And then he saw the flames light up the night.
It seemed at first that all of Carthage burned,
As Dido's funeral pyre cast its light
Far out to sea. His destiny had turned
His face from hers, but now, his eyes closed tight,
He saw hers glare! Her scorn was what he'd earned.
Those burning eyes would see him down in hell--
Her curse would take their peoples there as well. (56)
DIDO AND AENEAS(A Sestina)
Presents the conflict of Olympian gods--
Begun in water, ending in raw fire. Aeneas
Aeneas comes to Carthage, does not die lands.
In Juno's storm at sea. Saved by his fate,
He's introduced to Dido--and the game.
And Venus thinks, "Aha! My kind of game!"
For she's the goddess ruling over love. Venus
Aeneas is her son--she knows his fate, lays
But still she fears the wiles of other gods. her
Not wanting this, her favorite son, to die, plans.
She sends another, Cupid, with his "fire."Aeneas tells about another fire,
About the Trojan horse, another game, Aeneas
The game of war, where many players die. tells of
And as he tells his story, Dido's love, the Fall
Whet well by Cupid, cruelest of the gods, of Troy.
Supplies the appetite for her own fate.To couple with Aeneas is that fate.
They find a cave, but have no need for fire-- They
The heat has been provided by the gods meet
To reach this climax in their mating game. in the
The storm outside but echoes their fierce love, cave.
As, lying in his arms, she thinks she'll die. (57)
Prophetic touch! She is the one to die,
The one the gods will sacrifice to fate, Aeneas
For Jupiter, despising mortal "love," is
Sends Mercury to feed a different fire, ordered
"Get on your way! Renounce this woman's game! to leave.
You go found Rome! By order of the gods!"
He leaves, leaves Dido cursing all the gods Dido
As she decides, "I have no choice . . . but die!" curses
She builds the funeral pyre. "Damn this game! them
Damn you, and all your people, and their fate!" all
She falls upon his sword. They light the fire, and
Which lights the sky far out to sea, with love. dies.
Thus ends the game that Dido played with fate--
The gods looked on, content to watch her die, Envoy
Consumed by fire, ignited by her love. (58)
in Inscape, Fall, 1992Published in Inscape,"The bridge of dreams"--the phrase reverberates--"In something less than half a month,"WILMA
As I was telling Terry,
"Miss Wilma Marshall . . . at her peak . . .
Our best friend, Tom, will marry!
We've come to know her 'special style'
As she's come here to bowl,
And," I told him, "I'll be best man . . .
I much prefer that role."
He laughed, because I hadn't laughed,
And shook his head at that.
"You'd be best man," he smiled and said,
"If you were not so fat.
But surely Tom can't marry her . . .
She's such an ugly girl!"
"How can you use that spiteful word . . .
Because her hair won't curl?"
"Well, for a woman, she's too tall--
Six inches over me."
"That may be her best feature, though--
Think how far she can see."
"But," Terry said, "we see her, too--
You have to think of that--
A face to frighten any child . . .
Set off by her weird hat."
And Terry laughed to think of it,
"It's quite an ornament!
And then her legs--so badly bowed
(Some wags say 'pleasure bent')
That you could drive a truck between
That pair of knobby knees--
But don't look up! You'd be struck blind
By what the devil sees. (59)
Each knee seems bent on going off
Its independent way,
Disputing where they're taking her
And where her feet may stray,
About her next selection--
The way she handles everything
And thinks about direction.
She can't be going straight ahead,
While looking back at you--
If you're the one she's walking with--
So keeps you wondering, too.
She walks so fast she'll always be
A step or two ahead
But, though she's talking constantly,
You can't tell what she's said.
As you come tagging after her
Not sure which way you're going
You may forget why you're along
In watching what she's showing.
That pear-shaped rear gives her whole shape
A bottom-heavy look,
And moves in such arrhythmic ways
A friend would say it shook.
But take away those match-stick legs,
And push her over once
And you'd expect she'd bob back up,
A roly-poly dunce."
That brought a smile to Terry's face
Imagining the sight.
"Stop making fun of her," I said,
"Close to her wedding night." (60)
That only made him go right on--
That hedonistic lout--
"Her arms are long and thin as well,
Her elbows pointing out
They'll poke you in the ribs at times,
Provoking her to frown,
And match her knees in awkwardness
When she is sitting down.
But even though her arms are long
Her fingers are so short
That she wears mittens when it's cold,
No matter what the sport,
And when those hands are hanging loose,
Down level with her rump,
They emphasize those rounded curves
That look so firm and plump,
In such a wild geometry
That even Tom remarks,
'A motion like twin pendula
Whose sympathetic arcs
Swing in and out unevenly
To taunt you when she walks.'
It makes you dizzy watching her--
Though everybody gawks,
All watching as she comes along
From half a block away."
"You paint a pretty picture, pal,"
Was all that I could say.
"Yes, that abstracted silhouette,
Whichever way you meet
Approaching or just passing by,
Or even in retreat, (61)
You might not call provocative
If you're a normal man,
May even feel that some mistake's
Been built into the plan,
That Mother Nature slipped a cog
In adding up the parts . . .
In putting them together, too,
Too many stops and starts."
Then here came Tom, as Terry laughed
Regarding Wilma's charms.
"What is it, Tom," said he to him,
"Leads you to Wilma's arms?
The novel way she combs her hair
Before she sallies out?"
Tom knew he'd make a joke of it
(What Terry was about),
And said, "How can I best describe
The beauty of that hair?"
"Well 'flaxen' . . . as a compliment . . .
Suggests why people stare.
It isn't that her hair is coarse,
And, when she keeps it clean,
It's blonde--or red, or lightish brown--
Or somewhere in between."
"You put your arm around her, and
In texture it is fine."
"But that peculiar color, then,
Just trickles down her spine,
Like something growing in a field
That hasn't seen much rain.
But where has it been growing from?
It must be from her brain! (62)
And yet it isn't growing up--
It hangs down to her waist,
Which makes the way she fixes it
Transgress the rules of taste.
In fact the color makes it look
Much like a well-used mop
That hadn't been rinsed out too well
When someone let it drop.
And when has it been combed or brushed
Or treated to a 'perm'?
So thinking of the hair alone
Is 'beauty' quite the term?"
"No, Terry, it's sure not her hair,"
Friend Tom was quick to say,
"That makes me want to marry her . . .
Some day it may be gray."
"But, Tom, there's virtue in that hair--
It's covering up her ears!
(Though I suppose by doing that
It limits what she hears.)
Enormous ears, with heavy lobes--
That hanging-fruit motif,
Picked up from down below it seems
To serve in bas-relief.
Then eyebrows slanted half askew,
Highlight amazing eyes
That always look surprised to see,
You joking with us guys--
Or things they look at every day,
Like trees, or even birds,
Will make the pupils widen out,
Seem baffled beyond words." (63)
"Those eyes," I said, "are half past blue,
In perfect innocence."
"Exaggerating that surprise--
And making others tense.
But then you know that it's her nose
Attracts attention first,
Though no one mentions it to her,
Afraid the dam might burst!
One look and people turn away
Before they start to laugh,
While tourists, in a state of shock,
Will snap a photograph,
All hypnotized, despite themselves,
By that imposing nose!"
"If only she could fence," Tom said,
"You'd see her strike a pose . . .
For I think she might then become
A female Cyrano,
First take on Terry--then the rest--
Each mocker one more foe."
"It isn't only size, of course,
Its color is all wrong,
Against the whiteness of her face
It stands out red and strong.
It makes me think of Tokyo
Where I once saw a play
With actors playing female roles
In faces white as clay.
If one of them had blown his nose
On tissue smeared with red
It might have looked a lot like hers--
As if his nose had bled." (64)
"A rose set in a bank of snow,"
Tom smiled as he replied.
"Well then it is a wilting rose,
That looks like it just died.
The tip droops slightly down and left
Just where the pink begins."
"At least that pink's not drink induced--
Like your last girl . . . who sins,"
Said Tom, "for when it comes to vice,
My Wilma's most bizarre--
I've never seen her take a drink,
Or loiter in a bar."
"And yet her chin is pointed up,
As sometimes with a witch,
So that huge nose appears to be
The center of a ditch,
Bisecting that long oval face
Framed by that mop of hair,
Which gives the smile she often wears
A slight hint of despair.
Abstracting out the principle
That captures the grotesque,
It makes it seem her make-up's been
Adapted from burlesque,
The mouth set perpendicular
As if just half in jest
To break the long monotony
That is her face at rest.
Then what is dipping into it?
The tip of that long nose!"
"Well, maybe, then, it's not her smile,
Her posture, or her clothes, (65)
Or combinations of all three,
Have captured Tom," I said.
"It must be something more remote . . .
Or something done in bed."
"It's certainly not her relatives,"
We all of us agreed,
And laughed as we considered them--
A most peculiar breed.
"Her father might impress someone
As quite a friendly guy,"
I said, before my genial friends
Went on to amplify,
"But he has lived a wasted life
Spent selling useless things--
And never in the quantities
Successful sales work brings."
"Her mother never sold a thing
Or made a single friend
She just offended everyone
As if that were her end--
Began by telling each and all
Exactly what she thought,
But never paid a compliment
So left them all distraught."
"Then people say, 'Good Grief has called'
(Though that is not her name)
And try to make a joke of it,
Or treat it as a game."
"But Wilma's sister," Tom spoke up,
"Is like a breath of spring,
A friendly and vivacious girl
Who laughs at everything. (66)
She must have made a million friends
While she was here in school--.
But didn't feel obliged to stay,
Made it her golden rule,
To do without this whole damn town.
'I think that I can learn,'
She said, departing for KU--
And never did return.
I guess that she was just fed up."
"Enough to leave the nest--
Had had enough to last her life
Of Momma and the rest."
"But brother Wilfred stayed at home,
Was not about to leave,
'Go out and work' is one bad thought
He never could conceive.
'They've tried to make me in the past . . .
Would try to make me now,'
He oft laments as he lies prone
And wrinkles up his brow.
A personally obnoxious boy,
He'll eat up all the treats,
If Tom brings Wilma anything . . ."
"(I always bring her sweets)" . . .
"Put out where he can get at it,
And takes more than his share--
As they watch television shows
He'll lick the platter bare."
"That selfish nerd is sure to eat
More than the two of them
While making snotty comments on
The movie he'll condemn-- (67)
Which only he finds laughable."
"Enough to make him laugh,
Then laugh again remembering,
Like some bad phonograph."
"It makes you think that you have heard
A donkey in his stall."
"Or one there in the living room . . .
Who on the couch doth sprawl."
"Her mother's sister lives next door
So she is close at hand."
"Aunt Ida of those righteous vibes
So quick to reprimand.
The most repugnant person that
I think I've ever known,"
Said Terry, as he shook his head,
In his world-weary tone.
"Her candor is belligerent,
And aimed at everyone
Developed by competing with
Her sister and her son.
She's always been so slovenly
In everything she did
The only dirt you cannot see's
The dirt that she has hid."
"The place she lives in, all alone,
With Uncle Silas gone,
Seems like an old deserted house,
Until the lights go on,
As it moves into evening--
Then it becomes the pits,
For she keeps cats, but really "keeps"
Is not the word that fits. (68)
'Accumulates' is twice as apt,
For cats are everywhere,
And cats now set the ambiance--
Their odor and their hair."
"Her Uncle Horace lives near, too,
A very patient man,
A bachelor who'd live alone
(At least that was his plan),
But spent days at the library
A step across the street
And there he met a friendly girl
He had not planned to meet.
He took her home to meet them all--
Aunt Ida said, 'Good Grief!
We let him out . . . and look at this . . .
It's just beyond belief!'"
While we had all been looking at
The family in review,
Their hidden virtues were not found--
"Now see what you can do,"
We said to Tom, "Please tell us what
You like about this girl,
Why finding Wilma you now feel
You've found that 'choicest pearl.'"
"I must admit it still is true
My reasons are obscure.
When we were all in school," he said,
"I hardly noticed her.
She never did like school, of course,
Since plane geometry,
When old Miss Hawkins, in eighth grade,
Would fail us all with glee. (69)
We all knew what a pain she was,
A sadist and a prude,
And making fun of students was
Her main delight . . . if rude.
'You couldn't solve that problem, dear?'
She smiled in great delight--
To make a total fool of you
For everyone in sight,
And ridiculing Wilma's score
Was sure to bring a smirk--
For Wilma never ever saw
A problem she could work,
Not under pressure, on the spot,
Or even afterwards,
Off by herself when she had time
Just list'ning to the birds.
That set the pattern for her life--
She always hated school,
So took no part in leading cheers,
By field or court or pool--
Not in the band, not in the plays--
She held herself aloof,
A ghost out in the hallway . . .
A fiddler on the roof."
I laughed, "Ungainly ghost," I said,
"But then she read a lot--
And wrote a lot, some stories, too,
With character and plot--
Did better in her English class
Than she could do in math."
"That helped her get her first good job,
And set her on her path. (70)
Once out of school, she went to work
Where once her father worked
His old insurance company,
Where certain memories lurked.
The man she works for now had been
Her father's long-time boss,
Pretending to be such a sport
But one you shouldn't cross.
He smiled just as her father had--
Was just as phony, too,
So Wilma knew the pattern well,
And which things were taboo.
They said he'd always make a pass
At each new girl he hired,
But when it came to Wilma's turn
It seemed his lust expired--
Just couldn't bring himself to make
That overture to her.
She did her work, and life went on--
She always called him 'sir.'"
"So now," I said, "You must admit
Her sexual appeal,
Has had the power to turn off
This city's best known heel,
And her peculiar family,
Has no appeal at all,
For any friends she might bring home
They'll run right up the wall.
So once again I'm asking you
To tell the six of us
What you see when you look at her
You think's so fabulous." (71)
"Well, most the folks who know her best
Consider her a friend--
Not only likable," said Tom,
"But faithful to the end.
Her best friend, Marjorie Defoe,
Is quick to sing her praise,
For she's the one she counts on most
To help her put on plays--
Down at her church three times a year.
She says, 'Why she's my chum.
For Wilma learns so quickly while
Those others are so dumb.
I wish I could convince her that
Her place is on the stage.'"
"She treats her like a daughter, though,
For she is twice her age."
"And she lives on the other side
From Wilma's crazy aunt
Aunt Ida, who has all the cats,
And loves to rage and rant."
"It's not surprising Wilma finds
A refuge there in Marge
From all the members of her clan--
The contrast is so large."
"In any case, she'd found her way
To Marge's big back yard,
Where, finally, she'd found a friend."
"With Marge that isn't hard,
For Marge is into everything
From church work to Red Cross,
Perhaps the Welcome Wagon, too--
With most things she's the boss. (72)
Now Wilma works with her a lot
And doesn't care what at,
When kids play there, she plays with them--
Brings her own glove and bat."
"You think it's how she acts with kids
That shows the best in her?
That there with them she's showing you
The side that you prefer?"
"It has to be one thing, my friend . . .
The fact she's good with kids . . .
But probably much more than that,
It's things she underbids.
It's not good looks, or friendliness,
Or meeting guys in bars,
Her attitudes toward fun and games,
On money or on cars.
Responsibility's the key
To what I think of her--
She'll always do the hard things first
Is not one to defer.
And then she loves the arts so much,
While most girls hardly care--
Those concerts, plays, and symphonies--
To spend their evenings there.
That makes her much more interesting,
Shows magnitude of soul."
"And then, of course--the biggest thing--
The way that she can bowl."
Tom laughed. "That's where I met her first,
You know--this place right here--
As one of our opponents in
The bowling league last year. (73)
I may have known her name from when
We both were in first grade.
But what made me remember was
The first strike that she made.
When that fantastic figure loomed
As she approached the line,
I thought she might release the ball
On her foot . . . or on mine!
She had the highest score of all
The women who were there--
The best in that whole tournament . . .
And did it with some flare.
Her concentration won our praise--
Which was no accident--
You told her she had perfect form
(She loved that compliment)."
"The women we had on our team
Were mostly drinking beer."
"More than the fellows, that's for sure,
The first time she played here."
"So competition was not keen--
They weren't too hard to beat,
Since Wilma didn't drink a bit,
Was . . . steady . . . on her feet."
"And still she paid for half the rounds,
If you remember that."
"Yes, I remember," Terry said,
"But took no time to chat."
He laughed just thinking back to that
Weird evening in the past,
"I said, 'Thanks for the beer, my dear,'
She smiled, 'Just make it last!'" (74)
"She had the highest average
On their peculiar team,
And you were still our highest man
So paired up like a dream."
"That night brought you together then?"
"As bowlers it was fate!
I wanted her on my own team
Before it was too late."
"But who would marry any girl
Just for her bowling score?"
"Well, that was what first tempted me . . .
Perhaps the shorts she wore!"
Tom said, "I've watched her ever since,
And no girl's beat her yet.
She always does so well, in fact,
I soon began to bet.
As I sat drinking that free beer
She sat down by my side,
And said, 'I think that my team won,
But you and I were tied.'
While we were waiting final scores
She sat there . . . in those shorts . . .
And asked if I was in'trested
In any other sports.
I told her that I often played
Some tennis at the park
But couldn't play there evenings now
Because it got too dark.
She asked if I'd be up to it
The next day, about noon,
Or would I be too tired, or . . .
Well, would that be too soon. (75)
And then she saw the scores and left
Assuming I would come.
I stayed to finish off my beer
(Because I still had some).
So, I assumed that she assumed
That I would meet her there,
And there I was, with all my gear
Prepared to take her dare.
And we've been playing ever since
As happy as can be--
She's quite a whiz at tennis, too,
Can beat me easily,
Though I can beat most of my friends
(Including all of you).
She concentrates so seriously
Which I can never do.
Her serve is not spectacular
Nor is her volley great,
But always seems to stand where she
Can hit that volley straight.
And every aspect of the game
She handles just as well
And does it all so comfortably
She had me in her spell.
Her serve is almost always in,
Then three steps in she'll flit,
Toward the net, where her long arms
Reached every shot I'd hit,
Gave her the angles she could use
To put the ball away.
I'd stand there looking as it passed
Expressing my dismay. (76)
Time after time that second shot
Would give the point to her.
I almost never won a game--
Then she'd say, 'Sorry, sir,'
But never let me win a point,
By feeding me the ball--
She made me work for every shot--
I liked that best of all.
Then I began to visit her
Just dropping by her house,
And found that she has other gifts
Than filling out a blouse.
She plays piano well enough
That I could stay all day
Just sitting in her living room
And listening to her play.
She'd never played in band at school,
Where I played clarinet
(First chair the last two years I played--
And think I would be yet),
So she surprised me when she played
The West Side Story score
From first to last so beautifully
I felt my spirit soar.
So I'll admit, in music, too,
She's better than I am,
But sometimes take my clarinet
Persuading her to 'jam.'
And why she drives the car she does
Makes perfect sense to me--
She has no plans for out of town
And needs no room for three. (77)
And what she reads, and eats, and says,
The things she cares about,
Agree with my desires and tastes,
So I have little doubt
She must begin to feel toward me
The way I feel toward her--
Appearance, voice, the way she walks,
I find I now prefer.
And she has such abilities
In tennis, golf--or chess!
You're criticizing how she looks--
I say, 'Watch her undress.'
Her skills, her talents, fully clothed
Began to win me first
But then the things she does . . . at home
Have added to my . . . thirst."
"So you're convinced you'll marry her?"
I asked. Tom smiled at me.
Then Terry added, "Here she comes--
I hope the beer's still free."
And it was true. There Wilma came,
In time for us to bowl.
Tom tied his shoes and smiled at her
And picked a ball to roll.
She said "hello" and smiled at him,
And something in her smile
As she looked at the rest of us
Showed confidence . . . and style.
"Not only that," Tom said to me,
As she laced up a shoe,
"But she and I are sure we can
Out-bowl the two of you." (78)To buildA BRIDGE OF DREAMS(In Five Cinquain)
A bridge of dreams
Is still the poet's job
Then to take the reader across
With himI likeTo meet a friend
To step outdoors
And shake hands with my friend
The rain whenever I see it
Go byWaitingOr catch a bus
For the last bus
I look up at the stars
And wonder who is looking back
At meTwilightOr speculate
Likes to linger
Remembering the sun
Before turning to acknowledge
Among the poet's dreams
And marvel at the miracle
Of words (79)THE BRIDGE OF DREAMS
Suggesting flights of spirit, or of mind,
Transcending all that's physical, that waits,
Along with poor mortality, behind.
To pass beyond the sense of time and place,
To find pure Being in infinity,
To contemplate the Godhead, see the face
Of all that's faceless, all we cannot see,
Become as one with nothing, and with all,
Embracing past and future in a breath.
And if the world you left behind should call,
Respond with cosmic laughter, saying, "Death,
You have no power over me, it seems,
For I've escaped. I've crossed the bridge of dreams." (80)
Fall 1992.From deepest sleep I'm shocked awakeVIETNAM NIGHTMARE
(In Memory of Robert Frost)
A native girl beside a lake
A jagged scar across her face
I shudder for that poor child's sake
The dress ripped loose once trimmed in lace
Exotic hints of unknown race
The dark eyes shining hard and bright
In keeping with her cold embrace
A victim of unreasoning fright
I lie awake through half the night
Afraid to trust myself to sleep
But just as frightened of the light
There in the dark I hear her weep
Or she hears me for I can't keep
My soul from that strange psychic leap . . .
My soul from that strange psychic leap (81)