I travel to the heavens…

 

…as I was trying to tell you

the other day.

 

I hold myself in

at the kitchen table

 

press skin cells smooth

and then see a clear bag

 

form around me

open on top

 

so force myself sleeker,

hold in even my chin,

 

and when I feel myself

fish-slick,

 

raise my hands over my head

elbows locked, fingers together,

 

poke them through the opening,

feel my body begin to rise

 

then slip through the bag

and suddenly look

 

down on the table

from the ceiling,

 

then down on the roof

from the clouds,

 

and then down on earth

from the heavens.

 

I’d tell you more

but shouldn’t, really.

 

No angels there flapping

their wings, you know.

 

I have seen dead

mothers and fathers

 

and dogs that bark

destruction.

 

I am telling you

don’t ever try this.

 

Movement

As this poem began to take shape, I thought of how movies sometimes begin with a wide shot and then move gradually to a close-up. I have tried to do that here, moving from wide shot to close-up, but then drawing back again to a wide shot. I hope that this movement suggests both how the boy in the poem is part of the scene and how he may be affected by it.

 

Movement

a sere plain from this view     from the skyblue view     of pasture

and wheat    small town off to the side     if you will move in

to note telephone poles     along paved roads      dry ditches

along the dirt ones     and a boy on the bridge     staring at a

still object in dried weeds bent by wind and finally

you can see what he has seen for months:

coyote’s corpse      flesh taken by crow

and vulture and dust-storm     a bit of

fur tangle     in the black-eyed susans

the body     itself      become a

bone-room

the boy staring

at the bones     as he does

with the wind hissing through dry weeds

the wind moaning over the telephone wires

every day      along the road to and from school

that sits     in the nearby town     which is always

on the periphery of his view enclosed     as it is     by broad

pastures of cows and cacti      blonde wheat      near ready

for the combine beneath the too-blue sky in which bob-white

and crow fly over      from this view      the parched Kansas plain

 

 

Second Grade at McKinley School…

in flat-prairie Kansas we wove

in and out from each other

while holding the red and white

paper-mache’ strips, wrapping the maypole

as I commenced to fall in love

with Mrs. Blake, our dark-haired teacher,

who played on black disks orchestral music

that moved us around the pole

that could move me toward love,

 

and I did love her even when I disobeyed

and even when she sent me out

to the porch into the snow for misbehaving,

 

and I loved her even on the spring day

when I walked away from school

during lunch recess, when I felt sad

and I walked down the blocks

with no one coming out to ask

why I wasn’t at school,

 

and at the edge of town

I walked into the park, a place of

trees and grass and a concrete bear pit

where the bear, the only animal in the zoo,

sat sadly but no longer alone

as we looked at each other,

contemplating and commiserating

until I got hungry and walked home.

 

 

 

 

What Did I Hear in My Parents’ Voices…

…that pulled at me?

While younger brothers slept

in adjoining beds,

I, seven, crept close

to the family-room door,

listened to my parents

revealing their fears,

mostly about bills and jobs,

 

Mom lamenting how Dad was

loose with money,

how he’d even gone and bought

a new Plymouth

without consulting her,

that his ruptured disk

threatened his career,

 

Dad reminding her how he

was a club pro now,

had designed golf courses,

and although in pain,

had a bright future,

the surgeon had said.

 

Sometimes they’d realize

that I was close by

and Mom would deride me,

call me “Mr. Big Ears”

and order me back to bed,

where in the dark I

wrestled with their fears.

 

Is depression

the price for

learning empathy?

 

Reconstruction

 

He was never one

for talking much.

For affection

he’d offer

a joke or two.

Then     the stroke:     bro-

ken sentence chunks       unglued syn-

tax   poured from him

some-

times laughing and I

smiling     with his smile

some-

times crying, and well…

Now  empty of words.

 

I wish him

power of syntax

reconstructed,

lithe words to

reinvent his life     to speak

to his wife “love,”

to boggle grandkids

with boy tales of

unleashing brash verbs

upon Hutchinson, Kansas.

Then to play with words:

swing them and slide them,

to monkey around,

barring nothing,

slowly

discovering

his poetry,

 

father

who’d read only

the paper

before.

 

The Shortest Girl in My Sixth-Grade Class…

(This version has been edited since it was first posted.)

 

The Shortest Girl in My Sixth Grade Class…

 

… Little Ginger, liked me

though I was tallest.

Since she’d play tackle football

with me and my two

roughandtough brothers,

and her pa gave us

rides in his Diamond Reo

and said it was okay

for us to play

Little Richard records,

I liked her right back.

 

Carol, soft and wavy,

where Ginger was hard and wiry,

Carol of the black hair over her shoulder

liked me, too, and I liked the way she

blushed when we slow danced.

 

Come Christmas, since they were equal

in my affections, I bought them

with my paper-route profits

identical bottles of cologne

in silvered plastic sleighs.

 

By ninth-grade Ginger had caught pregnancy

from some other guy.

 

“What about Carol?” I wonder.

Did she manage to escape

the imperatives of glossy black hair,

of hunger, of rock and roll rhythms that

tore at the heart?

 

 

 

Border Crossings

In the late 1950’s we lived in a Southern California suburb. Families like mine were moving into areas that had been part of the Spanish empire about one hundred years before, so towns and areas had Spanish names. Different ethnicities, cultures, traditions and even religions were suddenly having to deal with each other. The kids handled the situation better than the parents, partly because romantic attraction often has no borders.

 

Border Crossings

 

1) In the gym Mrs. Plotz played our parents’ music,

taught us to tango the Latin rhythms stirring up

tangled feet tangled feelings so we sweated

hard and laughed and avoided each other’s eyes.

 

2) When Mouse Morales snuck some Playboys to school

guys during passing periods saw women on glossy paper

but suspected by lunchtime they were lies they were

not like any women they had seen.

 

3) To dance, the guy had to leave the pack

of guys, stroll across the gym to the girls

(whisking skirts and whispering) and

ask one who might say “yes.”

 

4) Rosie Cardonas liked my light blue eyes,

would hold my hand in hers for sweetness. One day

she fought Gloria Garrobo between classes,

tore at her clothes her eyes scratching for blood.

 

5) When I asked Rachel for a slow dance we swayed

side to side and no parts touching but our hands and then

I turned my head, saw her grimace to friends,

assessing the quality of my dancing my future.

 

6) Couples were mostly white and white or brown

and brown and some were white and brown,

but for those of us unpaired (impaired)

the borders looked bigger than color.