Prayer

That this job will change you, turn you tender.
That vexation will, unlike coddling, coddle you soft.

That under the dyes, you will go pale with epiphanies.
That after all the meetings and the fêteings, nothing

will prevent some late evening when, alone and awake, you
feel what all of us must one night feel: a chill of prophecy.

That, like the mother who knows at once when first she looks
into the eyes of her child that it will leach the life from her,

deflate the collagen from her cheeks, rob the pertness from
her breasts, steal the lightness from her pre-sleep mind –

your rest likewise will be troubled, niggled by those you serve.
That, if unwillingly, you will be made to see and see and see.

That your tartar’s heart will turn tartare,
a pulp unlike the tough sear you prefer.

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January 19, 2017

Across the creek this morning before sunup, the neighbor’s dogs woke me with their snarling. A skein of geese over the golf course made a hell of a racket, too. They can’t decide whether to fly south or north. Who can blame them for not knowing whether it’s time? This weather is crazy. Who knows what it augurs? If we’re lucky, a mere half-decade of bad luck. Maybe we don’t have so long as that. But enough of that for now. In the capitol, trumpets have been polished till their bells shine like scimitars, been nestled into in their cases, where they sleep in velvet till their blessed tomorrow. Tomorrow the codes pass hands. Tomorrow the job begins. We each must judge which way we’re meant to go. Which undefended hill we’re meant to man. Perhaps last week he did sleep in the Winter Palace, writing on looseleaf paper a string of words to inaugurate the new thing. I look out toward Bear Wallow. Very well, then. I see the lights of the town below us. I turn and look the other way, farther toward Sugarloaf. A few thin and isolated clusters of life twinkling faintly in the valley. Everyone close to his home fires this evening. None of the usual gunfire. Some days we hear semi-automatics through the woods. “Do you know how much those bullets cost?” asks my father. Each quick rattling burst equals a cold six-pack, he insists, in the injured voice of a bookkeeper trying to balance the ledger.

three haiku

I told you goodbye.
You slept, came back from the dead.
So, what to say now?

You found your voice, then
lost it. What are you thinking
Under that morphine veil?

There is a hole in
your throat. Air flows in and out.
It’s for just in case.

At the Express Lube

I tell the man: She is long in the tooth.
I say how far she’s come,
and the telling takes six digits.
When she runs a fever, it’s tougher
these days to cool her down.
Her gears don’t shift smooth
like they used to. Her idle’s rougher.
I have to decide whether to spring
for a treatment to give her more bang,
and a filter to keep out all the bad
in the air, and a new belt, serpentine,
threading rhythm through her bits.
In months, it’s the most attention she’s had.
But it’s brief. Then the hood shuts with a clang.

This Morning I Am Listening to Roger Miller’s Lowest Notes

I saw how she felt, so I sang along.
Not like before, when I wanted the sick
one to follow my cheerful tune. This time
I let the rhythm slow, eschewed the trick

of insisting she’ll be okay. What if the bone
doesn’t heal? What if the rungs of the spine
don’t reknit? I didn’t ask this, understand.
I just unfrowned my brow and took her hand.

She stroked mine, too, said, “Have you
ever seen anything as pretty?” and
of my love, “Is he not the sweetest man?
We rang the bedside bell. In a few,

a nurse arrived to dose her under once
more. Her gaze went blank for the nonce.

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Eating the leftover wine-and-tomato pot roast
that your mother set, finished, on the stove
five minutes before her accident last night,
along with the potatoes she had prepped and peeled
(and which you cooked and mashed
tonight, while she lay in a hospital bed).
It’s very rich. But it’s also like tasting Before.
It’s like tasting What If.

What You Already Know

By the next time you read this, we
will be two different people: me now,
who doesn’t know, and you then,

who do. Whatever happens, over time
you’ll forget, then invent the particulars.
You will wonder what I was thinking

at this moment, as I am wondering
at this moment what you already know:
Did she make it? Did she die?

This is not one of those poems
where the speaker imagines herself
back in that key scene. This is a poem

where that key scene is now:
the speaker is here, me, neck-deep
in these words, and my mother is

in an ambulance, on the way to the hospital,
having rolled and then been flung out
of a vehicle. The poem is happening

even as I type this. The poem is the question:
Will she live to be teased about her tumble?
Will the vegetable soup I made tonight

turn our stomach, that dish never to be
made again, its memories soured forever?
If she goes, how will your stories about her

begin to turn to lies? Because they will.
You will not be able to stop it. All I can
give you is this moment, which you can read

again after whatever happens happens:
Hello. It’s me. This is the present.
Your mother exists on this earth,

in pain, in slurred words, in a neck brace,
moving at eighty miles per hour
on a gurney in the back of

a loud, red-flashing truck.
The pot roast she made this afternoon
for your father still sits, even now,

warm in its pot on the stove.