Unlikely poets and their poetry…

poetWhat frightens you the most?

A blank page?

Deadlines?

Words that don’t rhyme?

Noise?

Quiet?

Aspacebarthatdoesn’twork?

What Isn’t There
How many a writer or poet has been ruined
by reading Thoreau’s Walden only to retreat
to her own obscure pond and wait for those
pronounced feelings of nature, god and life,
perched before a blank page, ready to write
infamous words that will change everything
about seeing the sunrise, or a low moon,
the seasonal wrenching of life from death,
or death from life in the anonymous vacuum,
only to end a long, lonely day exhausted
and uninspired by the page called life
with no words to express what isn’t there.

Jack the Poet
Under a bag of old Marshall Field’s boxes,
and on top of a Kodak Carousel projector
tucked in the dark corner of her garage,
all dusty and crawling with dry creatures
is a stack of black binders – four total, dated
and numbered in hindsight 1/4, 2/4, 3/4
and the final, penultimate volume 4/4
of Jack’s poetry – Short Poems on Life
he titled them, by her Dad – Jack, obviously,
typed out with errors and corrections
on that onion-skin paper they used,
complete with a table of contents and
page numbers, so I counted 628 poems
of Jack’s life’s work of thoughts on life
from a man who drove a truck everyday
drank a beer as soon as he arrived home
liked to tinker with model trains some
and somehow over his entire adult life
wrote poems (the rhyming kind) about
everything from his boots to beer to
bosses to friends to family and the boy
he never had to what he wanted to be
when he was a kid to snow and rain to
how stop signs worked to women drivers
and back home at the end of each day,
and I turned each page carefully and
thought that I was the only one to look
at Jack’s Short Poems on Life since he
lost his memory, his wife, his pants
on several occasions, and even his
model trains that would chug and chug
around a modest oval in the basement
for hours and hours, sometimes deep into
the night – two or three – in the dark
except for the tiny lamp of the engine and
the red lantern of the caboose as he
sat on a stool wearing a engineer’s
cap and his pajamas.

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Reminiscing about things that really haven’t changed…

zzzzzzzzzzObservations on a Boys’ High School Tennis Tournament (forty years after my own).

It’s been a while since I spent Spring Saturdays cold and shivering or baking and sunning on May mornings, waiting for the next court to open and hoping I didn’t lose too quickly. High school boys’ tennis hasn’t changed all that much in forty years.

No one is good enough to complain as much as the boys do after every miss (and there are ten or twenty misses for every winner, but one winner is all it takes to justify smashing, slamming and excessively spinning their way through unforced errors – thus, a boy’s life explained). When they miss they still stare at their racquets as if betrayed by a $200 instrument, and then just as quickly fondle and fidget with misaligned strings with the affectionate attention to detail of an aspiring lover.

First serves are as close to 100+ mph as possible, with 99% just missing by inches, or feet – it doesn’t matter. Second serves average 35 mph, but only 25 mph toward the end of the match. It still takes too long to prepare for the first fault – rocking incessantly, bouncing the ball six, ten, fourteen times and tucking and pulling and scratching and wiping in a ceremony certainly learned for nothing this common and comedic could be innate.

Better players still carry multiple racquets in color coordinated bags, and they never need the second, third, or fourth iteration (and you wonder if they actually do match, or does one of them belong to their mother). Grips as now wrapped in white instead of the black or brown of my day, but somehow they remain pristine and unscarred.

Foot faults are as common as acne. Style dominates technique. And imitation is no longer fashionable as it was for us – copying Jimmy Connors or Bjorn Borg or John Newcombe and their idiosyncrasies as well as racquet selection.

Most of the boys are at ease with their own obnoxiousness. They expend so much energy with so little to show for it. But they don’t care because it’s energy they have in abundance, and little corresponding talent.

Coaches are nicer today, but just differently so. They hardly yell insults like they did in my day – mostly at me, it seemed. Sexist insults are absent (or confined to the locker room, which boys tennis doesn’t have, so it takes place in those impromptu team meetings by this or that tree, or the unfortunate and unaware coach who decries the team’s lack of effort beside a garbage can buzzing with flies and bees, dancing from apple core to banana peel and Gatorade bottle).

That is, nothing much has changed in forty years (except for the overwhelming odor of Axe body spray in the air – everywhere).

Elizabeth, Illinois, and other places I’ve driven through…

IL_6107

My Horse
Somewhere along State Rd. 11
winding through sleepy towns
dotting southern Wisconsin is a
small, faded farm house
pushed up to the two-lane
and animals scattered about
the yard with a hand-painted sign
propped against the once white
fence that read, “My horse is old,
not neglected” and it could easily
read that way for the house, barn,
the tractor or even me, I suppose.

Elizabeth, Illinois
I drove through the rows and rows of
look-alike domiciles, with alternating
sprawling industrial parks and ponds
retaining run-off from acres of blacktopped
lots, ribbon striped but vacant – hopeful
for business; hopeful for money to upgrade
to a bigger, better look-alike because won’t
that make everything right. Through
Rockford and beyond, past Winnebago
where I know people but never stopped
myself; and along the bypass around Freeport
where we used to stop for soft-serve, dipped,
by the roadside but not anymore; that
makes me sad and it closed down like so
many businesses bypassed. The story is that
a woman named Elizabeth was so wealthy and
generous she gave free portage to those
seeking a better life – any life – in the Illinois
gold rush of the nineteen hundreds and the
next town earned her name; there was such
a thing – the Illinois gold rush – that drew
immigrants of all colors and flavors, and some
settled and dug and died and are buried in
Lutheran and Catholic cemeteries (because
consecrated ground matters in death just like
in life) all along the ridge known as Terrapin
toward Galena and they’re still buried there
today. I drove slowly through Woodbine
because it’s a speed trap and more slowly
through Elizabeth – it’s always been only seven
hundred people living there because so many
born and raised there don’t stay there and
that might make some mothers sad but I’m
sure some are happy; a couple pick-ups slow
and turn off into farms with porch lights lit,
with fences needing mending, calves in a nearby
pen and an Oldsmobile on the front lawn with
a ‘For Sale’ sign on the window, and they’re
asking for ‘Best Offer.’ The road slopes and
turns over and around the most variegated
terrain of Illinois; two lanes in the binary
back-and-forth of this driving life where
west is sometimes north or at least northwest
and no compass tells you more than the
highway, passing by the homes of real
people happy and sad at the same time
with two hundred channels of cable of all
the world out there but not here. I drove
this road through the lives of so many who
knew exactly where they were and I knew
nothing more than the wheel in my hand,
the mirrors showing the fast fading of what
I’d passed, and what’s next hidden beyond
the next ridge; and so I drove on, and on…

Archaeology and other ways of telling stories…

zzzzcrema_potsherdArchaeology is storytelling.

A potsherd, flecked with bronze color, fine as dust, a broken piece of comb nearby, and we know this was an upper-class family, probably with two servants, enough money for oils (plural) – maybe for ritual sacrifice to a patron deity or private cultic ceremony honoring a father or a father’s father; the woman of the house would use the comb to capture her long, flowing brown hair flecked with sun-streaked strands she might have used the comb to highlight in social prominence or hide in embarrassment of her southern genealogy, yet as the wife and mother in this midlands household she would have been afforded deference, the home actually like a small estate with rock walls demonstrating ownership as well as creating a rare sense of privacy; and the male would hire laborers to tend the fields to the east with wheat or barley but probably not great success as the arable land extended just several hundred meters to a rocky and abrupt incline hardly useful except for the children to climb until summoned home by their mother who has put her hair up using a fine comb, and her voice is either strong and confident or embarrassed.

Bill + Mary
Bill + Mary in the shape of a heart
remains, somehow, to be unearthed,
discovered, dated and recorded
as archaeological relic in the storytelling
of a science that is not at all that;
it’s been etched, carved or inscribed
in some semi-permanent dust,
covered and cosseted by years
of ignorance of Bill and Mary,
neither royal or memorable
their love may not have been
love at all, it could just as easily
have been Bill’s fantasy, or lust,
or Mary’s romantic dream,
maybe the vindictive jealousness
of a spurned lover Bill and/or Mary,
and of so many other options
come to nothing at all for either,
no courtship or excitement,
proposal, troth pledged,
no toil or nervous first kiss,
nuptial shyness or blushing,
no love at all for Bill + Mary,
but that never stopped
archaeologists before, has it.