From On Location
Woman in Blue
Oda Peters, oil on canvas, early 20th century
A young woman, soft slope of shoulder, tilt
of head, a teal dressing gown which shimmers
like silk in the dun-colored room.
She’s perched at the edge of a bed without frills,
bare walls, dull light casting shadows.
Something I can’t see in a small jewel box
has captured her attention. Perhaps
a silver barrette set with turquoise he bought
for her on their trip to New Mexico, where
a palette of clay, sand, and burnt sienna fires
imagination, but here in this room fades to quietude.
She fingers the object as if to recapture
that moment, when he unclasped the barrette,
releasing a flood of ash blonde round her shoulders,
but only that once. Perhaps he died in a war
or left her for somebody else; no matter the truth,
she has coached her heart to live in the past.
From Detours & Diversions
On Not Being Al Hirt
Everyone said he looked like Al Hirt,
a big man, same hairline and trimmed beard,
so people often mistook him for the trumpeter.
When he was walking though town, or,
more often, in a club he liked to frequent,
strangers would ask for his autograph.
He was a jazz fan from fusion to Dixieland,
wished he had musical talent; his creative juices
spent designing destruct packs for missiles
that went off course. He would tell me
blowing up million dollar Tomahawks
was not his dream job.
Every few years, he disappeared
into the mountains outside Fresno,
roughed it in a log cabin where
he hand-tied delicate fishing lures,
despite a misshapen thumb, splayed
open when he was a kid. Honey in the Horn
was his favorite album. For anyone
stopping by for a beer or to shoot the bull,
he’d play that music, the stutter step
of Java announcing he’d come home.
Still Life with Dead Rabbit and Flugelhorn
Though your work is rendered with exquisite
detail, we were not convinced that is a trout
on the pewter plate, but rather a catfish,
with all those whiskers. Is the three-tined
fork suspended in mid-air over the fish
meant to titillate our taste buds?
The symbolism of six long-stemmed roses
stuck in the wedge of Stilton and shamrocks
floating out of the donkey’s mouth eludes us.
After closely examining the painting,
we are unable to find either the dead rabbit
or the flugelhorn, which, by the way, no one
plays anymore. The window painted black
resting on an easel dominates the work.
Consider a new title:
Window Painted Black Resting on an Easel.
Get rid of everything else, then line up
five clementines to balance the palette.
From A Siege of Raptors
A Scurry of Squirrels
I nearly back my car into a pole whose sign reads:
Beware – Squirrel Crossing. Scribbled block letters
blurred from countless drenchings.
If you live in this town, you know the squirrels,
black furry rodents, grown fat and arrogant.
Myth says they live only on the college campus.
If so, they’ve multiplied well beyond their map.
Fearless, they’ll flash gritty teeth like a sneer.
If hungry, they’ve been known to kill.
The BBC reports that in the Maritimes,
black squirrels attack and gut a barking dog,
then scamper off, jaws clamped on bits of flesh.
A witness said, No pine cones in the park this year.
Our town’s rich in acorns and firs; yet, I step
warily outside my car and scan the street.
From One Stands Guard, One Sleeps
Leah at Octoberfest
Elmo and Sponge Bob were there
and a fairy princess in pink and white net,
Spiderman and clowns,and pumpkins too,
and scarecrows in chewed-up felt hats.
But Leah, with a hot dog in her left hand,
a jug of blue juice in her right, couldn’t take
her eyes off the monster she didn’t have
a name for yet: Grim Reaper– hooked nose,
red eyes, black cloak, bloody cardboard scythe –
and two paces behind him a pint-sized double.
From the pony ride, the plastic bubble trampoline,
the haystacks she kept lookout for the monster.
Then he was in front of her coming closer.
She dug into her pocket for the handful of stones
she’d collected and was about to fling them
in his direction, when he suddenly squatted and tied
the shoelaces of his side-kick sitting on a bench.
Look, she shouted, he’s a Daddy,
and dismissed him as only a child can.
From Down to the Quick
Sometimes What We Miss
When she heard the child cry out,
her right arm jerked to a grotesque angle,
fingers splayed and froze.
She dragged her twisted right leg,
foot curled inward, as she limped
across the floor.
From its crib, the child reached out perfect arms,
kicked its bare feet against the bars,
insistent like a ragged shutter
on a windy night.
With her left hand, she squeezed rigid
fingers into a fist, bent her shoulders
and gently scooped the child with her forearms.
Gurgling, the child nuzzled against her neck.
She crooned a lullaby of lemon trees
and goat bells tinkling,
the music of laughter
of shoes dancing, hands clapping
to the beat of the tarantella.
From Midwestern Memories
On this dun-colored afternoon,
the lake is posted with red flags.
Peter and I lace up our skates.
Gathering speed, he turns and glides
backwards, luring me further
and further past the field house, past
rowboats overturned on the dock.
Water gurgles in the reeds; creak
and moan of shifting ice.
As I sprint toward the dam’s rushing
spill, a fierce tug on my scarf.
We tumble and roll. The ice holds.