after Donald Justice
I ask if you are comfortable, but the white Phoropter
is falling toward you soberly.
Two holes burrow against your eyes. There is a
conspiracy of dim lights in my favor.
And straight ahead my charts illumine the order
of unclear letters, of lines that diminish elsewhere.
I know the calibrations to set here. I
am clicking back lenses meant to improve your vision.
This is the election, if not the solution,
number one or number two. My hand
dozes off in the vagueness of your astigmatic choice--
large, fuzzy Democrats or Republicans sharp and shrunken.
You vote. The charts disappear for now.
The Phoropter rises smoothly out of sight.
The light in the hall, the prescription in your hand.
You are finished. You remember my breathing.
from Beyond Modesto
At The Pool
after Donald Justice
Six or seven bodies surface here, moving to and fro.
And on the fiberglass board over deep water
That one all morning has practiced flopping his hairless torso
To the sound of fast limbs repeatedly slapping.
A handful of the devoted, dressed down to narrow trunks,
Crouch on the edge near choppy water--nothing to do
But watch us break down, gasping and soaked, in webs of light.
The lifeguard tower is empty; on its side
A huge clock is ready for tomorrow's race. But I
Am impressed today by plastic goggles, O strange and bracing!
Diving under, we pass a border made transparent
By aquamarine walls strung with black lines
Like nets dropped down after a short ocean cruise.
Recreational Swim: Twelve:Thirty to Two.
from Beyond Modesto, published first in West Wind Review (Spring 1984)
Slick This Evening
on our bodies,
the water oils our limbs
as we thrash out forty laps in the pool.
I am watching
through plastic goggles
the buffet of your legs against the surface,
the squirm of your hips--
your hands arcing for a place
cup, and move on.
Or if you're wriggling back,
passing by me in the other lane,
I am half-looking
at your torso
lounging its weight,
staggering is propulsion and momentum
to the shallow end.
But when I lean against tan tiles,
standing up, refreshing my lungs a moment
before another round,
and your right hand touches my left
along the scupper,
arriving and departing with a roll,
I think I could inhale without drowning,
expelling breath in underwater words.
for Steve Hendrix, poet, scholar, stock broker, and triathlete
John Unterecker: A Conversation, Even Now
"Amplify," he said, "the imagery embedded
even in abstract language; it's there
under the covers--between fresh sheets--
and etymology can often hear, smell, see,
taste, or touch it."
"Look into a teaspoon, for example,"
he added, "Your mirror image is upside down."
"A poem might start off like that," he reflected
further, "then run out of steam. Every line should build
on the preceding, or on the proceedings."
"Until the kettle starts to boil?" I asked.
"No, until it starts to sing!"
Boy Undressing in the Second Grade Cloakroom
after Theodore Roethke
Jackets drooping over brass knobs and hooks,
Cardigans snagging along the splintered wall,
The yellow-waxed floor accusing our scuff marks,
In that cramped corner, loud light from the transoms,
A few boys running in from the hallway,
But one, half asleep, unbuttoning his shirt, unclasping his suspenders,
And the girls next to him pointing and giggling.
At The Terminal
after Eugenio Montale
The baggage conveyors squealed
to the clatter of wheels rotating,
the plates flattened
into their geometry of voracious toothmarks.
stopped outside the glass door
as a shout of a lifting skycap broke through,
frazzled by his trolley-hauls--then, a jet took off.
Harried and breathless,
I was beclouded
by you. Your silhouette
was my open grasp, your arms
joined with my waist, and the red
essence of life rose up
inside fitting cells, in human
noise, in spontaneous grins,
in extended lobs from hands--
on me, on you, and onto the baggage.
from Beyond Modesto, published first in West Wind Review (Spring, 1984)
for William Stafford
The straight man on the panel
lets the other guys' mouths
flap on for a while.
These seaside townsfolk--
Seattle, New York, L.A., D.C.--
may call the shots in spicy
language, the sun rising or
setting on their defenses.
So many waves collide on their shores.
It's '69. And many have gone
surfing in turbulent waters
near our college campus. The bigger
the swell, the greater the danger
The straight man on the panel
lets his eyes drift; there's a half
smile, a half blush. Now
he clears his throat.
Then, for a while, I'm no longer
fleeing the draft, reminded
that the world, though still at war
is also expansive--
warm, indoor places, a mythic
Kansas of second cousins, great aunts
and uncles who always ask you "to set
yourself down" in their upholstered chairs,
whose consonants drift on
flattened vowels, slow
and well meaning.
That language still holds me
up, flips me over
even on this edge.
from Beyond Modesto, published first in Oregon English Journal (Fall, 1995)
The World Wide Web Like That First Frisbee Twirling At You
A round slice of white plastic, the lid of some alien object--
horizontal with folded-down edges, positioned on fingertips
(a right arm lolling, then swinging loose with the flick
of the wrist)--airborne for a spell and twirling at you,
then cleverly curling and bouncing on the dry grass, where
you lean, thinking, "How on earth do I catch on to this?" from Beyond Modesto
What God's Finger Actually Touched
"The Cone Nebula resides in a turbulent region
in the constellation Monoceros. It's located
2,500 light-years from Earth." Caption with Hubble News Photo, 2002
Not only must the Roman Catholic hierarchy become "more catholic"
(Meaning more expansive, more universal), now they must also
Make extensive revisions to the very-recently-restored ceiling
Of the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo himself would insist on.
Let's face it: half a millennium of recanting infallible errors
Is small potatoes compared to five times as many light-years.
True, that means God's own right-hand index finger
Might have to stretch a long, long way: instead of Muscle-
Bound Adam, semi-somnolent, reclining on his elbow--but
Still responsive to live performance--He now touched
The Cone Nebula in Monoceros, that, like a sea anemone,
Was already opening red and white colors atop one
Column of gray gases, and then appears, eons later, to close.
Future artists may make further constructions concerning
The evolution of Tadpole Galaxies in tandem--millions
More light-years afar. Movements in Art often seem crazy
At the moment. Fortunately for us all--stars, creeds, anemones,
Tadpoles, humans--opening and closing has become a constant
Habit of deities, hierarchies--boldly embodied in space and time.
from Beyond Modesto
L. A. 2001
I wanted to frame a grief again,
And already the decaying reek from French publishers' mucilage
Has wafted [E]Quality out of doors, banished with cracked
Leather binding forever by dry desert winds--searing Santa Anas--
Once thought hermetically-sealed piece of Montparnasse,
Definitely Rive Gauche: La Cite' des Livres, now closing February, 2001.
Gone the volumes of Proust, Balzac, Camus that, likely, rarely
Sold, but insulated the walls from long-gone Spanish,
Longer-gone pre-Revolutionary Russian neighborhood bookstores,
Created ample space for stimulating Langue et Parole, happy European
Modular moments with a civilizing mission among a nation of limitless
Storefront sets that movie Los Angeles at home and at work.
Now with the Santa Ana still howling I think of Ginsberg, ne' Walt
Whitman, and his barbaric yawp: The Museum of Contemporary Art
Has hired billboards and written up descriptions of local objects trouve's.
Everything pieces that movie at much more than twenty-four frames
Per minute, even the unlabeled, homeless Mother Courage pushing
Her Vons or Lucky shopping cart and her few remaining possessions
Therein contained. from Beyond Modesto
after Denise Levertov
She watched on too long.
Now she turns around
to face her past reluctance
going up in smoke. Rigid, she gasps, knowing
that curved buttocks--formerly so smooth,
so supple, so determined in their motions
toward her daughters--are burning--literally burning--
unlike the lambent heat of their unquenchable lust.
Her daughters don't give it a second thought.
No looking back--even at the salty statue
that is still their mother--
no looking back at all.
Eyes closed, they enjoy
whatever comes their way. There are people
like that wherever you go.
But Lot's wife, ever transfixed,
had imagined copulation. She knew ripeness
is tasted or is lost and lamented.
Regret is a sea of salt filling a desert valley,
buoyant but Dead.
She just missed her last chance. Beyond Modesto
Entitled or Not
inside your front door,
a bowl of half-eaten oatmeal
between me and shapely slabs
of inflated sculpture--everyday parts
of any body
but soft, massageable to the touch
like our conversation, ranging
through past and future,
transition, flexibility, renewed effort:
Sisyphus bracing his wrought-iron weight
ready to roll the rock
back up the mountain
it rolls down again to the bottom.
Having little to add here
but far-traveled words--
all my years of study--
I am pressed
to leave and not to leave;
and am gripped
tight in a hug,
embracing a moment of that creation
you have worked
continuously to impress
and to keep impressive.
In that other world,
where all arts are respected,
you'd have a right to demand
life support--the memory
of past accomplishment enough
to be entitled a "state treasure,"
and, since you put down the bowl of oatmeal,
I can't release my hold
in that brief contact
where we are both still standing.
for Shannon Geariety, Mr. Oregon 1990
Bianchi's Out of the Studio
Left alone on the beach, we
might never discover
those lively dancers
out of a dark room:
aftershock of sunlit pools
of lithe, water-slick, muscular
bodies in entangled gestures,
both liquid and firm,
stretched and swollen
into kinetic ripeness,
then arrested and extracted
from a moment, and plastered
on a page.
Having been programmed
for relaxation and assertion,
then suddenly directed
Out of the Studio, maybe
we'd rather get back in,
take off our tinted glasses,
and stop squinting,
adjust again to the dimness,
inhale the emulsions,
rub the slippery enlargements,
pin them up to dry.
Then we might remain
having the leisure
of shiny deception,
pulling ourselves inward
toward a complete, perfectly-
better than anything you'd find
outside among the tired,
sweating bodies on our hot,
frenetic beach. Beyond Modesto