On Definitions of Love
Many people define "Love Poems" in terms of testosterone and estrogen gone wild. I define it much more broadly in terms of appreciation, affection, empathy, and compassion experienced in what one person has been through with another.
Change Pace Poetry 13
Rapture in the Sun
In memory of E.T.P.
The navel oranges Mom arranged
in her fresh centerpiece I changed
but slightly, picking one to eat
because it looked to be so sweet.
I salivated as I probed
my thumbnail in the rind that robed
the paler plugs inside of it,
spraying the sunlit air, flit by flit.
The rind-oil misted both my hands
with passion only Sun commands.
Inhaled, it was intoxicating!
The quenching plugs? Ah . . . ! Captivating!
In memory of E.T.P.
Come summer evenings in DeLand, we three
(my step-dad, fifty, Momma soon to be,
and I, fifteen), iced drinks in hands, would rock
in wicker chairs on our front porch and talk.
A Harley filled my mind and heart and maw,
but Papa said most drivers never saw
a bike until they hit and killed the rider —
impaled, or thrown, or squashed like some poor spider.
So he proposed he buy a sweet jalopy —
if I would fix it up and not be sloppy,
and help to pay for what would make it hum
with summer work it’d take me to and from.
But I would have to understand it’d be,
though mostly mine, Mom’s too, to use as she
sometimes required, a second car she’d drive
on errands, on a schedule we’d contrive.
“A deal!” I cried. We bought a Model A,
a '31, a Coup Cabriolet,
the wooden roof frame rotted, fabric gone,
no floor, its seats the jaws of a mastodon.
I made mechanical repairs, cut out
of plywood brand new floorboards nice and stout,
engaged a cabinet-maker to frame the roof,
and shellacked it well to make it moisture-proof.
Then Mom, who knew the re-upholstery game,
stretched sewing tape across our new roof frame,
and laid out canvas free of any seam
except for one we’d tack down on each beam.
She must have stuck a thousand pins in it,
until, as smooth as a baseball cap, it fit.
On her machine she stitched each seam with class.
She marked, and I installed, the rear view glass.
We stretched it on. While she snugged tight the slack
to smooth out wrinkles, I drove home each tack.
I sponged on water from the tap while hot
and lickety-split — it dried up nice and taut.
With paintbrush I applied a mold-proof white
deck paint for boats to make it watertight.
I masked the lines of tacks with braid for trim.
More paint filled braid and canvas to the brim.
Next, cushion springs. I learned Mom’s tying knack.
A tough red vinyl covered seat and back,
each trimmed with vivid yellow piping, bright
and cheerful — the doors the same — to my delight.
Now weather-tight, interior done, I sanded
the rusted body spots — until I landed
on shiny steel I primed to hold rust back.
I cross-brushed on two coats of gleaming black . . . .
Mom threw herself into the sewing whir.
I had not guessed she had it still in her,
especially when I think of her gnarled fingers . . . .
What was the greatest joy? — the gift that lingers . . . ?
Perhaps the strife it helped us jettison:
of age, of sex, of roles of mother and son
each grieving loss in a private paradigm . . . .
We lived and worked together in present time.
Change Pace Poetry 12
(On North Carolina’s Outer Banks.)
It was remote back then, three ferry rides
to reach the Lighthouse out on Ocracoke.
We camped on dunes above the highest tides
not far from birders who were gentle folk.
I knew no blues were running Pamlico
but threw my baited surf-line in to see
what luck might bring: A strike! Ah! Nice and slow!
It ran, and tired. I reeled it in with glee.
My watchful wife, our three-year-old in hand,
approached — he ran, kicked sand into the reel.
I got upset. “Too young to understand,”
she said, upset with me. “What must he feel?”
As for the fish: The large-pan rainbow trout
turned gray beneath a sun clouds placed in doubt.
He’d hugged her gently in their puppy love,
which felt like it was more than mere romance,
while brightest sunshine graced her most white glove . . . .
Some say that marriage is a hostage-dance:
The taker and the taken in a trance
exchange their masks. Within, they each grow ashen
in search of that elixir called compassion.
She, the hydraulic engineer,
thrusts to and fro the three ton ram
as he hoists logs so they will shear.
against the wedge, and not just jam.
He must stay conscious — that is key —
and keep his palms and fingers clear
of log ends (where they’d like to be)
or he will pay a price too dear.
The art’s in turning from the wedge,
and to the ram, the log’s knot ends.
The length of log gives wedge an edge —
knot-popping leverage that it lends.
Knot-popping art between these two?
Compassion. In each rendezvous.
Change Pace Poetry 11
Blind Spot in the Restaurant
He gazed obliquely at her dark-lashed eyes
and longed to feel the warmth of their embrace —
to sense, across the room, a charge arise
that might, in time, bring them electric grace
not grounded out by some fool commonplace.
But he was umbra in her optic disk,
invisible — his only warmth was bisque.
How Deep the Night!
Dusk. Standing in a registration line at a global World Peace
Conference in Athens, Ohio, two days following Christmas.
You, your friend, and I:
Too cold to snow? The cloudy day felt sad.
We stood in line on Athens’ windiest hill,
you bundled to your cheeks in black-watch plaid,
your blue eyes watering in the zero chill.
I spoke. Your fish-eye-contacts girl friend, shrill
in her appearance, manner, and her voice,
imposed herself on me, gave me no choice.
Again, to her as well as you, I spoke.
I listened close and hard to her remarks
while you stood silent, stolid as an oak.
At last your name — sweet as two meadowlarks —
escaped her lips, in golden, gliding arcs . . . .
To you: “Could I meet you for supper . . . ? Six . . . ?”
“Thank you, but I’m a weary ton of bricks.
I’m skipping supper for a long night’s sleep.”
“All right — get lots of zizz . . . .” I found my room,
dropped off my bags, and thought to take a peep
about the campus . . . . What? You sat in gloom
upon your bag, your friend threatening doom:
“How will you get your beauty sleep if you
won’t drag yourself to bed? Some flopperoo!”
“Hello, again!” I said. “May I assist
you with your bag?” “The cops won’t let you in.”
“Could tote it to the door.” “If you insist . . . .”
And at the door: “Sure you don’t want some din—”
“Too tired . . . .” “Keep up your strength? And then turn in?”
“That’s a thought . . . . Okay.” “Great! Right here? At six . . . ?”
(How haltingly the second hand now ticks . . . .)
The bitter cold of howling night’s north wind
blew through me on that backless bench of stone
for sixty minutes. I was so chagrined!
Chilled to my bones’ deep marrow, I felt thrown.
Three times I’d left a note with a Dorm Cop crone —
Our dinner date, is it still on tonight?
(Perhaps you’re saying, Scram! Go fly a kite?)
The rail coach fare from Boston (it was cheap)
meant I’d no sleep . . . . So cold in that long line!
So warm, this sudsy tub . . . . Was I asleep?
Who banged the door? This water’s cold, malign.
“Who called my name?” “Some boy wants you to dine
with him but wonders should he fly a kite?”
“Tell him I’m coming — I’ll just have a bite.”
I spotted you hunched over on the bench
and braced myself to tell the simple fact:
“I’m sorry I threw you a monkeywrench.
I climbed down in a nice hot tub — and sacked!
Fell sound asleep! Woke up when someone whacked
the door, read out your note. Forgive me? Please?
It’s so cold out! I hope you didn’t freeze!”
“I do . . . ! Thinking of you, I’m warm! Let’s eat!”
And arm in arm against the cold, we two
strode down the hill and stepped across the street
where J’s and K’s stood in a short neat queue.
Inside, deep warmth . . . . “Broiled chicken-halves! Beaucoup!”
You looked dismayed. “Too much! I couldn’t hope . . . .”
“I’ll cut, remove some — would that help you cope?”
I hailed a busboy for an extra plate.
“Prefer the breast and wing, or leg and thigh?”
“The breast alone, I think, would be just great.”
I took your knife and fork, aligned my eye,
severed the thigh and wing, and put them by.
“Perhaps, now, this won’t kill your appetite . . . ?”
How late we talked and walked . . . ! How deep the night . . . !
Change Pace Poetry 10
In memory of L.S.J.
You lived to climb the wind sock’s luffing breeze —
in Fairchilds, Pitcairn Mail Wings, DC-3's —
almost as much as you had lived to write,
to mount imagination’s wings and flight.
Your writing and your flying (both payed well)
gave way before a pancreatic cell.
Metastasized, it threw you down in bed
to contemplate what clearly lay ahead
for you, your wife, and children you wished now
to spend more time with — what time would allow.
Thus, making each day count as one might gold,
you welcomed, hip and thigh, your five-year-old,
his needling elbow bound in pillow’s truce,
so you could read him rhymes from Mother Goose
and coach him how to read in turn to you.
And writing? How give him a bird’s eye view?
You’d need to model it, if you had time
and strength — neither thicker, now, than a dime.
At last your son gave you an open door:
“What does an author do? It hard? A chore?”
Against your wife’s advice (“You are too weak!”)
you drove your son down to your suite, to peek
inside your heart: Your fingers struck their chord!
Behind the paper bail popped up and soared
page one of “Jamie the Balloonist,” line
by line to your electric’s clattering whine.
Which was more real? The Jamie at your heel
who tugged your sleeve, or that one on the reel
of platen, paper, ink, imagination
ascending by balloon in your creation?
The quick trip over in the car had caught
you short of time to build a solid plot
and solve the hero’s problem to his liking —
his readers’ too — by means they’d view as striking . . . .
(Now Jamie’s restless . . . . Deus Ex . . . . Big Sis . . . .)
“The End . . . .” You eased him up your lap’s abyss
to read aloud his yarn, though it felt slim.
He wriggled down when Big Sis rescued him
by motorized balloon she was commanding —
your plot, too-rushed, not quite a three point landing.
Ruminating Voice of an Architect
In memory of G.M.P.
Highly desired, you’ve often heard me say,
is every person’s self-direction — clear
of overt action which may interfere
with what another sees as his own way.
The course that I embraced gave me free play,
through rendering pencil’s dance and deft beguine,
to draw a client’s eyes and sober mein
to plans and specs for which he’d gladly pay . . . .
You’d have made one hell of an engineer —
although your own direction I’d not doubt.
Should I have urged another, against my fear
that I had curbed your freedom? Stomped it out?
I kept it close to vest. I would not shove,
believing freedom closest kin to love.
Change Pace Poetry 9
In memory of E.T.P., and for
S.E.O., whose gift is healing.
The big LaSalle makes smoother their long route.
The towhead, five, diverts himself — now plays
at the windshield’s center post (whose angled “snoot”
divides the wind) — now tries to count the jays,
in passing banyans, feeding limb and root.
A one-way truss bridge. Mother slows, delays,
stops — on a down-sloped ramp beside a spruce —
to wait their turn in the sun’s hot wilting rays.
The child regards the swollen water’s sluice.
It churns with limbs, debris, and river clays.
An orange moving van, marked SYRACUSE,
flickering through the truss bridge, dazzling the eye,
makes all the deck boards rumble — some real loose.
He hears a piercing screech. What’s that? Nearby?
The seat-back whacks his head, and he burps juice.
His mom’s seat front is squashed beneath her thigh.
The windshield smacks his forehead like a stone!
He clasps his head. Big zig-zag cracks now wry
the glass. His head rings like a telephone.
“Oh, Mommy! Mommy! Look! I didn’t cry!”
Her eyes, so blue, grow round! A guttural moan
escapes her throat. She reaches, pulls him near.
She strokes his brow. He sniffs her sweet cologne.
Her glistening eyes are brimming — a great tear
cascades her cheek, and splashes down his own.
Before I Die
In memory of L.S.J., aviator and novelist.
Coral Gables, Florida. (In his voice.)
One thing I long to do before I die
is guide my son to love to read and write:
give wings to heart and mind, so he may fly.
And I do so enjoy the warmth of thigh
we share upon the bed — this evening rite,
this one thing I might do before I die.
A well-done book can open his Third Eye,
enlarge his world, enkindle keen delight,
give wings to heart and mind so they can fly!
Not even six, he’s such a little guy!
Don’t want to overwhelm him, just excite —
the sole thing I may do before I die.
If he could relish reading, I might tie
to that an author’s writing appetite,
and doubly wing his heart and mind. They’d fly!
This raging cancer’s taught me: simplify
my life, engage my son, bring skills to light
(the sole thing I can do before I die)
to wing his heart and mind — and he shall fly!
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