The Lights Flicker Once, Last Call in Suamico

And it’s the beginning of the end of the world –

the regulars are turned out of the taverns,

red-faced and singing defiantly,

swaying and carrying their jackets under their arms

into the almost-spring night, leaving behind

the warm beer-sign bubbles,

the cracked cheer of the bartenders,

the pilsner philosophy of their fellow compatriots

holding forth from duct-taped barstools;

Tomorrow they’ll pick up their fifths and their cases

in the grocery stores, they’ll drink at home

one shot at a time, idly crushing cigarettes into empty cans –

Jeopardy muted on the TV,

no sports to cheer, no clack of billiards, no thud of darts,

just scrolling through their phones, waiting

for a text to chime, or a single notification

like the ping of sonar under the heavy black sea,

confirming a round has been made –

the signal has gone out, has found another

traveler in darkness, at least one person who remembers

their name.

By Tacit Agreement, Sunday at the Sensiba Trail

We do not speak of the outside world –

we whistle at the sun nosing around

the fraying stratus clouds,

lifting and dropping

golden rays that splash our ankles and

the winter-dead grasses –

we call out to our dogs

sniffing one another in turn,

then exuberantly rolling in the dead carp

that the bald eagle has dropped.

We ask each other, on the other ends of leashes,

what breed of dog they are, and how old,

and if there are kids running ahead

or lagging behind, they shout out random bits

of information, like what they’re having

for dinner or about the mitten they dropped

somewhere in between the car and you.

The woman cradling the camera and

walking slightly behind the man with the cane

smiles at me as I kneel down to frame up

a pussy willow branch struck against

a ragged patch of blue sky; she says

Spring is coming, and I feel in my bones

that it’s true, that its grace is sufficient

but too late, too late for us –

in a moment it will burst into green flame

and lie like a shroud upon the brow of this fevered world.

In Which Woolly Mammoths Save the World, Starting with Siberia, Because Permafrost is Melt and Carbon is Release

 

First, a reliquary:

Collect the bones of the mammoth,

delivered onto the shore

by the soak cycle of thawing tundra,

rinsed clean by the lapping frigid lake,

and swaddled in a jumble of reeds

on a pebbled shore.

Second, bioethics and cloning:

Something something DNA,

scientists, test tubes, maybe

a centrifuge and an elephant, I guess.

Wait ten years. A mammoth is not

a velociraptor, so don’t worry

about any of that.

Third, intermodal transit:

Carefully place brand-new,

sedated mammoths into slings

and hoist them high enough

so their fur-fringed foot pads

don’t drag along the tree line

and bring the helicopter down.

Fourth, implied consent:

Wake them gently with caresses

on the tundra overgrown with saplings

hoarding particles of heat like gold,

coax mammoths onto the spongy ground

barely able to contain their weight.

(Consider – giant snowshoes to spread out

their ungainly mass?)

Fifth, unionize:

After a good long drink at the lake

through supple bristled trunks, while peering out

of eyes fringed with lashes curtained against the snow –

show them how to trample the trees, strip the leaves,

leave the tundra treeless, cooling the earth’s

fevered brow.

Sixth, pray:

Though it be zaprescheno, pray.

A Confederacy of Dunces and Castoffs

We “go thrifting,” my daughter and I,

because it’s again cool to be uncool

and because she can’t yet hear

the murmurs of each discarded thing.

I dread finding items I’ve already cast off

at the Goodwill on Oneida street;

I prepare to glance away awkwardly,

pretending to see something that interests me

in the aisle of plaques and knick-knacks.

Cast-off things do not forgive,

perfectly good coffee mugs from Fleet Farm,

ShopKo shirts that look matronly,

backpacks with empty, growling bellies.

“I don’t know you,” I’d have to say, fiercely.

“You must be mistaking me for someone else!”

Alongside several copies of Fifty Shades of Gray

here is A Confederacy of Dunces, inscribed inside:

“To Jennifer, this is one of my very favorite books.

I hope you get better soon. Sean A.”

Not just one of his favorites, very favorite –

Jennifer must have been special for Sean A.

to divulge this secret with her, so I pay $4.99 for the copy,

and carry it home with a gossipy fuzzy sweater,

wondering about Jennifer.

There are four main possibilities in the matrix,

not counting half-starts and stasis:

She read the book, she didn’t. She got better, she died.

I find out Sean A. was a local English teacher once,

but no longer. Perhaps he too is dead, although he’d be

just 10 years older than I, and I hope i have more

than 10 years between me and death.

I see him living with his ancient parents

and a cat who curls up on his lap on Saturday afternoon,

leaving long white hair on his brown corduroys.

He watches This Old House and Wheel of Fortune, absently,

thinking about Jennifer,

about fixing up an old house for them

and filling it with books,

books that will be read and loved from either end of the couch,

books that will stay where he places them,

books that don’t wander off.

“M,” he guesses.

“T.”

Heart in Darkness

The heart is a muscle

The heart is a fist

it’s strong and it’s wary,

this beast in my breast.

My heart has been sleeping

My heart has dreamed dreams –

It wakens, now, flexing,

it growls and it gleams.

My heart is gone hunting,

My heart leads me on

Through starless dark forests,

on quick heavy paws.

 

My heart wants for nothing;

I turn and head north.

Thief of Stars

I am

the reflection

of a star

on the dark glass

of the river

just before dawn

breaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Insufferable Logic of Tides

Sometimes

you are hauled backward

before you can

move forward; you get on a plane in the dark

in Nashville

and head south to Atlanta before touching down

in Milwaukee

where someone you love waits in the sleeting rain

to drive you back

and pour you into a warm, flightless

bed.

Sometimes

the moon draws you back

like a half smile,

a wave helpless against a tide of something deeper

than you can fathom;

you just catch sight of land when Lake Michigan’s icy fingers drag you

coughing, gasping,

half-drowned into the past, the future laid out on the pebbled shore

like a table set for someone

who is not you.

Sometime, maybe,

the path worn by the incessant argument between

then and now,

between what you squint to see and what you’ve got,

will give way –

and the ragged rasp of back and forth, back and forth,

forth and back,

will stop – and you’ll be delivered like a newborn,

one last push

will show you into the world you never saw coming

despite

all of the maps you drew.

Saturday at the Abbotsford Auto Parts Store

On the way home

we pull off Highway 29

near Abbottsford

to get gas.

It’s been raining since

we left Minneapolis.

An Amish buggy

clip clip clips

into the auto parts store

across the road.

The horse doesn’t question,

just stands there,

dripping.

Maybe they sell

tractor parts, too; or maybe

the man just wanted

out of the rain,

wanted to walk on the smooth, dry, floors,

wanted to walk up and down the shiny weedless furrows of

floor mats, motor oil, windshield wiper blades, headlights

stacked squarely in piles, shoulder to shoulder

on shelves, swinging slightly from the pegs

as he walks by, the headlights

briefly reflecting his dark form

like the shadow of a cloud

on a lake.

His hand

trails in the air just above

the perfectly machined boxes

before he pulls his hat low on his brow,

thinking about want and need,

thinking about his horse,

the hours since breakfast,

the nails in his shoes,

the blinders alongside his big brown eyes,

before he walks out past the girl

scrolling through nothing and everything

on the screen in her hand,

walks out past the bright orange

slow moving vehicle triangles,

walks out without buying anything at all,

into the driving rain.

 

 

The Disobedience of Rain

October rain

ebbs and flows and

falls and falls and falls

on the crooked pine trees and the roof,

on the old swing set and the black driveway,

on the cold, wet burn barrel and the American flag

at the hundred year old house on Shady Lane

where my parents live

still.

In the basement,

a dehumidifier pulls water from the sodden air,

dutifully filling and re-filling the pan.

Two sump pumps run full time,

a generator stands at the ready.

The water is carried by a snaking black hose

into the low-lying woods surrounding the house

and seeps back in again, later,

like a teenager after curfew, quiet, 

up through the cracks in the cement basement floor.

The stone walls

press large boulders against the earth

like praying fists.

It’s never rained this much before

this time of year.

My mother, 72 years old,

raised by practical German and Norwegian folk

on the Minnesota plains,

already sleeps with one eye open to make sure my father,

six years older and soaked years before

by Vietnamese monsoons and Agent Orange,

isn’t swept away into the woods,

disappearing

over his head.

She now sleeps with the other eye open, too,

straining to hear any absence of the motors,

first one,

then the other,

like twin chambers of the heart,

one ventricle pulling in the tired gray water,

one aorta pushing it out, clean and quick.

Pull, push.

Pull, push.

Pull, push.

It’s hard to listen for, it’s hard to hear

nothing.

And meanwhile the rain keeps falling

drop by drop,

drop by drop,

drop by drop

on the turning leaves,

on the feathery moss,

on the withered corn,

on the rivers already swollen,

already tired of carrying things away.