9.6 Miles in September

On the last Saturday

of my 40s, I drive alone

to Fish Creek to take

the Sunset Bike Trail

at Peninsula State Park.

It occurs to me

as I review the map,

then fold it into small rectangles

and put it into my back pocket,

that if I live to be 96,

it’s a decade per mile.

Miles 1 and 2 are gone faster

than I can remark, tall grasses

and small dense trees huddle

on either side,

mud on the trail

from the rains I never saw

pulls me sideways,

and I can’t see much at all;

But all along

Miles 3 and 4,

Lake Michigan

opens up on my left,

hurling itself

over and over

in small tantrums against

the worn rocks and pebbles,

the bottle caps and driftwood,

while on my right the sunlight is

shredded through the branches and leaves

of the still green trees

and it falls and falls and falls

in smaller and smaller and smaller

pieces

to land

on the forest floor,

shards of light that you can barely

see at all.

[Interim poem:

Hark!

Lake on my left and

Woods on my right,

they shuffle their feet

and finally ask sincerely

which shall have a place with me

in Heaven,

but I cannot choose,

I can’t abide a Heaven

that doesn’t contain them

both, it’s a failure

of my imagination, I suppose, but

tales of

Streets of Gold

and Milk and Honey

and never-ending Light

and the unfailing singing of Sincere Hymns

bore me to tears and truly,

terrify me.

I can only hope

all that was figurative, Paul,

(was it even Paul?

Maybe it was John,

he seems more like the

apocalyptic dreamer and

a bit of a kill-joy)

because I don’t want a

Heaven without this green glade,

without these smooth pebbles

passed back and forth

between the hands

of the splashing waves

in the cold, clean water

along Lake Michigan’s

shore, I don’t want a

Hereafter

without guitars

and bikes and dirt trails

strung with shining cobwebs

and trees that have toppled and

pulled up the roots and boulders to

show what hides in the dark

Earth,

I can’t see a

Paradise

that doesn’t have

a pitch black lake of midnight moonless sky

harboring a loosely moored fleet of stars

that sail into dreams,

no, I don’t see that

at all.

Here ends

the reading of

the interim poem. Selah.]

Mile 5

cuts suddenly through

a park,

children on a seesaw,

children like ducklings

that are quacked over, buckled,

brought in line

but I am

veering away from the lake

and into uncharted

territory, I have a map

but it doesn’t show these hills

as the lake falls away behind me,

it can’t predict this

slow grind until I’m

standing on my pedals

and just waiting for

a plateau

to catch my breath

before the next rise

but still and all,

as Miles Six, Seven, Eight

unfold,

it’s uphill and beautiful

in the shade of the afternoon,

the far-away sky

is the surface of an unmapped lake,

the long smooth trunks of the trees

holding up their leaves

like an offering

of lily-pads,

this congregation of trees

swaying in the current

like seaweed

while I swim slowly through them

like a fish,

silent –

the road

uphill and beautiful,

the road

uphill and beautiful,

rising

upward to the light.

Eye of the Day

One common tern

hovers

high above Lake Michigan,

then dives

under the waves and back

again,

its path a ragged stitch

from

sky purpling like a bruise

into

water smooth as a mirror,

and

then back to sky again,

pulling

together heaven and earth

like

the closing of a weary

eye.

NPR Asked for Summer Haiku

I.  Shady Lane

barefoot at twilight

we play Ghosts in the Graveyard

vanishing in dark

 

II.  Rook

cards slap on the porch

after-dinner Manhattans

kids drunk with freedom

 

III. Beckoning

June is ever-dusk

fireflies wink in gangly grass

as I pedal home

 

 

Crivitz Piggly Wiggly Philosophy

It’s a Thursday in May after five

when I swing into the Piggly Wiggly with two bikes

on the back of my SUV, and the dog inside;

The woman slicing my deli ham

struggles with the wrapper on the summer sausage, limps like

her hip is bad, too; she paces, trapped behind the glass cage;

When I check out, another woman

bagging my groceries eyes me and when I say “Everything in paper except for

the cold stuff,” she rephrases:

“Cold stuff in plastic, everything else in paper,”

which is what I said, but in reverse, and she seems disapproving, so then I hedge –

“Well, whatever makes sense.”

And she says “All right, as much as anything

makes sense any more” which seems a bit dark but also somehow

appropriate, and then referring to my copy of Vanity Fair

tells the checkout girl that the big Royal Wedding

is this Saturday and that the bride is 36 and who even knows if she can HAVE

kids, she’s been married before you know;

The checkout girl who is maybe mid-thirties

yawns and asks me if I know that I selected some organic bananas, I say yes,

I want them tomorrow and they were the only ripe ones,

and then she also clucks disapprovingly, either sorry

that they did not have non-organic ripe bananas to offer me or maybe sorry

that I am the type of person who cannot wait for bananas to ripen;

Outside the old man with a service dog

who looks like a floor mop and would do a credible job at it

asks me where I’m from, and I say where,

and he says that traffic in Green Bay

is terrible, he knows because he goes to church down there every Sunday,

taking his life in his hands, practically,

I say “Ah, the roundabouts,” knowingly, but he says no,

the drivers down there are terrible tailgaters, all in a hurry, and for what?

And peering in as I put away the iced tea and bottles of water

asks me what kind of dog I have, growling in the back seat

at his mop, and I say, and add,”He’s not really friendly,” and then

he too is disappointed, and calls to the friendly dog Brice or Bryce

and they amble off into the spring green grass, where

Bryce or Brice dutifully poops; but after the man goes to find a baggie,

he can’t find where the tiny poop is and when I leave

he is still walking in a circle, searching for the pile. But what I

am thinking about is how I’ve disappointed them all, and the way the woman

put my turnovers at the bottom of the paper bag and said,

“as much as anything makes sense anymore,” maybe referring to

lava breaking through the crust of the earth or the president of the USA

paying hush money to a woman they call Stormy,

or more likely something to do with her children, who don’t call,

or Piggly Wiggly’s schedule for the weekend,

rather than heroin leaving a wide path of destruction across the American cornfields,

and meanwhile I, privileged and having all advantages,

unfairly, undeservedly, drive with a dog and bikes

and cheese and chips to a place where the sun makes a wide and slow arc over the river,

shooting sunlight like glass marbles down the its path

and the sky turns the clouds pink, lavender, yellow, by turn

and a silver fish flashes in the shallows and then darts like guilt into the deep

and I turn to ascend the stairs, going up, and up, and up.

One For the Road

I am drunk on this new summer twilight, the world’s

wash is golden-hued burdens liberally poured, and so

I will roll in the fields where the corn is laid out in straight, sober lines, the light

Creeping between them like water rising slow –

I will lick the tree trunks and the underside of leaves garnished gold and pale yellow

And swallow it all down like whiskey, burning

I will dive between the slats of the hollow barns, catch the shining insects

In my teeth and crunch them like butterscotch beetles on the wing;

I will have another and yet another from my friend Sonny the bartender,

Who doles another round from the cumulus bar itself changing dreamily from an anvil tinged in pink

To the head of an armored dragon, trailing lazy smoke, and

I will pluck the sun drenched stones along the bowls of fields and roll them over my tongue and

Flick them back into the world I will tip

the cloud-dappled sky back and have it with my eyes, poring over its every curve,

My winter-cauled eyes desperate for the magic hours of long summer days, greedy for

The swollen clouds parting along a line of trees turned silhouettes;

I will not pay my tab before leaving, I will swagger and stagger out

Of this place, holding on to the backs of polished wooden fenceposts

Navigating the perils of this world with one eye closed to time, as it reels in its orbit –

Belly full of light, burping up slivers of afternoon

I will wander down the lane, I will find my way, shaking bits of fading light

Out of my hair, wiping it from my mouth, brushing it off of my clothes,

Tracking it in crumbling pieces across the kitchen floor on my way to my spinning bed

Where I will slowly sober up and fall down

into darker and darker sleep

until the darkest sleep comes for me;

While outside, fireflies wink and dive,

threading the night with lonely stitches of light,

hitching close the wounds made but not yet felt

in the fabric of the new summer night.

Everything About this Bike Ride Tells Me I am Going to Die

This deep June evening with the sun pulling away from the sky

Sinking into the earth, its journey more than half gone, like mine –

This soft gold light finds a way through the blossoming dogwood,

Lights up the slats on the barn with gossamer gold, makes beautiful

The old;

This bluebird dead on the road, a bright blue period at the end

Of an unspoken sentence; above it five sparrows divebomb a crow –

The living going on with the business of living, defending, taking –

Without time for editing; only the dead can afford to punctuate;

This telephone pole that throws a shadow cross on the wooden slats,

This emptiness of the barns, wagon wheels inert against the silos,

The vines softening the doorframes, the barn stones put together

A hundred years ago by men and women who lived, once;

All these tell me that I will die, and soon;

And yet my heart sings the fierce green fields, the soft gold sun, the sweet Irises

Growing wild in the ditches, smelling for all the world like frosting

On a birthday cake; my heart swells like the waxing moon – and the five lines of the

Telephone wires draw the empty measures in perfect time, mile upon mile upon mile,

waiting for the notes

to come.

Fine Ruin (Bicycles in Munich)

I.

What happens

To the bicycles in Munich;

The ones punctuating the cobblestone paths –

Locked to the bike racks, lampposts, street signs

In sun, rain, sleet, snow, heat

Wheels bent into parentheses,

Or missing entirely,

Or outwardly fine,

Frames rusted, scratched, or gleaming,

Just

Forgotten about entirely

locked up and misremembered

rented and abandoned at the stair skirting of the Hauptbahnhof

Or maybe the rider shortly after the penultimate click of the lock

Struck by a bus or a train or a taxi,

felled by a quietly faulty heart ,

pierced by a knife in a lovers’ quarrel,

The chained bicycle a marker, a memo, a clue, the very last thing before.

What happens to them?

Does the orderly Munich Municipality

Sweep through with lock breakers, breaking free

Those bikes that have been stationary for a week, a month, a year –

Off to auction, to the junkyard, to repair shops, to nowhere?

Or do they just silently break down, unclaimed

As the seasons ebb and flow

and the years pile up against the stones, unswept

while other bikes come and go, come and go;

do they just

Fade, fade against the dying of the light?

II.

In Munich for Oktoberfest,

I am curious to see whether I still am who

I thought I was, even though I am

Halfway to 90,

(A new post to which to chain myself);

But meanwhile

My youth wandered off,

Having forgotten about me ;

Though I am if not beautiful, willowy, tall, then

Handsome enough,

And strong,

Enough for some fine young German men

And men from around the world

to stop; and if they stop then perhaps

I catch them with my cleverness,

And my practiced nonchalance,

Especially if it is dark

And especially if they are

Drunk.

III.

Surely, my youth cannot leave me here

with these adamantine silver chains,

But it does, and what’s more walks away without

A backwards glance

With its hair untouched by gray

And heart uncrushed by the unknowable, menacing future,

And mind and memory with more room to go than has gone before

I

Almost don’t begrudge it but

the cold metal chain lies close and heavy and loose,

like apathy or an afterthought

And I feel myself bending ,

And the slow, certain spread of rust

Like fine lace, some predatory and fibrous ossification,

choking algae on a placid lake,

whispers of ruin when the glass is half full

And I know that no one will come by to break the locks,

And I know what happens to us all.