There is no Wizard

If we were still in the old world,

the six-weeks ago one,

right now a girl with a make-up pencil

might be standing before you with a mock frown –

stand still!” she’d say,

drawing crow lines on your face,

not crow’s feet,

but lines to make you look like a crow,

so you could argue with Scarecrow on the fence post.

You might be adjusting your feathers, or tying your tail,

or trying to drink hot tea out of your travel mug,

your beak clacking against the lid,

your stomach a haven

for blue and white butterflies.

Tonight would be opening night.

But all of the moms

have deleted this spring musical

from calendars,

(nevermind the concerts, Forensics,

E-sports, graduation, prom.)

Anyway, Zach is not tuning his trombone

to play in the pit band,

and Justin is not hiding behind his curtain,

transforming into the Wizard

who has no answers to give.

But we are in the new world, now,

so just to go somewhere, anywhere,

though you’re Safer at Home, of course,

though there’s No Place Like Home,

you’ve taken the car to drop off

home-made cookies for them.

There is no “next year”

for your merry little band, only

the three of you making it through

the field of poppies,

the attack of the winged monkeys,

the vengeance of the wicked witch, and

then packing up

and taking your friendship with you –

a bond forged not in Kansas,

but in Wisconsin,

by D&D, fueled by caffeine and Doritos,

by video games played into wee hours of morning,

by summer work in the fields, and paintball,

by skiing at Brule (and two broken arms),

by fireworks and Lyme’s disease,

by Magic the Gathering,

by nights at the cabin,

by days on the lake,

the afternoon sun

shining

like it would shine

forever.

There are far worse things, it’s true,

we have warm homes,

we have food in our bellies –

but this empty space

on this gray April evening

has me melancholy and feeling sorry

for the whole lot of us,

boys and moms.

What I wouldn’t give now

to be settling into a squeaky chair

in the auditorium,

waiting for the music to come up

while the lights go down,

waiting for you to strut across the stage

in black feathers,

waiting for the Wizard to tell us

that what we are looking for

has been inside us

all along.

It’s all right, though,

the summer will come, and fall,

and the three of you, full of

heart,

brain,

courage,

will follow your roads

to different parts of Oz.

And I’ll remember this night,

this small crick in the universe, how

this sadness came upon me like a cloud,

and how you drove away

with plates of cookies,

bent on sharing

goodness.

Which,

of course,

you’ve had inside you all along.

 

(for Declan, Zach, and Justin, and the class of 2020. And their moms.)

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Somewhere, Another (The Pied Billed Grebe)

A pied-billed grebe

has already paddled madly

halfway across this cove

(its crested head sporting a half-hearted mohawk,

its body a sputtering vector moving toward the northwest,

Lake Superior swollen like a too-observant eye)

before I realize

that it has darted out from under this porch

that hangs over the water where I stand holding my coffee,

not wanting to go home.

It’s as though a magician

has produced an egg from my ear,

or I’ve rummaged in my purse looking for car keys

and I’ve found a room in my house

I didn’t know was there.

Somewhere, that grebe has

another grebe,

and chicks that have fledged and gone

by this late September Sunday,

and a worn and forlorn nest

patched together with empty reeds and sticks,

bits of plastic water bottles and lily pads,

feathers and hollow crayfish claws –

holding nothing,

bobbing along the indifferent surface

of the lake, pulled north

by the false promises of the moon,

swamped by the wake of passing boats.

I wonder then,

my coffee grown cold in its paper cup,

only the fading ripples left on the lake,

what I may be capable of now,

what other secrets

I may harbor.

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.