When They Finally Wake in April

‘Round the ankles of the birches

autumn water gathered, murky –

winter held it down til frozen

cradled gently in the hollows –

skirts of ice surround the low limbs

stopped mid-fling by frigid wind

embroidered not in poodle, plaid,

suspended there, upended, glad –

wee peeping frogs, asleep, adorn

a petticoat of moss and thorns,

but soon the sun will stretch its rays,

will rise with sorry in its gaze

will slyly springly shine and and flirt-

with earth disheveled, melt the skirt,

will knit from nothing new-leafed clothes,

and creeks will race and overflow –

Lake Michigan (and back again) –

and groggy frogs’ oblivion 

then doused, will rouse – a peeping throng,

agog in thousand strands of song

that soar and wend through gray-screened doors

in search of mates, in search of more,

through windows, chimneys, landing damp

in dishes, teapots, toasters, lamps –

we hear, in twilight, in our beds

the raucous din of recent dead –

we doubt, deny, or trust their cries

of sweet reprieve,

alive, 

alive.

 

(Honorable mention: 2019 Writer’s Digest Contest – Rhyming Poem Category)

Centrifugal Force

In the beginning

the boys and their sleds

and half-size snowboards would pile in

on a snow day, headed for the Suamico Elementary School hill;

They were puppies,

interchangeable, laughing, careening

down the hill over and over –

later they’d play Minecraft,

fighting zombies in the dark,

building houses close together

for protection –

in a few years, their video games

will have guns, but they’ll still

watch each other’s sixes,

sleeping a little further apart on the floor

amid pizza boxes and empty Mountain Dew cans;

Not all of them will move on

to Dungeons and Dragons,

creating possible worlds and missions,

and sometimes they’ll just put on headsets

and play from afar.

They have differentiated in the

spinning force of adolescence – 

shedding loose articles, picking up

guitar, theater, weightlifting, skiing –

they show up in the driveway

in their own trucks and thunder down the stairs with their laptops;

The centrifuge spins faster, they are heavy with something they can’t name-

they are being thrown one by one by one by one

into the world where they pick up

jobs, vehicles, girlfriends,

habits, memories,

regrets.

One day

not so many years from now, two will

arrive at the Kwik Trip, standing at different fuel pumps

rubbing their hands in the cold, and they’ll grin and 

give each other manly half-hugs and stand and talk about that one time

they went sledding in the middle of the night,

or maybe

they’ll exchange only

glances

before driving away.

Three Fields along Highway 42

i.

The broad face

of the February field

is tilted to the falling snow –

broken cornstalk stubble

waiting for the razored plow.

ii.

The snow, the field,

the fog rolling in waves

off of the lake,

a blank page.

The split rail fence,

the bare trees,

the broken barns,

black parentheses.

iii.

Beyond the fence,

nothing

but a white screen.

Along the road,

silhouettes of trees

suddenly appear and fade,

appear and fade

in the frames

of the car windows,

somber fireworks

in black and white

in a memory

belonging

to someone else.

22 Years Later

I.

On the way up to the lake house,

the back of the vehicle jammed

with things of this earth:

snacks, casseroles, a snowboard,

three pairs of snow pants, a snow shovel for the ice rink,

skates, sleeping bags, water,

wine –

and after passing barn upon barn,

acre upon acre

of crumbling stone and faded red paint

in the deepening twilight,

Suamico to Pulaski to Gillet to Suring

we pass one of the new kind of barns

that look like a huge tent, a cylinder on its side,

shaved off at the bottom so it doesn’t

roll away across the fields, bouncing

across the Midwest,

filled with nothing but light, as though if

pierced by telephone poles or church steeples

the light from the inside would wind

into the black frigid night like smoke,

bright swirling ropes

to tether the stars.

II.

I don’t pretend to understand that light

is a particle and a wave, a thing and an action

but the I know that barn is a belly,

pregnant with light

in the winter blackness –

though I carry this body forward, onward,

nearing fifty years on the planet but now

there will be no more copies of me, just those

already out in the world,

and in this vehicle hurtling across the frozen ground,

and those in the ground;

I once heard that some languages have no way

to express what could have been – it is or it is not,

it happened or it did not,

but even without words I know those mothers

with children lost think about

their may-have-been faces and their

could-have-been dreams,

and what it would be like to embrace them some day

when they would come home for Thanksgiving,

stamping their feet on the rug

to shake off the snow, someone shy

waiting behind,

and I know they also wonder

what would become of those

that would not have been.

III.

On the drive home with leftovers, unfolded clothes,

and wet boots thrown carelessly into the back –

without wine but with added memories and bruises,

snow comes down in slanting sheets:

Townsend, Lakewood, Crivitz,

so that there is no road ahead at all,

only the headlights catching a

conical cross-section of light

in the starless night,

particle or wave, thing or action,

its job is the same –

my middle almost-driving son

sits buckled next to me while I feign complete calm

as oncoming snowplows obliterate the windshield,

and the edge of the road pulls at my tires;

he selects music

and hands me the coffee from

the gas station, a beacon of swirling white light

along the highway far behind us already –

this son who may not even have been at all,

had Jacob lived, he is my version of Seth

after Abel was killed by Cain, though

Jacob never cried out

at all.

Can a person be

replaced? It’s ridiculous to even say,

but as far as I can tell,

there is no diminution of light

unlike the red paint fading and cracking and peeling

on the barns I cannot see –

whether particle or wave it

persists – and though I was pierced once,

the light, escaping,

doubled,

then tripled,

and I just didn’t see,

couldn’t see,

cannot yet see

where some of it

waits

for me.

Night on Shakey Lakes, -17°F

Tonight we sleep

above the ice,

(cocooned like mousies in sleeping bags)

under an impossible number of January stars,

(brilliant like only winter stars can be, Orion hunting alone)

over the lake, and the fish in the lake,

(swimming slowly in the iced water capped by sixteen inches of ice)

in this bitter cold,

(as I burrow further and further into my nest)

through this lonely watch of night,

(three decades in, we breathe across the aisle, untangled)

inside my dreams the lake is a giant, shifty and cross, too much river in its belly,

(the ice creaks and rumbles and groans and cracks and growls)

beyond this shelter the sun’s first rays slide over the ice,

(the bright silver sliver of moon slipping like a minnow behind the bare tree line)

in this small space, it’s a false darkness,

(we’ve blocked the sunrise, and curious neighbors)

below me, though, the holes drilled yesterday to catch the fish in the belly of the lake

(tempted, or not, by the dancing bait)

catch instead the light from the sunrise

that I leave for you

as I drive

away.

Holding Fire

That night

it was snowing

like crazy but we left

the kitchen in disarray

to pick her up

and we drove

through half-deserted white

billowed streets to see

the pretty lights at

the botanical

gardens

I walked

ahead so you

could stroll alone

with her through

the winter night

lit by

imagined dragons,

undersea creatures,

lightning bolts,

swans on a frozen

lake, the

real horses

and the wagon

carrying families

jingling somewhere

behind us and then

we finally met up

at the barrel

holding fire, reaching

our hands out

to the blazing circle

and then

taking them

back again.

Winter Reveals

Winter reveals all the broken things

you don’t see in the modest months,

the tree snapped in half, a frayed thing,

touching its forehead to the cold ground –

cracked buckets and oblong strips of tires,

outbuildings leaning perilously to one side

as though they’ve had too many beers

when really all they’ve had is too much time,

on ice, sipping endlessly in the corner

until they slouch mumbling to sleep,

the wind reaches in through the slats

and then out again across the broken things

things you can’t see in the lying summer

when the saplings stretch out and splay their leaves

into all that surplus space, showing off, really,

and the grass blades pierce the soil and sky,

and the fiddlehead ferns harmonize –

all that green hiding the muted colors, the sharp edges

the half-printed words now slurred,

the right angles now slant,

sleeping it off under enabling summer,

it isn’t right.

Why be so quick to shed the gray skies?

Hold the winter close, the space between the things

left behind, even the cold wind that brings us to tears –

beauty lies in brokenness, the way things are,

but then the earth sulkily slouches nearer to the sun

and all of the green things, all the plentiful things

unfold

to hide the want that asks for nothing.

Comes Now Spring

 

Late March slumps against Lake Michigan –

Cold and brown with patches of crusted snow frozen to the face

of the obstinate earth, wind whips the eyes and tears freeze;

 

Perhaps, then, we can be absolved, when watching

the mute six o’clock news during the Friday fish fry, Brandy Old Fashioneds in hand,

we see coverage of a tornado in Kentucky, and our eyes are drawn not

to the carnage and twisted metal trailers –

 

but just beyond to the shining wet green grass

and just budding magnolias, the fat robins hopping from jutting fencepost

to prostrate Toyota, the swollen rivers lapping, lapping

at the tender and torn black earth,

 

we see not the cops and barricades

or small business owners sweeping up shards of glass but the

way that the clouds are pulled up over the rich and fertile naked fields

just plowed and waiting for seeds to be pressed

 

deep in the furrows, to take hold of the

earth like fists to unfaithful lapels, like the first

bite of the first apple, like a steel trap suddenly seizing

in mid-lope the trespassing wolf

 

and then just as suddenly we are let go,

our eyes wide, cherry winter breath exhaled, our brown hills in the distance

coming again into focus, our mind awash in the receding wave upon wave, the promise

of blossoms and warm wind, the tilt of the earth coming back to us,

 

flush at our table, a waitress with a stiff apron with wide pockets

and a chewed up Bic, a nametag that says Peggy and a tired smile

punctuated with a spasm of cracking gum, coming

to take our order with a torn pale green paper pad;

 

the usual, she says?  And you betcha, we nod, using the stir stick to hold back

the ice in our glass as we drink, our eyes drifting back to the news, our backs

to the smokers huddled outside in the spitting snow.

Folding Winter

Brown beer bottle clots

spot Winter’s arterial ditches;

He coughs up litter –

golden bow from a Christmas wreath,

a decaying newspaper fat with ads.

A dead deer is suspended in the cold water

at the edge of the forest, glassy eyed –

a Russian Tsar, preserved;

Winter clings to the brown land, a lover scorned, shameless.

He will do anything, his snowy arms

lace the trunks of the trees like ragged tutus –

the trees look away in the wind.

Though April came late, unapologetic,

wooing the frozen dirt with wild tales of green, of crocuses,

of robins pulling fat worms like a sewing machine in slow reverse,

Earth relents

and Winter folds its losing hand,

the ice along the side of the roads sliding like cards

into the frigid black water.