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.

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.