Breaking and Entering

Winter broke and entered years ago,

pressing icy fingers against our skin,

wandering under our shirts,

searching for our hearts,

listening as we slowly wound down –

we were watches kept in a drawer of an empty house.

But I think you must have jacked open

some painted-over lead-poisoned window,

somewhere, deep inside,

(maybe in that sealed-up chamber of a basement tomb

with a wood-burning stove and

a second-hand recliner with a place

for a beer to slowly warm, but not a place for everything)

letting a southern wind blow through

this Northern plain and breathe Spring into my heart,

or my cerebellum,

making me wonder if –

anyway then you woke and

Summer bloomed into my lips, my hips,

they rocked like ships

oh, and

I think for a little while, maybe, you and I

can keep the window open, keep

the two by four jammed

up against the door, keep it

barred against the

ravenous wolfish Fall,

where he waits,

anticipates

the last of the ticks

as he licks

his lips

and yawns

at the door.

Wes and Jesus Come up Empty

I.

After

we see paintings of the sea, and moonlight, and doom by

Winslow Homer, after we work on income tax forms and insurance and eat

carnitas

burritos and watch Netflix, I don’t feel well,

it’s not a bellyache or a hangover or a fever or something that CVS can fix.

it’s like

this existential ache in my soul; it’s

not something that I really want to think about

because

I’d have to reach back all the way to the beginning

and anyway it’s dinner time and instead I’m reaching into this drawer full of

knives,

serrated blades that bare their

teeth along my fingers, but I’m careful to take just one.

II.

Last week

I saw a TV commercial for a microwavable cup

with bits of vegetable and potato and peppers, you just add an

egg

and your breakfast problem is solved, I am thinking

of this while you and I walk 38 blocks teetering on the edge of

Milwaukee;

this March Sunday morning question unsolvable:

is this it, or is there more? I wish I could just add an egg to this

problem.

Faced with that same question 27 years ago,

I stayed. Was it right? I don’t know. The thought of not having my

three

children, these particular ones, out in the wide world

brings me to fierce and sudden tears right there on the windy sidewalk.

Each

choice is wrong, either choice is right,

or could be made so, perhaps you learn how you feel before the coin lands.

III.

“Is he

a good dog? ….Who’s to say?”

Wes Anderson doesn’t help me here, or Jesus either; Micah 6:8,

what

is the right thing to do in this instance,

what leads to happiness? Do I say, stay, stay with this boy who is kind, this boy we

love

and who loves you, beyond measure,

even if you do not always sharpen each other, make each other better,

like

a knife against a stone?

The world is full of sharp things.

IV.

Life

is a yawning paper cootie-catcher

on lined notebook paper in a 5th grader’s back pocket, first narrow then wide,

narrow

then wide, you can’t know what’s

inside, you just have to pick a color, and pull up the flap, the

question

on the other side propels you

deeper into the story, back and forth and back and forth

until

you don’t know how

you got there or where you are going, you just hold on and

ride,

back and forth and dark and

light, yin and yang, pain and pleasure, if you are lucky,

until

it closes on this world for good

and opens in the dawn of another, without any

guessing at all.

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.

In Dreaming Stray

I.

At some point, it became irrelevant

to teach little boys how to tie a horse’s harness to a tree after a morning ride

as it will become irrelevant, yet possibly charming

to tell analog time, and write in cursive, and develop 35 mm film

(these things yet in my lifetime).

There was, there will be, a last father who taught the last son

To shape a horseshoe, a last mother who taught a last daughter to curtsey.

II.

I watch the life of Tolstoy unreel on the screen while I

drink red wine and listen for the ping of e-mail

Over the hush of the rain and through the soft light

While my seven year old falls asleep on my lap in the leather recliner.

When my son was two he walked backwards off a dock, playing out a rope –

I saw him face up under the water

Eyes wide open while I walked to rescue him,

Sure that I would.

These things I have not taught (nor have I taught about horses and curtseys)

but Unbidden they are learned;

That I am safe, that I will rescue, and I am, I will…

III.

But also I will dream and in dreaming stray –

I will curtsey and will untie the horse

I will take up the black and white 35 mm prints and put them in my leather bag,

I will look at the hands on my watch,

I will write you a note with black ink and leave it for you

On the kitchen table, under a smooth stone from the river;

And then I will ride away

Through the dappled birches

Dropping shadows on the roads

Like things they no longer need.

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.

Linneman’s

At Linneman’s

RiverWest

with McKenzie,

my firstborn,

who is somehow of age,

beautiful, and strong,

despite it all –

we’re just one drink in,

waiting for her boyfriend Zach to play,

when I hit the ladies’ room —

“I’m comin’ out!” the lady in the half-open stall shouts

and so I pee behind the imperfectly locked door of the other stall

while I listen to her humming and talking to herself

and then walk out, she is still talking

to everyone, to no one,

dreadlocks pointing everywhere and nowhere

as her purse, full of mail, or newspapers, or bills, or maybe some

sort of manifesto, not haphazard but

like a file cabinet crossed with an accordion,

orderly perches in the one sink like a satisfied cat

only she is not

washing her hands, and so then I am not, either

but stand there for a moment to see if she will

pick up her purse or whether a Gryffin or mail-carrier

or mouse will crawl out of it, but as it is she just stands there,

letting her conversation flow around us like water

and eventually like an island I think who am I kidding

anyway, I don’t always wash my hands,

and walk out into the darkened bar

where glasses clink and the last performer wraps up a song

about his brother who’d do anything for anyone except that he’s just

died, and the soft glow of phones light up just a few

faces, and the audience poet man finishes his sketch,

and I don’t see her come out of the bathroom

and I don’t think of her again at all

after Zach plays.

Wee Thing

While waiting for the Percoset to kick in,

and the Spinal to bid goodbye, (thus far

I can tense the muscles in my right thigh, only), so

I can walk, and pee, and get home,

and while trying to breathe out in a hiss through the cramping of my missing womb,

(though to be clear I will not miss it, its job is long-done and unsavory characters

have taken up there, wreaking havoc and driving down property values),

one of the passel of nurses that pokes and squeezes and measures me

comes in and says:

Ach, she’s only a wee thing” with her Scottish brogue

and this makes me love her, since I am not wee by a long shot –

short, I’ll give her that, but built much like a fire hydrant

in the late 60s;

I want her to stay and ask her, as the drugs wend their way

from the magical portal in my arm to my very core (which is contracting

around its stolen goods as if to bring them back),

what part of Scotland she’s from, and tell her that

I’ve been to Arbroath, of all places,

in 1990, and saw Nessie in the loch at Inverness,

that I illegally jumped a wrought iron fence after hours to

explore Glasgow’s Necropolis,

sat in tiny living rooms in Dumbarton

belonging to grandmothers other than mine

who served tiny cups of tea

and sugared, crumbly biscuits from tiny kitchens,

that I posed with a Highland cow, drank too much in clubs

and instead of a boy, fell in love with Uig, and the Isle of Skye, with its moody

broad flat sea shining in the evening light

and with its rolling hills that rose up on their elbows

just a little,

enough to be interesting but not arduous,

and then settled there to forever watch the slanting golden hue

slowly abandon the summer sky,

light that lingered much longer

than we dared dream.