Spring Denied


Once

I ached for you and you for me

and when we found us we locked ourselves in

and breathed, and inhaled each other,

releasing our contagions to stoke the coals of desire

until our low grade fever burst into flames

and ignited passion’s wild fire,

happily alone together in our spring.

 

Now,

there is no dried kindle to coax into soft and tentative flames.

Instead, winter’s end finds damp indifference and decayed flesh,

cold ash in the curves and the crevasses,

dull and aching bruises covering thin and fading lines,

and all of the other damaged places

where passion once burned.

 

Winter,

As thick as the colorless sky that dimly lights these

days of gray and white and black,

where heartbeats are replaced by murmured whispers,

where shadows lengthen and spread

across the locked and rusty gates of the garden,

where its icy fingers remain,

unwilling to relinquish their corroded grip.

You Say Kahoutek, I Say Coranado


As I grow older, I find more and more that I am turning into my Father.  It’s not so much similarities in physicality, although there has been the occasional sleepy eyed sight of him looking back at me in my bathroom mirror. No, it’s brain function, or maybe malfunction, that I’m noticing in my own internal processing, the same butchering of words and names that I used to find so amusing in my dad.

For years, my dad fought an undeclared war with the English language. He’d get hung up on a certain word and mispronounce it several ways, some subtle and some just bizarre. Sometimes, he’d even add a new syllable or two. For example, the word “vibrate” became “viabrate.” Back in the seventies, his insurance agent was a man named John Kuharich. For some reason, he had trouble with “Kuharich.” Some glitch in his brain couldn’t process “Kuharich,” and his attempts to say it produced results like “Krewharich,” ‘Kronurich,” and “Kuhatcher” before finally settling on “Kahoutec, agent John Kahoutec.”

 I always found this to be extremely funny, until recently, when a similar glitch in my similar brain became evident. Just as my dad struggled with “Kuharich,” a word has emerged that has me totally befuddled when I try to say it. The only difference between the two of us is that “Kuharich” was the name of a relatively obscure insurance agent in a small town, while the word I’m having difficulty with has been one of the most frequently spoken words in the country, if not the entire world, over the past several weeks.

“Corona”

I can feel the cog wheels of my mechanical brain slowing down just looking at the word. It just doesn’t look or sound right. When in public, while maintaining a safe social distance of at least six feet, in conversation, I find myself referring to the Coranado or the Cordoba virus.  The other person will very nicely and politely point out my error, that it’s Corona. This correction is accepted and processed until some 45 seconds later, when I hear myself saying something about the Coradabo virus.

The next thing I hear is the sound of my dad’s laughter, viabrating in my ears.

Breakthrough


Happy holidays and Merry X-mas!

Those of you who occasionally read the drivel I post on this site may have noticed a recent plethora of mediocre poetry.  This is mainly due to the fact that I’ve recently developed an interest in poetry.  As amateurish as my poems have been so far, I chalk the dearth of quality up to the fact that I’m still learning the craft and remain a stumbling novice.

That was until tonight. Tonight, I finally broke through and wrote something that is undeniably good if not great.  Best of all, it’s in the form of a haiku, and even better yet, it’s related to the holiday season.

Here without further ado is my masterpiece:

What's the Deal With Egg Nog
Egg nog in July
would be just as refeshing
as in December

Thanks, and Merry Christmas from DBD!!!

December


The trees are all bare now,

their fleshy leaves having withered and fallen to the ground,

exposing their bony and naked branches and skeletal imperfections.

The leaves rustle noisily under my feet.      

Harsh and graceless, they are dead and decomposing,

their once brilliant colors having drained to cold dullness and risen and

overtaken the sky in shades of thickening gray.

A shiver runs down my spine and I pull the hood on my jacket up around my face,

as the leaves crunch under my feet,

making my steps crude and ugly

and reminding me in the arrogant clumsiness of my gait

that this is the December of my Decembers.

Days and Nights


He still sees her as she was nearly forty years ago.  While he recognizes the marks that time has chiseled on her face and body and the streaks of gray in her hair, he still can see her at twenty four, in the backyard of the property they still live on, amongst the piles of leaves they’d been raking, her deep green eyes lighting up her face.

She sees him as he is, too thin, gaunt, with the remaining hair left on his head having turned pure white. Every morning, she wakes up with him beside her, and when she looks at him, she sees a clock, counting down the days left until the morning comes that his side of the bed will be empty and cold.

They’d bought the house, a simple 1200 square foot ranch on a two and a half acre parcel on a remote dead end road in what was left of a sleepy small town that was in the final stages of being consumed by the spreading sprawl of suburbia, in November of 1984.  She worked seven miles to the north as a paralegal in a local law firm, while he was working as a computer programmer /analyst at the power plant nine miles to the south. He was 26 years old, she was 24.   They’d been married for a little bit more than three years.

Now, in 2019, they still live in the same house, having added a second floor and doubling the living space in 1998.   They raised three children, two sons and a daughter, all grown and successful and on their own now. His career ended in 2012, when the Parkinson’s Disease he was diagnosed with in 2004 progressed to the point to make working too difficult.

In  2015, he survived the severe blockage of three arteries and triple bypass surgery

After the heart surgery, he lost twenty five, then thirty, then thirty-five pounds, thanks to a new regime of diet, exercise, and a combination of a statins and baby aspirin that cut his overall cholesterol in half, by more than a hundred points.  Weighing the same as he did when he graduated high school was a source of pride until thirty five became forty and forty forty five.  When forty five became fifty pounds without even trying, he became concerned. The diagnosis confirmed their worst fears.

They both struggled dealing with the news.  For the first couple of days and nights, things were uncharacteristically quiet between them. She was consumed by fears of what life would be without him, how she’d cope with the emptiness that would consume the house they’d lived in all these years.

He spent most of the time in his head, replaying memories like Youtube videos. He kept returning to that Saturday in December of 1984 and he came to the conclusion that it ranked right up there with the birth of his children among the best days of his life.

It was a brisk and grey late autumn day, and it was just her and him, the rest of the world didn’t exist, each raking and burning their own piles of leaves, underneath the two giant maple trees in their yard. They’d only owned the place for a month, and though they’d raked leaves many times before, this was the first time they raked their leaves that fell from their trees onto their lawn. And that was all, the world belonged to them, and it was such heady and intoxicating stuff that is was inevitable they’d end up in bed, making love in the early afternoon. He remembered how she looked and felt, the warm smoothness of her skin, the smell of smoke in her hair, the sweet taste of her kisses, and the perfection of how their bodies fit together.

Returning to the deep night of 2019, he rolled over in the darkness and wrapped his arm around her waist, and she clasped his hand in hers.  They both lay there, awake with their eyes closed in the dark, somewhere between their best and last days together.

 

I Am Smoke


I wake in the diminishing daylight and I am smoke,

rising from red burning embers in a campfire

in an open field on the top of a high ridge.

I rise higher and higher above the red and blue flames and the white hot coals,

leaving the warmth of the fire and floating on the breeze,

feeling the chill of the late afternoon air,

above and over the trees,

carried on the breeze,

dissolving into the wind,

until I melt into and become the wind,

making the leaves on the trees tremble and shake.

I move out past the ridge and over the river,

pushing small blue lines that silently glide across the water.

The trees that line the water’s edge

are leaning and bowing in silent deference to me.

I lift dead leaves from the ground and breathe life into them,

making them dance in the cool air.

I make flags wave and I whisper through pine trees.

I am silence and grace,

I am young and old,

I am familiar and comforting,

and threatening and foreboding.

I am life and I am death.

I am the sum of my contradictions.

 

I find her,

working in her garden,

and I wrap myself around her.

She bundles her jacket tight around her shoulders as I move through her hair,

lifting and caressing it,

until she turns around,

and I caress her cheeks and fill her lungs.

I brush her skin and make goose bumps rise.

I taste her and she tastes me,

and she becomes fire,

ignited by my breath,

and I am the smoke she exhales from her red and blue flames

 

 

8-15-19


I’d give up my sight

rip the eyes right out of my head

just to see you again

 

and I’d cut off my feet

and sever my legs

just to stand beside you again

 

I’d tear the flesh from my bones

and bleed every drop of my blood

just to brush my hand against yours

 

I’d cut out my tongue

and never speak again

just to taste your kiss

 

and I would die again

a thousand times and more

just to sleep in your arms

 

but I couldn’t breathe, not even a breath

the morning sun couldn’t rise

if my searching fingertips couldn’t find

 

the smooth warmth of your skin

Fear and Loss: The Boss at 70


A couple of weeks ago, about three months in advance of his seventieth (!) birthday, Bruce Springsteen released his nineteenth studio album, Western Stars. It’s unlike anything he’s done before while remaining unmistakably Bruce.  It’s the voice in his lyrics and the characters he speaks through that  hasn’t changed.

Musically, it’s almost entirely acoustic, but unlike previous acoustic masterpieces like Nebraska  and The Ghost of Tom Joad, it’s much more than Bruce in a chair with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica.  Instead, it’s filled with lush, country-ish orchestral arrangements that hearken back to the late 60s and early 70s work of Harry Nilsson and  especially the hit making collaborations of Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb; sounds of the American west, particularly Arizona and Southern California. Musically, it’s about as far away from the New Jersey sound of guitars and saxophones as one could get without leaving the USA.

Thematically, the album is about fear and isolation, love and death, all things he’s sung about before, but never as openly and urgently.

To summarize the themes of the album, let’s take a look at what in my humble opinion are its two best songs.

In the song “Western Stars,” Springsteen takes on the role of a washed up cowboy actor who is barely hanging on, to life, sexual potency, and relevance.  The song opens with the character pleased to be simply waking and that he hasn’t been taken to “the whispering grasses” of Forest Lawn cemetery.

Then he’s at work, filming a television commercial, refusing the makeup girl’s offer of a shot of gin and raw eggs in favor of a Viagra for an unidentified lover.

We’re only into the first verse, and, as is one of his gifts, Springsteen has told us everything we need to know in as few words as possible. We know this is a guy consumed with fear; fear of death, fear of sexual impotence.

The incredible second verse shows us more:

Here in the canyons above Sunset, the desert don’t give up the fight
A coyote with someone’s Chihuahua in its teeth skitters ‘cross my veranda in the night
Some lost sheep from Oklahoma sips her Mojito down at the Whiskey Bar
Smiles and says she thinks she remembers me from that commercial with the credit card

Nature is still exerting its dominance even amongst the encroachment of real estate represented by the reference to Sunset Boulevard. The desert remains a dark and wild place, a place where coyotes prey upon landowners’ small dogs. Then the verse takes a turn, referencing a new face, “some lost sheep from Oklahoma”, and the predator and prey metaphor is made, although it’s really not clear who is predator and who is prey.

The next verse had me puzzled for a bit, but the video I think helped clear it up for me:

Some days I take my El Camino, throw my saddle in and go
East to the desert where the Charros, they still ride and rope
Our American brothers cross the wire and bring the old ways with them
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again

“Charros” are Mexican cowboys who observe the old ways of doing things.  These days, it seems doubtful that they are still riding around the southwest U.S.  In the video, Springsteen is alone in this part of the song.  I think the sight of them “riding and roping” is illusory, that they are merely ghosts and that the old ways, like the singer himself, are fading and fading fast.

The next verse is devastating:

Once I was shot by John Wayne, yeah, it was towards the end
That one scene’s bought me a thousand drinks, set me up and I’ll tell it for you, friend
Here’s to the cowboys, riders in the whirlwind
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again
And the western stars are shining bright again

All he has left that’s of any interest to anybody is the same old story about how he was once shot by  the  Duke himself in a movie that has to be at least forty five years old now.  He’s been getting drinks off of that story ever since, and he offers to tell it again if you’re willing to pay the price.  He then raises a toast to all the cowboys, “riders in the whirlwind,” and we’re not sue if he’s referring to real cowboys or the movies version, western “stars” like John Wayne.

The song reaches its conclusion:

Tonight the riders on Sunset are smothered in the Santa Ana winds
And the western stars are shining bright again

The “cowboys riding in the whirlwind” have been replaced by commuters down Sunset Boulevard  “smothered in the  Santa Anna winds.”

The singer is left alone, aging, and irrelevant to the “riders on Sunset.”

. . .

“Moonlight Motel” closes the album out, and it’s as great a song as Springsteen has written in a long, long time. 

The song begins with the narrator looking back into his past, and his memories are rich with sensory detail that has retained its grip on him even after the passing of an unspecified period of time:

There’s a place on a blank stretch of road where
Nobody travels and nobody goes and the
Deskman says these days ’round here
Where two young folks could probably up and disappear into
Rustlin’ sheets, a sleepy corner room
Into the musty smell
Of wilted flowers and lazy afternoon hours
At the Moonlight Motel

The images are vivid and multi-layered, reflecting both the physical decay of the Motel and the aging of the narrator. The details that Springsteen chooses and the language he uses to describe them are nothing if not poetic:

Now the pool’s filled with empty, eight foot deep
Got dandelions growin’ up through the cracks in the concrete
Chain-link fence half-rusted away
Got a sign, says, “Children, be careful how you play”
Your lipstick taste and your whispered secret
I promised I’d never tell
A half-drunk beer and your breath in my ear
At the Moonlight Motel

The images of rust and decay are balanced with memories of the intimacy the lovers shared.

In the next verse, the responsibilities and routine of the everyday eat away at that intimacy, and it’s interesting that Springsteen gives us precious little information about the woman that is being remembered so powerfully.   Is he describing an extramarital affair? Or is it an ex-wife? Is he a widower? All we know is that for whatever reason, she’s gone, and he’s alone, feeling a profound sense of loss


Well then, it’s bills and kids and kids and bills
And the ringing of the bell
Across the valley floor through the dusty screen door
Of the Moonlight Motel

In the next verse, she visits him in a dream, and the wind blows icy cold.  He wakes up to something she said, that “it’s better to have loved.” His sense of loss is so powerful that he is compelled to drive to the motel in the middle of the night:


Last night I dreamed of you, my love
And the wind blew through the window and blew off the covers
Of my lonely bed, I woke to something you said
That it’s better to have loved, yeah, it’s better to have loved
As I drove, there was a chill in the breeze
And leaves tumbled from the sky and fell
On a road so black as I backtracked
To the Moonlight Motel

The images of the drive to the motel, of  “a chill in the breeze” and leaves tumbling from the sky to land on “a road so black” are beautiful and haunting even as they represent death, and it becomes clear that the lover being longed for has died.

He arrives at the motel only to find it “boarded up and gone.”  He pulls into his old spot in the parking lot and pours two shots of Jack Daniels and says his last goodbye to things once important to him – his lover, the motel and his  youth:

 She was boarded up and gone like an old summer song
Nothing but an empty shell
I pulled in and stopped into my old spot

I pulled a bottle of Jack out of a paper bag
Poured one for me and one for you as well
Then it was one more shot poured out onto the parking lot
To the Moonlight Motel

In   the end,  the guy in “Moonlight  Motel” isn’t the tragic figure of ”Western Stars,” he’s just a guy, the same guy  who’s inhabited so many of Springsteen’s songs for close to fifty years now. In Western Stars, we find this guy carrying the same baggage of loss and fear that we all carry as we approach our final destination.   By recognizing and exploring this baggage, Springsteen makes it a little lighter  for us to carry.

Rabbit Hunting


Railroad tracks

on the east side of town

by the bridge over 67th Avenue.

Rabbit hunting.

I’m seventeen years old.

A fresh coat of snow on the ground.

Cold wind slaps my face.

My single shot 20 gauge loaded and cold in my hands,

a half dozen six-shot shells in my coat pocket.

Late afternoon,

sun is sinking on the horizon,

painting the sky watercolor pink

with wide swathes between the grey clouds.

From the top of the elevated tracks

I see a patch of gray moving in the thickets of brush

at the bottom just ahead of my brother.

I raise my shotgun to my shoulder and point it at the first opening

ahead of the rabbit, slide the safety off,

and wait,

no more than a second or two,

for the opening to be filled.

I squeeze the trigger.

The shotgun explodes,

rabbit tumbles over its front legs

In Peckinpah slow motion

and abruptly stops, lying motionless in a thicket,

a drop of red in the snow next to its mouth.

As the echo of the shotgun blast fades

and the gusts of wind pause,

the whole world falls still

if only for an instant,

for eternity.

June


A group of five writers

sitting at a table on the patio of an Irish pub

on a glorious June afternoon.

Easy conversation floating on the breeze

like an exhausted butterfly gliding,

too tired to flap its wings.

 

Dark clouds rush in

and chase them to a table inside

where they stay, even after the dark clouds move out,

and the sky grows bright,

when the subject of suicide comes up.

One of them casually mentions a half-hearted

attempt as a teenager,

another describes in detail how Sylvia Plath locked herself

in the kitchen and put

towels under the door.

Another remarks that pills more often than not

fail, leading only to vomiting and pumped stomachs.

The only certain way to do it is with a gun,

and someone else points out

that men tend to use guns more than women do,

as if that were profound.

 

I contribute nothing to the conversation

because I know nothing about suicide.

Instead I watch through the window

as you glide by on the breeze,

orange and black,

too tired to flap your wings.