G. Louis Heath
I am a native Californian who is a Professor Emeritus, Ashford University. That basically means that my campus closed and I had to retire at age 71 in May, 2016, after 47 years in higher education. Please excuse the clinging initial G. (for Gary) Louis Heath but I thought it was cool in 1969 when I first published! My books include Mutiny Does Not Happen Lightly, Long Dark River Casino, and Vandals in The Bomb Factory. I love to read my poems at the Midwest Writing Center in Davenport, Iowa and at other open mic events. I serve on the Human Rights Commission of my city, Clinton, Iowa. I love to hike along the Mississippi River where I can sit down, weather permitting, and work on a poem that I have stuffed in my back pocket.
A toddler in bright pink cap on sideways falters in
the uneven tattoo she beats behind the backside of
a man whose T-shirt reads “Dave ’09.” She is only
mise-en-scene to him as he ambles over the lawn.
His footsteps describe a phantom maze his daughter
tries hard to follow. She stumbles and falls in her
newly acquired gait. Each tumble, she grabs a clump
of grass, to rise and baby-throw at target “Dave ’09.”
Her futile anger hits low on Dad’s Bermuda shorts and
on his legs and sneakers. He does not feel the grass, or
shows no sign he does. He talks on his cellphone in
a lively, winsome tone with a digital reconstruction he
apparently really likes. The grass cannot speak for his
girl to tell him to be one with her, the lawn, and the
glorious, warm spring day through whose bushes pretty
warblers are tittupping, singing their pretty songs to baby.
America, The Chinese
O’er America’s bounteous plains and snow-capped
peaks, the railroad spread its grip. In the West, crews
of Chinese gandy-danced over steep passes and through
fertile valleys. They drove spikes into rails, trusses, and
beams to vault bridges over canyons. Soon, along the
iron road, rose rowdy, little towns and lush, lusty farms.
In the High Sierras, the Chinese swung in baskets before
jagged rock faces that snarled at them. They replied by
sledging the granite into submission. Their bones fell into
broken piles that now are mileposts in America, the Chinese.
Toy Story, USA
Our toddler Omar must have his toys. They
take him toward vistas, away from Mom
and Dad. Each gift lets him conquer more
for his burgeoning army of toys. Today he
is incident commander for a brilliant-red fire
truck he drives to extinguish a major blaze.
He is a very brave little boy. The flames lick
at him as he climbs through rugged black
smoke into the South Tower to save lives.
He knows this is no toy story for the falling
are bleeding, not melting. Tomorrow he will
climb a monument, plant bougainvillea seeds,
and rappel down, his fingers guiding G.I. Joe.
Vines of annealing color will douse the flames.
Four decades ago, a long row of blue spruce seedlings
was planted at my apartment complex. Their shadows
and fallen needles take the measure of my America. As
they grew, the cascade of the American experience fell
as rain on the spruce. My American sun shined her face
on them. She smiled, glowered, grimaced, harrumphed
(as only my own mother could), and twisted her lips and
showed her teeth in the full array of emoting that only
my U.S. Clio can summon. I see these trees through my
wide picture window all my waking hours. They are eye-
opening companions to me. These tall American trees
grow in my Iowa. They are American trees of Iowa that
have seen my time as I have seen theirs. I can no longer see
the parking lot nor the bluff on the river beyond. I had to
go on bp meds. My auto of 24 years gave out. Two young
kids and their baby sitter died in a fire in the building across
from me. A colleague lost an arm in an accident. 9/11 hit
me hard, sent me to my history books in a frenetic, patriotic
search for comfort. A couple moved in below me who make
too much noise and the guy below them called the cops. My
parents died. I lost some friends, got some new ones, some
old ones came back. My nephews got married. I created the
courses, “Africa in the Modern World” and “Scandinavian
Thought and Culture.” My brother got cancer. My university
closed. I turned 72, free to read, write, and travel. My spruce
trees, my American trees, mean a lot to me and everyone here.
We spend our lives building walls to protect us.
The moats we dig around those walls buy more
life insurance, bought dearly. Our walls bristle.
They bare sharp teeth of space-age metal. Inside,
we count our days, years, grandkids, and money,
an arithmetical way to faux-control fate. Perhaps
we take a vacation from the walls, but it is only a
short escape. A mind can’t ponder its own fall from
existence. Nor can a wall. Yet, we know for a fact
our mighty walls will fall one day into deep and
slimy moats, filled with anti-personnel crocs. We
deny this truth till we hear the first redoubt crack
apart into a cloud of dust. Walls crumble to dust,
and we do find, after all, that dust doth become us.
©2016 G. Louis Heath
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