Before I was a man I served in a war. It shaped the way I live and though I have consciously practiced peace since it will always temper the way I see the world. It was my first impetus to write poetry as an adult; as a boy I wrote songs and lyrics and was entranced by syncopated rhythms and the spelling of words like rhythm. I am a retired NYC teacher, (still active) activist, and learning to steward a sustainable agro-forest and food garden. I’ve authored five chapbooks; poems online include http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/243058 & /246572, and a music video at
Stand By Me
The road ahead, the view,
the song on the radio.
At its first strains, she
looks away and in, out
the passenger window.
It’s a song we both knew
before we knew each other,
and I’m jealous of the sudden
dreamy content in her voice
as she sings softly along.
I want to be that memory.
Raised by Grace
Just when I felt small enough
to fit into my Roy Rogers
lunchbox, and my fear
almost made me piss myself,
the weight of simple words
from Grace, the crossing guard,
“Come on now, sugar,” settled
with her arm on my shoulder,
and led me away from two older boys
who’d arrayed around me on the curb,
more menacing than the gloomy,
bone-clutching cold on that raw,
rainy November morning,
and I wanted to lean into the folds
of her yellow slicker and cry.
Careening through her subterranean world,
her fears clutching her boy’s hand too tightly,
he might have known desperation.
But his legs were too short, his mind still
too hopeful to follow the narrowing furrows
spiraling in on the same ramparted destination,
time and again, retarding ordinary events.
He prayed for God to help her, and to be
there, which the boy had begun to doubt. He cried,
too, wanting to be old enough to leave them both.
Nothing is harder on mortal man than wandering. -Homer
Lonely survivor years, I’ve watched you
in the park, rummaging garbage cans and talking
to some raging in your blood, fire-soot smudges
marking your face and hands. Brother-in-arms,
witness, survivor, fellow bearer of the mark of blood
and fire, we swore never to leave each other behind
and to carry anyone we saw die, so it’s hard to see
you still a prisoner of war and slow suicide.
I have my own roster of dead. Bad nights,
reciting from the memorial wall in my head,
I’ve driven or walked to escape recall’s recoil.
Late and far, I’ve talked to myself, cried and regretted
our dead. But like tracers that never tamed the dark,
I can’t save you anymore than I could save them.
One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human.
Loren Eisley, The Unexpected Universe
The forest was a messy mix
of mud and ice, and long fallen
leaves made a slick, mysterious,
muddle of decay and miracle
underfoot. I followed tracks
on and off trails, marked the evidence
of scat and chewed bark,
until three deer snapped
to attention at my slogging
approach to the clearing
where they grazed.
Through tree trunks,
a steady, feathery snow,
and the steam streaming
from their muzzles,
their eyes took hold of me.
None of us were able
to move or let go in that
dense, suspenseful medium,
until one snorted.
The other two turned,
leaped and bounded away.
Then, something else changed.
The eyes of the remaining deer --
born of the forest,
chestnut black and brown,
acorn round – blazed darkly
and blinkless, and would not
release me. My stare was just
as stubborn. I didn’t know what
more the moment might want,
or why beauty is so fearsome.
Credit: "Beauty" appears in A Tide of a Hundred Mountains (Bright Hill Press, 2012)
©2015 Richard Levine