Author’s Note: I live in Glens Falls, NY. I've published a number of books of poetry and my work is also easy to find online, in this journal as well as many others. My newest book of poems, The Honey of Earth, will appear this summer from Terrapin Books. Local News, a poetry anthology about small towns, co-edited with Tom Montag, is also due this summer, from MWPH Books. A gallery of my photography is is also available here: http://instagram.com/doctorjazz
The Iron Crib
--for Tyler Munro Graham
A boy in an iron crib awakens,
crib where his father woke, his grandmother,
and like them he is met by the calm eyes
of Mother. Lakewater refracts upon
lemony walls, dust in the air as dust.
He sees it all, hears the water lapping
and asks, "Am I awake?"—sure that she knows.
Sure also that she will give the answer
freely as milk or an extra blanket.
I must have forgotten the way it feels,
call and response of each day, vacation,
peekaboo, hide and seek, those testings of
the untestable world. I do recall
brown eyes of my own mother and father,
oil portraits facing each other down
at opposite ends of the upstairs hall.
They answered the one question I didn't
think to ask, as he won't: Am I watched?
Am I watched as I sleep, as I waken,
as I open my book of fairy tales?
Am I watched by those ever-patient eyes,
and if so, am I more loved or guarded?
The labor of love, its difficult birth,
he will not know soon, or need to. Sleep well,
nephew, adding each morning to the last
until they house you with their memories.
I have seen this lake storm-ruffled and clear.
From this rocky shore I've skipped stones into
gathering whitecaps, have heard mergansers,
bluejays, loons, have sensed the swallows and bats
flirting with these wave-tips, gorging on air.
In winter I have skied to the island,
in spring I've smelled the whole lake turn over.
I've heard my parents call me as I swam
from here to there. In the twilit water
I have felt with my feet for the bottom.
--originally published in Doggedness. Devil’s Millhopper Press, 1989.
Puttyroot And Stopcock
Old Mr. What's His Name was always good
for a hoot in study hall: installing
himself solemnly behind the oak desk,
he'd open the unabridged with a random
heave, and proceed to scan a single page
through the whole hour, his bald crown beaconing
unutterable dullness down the rows
where we sat all fidgety and sidelong,
scooting notes down the aisles, miming
mile-wide yawns at his ponderous head.
Imagine, reading a dictionary!
--as if it burned with a novel's heat,
as though the gutter cleft gave out some
earthly perfume we were too rabid to know.
The only fragrance we'd admit to our dreams
abided in airy strangeness
beneath a cheerleader's upkicked skirts.
Ah, Mr. Whoever, for the good part
of three decades now I've followed the light
from your luminous skull, browsing stopcock
and puttyroot, pondering the shades
of desire in beguile, entice, inveigle
and lure--in short, I've entered with open eye
(and here I mean to dwell till the book shuts)
the wondrous fog of your wide ignorance.
--originally published in In Praise of Pedagogy. Calendar Island Publishers, 2000.
Extras in One Movie, Stars in Another
who is the man
walking down the street behind
your brother’s last smartass grin?
What is he carrying in his pockets,
besides the keys to some distant home?
I don’t know whatever happened to
the drunk woman who bear hugged me
down a dim hallway near the toilets
at a bar in Worcester in 1976.
By the time I’d slipped her hold
and wiped off the one sloppy kiss
she’d managed to land, I’d already
consigned her to the junk drawer—
all those people and odd encounters
I have no use for but somehow can’t
throw away, like the elegant-looking bum
who sidled through my blind spot
up to the window of my parked car,
Raleigh 1986, who took my grudging dollar
and vanished without a word,
as if we were spies completing
a document swap, which I suppose
we were. He disappeared but never
left, like the moon above storm clouds.
Then there was the unjolly grandmother
on the bus from Boston to White River,
date unknown, who lectured me in such
grievous detail about how her whole
family hated her, that before we
even reached Concord I hated her too,
pretending to sleep the rest of the way
through a snowy New England night,
lovely as a dream of forgetting everything.
She stepped into the same shadows
as the boy my dog and I once came upon
in the woods we walked daily, hanging
like silent chimes from an ash tree.
I went to the funeral out of some weird
sense of connection with this kid
I’d never met, whose name escapes me.
I imagine his Dad, looking at photos later,
studying mourners on the sidewalk
outside the church, wondering who that
bearded guy was, tucked in the background,
off to the side, not speaking to anyone.
© 2019 David Graham
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