after Reagan Lothes
Because nothing else is on so early
in the morning when he drinks coffee
in an empty house. Because almanacs
are of limited use compared to satellites.
Because spring will have to come somehow
and cold reminds him which bones
he’s broken. Because every flight delayed
or canceled is one he won’t be on. Because
people should stay where they’re from,
except his children, who were right to leave.
Because a flood will take what it can
and move uphill. Because just once
he’d like to see a tornado touch down
in an empty field and go away
hungry. Because his wife nearly died
on an icy road. Because he can’t prepare
for disasters he doesn’t understand.
Because wind keeps him awake. Because
his boots are by the door, but his slicker
is in his truck. Because he can’t change
a damn thing forecast and uncertainty aches
like a tired muscle, an unhealed wound.
Copyright © 2013 Carrie Shipers. Originally published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Volume 30, Number 3-4. Used with permission of the author.
In the late spring of 1985,
we met in the weedy lot of the Orchid Pavilion Nursery
for a little ritual purification.
Everyone came, all the half-brothers and half-sisters,
the children not yet born,
and men so old they were young again.
We sat beside the aqueduct, and gold cans of beer
floated down to us
like the lines of poems.
The end of the twentieth century hung over
us like a cartoon anvil, but the breeze
that day was a knife so sharp
you couldn’t feel it cutting pieces off of you.
But then, when it’s sunny, no one remembers
how quickly a century turns over.
Our mothers always said that living and dying
ran on the same business model,
that one hand washed the other.
But how to tell that to the rat whose whiskers
will be bound into the brush
that inks these very lines about him?
No, there’s no use pretending the tears our mothers wept
over newborn babies and the dead
were even the same species of water.
Copyright © 2015 by Nick Lantz. Used with permission of the author.
Dear, did we meet in some dim yesterday?
I half remember how the birds were mute
Among green leaves and tulip-tinted fruit,
And on the grass, beside a stream, we lay
In early twilight; faintly, far away,
Came lovely sounds adrift from silver lute,
With answered echoes of an airy flute,
While Twilight waited tiptoe, fain to stay.
Her violet eyes were sweet with mystery.
You looked in mine, the music rose and fell
Like little, lisping laughter of the sea;
Our souls were barks, wind-wafted from the shore—
Gold cup, a rose, a ruby, who can tell?
Soft—music ceases—I recall no more.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I call my father during halftime when the Irish are on TV. (Family history: my father called his father from a rotary phone screwed to the wall.) It’s good to hear my father’s voice, to have cellular access to familiar sounds: his admonishments, his praise and anger. (Memory of bedtime songs he’d sing on his guitar: I sing them to my daughter now—Phil Ochs’s “When I’m Gone” and Kenny Loggins’s “Danny’s Song.”) My grandfather, who lived in Indiana, named my father James. I rarely think about it, his having a name—my father, James.
Copyright © 2017 Brian Phillip Whalen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.
Dad couldn’t stop crying after Kathy moved him into the facility. When she came to visit, he’d cry and say he wanted to die. He said the same thing to the nurses. This went on for about a month until the doctor put him on an antidepressant especially for Parkinson’s patients. The next time Kathy came to visit, she found him in the cafeteria, talking to some of the other residents and not crying at all—just enjoying his lunch. When it was time for her to go, he didn’t cry, but rather calmly escorted her to the car. “Do you like this car? My wife and I were thinking about getting one,” he told her. “That’s very interesting,” Kathy smiled, “because I am your wife.” Dad chuckled, “Is that right?” He squinted over the palm trees towards the freeway. So many cars. Busy busy busy. “Well, we’ll see you later, then,” he said, and shook her hand firmly, the way he’d learned to do at Rotary. What funny new friends he was making.
It is a Sunday afternoon on the Grand Canal. We are watching the sailboats trying to sail along without wind. Small rowboats are making their incisions on the water, only to have the wounds seal up again soon after they pass. In the background, smoke from the factories and smoke from the steamboats merges into tiny clouds above us then disappears. Our mothers and fathers walk arm in arm along the shore clutching tightly their umbrellas and canes. We are sitting on a blanket in the foreground, but even if someone were to take a photograph, only our closest relatives would recognize us: we seem to be burying our heads between our knees.
I remember thinking you were one of the most delicate women I had ever seen. Your bones seemed small and fragile as a rabbit's. Even so, beads of perspiration begin to form on your wrist and forehead — if we were to live long enough we'd have been amazed at how many clothes we forced ourselves to wear. At this time I had never seen you without your petticoats, and if I ever gave thought to such a possibility I'd chastise myself for not offering you sufficient respect.
The sun is very hot. Why is it no one complains of the heat in France? There are women doing their needlework, men reading, a man in a bowler hat smoking a pipe. The noise of the children is absorbed by the trees. The air is full of idleness, there is the faint aroma of lilies coming from somewhere. We discuss what we want for ourselves, abstractly, it seems only right on a day like this. I have ambitions to be a painter, and you want a small family and a cottage in the country. We make everything sound so simple because we believe everything is still possible. The small tragedies of our parents have not yet made an impression on us. We should be grateful, but we're too awkward to think hard about very much.
I throw a scaling rock into the water; I have strong arms and before the rock sinks it seems to have nearly reached the other side. When we get up we have a sense of our own importance. We could not know, taking a step back, looking at the total picture, that we would occupy such a small corner of the canvas, and that even then we are no more than tiny clusters of dots, carefully placed together without touching.
Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
The sea called—
you faced the estuary,
you were drowned as the tide passed.—
I am glad of this—
at least you have escaped.
The heavy sea-mist stifles me.
I choke with each breath—
a curious peril, this—
the gods have invented
curious torture for us.
One of us, pierced in the flank,
dragged himself across the marsh,
he tore at the bay-roots,
lost hold on the crumbling bank—
Another crawled—too late—
for shelter under the cliffs.
I am glad the tide swept you out,
you of all this ghastly host
your white flesh covered with salt
as with myrrh and burnt iris.
We were hemmed in this place,
so few of us, so few of us to fight
their sure lances,
the straight thrust—effortless
with slight life of muscle and shoulder.
So straight—only we were left,
the four of us—somehow shut off.
And the marsh dragged one back,
and another perished under the cliff,
and the tide swept you out.
Your feet cut steel on the paths,
I followed for the strength
of life and grasp.
I have seen beautiful feet
but never beauty welded with strength.
I marvelled at your height.
You stood almost level
with the lance-bearers
and so slight.
And I wondered as you clasped
at the strength of your wrist
and the turn of your young fingers,
and the lift of your shorn locks,
and the bronze
of your sun-burnt neck.
All of this,
and the curious knee-cap,
fitted above the wrought greaves,
and the sharp muscles of your back
which the tunic could not cover—
no garment could deface.
I wonder if you knew how I watched,
how I crowded before the spearsmen—
but the gods wanted you,
the gods wanted you back.
This poem is in the public domain.
Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
One look I but gave which your dear eyes return’d with a look I shall never forget,
One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach’d up as you lay on the ground,
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle,
Till late in the night reliev’d to the place at last again I made my way,
Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool blew the moderate night-wind,
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading,
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night,
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed,
Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands,
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade—not a tear, not a word,
Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole,
Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think we shall surely meet again,)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear’d,
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop’d well his form,
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and carefully under feet,
And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited,
Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim,
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten’d,
I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell.
This poem is in the public domain.