Bobby Bly and F. Scott Fitzgerald Walk Into a Bar…

Bly's is the cue ball, his mind 
breaking Fitzgerald's rack,
club ties striped and solid but
eight-ball in the corner pocket,
the dark-haired fever of it –
F Scott buried in a pauper's grave

Though Bly is only twelve in 1940
the next morning they're chewing cigarettes 
and champagne, tobacco 
bubbles and sparkles in their teeth –
light of the sun trespassing 
through the empty glasses

Fitzgerald is a flabby edition, his suit dog-eared,
unsteady from the hotel, bookstore to bookstore, 
asking for a copy of his books, but no, 
his work a has-been, a feather
mourning the precarity of wind
and tremendous fame.

Bly says we're dead now,
whither shall we go?
We lived in the front pocket of delirium,
sorrow and lint to mix for our ink.
Vienna will not have you
nor write on your tomb:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Shay’s Word Garden

Whisky Elegy

Reader, now you are fully here in the poem.
This is how the poem, you, and I 
transcend illusion, maya.

Tell us how outside your window rain beats a can –
the one you left on the porch of hair mixed with coffee grounds
swept from the kitchen floor last spring.

And I will admit my mother was already lost
as we drove from warehouse to warehouse in Denver
looking for heroes and boxes of steel ball bearings.

The poem tells us these are where we hide,
our thoughts tangled in umbilical, helical ropes
that hang our hats or our heads.

I am a large man, if I try to wear your clothes
they will burst. If you try to see yourself in my mirror
you will be unshaven and want a clean bar of soap.

There is no "chop wood, carry water" here, only 
an apartment in Weekhawken above parking lots
filled with brown leaves, thin puddles.

Let us break bread together then,
raise our glasses without deception – utterance 
and burning promise in our throats.

The Sunday Muse

After UA 14 Overnight to Heathrow

Dawn edging London, that red-eye planet.
Reader, stand with me here in the hotel shower,
face-up to the spray.

Slowly turn up the heat until water is a lash.
Not penance, no. You understand
how this is necessary.

Agree it would be a mistake 
to reckon and tally. Or call back dreams 
from distant beds.

My clothes on the floor an abandoned spacesuit,
skin professing faith in time-travel.
There is nothing faster 

than light you say, from beyond the mirror's blur. 
No trick of gravity or imagination 
that grants us passage.

A twist of the tap unseals the locks.
I must learn to breathe.
Only the long way home.

“To be loved or broken,
to be born again or die…”
A woman waits for me.

*Salman Rushdie – “Quichotte”

The Sunday Muse

TSM 182

Follow my nose, eh?
As if I were a narwhal whose tusk – 
my helix of sharp sorrows –
was a compass pointing 
true north.

Did you say you heard me clicking 
and singing
late into the polar night,
our saga of when mermaids 
rode whales to war?

Or just my silliness again,
getting on in years.
We sit together at the table
and talk about the ice floes.
Will we will remember the way?

Or will I make a wrong turn,
end up at the mall again –
at Sleepy's laid out on the white expanse
of king-sized mattresses,
holding hands in our parkas.

While they call the children 
to come get us,
I wrap a sheet around me –
a body ready to tip 
into the sea.

Returned to the water –
the two of us whale and seal.
I test my tusk if its point is true,
and you
riding the surf in joy.

The Sunday Muse

TSM 181

You there! blackened gum on the sidewalk –
I consecrate you. A dark host 
for a dark celebrant.
And you, man walking your dog at 6AM –
I bless the parables in your teeth, 
clacking to stay awake.

For at this hour I am the Bishop of everything 
but never finally touching,
that doesn’t hang together, connect.

Slip sliding away to infinity
I raise my arm in Taxi benediction –
the Blessing of the Fleet 
a checkered yellow –
I am Pope and cornerman to box shrubs 
in my square priory, my tiny park.

A voice pulls at my elbow
from a window far above:
"Take off that silly paper hat!
What are you doing out there!
Act your age just for once,
and get back in here before it rains!"

My mood darkens, whom/what
will I excommunicate
with a wave of my crosier, my
wind-broken twig?
Congregants pass unrepentant
with their strollers and scooters.

How will I bring the morning
its salvation, like an everything bagel
warm in the bag – when it refuses the wine
of my poems, so cross-eyed with gall.
This crucified dawn. This Sunday that slants
to salvation or damnation.

The Sunday Muse

TSM 180

Eye for an eye, lip for a lip: my love not retribution but desire – just now, just this, our kiss hanging in the air between us like a mirror flashing the sun, flaring SOS to pilots flying low out of LaGuardia in Manhattan's endless, island search party.

Form: "NY Minute."  A NY Minute is like an American Sentence, but doesn't give a crap about syllable counts or anything else. You got a problem with that?

The Sunday Muse

TSM 179

It's no secret, our old place
needed a tonsillectomy –
drafts wheezing down the front stairs,
horsehair plaster poxed and patchy
like a sore throat.

I know you hated it, 
your sleep uneasy for twenty years, 
a bad wire smoldering in your dreams.
Ours the only family
that had to practice fire drills.

The new bracelet for your birthday
has one stone for each squirrel
that died in the walls,
and one for the feral cat
living in the porch roof.

Let this autumn exfoliate 
our memory, shed old tissue for new  –
the leaves drifting down 
like dead skin, like paint peeling
from the siding.

The Sunday Muse

TSM 178

When you let me sleep-in this morning
I dreamt three tornadoes

set down with wood and splinter,
untangled brick from mortar –

whatever color I had imagined
blinded by the Sandman's fury –

a grit and rubble sutra
of a black and white world.

What of it? I was 
three faces of Adam

to the wind, threnody
for the lost brother of the Bible –

I had stood between Cain and Able in the field, 
suffered the first blows as they fell,

for my failure, my exile greater than Cain's –
I was wiped from human memory.

Thus saith the Lord, thus my name
blown and scraped from the page.

If I chamber three bullets in the cyclone, 
not one, and the wind spins them hard,

What game am I playing?

The Sunday Muse

TSM 177

Any final appeals to you gaoler, joker,
Earl of Poughkeepsie?
That my hips and knees,
shoulders and elbows,
their ball and socket truth –

Would become mortar and pestles,
the crucible of age,
turning, turning in a widening gyre –
daily grind
making meal of me

Hangman, oh hangman,
did you have to save 
every fallen strand of hair,
weave life's every twist and turn
to the end of my rope?

Strike me this, Jolly Rodger –
as I drop from the yardarm
through empty air, wind and rigging 
creaking in the wooden blocks –
let my soul unfurl to sail

The Sunday Muse

TSM 176

Brown and mottled, 
hints of green and greasy,
a dog turd on the pavement
shifts, wriggles, takes flight –

Was after all a bird, evolved
to urban perfection, camouflaged, a
gum-wad and trash 
chameleon –

Jersey side, city tow trucks 
bag abandoned cars,
their rusted fins 
like clipped wings –

A windshield's three bullet holes: me, me, I 
check my rattlesnake boots in the mirror,
my Colorado birthright, Eden 
and Genesis with fangs –

As if the whites of my eyes still hide
my mother's pearl-handled revolvers,
dangerous and cordite
as her smile –

What did you ask me last night 
at 3AM? Are our dreams
just a thin paint job
on the rust of my ambition –

You and I who crawled 
back from the sea 
and returned to land,
a reflux of salt tide –

rises in the sullen river,
lapping at the pier.

The Sunday Muse