Thursday, February 28, 2013

I Hear Music


Now and again, sandwiched between
some jingle I heard in 1962 and choice scoops
of American Pie, warm brass pools
across the lid and runs down the sides
of the bubbling still that cooks the shine
of my inner soundtrack-always on
sometimes loud, the DJ, goddamn him
a chimp turned loose in the broadcast booth. 
But sooner or later once he’s wrung dry  
In The Year 2525 and tired of the game
of water boarding me with the theme from
The Patty Duke Show, resonant brass
the color of Piedmont honey swells melting
in my glass on a warm May afternoon
a flugelhorn and a couple of cornets
cupping the sun in their bells.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It Takes A Lot To Laugh

Last Days of Steam

Dad had a laugh that road a goddamn
head of steam, ate track like candy.  
Fireman stripped to the waist, his railroad
boots planted astride the gap between
yawning coal car and straining engine
fat brass gauges sweating through the climbing
numbers, yawing needles pushing into
the tender red.  Incandescent tongues
through the open door of the firebox
licking the engineers gripping toes clean
greasy sausages broiled in steely skulls
perfuming the swirling cab. 
Stoker was the job to have in the maw
of the hive amid a cloud of angry bees
fine wings alight.  Better that than tied
to the tracks where we all took our turn
eyes crossed on the looming cowcatcher.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hand Writing On The Wall

Warm Up Act

I wonder if the warm up act shifting
foot to foot in the black chute below
the stage took time to scan the signatures
scrawled in Sharpie on the high white walls
all that accreted guano from darting
blind nocturnal egos.  Putting myself
in his shoes (too business casual
for a hungry singer/songwriter!)
comparative height would have drawn
my attention:  Ritchie Havens to
John Prine, Roger McGuinn to Emmylou
Billy Bragg to Lou or Peter Berryman.
Loudon Wainwright III must have stood
on a bar stool, Iris Dement penned
graceful as a song.  No more than a kid
alone in the lights, negotiating
the same three kindly chords, the very air
of the Ark carved deep with their worn grooves
he polished his stage presence, sang
the words to songs he wrote accompanied
by his own veering bat gorging on our
polite applause.   The headliners waited
relaxed atop thousands of shows, at ease
beneath faded looping autographs
pining to slip, even for a moment
into those stiff new shoes or perhaps quietly
thankful for their well tooled boots.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Silver Lake

Learning To Clean Fish

You pluck a blue gill from the white bucket
teaming with fish suspended in lazy
pirouette, eyes gone black, cool skin warming
in a lifeless cylinder of city water. 
Knee to knee with an uncle thumbing
the keen edge of a blade, neatly framed
in a kitchen window giving out
on the lake taut and leaking cobalt
in the wake of a sinking August sun. 
Plump lozenge arranged on newsprint canvas
perfumes the dome of yellow light with tales
of decay spawned by filthy glaciers stealing
over the fresh gouge of Lake Superior.
Flex the wrist below table’s edge to keep
the angle fine, feathering your knife
as you go, a quiver of flesh beneath
a curl of skin peeled clean with only
the merest hint of gleaming finality. 
Before it’s lost I press this leaf between
the swollen pages of the book I keep
at hand, fingering the glass tilting
empty by this chair, lake lapping my toes. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Family history

Pigeon Forge

The mountains remember strewn sea bed
shouldered skyward, tilted peaks like grand pianos
upended in empty concert halls
corners scoured, rounded tones muffled
under ancient blanketing mist
drawing them through the gaps, up and over
keeping to the rivers, mountains
trailing apace over their left shoulders.
My people, then:   generations rising
before the sun cleared the mountains
pissing into empty JFG coffee cans
in the wee small hours
feeding stray dogs grey breakfast scraps
babies, hands, sons lost to the relentless grinding maw
toeing the narrow ledge of fickle red clay
Winston-Salem hungry for the next harvest
smoking in damp knots in the godless seam
between Sunday school and Sunday service
a blister of motels, outlet malls and chains
moving good country cookin’ rising
overnight in a seeping pox
scabbing over under the watchful eye
of the mountains dissolving wordless
into rivers, their secrets safe.