Paired: Halved

As some have put it, it’s a day we both know is coming. Each husband and wife know it’s a moment on the horizon. But because it’s so frightening, we seldom if ever speak of it, except to make financial arrangements or deal with it through legal documents. Even poets seem to  avoid the unanticipated aspects of the loss of a spouse. it’s simply too painful.

 

It’s a subject often approached by poets,

those who are married or otherwise paired

in at least a semi-permanent bond.

 

But it’s an approach a bit like

an aborted approach to an airport…

“Yes, folks, that was a close call….”

 

Yes, there’s an allusion to one of you

going on alone,

and an admission of a glancing nod

toward the empty spot

beside the one who continues.

 

But there’s no acknowledgment

that for many of us half of the self

is no longer there.

 

Family memories, jokes, shared experiences;

knowledge of your glaring faults

and fumbling attempts at reconciliation;

your glowing moments of triumph;

your overcoming of dark failures

that could have demolished you;

the love you shared – and gave away –

that was deeper than life itself.

 

On and on it goes, as part of you, perhaps half,

or simply, and literally, the better half of you is gone.

 

You won’t just be missing the one who is gone,

but the best sides of your self, as well,

the ones that remain invisible to you

because they’re only seen by those

closest to you, yet outside of you.

 

 

 

Brashly crashing

If I’ve learned anything about anger, it’s that expressing it to people without restraint, whether they’re people I love or people I only have functional dealings with — like folks at the post office — there is almost always a huge downside that renders that action harmful. Often it even requires apologies, requests for forgiveness. So my bottom line is usually that such anger is without value; does no good at all, in fact does harm. But nonetheless anger happens. What follows is about rhyme and internal rhyme and noise. Noise significant of nothing.

 

I crash and clang about.

I brashly bang,

my armor dinged.

 

I all but shout,

but keep it all within,

corrosive acids race without

a chance of release, but doubt

that spewing all this pressure out

 

would release me from the pain,

my unfocused anger and my pout,

would then produce these flaring spouts

like oil wells flaming out.

 

 

Fog draws in the walls

Ever notice how heavy fog, especially at night, magnifies sounds, both close and at a distance. How much is physiological and how much psychological?

 

The fog magnifies,

making loud what should be soft.

A key in a door.

 

A car door closing.

A branch snapping underfoot.

Leaves dripping water.

 

Things close at hand

seeming to make more noise

because all around

 

a curtain of white

shuts out the ambient sounds

we normally hear.

 

Perhaps fog makes us

focus on the near at hand

as depression does,

 

making large the small,

making unbearably loud

what would be subtle

 

 

Purifying fire

This year’s drought has spared us the blight of grass fires. The lakes may be low, but dried grasses haven’t turned to straw, volatile and ready to make the earth a torch. But ten years ago, whole pieces of countryside lit up. Small rural towns disappeared in flames.

 

The grass fires have slowed

after wiping out a few

local small towns,

 

farming places

60 to 80 miles

from where we live.

 

Ringgold is no more.

Almost all its homes burned.

In one small place

 

up near Nocona

only the white figures of

a Nativity

 

were to be found where

formerly their home had been.

And these small figures

 

had once been painted

colors we imagine fit

for a manger scene.

 

But cleansed by the fire,

this family tells us that

it’s a sign from God,

 

a reminder that

what is important remains:

their lives have been spared.

 

 

 

Lifetime driving lesson

It’s been some time since I wrote this, so it’s good to take it out and catch the lesson it taught me when I first wrote it. There’s never so much of a need to hurry that you forget you need time to react.

 

The boy’s body lies

in the median between

the strings of traffic

 

heading north and south.

Just down the way the trooper

leans against his car,

 

his head in his hands.

He must have just hit the kid.

Other cars have stopped

 

and are now peering

back toward where the impact was.

It surprises me

 

that in speeding past

I’ve flicked my head back to see

the 13-year-old

 

— or what’s left of him,

just beside my exit here

on my way to work.

 

Later, press reports

will speak of the cop’s regret,

and he’ll be quoted.

 

“I didn’t have time

to do anything,” he said.

“No time to react.”

 

That was all he said

or all that made it into

the brief story here,

 

buried deep inside

this weekday Metro section.

But brief though it was

 

his words now echo

in my sometimes hurried head

and my foot lifts some.

 

 

 

Why train schedules are never as precise as we might expect

It’s the only train trip I remember taking in my life, other than a short ride on the Texas State Railroad in East Texas and the Silverton to Durango run in western Colorado. The contemplation of mortality was, according to the conductor, a feature of every trip — to the best of his recollection at least…

 

Passenger train stopped

somewhere near the halfway point

as it split in half

 

our broad continent

on its long run from Austin

to Chicago.

 

A car lost the race,

to this crossing without gates,

causing our delay.

 

Forget the old rule

of “tie goes to the runner.”

The train always wins.

 

And the conductor

said it happens on each trip

(and the train did win

 

each and every race)

and brought an unscheduled stop,

chance for passengers

 

and trainmen alike,

to contemplate life’s briefness,

our mortality.

 

 

 

 

Spare me

I still hold to the truth conveyed in these lines, even after a decade. But it’s no death wish.  I’d like to think I have decades until my own peaceful departure from the stage, my own fall from the tractor…

 

“He died while on stage.”

“He fell off his tractor, dead.”

Music to my ears.

 

I know families

prefer bedside lingering,

last good-byes and all.

 

But what of the dead

or the soon about-to-go?

What is it they want?

 

—Prolonged suffering?

— Witnessing the sad tortured

tears, loved ones’ struggles?

 

Somehow I think not.

A last bow across the strings,

a straight furrow plowed,

 

then, at last relaxed,

into peace that will not end

—home into God’s arms.

 

 

 

In Flanders Fields the poppies grow…

A perfect spring day, eating crab, while looking out on Annapolis harbor, and watching the academy students in brass-buttoned blue uniforms, I’m reminded of an awful truth.

 

I’ve the perfect seat

looking out on the harbor

from the restaurant.

 

Holiday crowds mill

below my table’s perch,

soak up spring warmth.

 

At the next table

a young midshipman has lunch

with mom, grandma, brother.

 

Double rows of brass

set off the uniform’s blue,

and his face — so young.

 

And I’m reminded

that it is the young who fight

our battles for us.

 

They are so young,

their faces, so fresh, poignant,

innocent as children.

 

Three others are there,

standing on the pleasure dock

just below his arm:

 

Two guys and a gal,

each clad in blue, brass buttons.

Busman’s holiday,

 

seeing maritime sights

on Annapolis harbor,

break from Academy.

 

 

Seven-inch diameter ball of clay

Next door in Guatemala, native peoples’ crafts thrive, form a vital part of the local culture, as they continue at their looms, bright colors and patterns leaping forth. But here in Honduras, the Spanish culture has driven the crafts of natives from the center stage. When I admired a small sconce-shaped vase, hand-worked, hanging from a nuns’ residence’s wall, our photographer sneered when I asked if it were native-crafted, making some snide remark about “No, it’s ours (Spanish culture). Theirs is not so finished.” The Guatemalan woven pieces I picked up at the airport at Tegucigalpa later seemed nice enough. Racism alive and well after four centuries.

 

A ball of red clay,

its surface well worked and scarred

from her cloth’s wiping

 

color to spread here

on the bottom foot or so

of an adobe wall,

 

like those before her

in the flowing stream of years

—her ancestors.

 

She sits inside

the porch-surrounding half wall,

half in sun, half out,

 

here in Honduras,

though Indian lore has died,

its building methods live.