Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Nature of the Vortex

Richard Hartner placed his hand
on his father’s old gun broken to receive the shell
in its chamber, and thought of the life
that gun had known at his father’s side or pegged on the wall
by the kitchen door, obsessively cleaned, ready to whirl
into action each time the family needed meat in the house.

Richard longed to rerun his childhood trek to that house
the day he shot his first squirrel, its furred tail in his hand
as his mind spun with a mesmerizing whirl
of scampering fur stopped by the single shell
that penetrated the wall
separating life from life.

His father had taught him that to live
responsibly one must respect the house
of his birth, that this house was a  virtual wall
protecting all who lived within against the hand
of doubt and despair, a turtle shell
into which one could retreat when life began to whirl

out of control.  His father had plowed this land, leaving a whorl
of rich loam to incubate the seeds he sewed, the life
coaxed from its stubborn shell.
He’d felled the trees and designed the house
that he later built with his own hand.
In his mind, the land offered a protective wall

to keep his children safe from an alien world, a wall
that somehow connected him to a grand design, a whorl
akin to the print on God’s own hand.
An energetic man, he had treasured life,
but he hadn’t known that a house was only a house,
a shell

that could be crushed like the shell
of a terrapin crossing a busy street, its cartilage a poor wall
to fend off the metal monsters beyond its mind, its inadequate house
left fragmented in the road.  Richard’s mind filled with a whirl
of monsters of another kind.  His own life 
was reduced to the halting fingers of a useless hand.

That hand trembled as he slid the shell
into the gun’s breach.   His life had hit the wall,
and he could find no way to stop the whirlwind within his house.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sestina for Suzanne

Suzanne has buried husband number three
and all her dearest friends have come to mourn
the pass.   The casseroles devoured, the plates
returned for future use. The widow plans
to be a model saint and stay away
from matrimony’s snare, to die to live.

For years, Suzanne has set her goal to live
within the rule of masculinity.  For three
and more have sought her hand and took away
her will to choose by her own lights.  To mourn
the passing loss of this one man, she plans
to move beyond her first  instruction--plates

and knives, crystal and linen cloths.  She plates
intent with golden hope, a wish to live
a life fulfilled where she takes charge of plans
and determines each move she'll make.   Her three
resolves are not to whine, nor cry, nor mourn
the passing loss of former self.   Away

she says to seal intentions plot, away!
In days to come, she drops her coins in plates
from church to  church while some devout still mourn,
and others celebrate the mass of live
and die hedonistically.  Of three
new aims--to go, to see, to do--her plans.
Art galleries, plays, and symphonies, the plans
were carefully made to spirit self away.
To Asia, Africa, Australia--on  three
large continents, her photographic plates
record the camels, pandas, kangaroos—all live
evidence of cultural life for which to mourn

if lost to modern man.  She would not mourn
the loss of her own dignity.  New plans
she made to snorkel seas for fish that live
in freedom’s coves, to bungee jump away
from heights unknown, to carve her name in plates
of stone—to do, to see, to go—these three.

One day mid-mourn, she met a man.  Away
she threw the plans requiring license plates.
To live, number four was better than three.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Flight of the Hawk

A sestina is a hawk, its distance
controlled by short wings
and long tail.  It’s the sprinter
among raptors. Flight beginning
close to the ground. Launching
from fence posts, it centers

its prey, spiraling downward, the center
a target distanced
only by the pivot of the launch,
the strength of the wings.
From the apogee of beginning
to the collapse of the sprint,

it frees the sprinter
for the growing definition centered
in startling beginnings,
understanding of the wings
of doubt and belief true to the launch.

The sestina launches
orbiting motion that sprints
to the core of unknown significance, wings
of character and dialogue centering
the delight of distanced
experience, a narrative’s beginning.

Each hawk repeats the rhythm begun
by hawk-fathers, time-launchers
whose wings have spanned the distance
of infinity, wings spread in sprints
that define and catalog the center
of conquest, the descent and ascent of wings.

Word wings
rise, their quintessence begins
to shape in relief the thought-centered
impressions that fly free from launching
emotions, sparks ignited to sprint
from the heart’s distance.

And so words are feathered wings,
their distance from time’s beginning
measured by the launch of their sprint.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Faulty Fences

“Your cows are in my corn,” Turner’s voice rasped             
over the party line, when my mother                                                
answered the three longs and two shorts, our call                 
to a community that bound us, wired                                    
us to the lives of neighboring farms                                       
as surely as fences that separated us.                                    

“Hey guys, the cows are out,” mother told us
as we came to table, our chairs rasping
against the linoleum on our farm
house floor, the tang of pancakes from mother’s
skillet more important than any message wired
across morning stillness, reluctant call

to work that could wait for the higher call
of pancakes, maple syrup set for us
as we pondered the gap in fencing wire.
“I’ll bet it’s down by the pond,” rasped
my brother’s changing voice, causing mother
to foresee blame in his view of the farm’s

fence, the sections repaired,  She knew the farm
better than we, knew its persistent call
to blame and shame, the ruth of mothering
our need to lay guilt.  She knew each of us
carried burdens beyond the fence that rasped
our minds, a metaphor of our lives wired

to haunt us for past action. Our  mother
was there when everything on the farm
went sour, when a gate we left open rasped
our father from the scene, beyond the call
of warning, target of the bull that robbed us
of father and younger sister.  Our mother

learned to cope with loss, to father/mother
us through those difficult times as we wired
our lives back together.  She provided us
the strength we needed to hold on to the farm,
but she could not lessen the guilt, the call
to blame that rose in denial and rasped

at our hearts.  Our mother knew that the farm’s
faulty wire was yet another dark call
for us to confront what rasped our souls.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sestina of Betrayal

Miranda had known that Jason’s best friend
in college was the girl who lived next door    
to his parents in the small town where he     
had grown up, but the two had never met,    
and Miranda had long dismissed the threat.  
“Susan will be in New Orleans next week.”  

Miranda smiled sweetly, knees growing weak,
and waited for Jason to suggest his friend
stay with them.  Unaware the threatening
storm, he opened windows, unlatched doors.
“She wants us to know a man she’s just met,”
Susan eyed the receding hairline he

tried to disguise and thought how funny he
would look with his hair completely gone, weeks
and years of careful combing, eyes meeting
mirror, images bending like old friends.
An invitation was given, the door
flung open with no thought of  winter threat.

The couple arrived, and nothing threatening
could be seen in the warm welcome when he
stood with his wife at the wide open door.
But Jason would learn something new that week
about Miranda, her history of  friends,
and find that not only had she met

Susan’s Mike before, she vowed not to meet
him again, so serious was his threat
to her sense of who she was. Jason’s friend,
on the other hand, had been used when she
allowed Mike to come with her that week
to enter her innocent friend’s open door.
“Beware of the past!” warned the door
while the whistle of the wind rose to meet
the epiphany latent in that week.
Neither Susan nor Jason sensed the threat
that Mike posed for Miranda, a threat he
intended to fulfill with his former friend.

Mike walked through the open door and the threat
of Miranda’s past met the present.  He
became the weak betrayer of friend by friend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sestina for Fishers of Men

The village watched as Jonathan Siler            
cared for his mother, nursed her day and night.         
They saw him drop out of school, stop seeing         
May Johnson, the girl of his teenage dreams.            
While the village loved Mamie Siler, they                 
began to wish that Jonathan be freed                         

from responsibility, a fish freed
from the hook in its tender mouth. Siler
neither knew nor cared what others thought, they
were as remote from him as the stars at night.
For the first time, he could see his dreams
fleshed out in meaningful tasks, he could see

what others couldn’t, and in truth he saw
a life of ministry where he was freed
to give of himself.  Meanwhile, the town dreamed
of other goals for their young man Siler.
They looked for the stars and saw a dark night
when the fish wouldn’t bite the bated hooks they

dangled.  He couldn’t avoid his fate, they
reasoned, and there was no way he could see
what they could see.  They determined that night
that they would take matters in their hands, free
him from the curse of the only Siler
child.  They thought and thought and finally dreamed

up a scheme.  While the stars blinked, the fish dreamt
of bigger seas, Oprah was contacted. They
convinced her of the sacrifice Siler
was making, and she immediately saw
ratings rise as she provided relief, freed
this young man giving him several nights

to see Chicago, be on her show. Night
fell over this city but starlit dreams
masked the truth.  Well-meaning villagers freed
him from responsibility, but they
couldn’t prevent his mother’s death or see
what effect that death would have on Siler.

The stars in the night watched the fish as they
swam in and out his tortured dreams.  They saw 
that freedom for Siler would never be.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sestina for Shelby with Apologies to Days of Our Lives

When Shelby left home for college that fall,
she couldn’t have known she’d never return
to that house, that town, that set of parents
or her old high school crowd.  Her romantic
sense of the ideal would forever change.
In university her mind would alter.

No questions asked when her alternator
went out causing her old car to falter
before she reached Atlanta. Nothing changed
her mood, caused her to think of returning
to the idyllic town where romantic
notions had been formed,  She called her parents

and waited for her father, the one parent
she had always trusted to come to alter
every problem she ever faced, romantic
or otherwise.  She never dreamed he’d fall
from grace before he could make the return
trip to Anniston to the wife he’d exchange

for a younger model who gave him change
for coffee on I-20.  Her parents
split the cloth when her father returned
but it wasn’t the father who altered
the state of her parents marriage that fall
day.  Her mother had her own romantic

adventure going long before romance
in that happy home had begun to change.
Shelby, too had some adventures that fall,
exploits that stood those of her parents
on their ear, despoiled the church’s altar
and left the town quaking at her return,

But there was no need for her to return, 
to live again within the romantic
bubble of high school life, haltered
and bridled by limits unchanging
or fresh rules hammered out by the parent
teacher association for kids each fall.

To have returned, would have virtually changed
the romantic direction of her  parents,
alter a college prexy’s breach that fall.