After William Stafford, “COMING BACK”
My father, for a living, saw into people’s souls.
What I do is more like shell-game
discernment. I signed on to his tenderness but not
the oracle-ness, the soothing-saying of his,
“you are this, and you are beautiful and whole.”
You are wholly beautiful. And this,
the oracle-ness of saying it, this soothing
discernment is not tenderness. I signed on to his
shell game, more like what I do
for a living - my father saw into people’s souls.
wrap the mugs with care
she loved them all equally
even the cracked ones
butterflies and birds
in paintings of sad children
live longer than you
laughed all the way down
the stairs of our shared castle
just to dance with me
give me a number
in terms of encumbrances
that I will avenge
I imagine there’s a heavy
old door that opens
only with force, especially
in the rainy season
when it swells tighter
I imagine it’s stained
dark black-brown and holds
scars and splinters of
old paint from a hasty
restoration and a glass-diamond
knob and hinges that shed
flakes of red rust.
I imagine there’s a light
under the door and
that like in the movies
we’re leaning on either side
of it, bracing, listening hard.
I imagine I ask you things
and I feel your tender,
noble rebuffs coming through
the door like a song, in stanzas,
hushed tones, unrhymed.
I imagine someone made
this door by hand
a hundred years ago, and
I’m reminded that
at home surrounded by
the sure, sturdy persistence
of old wood.
I imagine that I can always
push away from the door -
retreat to a hearth
and a good chair and build
a faulty fire of hickory,
underseasoned, that pops
like a sprung latch.
I imagine taking a chance
to trust the peace and
silence that surrounds me -
I imagine that from where
I sit I can still see a sharp
channel of light under the door
and I can feel the rain
starting up again.
Preselected words that follow a cry
come out smoother, much more believable
after whiskey, making satisfied sounds.
The moment of reset feels right. Unwound,
blunted, a positive emerges: clear
plans that appeal to surprise. A softer
kind of thwarting, this decision matters
more than others. Sitting still with precise
thoughts strikes me as manageable. Now, more
than yesterday, solitude means something
has gone right. Well done, well said: tolerate
these pauses, I challenge, don’t fill them. Take
stock only sometimes. Do not spar with your
own breath just to make rent. Notice that rocks
change color, the lemon tree is budding,
the bass still waits in the corner, untuned.
Time can be carved now - wisdom tapped. Offload
probability that solves for weakness.
As you listen, filter for resonance.
Your own voice never sounds like you expect.
for the University of Utah football team
and the memory of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe
Bring roses in red boxes, for mother’s arms
for the bond, for the blood of youth
red as their numbered days, for September
and December, for young brothers.
Bring roses for the jump, for the lights,
for the MUSS, for mili in the endzone -
thundering through grievous thorns,
let love bleed. Look up, and out, and roar.
Bring roses for the champions of sharp sorrow
for jubilant redress in the bright desert -
renew pride and wonder for these brothers -
hold them in favor, for home, for family.
Bring roses for hardy Utah men, brothers a
nd coaches and fathers and captains -
adorn Mesquite arbors, plant vast gardens
of grief and absence and legacy and joy.
Bring roses in procession, in tight rows
horse-drawn and regal, befitting survival -
let them celebrate with roses in their teeth -
with laurels of crimson that fade, but never die.
Leave it right there.
Let those be the last words you said:
leave it right there,
then go in silence - anywhere
but here and now. Don’t pull the thread;
no tenderness, no qualms - instead,
leave it right there.
She said picked flowers die faster
and that water isn’t enough -
that I must let them live in rough
dirt. She admonished: my aster,
once purple, would die, disaster
in my hand and my heart. I lied,
excused - she mustn’t know I cried
to grasp my gift of death displeased.
Dull words - amends - I posed, then seized -
I quit that ground, unseen, denied.
You must move to the crumbled curb
where the streetlight is brightest.
Look up at the spiraling swarm -
follow the flight of the one that falls.
There’s the one about a dog
sleeping behind a wood stove
an elegy to Mother’s lost
and dissonant Silent Night
opening lines about how cold
it is without you beside me
a couplet for a child’s chagrin
when icicles taste like dirt
the draft of a harsh sonnet
featuring frostbite and hunger
idle portraits in quatrains
of unrelenting, bitter chill
scrappy stanzas wrapped in wool:
a winter night watch biding time
A smattering of wishes
hovered there, straight-backed,
on principle, poised equally
between latent prospects
and all of my future: I chose.
That same close afternoon
I found diamonds in the dryer
that I forgot I owned. Our back
porch steps were stones too.
Indivisible - the mind’s eye -
unreliable, indelible. Isn’t it?
dented, and spent,
I change my mind
in a hurry.
not satisfied -
still, it’s not that
it didn’t sting
or tickle -
just that I won’t
stand for torment
that doesn’t heal.
There should always be a fireplace
that knows how I take my coffee
A chair that listens and nods along
I’ll need plenty of paper and pillows, and
if possible, a screen door that inspires
a reluctant front porch swing
A window over the kitchen sink that
tolerates awkward pauses
And a vase of pink roses that
doesn’t mind if I wander off
I’d like to have a drawer or two
that can stay quiet for a while
A closet big enough for rage
A room for music, beauty, and age
And one small shelf for regret.
It’s not enough - a house with air.
Invite the dirt, and leave it there.
Emancipate the child’s excess -
all joyful splotches, every mess
in candy-coated disrepair.
Let tiny palms hold worlds, and tear
apart what they’ve assembled. Rare -
these sweetest days, without redress.
It’s not enough.
An instant twinkles past, then where
it travels next, we do not dare
conceive. Inside of our best guess
we breathe our air, we whisper yes,
for one more footprint on the stair -
It’s not enough.