Here are some poems from my book Keep Silence, But Speak Out.
On summer mornings, out of walnut shells
and construction paper, turtles
grew from underneath my fingers,
more than just a pair for Noah's ark
in dry dock at a Baptist Bible school,
and earned for me a meal. Mary,
shunted off from me with kids too old
to be God's little veterinarians,
earned hers in ways I never thought about,
gobbing on the paste. In the starved afternoon
we'd both troop off to charm the "Holy Rollers"
out of early supper, chiming in amens
with syncopated Roman Catholic timing.
By fall what little cash Dad didn't drink
wasn't enough to keep our houselights on,
so when the P.T.A. lit up a maze
of schoolyard booths for Halloween, we went.
I won a braided tube you put your fingers in
to get them stuck, but Mary stared bulbs down
through each concession of the night.
Later, when the lady we waifed a ride home from
hollered for us to "switch on the Edison"
to signal we were safe inside, Mary turned
on our dark porch to wave her off and tripped
on a bag of apples someone left. All bare cupboards
have a can of cinnamon. The oven cooked with gas.
There still were apples graying in the bag
Thanksgiving week when, second miracle,
the roast appeared. Dad sobered, went to work
to dream about the feast. And Lana,
Mary's rival for the boys, "tits the size
of Texas," came to taunt while Mary chefed,
turning me blue by standing on my stomach,
egging Mary into a neighbor-ogled
fracas in the yard — hackles, shredded blouses,
fists of hair — and the roast burnt crisp.
That night we sat to watch the roast's impersonation
of a cinder on a dish and ate, three mutes
in candlelight, the steaming last three apples.
for my sister, Mary
Acquiring a Love of Nature
Things stand out when you're a kid
stashed in the backseat of a Nash
parked at a beer joint
while a mountain storm picks up
near Big Bear outside San Berdoo,
where you've been waiting
alone in the hushed, glazed lot
for what seems to you like hours
because it has been,
with nothing better to watch
than the drifting road behind you
headed glad away.
The car's rear window merges
the reflections of blinking signs
with your snow-swathed view:
A pink neon martini
on the unopening bar door
burps three pink bubbles
that head west to the timber,
three kings hunting for Kingdom Come,
braving the blizzard,
scouting for a creche beneath
an unlikely spruce and then, snap!,
they're back in their glass.
Snow blinds the sorry Rambler
as the rosy Magi relaunch,
and they're gone for good.
Now all you've got left is ears,
radar-sharp, tracking anything
that might make a move
outside your four-door snowball —
but there's just the darkness, humming
like it always does
when you listen very hard.
Only later you hear winter
stars and star-struck trees
harmonizing on that drone,
caroling, maybe, for Christmas,
or to keep the night
from caving in, or to raise
such a transcendental ruckus
that the obscured bar
explodes in a short, loud burst
of music and laughter because
he's come out to you!
The amber bouquet of beer
and cigarettes warms up the car
when your guilty dad
plops down in the driver's seat
and reaches for the radio
just in time to hear
Roy Orbison warbling
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons
of blue, the same blue
that glows at the heart of snow,
or the blue you glimpse in the trees
as the car lights turn
toward home and a hundred
more ways to wait, that pale, odd blue
some evergreens are.
We'll Always Have Casablanca
Some of us didn't begin in families
where affection was ladled out at supper time
on moist spring evenings filled with young, green life
thundering breakthrough, or on musky autumn evenings
winters would not follow. Some of us instead
learned tactics from stiff yet surprisingly spineless fathers
and acerbic, tightly-wound mothers, or wounded
mothers with stiff upper lips and fathers
who were always somewhere getting tight.
Or else we were driven, by our own particular mutation
of the aforementioned, to books, songs, and especially
movies, which taught us that nothing goes well
with almost anything and sublimest loves dissolve
into solitudes that seem, if miserable, correct —
clandestine departures, steeled hearts and hats
tilted against the night, an unbeatable style.
For no one can blame us if we make a virtue
of evasion, if we avoid violent acts
of commitment that might startle the lethargic,
or leave great deeds to the most capable
and great passions to the most rash,
on the premise that happiness weakens
resistance to Nazis or the daily grind.
And it's blamelessness we're after, continuously
making our deceptively small, self-effacing gestures,
with stiffening shoulders or a mousy collapse
of the chin, while a policeman inside us
chides us glibly in a voice like Claude Rains
and the transport's thrumming propellers whip up
an atmospheric fog so love can catch the last flight out,
leaving us standing alone and so obviously
somebody's child on the iridescent tarmac.
for Ryan Butzman