Retreat from Portland

 

 

1

Sometimes,

The children are naked

Standing on the stones steps

Outside the cathedral,

Wandering in the wind

That winds around them

Webs of feeling

Their laughter as shrill

As prayer bells,

Ringing off the tall towers

As if part of a sermon

The church keeper gives

 

I walk the old neighborhood

Like an old man among them

Remembering when I wandered here

Naked, too,

And my shrill voice

Rose up towards the invisible

Gods which

I then still believed in.

 

 

2

 

In a two-tiered park

Near lower Manhattan,

Pigeons press their bellies

To the ground,

Tuck their greasy heads to chests

Like shell-less turtles

 

They sleep and accept the noise

Civilization create

The swift feet over dusty concrete

Stirring each bird up

As if litter

 

The only safe places

Are havens between benches

Where they compete with the empty

Wine bottles the bums leave

And peck at the leavings of

Fast food that have become

The staple of their diet

Their world growing smaller

And smaller with each new

High rise and the perpetual

Stamp of human feet

 

 

3

 

Spring spreads green

Quiet qualms of melting walls

Bubbling with the burning boils of love

Crocus and daffodil

Bursting out of the soil

With unexpected explosions

Each satisfying some ache

I retained for the whole of winter

Each making me feel full again

As I ache for more.

 

 

4

 

Even with winter coming

The trees remain

Crowned in mists

Instead of leaves

Pudgy squirrels leaping

From limb to limb

Digging holes at the roots

For last yearís buried treasures

Tiny hands cupped to chest

When they find them,

Like children climbing then

Coming down

In a perpetual ritual of life

Their curled shapes like dark smoke

Against the bright branch-cracked sky

And abandoned birdís nests

Each poor animal seeming lost

Among the nakedness,

needing the leaves just when

the leaves leave

in anticipation of coming snow

 

 

5

 

So this is where the other half lives

Not a shingle out of place

Glued into permanent perfection

A sinuous illusion of success

Windows washed once a day

Shades kept closed at night

Their lives locked up and alarmed

From the prying eyes of the street

 

An oil painting could not look so perfect

From the outside

No cobweb or dog hairs,

Dressed up by Brooks Brothers

Made up by Bloomingdales

Landscape cultivated by

Green thumbed hired guns

 

I hear the echo of my own footsteps

As I walk passed,

The beat, dead beat

Of my anxious heart

Desperate to avoid

Getting sucked up

By the vacuum

That is inside

 

 

6

 

She pretends everything is all right

Hair up, tinted red

Like Scarlet OíHaraís,

Though her upper lip quivers

As she yaps

Cocaine frying each thought

She tries to think

Trying one night to sit out

The round table of friends

As if she was straight

Watching them bent over

Lines of white powder

Greedy as 1849 prospectors

Guarding their measure to make sure

Everybody gets his or her fair share

Each grain like Kryptonite

Except granting powers

Instead of taking them away

In the end, unable to resist,

She bends over, too,

Knowing in the morning

She will regret it all,

Especially the stranger

With whom she wakes up

 

 

7

 

Hard city night

Persistent drizzle dotting

My eye glasses

As men shove shit-colored leaves

Into drooping paper bags

Plastic outlawed by ordinance

All biodegradable

Deteriorating between fingers

As cold wind rips at them

With hints of winter

Old broom sweeping at concrete

As a man nearby dangles

From a billboard like a dare devil

Smoothing out a summer scene

Over an old cigarette ad

Wall Street bridge vibrating

With night city traffic

Caught in the web

Of a badly timed traffic light

And an earlier accident,

Frozen faces frigid behind glass

As lonesome and weary as hobos

To whom I wave as I walk by

 

 

8

 

Wave away the waterís wash

You step and dance and die

Lost, last losing in the loam

 

I feel the fear here, coasting

Like driftwood brought to your knees

Wave away the waterís wash

Lost, last losing in the loam

 

I see the sun settle sadly

On spires of each fading day

Wave away the waterís wash

 

Sun and wind are victims, too

Toughened on untender times

Wave away the waterís wash

 

 

9

 

The rain comes

Crazy hornet stinging

My face through the open

Car window

Mad bodies bashing

Against the windshield

For the wipers to whip

Each falling dead on pavement

To squish under my wheels

The miles witnessing

The slaughter

Streams swelling with their blood

Trees like bent old ladies

Morning their passing,

Shedding golden leaves as tears

Me, struggling to keep

From becoming one of the deceased

As I twist the steering wheel

And make my way for home

My next like the rest

Totally empty,

Leaving a space exactly

As empty inside of me

 

 

10

 

The water glistens along the road

Blue and deep and wide, rushing

Over stones and dams and flows

Under countless bridges, gushing

Though Dalles and through white

Lids of mountains I know Iíll miss

You the child so young and bright

Seated beside me as the hiss

Of air gushes up from the bus

Windowís edge as we ride east

To meet our fate and family gruff

While your soft mother lingers near

Bending to kiss you and call you dear

 

Iím scared of life, of love, of me,

The years it will take to make

You into someone living free

Someone who can in a breath take

And live your life without a father

Whose own life in a web was caught

Tangled in words that grew ever hotter,

Me, never learning those lessons taught,

And traveling east I know we must part

When the road finally gets rid of us

When the crying and moaning starts

When we in New York get off this bus

Iím tired of things that always move away

The breaking bonds of love that always fray.

 

Still in womb you over these same roads hiked

Counting the miles of endless dotted lines

Rushing to whatever place we thought we liked

As foolís dreams like false gold made us blind

To the truth that we carried the whole long way

You our silent passenger in a flesh box then,

With cat on our backs and hair in the hay

Each of us longing for the long roadís bends

Hoping you might survive and our jogging on

Undisturbed somehow, a growing thing alive

In that warm place from which we all have come

What wonders you see with those unborn eyes

And now we again must set to sail

When we both know we still must fail

 

How many times can we make travel these roads,

Our eyes caught on visions from far without

The highway having only blurs to show

Our lives lacking definition to talk about.

A blur that bleeds into the rest of years

Promising nothing but perpetual rot

Leaving behind us our own trail of tears

So we get what we get itís never enough

And hope that we hope vanishes like money

Good times always behind us dying

Like flames in a hearth to ashes slowly

The hope in our hearts turning to lying

Lips full of words; minds hard to read

Life always ready to tempt and deceive

 

I look at you and you look at your mother

Her face full of pain for which sheíll get even

She remembers my words said drunk or sober

All the webs I have spent a life time weaving

New York is not Portland, no place ever is,

Helpless to change it if you wanted me to

Her eyes watching details to what she might miss

Every corner a slight every stoop a new bruise

And wonders why it all has to come to this

Each time I do anything I hurt her anew

Even those times when Iím intended a kiss

Anger is the baggage we carry to New York

I guess we hoped we would get something more.

 


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