Man Changing a Tire
He puts his back
into it, trusts his strength, his jack
against the tightness that has gotten him this far,
to this place by the side of the road. His hobbled car
propped up, his trunk wide open like a flap,
the dusty husk of his hubcap
turned up like a basin to hold each lug,
the heavy nuggets that clank and swirl in the dish,
settle in the middle like a minerís last wish.
He studies the wound, that slit beyond patch or plug,
and he knows as he gingerly lifts up the spare,
aligns it, the ardor that must be there
as it slips into place to be tightened again.
He knows there is a number to the times when
he will do this in his life, that each time he stands,
slams the trunk, slaps the dust from his hands,
he is closer, that he canít be spared, that his need
will wobble, run true, and fall flat.
For a time he will think of precisely that,
then smack his hands again, pull out, pick up speed.
We never learn from our mistakes.
We forget, simply, majestically,
the way fog encircles an island
and grounds us for a time.
On summer nights we drowse, lift our heads,
hear the lonely plane overhead,
Cessna, Grumman, Piper, high above the clouds somewhere,
its single engine yearning like a heart straight out,
strut sure, hell bent,
its steely drone one long yes fading into the night.
In our dreams, in our forgotten time,
we crowd into the cockpit, we hunker,
our faces green with the glow of the instrument panel.
We roar, winnow through the endless beard of God
like Wiley Posts, one eye in the sky,
like sad Earharts to live for a time
before the sudden sputter, the skip, the needle on E,
the silence where all our whispers live, the fall, the rush,
the spray of the wave tips slamming against the glass,
the breath being sucked out our throats like a scarf,
and we would be looking even then
as we catapulted wing over wing,
for an island with a beacon, a small runway,
a cottage with a light left on, a bed turned down, white sheets,
a South Seas novel on the nightstand,
and an old caretaker tapping at the window,
saying, remember, remember.
Crazy Woman Putting on Lipstick
She works against the lure of the line,
obeys the pull of gravity.
She misses the mark, goes over the edge,
the sill of her lips.
She carves a world, a sliver of moon,
explores the shimmering underside,
finds nooks, finds bumps, the scars of love,
then treasures, rubies drenched in gloss,
stored in the corners of a purse
like satin, like riches for her man,
her man who stands in trousers big as trees,
her man who never speaks, who holds her dumb,
who smears her mouth with rough kisses,
the man who proudly wears the smudge of her life.
Sails struck, the sloops sit singly in the bay,
their masts like so many school flagpoles
after custodians have folded up the day,
the sails wrapped tightly in the rigging,
slim bodies readied to be buried at sea.
Years ago my mother wrung clothes, squeezing
the water out of shorts and shirts,
which we opened, shook, hung out like flags,
countries of underwear, trouser lands.
Here along the yellow brown husk of the shore
a group of students approach
waving their laughter like a banner.
They are of the generation that does not look
at the sky. For them beauty lies elsewhere,
like a present to be opened, like a green country.
Tonight in a nearly empty hall
a man will speak of lonely Guatemala,
how a line of refugee children waited to see a doctor,
how one of the children, a young one,
yelled for a joke, ďThe soldiers are coming,Ē
how the children scattered so quickly,
so deeply into the undergrowth,
that the doctors and nurses had to call for two hours
to get them to come out, singly, wringing their hands,
from the green of the jungle,
from the yellow brown of the ditches,
from the constant red of their dreams.
The Colorization of Everyday Life
- for Adelle Leiblein
My daughters find me, rumpled, sleeping in the chair,
my left hand tugged at the top of my shirt,
like Masseyís Lincoln or the Darrow of naps.
They say I look as if I am practicing to be dead,
that the world could have turned upside down as I slept.
I tell them the world is a woman with whom I can sleep,
that when I awake she will always be there.
They ask me if I believe that these are the last days,
that we will hold the earthís last breath in our hands,
that our mouths will fill up with tumbling flame.
I tell them that people well up with trembling and waiting,
that it has always been so, that Christians drew twisted fish
on catacomb stone to signal the Redeemer,
that the Nazca peasants carved their land into signs.
I tell them of sandaled Elijahs, of airport moon-eyeds,
of lint-edged bumper stickers, curled and dirty,
on the back of motorized wheelchairs.
I say too often we pour our strength like myrrh
into whoring our future, divining our honeyed past,
as if in recovering the Titanic or Custerís buttons,
in the carbon dating of all our lost episodes,
we could retrieve our own dying, mold ourselves again.
I say that our days will simply go on, Godís silent partners,
that we are middling men caught smiling unawares,
stubborn, plumb lucky in cahoots with the heavens,
that we will walk away finally, the way we leave our children
when we must, confident, carrying photographs,
certain that we will find our parents in their blue rooms,
knowing that our children will live to be a hundred,
that there has always been time and enough,
that the end of the world has always been near.
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