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"Real Drinkers" at the Green Street Cafe:
"Flight from Duxford" at the Green Street Cafe:
Burying My Father
Your body lies beneath my hand,
a cold stone.
You look good. Better than
when dying perhaps, but fixed
like a photograph fresh from a chemical bath.
What kind of death in people
makes them love this
I want to drag you
out of that box by your armpits,
throw you in the back of the car and
bury you in the garden like a dead cat,
nothing between you and the raw soil you tilled,
billions of hungry mouths ready
to eat you out of the limits of your skin,
guts exploding with gases like a newborn star,
the grass by the fence row
sparkling with spring rain,
waving in the wind,
roots reaching softly down
into your corpse
to resurrect it.
There was party drinking, holiday drinking,
marriage drinking, funeral drinking,
card-playing drinking, been working too hard drinking,
bad weather ruining the crops drinking, and
let’s have a drink drinking.
Voices and laughter filled the house as the bottles drained,
a small Manhattan skyline on the counter,
Dad at the bar, or me as a teen, mastering
the mixology portion of his universe.
The shot glass rested unused on the shelf.
Real drinkers, Dad said,
never added pop or anything sweet.
We were not alcoholics. We were Catholics.
We had a religion to uphold in the face of
Bible Christians and Mormons sobering the West.
Dad’s gospel: Never take yourself too seriously.
Straight, it burned like a foretaste of hell.
On the rocks, it jingled. Each sip
poured amber waves of grain alcohol over the brain
until it floated, edges melting. Whiskey,
the great smoother-overer and sociablizer
produced states called snockered and soused,
one S-sound after another sliding toward
sex and sleep. Maybe sin or cirrhosis.
But never stumbling or shitfaced.
Real drinkers held their liquor.
The real drinker’s etiquette:
Offer refills quickly. Nudge, but never insist.
Look the other in the eye when you toast--
let life distill to two people meeting,
poised on the rim of oblivion.
With a flat clink of the glass,
the straight shot of his eyes meeting yours,
my father would say
Here’s lookin’ at ya.
Flight from Duxford
Laughter, smoke, the triumph of
your luck last night at poker
fade behind you with the hedged fields
of England, and, in your chariot of steel
sheering the wind, humming
its hymn of glory—a constant drone
beside your brothers—you gaze
over clouds to that blue yonder
and an ever-receding rim of earth.
You peer down into passing chasms
to the gray furrows of the North Sea.
Alone in your cockpit, there is only
the vast morning of your youth
and the trip before you. Not long ago
you were riveting at Boeing;
now a P-51 bears you, buoyed
by the invisible.
But flying back
a sudden cavity in sound,
an eerie whisper of air enshrouds
your fuselage—that class you skipped,
the one that taught you how your
life raft inflates, matters now
three miles off the coast of Holland,
hydraulics bleeding, hit by flack
or the blast of your own bombs,
your prop stopped, and the sea
rising to meet you. At 1000 feet you bail:
One short swing and I was in the water.
I had almost figured it too close.
Just floating, embraced by the sea,
brine like blood in your mouth.
Above, your buddy marks you
with carrion circles, eyes on the gas gauge
while your vital heat drains.
You see your mother coming to the door,
the telegram, the wave of the news
taking her down. There is a
great tenderness where all things touch,
where the puny will is weightless.
And a strength. You shear the valve
bare handed, the rescue launch reports,
reaching you hanging on, half-inflated.
Why did you survive?
Never a report
of your thoughts 30 years later
when the tractor tipped you off,
split you open between the legs,
and left you in the summer fallow
staring upward at that constant blue,
gauging your luck. A partner there,
again, a witness who got help,
and you lived another 28 years,
hips bolted onto the spine, a colostomy,
a sphincter transplant that leaked,
done in finally at 80 by drowning
in the fluid of your own brain.
Suspended from two towers of grace,
the span of your life hung.
Where are you now, O twice survivor?
Give me your altitude and velocity.
The clouds here have condensed,
rained, and slowly vanish into air.
Tassels of the unmowed grass
beside the roadway grasp the last
few rays of sunlight and hold them,
waving them before my eyes,
and long contrails to somewhere
stretch across heaven.
Dusk in the Palouse
The thin, semi-desert air
gives up the heat of summer swiftly.
Like stepping away from a campfire,
a chill meets you, and with it
the sweet, fertile smell
of wheat straw growing damp,
erotic in the folds of the hills
slipping into darkness. Sounds
begin to carry as on water through the still air,
a voice across the highway by some acoustic magic
speaks quietly in the ear, and one by one
stars appear in the auditorium of heaven
like people seating themselves for a show.
Standing outside, looking into the lit house,
to that world oblivious to dusk, lost
in its whisky glow and conversation,
standing in the cool twilight
growing darker as the day flees west,
soft curves of silhouetted hills fading,
pores in the earth sweating dew,
you hear the tall grain stir and whisper
come away from the human
and be of the earth, of the dusk,
of the silence waiting to be heard,
go into the venereal hills,
at home in the house of night.
I love to imagine the first blind rootings
in gravity’s dark light, the sodden waiting,
the slow ignition of their tiny green rockets
as I bury their pink-skinned cheeks
in the corpse-cold ground soon freezing to stone.
My neighbor says the mounded beds look like
freshly dug graves. He’s right— I am
an undertaker for the living, consigning innocents
to birth not death, though
not every womb is warm. Let this planting
stand for all inhospitable beginnings,
for what shivers unseen awaiting its chance.
Foot to shovel, back to wind, sky dour with
coming rain, crows squawking, a few creaking pines,
the hoarse whisper of corn stalks blowing,
their dry matter to be thrown on the pile--
I could work up a good sweat of melancholy here
if wonder were not constantly interrupting.
I’m fifty. I take no comfort in the rites of religion.
Let me see the miracle before me,
the one I too am.
Let planting bring me to my knees.