Poems

Photo by Ronald W. Howard

Links to the original journals are provided where available (note: for some reason I can’t get stanza breaks to always work in WordPress). Some of the poems here can be found in my books Necessary Myths or The Trouble with Rivers.

Blogger and editor Tim Ellison posted a very kind commentary on his reaction to my poem Falling in Love with a Fiji Mermaid. You can read his commentary here. The poem was published in the American Poetry Review, July 2014.

 

“Hexenkopf Hill Road” in Gravel Magazine

“Tree House Hill” in Foliate Oak Magazine.

“Ode to Hellgrammites” in Cider Press Review.

“Things She Couldn’t Let Go Of” in The Cumberland River Review.

“Confessions of a Snipe Hunter in Crab Creek Review.

“Tumble Brook” in The Kentucky Review.

“Belly Full of Bees” in The Good Men Project.

“Catch and Release” in Two Hawks Quarterly.

Two poems in the summer 2016 edition of The MacGuffin 

“For You My Love, Alchemy” in Amaranth Review

Two poems in the July 2016 edition of The Red Earth Review (Oklahoma City University)

“Bluegill” in vol 53 of The Southern Poetry Review.

“Ode to Scrapple” in Philadelphia Stories.

“Going Back” at Hawaii Pacific Review.

Two poems, “The Good Lie” and “Ode to Bats” at Superstition Review (Arizona State University).

“More Advice for My Daughters” in Issue 5 of One (Jacar Press)

Two poems at Marathon.

“Kabir Says” at Mason’s Road.

“Finding Water On Mars” at Split Rock Review.

Two Poems at Cheat River Review.

My poem Sick House published by Heron Tree.

A new poem called Water Girl featured in Cider Press Review.

Here’s a new one, The Catfish Nights, just posted in The Cortland Review.

To a Miscarried Brother, in Philadelphia Stories Magazine.

Two prose poems (or flash fiction) in The Citron Review.

* * *

The Man Who Works at the Swiss Hand Grenade Factory Loves His Family

And they love him back,

like a still life routine

as he walks in the door

each evening, hangs his coat

on the hook next to the backpack

his oldest son takes to school,

and his little daughter smiles

up at him from her puzzle—

unicorns preening in a field, they’re

touching noses, the unicorns,

and he reaches down to feel her

hair streaming over the back

of her neck, her skin the color

of halved pears, she so full

of everything now, the unicorns,

her father’s love, there’s food

simmering in the kitchen

and the day’s mail on a table

under a lamp he bought in Bern.

Outside the sun beginning

to fall past the living room

window casts a red light

on his eyes for a moment,

so he closes them, while

in Damascus a man pries open

a crate of hand grenades,

passes them out to other

men who take them into

the streets where Swiss

sunlight will burst

all over the morning.

>From Necessary Myths 

***

Metal

A slight rain moistens the yard

like lips parting to speak.

Night passes a blue hand over the window.

She is sitting in the kitchen, mourning the child

and waiting for the murmur in her head

to stop.

All month wind has battered the siding.

Crickets are gone.

Dawn is gone.
The taste of iron like blood

has made a home in my mouth.
When the hot stove ticks

the expansion of metal and air

I wonder what lies hidden

in veins, in the tissue

holding us together.

My throat wants to swallow

and move on.

My body wants to love another body

but can’t find a way.

>from Cortland Review.

***

Waiting for a Son

 

My pockets fill with a used up field,

some split jawless skull, some spent rifle shell,

some widowed rock of creek bed and the yellow

moon-skinned insect creeping up a branch.

The wind here smells like rats. I know the child’s

gonnna die soon. I know it’s a long walk to the bed

and the broken window where the tree sings

looks like a shiny mouth.

I would kiss the wet sheets where the she screamed

in labor. I would lift the bastard sap

with a still wombic heart like a small bird

I could squeeze into fits,

but the many fingered nights of my life

wrap around me now like the full-fanged snakes

I snap for belts. Seven months and nothing to count on

but pebbled of breast milk and a new grave.

So I kick the scattered traces of a fox’s fresh kill,

walk the few hours that she keeps the lamp lit,

while it wheezes like a kettle growing colder.

There’s always work to do. I’ll burn the fields tomorrow,

thinking of the ways I’ve waited for a son.

>from The Wisconsin Review, vol 27, no 3, Univ of Wisconsin

***

The Hawks

I want to tell her
about the hawk nest,
how the mother spread
her stippled wings
and brought the chick a robin,
how those eyes followed me
as I paced the weeds around
the dead cedar tree
and the chick cried for more
as the tree shook—
the hawk disappearing
in the fog.

I want to tell her
the new child will cry
but we will carry her
to the garden and the spring
and one day she will fly too
and we will wonder
about things we lost,
forget about things we said,
footprints behind us in the snow,
feathers blown across the yard.

>from Miriam’s Well

***

Winter Birds

Under the kill of snow and ice

grass lays stale around robin tracks.

nothing to keep them here in winter.

No connection or fight for boldness,

but gypsied grackles in storms

of ten or twenty feather my front yard,

clawing each other over scattered seeds.

What can I say about them anymore

than my own rude life allows?

Outside at the feeder those desperate birds

yap a dull cold beneath the tree.

For days I’ve done nothing but lean out

across the bed waiting for the one crow’s

return.

So much for duty or the slow way

we dedicate ourselves to earth. First

he landed in a small fury, gawking

from the tender top branches, then stared

as if waiting to be announced.

I wanted to call him something new,

anything warmer than crow.

What I need to say is something

about the urgent position of sky,

how everything is blamed on weather,

as if winter intended for use to hope

as well as freeze. When the crow finally

swarmed down at that yard of grackles

the whole sky woke in a frenzy

calling itself storm.

Because I’m still here and the crow

is off looting some neighbor’s yard

I expect only more snow. The sun

will break unnoticed about the house,

and that means cold, then mud.

If I stay here admiring the obsessions

of winter birds standing like shadows

noticing nothing but themselves

then I have to say “good luck” in a voice

that makes most birds fly south.

>from RE Arts & Letters, vol XX, no 1, Stephen F. Austin State University

***

Car Plunges Into Susquehanna River

She screams. She screams. The water seeps

through seams of the auto windows. An aquarium view

of the river bottom. Bass push and poke.

She screams. She screams.

From the bridge the bubbles bubble,

and the rail tumbles, tangled with a tire

and the rear axle of her auto. A maker’s defect.

Crowds conspire to the scene.

People watch, and watch themselves.

But for the grace of God, (and good mechanics)

that could be us. Lean forward, lean back, don’t fall.

There’s room enough to see for all.

And what of her, clawing at the dash?

The muffled horn carries through waves

and startles carp who’ll mill for days later

after the men who tried to save her.

Sad girl. Sad river. Sad the water

flowing over back seat and gearshift.

Sad the way her hair bobbed and flowed

in the silty current. Sad the river goes.

>from Cumberland Poetry Review vol XVIII, No 2, Nashville

***

The Sea Mother

Sometimes the wind

makes the sound of children

calling for milk.

My daughter, you will ask

about the risk, the distance

it takes a life to sail

out of the bay.

Remember your father

and the sweet lick

of shells on his hands

or the way sand

clung to his legs

like a webbing of frost.

There is nowhere

you can go

where the sea

will not find you.

Your bed stricken

with the lather

loves brings

or dreams that begin

with salt.

Some day you will return

to the house

and wish for waves

like small hands

that can touch

the places you have never

known,

and I will be here

in the last brackish light

of sea birds

telling you everything

you believe

is true.

>from Whiskey Island Review, 1994, Cleveland State University

***

Tying Flies for a Friend

by Grant Clauser

The time isn’t anything of course,
or the hair plucked from a rabbit’s cheek,
feathers pulled from turkey wing, mallard neck.
Each thread pull, each twist,
tight against the steel hook
the barb surgically sharp like a threat,
the promise of a deep jaw set.
I haven’t seen you for years.
I hear your legs are gone,
the fight, gone too.
And yet I’m here at my desk,
tying flies and thinking of the moon
on the Bushkill, pale evening duns
lifting off the water like ghosts
while rainbow trout slipping in and out
of moonlight, gorge on velvet insects.
The water, cool against my hand
as I release the trout, one swish of the tail
and it’s part of the night again.
You laughing under the willows,
a pair of bats flying just above your head.
I twist a little bit of that night
into each set hackle, into the wings
cut from flight, into life.

>from Philadelphia Stories

***

What My Wife Doesn’t Know About Bass Fishing

Sometimes you have to wait for hours

or come back to the same olive hole for weeks.

Learn the names of plants–aurum, touch-me-not,

the leather leafed swamp rose and purple scent of skullcap.

Think fondly of insects, talk to yourself about moss

and the tendency for stumps to know more than they let on.

Count on rocks to move suspiciously under you,

and consider the challenge of wind.

Know the false habits of water, what can hide in a ripple

or swell like shame the instant it breaks waves.

Be wary of strangers, especially birds surveying the bank for snails.

but mostly prepare for lightning,

The kind that begins deep along a fine line of cattails

like a sudden emergency of water snapping away

what’s left of your patience,

committing you fatally to the spot.

>from Gray’s Sporting Journal/Gray’s TV.

***

Feeding the Lake

Perhaps the mallards knew

the sun was moving slower

this time of year.

Perhaps the last green vines

crossing the trail

never minded our heels

of if we stopped to look

up, seeing the sleek stretch

of geese angling toward

the cold lake and what

you spoke so softly

I couldn’t hear

but they all came at once—

gulls looping and swerving,

dashing bread from sky or water,

and then two masked swans,

heads up to our chests and hissing

after our hands.

Every bird from that lake

around us like camp smoke

following at every turn

till all the bread was gone.

We probably won’t return til spring.

The lake now frozen over,

perch and walleye drifting numb

through the strange dark

and the birds all scattered

through sky and wood, listening

to the creak as ice pushes

up the bank.

Far away now I listen

as you sleep, exhaling

any of the days last words,

the light smell of bread

falling on the sheets.

>from The Seattle Review, vol XIX, no 1

***

Saving The Marrow

If we remember the blue nights

when air felt like new kisses.

If we look behind to watch the leaves swirl

up in a whirlwind, scattering bright

and impatient on the street.

If we return to your parents’ house

to comb the attic for hints

of having touched there.

Then it is time to watch for signs.

To follow the dry map of our hands

along all the narrow roads

a sixteen-year-old drove

for the rush of nothing

but the a reminder

of the smooth arms

of that girl and the dream

of someone paying attention.

It’s all the same

and seems so now

when a strange voice

or the distant sound of footsteps

running through the yard at night

brings it back like

snapping a finger.

But weeds creeping up

over our shoulders

remind of the spent soil

we left behind

like reasons for

getting older.

So in the secret bones

where we save the marrow

borrowed for a few short years

spent mostly now in chairs

we can sometimes taste

the spring of strong deer,

the length of leaves

mulched into something new.

>from Panhandler, No 28, Univ. of West Florida

***

Harvest

for Keith Sheaffer

I know why, from textbooks,

some of the stars over my yard

appear blue, while others shine yellow

or red or phase in and out of sight completely.

I know how the earth moves,

how rocks shift and crumble, how these small stones

below my feet seem to have arrived

as if by legs, and I know how cells spread

along a spine, cancer, drilling into bones

meant for dancing.

And yet, it’s still a wonder to stare,

to think about the vast space between us,

between earth and star, light

and the dark stomach where rock is born,

and even the corrupt strands of DNA

gone haywire, radically dissolving

their nature—

so that like everything else, it’s almost too easy

to remain speechless, to fold my hands

across my lap and talk to you

instead about the stars, the earth,

the garden I will plant in spring

for a harvest that will come

without you.

>From Schuylkill Valley Journal, vol 32

***

Watching It Leave

The first killing frost

draws water from the last leaves

like a sunset pulling its light

from a forest.

I won’t cut the grass again

til June, won’t touch

the shears hanging in the shed,

or sit by the pond

with a glass of wine

and the scatter of dragonflies.

When you think

you have finished something,

you’re wrong.

You will never do everything

on your list,

and the moment you see autumn

lose it’s stolen hour,

the hour when a heron

turns its dagger mouth

away from the pond

and leaves, you know

what empty means.

You know regret

as the sound of cicadas

typing furiously their songs

in the pine trees,

how they pace their fury

by seasons, their seasons

by years and their years

patiently catacombed

in the soft earth.

When it comes, winter

with its first cold fires

like nails in the door,

be ready, be something

holding warmth in its belly,

waiting for a signal

to call it home.

From Schuylkill Valley Journal, vol 32

follow me on twitter @uniambic

4 thoughts on “Poems

  1. Thanks Cleveland. I hadn’t looked at “The Sea Mother” in years, but came across it when putting old journals on a new shelf.

  2. “What My Wife Doesn’t Know About Bass Fishing” is such a good poem. I’m not a fisherman at all – last time I went fishing was fishing for Sunnies with my dad when I was seven – but this poem is really pretty and evocative. Just wanted to say that out loud. Found your page by tracing you out from your Philadelphia Stories poem this month (Want of Fire).

  3. Thanks Thomas. That poem appeared in a sportsman TV show read by someone with a real good-old-boy voice (not me). I’d post the link to the video but I lost it a few years ago and can’t seem to google it up. It’s one of the few publishing credits I was actually paid for.

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