I watch her selecting her outfit
for the day of teaching
Giotto and Michelangelo.
She stands thinking, this top, grey,
this skirt, black, asks me what I say and I say
You look beautiful! and she smiles, love.
I am one in a long line of witnesses, honored
beyond Michelangelo and Giotto, say I,
beyond the lithe imaginings
of Leonardo. I’d like to think
they’ll study us one day,
testing knowledge of her style,
her makeup, hair and quietude standing there,
the line of her back,
the tune she sings,
her shoes, her sweet underthings.
THE SOLSTICE TREE
Yesterday we got a tree, me and my
daughter, home for the holidays, like we
always do. This year we hunted
far afield till we found the
full gnarled man of winter. He stands
at a tilt, his top’s been broken,
the wave of needles flows
freely to one side, the mountain
has bent him but he
has survived. It seems
a shame we have cut him down.
I know he was marketed to us, I can see
the economics and the waste, but overall
the pagan energy I harbor
wants to see the naked
green man standing next to the stone
and wood of the house,
and my daughter feels it too. All these
that I love. Still,
I am not without respect for the God of Heaven,
I have kept Christmas as
well as solstice,
not so much for the birth of the child
as for the observance
of my daughter and me
drifting away from Bethlehem.
He’s been off dialysis 4 days.
Mom is out opening a checking account in her name only.
He is resting in bed.
I asked him what he is thinking about, he said, Nothing.
Last night I told him he’s been a great father but mostly
we talked about fishing trips,
the big salmon he caught at the wide bend on Haida Gwaii —
that brought a smile to him —
and the golden trout we hiked after —
that was a year after the bypass when he nearly
died on the golf course. He’s caught
all the fish he wanted
so it’s okay to leave the river
to the sun and rocks,
the bugs and crows, hatches so profuse you’ll breathe one in
if you’re not careful,
the weedbeds trailing pure as a beloved’s green hair, a slow
tailing of fishy water,
and mostly the flashes of silver or gold against the far
green. I told him I’d catch fish
with his old cane rod but I think he doesn’t care. He’s walking
the bank of a stream I’ve never fished,
seeing flashes in water I’ve never touched.
The air has run perfumed and glorious these two weeks.
It enters my lungs, expands,
it tires me with life, that and the death watch.
He is shrinking, his bony
knees, his skin is emptying, the old warrior,
he does not rally to the recent
good spring come upon us, the red dirt does not inspire
planting, the open road has not lured him campaigning, the clear
runoff, the buzzing hatches, he is not oiling
his reel, cleaning his line —
this, my friend, is the shrinking. It comes
after you have lived with a woman
or cast bread and watched it float away
because you did
the best you could and got no laughs
till you found Pancho.
I’m not him. I got my own shrinking to deal with,
Please write me. Tell me your adventures,
your loves, your small objects, the vehicles you’ve had.
Be a good writer.
Let us hear what has not shrunk.
It’s just play, all these things we sought and that sought us,
that were meant to build us up and sometimes
did and sometimes didn’t. We are left either way
looking foolish. That is fitting, that
is the life for a man shrinking:
to honor the grave foolishness that animates us, lest our anger
dishonor those who went before us,
who disappeared into the ballooning
It’s taking longer than he thought, his
dying. He said so himself.
I had thought he was so tired
the thumping of the staff would be welcome.
Now I see, the whirlwind is not so easy
to leave. Your old friends
have come to see you, you are surrounded
by grandchildren, your son sits by your bed
and sketches his rock garden, your daughters
rub your neck and feet, your wife remembers
when you first came calling as a young man, your
friend remembers your baptism
down by the river — all this
for you, old man. We are eating
and drinking, laughing and crying,
telling stories and thinking of our own deaths,
scared and grateful, having moments
with you and each other.
Some of us have come that hardly showed
before, thinking it’s safe now,
what does it matter? he hardly knows us.
Whether we come for you
or for us, it doesn’t matter, it’s nearly over.
We’re having a drink on you, Dad,
and I know you’re okay with that
because the earth is cold, no
hurry, really. No matter when the world ends.
It’s your party.
FIRST POEM TO SPRING
poem this Spring
drips on ashes.
They have burned
off the flesh. Before that I lifted
his stiff body for the damn bureaucrats,
and earlier felt his heat fading
but no breath.
he is somewhere else. I wonder,
does grass come up
where there is no
earth? Let him
have his garden, let him
plant his tomatoes and nasubi.
He would’ve planted by now.
He is late this season.
We did not
let him go
The stream is completed.
It runs through the yard
and spreads water direct
to the springy dirt. Unlike other
streams, this one was built
from grief. I
have finally tired of building.
Time floods me.
It’s time we only sit and listen.
the lovely riffle.
It’s time we only sit and listen
for the movement
of whatever moves in the stream
that is not water.
I go senseless with love
when the moment blazes.
BUMPTY’S LAST JAM
The Duke was there and the Count was counting out Lush Life
on his streaming keys for Bumpty who’s way uptown,
up in his heavenly loft with his women and his smooth and his loneliness
finally come together. You can see his women on the album covers he left,
hundreds of them calling out like sirens brown
and white, all made up for the day they met him and he
according to their charm and gifts showered them in lushness and
life and what he had to offer he loved the sirens and the warriors
too the hard boppers and soft crooners
the lovers the rockers and Hispanics and Sibelius and island music
of all oceans and country boys of all colors . . .
and if that was your night move with your own love tapes, Mantovani.
He had every mood covered for lovin and
carrying the soul of man
woman on the wind what a jam what a prayer.
Dear heavenly mother father brother daughter here’s what we sound like —
Please this day accept us for the sound we make, not the perfect wind
you sent into the trees or the rollers come in from the sea or the beasts
or the whales but this
noise our prayer our
essentially positive shout that echoes all through our lush
lives and all we could have kept silent about . . .
the suffering and fear and let us at least love tonight . . . to hold off
the dread silence. At the end he knew
he didn’t look so good and went to sleep one night
and woke up jammin in perfect sunshine and no appointment with the blood
machine and damn he said to himself damn that was
a weird long dream. I had a son I hardly knew — he’s a man now —
and I fell into the lush life with Billy Strayhorn himself and his horn
and the bubbling of time.
I made lots of custom tapes for my customers that we played and played
and played till the oxide wore thin and the roller caught up
and jammed it and jammed it and jammed it while the ladies and me
were jammin and workin it but
here I’ve woke up all smooth no effort no loneliness now straight
and honey sweet Lady all Day all night it’s really you and me
here in this all nighter. But that weird long dream . . .
if I dream it again tonight and I see my son in it . . . I’ll tell him how it is
to wake up jammin in pure sunshine
for Phil Singer, Sr, deceased 3/7/04