Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Category: Poetry

Connecticut Dawn

The morning my father died,
He woke before dawn,
Attempting to start his final day
As he did all of the others:
With the quotidian copy of
The Hartford Courant,
Clipped securely to
A lap board instead of laid
Out on the breakfast table.

He used to liken our bodies
To that spread, “Look at you,
Laid out like a warm breakfast,”
As we poured ourselves onto
The floor like syrup, at his feet,
Onto pillow pancakes,
Our chins perched atop
The heels of our tiny hands
To better view
The Wonderful World of Disney
Or
The New England Patriots.

During such TV enterprises
He’d often fall asleep himself, an
Uneasy sight, his mouth agape
And his lungs rattling him
Gratefully awake. Who would take care
Of this large world while he sleeps?
Who would ensure that Steve Grogan
Would connect with his receivers?

This morning we’re out of season,
His work done: Tom Brady has
Long taken over, two foreign wars
Have been fought, maybe won,
Seven children educated. Somehow
No circle or square of the Word
Jumble lay vacant, his pencil
Scribbles legible by all who
Love him, long for him;
We kiss his waxy cheek,
Turn away to hide our human selves
And find another way
To make ourselves useful.

Going Home

The final stages of packing for a
Weekend away involve decisions
Concerning the produce that remains
In the Mother Hubbard refrigerator.
What’s left? Odiferous reminders
Of want and waste, seasoned with
Expiry dates and missed opportunities,
Tangible evidence of hearty meals,
Both utilitarian and celebratory.

The last of the olfactory offenders,
A fuzzy hunk of manchego cheese
Given lovingly by a faraway host: a
Spanish ewe with an exotic look in her eye.
Once divinely dressed in a fig chutney,
Paired inter-culturally with a granny smith apple,
A queso gives way to time, or the lack of it.
Any self-respecting New Englander
Would cut off the offensive parts
And call it a luncheon.

The thermostat turned low, a cool
Hush envelops the house with one
Last aroma to decipher: the quiet
Bouquet given in commemoration
Of nothing in particular: two
Weeks old, the gerbera daisies lay
Wilted, exhausted and supported
By hearty, whitish-green
Hydrangea that traditionally decorate
Many a Connecticut cottage.

Plucked from the florist’s vase, their
Stalky stems were tipped with brown
Where they were cut from its host.
Trimmed again, introduced
To a traveling milk jug, bound for
An heirloom piece of crockery in which
Its blooms would slowly lose
Its dewey countenance, and
With dignity dry to an indiscernible,
Subtle change of color: vintage, charmed,
A muted hue with a suggestion
Of its natural strength and sensibility.

Subconsciousness

The perfectly still water
Rests, frozen, uncut by wake,
Paddle, or stroking arm
Under which hums a vibrant winter
World, running meters deep.
Fishermen sat in semi circles,
Perched atop upturned
Plastic tubs on the ice,
Swathed in khaki
Like cradle boarded babies
Huddling for comfort.

The Lake, unyielding, was forced
Out of its dormant state
By augers, long cork screws
Piercing through ice
Three feet thick.
One bundled man
Dropped a line through
The incision, an operatic
Procedure, while the others
Observed the delicate
Removal of one brown
Trout, glistening in the
Weak winter sun. An
Indigenous nurturer stocked with care,
Now lay in the muffled palm of
An outsider,
Who mercifully, with an
Altruistic stroke of water to the gills,
Released its struggling body
Back to its murky waters, to fight
Any invasive thought
In privacy.

Election Night

The world now enveloped
The newborn’s perfect, pink skin
From the tip of his pointed skull,
Cone-shaped from the trauma
Of birth, to the terminus of every
Corn kernel-shaped toe.

Terrified at the prospects of raising him,
Those left to his charge grew panicked
And educated in the world of
Emotional intelligence: with
Love comes great vulnerability,
Now that the air touched his body,
Still pruned from the protective
Maternal bath made wholesome
By clean living.

“Forget the striped birthing cap,”
His father nervously chuckled,
“Give him a stove-pipe one instead!”
As his anxiety-ridden mother
Conjured Abraham Lincoln himself,
Remarking to his new lot
Of hard-fought constituents:
“Well, boys, your troubles are over now,
But mine have just begun.”

In the Moment: A Retrospective

In the hours between the
Dawn melting the stars into its
Warm glass of sky, and
The dusk reigniting them
From burning streaks on the horizon
To the arms of unseen lamplighters,
The day is illuminated by
Some remarkable moments,
Ones I would try to remember to
Share with you, when you
Would stumble through the door,
After dark.

I’d hand you a paper cup
Of chowder, the soup
That warmed my Raynaud’s toes
Somehow from the inside of my belly,
Like I was in a fisherman’s port,
Where the locals knew the secret
To the best creamy broth:
Was it brandy?
You would know.

An older man
At the counter, eating the same
Soup, his with oyster crackers,
Mine with bread, said:
My wife of 60 years preferred bread
With her chowder, too. And she had
Red hair, like yours. He winked at me,
As if I was supposed to know
The code of winking
About chowder, or redheads,
Or bread.
You would know.

Behind the counter there was an
Etching, a print, a woodcut
Of a birch tree, like the one that leans over
Our fields, seemingly fragile,
Providing a foreground, a streak to
Our winter landscape. I longed for the piece,
Which was a medium
You would know.

In the moment, alone, I
Ordered more chowder that I hoped would warm you,
Comfort your own body, where we would relive it all
In a delicious retrospective. We’d sit on the couch
Toe-to-toe where I’d lament all
The details of the day my middle-aged brain
Had forgotten, but somehow,
You would know.

The Wizard of Dreams

Tucked comfortably into
Our vie quotidien, we live
Not so much in monotony
As swaddled in a warm blanket of
Perceived certainty.

Inevitably, the three AM phone calls
Jar us from lullabied sleep into a
Racing heart, a dry mouth
Requiring us to get out of bed
And board airplanes, soaring through
What feels nothing like cruising altitude:
Where the temperature is an
Inconceivable -70 degrees fahrenheit.

The flight time gives us
Ample opportunity to stare out
Of tiny windows, contemplating
The unreachable, a vapor, a quilt of clouds,
Analyzing the daydream
In which we’ve been sleeping.

As children, dreams of flight
Roused us with the same
Startled thrill, bells that rang
Just as loudly as that of a telephone,
Sprinkling snow on poisoned poppies
By a wizard of dreams,
Like our wide-eyed children
Who re-introduced us to faeries
Which we had sworn –
If only for a moment or two –
Were real.

Qu’ils Mangent de la Brioche!

“You can’t have cake!”
Exclaimed my youngest daughter
To my former mother-in-law,
Seated at the dinner table of
My broken home, as I blush
With embarrassment over my
Child’s id-ridden stage
Of development.

I quickly cleared the celebratory
Dishes of my daughter’s setting,
Explaining, as we made way
To one of life’s sweeter rewards, only
Jokingly withheld from tardy guests.
“There’s more for us!”

Even Marie-Antoinette was misunderstood,
While those of a lesser standing –
Peasants whose most deadly sin
Was being born of a situation
Lower than themselves – shrouded their
True human nature. Brioche was
Ordered, by a century-old predecessor:
Bland, basic, nutritional.

My disillusioned guest, now
In a station of sisterhood, whose truth
Lay blended like bitter powders,
A pinch of sugar, stinging salts:
A sweet yin yang swirl
Of ingredients, of human realities,
Concurrently benevolent and cruel.

Hiking the Shepaug on the Autumnal Equinox

The riverside trail was sprinkled
With the first leaves of Autumn,
Gold, like nature’s first green,
Shades of day that had sprung from dawn,
And tinged with shades of orange-red,
Like last summer’s coral lipstick.

The banks of the river
Eroded, exposing a tangle of
Otherwise hidden roots, the
Infrastructure of trees, naked
And longing for the earth that
The Shepaug had taken,
Turned into silted memory
And deposited into a delta, a mouth,
A place unknown.

Male field crickets hummed a
Lullaby, a subtle harmony,
A last-ditched, encore performance
That would be followed by the
Silence of snow, white and
Unable to refract light and
Bend it into any semblance of color.

For then, the weakened sun,
Distancing itself, warmed
The faces of walkers now
Free from the shade of leaves
That clung precariously to their
Steadfast branches. Treading
Upon an old railroad bed,
Groomed, stretching not to vanishing point,
But to an abyss, a tunnel, a passage,
Where it was almost impossible
To resist the urge to run.

To the White Horse in the Passing Lane on Route 684

Not yet coaxed to the median,
Where grass grew a foot high,
Bedded down under your
Capsized chariot, wheels spinning
Like the legs of a belly-up beetle
Waving for the cloudless sky
To touch your eyes, humanely blind you,
Now shrouded in a terry cloth
Of Turin, of New York, reeking
Of oxybenzone and coconuts.

An eight-inch gash
Across your ribs didn’t bleed:
Your coated skin split, an open eye lid
Revealing fibrous tissue and
A barrel of bones, creamy
Next to your bleached hair: a proud
Piece of flesh revealing
Where the light had
Entered through your broken window.

A stranger in a foreign land
Of pavement and metal and voices
Unlike your own. Human hands
Knotted your mane in
Shakespearean elfknots,
Placed riders of the apocalypse
On your back, created an
Avatar of Visnu, ushering in
An end, wisdom, and the sardonic
Truth that they unite
In your majestically wounded package.

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Kalkin, Visnu’s Future Avatar, Sandstone, Pre-Angkow Period, first half of the 7th Century, Collection of the National Museum of Cambodia, Phenom Penh (Ka 1642).  Photo Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 

Genesis

Birds singing an incessantly hopeful
Dawn chorus, a springtime declaration
Of their collective intentions
To live, to thrive, to endure, or,
Scavenging cawing crows,
Ominously cleaning up after those
That could not: this was my
Vernal alarm clock, deafeningly
Absent on this drenched morning,
When the downpours whispered
In my ear, a white noise, a snow
Following a late night TV test pattern,
A gentler, wiser reveille
Less frantic than adolescent
Birds, raging in their desperation
For aviary love.
Beyond the fogged window pane
A torrent, a rambling street river flowed
Over parked tires like wakes
Washing away the sins of
The neighborhood: streaks of
Color, plastic, scrapped paper
With its faded words.
Still rumpled and stale
With sleep, I remained in my
House, my ark, on my horse
Swimming against the tide,
Therapeutically working an
Injured hock. Welcome,
Solitude, allow me to travel in
The company of no one to the
Love of my life. My leaves,
Wet and waxy and
Impossibly green,
Are thriving with the life blood that
Is your water. Protected from
The burning rays of a fickle sun,
My creamy threadlike roots,
Stretch in the damp soil
That surrounds them,
And keeps them free from harm.

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