My Mother Sang To Me
A minstrel's lyric on a city street
betrays a moment past, a memory
held captive by a siren's song: retreat
is my indulgence, to a panoply
of silver maples scattering the sun
upon my eyes like tiny dancing sprites,
the specters of my boyhood beasts undone
by strains from Orpheus and shrill delights
of Pan's seductive reed, the sounds adrift
on perfumed breezes in the melodies
my mother sang to me. And as they lift
me on my wistful passage, and appease
a soul beguiled by scheming Time, I yearn
for certainties to which I canít return.
On Recalling a Sound from Childhood
The faintest drumbeat, then a moment's pause,
a murmuring of Siren voices, strains
of cherubs cooing with polite applause
as modern Icarus at last abstains
from fiery ecstasies; and swept away
am I by pulsing rhythms to a womb
of newborn memories, a brief foray
to teary shuttered eyes, the air abloom
in musky sweetness, languid dust afloat
like tiny buoys on the warming waves
from yellowed windows; and the skies emote
with longing as a mournful hum engraves
its cadence on my mind, embracing whims
that lure me back to childhood seraphims.
Remembrances within me, stony gray
in Gothic elegance, and hallways dim
with hurry, hurry to a faraway
dominion that invokes the ancient hymn
'In partes tres divisa'; and the hush
of windows stained for seraphim who chant
in rhythm to the pungent airy blush
of incense, as the godly men incant
heroically; and with their boyhood games
young gladiators seek identities;
and as a grasping cityscape exclaims
in arrogance, its cherubs pass marquees
and towers that declare their day adjourned
until a thousand times they have returned.
In blushing shudder, dusty spirits puff
and curtsy through the dullish yellow light,
imposing mischief if I'm bold enough
to respirate, and teasing me, contrite
as demon sighs, succumbing to the bawl
and whine of the automaton that shocks
and shatters tender ears, a free-for-all,
a train derailed, harmonic paradox
of clean and chaos, puppy in a scoot
to parlor harbors, haunches signaling
surrender with colossus in pursuit,
with fumes of sweat and balm still hovering
above the gritty battlefield, and soul
and flesh of domicilic maids-of-war
whose carpet sweeping armaments cajole
me with a hint of soon-to-be decor
unfolding in a fervor of cartoon
and symphony, with queenly epilogue
of etiquette, precision, and festoon.
And I, omnipotent as puppy dog,
with widened eyes, in waggish wonderment,
reverberate with silver-tongued refrains
and garland in the air in testament
to this respected keeper of domains.
Mother's Housekeeper (sonnet)
Her blushing scented buxom petals puff
and curtsy through the dusty yellow light,
imposing mischief if I'm bold enough
for scrutiny, and teasing me, contrite
in prurience, succumbing to the brawl
of scrub and suds and flesh and grunt that shocks
pubescent ears and fires a free-for-all
within my Spartan loins, a paradox
of blossomings and battles in my soul
before the domicilic maid-of-war
whose chamber grooming armaments cajole
me with a hint of matronly decor,
as I reverberate with tense refrains
to this uplifting keeper of domains.
Against the night I roil and thrash,
awaiting the renewing balm
of dawn, the seething black and brash
intensity that offers calm
and then enlivens me, and spurs
a fiery burst of reveries,
and crafts melodic overtures
from falling rain, and fantasies
of color from a single leaf,
and incantations of esprit
before the morning's all-too-brief
ascent retreats to memory.
Leviathan of surging cylinder and steel,
disdainful, bullying, its horns against the earth,
expelling fumes and fuss and fury and surreal
nocturnal yellows in Cyclopean rebirth.
Awaiting sleep, enveloped by a sound, caressed
and succored, craving mother's milk, the calming hymn
that wails with passion from afar; and I'm possessed
by moments past, suspended on the interim.
The whine of the rails lured me here,
to the frayed edges of a century gone by,
to the plaintive creaking of curled planks
and the musty stillness inside:
where my eyes protest the oily vapors
from coal-blackened walls,
and dusty floors retrace the hurried steps
of the fedora-clad men in creased and faded photographs,
and the muffled hymn of tittering children
flickers above the heavy silence;
where yellowing walls
embrace the image of an iron seductress
clothed in her puffy white gown of steam;
and a display case of tarnished bars
secures a graying conductor's cap,
etched in the long-dried sweat lines
of crematory summers.
Duskiness veils the travelers' pews,
tottery and time-worn,
once comfort to the dapper and the derelict,
witness to endless days and deadlines;
and as I cling to them,
the rhythmic mourning of a far-off rail beckons,
christening my moment of quietude.
Yanked outside for an autumn walk,
leash taut as the muscles pulsing
in the little furry engine ahead of me,
his impatience signaled by pony-sized
leaps and snorts in the direction of
the cheery squeal of the schoolyard.
From beneath a row of rusting poplars
we approach a rainbow sprinkle
of jackets and backpacks, a
tabletop of spilled candies come alive,
pixies bobbing and darting and
tossing off colors in sunny slices,
like scores of pinballs bouncing
between fence and wall and
toward cotton candy clouds in the
crisp blue bubble of oxygen
trying to fuel the wildfire.
In the center is a great
a tangle of tubes and platforms
where children are devoured
and then spit out like popcorn:
in and out and around they go,
fairy tale pages turning with them
and then flapping in disarray
as the tiny pulses of energy
scatter in chaotic harmony
to a new game, this way and that,
like alternating magnetic poles
in frenzied near misses, with a
wide-eyed disregard for the
carnival of motion around them.
Others rustle through mounds of
leaves along the black iron fence,
where ripple-red sugar maples sprout
from the ground like giant lollipops.
Near the courtyard, in the shadows of
the scholarly auburn brick walls,
authority figures stand at attention,
stiff as tin soldiers,
waiting for the calm of the classroom.
As I approach the fence,
tiny shrieks of glee compete with
my own little companion's rowdy overture,
and little hands clamor through the bars
for ticklish puppy licks.
the shrill command of a warning bell,
and the chaos turns to quiet, and only
the leafy breezes can be heard from
the far edges of the playground.
The sky turns to cardboard
and the trees to inky stains,
but the children will be back,
scrambling to outdo their playmates,
watching for puppies at the fence,
remaining blissfully unaware of
the existence of other worlds.
To My Son
All bouncy, waggy, and inquisitive,
the little boy behind the dog-eared grin;
and puckish, prankish, always positive
in spirit, cubby huggable, and kin
to sprites and soulmates in his restless mind.
He travels on the breezes to a land
of kings and noblemen secured behind
tin soldiers, where his boyish contraband
abounds with games and mischief and chicane
and feats of derring-do on carousels,
and jesters, magic acts, and circus train,
and heroes, scalawags, and ne'er-do-wells.
But through the clearing air, on eagle's wing,
he's spirited away to distant peaks
where vigor bubbling in a mountain spring
and patience breathing as the balsam speaks
entice him to adventures yet unknown:
above each precipice a new plateau,
with every dusty rock a stepping-stone
to manhood, with the haunting tremolo
of Sirens heralding his odyssey,
until his youth becomes a well-worn trail
where all the footsteps left behind will be
the dreams in someone else's fairy tale.
To My Daughter
My pixie snowgirl, pink and cheeky pout
and bubbly giggles lifting her above
the clouds, where cherubs fill the roundabout
with candle-flicker eyes and turtle dove
caressings, sparking neural tickling fires
inside me. On my lap a dawning mind,
a word and letter toolbox that aspires
to build foundations for her castles lined
with knights and damsels. From another room
I hear her rhymes ascend to mythical
companions in her storybooks, on plume
of sweetest songbird, as a gardenful
of gentle fauna seek to share her dreams.
Young woman now, but she is pixie still
in spirit, following a light that gleams
upon the path beyond her self, the thrill
of life embellishing the silken waves
that part her lips - so rare a melody
that every Siren pauses and engraves
the haunting sound upon her memory.
Adventurer, protectress, at the side
of Artemis, and fettering her bow,
delighting in the creatures who reside
within the yellowed woodscape. And the glow
around her shows her prideful patriarch
embracing her, as Zeus does Artemis;
as daily it's her pleasure to embark
upon her passage to endearing bliss.
To never end, we thought, the morning light
that kissed our eyes, and breezes whispering
with children's voices, pausing to invite
us to a secret world, and conjuring
a playground dressed for spring in purples, pinks,
and lacy bluebells. Daddy always near,
with teasing words and reassuring winks
as fingers black and fussing disappear
beneath a nursery of soil to coax
the precious start of life from needy sprites
of gladiolus. As he turns and smokes
his cigarette I seize upon delights
and whims of pussy willow magic wands
and piney beds for tiny acrobats
and games of hide and seek in grassy fronds
above our heads, where growls of jungle cats
are tamed to laughter by a kindly oak
who lowers crooked fingers in support,
as dandelion parachutes evoke
a frantic chase, and milky clouds exhort
imaginary palettes to create
a masterpiece of shapes upon the sky.
And daddy always near. As I await
his glance the clouds of spray intensify
around him while he walks the rows to tend
his brood. But ours a world of pixie dust
that slowly casts a spell: though we pretend
the day is young, the man to whom we trust
our failings and our dreams becomes our squire
and shepherd, hand in hand through dimming fields,
enchanted lands departing with a choir
of cherubs as my waning spirit yields
at last, a playful hug and soothing voice
securing me beside him in the car.
And now are memories: how birds rejoice
each morning at my window - from afar
I hear them congregating with a hymn
of greeting for their gardener; and of
our mother telling us they needed him
to tend the angels' garden up above.
The weary stand of birch
releases its grip on the cabin
where the old man once sat,
gnarly and bent as a bristlecone pine,
decked in tractor cap and
skin leathered by sixty summers,
a smirking glint of gold
between tobacco-stained teeth.
He watched me from a porch
pocked with feather and bone,
its walls leaning on bug-chewed
timbers, sweet chimney smoke
twisting toward the filmy pond he
shared with the leeches and the beavers.
But that was long ago.
I stand in the dullish ambers
of a November woodland
that is secretly reclaiming the
tumbledown one-room habitat
as its own.
I step behind the cabin,
where lurching from the earth
like grotesquely shaped headstones
are the ruins and relics
of better years:
the powdery gray ribs
of a hay-making machine;
a Chevy pickup,
its once-vibrant red skin
now a burnt-out crusty orange,
its one good eye
staring eerily at me;
a fossilized trailer,
half-hidden, as if in shame,
by tall fronds of
swamp grass and cattails.
Scattered nearby are
and the ghostly images of
Mounties on Drewry's cans
and a feathered warrior
on a Red Man tobacco tin.
The scent of fresh-cut cedar
returns for an instant
from the slanted walls
that used to be a sawmill.
The pond looks much the same,
but without the telltale plop
of a turtle rolling off a sunny log
or the panicky watery slap
of a beaver tail.
The old man used to curse
the dullish rodents
for flooding his land;
he'd flash a yellowish grin
at the sight of a plump carcass
under a downed poplar.
Occasionally I'd hear dynamite,
then paddle out the next morning
to find the targeted dam
A glint of sunset abruptly glances off
a shattered window pane at the cabin.
The old man is in my eyes again,
grizzled jaws working his chew,
brownish spittle on his shirt before
a suspender can be raised to his mouth.
He was too stubborn to ever get cancer.
Sounds were few around him.
Occasional sandpaper-scratching grunts
seemed, more often than not,
to be mocking my ignorance
of woodland survival.
I would spend the nights
in my own plywood shack,
flames hissing through the
seams of the potbelly stove,
rattling the metal roof
like a team of drummers,
mice rustling through my
food bags in the dark.
I once returned after a long absence
to find a tiny skeleton at the
bottom of a polished steel pot.
I turn to leave now,
passing a sparse and scaly
fire-damaged great red pine
like a battle-scarred old man,
to be waiting for time to pass.
How many years has it been, I wonder.
He must have been about the age I am now.
The dusk sends scatterings of
silver and blackish gray across
the forest path in front of me.
Chicago: 100 Years After Mr. Sandburg
Still husky, always hustling, this audacious town.
By day a brawler, never smiling, but at night
on sleepless silver-dusted sidewalks not a frown
is seen as style, romance, and revelry unite.
Impulsive like the mighty shoreway at its side:
one moment rising up in arrogance and rage,
soon after lapping playfully, all puppy-eyed,
in changing masks of passion, all the world its stage.
from top to bottom pleasure paths of greenery
abound with frolickers and fountains, flowered lanes
for toddlin' through the park. Above the scenery,
securing city's center in its shadow, reigns
a palace guard of steel and glass, its fortress wall
unwavering and gleaming as it keeps its pledge
to line the sky, like sentries at their master's call,
extending reach throughout the day to water's edge.
Beyond the towers lies a palette of diverse
and vibrant colors, cultures, clans, and dialects
where buyers, sellers, guests, and dwellers all converse
in languages that long-time city life perfects.
And through its quickly beating heart are arteries
of rail and road and airway, and the urge to roam.
But ever-changing seasons (and a lakeside breeze)
are always tugging on their sleeves to call them home.
Yet it is cunning, too, behind the glass facades
of commerce: breaking and rebuilding clever schemes
instead of stonework, while defying all the odds
by crafting deals, creating hope, fulfilling dreams.
Still bellowing and bragging, always primed to taunt
but never taunted by pretenders, boasting miles
of jazz and razzmatazz, and well-prepared to flaunt
its contrasts: painted women, master artists; smiles
of pitchmen, pleas from paupers; marble pleasure domes
and sculpted galleries that grace a city brash
and proud; and rusty brick foundations of the homes
of those whose sweat restored a town from mounds of ash.
Chicago! Still with shoulders massive, and a voice
that laughs convincing laughter, its inviting arms
thrown open wide, as if aspiring to rejoice
with sons and daughters who evoke their city's charms.
Colonnade of silhouettes
streaming left and right,
oozing popping fleeting
like a fusillade against my temples,
shimmering black puppety patterns
receding from the periphery,
pulsing with the slapping on the glass
as the spokes of great
barley row wheels flicker at my side,
behind snapdragon spears and lacy shields
and a bloody battleground of sumac;
and the future seeps from the horizon ahead
like floodwater under the door,
and a serpent tongue
satiny and swift and seething
steals through hissy ripples of mist
and slithers beneath my feet
where kitteny pistons purr
throughout the night.