Valentine’s Day 2020: Pure Ecstasy
Just the two of us in a little motel room, surrounded on all sides by pure Nebraska.
After hitting my own ear on the car door at 10 P.M., fell asleep: stupid, hurting, in love.
Church spires in the middle of the prairie. OK, then, I’ll pray.
Yes, we have a president who is past all comprehension. Yes, the desk clerk stands in a patch of sunlight, frowning. Yes, Omaha, tonight. No, I won’t sleep well.
When I finally go, I’m not coming back, not even as the half moon seen at dawn over the closed door of the parking garage.
Feeling bad about feeling bad, nevertheless, I still refuse to eat my half of the rotten banana.
Drove past Leavenworth Prison yesterday after 43 years. Looked like the same barbed wire, still glittering in the sunlight, someone’s job to keep it shiny.
“What’s the meaning of life?” you ask, completely seriously, then do 100 sit ups as I sit there watching.
Mother India, late at night, Omaha, four friends, at least two of whom are afraid of death, eating Basmati rice, laughing, while on the radio lost souls try to explain to lost souls why being a lost soul is the best.
Falling asleep in the middle of the day reading Basho in a little no- name park: for me, Omaha is the place.
Feeling sad about death, but less afraid of it, I really see the two women walking together, one carrying a volley ball.
Lilacs already, and a man with so much of everything bends toward them as if he has nothing.
Before a 40th Anniversary
The first roses to open signal the end of spring,
but like some girl so eager for her wedding
that her fingers fumble, unbuttoning her girlhood,
we’re summer-hungry and never see spring leave
unless we get a day like this one, balanced
between two seasons, absurdly perfect. We
gawk like pedestrians who’ve paused to peer
up at a, how could it be, a man
balancing, dancing, lying down on a how
could you string a cable up there, yet
look, miracle and we gasp and gape
and are amazed and privileged and beginning
to be bored. This more than glorious day,
mock orange, peony, rose—mere breathing’s a treat,
no bugs nor blight, yet I crave plot. My best
attention’s flawed at best. I start to feel
uneasy, try to remember the parable
of the king who, stood up by wedding guests,
hauls in anybody passing by,
then scolds one for not wearing wedding clothes.
And even though that’s one weird parable
and even though parables, like family fights,
often aren’t about what they’re about,
I keep expecting a rough hand on my collar,
to be thrown into the outer darkness
so hard I bounce. It keeps not happening.
Instead, a morning glory starts to open.
A dahlia shoot pokes up. I may just be
the worker hired in the final hour
who’s paid as much as anybody else
while others grumble. It isn’t, after all,
like I buckled down and earned this hummingbird.
What We Do For Love
& it’s 51, sunny, no snow on the ground. It’s Michigan, for God’s sake,
in the middle of winter. I made dinner tonight—broiled Mahi-Mahi
with brown sugared
carrots, artichoke & parmesan bites. It’s love. You’ll burn at the stake,
stand in front of a firing squad, or swim to the bottom of the sea
to find the lost
ring thrown from the ship’s rear deck, when you love someone.
Like my uncle who’s taking care of my dying aunt & would buy the moon,
pay any cost
if it would make her better, let her sit up and stare out back at the sun
on the bird bath, on that small deer wandering through their yard.
nothing helps, not even love, & all you can do is be there in the room, talking,
placing a damp cloth on her forehead, squeezing her hand just a little too hard.
I wasn’t in Paris in 2015.
I was home in my own Meudon,
lying in a cold hammock, listening
to the winter birds preach
shivering and wondering,
as I often do, about death…
but then came the news—
of slaughtering writers
gathered around a table to think
and talk. And the autumn night
of the Bataclan massacre—
I wasn’t there, either.
Had I been in Paris,
I’d probably have been in Saint Chapelle,
listening to a concert of Chopin or Satie
and dreaming about beauty,
even after stopping to open my knapsack of books
for the security guard to search.
The execution of writers enraged me.
After Bataclan, I sobbed for days,
knowing all Paris had been violated.
It’s one thing to ponder death and beauty,
but today beauty is under siege and death
is everywhere. Ubiquiste. Omniprésent.
When teaching Shakespeare’s sonnets
or asking my students to help me understand
the irresistible charm of Renoir’s paintings,
I always keep an eye on our classroom door—
the only way in, the only way out.
When with my wife and daughter
we ride bikes to the crowded
farmer’s market and buy gladiolas
from the smiling lady
in the white tent, I’m relieved
we all come home alive.
When late at night
I think about Paris
what keeps me awake
is the irreversible truth:
a dozen intellectuals
and ninety concert goers
did not at day’s end lie down
in their beds and whisper
in the close dark
to the ones they loved,
Bonne nuit. Beaux rêves.
Lying here with you it’s hard to remember
the things we said to each other
not long ago
waiting for our hearts to stop pounding
we talk about the decline of the honeybee
your voice rumbles through your chest
on my nightstand, a card, a boy and a girl holding hands
you gave me this when I was sick and wanted
something to change, something wild to move me from the bed
I recall the surface of the ocean, how it looks from an airplane
smooth as the skin of a child, opaque as the cover of a book
no sign of the shark who never stops moving
not even in sleep
Yellow blush dangling nearly out of reach
I stretch on tiptoe to reach you,
pluck you from your home to bring you to mine.
A triumph of restraint to get you there,
not to tear apart your flesh,
suck your seeds in for the burst of sweetness they promise.
Once home I cut you open
and share you with my love.
Gone, you nourish us still,
body and soul.
Some past Valentine’s Day features: