Sunday in Bushwick

featured in the poetry forum January 7, 2020  :: 0 comments

Under a metal sky, walls blaze.
Unreadable script glints, a sculpture
whose angles clash, whose edges bristle.

No one touches the bricks,
as if fingertips will make them disappear.

A short-haired girl puzzles over
flames like feathers, feathers like flames,
leaves embroidered on shadow-colored cloth.

On the next wall, liquid white flowers
and thick purple leaves sprawl.
No need to puzzle over them.

Just take pictures.

editors note:

Imprint now, interpret later. – mh clay

Life in the Archives 1978

featured in the poetry forum August 11, 2019  :: 0 comments

Inside the darkened storefront that would soon be
a bright Asian restaurant, fading album covers
from just ten years ago armored the wall,
protecting clerk and customers from the revolution
outside, jazz in the doorways on Mass Ave.,
and soft rock in the offices upstairs.

Customers’ blind fingers searched
through the dollar bin
as their eyes heard the songs
on each album. I don’t remember
what played up in the front.
I didn’t know those songs yet.

I do remember stopping in these archives
that used to pop up all around the city.
I remember paying a quarter for one LP
I played for years.

Later after moving to Indiana,
I found the college town’s archives,
a building adorned with primitive paintings
of dead rock and pop stars,
some of whom would never have been
honored in the archives back in 1978,
some of whom had been kids my age.

By then, the archives on Mass Ave.
had become a bank with Boston ferns,
plants and children’s pictures on every desk.
I don’t remember what I listened to
on my first visit, but I remember
what I had heard at lunch
at the grill near the med school:
The Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River,”
a crack in the archives’ façade.

editors note:

Searching the stacks for proof that what we were makes who we are. – mh clay

Working with Stone

featured in the poetry forum March 28, 2019  :: 0 comments

After Racconto, LS2, Bice Lazzari (1958)

In this story, the canvas becomes
stone. The sky turns the color
of concrete. Clouds, black scuffs, emerge
once you squint. Sun trickles down:
wan pink, not orange, not red,
not light revealing blades of grass.
The shadow is a wall, concealing
grass, dirt, cigarette butts coated with
slick lipstick, broken glass, candy wrappers.
Disembodied, a white jacket floats free.

editors note:

Grey words to lift a grey mood. – mh clay

We Can Never Live Where We Want

featured in the poetry forum January 3, 2019  :: 0 comments

A friend’s ashes clump by a red bush.
His quizzical, bearded ghost
peers in at interns opening mail.

He had been happy once
as he wandered by the river
drinking bad coffee.

But I feared being caught
scattering his ashes
into slow, black water.

I feared clambering
over rusted shopping carts
while police watched above.

Now my ghost can’t leave town,
ashes mingling with the cat’s.
Our urn is the pin

upon which I, no angel, dance.

editors note:

An issue of ethics over real estate for ashes. – mh clay

Midsummer Moonrise

featured in the poetry forum October 7, 2018  :: 0 comments

After “Midsummer Moonrise” by Dwight William Tryon (1892)

At first glance, you see
just prettiness,
a haze of green, flurries
of brushstrokes,
scent of turpentine.

Be patient.
Yellow and white flowers
appear, plants
for which you’ve no name.
You might know them

as you walk past them. Or
you might not.
The gash of silver
water opens
up, reflecting chalky

moonrise, yet
water does not dis-
solve this parched moon.
With time, you see needles
on pine trees,

copper blight elsewhere
as wind rifles
through. The gash of water
widens. You
smell the earth at night.

editors note: Check out this image, and you will smell it, too. – mh clay

Blue Green and Brown (Rothko 1952)

featured in the poetry forum July 26, 2018  :: 0 comments

She wonders what is intimate
about an enormous canvas hung
up on a museum wall.
Museums are silent except for
garbled conversations, docents’ lectures, spills
of sound from someone’s device.
Nothing is intimate, not even
silence, the pristine space between
each person in a public place.

She sits at home with
the image on her screen,
all other lights off. In
twilight, blue, green, and brown
envelop her, keeping her company
in this humidity. Cicadas call
outdoors. Indoor and outdoor sounds
blend: buses’ wheeze, the washer’s
slosh. She feels the space
between her and them dissolve.

editors note:

Exhibit vs. experience; one to see, the other to be. (Congratulations, Marianne! This poem is one from her latest collection, On the Other Side of the Window, just published this month. You can get your copy here.) – mh clay

Woolworth’s, 1970

featured in the poetry forum May 27, 2018  :: 0 comments

She remembers the lunch counter
in her grandmother’s city,
half a day’s drive on backroads
to smaller towns in Canada.

She didn’t remember anyone black
at the counter or in the stores.
She remembers ordering a hamburger
like Grandma did, never looking
at the cracked, greasy menu.

She remembers cages
of green parakeets,
the thick smell of popcorn,
heaps of butts and ash
in the ashtrays on the counter.
“The Long and Winding Road”
billowed out from the record shop
speakers like curtains in the summer.

She wonders how different
this Woolworth’s was
from Greensboro’s in 1960.
She thinks to ask her grandmother
but knows she never will.

editors note:

Color recalled in no color. – mh clay

Facing East at Dawn

featured in the poetry forum February 28, 2018  :: 0 comments

After a photograph by Northscapes Photography, Presque Isle, ME

The driftwood is a hand grasping something
then letting it go. Stars scatter above
as if this hand, not God’s,

had tossed them into the morning sky.
Up there, they grow brighter. They will
fade once lemon sunrise washes away night.

Yet there is light now. Stars band
together into the Milky Way. Clouds form
like clusters of maple leaves clinging to water.

The water is itself. It reflects nothing.
It rests beneath the sky, awaiting sunrise
and its long day as a sparkling mirror.

It contains everything: cans, rocks, hornpout, weeds.
Before dawn its splash on the shore
is quieter. No birds break its surface.

Across the lake, someone’s car rounds the curve
from the next town nearer to sunrise.
Its light is a fallen star. Soon others will follow.

editors note:

Stars in cars, fleeing the light of dawn. – mh clay

Alternative History in Staunton, Virginia

featured in the poetry forum November 2, 2017  :: 0 comments

The man who sings my favorite song
wanders the streets of this small city.
He no longer carries his guitar,
too heavy for walking past seventy
on uneven brick sidewalks
that all run uphill.

An ex-smoker,
he catches his breath
beneath the marquee
of the last one-screen movie theater,
the one that used to show
movies he liked.
It reeks of buttered popcorn.
He moves on

past the site
of the old Woolworth’s,
the one that sold his records
back when they were hits,
when they crept out of open windows
even in this mountain town,

before they clung to him,
never leaving the room
with the reel to reel tape,
never leaving home.

editors note:

The last one to sing his song is himself. – mh clay

Thelma at HR-57

featured in the poetry forum August 14, 2017  :: 0 comments

After setting down her plate of chicken,
red beans, and rice, Thelma settles in,
full skirt spilling over the folding chair.

She sips Diet Coke, her one concession
to a snug waistband, as she watches
her husband step up to the spotlight.

She closes her eyes, tries to forget
the other musicians crowding the stage
at this Thursday night open mic.

She opens her eyes once her husband
plays the first notes on his guitar
in this dim, smokeless club. She recognizes

the song, “Blue Moon.” He’s played it
at home many times, sometimes fast, sometimes
slow. The notes hang in the air

like perfume would if anyone wore it
nowadays. She shushes the thin girls
at the next table although she knows

his guitar is louder. He speeds up,
and rainstorm notes flood the narrow room,
obscuring the distant moon.

She imagines the notes rushing onto 14th,
nipping at the ears of couples.
A young man in a vintage suit

raises one eyebrow. Her sister Callie winces,
lifting a bottle of low-carb beer
to her black lips. Thelma sits up,

letting her dinner cool as she applauds.
Then an old man raises his horn,
bringing the song back to jazz.

HR-57 was a music venue in DC

editors note:

A little swing ain’t a bad opening for a mic. – mh clay