THE HONEY ROOM
Brother Al, in his hood,
is out in his field
making love to his bees.
From my room I can see him
move through his hives
the way people should move
The bees give him gold and the gold
turns orange in the jars
that he sells in a room
near the door of the abbey.
The Honey Room, everyone calls it.
Besides Brother Al, only I
go into that room full of honey.
I go in there and bend
and look through the jars
on the shelves and the sills
till there in the orange I see Sue
in a field of her own
with a smile
for our garland of children.
SO FINGERTIPS KISS
Five kids, eight years.
And then one day my wife
shouts to me on the tractor
roaring in the field:
“I’ve had enough.”
And like a ballerina,
she rises on one foot, sole
of the other foot firm
against her knee
and with arms overhead
so fingertips kiss,
and then like a helicopter
lifts into the air,
whirls over the garage
and keeps rising.
I can do nothing now
and be proud.
As if at the ballet,
I applaud from the tractor
and blink at the inferno
as she hits the sun.
MISS CAROL'S DUMPLINGS
Every month or so
on a Sunday afternoon
I skip the football game
and get in my truck
and drive out from the city
into farm country
to visit Miss Carol
and get my hands
on her plump dumplings.
Biggest I've ever seen.
Best I've ever had,
terrific with her
legs and thighs.
When she lays out
her chicken dinner
on that white tablecloth
I start drooling before
I even get a hand on it.
A farm girl, she says
she's never met
a man like me
so nuts am I
about her dumplings.
Usually, she says,
men like breast meat,
when it's moist,
and I allow how I
like that as well
but not as much
as her plump dumplings
on a Sunday afternoon
and her pluperfect
legs and thighs.
KALEIDOSCOPE AND HARPSICHORD
As I've told my wife too many times,
the meaning of any poem hides
in the marriage of cadence and sound.
Vowels on a carousel,
consonants on a calliope,
whistles and bells,
we need them all
tickling our ears.
Otherwise, the lines
are gristle and fat, no meat.
Is it any wonder, then,
my wife has a problem
with any poem I give her to read
for a second opinion, especially
when the poem has no message
and I'm simply trying to hear
what I'm saying and don't care
if I understand it.
The other night in bed
I gave her another poem to read
and afterward she said this poem
was no different than the others.
She had hoped I'd improve.
"After all," she said,
"you've been writing for years
but reading a poem like this is
like looking through a kaleidoscope
while listening to a harpsichord."
Point well taken,
point well said.
But then I asked her
what should a man do
if he has careened for years
through the caves of his mind
spelunking for the right
line for a poem
only to hear his wife say
after reading one of his poems
that it was like
"looking through a kaleidoscope
while listening to a harpsichord."
What should he do—quit?
"Not a chance,"
she said this morning,
enthroned at the kitchen table,
as regal as ever in her fluttery gown
and buttering her English muffin
with long, languorous strokes
Van Gogh would envy.
"He should write even more,
all day and all night, if need be.
After all," she said, "my line
about the kaleidoscope and harpsichord
still needs a poem of its own.
It's all meat, no gristle, no fat."
Tomorrow morning when I wake
it’ll be the nurse who’s crazy.
I’ll heave my body up
on its elbows and yell
in her ear, “It’s time for your pill.
Get dressed. Breakfast is ready
in the Day Room. Juice, rolls, bacon, eggs.
You’ll find a tray with your name on it,
faces you know, a chance for conversation.
Eat each meal at a different table.
Mingle. Before you can get out of here,
you have to love all the faces you hate.”
LINES FOR A FEMALE PSYCHIATRIST
Perhaps when I’m better I’ll discover
you aren’t married, after all,
and I should be better by Spring.
On that day I’ll walk
down Michigan Avenue
and up again along the Lake,
my back to the wind, facing you,
my black raincoat buttoned to the neck,
my collar a castle wall
around my crew cut growing in.
Do you remember the first hour?
I sat there unshaven,
a Martian drummed from his planet,
ordered never to return.
With your legs crossed,
you smoked the longest cigarette
and blinked like a child when I said,
“I’m distracted by your knee.”
The first six months you smoked
four cigarettes a session
as I prayed out my litany of escapades,
each detail etched perfectly in place.
The day we finally changed chairs
and I became the patient
and you the doctor,
you knew that I didn’t know
where I had been,
where I was then,
and even though my hair
had begun to grow in
how far I'd have to go
before I could begin.
IN BREAK FORMATION
The indications used to come
like movie fighter planes in break
formation, one by one, the perfect
plummet, down and out. This time they’re
slower. But after supper, when I hear her
in the kitchen hum again, hum higher,
higher, till my ears are numb,
I remember how it was
the last time: how she hummed
to Aramaic peaks, flung
supper plates across the kitchen
till I brought her by the shoulders
humming to the chair.
I remember how the final days
her eyelids, operating on their own,
rose and fell, how she strolled
among the children, winding tractors,
hugging dolls, how finally
I phoned and had them come again,
how I walked behind them
as they took her by the shoulders,
house dress in the breeze, slowly
down the walk and to the curbing,
how I watched them bend her
in the back seat of the squad again,
how I watched them pull away
and heard again the parliament
of neighbors talking.
MOSTLY BASIE WITH A LITTLE BACH
Whenever I see a new woman, I know
I should look at her hair and her eyes and her smile
before I decide if she's worth the small talk
and the dinner later
and whatever else she may require
before she becomes taffy,
pliant and smiling.
But that never works for me.
Whenever I see a new woman,
what matters to me is never
her hair or her eyes or her smile;
what matters to me is her saunter
as I stroll behind her.
If her moon comes over the mountain
and loops in languor, left to right,
and then loops back again,
primed for another revolution, then
I introduce myself immediately
no matter where we are,
in the stairwell or on the street
and that's when I see for the first time
her hair and her eyes and her smile
but they are never a distraction since
I'm lost in the music of her saunter.
Years ago, tall and loping Carol Ann
took a train to Chicago,
found a job and then one summer day
walked ahead of me on Michigan Avenue
while I surveyed her universe amid
the cabs screeching, horns beeping,
a driver's middle finger rising.
Suddenly she turned and said hello
and we shook hands and I saw her smile
dart like a minnow and then disappear
as she frowned and asked
why was I walking behind her.
I told her I was on my way to the noon Mass
at Holy Name Cathedral and she was welcome
to come along. The sermon wouldn't be much,
I said, but the coffee and bagels afterward
would be plentiful, enough to cover lunch.
And Jesus Christ Himself would be there.
She didn't believe me, not at all,
and she hasn't believed me since.
That was thirty years ago and now
her smile is still a minnow
darting here and there but now
it's more important than her saunter
which is still a symphony,
mostly Basie with a little Bach.
And I no longer traipse Michigan Avenue
as I did years ago looking for new moons
swirling in my universe. Instead,
I take my lunch in a little bag
on a long train from the suburbs
and I marvel at one fact:
It's been thirty years since I first heard
the music in her saunter
and Carol Ann and I are
still together, praise the Lord.
Who can believe it? Not I.
Carol Ann says she knew
the ending from the start.
Lord, Almighty. Fancy that.
PEACE FOR ME NOW
On the table by the window
balanced on its spine
and still as a
Peace for me now
zephyr through leaflet.
Peace for me soon
caribou and snow,
and caribou reclining.
—Medusa, with thanks to these contributors for today's ambrosial offerings!