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Collection 01/05 - 05/05

by Richard Paez

four evenings

one-three
I watch as Father pours his dominoes from their ark.
They are black and smooth, gleaming as if wet—
dumb fish boiling out of the nets,
staring up at the men half-blind,
barking for breath as they squirm, shuffle in the dark.
Hungry for their game, the crew's greedy fingers descend.
I still dream of their dumb, pleading eyes.

two-five
Lightning strikes like Father’s jagged fingers
as waves slap over the gunwales of our boat.
Grown men, we are still Poseidon's children in the dark,
when the sea-salt and tear-salt come together in the wet
that pools and runs down our cheeks.
Our motor barks for breath,
the boat seems to hang from its own hung nets.

three-four
The old men spread hands across the dominos as if casting nets—
shuffling, forming eddies on the table, swells that rise and descend.
They pick their stones like seagulls picking fish. Mesmerized, I
watch the crew arrange their pieces in lines, cupping arms, forming arcs.
The air is sweet like ocean air, heavy with cigars. The old men cough,
ignore the wet rings left by their whiskeys,
blind eyes looking to God. The men play long into the dark.

four-six
I sit on the pier’s edge despite the wet planks,
dangle my feet and wonder: What sight
less things swell down there in the dark.
Children dig bottomless pits
along the shore. Waist deep, their fathers
smack the water, scaring fish into their nets.
The reflected sun approaches me
across the water, as its own father descends—
caught in their own unending arc.

Rolling thunder

these words we make—
distant sirens in the dark.
Huddled for bodily warmth,
our backs to the cold box-car’s wall,
we sit on its wooden floor, worn smooth
by freight. Train wheels squeak like mice

in snake-coils, extinguishing our words—
the strike-flare-flicker of matches in the dark,
tossed away once their job is done,
falling to the floor where they fade.

Dead things. Yet we carry on,
voices squirming like freight bags
heavy with mice. Light another smoke
to share. It’s all we can do
for ourselves, the passengers—inhale
-exhale, wonder where we’re going,
derailed yet chugging on,
morning after morning.

Through the open door we stare at the world
going quickly by, watch flashes of dawn
through gaps in the tree-line grown thin from speed.
Exhausted, you lay your head in my lap
your breath slow, in rhythm with the train,
rolling gently like distant thunder.

[With thanks to Maxine Kumin’s Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief]

—new moons above us. We begin again—

—slipping past the cold, surface tidal flow,
neck deep, sinking into the warmth below
the waves, kicking to stay afloat, staring
into you as you gaze back into me,
I see myself reflected, supplicant—
—in you I have found regress to the womb.

Coiled and woven with you, like radiant
amoebas, we are warmth, lights on the water—
—strands of thought stretched though placental ocean.

How to capture something as fluid as
this in such a rigid form? Can the
arthritic fingers of my language grip breath?

Two minds touch. New consciousness swells. A third
heart beats, echoing ours, forming ripples—

Bond of Union

{Encounter}
We dance in a circle. We rise and fall
to the drum. Smoke escapes from the pit
at our center as our reflections scale
the smooth wall behind us, forming
an endless tessellation: man and devil,
man and shadow.

A pair of dancers climb down from the wall,
breaking their pattern to join us, to dance with us,
to remind us that each of us broke a pattern
to join the circle. We reach the far side of the ring,
where man meets devil head-on, where man
and shadow shake hands and together praise the light
that made both possible.

When the music stops the circle breaks.
A new constellation forms: the Devils climb, one
on one atop each other. Each one, reaching the peak,
curses the rising smoke because he is no closer to escape.

We too hate the smoke. We are ants, newts.

{revelation}
There is a thief at the center of Relativity,
past and future are present in the bag slung over his shoulder.
We reach for him, try to stop him,
just as he makes his way out the door.

{reflection}
She doesn't know I'm watching her, her knees sinking
into the mud, her hands busy, digging holes, caressing
plantings, removing stones. She hunches over the kicking
weight in her belly, mulls over parallel rows of seedlings.
I think it best to not disturb her. I remember
walking here along the dirt road, coming across a Puddle
nested in tire tracks and shoe prints, smooth as a mirror,
reflecting sky, trees, sun. I see iguanas in the branches,
and dream of Stars.

postscript

I return to the place where the road bends
upwards and inland, where at the peak one can see
across the world, on either side to the horizon lines.
The road disappears into blue, stretches backwards and forwards.

You are gone somewhere no road can reach.
I remember this place, where you ran barefoot on sand
and laughed at the waves' lazy cursive,
where I can feel something more than anger
over the amorphous thing called love
being distorted beyond recognition.

I lay on your sand. I watch clouds.
I learn to recognize that we have always seen
what we want to see, that there has always been more
than blood in red and bruise in yellow,
there has always been an alternative to choking
on the line that keeps us bound together.

There are no straight lines, no straight roads.
For me, there is only the drive through town,
desert, sky—all red and yellow in sunset
silhouette, redundant and bent by the heat rising,
all pointing towards the sea,
past city-line, shore-line, horizon-line.

I sleep. I dream that I see all the world's sunrises
in the yellowing paint of the town's abandoned buildings,
in the yellows of fusarium taking over the heads of wheat
that grow just beyond the road's shoulder.

I wake. I watch the beach
as the tide takes the sand line by line,
the same way you've taken this poem,
the way this place has taken me.

And I give it back, letter by letter, to the sea.

The Difference

She sits, Indian-style,
in an old room with new carpeting
undecorated, except for thick, blue
curtains, hanging still
drawn incompletely, allowing
just enough space for me to watch her
through the window as she sits

pregnant belly nestled
between her knees, foreshadowing
the child to come
who will sit looking up at her,
tell her: there are still
bits of you
in my teeth—
my child in hunger
if his in blood.

She remembers him climbing on top of her,
mumbling love, his hand, fingers outstretched,
supporting his weight, sinking so deep
into the pillow she imagined he could feel
the bedsprings through its mass, feel the coils
cut into his palm,
her face turned, not away from him;
towards his hand, white with pressure—
like mine—white
like the doctor's apron, not the bloody mess
she imagined. She sits with the peacefulness
of the doctor as he cleaned her,
four years today underneath
the perfect symmetry of acoustic ceiling tile,
the bittersweet Oreo cookies in recovery,
the girl sobbing next to her, whose name
she never knew, forever her sister
in the shared irony that in this sterile room
they were expected to recover
what could never be recovered,
the shared future of rumpled bed sheets,
jumbled till mottled and continuous
across remembered beds, the infinite
possibilities of empty rooms, like this one,
undecorated except for the thick, blue curtains,
hanging just as they did in the room we shared,
when I climbed on top of her, mumbling love,
my hand supporting my weight, fingers
outstretched, giving her a gift she couldn't keep.

two scenes

I.
The camera pans across
blue blades of grass,
bending in congregation,

trenches left behind by tank treads,
where the flow of the field
has been shredded, unraveled into selvage,

the glint of glass,
remainder of beer bottles and marbles

—all nestled in the aftermath
of one man’s lust for another man’s life.

II.
The TV flickers.
Cheap wall sconces,
imitation bronze, Formica furniture,
disposable bed-sheets dance in the silence
of the cathode-ray's strobe.

You trace your fingers between my scapula
and down my spine, across the softer parts
of my skin, normally hidden behind cotton and leather.

There’s no need for alibis.
No apologies.
Just comfort and comforters.

The curves of your flesh,
your skin, bending
as if to inertia: a terrible angel
nestled in the intermittent television light.

trimming son

The seeds you planted inside me
bore fruit.
My skin cracks and peels—tight,
relenting earth—lets loose the green,
razor-leafed vines
whose petals
are tear-shaped drops of blood
that blossom with every tearing step.

Rows dug up in lines like soldiers
healthy seeds and fertilizer
sharpened, well oiled shears—
tools to cut away and sever
any disease, anything that ruins
your carefully planned choreography.

With grace and balance you applied
shears to your chosen one, cutting
away tarnished leaf, imperfect twigs
until I was perfect—just like you.

Mother,
after all the gardens I have run through
trying to escape from you
your green thumb still finds it way
to where it hurts the most.

06/15/2005

Posted on 06/15/2005
Copyright © 2020 Richard Paez

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Leslie Ann Eisenberg on 06/17/05 at 06:09 AM

First, Richard, let me begin by saying thank you for omitting an author’s note. Not only is it a mark of professionalism to trust the reader to their own interpretation, this collection stands well on its own without any justification. I read this as if it appeared, in this same order, in a published work. I believe this to be a strong series, with inter-related pieces that work together as a whole. Whether painstakingly edited or naturally placed, you absolutely never have an excess word….The sound language on the more erotic or action oriented pieces always strikes the right chord. The continual references to “reflection” speak to the dual nature of man in constant conflict, yet the message seems to be to reconcile the two, or at least the struggle to do so. The series calls to mind “succession.” Are you familiar with this concept, of the forest burning and then, over many decades returning to its former glory, scarred, but ready again? From violent death tender leaves are sown. Other concepts spring to mind throughout: the child -- a mute witness, the silence of men -- screaming from within, running adrift, the union and separation of lovers, as well as self. I also enjoyed the seeming references to DNA – joining and falling and intertwining. Still much more to contemplate, as I’ve only read it through once. In the meantime, I have comments for each poem – I’ll email them to you. pk

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