Vintage verse – Epigram on Rough Woods by Robert Burns

Epigram on Rough Woods

I’m now arrived—thanks to the gods!—
. . . .Thro’ pathways rough and muddy,
A certain sign that makin roads
. . . .Is no this people’s study:
Altho’ Im not wi’ Scripture cram’d,
. . . .I’m sure the Bible says
That heedless sinners shall be damn’d,
. . . .Unless they mend their ways.

by Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

Home Coming by Alarie Tennille

Home Coming

To go back to your hometown
and find it doesn’t recognize you.

To see your old house bedraggled
like hand-me-downs left to Goodwill –

gutters stripped, azaleas gone for no good
reason except it’s not your home.

To dread awkward reunions almost as much
as not running into anyone you know.

To get a little lost, finding landmarks
have run away with your childhood.

To startle at the silver-haired man
walking by who’s too much like your dad.

To feel gutted by the gap that was
your high school, but jealous

of a new museum and elegant restaurants
where you’ll never have a favorite table.

To understand this strange place
doesn’t feel like home, but always will be.

by Alarie Tennille, first published in Poetry Breakfast.

Editor’s note: Careful enjambments and clear imagery highlight the bittersweet touch of nostalgia in this poem.

Smalls by Gail Thomas

Smalls

They spread across tables at flea markets,
spill out of boxes, mementos from a trip
or romance, collections of salt shakers,
heirloom silver spoons. After my parents die
I find a wax paper square with my name
and hank of fine flaxen hair, box of teeth
with rust-blood roots, hand-sewn dress.

My grandmother’s hair is wrapped in tissue,
not the curled grey helmet I knew, but a long,
golden braid. Did she cut it off when her first
child was born, too worn out to care for
one more thing? It lies curled upon itself
like a soft animal, shimmering with lights
that must have lured her husband to unpin it
until the soft fall rained over his hands.

There are no silver cups, no engraved watches;
these smalls are stained bibs, hair and teeth
preserved like the relics my people prayed to
in the old country. Children were their saints,
the ones who would live larger, easier.

Now, my daughters are grown.
I pare down, save the chalk drawing
of a blue horse in the desert, the scent
that rose from my baby’s skin,
a small blessing.

by Gail Thomas

Editor’s note: The detailed description of things emphasizes the lost relationships the narrator has with both the living and the dead.

Entrenched by Devon Balwit

Entrenched

The house rattles, father and son
at loggerheads,

the father bitter that the son chooses
differently

with his fine, strong body that his father
cannot repossess,

the son flinching at the sear of disapproval,
its raw burn

repeated in an endless tallying of keloid
zeroes.

The father bellows from below-stairs,
hammers

the wall for good measure to bypass
the headphones

behind which the son swaddles.
So much time

lost fighting over the same ground,
trees blown

to stumps, blast craters seeping
and stinking.

Were each to stumble upon the other’s
body,

he’d find, tucked close, photos of the same,
house,

creased letters with Dearest in the same
hand.

by Devon Balwit

Editor’s Note: This poem’s difficult imagery conveys the difficulty of father/son love with great precision and emotional complexity.

The Specials by Bruce Guernsey

The Specials

At eighty-five my grandfather,
blinking his way from Florida
to New Hampshire that spring, his last,
drove the by-pass around Atlanta
four or five full orbits, or so we figure,
before my grandmother, hungry again,
as fat as he was thin,
awoke beside him where she’d always ride
to ask if they could stop
for breakfast there this morning,
so good were the grits last May,
the coming summer come and gone
in the wink of her nap
and now we’re heading back, she thought,
her sense of time like his of space
as he drifted towards an exit
through horns and middle-digits raised,
somehow finding north,
these two old ducks, though missing
the Stuckey’s of her dreams
but finding, we’re sure, another,
because they always stopped at this—
or was it that one?—for mid-day dinner,
side-by-side in their favorite booth
where for as long as anyone can remember
the same waitress brought
the sirloin special, chopped, for both.

by Bruce Guernsey, from FROM RAIN: Poems, 1970-2010.

Editor’s Note: This poem doesn’t shy away from the stark reality of aging, but the drifting narrative is more welcoming than sad.

Variations of Stories I heard in Vietnam from the Wounded by Martin Willitts Jr.

Variations of Stories I heard in Vietnam from the Wounded

They would be firing non-stop, it felt like for days,
and the enemy would come endless as rain or breath,
and there’d be this moment, not certain when,
the body and mind separated.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .The body would be
clenching the trigger, fingers numb, or throbbing,
or frozen, or attached, firing, eyes no longer seeing,
but seeing too clearly what was happening, accelerated
or slowed-down, and heart firing like endless bullets,

and alongside, a temporal spirit, perhaps the soul,
outside and transparent, disgusted, refusing to act, or
rescue, or advise, or return to the body again,

and now, the body was being operated on, and
sometimes, the spirit was nearby watching detached
at the incisions, and sometimes, the spirit
had already walked away.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .But when the body awoke,
it would search for the other missing half, the
human part that knew caring. But, the two
could not merge any more than light can join shadow,
or night with day, always longing for what could have,
what will never will be again, and needing
a different kind of healing.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem uses repetition to convey the intractable trauma of war.

From the archives – No I in Team by Ed Shacklee

No I in Team

Inside of every hen there is an egg.
Inside of many hovels there’s a house.
In each and every beggar there’s a beg,
and soon, inside of kittens, there’s a mouse.

Within the vilest hater is a hat.
Perversions always have a bit of verse.
A man will grow inhuman, fate more fat,
by chopping her to bits inside a hearse.

There is no I in team, two eyes in I,
the devil is more evil than you know;
so hide a cask in casket when I die,
we’ll drink to death if God is short an O.

by Ed Shacklee

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, June 20, 2016 — by Ed Shacklee