Madagascar by Bob Bradshaw

Madagascar

Who knew that words were in flight,
that there are linguists like birders
counting their disappearing numbers,

that malagrug and brannigan and brabble
would vanish like the passenger pigeon,
the Lyall’s wren, the Dodo, the Great Auk?

Or more disturbingly like the friends
that once populated my neck of the woods—
the Nancys, the Dianes, the Lucilles,

the feckless Fanny, the doxy Dolly…
Why was my heart always a flutter-burst
for the illecebrous Ann?

Call me a gudgeon. I never believed
that names that once delighted my tongue
would go the way of snow broth—

vanishing like the Bonin grosbeak,
the Mauke starling, the Guadaulupe caracara,
like the vouropatra, the aepyornis,

the mulleronis. My youth is like Madagascar,
an island with more and more losses.
No extinction of a species could haunt me more

than at night when I drift off into wittendream,
thinking of you, Ann. It’s heartbreaking
to think we could have lived our lives together

like a couple of wrens sharing the same perch.
Recalling you, forty years later, I can conjure
up your voice as I drift off to sleep

as clearly as I can the song of the disappearing
nightingale or the rose-breasted grosbeak,
your memory a wondrous twitter-light.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: This poem is a word lover’s delight, filled with birds and multi-syllabic sonics and joy.

The Orchestra by Bob Bradshaw

The Orchestra

We played
for a bit of extra food,
for extra blankets
—thin as scarves—

and to lose ourselves,
like lifeboats adrift in mists,
rowing our bows
across our strings.

Sometimes we played
when new arrivals
were escorted by guards
to the gas chambers.

As I bowed I imagined
the children, mothers, old men
inside, turning, staring—
bewildered
by the shower’s blank walls.

What could a prisoner
working inside the crematorium do
afterwards but hook their bodies
with poles,
and drag them to the lift
where they were hoisted
to the furnaces?

If they were lucky a stoker
would utter a Kaddish
before pushing them into the flames,
their smudges of ash
dirtying the empty
sky.

All while our music played,
not the lively pace
of music dispensed
when work details
marched in and out of camp

but songs played as beautifully
as we could muster,
the last sounds they might hear.
At times, despite the risk
a trumpet would erupt
into sobs, a violin
weep.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: The tragedy of this particular poem gives weight to the grief that is evident with every line. The plethora of art that continues to pile up in the collective history from this human disaster is a tragic statement all in itself.

From the archives — Intuition by Risa Denenberg

Intuition

As I entered my eighth month
of pregnancy, my grandmother, timeworn
and ripened, exited our line.

Far from home, I received the news
in a whoosh of air, as a warbler trilled
a melody I suddenly understood.

And though there was much to fear,
the awareness settled in me like a deep stream.
She companioned me for the lying-in.

A feral cat crept into the room and stayed
during the long hours of my labor. She
howled as my son crowned, cries louder

than my own, then disappeared. And, just
before he emerged, I reached inside and felt
black curls protecting his fragile skull.

At that moment, I received her blessing and saw
his face, still curled in his confinement, and knew,
as a mare knows, it was time to bear down.

by Risa Denenberg

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, July 7, 2017

From the archives — Aunt Viola by Bob Bradshaw

Aunt Viola

She paid five bucks a month to have a star
named after her.
She would point to the sky’s crush of stars
and say there it is.

This is the same Viola whose creditors
took away her furniture every quarter
as if her house were a stage set.

Viola, who used to pay me
to pull Spanish moss from her oaks
as she lay in a lounge chair,
the bachelors in the apartment complex
eyeing her through binoculars.

Viola, whose husband came home one night
and threw her lover naked
into the street.
Viola,
who reprimanded her husband
for not trusting her, demanding an apology.

Viola, who I learned today
died several years ago. Viola,
who I suddenly miss. I squint up
at the night sky. I wonder how many times, Viola,

your star has been renamed? It’s missing,
as if you didn’t keep up the payments.

Like you, reclaimed by your creditors.

by Bob Bradshaw

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, June 24, 2016

Van Gogh Leaves Paris By Train for Arles by Bob Bradshaw

Van Gogh Leaves Paris By Train for Arles

Theo, gazing out at the passing landscapes
I thought of you.

Here in the south, snow
on the distant mountains

reminds me of Japanese prints,
the clear air defining

everything in bold shapes,
like those in woodcuts.

In this brighter light
fewer strokes will be needed.

The land is rather flat,
and near dusk a red sun

settles into the snowy horizon,
melts, and the long night begins.

There aren’t the refuges
we had in Paris, and Arles

is expensive. I don’t know
where I can find affordable

canvases and paints. However,
the morning light makes up

for everything. There is a dusting
of snow on the ground, and yet

flowering orchards thrive
in the fresh light.

There are grey olive trees, orange banks,
washerwomen in white bonnets,

a green river flecked with gold,
and red vineyards.

The place has the optimism
that school girls dressed up

for a spring play have—
the peach and plum trees as lit up

as bridesmaids, pink
and white blossoms

in their hair. Theo, I hope
you can make your way often

to Arles. Spread the word.
In time we can form a colony

of artists in the south,
where there are fewer distractions,

but with russet footbridges,
cobalt skies, a citron sun…

I’m not young, but I’m not
finished yet. I can do new things,

work you can be proud of.
Look, in Arles even a bent old

apple tree holds sprays
of flowers.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: The vivid imagery in this epistolary poem effortlessly supports the underlying allegory. Lovers of Van Gogh’s artwork will find this a delightful read.

You Arrive Like Fall, Suddenly by Bob Bradshaw

You Arrive Like Fall, Suddenly
leaving my heart thumping
like a banging shutter. You missed

the bigleaf maples that hung
like mid air vineyards in spring,

their long racemes
of yellowish green flowers

heavy as grapes. Now
they have the anemic yellows

of leaves folded
like handkerchiefs waiting

to be pocketed away. That alone
should have alerted me to loss.

Haven’t the blow-wives long lost
their beautiful heads of white hair

to shearing winds?
Still, there’s hope you’ll stay, right?

Like the woolly mule’s ears
with her long blonde hair

you too feel at home
in the cool air,

one moment clinging to me
like a monkey flower to a fence,

as if intent on staying.
And yet the next moment

I sense you don’t need roots
–that like a moon jelly,

there isn’t a rock
or a patch of soil or a man

that could ever
anchor you.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: This poem is a study in metaphor and simile, with the heart of the poem set squarely in the middle—loss.

Falling for a Japanese Maple by Bob Bradshaw

Falling for a Japanese Maple

What man doesn’t long to sit
among high branches, peering straight up
at the white undergarments of clouds?

I am embarrassed to admit it.
But I had no choice after
snapping branches that I clipped

in my fall. What were you thinking?
is what everyone asks. A man
at your age….

As I negotiate steep stairs
with my crutches,
my wife asks “Now do you regret
your foolishness?”

I pause at the top step. A Japanese maple,
her red leaves tiling the air,
leans against the window,
her shimmering dress

as lovely as any kimono’s,
a beauty always worth
going out onto
a limb for.

by Bob Bradshaw

 

Editor’s Note: Personification makes quite a show in this poem, but so does foolishness and joy, perfectly framed within short lines and whimsical imagery.

Japanese Peach Blossom Festival by Bob Bradshaw

Japanese Peach Blossom Festival

We wait for your friend
from a small footbridge–
the pond’s koi gazing up
with brightly painted faces.

A 93 year old woman
in a kimono laughs
as I greet her, a kokyu
in her arms.

She wanders with us
past flying windsocks
and pink clouds
of flowering peach and plum,

to a small auditorium
where you lean into a mic
and play a song about winter,
your flute sounds pure
and free in the rich,
fruit scented air,

I stand as the song ends
applauding wildly.
You are the first girl I kissed,
my heart leaping like waves
over a sea wall.
Who knew that fifty years
would pass by like
an overnight
storm?

by Bob Bradshaw

 

Editor’s Note: The beauty of the imagery in this poem seems almost too simple, but sometimes the best verse is quiet and beautiful.

Swallows of Capistrano by Bob Bradshaw

Swallows of Capistrano

Remember
the fork tailed swallows
swooping and dipping
in the warm air currents,
our own hearts light
as scarves?

After you left me,
I was a mess,
everything an effort–going
to work, making dinner–
my heart heavy,
weighted in muck.

I glance at the tourists,
half-expecting to see you,
the crowds thinning on this,
San Juan’s Day,
like a kettle’s dying
steam.

A swallow hangs
high above the stone mission,
one of the last swallows
leaving Capistrano
for Argentina

–but my heart has no place
to winter. Like me
it has become a stranger
in Capistrano,
with no where
to go.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: This poem of loss is made all the more poignant by the real life story of the swallows disappearing.

Spring Wildflowers by Bob Bradshaw

Spring Wildflowers

Today I have called in sick. The boss’
rude eyes, always insisting

on everyone working overtime,
exhaust me. I want to flop over,

lie on the ground, like spent
dandelions. Today I’m hiking

the wooded hills, the Pacific’s winds
in their tossing limbs. The shade

of oak and pine heal the days
spent under my boss’ harsh glare.

I pause to stroke the reddish bark
of the refrigerator tree,

cooling my hands.
I climb a path that leads

past a fairy lantern, her head
bent downwards, her shy

snowy petals never fully open.
Scents of the soap plant

mix with my sweaty clothes.
The houndstongue licks

at my ankles as I brush past,
avoiding the poison oak.

In an oak’s branches a wild clematis,
having defied the serpentine soil,

soars with white clouds
of blossoms.

As I stride into full sun the musky
scent of monkey flowers clings

to me, the petite sun cups
lighting my path. The rarely glimpsed

‘mouse ears’ peeks at me from just
off the path, hidden among the chaparral,

its thumb sized blossom lasting one day.
The sea lies beyond the ridge,

where I look out on the Pacific
and think of Sir Francis Drake

who landed up the coast. What
will I do with my life?

by Bob Bradshaw

 

Editor’s Note: The litany of flowers in this poem leads the reader from work frustration into the that question we all ask ourselves once our minds have calmed enough to see clearly.