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.

Valentine’s Day by Bob Bradshaw

Valentine’s Day

Shy, the thought of firing love darts
like the garden snail

has its appeal. The idea
of banging heads

like big horn sheep
for your love? No thanks.

Elephant seals bumping chests
for the title of beachmaster

and my own harem, well,
that’s tempting

but I’m more of a romantic.
I prefer to compete

in a more subtle way
–like the Mexican molly.

The dude with the most
impressive mustache

wins the girl. Imagine me
sporting a Salvador Dali

with its bike-like handles.
Impossible. My ability to grow

facial hair is like
a tortoise’s.

No, I’ll need to impress you
in other ways.

Do you like hiking trails
of clematis and monkey flowers?

I could be your guide,
through the pinkish fields

of Lonicera hispidula,
the striped fashions in vogue

among the pipe vines,
lavender dresses favored

by the morning glories,
and as you bend to their scents

my heart rate racing
like a hummingbird’s
in love

by Bob Bradshaw

 

Editor’s Note: Metaphors shape the heart of this poem, where saying “I love” feels like a race to the edge of a precipice.

Van Gogh, After an Attack by Bob Bradshaw

Van Gogh, After an Attack

Theo, I’m doing better.
The attack came like thunder

out of a clear sky.
For weeks I couldn’t think straight.

What I need now
is the distraction of work,

and quickly:
the trees’ flowering season

is nearly spent.
When will I be allowed

to paint outside? The creamy
blossoms of almond trees,

and the pinks of the flowering
plum trees, awash

in the afternoon mistrals,
will soon be lost.

These mistrals can shred a man
like thistle.

On the day of my attack
I was supporting my easel

with big rocks,
the canvas trembling.

I finished the painting
in a fog:

it was as if my brushstrokes
were birds who knew

instinctively where
to fly to.

I am sending you a number
of rolled up canvases–

blue hills and yellow cornfields
under a lemony sky

viewed from my window.
You must frame them in white

like brides, their future
ahead of them.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: Art lovers will recognize this poem’s narrative—Van Gogh writing to his brother Theo. This poem bridges the gap between words and the imagery that informed so much of the artist’s life.

Red Dust by Bob Bradshaw

Red Dust

I miss not having Jim around.
He taught me how to throw a curve,

and how to hurl myself
into a hook slide.

Inevitably, he began to take half hour baths
and grease his hair. His eyes
dreamy as if he was seeing
a bicycle

on Christmas morning.
Finally he spilled, like his old self,
confessed

to his first kiss.
Any advice? I asked.

“Avoid the nose.”
. . . . . . . .What do you mean?

From then on,
we’d wave at each other.
I’d be coming back
from a baseball game,

Jim would shimmy out the door,
a carnation exploding from his lapel,
and a black bow on.

I’d be in jeans
wearing red dust
from hook slides
into second
base.

by Bob Bradshaw

 

Editor’s Note: The spare lines and simple narrative belie the complex sense of loss and nostalgia that closes this poem. Dust both sticks and blows away.

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

 

Editor’s Note: The narrator’s casual voice belies the sudden grip of nostalgia for a more innocent past.

From the archives – Fire Ranger by Bob Bradshaw

 

Fire Ranger

From here it feels like I’m living
in a bonsai garden. Mountains
in the distance are smooth stones.
The leaves of scattered clouds
glow at sunset like Japanese maples.
Deer move through the grounds.
Headlights on the roads below
are as fuzzy as paper lanterns.
From this nest in the Sierras
I can see roofs of houses adrift
in the mist, like small boats.
But mostly I see a green cloudscape
of forest. Aren’t you lonely?
I’m always asked.
It isn’t lonely in a tree house,
I answer. It’s peaceful. Smoke
threads up through the trees
like smoke from a man’s pipe,
and it’s as obvious to me
as cigar smoke is to you on a subway.
My job’s important. It’s not
an escape, as you suspect. Why
don’t you visit me more, you ask?
I’m not living on the upper floor
of a fire station, with a fire pole.
Don’t worry. We’ll keep in touch,
I promise. But friends up here
are like birds on a roof.
One by one they disappear
as the snow flies
in.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, May 1, 2015 — by Bob Bradshaw

video by Mark Ledford

A Letter from Emily Dickinson on the Prospect of Marriage by Bob Bradshaw

A Letter from Emily Dickinson on the Prospect of Marriage

I am happiest—waiting—
The thought of my name—reined—to yours

makes the morning air crisper.

But the thought of working with your servants
—as if we were a team of horses—
ready to carry you

wherever your voice demands

makes me nervous—a wild horse
in an open field—the sky whipped

by thunder. I am incorrigibly shy.
I long to be stroked—but
untamed—I’ll always

bolt

by Bob Bradshaw

 

Editor’s Note: The last line is perfect. Also, the dashes recall Ms. Emily’s fondness for that particular textual sigh, yet also function properly within the narrative of this poem, giving the lines just enough weight for a reader to appreciate the pause.