Storm by Greg Watson

Storm

We are staying up late, my young daughter
and I, to watch and listen—sleepy
though we are—to the summer lightning
storm outside, which flashes matchstick quick
and seemingly at random across each
small window of the flimsy French doors.
This light show is far more exhilarating to her
than the storybooks stacked beside us,
which wait patiently until the world
becomes once again calm and ordinary,
in need of retelling, embellishment, magic.
For now, we wait, counting out loud
the seconds between flicker and crash,
the dark shoulders of trees and angled outlines
of rooftops, lit up for a moment, then gone.
When we startle, it is merely with delight.
We do not speak—not now, not today—
of the horrors seeping from the evening news,
the once unimaginable now commonplace,
school children crouched under desks,
their backpacks cradled close, utilized as shields
against a hail of bullets from every direction.
For now, the danger is far less specific.
For now, we are snug and safe in this
boat of a bed, letting the wild wind-swept
currents surrounding us have their say,
our small, indeterminate patch of the universe
throwing off sparks, shifting, nearly breaking
apart, reminding us of what we live within.
When the storm at last seems spent,
I rise to close the curtains, the plastic moon
of a nightlight standing in for the one
we cannot see. Though we know it’s there,
as the stars are still there, and the faraway sun
of tomorrow, like all good things,
and it’s enough—for now, for now—
to rest, at ease in that simple knowing.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This sweet narrative holds a terrifying fear at the center that the speaker nevertheless must move past, again and again, because hope is the first and last lesson of parenthood.

Sitting with my Sister by Greg Watson

Sitting with my Sister

When I received the news today of your
passing—a fact somehow known, viscerally,
before I touched the phone to listen—
I wanted only to keep it to myself,
to not speak to anyone during those
long, slow-moving minutes, their silence
demanding only more silence,
their time, more time. I wanted to hold
you there, secretly, perhaps selfishly,
between that cave of heart and ribcage,
to hold you suspended like a single breath,
or a seed which I was neither able to
swallow or spit out. I wanted to cradle
that moment, inseparable from you,
hovering like a thought not quite formed, not
simply for the sake of sparing others,
but to sit with you one last time, as we had
near the end in your tiny apartment,
too quiet for you, and those drugstore
Christmas lights blinking on and off
against the smoky California sun.
I wanted merely to sit with you once more,
just us, before picking up the phone,
handing you back to the world of
the living, the realm you had so recently
left behind, weightless and wordless
now, suddenly beyond the endless
aches and ailments of matter, your absence
only beginning to make itself known.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: When grief happens, poetry is often the only thing that can describe the moment that suspends love between present and past. This poem’s concise imagery offers that moment as both eulogy and lament.

The Buggy by Greg Watson

The Buggy

You won’t remember now being quite
so small, combing that long stretch of Carolina
sand for rocks, shells, anything shining,
the ocean insistently whispering its secret
language, untranslatable upon land.
Nor will you recall the wheels of your stroller
edging closer and closer to the waves,
so slowly that none of us took notice,
none but that stout Eastern European woman
in head scarf, waving her thick arms,
shouting in alarm, “The buggy! The buggy!”
For one flashing moment, my heart leapt
like a startled fish, believing she might actually
be right, that you might be spirited away
by the unforgiving Atlantic, back to Scotland
or Wales, the fabled white cliffs of Dover,
closer to your family’s ancestral home,
but further from the ones who love you here.
But, of course, you were right there
when we turned to look, your beach hat
shielding your eyes, your chubby legs
just beginning to learn what they’re for,
ready, soon enough, to carry you anywhere.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: Every once in a while a poem reminds us of why life is worth living.

When, For a Moment, I Grow Weary by Greg Watson

When, For a Moment, I Grow Weary

When, for a moment, I grow weary
from the endless news reports of bombs
dropping from bleak winter skies
and the faceless tanks nudging their way
through streets clogged with rubble,
I turn my mind instead back to that little girl
cradling her ragged doll at her side, there
in the long silence of the subway tunnel
that for tonight has become her bed.
I want to tell her that everything will be alright,
even if that is another bedtime fable,
to sing to her gently, in her own language,
as I would to my own child, who sleeps
at this moment in a warm tangle of sheets,
mouth agape, dreaming, I imagine,
of flight, and of saving this broken world.
I have not yet found the perfect words
or melody to make this promise happen,
cannot quite decipher my own voice
through a distance as great as this,
this lullaby merely a litany of questions
turning endlessly back upon itself.
Is the lesson simply that we learn no lessons,
that the old names must soon be worn
smooth to make way for the new?
Still, I continue, offering the only comfort
I can summon, the stubborn light of
one still standing, unable to turn away.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: War’s human face is inevitably sorrowful.

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Brother Song by Greg Watson

Brother Song

Brother, have you at last earned
the peace and solitude
which somehow eluded you
on this side of the earth?
Perhaps you speak now in ways
I cannot hope to understand:
the repeating parentheses
of gently falling snow,
insistent pulse of a birch tapping
against the window glass,
sudden shock of a crow wing torn
and frozen to the sidewalk.
You, who saved up your words
like trinkets for a rainy day,
offer no reply but this,
the space you have shaped
to your former image.
Or perhaps your silence has
become your song at last,
the one you had been secretly
rehearsing all along.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: Beautiful imagery carries the grief in this poem with careful hands, emphasizing how loss never quite feels like the right ending for the living left behind.

The Nameless Bird by Greg Watson

The Nameless Bird

So often we mistake beauty for the light behind it.
We know better, but it’s one of our favorite lies.

We long for clarity, seen through the lens of unreason.
Love itself walks between, where all hope lies.

I don’t know how the swans find their way back each year,
or what causes two lovers to agree upon the same lie.

These winter crows don’t care to know your name;
but they recognize friend from foe, and they never lie.

The bird in your heart doesn’t understand that it’s caged.
It sings when spoken to, sleeps where its shadow lies.

Death wins the final argument; we understand this.
But that doesn’t make the songs we sang suddenly lies.

It’s true, brother, that I should visit more often than I do;
but the grave is not where any of our memories lie.

It’s no use asking me who is living and who has gone.
If you want the truth, let me begin with this lie.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This loose ghazal’s opening line immediately pulls the reader into the speaker’s world. The repetition that follows cements the emotional journey with more poignant truths.

What my Father Found by Greg Watson

What my Father Found

My father says that he remembers nothing after
finding my grandmother, thrown as if by force
upon the kitchen floor, her blue eyes gone
blank as river stone, blood not red but black,
reaching, as one hand did, into the stillness of air,
the other held inward, as if cradling a book
which no one could have seen or deciphered.
He remembers the bottle of arsenic glinting
in sunlight, the maddening shouts of the crows,
the strange weight of his own breath hovering;
remembers walking slowly back to the car,
easing it up the gravel road to the Halverson’s
to start up a game of afternoon baseball.
I can’t know his thinking, or whether all thought fled.
Yet in my mind’s eye I see him, unwashed jeans
dragging at the heel, the bill of his cap pulled low,
walking much the same as I did at that age,
hands in pockets, gazing vaguely at the ground.
I can see him kicking at the dirt, signaling,
his H&B bat suddenly connecting, startling
the barn swallows out of their secret chambers,
the thin, red stitching of the ball turning
and turning, fast upon itself, shooting past
the billowing tops of summer trees; and below,
the lengthening silhouette of that farm boy
running, running toward a fierce blinding light
where, for one imperceptible moment,
he somehow manages to all but disappear.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: Shock is an indescribable experience, yet this poem somehow manages to bring it forth with stunning imagery and clear focus.

Of This World by Greg Watson

Of This World

There’s a window open between each written word.
Words alone are my witnesses within this world.

The witnesses to our childhoods fall away, one by one.
Who is left to say we were here, walking this world?

My daughter calls out to the crows along our walk.
She needs no convincing to love this world.

Still, we study endlessly the passing of things.
We want only to say that it’s not the end of the world.

Once, long ago, I saw the lake-light pierce your skin.
I knew in that moment I was alive in this world.

Even in sleep, your words could astonish and beguile.
It was hard to limit yourself to just one world.

Words, like memory, are the least reliable of guides;
but we follow them into the silence of the world.

The names of many things continue to elude me.
One day I will forget my own, and that of this world.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: The repetition in this ghazal presses the importance of small, singular moments into the reader’s mind, for they encompass the entire reason for our existence.

Kabul by Greg Watson

Kabul

For a moment, the young men appear
to be outrunning even the enormous plane,
gunmetal gray, pregnant with the weight
of its designated survivors, crawling slowly
along the tarmac, which waves and shimmers
like a colorless flag in the sweltering heat.
For a moment, at just the right angle,
none of their feet appear to be touching
the earth, such is their immediate desire for
release, the endless scroll of blue sky.
For a moment, their shouts seem almost
celebratory, their upheld hands as if in rapture.
They leap and grab at the air, as if tugging
the invisible hem of a god manifested
from this catastrophe by cries and cries alone.
But the ship casts its cold shadow now,
an enormous carpet of night shifting
beneath them, pulling gradually faster until
they are left standing, all but motionless,
on this sun-bleached cement, phosphorescent,
as if something had just been erased,
something already being forgotten.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This poem drives home the surreality of disaster with its juxtaposition of beautiful, ecstatic imagery against the very real horror of catastrophe. The last line is the killer.

Memory Care by Greg Watson

Memory Care

In the memory care unit, everyone seems
pleased to see you — partly because
they believe you are someone else —
a wayward son not spoken to in years,
or the first boy to have uttered the word love
as though it were a fact, as solid as a tree
or the ground from which it emerged.
You walk behind the floor scrubber
as quietly as you can, your measured pace
slower than a monk’s in procession,
making certain that no water streams behind.
You have been called by many names here,
always smiling and nodding in return.
You have felt the presence of those lives
passing through for perhaps the final time.
You can’t help but think of your own mother,
how she longed for nothing more than
to forget, to forget, the ECT doing its best
to pinpoint the exact intersections of her pain;
how she forgot, too, the names of her sons
when she called from the next room
or considered them questioningly at dinner,
a stage actress fumbling for her next line.
Perhaps the Vedic masters had it right all along:
this world, however convincing, is merely
a passing show. God plays every part.
God holds a cardboard sign by the freeway,
makes your latte, calls you handsome.
We are divine against all logic and evidence.
We are divine, even as we soil ourselves,
stumbling back to the newness of childhood,
not yet able to write our own names,
knowing only the comfort of their music,
the familiar shape they carve into air.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This heartache of a poem begins compassionately, if impersonally, but soon narrows down to a very personal sorrow. Repetition hammers home the sadness of the speaker, but the closing lines show how grief is also part of life, and precious despite the pain.