Friend Robot is confused in these latitudes
Sleeps often, wakes fractious:
Where are we? What’s happening?
This is not where you said you’d stop.
I don’t know these people
I can’t find my friends. The sun
Stays overhead so long, and I can’t help.
It is my turn to soothe:
Here is your tether. Though confused,
You are not powerless. I will show you
Rocks and moose. So many trees.
We still have the lake, the compass
Yellow apples, my notebook.
My mother still loves me, my friend
Writes poems without the ringing of your bell.
Sleep softly, Friend Robot, and in the city
I will tell you tales of the animate north.
I don’t know where I am.
It all looks like West Michigan to me.
But Friend Robot says:
Stay to the left, avoid the debris.
Here is a bell to remind you:
Your mother loves you.
Take the next exit.
Humans have been here before,
Though not you. I know the way.
This Dollar General is the proper one
To pass, though it looks like the others.
This bell means your friend wrote a poem.
Be at ease. You may hare off
Across the fields, but it will gain you nothing.
Stay steady. All will be well.
You have a compass, the sun, the lake,
Your notebook, two yellow apples.
And now you have me.
Your family waits there safe for your arrival.
This will all seem obvious later.
They will look back and marvel:
How didn’t we see it? We did.
We knew. That’s how mistakes go,
That’s how the fixable parts aren’t fixed.
I went into this middle-aged,
Will come out that way. I spend
One of the years descending into invisibility
In seclusion. Maybe two. Who knows.
Every week another essay:
Who to pity most. Who’s missing most.
What year is most crucial. Let me tell you,
From the borderlands of disappearing:
Every year. They are all your vital
Beautiful horrible green growth years.
Or they might be. Each one.
Who can say yet? It’ll be obvious
Later. (I knew. I know. I’ll know.)
First thing is: you’re doing it wrong,
And probably a monster. You must feel
Your feelings honestly, but never
Let them touch another person. Don’t repress
But don’t let it take over.
Grief is a tank division
Backed by bombers; grief has battalions,
Shock troops, poised:
Taking over is its only goal.
You must repel them.
Always fighting, never defeated.
Emotions are a shark,
In constant motion, lest it die. Move on.
You must move on.
The only goal is to move on.
Never pause, never rest, never honor.
Only move. Without this
Your villainy is assured.
Hurt people hurt people–God forbid
They should know a moment’s pain
In solidarity with another,
God forbid, feel a twinge
For a loss not cataloged and claimed.
What you feel is unbearable
And every path through it proscribed,
Still worse to linger. Find a man
In tweed, a woman in soft linen.
Say the right things on their couch.
Pause at the right moments: thoughtful,
Contained. At peace. Never return
To tears, still less raw anger–never rage
At an uncaring universe. If you tell
Even one sweet story, with a sad smile,
You’ve returned. Back to the world
Of bright colors, fitted clothing,
The world of before–which you must re-enter
Seamlessly, and not merely watch
As through a screen, the storylines
Assigned you in your old life.
Next year will wash this year’s socks
Eat this year’s leftovers
Bury this year’s dead.
Slate morphed out of shale
Always carries its past,
Never blank. What we failed
This year still lies crumbling.
What we built still stands.
I wanted to know who she had been
They gave me adjectives–nice, so nice
The sweetest lady. I wanted to know her loves
And those fell rarely from their lips.
By chance, a mention: she loved
The river valley in autumn. Oh. Me too.
She was oak and birch, maple and sumac
Blazing? Yes. So am I. Then another:
Turtle sundaes, pecan and caramel
Sticking in our molars. Yes. Oh yes.
With that I start to build an idea,
The faintest image of who she was,
Who we would have been together.
As we approach a million,
Gather their loves: this one a sunset
Streaking wide prairie skies,
That one petrichor and sunshine,
Another varnished wood. This is how
We keep them. This is how we keep our souls.
I have two new poems out today with Reckoning magazine’s Creativity and Coronavirus series: COVID Summer: After, Now and COVID Summer: Against Dystopia.
It’s been a full month of publishing and is going to continue tomorrow, so stay tuned.
COVID Summer: Emergent
Never before so quiet,
Never before so quick–
Or distracted. Oh good.
You’re one we can save.
Have a blanket. Steroids.
Calm the welts down.
No cough here, no fever.
This one smells the hospital,
Her own exhausted breath.
Get her in, get her out.
The next won’t be so lucky.
COVID Summer: The Plain People
Two a.m. in the ER
William Butler Yeats
Can’t stand the plain people
Selling their souls; me,
I just can’t stand.
His salt of the earth
Sustain me through testing
Take me home in the dark.
COVID Summer: Hives
“Ninety percent of the things you worry about
Never come to pass,” he told us over and over.
And he was right–but then come all the things
You forgot to give a chance at that magic ninety
Red welts barely kept in check, the itching
Unexpected misery in a world of expected.
Quick, what should I worry about next?
COVID Summer: Hand Soap
Four months since I’ve seen
My favorite lemon soap
We’re halfway through
The big aloe refill bottle now,
No one singing any more,
No mantras: we’re retrained.
I still miss the lemon
And not having the list
In my head, what we need,
What we can get by on,
Soft aloe stopgaps.
I asked for a library book
Before. In the before times.
It’s here now, in my bag
For curbside pickup: ready
To tell me what I thought
I would want to know.
Before I checked the graphs
Every day, before I watched
The numbers climb. Before.
A fossil of past intent,
A message in a bottle
Sent from self to self
A little paper wormhole
Into the year that wasn’t.