All posts by Robert Reeves

Grade A: Shabbat [from Yossele]

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), February 2007.  This poem cycle about the golem of Prague was a collaboration with my partner Sari.  I wrote all the poems in the golem’s voice.  Sari remembered that it was a son-in-law, not a son, who assisted at the creation of the golem, and made that clear in one of zir poems, so this poem’s vague inaccuracy on that point can stand.  I’d also forgotten that, according to Sari, the rabbi had originally installed the golem in the schoolroom—but the poem ze wrote before I wrote this one had him being moved to the house:  one of the many serendipities that attended our mutual composition of this book, despite the fact that we didn’t see or discuss each other’s poems in progress.  Published in our book Yossele.

Shabbat                                                                                                   The Golem

 

On Shabbat

I don’t go out on patrol.

Master’s conscience couldn’t push

even a dead thing in his home

that far outside his ways.

I am, then, observant.

No, I can’t share the meal,

recite the benedictions,

know what it is

to be gathered in family

like a quilt against the chill.

The chill is my dwelling.

Master’s children are grown

and helped him bring me,

so from them I don’t sense the dread

small ones would feel

when the angels are asked to the table

and instead this, this,

comes to sit.

Then after the house is abed

I sit alone

on the end of my cot

in my room

alone with Him.

And my room is the world.

And the world is His room

where He sits on the end of His cot.

And neither of us has a name

those hours

and those hours don’t stop for us.

No lights are lit

by any mother’s hand.

On the six days

He made all the others.

On the seventh day

He knew He was still alone.

Grade A: Cafeteria

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), January 2007.  Written in the Student Services building at CNM.  Published in my books The Hardest Thing and Wings of the Gray Moon.

Cafeteria

 

Time is feeble and stiff.

The coarse-natured beauty leans forehead on weightless hand

till one of an infinite number of kids with military hair

cuts my view of her,

sitting by someone he calls “G.”

In spasms of air between the bustling crewcuts

the beauty checks her raccoonish mascara,

her candy-lime coat the color of her deft boredom.

Everyone’s arranged in rows

for life

which must be nearby.

Grade A: Beatrice

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), November 2006.  I was telling the story of Dante and Beatrice to my Humanities class and suddenly got sick of this, well, abuse of a girl who was probably quite ordinary.  Most people I’ve ever fallen in love with have been!  Published in my books The Hardest Thing and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the local zine Central Avenue.

Beatrice

 

She was probably like other girls,

Dante’s ten thousand stanzas notwithstanding.

She probably did spot the sickly boy in the street

but it wouldn’t have occurred to her she caused the sickly.

When she smiled at him,

that was manners,

when she gave him the cold front,

she had her period that day.

More than anything she thought about clothes,

giggled at the idea of bodyparts

with her nastier girlfriends.

She went to church,

but to study the fine women’s intricate hairdos,

not because any kind of paradise

was her real home.

To such a wisp

theology’d just be scary.

And so would poetry.  And rightly.

She knew how she was supposed to act

when the sun came out, when the snow came down,

and how she liked to act.

She married, as far as we know,

obeying her parents,

and she died, we do know this,

still teenaged,

obeying her God.

A Christian child

but a child.

Love kept outside of her probably,

respecting her play,

her silence.

She never found out her silence had been broken

these seven hundred years.

Grade A: A Continent

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), October 2005.  Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the local zine Central Avenue.

A Continent

 

I have watched Africa creep closer,

then back away again.

 

(Or one of many Africas.

  There are more small ones than I know about, probably.)

 

Mother’s bones are there somewhere

of course, her ingenious straight bones.

 

And something that unleashes red-eyed men is there,

their swords fast and heavy through meat like the meat of flowers.

 

And the things that group in the high grass are there.

I am already getting my carcass picked beneath a tree shaped like burnt lightning.

 

And there are swords that buzz like flies

and work in babies’ blood.

 

I am not bothered by the years on years I sidled against its West shores in my fat ship.

I am not bothered, I am lifted, by its great scream of prevailing.

 

I think instead—though the light is insecure—it is really

a tattoo on the back of my hand, the shape of Africa, that creeps close and backs away, that I don’t remember getting.

 

I am afraid my own hand is slapping out screams

that will need to be followed.

 

(Or one of my many hands.

  They multiplied in my absence, while I waited for Africa.)

Grade A: Kitsch Construction, Regina, Jemez, 1968

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), September 2005.  Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon.

Kitsch Construction, Regina, Jemez, 1968

 

October has that

juicy dawn cold

the mountains like to keep to themselves.

The aspens are flaring like a wick losing oil.

John quips to his brother

who’s not ramming the posthole digger

hard as he can

and who’s just come off his honeymoon,

“Too much pussy, Dave.”

“Too much work” Dave comes back.

“Not enough pussy.”

My arms are memorizing these plunges

for the first time

and already long to forget.

John’s burnt about having to get this done

with a soft city kid,

his lazyass sibling

and a fourth crew who hasn’t even shown yet,

who’ll shatter into the bunkhouse tonight

after the mountains are ink,

whiskeyed off the vertical,

and ask directions to whatever food I’ve got,

rummage thru PopTarts and scowl

“What is this shit.”

The aspens will expect me to quit in the morning.

Grade A: Broken Glass

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), July 2005.  The fire in my backyard mentioned in “Against the Drone” left innumerable bits of glass from the trash dump that used to be there.  As much as I took out, there always seemed to be more.  Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon.

Broken Glass

 

My back lot

is a purity

of dead voracious sun

and sidelong glass sliver

and much of the glass

refinedly pounded into

sugary uncutting cubes.

 

I’m selecting this

atom by atom

slice by slice

for a plastic bag

and I hear the city workers

laying pipe a block up

jeering on their lunchhour

in shadow of hedge

and young mimosa

across the front street, one

keeping his hardhat on

 

and when a tall

college girl passes

dressed for July

they try not to be stereotypes

and only turn their eyes

and whisper evaluations

once her back’s to them.

 

I can’t see any of this

from where I am.

I’m not hiding

but hidden.

My lowered flesh

sows the ground

with salt.

Grade A: An Abraham

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), February 2005:  for Jones Wright Pegram, my maternal grandfather, and spoken in my mother’s voice.  Several details are fictionalized:  she trained as a psychologist, not a medical doctor, for instance, and I don’t know for certain that Jones was ever pastor of a church;  but this is mostly an accurate depiction of their relationship.  Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the local zine Central Avenue.

An Abraham

 

We are a big enough family

to do most things, except become smaller.

The old man in this bed swordfighting the air,

backing off from its assault,

has been various smooth and harsh things to many of us

and now is various things inside,

something about the kidneys giving way,

holes melted in the stomach by a lifespan’s sour mind.

 

He wakes panting and the eyes wheeling wall to wall

and croaks dreams:  he’s driving

up to a red light he knows means stop

for everyone but him, the cars ahead

like a clotted passing train, his shoe on the gas.

He’s a bird looking a mile down into streets like a machine,

city streets they must be (the man’s never seen the city),

some crazy-stacked overpass maze, but then oh!

he’s a man not a bird, and that wakes him.

 

I am his eldest daughter,

which hasn’t been good for anyone.

His church was the kind where only the walls are nude,

the pewbacks level as farmer’s rows

or his back, marching after the team, his

back to the bed, the last pulpit.

I wanted curves and dark cups, bewilderments of hillsides.

I guessed the plainness of things was fooling.

I had fox’s nose and ears.

 

A good farmer has nothing for a fox but a gun.

There was enough father in him that he broke his on his knee

and didn’t reload.  Once it sank in

that God meant a fictitious nuisance to me,

that I would only lay my faith in what I could rub myself against,

the further steps were gentler:  med school

in the fellowship of niggers (at least a doctor

you could avoid calling Mister), my flight

to the perverse Yankee states,

my children doomed to be smaller than their cousins.

 

I don’t know why I’m sitting here

unless to honor the way he sat and never spoke

well or ill of me, in the uncomprehending rocker

and the Bible at his eyes.

                                                A mere thing to give

but in this bed years ago he must’ve given mere things to my mother

from his lean fierce shanks to start the multitude of us,

an Abraham.

                          And this was his love,

that bare no-comment, and now these hurtling dreams,

his breaths feinting at him and

closing in, closing in.

Grade A: Against the Drone

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), November 2004.  Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon.

Against the Drone

 

Outside the laundromat

the hair blows over my eye,

thinner than the air’s rivers.

 

Inside, the drunk in the brittle black wardrobe

who looks like he ought to go into the washer whole

finishes a giant sack of junk food

then starts asking people for money.

Me he calls brother-man

or that’s my guess,

my detective work on the warped syllables.

 

“My team came in!”

yells the beard in the cushioned vest

as quarters jackpot out of the change machine.

But it wasn’t only a gag:  “Denver!

Denver’s kickin’ their ass!” he announces to the room.

The drunk’s pard, shiner covering a stab scab,

comes up and highfives the beard.

They tell each other “Denver!” a couple times.

 

I wouldn’t be here

except the laundry room at my buildings caught fire

last month.  The sign on the door says TEMPORARY CLOSED.

It was the second fire in one week.

The first took out my back fence

and now our yard’s twice as big.

I stood across the street squeezing the popcorning cat in my arms,

wearing dumb indoor clothes.

 

The firemen weren’t in much of a rush either time.

All in a day’s work

when the flames take more of the world,

 

brother-man.

Grade A: The Foothills

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), August 2004:  addressed to Leora Byrne.  Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the journal Arsenic Lobster.

The Foothills

 

Your house is someone else’s

you write:

the house we strangely bought:

 

and you’re where you always should’ve been,

up in the foothills

with your own income bracket,

not playing out your gentle life

in this creeping slum.

 

Your house is someone else’s

and that will assist me

whenever I pause still skittish on that corner

seven years after our car wreck

and can see it down the block.

The mush I made of us

might still attack me

but fainter, now that I know.

 

The last time your house was someone else’s

it seemed too small to contain such air and freedom.

We dickered only lightly,

being sure.

 

Why would I want you to go on living there

anyway, among the aftershocks

of horror and defeat?

They could never drown out

how beautiful we were.

 

Me, I’m doing well,

I’ve got more than my half of the rent for this month.

It’s been forever

since I went to the foothills.

Grade A: Goodbye, Mr Parakeet

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), April 2004.  This poem makes more than a small homage to Eliot’s “Prufrock.”  Jessica Posniak (now Jess Lionne) thought “faintkneed wind” was over the top:  but isn’t the whole poem?  Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon, in the local zine Central Avenue and in the journal Skidrow Penthouse.

Goodbye, Mr Parakeet

 

He would sit, his cappuccino gently freezing,

at his peculiar table

on the renovated ocean dock

with its upscaly kioskfaces gazing gray into the sky

and no dead or dying leaves anywhere,

both hands on his aching cane.

 

On specific weekdays

he’d have a lofty but piteous smile for the tourists,

a single smile

arrived at after hours of planning.

 

He wore black in the summer,

white in the winter

and no one was ever troubled for him.

 

He preferred bow ties,

the old sort that begin as one strip

and require to be entangled.

 

Somewhere halfway through his vigil

the tide would change

and left things would get lost

or lost things left,

and his eyes would become realms of snow

or of elmseed, falling voluminous

among faintkneed wind

to a ground swept quiet.

 

When he finally stood

the entire staff would emerge on the pier

and shyly, in unison, whisper

 

“Goodbye, Mr Parakeet.

  Goodbye

                    again.”

Grade A: Cars

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE, living with Sari Krosinsky, teaching at UNM and T-VI), December 2003.  This series was conceived the fall I settled with Sari for good, and revised and reordered in 2009.  I should say I don’t believe in an afterlife, so poems that explicitly explored Jeffrey the dead boy’s situation have been eliminated or drastically reduced.  He’s important only as a commentator on this world anyway—to my mind.  Other readers may have other opinions.  The Prologue and Epilogue say—not very straightforwardly—that life-after-death is a device I know nothing about.  “Cars” was published in my book 3 Cycles.

Cars

 

It hardly even happened.

Well, nothing happens unless you notice

and he hardly even did,

for a long time after it was over.

So weird to get lost in this city—

he can cross it in a second now

one end to the other

and he always knows the way—

but he got lost that day all right,

he’d only been here once or twice before,

and just thought without thinking

that the school group’d stay straggled over a couple blocks

the way it had been,

but when he glanced up from the magazine rack

he couldn’t see anybody.

It was a short cut

was the plan,

he was sure he knew which way they’d gone

and could make it there faster.

He was a little proud of himself.

Four big kids jamming the sidewalk

didn’t mean anything necessarily,

or meant various things in various situations.

Something about him wasn’t from here:

this city, this ’hood, this doorway.

A drawing-together took place around him.

He didn’t even dislike it,

automatically laughed

which was what he always did,

and it wasn’t the wrong thing to do,

it wasn’t the right thing or the wrong thing.

When the knife came out

that wasn’t wrong or right either,

just something else to be settled

before he got to go on down the block.

He was almost imagining what terms he’d use

to tell José about all this

and see if he could get José to say “Man,

what kinda magazines were those!”

Then Jeffrey’d say “Just cars, man.

I ain’t shittin’ ya.  Only cars.”

He may’ve even said the word “Cars”

to the paramedics or whoever,

whoever was the last person

to hear his voice.