Frozen Stories

Midwestern Memories

Frozen Stories

I don’t get to stand at the edge of a snowdusty lake and measure
with my child’s eye – squint against the bonefocused wind –
its slab of ice against the way the weather’s been and for how long

and then dare to step out onto it. I barely get to speak of ice
at all out here, much less hear tales of boys fallen through
over the years (I’ll have to ask mom why it was never a girl)

and how once you’re under the ice the mean water moves invisibly
to get you lost so you can never find the hole you made. And of course
in your soaked coat and wet-leaden mittens you will tire too quickly

to swim to that gray ring of sky before blueblack hypothermia hits.
I barely get to speak of ice out here or worry that a spot of skin’s
gone white. The weather asks so little of me that I have to beg

memory to list wispy words and show hung pictures of winterfear.
But memory’s different from knowing like guessing’s different from
fearing and I know that if I ever do get to speak of ice out here it’ll be

so whisperthin that every one of mom’s drowning boys would have
measured it beneath them to even try. They would just go around,
well trained by a place where the weather asks so much of them,

walking with fluid truth across the stonefrozen earth of a wintering farm
to find some way maybe to become a drowned ghost in the memory of
an old man’s couched and comfortable search for a reason to remember.

In Thinking of Things

I just thought…

Waiting My Turn

What does the story think of the teller
what does the thunder think of the cloud
what does the forest think of the storm
and what does the body think of the shroud?

What does the pearl think of the oyster
what does the leaf think of the tree
what does the sunrise think of the rooster
and what does the wave think of the sea?

When the story at last abandons the teller
and the last leaf reaches in vain for its tree
I’ll be out for a walk in conspiring weather
to ask them if any have a thought left for me.


It’s heavy


Is there a name for the lie
that comes when you are still and
something moves – the bus or the
car next to you – and in your lost
connection there, for just a moment,
you believe that you’ve moved –
it sat still! – for just a moment
you broke the world
and lived an illusion.

You were a ghost,
moving without a host
in the opposite direction
from some stuck thing.

What is it called, this lived mystery,
this excitement of the unexpected
(but still so possible) game that
living plays with the sleepwalking world?

What is the word for this thing
that unmoors the man from the body
and why only forward or reverse?

Why does that never happen
with the snow? With the rain?

Why can I not lay down on the damp earth of the forest
and freeze the falling autumn leaves
to let me believe, for a moment
that I am floating upwards?
To believe that they are stuckstill
in the sky and all the motion’s mine?

I never climb.

Back at the Bakery

Never the jelly donut, Private Pyle.

My presence at the bakery usually brings down the average age by several years. It’s a crowd of octogenarians shouting above their hearing aids about Trump, gout, and the pharmacy that gets their prescriptions wrong. I’m able to be young here, which is nice. After a few minutes of eavesdropping, I get the earbuds going loud enough to shut out the world a bit.

The weather’s just turned cold enough to remind me of the poem I wrote in and about (sort of) this place, The Original Bakery. They talked me into having the rhubarb coffee cake this morning, something I’ve never seen here before. I’m glad I said yes – a thing I find to be true more and more often as I get older.


The Rally Point

At the bakery in winter the old men hold the door
for their trundling wives. The wind is urgent and
less polite and elbows past them as if to jump
the line, which would move faster if there were

labels on the offerings of the trade – the bear
claws and crullers and streusels and strudels
(and who really knows which is which?)
How, with the wind and the winter in here

and the line pressing on, are they to know
what to say? They ask what’s this and what’s
that and sometimes when they’re told it hurts
a little to not know already. They are ambushed

by names like Bismarck and Pershing because
those martial monikers patrol the pastry case
with the cold tactics of ghostly senescence.
Unable to assemble the memories they find

wandering amid the hovering chaff of history’s
dusky fields, they swallow unchallenged passwords
and re-feel the crippling fear of never finding
their way back through the percussive silence.

But here is a good place, the bakery in winter,
where old wives recount for the girl at the counter
stories of the latest hospital stay. The husbands
hang their leather bombers – worn wrinkled and

grave as their skin, on the backs of chairs. With
the wind so urgent though, and less polite, they
put their jackets back on and think about Bismarck
and Pershing and wonder if it was enough

to have your name live on forever, even if only as
anonymous dough in a familiar place that
nevertheless stayed too cold
in the winter.

I Don’t See Your Dogfish, Mary

A one-donut poem for Mary Oliver

No Mary, I don’t know what a smile means
but it would be a lie if you told me outright.

And is that what you mean? That a smile is a lie?
You sounded so cynical just then,
with your flickering and nails,
that I could believe it.

I could believe that you mean that
a smile dances a crime across the face
of the sea. That like your black sleeve
it covers so many things and only just
barely recedes. I could believe it
if that is what you mean.

I guess you want me to believe
that a smile could mean anything
and my cascading inclinations
on this day or that will be
the only way to know
whether a smile is a hopeless future
or an exploding discovery –
a waterfall of the sun.

I guess you want me to believe
that my tidal disposition is
the only way to know exactly which
kind of a smile is the story of my life
that you don’t want to hear.

You want me to believe that
that is how you can stand it
you can bear it
you can believe it
from me
the smile
no matter what it means.

As long as it doesn’t mean an easier world
because that would be a lie that I told you outright.