It’s Friday!

It’s Friday! It’s Friday!
The school children shout.
It’s Friday! It’s Friday!
But they won’t let us out!

They dash us through spelling
and draw up the art.
Then they stir up the science
(our least favorite part).

The next problem is math
(which they don’t even know),
before digging up history,
and – what? We can go?

Salvation Army

Who out there might I have saved
If I had joined the fighting?
Who might I have kept alive
and who was dead already?

And which among them would have fought
a dozen battles later?
Which among them would have marched before
adoring mortars and towards
-for fame (for what else?)
all the hell that loved them so?

Which among them would have lasted til
The wheels squealed wet at JFK
and the crying eyes of smiling wives
brightly lit the wasted lives
that were saved for them?

Which among them would forgive me if
I was why they made it home.
Which among them would damn my name
in a silent night beneath the light
-of shame (of what else?)
in a hell that loves them so?

Who out there might I have saved
And who am I to say
that the lives I might have handed out
were better than the grave?

The Bakery in Winter

At the bakery in winter the old men hold the door
(though it sticks open on the uneven floor)
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 esoteric offerings of the trade –
the crullers and bear claws 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 have to ask “what’s this and what’s that”
and sometimes when they’re told the names
it hurts a little to not know already.
They feel threatened to find that
that one’s a Bismarck and that one’s a Pershing
because those martial monikers ambush the old men
with the cold tactics of ghostly senescence.

Unable to assemble the disbanded memories
that they find, wandering,
amid the booted chaff of history’s drop zones,
they swallow unchallenged passwords
and re-feel the crippling fear
of never finding their way back
through the black percussive silence
to the rally point.

But here is a good place, the bakery in winter,
where the 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 and less polite
they put their jackets back on
and think about Bismarck and Pershing
and wonder if it was good to have your name
live on forever
if only as an unmarked pastry in a good place
that could stand to hang a few labels and
that nevertheless stayed too cold in the winter.

Shrinking

Like the house you grew up in
and the tree that you climbed.
Like the hill that you’d sled down
and the fossils you’d find.

Like the tadpoles you hunted
Like the snakes that you caught
Like the gun that your friend had
Like the birds that you shot

Like the calls from your parents
in the forts that you built.
Like the food you devoured
in the silence you killed.

Like the fists of your brother
Like the hands of your mom
Like the silence from father
Like he knew all along.

Like the speed of your heart
from your crush on that girl.
Like the dreams in your head
from the size of the world

Like the eyes of the teachers
Like the chalk on the board
Like the bell ending recess
Like the run left unscored

Like the patience of mother
let you know you were wrong.
Like the fear of your father
let you know you belonged.

Like the length of the days.
Like the depth of the night.
Like the hope and the dread.
Like the end was in sight.

Like the way looking back
is like slow-going blind.
Like the way it’s all shrinking
from the falling behind.

Bone Oil

Lotsa gold left in the land,
Lotsa blue left in the sky.
My face within your tender hands.
Your fingers and my eyes.

Song as soft as baby feet.
The white-faced dog is home.
Oil rises from the street
The color of our bones.

Lotsa green left in the trees,
Lotsa glitter in the stream.
Trace the place behind your knees
Taste your shoulder’s cream.

Song as soft as baby feet.
The white-faced dog is home.
Oil rises from the street
The color’s in our bones.

Lotsa green beneath the snow
Lotsa blue behind the cloud.
My face within your tender hands
For as long as we’re allowed.

Who Gets the Sun

I smoked cigarettes on the roof every morning
among a sparse forest of antennas.
Nothing shone, even in the sun.
Miles of cable snaked like vines
with rubbery bark
and a unique discipline
that kept them in line.
(God wouldn’t make a jungle so plain).

I smoked cigarettes on the roof every morning
and stared across the China sea.
I had to turn far so the thin hungry monsters
of The North would not haunt
even the corner of my eye.

When I was bold and looked right at it
(the only way to kill a nightmare)
it didn’t look like hell from where I sat.
Open nature and scattered homes
Where they say nobody actually lived.
Hell isn’t very scary if nobody lives there.

Sometimes two or three fighter jets
would rage in mathematical rigor,
leaving the coast and holding close
to the lolling swells.
And we knew that if we looked at the news
we would see that someone had fired
an unannounced missile
or fished across the wrong invisible line
that nobody ever bothered to paint on the waves.

And at night there were no lights
No signs of life and no hint of the fight
that the ghost stories said
would come swimming across the river
on any day that we decided to sleep in a little.

I could sit up there and remember
whole lives ago, when I watched the sun
rise and burn the snow and stone up high
and join the fire of the Autumn
leaves on the Rocky Mountains.
I would know without knowing
and say without speaking
that this thing that is going to burn me, too
is the Colorado sun.

But I wasn’t so sure,
When I smoked cigarettes on the roof every morning
and watched the light skip from isle to isle,
stone to stone,
Whose sun this was.
Surely not Colorado’s – not out here.
Would a Korean sun speak enough Chinese
to ask the purple water of the Yellow sea
for permission to keep on?
Would a Chinese sun speak enough Korean
to tell the North why it might
not shine so bright beyond the torpid Han?

The sea said yes, but don’t forget
that into me flows a demon river
and I’m told that over the Han
          – North and beyond
Are monsters you might not want to light.
Most of them are starving –
be kind.

When I watched the sun and the sea
and saw how careful they both tried to be
I remembered Colorado
and I knew without knowing
and I said without saying
that this is not the sun of the love songs
and the poems.
This is not the sun that is the same sun
that rises on lovers half a world apart.
This is not the sun that is the same sun
that sets on soldiers buried under memorials
no matter where they died.

This is a sun that can only be here,
and if it rose over screaming leaves in the
Autumn of the hard West
it would not know what to do.
With no languid tides
no rice paddies in rectangular certainty
no dark river keeping the monsters at bay
it might lose its way.