Bears

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BEARS

Think of pink salmon caught in pools,
plucked from water, tossed to air,
the catch stacked rainbow‑fired.

Winter now:
unsnubbable, lumbering overcoats
closeted, laid to rest;
seeking power in hibernation
till sun from summit melts frosty dark:
fresh heartbeats forged in forest’s night.

Think alchemy:
prime matter moved safely in flask or jar.

Think circus stars:
The Great Bear leads the Lesser,
dancing to the trainer’s whip,
tumbling from their pedestals.

Secure behind bars,
think fallen stars.

Walker

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Walker

It’s as good as a walker, this shopping cart.
I set my heart on finding one and when I do
I hang on to the handle and goad myself
onward, up the supermarket ramp.

I hate it when people to see me like this,
body and confidence broken by my fall.
For when I fall there’s no safety net,
no security, just an old man lying hurt.

A leaf on a tree, I shake in the breeze.
I pause for thought, catch my breath,
then struggle forward, caught like a high-
wire dancer in the spotlight, my heart in my

mouth, trying not to look down, or fall,
struggling on, fighting the good fight.

Hastings

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Hastings

A cloud on the horizon
no bigger than a small boy’s hand
turns into a sail and then
a sailing fleet,
an armada of hostility
sailing towards our shores.

Shield upon shield the shield wall
binds itself together,
becomes impregnable

Loud the clamor,
the raising of voices,
the heavens split asunder
by a sharp hail of arrows,
closer the enemy now,
and arrows become spears
their sharp heads
tumbling from the turbulent sky.

Fate hangs now on a single arrow
protruding from the royal eye.

Faith falters.
The shield wall, firm at first,
breaks now and the house carls,
one by one,
fall like corn
beneath sharpened blades,
to wither and die as all men die.

Fall

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Fall

 Just one leaf
dropping from the tree
and the fall
a call of nature
and no freak chance of fate.

What throw of the dice
eliminates
Lady Luck?

None at all,
or so the poet says,
lying there,
indisposed,
his ribs cracked
hard against
the wooden boards
and his right foot
caught in such a way
that the hip slips
slightly from its socket
and try as he may
he cannot stand
but lies there
in the chill evening wind,
a lone leaf,
getting on in age,
plucked from his tree
and cast to the ground.

Comment: In light of my last fall, last Tuesday, this is a re-organization of an earlier poem also called Fall, available here. That particular fall took place in 2014. I stumbled and fell off a step on the back porch while I was trying to photograph a black bear that had wandered into our garden and was guzzling bird seed at the bird feeder. We saw this particular bear on half a dozen occasions. The poem was published in my poetry chapbook Triage (2015).

Crows

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Crows

 1

 “Your head’s bleeding.”
“I know.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing.”
“What do you mean, nothing? How did you get that cut on your head? Did you fall?”
“No.”
“What happened then?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“You have to talk about it. Tell me, or I can’t help you.”
The old man looks at the social worker.
“It was my wife. She hit me with the frying pan.”
“Why?”
“She wanted bacon and eggs and I wouldn’t cook them. So she hit me.”
“What! And what did you do?”
“Nothing. I couldn’t hit her back.
“I should hope not. Where is she now?”
“In hospital.”
“What on earth …. why is she in hospital”
“I wouldn’t hit her. So she stuck her hand in the door jamb and closed the door on her fingers. There was blood everywhere. I called the ambulance and they came and took her in.”
“You didn’t go with her? To get your head seen to?”
“Obviously not.”
“Why not?”
“I knew you were coming. I couldn’t leave the house empty. It was funny though …”
“What was?”
“The crow. He must have heard her scream. He came and perched on that windowsill, right there, and just sat, and looked through the window as she lay on the floor. Then, when the ambulance came, he flapped his wings and flew away.”

2

He moves in closer then he tries to head butt me. I sense it coming, but I’m not quick enough to avoid the blow. It glances off the side of my head and I feel skin break, blood flow.
I step back.
He moves in again and this time throws a punch, a roundhouse swing with his right hand. I catch his wrist, pull him off balance, turn my body, spin on my heel, drag him across my outstretched leg: Tai Otoshi. He doesn’t know how to break fall, and I throw him down heavily, rather than lowering him. Then, I drop with him and, as his head rebounds off the floor, I slam my elbow into his nose and mouth.
He is now bleeding worse than me.
I leave him lying there.
As I walk away, two crows fly into a nearby tree and, heads cocked to one side, stare at him as he lies there.

3

My open-toed sandal catches on one of the nails that the ice forces up through the wood and I hit my head heavily on the back porch even before I realize I am falling.
I put my hand to my head and my fingers come back sticky and wet.
I lie there, stunned, groaning.
A crow flies in, perches in the nearest tree, and sits there, watching me. He caws. Two other crows join him. And then two more. A family of five. I watch them watching me.
Everything hurts. I try to roll over, but cannot.
The first crow flies towards the porch and lands on the balustrade where he sits, head cocked to one side, staring at me.
I slide slowly across the wood. The splinters are sharp. The nails stick up and catch in my clothes.
The crow on the balustrade caws and a second one flaps in and lands feet first, claws outstretched, to join him.
This spurs me into renewed action. I slither awkward across the boards, roll over on to my tummy by the picnic table, and force myself to do a push up. Then I grasp the seat of the picnic table and haul my aching body to the Hail Mary praying position.
I shriek, once, as my body returns to the almost vertical.
The crows flap their wings and fly away.

4

My father once told me how, during police training, a man burst into the classroom, grabbed the lecturer by the lapels of his coat, and tried to head butt him. The lecturer struggled with his assailant. Curses and blasphemies rose high as the two men rocked back and forth locked in combat.
“Stay there. Don’t move,” the lecturer screamed at the class. “I’ll handle this.”
The young recruits froze in their seats.
The intruder left as quickly as he came, cursing, and leaving the lecturer seething. The lecturer took a deep breath, regained his composure, and turned to the class.
“Write down what you have just seen,” he said. “I’ll need you all as witnesses. Use your own words. Don’t talk to anyone.”
There were thirty young recruits in the room and twenty-four different versions of the event.

Geese

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Geese

The arrowhead precedes its shaft and leads its feathers into night’s perfection. Summer catches flight and waves good-bye to Arcturus as an obsidian knife flashes black lightning across the icy threshold of a morbid sky. Darkness, swift and sudden, blots out each scattered scat of golden grain and swallows an iris of stars. Inverted, the Big Dipper hangs its question mark from the sky’s dark eyelid.

When daylight breaks cold sunshine over broken ground, the great white geese lay their burdens down by the riverside. Pristine as they drift to the land, flake by fluttering flake, they accumulate the colors of mud daub and anonymity as they grub food from the neat ploughed fields that march their earthen armies across the land. Fallen angels, they sprawl down from heaven and abandon eternity to adopt their waddling time-and-earthbound shapes.

Now, the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires; others read by candlelight. Geese litter the riverbanks with their mud-stained snowdrifts. Freshet mud besmirches them — or is it the black of midnight’s swift advance? The geese step on thin ice at civilization’s edge. Around them, the universe’s clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle’s eye? Night gathers its darkening robes and the seabed reaches its watery arms out towards a magnified moon.

Ghosts of departed constellations drown in the river. Pale planets scythed by moonlight bob phosphorescent on the flood. I walk on the beach sensing the flesh that bonds, the bones that scarcely bind, the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes. Now I stand nameless in a shimmer of moonlight and listen at the water’s edge to the whispering night. I catch the mutterings of snowflakes strung between the stars.

My dream stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps bright treasures in its tight-clenched fist. The moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-thin blade and the lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone. Moonlight and starlight run their twin liquors, raw, within me. What will I bury beneath this year’s fallen leaves?

Puppet

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Puppet

Animated earth,
puppet of mud and blood,
my soul within you
feels soiled
by this pitiless sky.

On my back,
in the gutter,
I gaze upwards
at glittering stars.

Do they know
I’m down here?
And if they know,
do they look down
their astral noses
when they write
my horoscope,

my horror-scope
of late.

When daylight loses itself
in night’s dark weave,
what remains,
but souvenirs and dusty
photos of moments
I alone recall?

Memories cling like mud
to my match-stick frame,
and me in the gutter,
a man, right now,
in nothing else
but name.