Little Icarus

Little Icarus stood by the wood chips.

 

He was twelve when both his wings broke, tangled up,

Trying to tear through the fabric of his polo,

Caught beneath the floorboards of his shoulder blades

As his cheeks flushed with shame.

 

He wore a slipshod buzz cut and chubby jowls that

Framed his braces and the crooked grin they fenced in,

Standing alone as yesterday’s rain lay simmering on the blacktop.

 

A blur of children sprinted past him, laughing,

And he buried his dry tongue beneath the dirt in his throat,

The stiffness of death in the mouth of a boy

Who never knew what to say.

 

Not a word about the jungles he’d seen in gym,

The knotted rope of humiliation and the sting of the lash

As the rich kid rat-tailed his back in the locker room

And all the cool boys snickered behind their elbows,

The cute girls giggling later over sandwiches.

 

But don’t you fear, little man,

For I have brought an army of book nerds,

Dreamers and choir singers,

Carrying their lisps and scars in rucksacks,

Glasses, buck teeth, and southern accents,

The boys who cry at movies and the girls who still have nightmares,

Walking our bikes over to invite you to our treehouse

Where white-out is outlawed

And your freckles are the confetti of God

Like He cut up the birthday cake of the sun just for you.

 

And together there, we’ll patch your feathers

And tell a couple of stories

Before we lean our heads back against the beams of our home,

Look up at the stars through the crack in our creaky roof,

And slowly drift to sleep.

Students

A poem to my students…


I wonder if it’s a sonnet,

The poem of your life,

As I hear your shoes squeak their stanzas across the floor to your desk

And you click your blue mechanical pencil

Twice to take a quiz.

 

For I happened to notice two index cards,

Like a light pink couplet,

Tucked beneath the tidy layers of your notebook

As you closed your eyes, breathed, reassured yourself

Of what you knew and filled your name at the top.

 

Or do you live and breathe in music,

All elbows and gym bags, your fingers

Twitching steadily the edges of your sweatshirt?

Perhaps your life is a lyric, a rhythm

Kept in meter by the beat of basketballs,

Or the wild and fearless drummings of your

Feet along the track?

 

Or you, there in the far row,

Do you see the world in free verse?

Eyes bright from gazing through kaleidoscopes,

Bending the sky around your ballpoint pen?

From here I see your frenzied scribbling in that beat-up journal,

The back of your homework, the length of your arm,

Scrambling to seize your swelling thoughts,

Your echoing afterthoughts,

Your madcap fever of creativity.

 

And I bet hers is a ballad, a song,

Her eyes telling the fear in the horizons,

Dreaming of afternoon, of evening,

Of the time she’ll spend with her father

Before his illness takes a turn.

 

Whatever they are,

These poems in your mouths, your hands, your smiles,

They somehow fit each one of you, like shadows

Filled with beauty and, ironically,

With light.

 

And when I am old,

Beyond the reach of my podium,

My pen, my worn and dog-eared Hamlet,

I will see you all,

Again and again and again,

As young as autumn leaves

Reddening, then leaping

Into the constant winds of change.

A Quiet Pond in Camden

My wife’s grandfather passed away a few days ago, and his funeral is this morning in South Carolina. This poem is in honor of Elbert Benjamin Newman, Sr. 


I couldn’t help but notice your hands first, Granddaddy,

Your nails yellowed by coarse decades of work,

Your veins the color of wine.

 

Against the white cloth of your rolling hospice bed

They seemed translucent, thinning from the groan of

Fluorescent light.

 

They’ve worn age well, these spotted hands,

Covered in the creases of your full life,

And I admit I laughed a little when your great-grandkids

Scooted close to say hello,

And you peered through the bifocaled tunnel of time

To smile back and twinkle two fingers

As best you could.

 

But when you winced and adjusted the tape on your bruising skin,

Scratching the IV in your limp fist,

I wanted to run out of that hospital,

Down the front, tightly-manicured lawn,

And leap into the clouds to see your life in sum,

Every living scene all at once.

 

I wanted to see those hands wriggle a ring on Grandmama’s finger,

Twist the ripcord of your parachute in the War,

Peel a hundred avocados, stranded in the Philippines.

 

I wanted to see you vote for Stevenson in ’52,

Build a furniture business with the strength of your iron will,

Raise a nurse, a preacher, and an heir to your company,

Then see your lineage expand

As generations branched and took your torch into the future.

 

I wanted to see your hands cradle each and every grandchild,

Each and every great-grandchild,

As you breathed in the lily air of new life.

 

I wanted to see your hands take up the fork and knife

And silently thank Grandmama’s every move with your cutting,

Pancakes, chicken, pie, and all her other glories,

Then gulp your gratitude after swishing sweet tea

From cheek to cheek.

 

They’ve worn age well, these spotted hands

That pulled me back down from the sky of my daydreaming

As if to say it’s time.

And it is.

 

So let us all smile and say goodbye, Granddaddy,

Loud enough for you to hear,

As we crowd around your recliner in our minds

And carry your legacy forward

Into another hundred years and more,

Speeding ever faster from a quiet pond in Camden.

Grief

Another poem…


As I write this,

I’m still breathing hard from a night of fitful sleeping,

My V-neck shirt clinging like dew to my warm chest

While the ceiling fan does its best to gin up

A gentle wind.

 

It’s, let’s see,

I’ll need my glasses for a bit,

2:38 in the morning,

And I’m jotting down my thoughts at the bedside table

Like the doctor said.

Oh, and my feelings,

I’m also recording my feelings.

 

The poetry’s been difficult these days.

It doesn’t flow like it once did.

The Nile’s all dried up, you’d ask,

Or turned to blood in plague? And I’d chuckle.

I tried some in the first stanza with the sweat simile,

But I think I yawned in the middle of it.

 

I remember you used to love a haiku I once wrote

About the cold side of the pillow

(Sort of on the fly, just to see you smile really).

Only now do I see why you liked it so,

As I cycle and recycle this old feather bag

To find that cool shadowy feeling in which to lay

My weary head.

 

It’s only when I glance over at yours in its pristine condition,

And I notice no sagging indention in the center,

That I remember your pillow is always cool now,

Both sides.

 

So, I’ll just lay my glasses back down on the nightstand,

At 2:52 in the morning,

And I’ll climb once more into my tempest of dreams

Where you and I are together again,

If momentarily,

And somewhat wispy in our world of memory,

Before my body shakes awake

At 3:41 AM,

And I lean for my pencil

From my sloppy and disheveled side of the bed.

Making the Bed

I wrote this poem after a futile attempt I made to try to change the sheets on our bed while my wife was out of town. I worked diligently to fit the elastic sheet on our queen-size mattress for quite some time only to realize I was holding a twin-size sheet. I began to wonder how widowers make their beds without wives to guide them…

Our fingertips danced once

As we walked them along the edges of our mattress,

Calling out to each other with the strength

Of smiling eyes, crossing

The queen-sized canyon to hold each other’s glances.

You carefully studied the measured lines

(and I carefully studied yours) as

We fitted the sheets to our new bed,

Working to weave our souls into the cool linen.

Our laughs soared as we

Ballooned the top sheet into space

And hushed to join the quiet whisper as it

Exhaled into bed like a cloud drifting in the water.

Then

We collapsed in symmetry

Like stars,

Gliding into a forever of sleep and wakefulness,

Circling the clock.

And, next to you, I prayed, only

For more clocks.

For now I can taste the stale grime of

Central heat

Breathing through the ribcage of rusted vents

And stretch my cracked knuckles across the

Bare-boned cold of our bed,

Pulling a twin sheet with all my heart

You would know why it doesn’t fit

And how I am afraid

To join the quiet whisper as I

Exhale into bed,

A cloud without its water.