I Can Only Do So Many Things

I can only do so many things

Before my lungs give out.

So I’ll go for a walk to figure it all out

As best I can.

 

Although I do know how to look at flowers and the yellow silk of their petals,

The streetlamps, the pair of initials settled in the cement,

I could always learn to see them better.

 

My elementary school teachers taught me to type,

But sometimes I still make mistakes.

I have spelled my last name Hugg ten too many times,

Though I have yet to give ten too many hugs to anybody.

So today, I’m going to go outside and hug somebody.

 

Although I am thirty years old, I still find myself

Dancing like a scarecrow on a yellow road

When no one’s looking, and, every now and then,

When everyone is.

 

My arms are filled with atoms,

Peering around like periscopes as I write,

Seeking out some land where I can stand

And call out to the clouds of my brain for the next

Line.

 

I can spin a pen around the ball bearings of my fingertips –

It’s learning to use it that is agonizing.

 

I can picture your hands, your face,

As you read this,

For you, too, can only do so many things.

 

And as I wonder where you are from and what has brought us together in this moment,

I try to discover what is stopping us.

For though we can only do so many things,

There are so many things that only we can do.

 

So unravel the things you can do. Unfold them and rub them against

The edges of the table to iron out their creases,

Read the crisp handwriting of the notes that have been written

To you. Take notes on your forearms to remind yourself

Of that tree you climbed when you were young.

Perch yourself on the curb of a storefront and eat your lunch with both hands

Like a toddler waiting for his birthday to come.

 

Let the static shock of a plastic slide send you straight back to your childhood.

Buy a candy bar on the impulse shelves of the checkout counter

And eat the entire thing on the way home.

And I’ll set up the chess board for another round

Against my father, the man who taught me everything I needed to know

About knighthood.

 

So this evening, when the night sky swims into view,

Before I sleep like a puddle of rain,

I will know I have done all that I can do

And so have you

And maybe we’ll meet for ice cream before our lungs give out.

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School Poems

The air in study hall was thick with the smoke of pencils,

Scribbling to find fire on the page, ten teenagers

Looking for love in the smile their words might make.

 

Over in the library, some have rolled their sleeves,

Bent over a row of screens,

Their hurried breaths gyrating the pinwheels of their poems

As their fingertips clicked like cleats on the pavement of their laptops,

Letters dripping on documents,

A thousand rain drops on an old tin roof.

 

I walked past the boy on the steps with a halo of reverb

Plugged in from ear to ear, connected to a phone synced to his heart,

Drumming his palms against his knees like his life

Had been lived only for this moment, the wild abandon

Of one who’d learned to walk the plank

As the pirates of passion loomed behind him with their thick beards

And blades sharpened

As if to say, “Rock this one out or you’ll sleep in the ocean.”

 

The girl in the courtyard crooked one leg behind the other,

Curling her fingers around her phone in the cold

Like she knew the next message he sent would make her warm.

So she bubbled her poetry in blue, mailed it on the airwaves, and waited for his ellipses,

Three dots in Morse before three words she longed to read.

 

Down the hall, the kindergarteners knelt outside their classroom,

Upturning waxy bags of crayon and a dozen safety scissors,

Peeling the ghosts of Elmer’s glue from their palms

As they told their parents they loved them

With a red construction heart and a firm crease in the center,

A greater declaration of devotion than any sonnet could ever sing.

 

So I kept walking briskly in the air of this century

Where people still write poetry, breaking pieces of their body

Like bread for summer swans

And pressing them deep into a dozen syllables,

The friction of pounding feet and chattering teeth

As they toss their own words into the rushing waters of time.

Oranges

I slipped deftly into Botticelli’s Primavera one afternoon,

Begging the pardon of the Three Graces in white

As I wandered toward the orange grove.

 

The little cupid, bow at the ready,

Failed to notice the bent flowers beneath my feet

And my slow reach into the branches

 

Where I carefully felt for a perfect orange,

Tore the globe of skin from its stringy flesh,

And held the dimpled smoothness of the flayed world in my palm –

 

The shred of color,

The fragrance of gravity,

The naked hue of hunger.

 

Then, like my father before me,

I dug my teeth into the tender spot and, somehow,

I have spent the sudden years trying to dig myself back up.

Ludwig van Beethoven

It was just him and me that evening

In a dimly lit coffeehouse on the south bank of the Thames,

Like we’d somehow met halfway.

 

Though I knew the Atlantic to be wider than his short jaunt from Vienna,

I offered to pay for the drinks

As he was the one who soared valiantly across the stars of two centuries

To meet me, and I simply took an early flight and a cab.

 

When we sat down, I happened to glance over his shoulder and out the window,

Catching the London fog along the length of the still river

As if it had wandered straight from some

Penciled copy of Eliot’s poetry

Or a chapter from that Dickens novel

Sitting softly on the shelf in a used bookstore near Piccadilly.

 

But all I could do was ladle my mug with both hands

Like a beggar warding off frostbite

As I tried to think of what to say, desperately wishing to avoid

The stilted air of an interview

Or the false pretense of coziness, talking about the weather

Or something equally grey and dull.

 

Yet, in the silence,

As the moon held its head above the water of the gentle, pebbled tide,

I looked to his navy coat, his shock of famous hair,

And, finally, to his curled fingers on the table

As they drummed lightly beside his empty cup and the black dregs

Splattered like notes along the bottom.

 

They spoke for themselves

The way they’d spoken all those years ago

In the Moonlight Sonata, the riot of the Fifth Symphony,

The glorious Ode to Joy.

 

And now, strolling down the street into the marble cool hours of night,

I slowly attach these headphones

And choose his Seventh Symphony in A major,

The one he reportedly wrote to convalesce from the storms of illness.

 

And I carry two thoughts, one for each pocket,

The first, how beautiful the winter air,

The second, a quiet wish that I could tell him how good it is to know

He’s still got it.

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.

In the Park

Along the snowy patches of field,

Almost blue in their cold whiteness,

I find a wooden bench and sit

To retie my weary shoelaces.

 

As the chilled wind tightens around my ears,

Lifting lightly at strands of my hair,

I notice a single cardinal, warbling and

Shuffling through the twigs and crystal ground.

 

I decide to draw a pen from my coat pocket

And a rolled cylinder of pages

To write of his ragged beauty, the deep red

Of his feathers, the drop of ink around his beak.

 

We keep company between us for a while,

He beneath the veil of a cherry blossom,

I on my wooden bench,

Sharing this large plot of blanketed earth as I

 

Jot down the detail of his eyes,

Aimed steadily toward the thaw of spring

When the warm winds will cry out from hibernation

And awaken us both from sleep.

 

I look up from my paper and nod as

The cardinal turns the corner of our little spot in the park,

Raises his patient eyes into the grey air,

And leaps into the frost, soaring into the future

Of years and years of sunlight

As I stand to walk some more.

Driving

We sped along the highway,

Headlights slicing through the dark.

You placed your hand at your side,

I held the wheel in silence,

Patterns of ice spreading at the edges of the windshield,

The defrost sighing on the dash.

I wanted to look over to you

And love you all over again,

Pull you close on the bridge

And kiss above the water

Far from this hanging night

Hovering over you and I

In our separate cars, driving to different houses.

Thank You

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-4-29-42-pmThank you to everyone who attended the event last night for the official release of The Cardinal Turns the Corner! It was an extraordinary evening, and I could not be more grateful to everyone for their kind words and generous support.

Thank you, also, to all of you who, over the past several months, encouraged and promoted the project, both in person and online, as it came together. I am truly overwhelmed by your graciousness and enthusiasm.

So now, The Cardinal Turns the Corner is officially available for purchase through a number of different outlets. You may purchase a copy online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or, if you’re local (i.e., Atlanta), you can buy a copy directly from me. All proceeds will continue to go to Curing Kids Cancer.

From now on, links to purchase the book will also be included in the “Purchase My Book” page at the top of this website.

So again, thank you so much! I love you all.

New Year’s Eve

A city of shivering knees, stars leaning over towers.

The people crowd along the sidewalk, stacking walls out of late hours

To keep the last year out for good.

 

They’re all on camera, teeth chattering,

Huddled behind each other’s shoulders,

Looking up to an apple suspended by cables,

A moon in a lighthouse, a broken compass,

Needles shining in every direction at once.

 

From up there, they are merely heads,

Shuffling from side to side to shake off the cold,

Thousands counting under their breath,

Holding coffee, posters, hands,

 

This evening they rode trains, drove cars,

Gathered change for the wishes they’d toss down the well

At twelve.

 

But in the final moments, they bundle together in the gridlock,

Quiet, waiting,

Winding another layer of tape around their hearts

And lifting prayers into the night sky that this next one may finally

Save them.

 

And at midnight

They all dip like princesses to kiss for auld lang syne,

Singing and cheering the birth of a new year,

Horns wailing from loudspeakers, eyelashes glowing.

 

But when the last streamers fall to the ground,

Trash cans overflowing, confetti swept in bags,

The snowflakes become water,

And a dingy glass slipper lay propped against

An old pumpkin on the corner,

Clock hands turning in the morning light.