The latest themed issue from Kind of a Hurricane Press was released today, with a new poem of mine in it. The issue is called Tic Toc, based on the theme of “time.”
My poem, “Variations on Isolation,” is a little different for me — longer, in five main sections, each in a different setting, often with a different tone or voice. I wrote it that way partly to see if I could, and also with the hope that the different parts will, through exploring different experiences of isolation, add up to a larger-picture understanding or experience of it.
See what you think.
The poem itself follows, but first I encourage you to download the complete Kind of a Hurricane issue — the PDF is free. Or, better yet, to support a really quality small and independent press, buy the hard copy through Amazon for $9.50.
Variations on Isolation
“Pour over me. Pour over me. Let your rain flood this thirsty soul.” — Stuart Townend
“I see the words on a rocking horse of time. I see birds in the rain.” — Pearl Jam
In bed, but unasleep,
watching the red display
of the clock like a bug.
1:16 becomes 1:17.
I gather two pillows,
head to the living room floor,
and sleep face down,
gilded by the reflected gleam
of lush frost on the trees outside:
clean and lavishly white
like jewelry of the rich,
a woman, perhaps, wearing
it on bare throat,
to a party
Billions of stars,
billions of galaxies.
We look up, a speck, an erasable
bit of pencil scratch.
Some say this makes us tiny,
insignificant, and they pout their way
I say: why not celebrate
communion with something large
and alive, where even a speck
can see another speck’s twinkle
across the black, noiseless sea,
and in the morning have toast and tea
and dance in the sunlight
to a waltz on the radio.
In a big city, alone among hundreds of thousands:
I am an asteroid amid the planets and moons and comets:
space dirt and gouged-away flanks of metal,
brutishly shaped, a drunk-wandering spin
through the place.
Yet, there is solace in this kind of solitude:
a peace without judgment, a meal without interjections.
I see a movie I want to see — Notorious at the Uptown,
and eat rainbow trout, fried and lemon-seasoned.
The next day, I’m early for the ballgame,
so I linger on the outdoor concourse through
a cooling October afternoon. I blurt
the name of a Hall-of-Famer walking past me
in high-priced-and-shiny black suit —
say his name with such shameless, familiar ease
it embarrasses him: does he know me
I’m matter-of-fact, Jack, kicking back, and I rap a hard set of knuckles
on the painted-blue iron pipe of a railing: Like that.
What is this thing that possesses us,
the desire to be alone and savor it?
To not be lonely, but free,
and to find the solitude of anonymity
in the city to be as comforting
as a bird-watching stroll
in the woods in autumn?
I know the apogee of the loneliness orbit,
of course: to be so alone you cry for a warm hand
on your shoulder, that you linger in a café raking
in waitress gossip as if it were casino change.
Long days, days of bruised soul and sob-chafed
throat, and I have lived them.
But I crave the perigee now:
the asteroid broken from its pack,
pin-wheeling, jagged chunk
— mere speck, yes, of the cosmic whole:
single pair of feet, not quite the bumpers and axles of I-35 —
but on a free ride,
After the ballgame,
pizza from a shop
where it’s home-made,
and a lazy rest on a bench
at Lake Calhoun, watching the stars,
looking to see
Soldiers under a stone bridge in Algeria,
1943, bone breaking, blood streaming:
mortars have caught them against the stone,
shrapnel smacks like sluggers’ flailing fists,
blades taped to the knuckles.
An alley behind a small-town ballroom,
1979, bone breaking, blood streaming:
a seventeen-year-old boy, drunk, desperate,
punches his fists into the brick exterior
of the ballroom, wails the name of a girl
who has rejected him. Stumbles, spits,
sags into the pea-rock gravel of the alley.
It’s all gone quiet: the rock band inside
is on break between sets. He screams
the girl’s name again. A braying
that punctures the brick, ricochets
off black-cased speakers, beer pitchers
emptied and spun sideways on steel tables.
The girl hears, and runs to the restroom,
locking the drab-green door of the stall,
but her name chases after her, a bleating
now, puddles of failure, the boy — hands gone white bone
and graveled-up flesh — slapping away the offers
of friends trying to lift him, blood like spittle
on their faces. Algeria, 1943: the dead begin to swell,
float off in the dirty river. There is no chaplain to pray,
and the living clutch holes in the earth, all of life untended,
names wailed, then lost, fists into brick,
the dead and the lost, a mire the stars cannot clear.
Old women doing gossip
over their clothes lines are disgusted
when they see me: a beggar licking
at dust, so starved and ragged.
They spit, and so do I,
although mine is dry, a cough of air
that hasn’t the strength to land,
is hauled away by the growled breath
of a basset tethered to the clothes line post.
I can’t tell you anything,
can’t tell myself, either,
can’t ask it, so disgusted of the turns
in my life I live among the wretches.
The old women know, and in their foreign language
they wrap my name in profanities.
I reach for the light bulb, wanting to screw
it out of place, but the socket bobs away
from reach, and my hand lands in the hound’s
sloppy mouth, and the women spit.
School children sing on a hill, at recess among junipers
and chocolate bars. I’ll never see them,
but maybe someone will bury me
in that lullaby.
and a deep breath of dust.
I am a desperate wanderer.
Rocking horse in the burn barrel,
it cannot gallop home.