Thursday, August 30, 2012

Two New Poems in Penwood Review

Penwood Review recently published a couple of my poems, "Church Picnic" and "Another Statement on Babel." 

Church Picnic

Held down by bowls of mustard potato salad,
pan-fried chicken breasts, five-cheese pasta,
and a shallow dish of mysterious pickles,
the shroud of tablecloth retorts the wind’s flail.

Laughter runs around me in spirals
of small children and charcoal smoke.
Sparrows fall from trees, wronging gravity
at the last second, questing crumbs.

Misplaced salad tongs prod through
chicken parts. Green olives roll away,
and waiting earth begins to weave
dropped deviled eggs into ant’s architecture.

Dripping planks of pork ribs invite me
to platter flood and char in balanced portion.
I wrestle with uncut sourdough, loafing
in its plastic-wrap like Lazarus in grave clothes.

An old man in line across from me laughs
and shouts “Come out!” freeing the bread
and tearing a hunk for my bowed paper plate.
The wind baffles me with joy’s persistence.

Another Statement on Babel

Yes, we built a city with a tower
far away from untrustworthy oceans.
Our bodies had ached from long-winded years
spent skirmishing the friendless earth.

It’s true; we refused to fill the world with
our wandering any longer. Granted,
we wanted a name and maybe some path
away from the dust we were becoming,

away from the creator’s dark genius
that slimed our drinking water, slithered through
our grain fields, and hunted us when we left
our caves to burn our dead like old cordwood.

In the beginning, laughter and backslapped
congratulations were the day’s language.
But soon the bulk of muttered curses massed,
nudging wheelbarrows up the corkscrew ramp.

I remember clearly: construction cost
over-runs, labor disputes, the fluent
disagreements among our architects;
trust me, God had nothing to fear from us.

We baked bricks, stacking, and tarring;
our scaffolded turrets needled the sky.
Work days closed and the heavens felt closer,
but every morning, they floated Eden-far.

Then came the day we gained God's attention,
and he spilled us like ants from a
heel-flattened hill. Our ears began to throb
with the clank and thud of new accents.

We listened for matching voices, but heard
no harmony, only rubble of glides and
trampled fricatives. I clenched a trowel,
hunting a name I’d used the day before,

but old words faded even as I thought them.
Standing still as sandstone in tower’s shadow,
ignoring the gibberish of the rabble,
I grouped and counted my family.

We clung together trying not to speak, ears
covered against gutturals, chirps, and grunts--
vowels without weight or measure, syllables
snarled and crashing like fractured keystones.

We scratched stick figures in the sand,
to cry “I still love you,” “Don’t leave.”
“I want to stay together.” We finally packed,
gathered our dogs, and wandered away.

No map ever returns us to the site,
but our dreams assemble stones despite all
conviction. Many nights, sculpted walls sing
in chorus of height with no fear of fall,

no whiff of sweaty arms, or trace of tar.
Joist, purline, and truss raise a helix to
the surrounding sky, where frictionless clouds
skim past windows without drops of judgment.

Beneath high-pitched roof of water and wind,
I overhear supple, splashing speech,
puffs of laughter, potent prose spraying in
cooling shades of nuance and allusion,

dialect needing no translator or gloss.
All lips speak an unwritten language sealed
within covers of a final concordance.
I wake with split tongue cemented in my mouth.

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