How to Relax

No point in pointing to made one’s way
each momentous breath passes coming
in spaces between arriving & leaving
you learn to breathe with the tummy.

To breathe is to fall loose
into mattresses of surf
full of air bubbles drifting
to shore with a slow tide
as light as moon goes
in the sky and on the sea.

Sitting on the wooden bench under the lilac,
while Chloe plays in the age-old schoolyard,
Papa awaits the second coming, not knowing
what to expect, unable to recall the first coming.

I will write you flowers
every morning to read
with your bitter coffee
a bright yellow squirt
of sun oily blue green
froth on top.

You sleep with a cat
whose soft purr
gives you pleasure
all the joy of color
impressions for the day.

You are soft like warm
butter barely melting
down a scone topped
with a couple of gummy
candy raspberries.

The butter wets the real
fruit jelly rounds to light
pigment an open place
for lips to play and tongue – wait
you didn’t think this
was really about flowers, did you?

Here are two flowers
the one calls a honey bee
the other falls asleep
petals open softly fictile.            

There is so much silence
hear the rustle of ants
hustling across the counter
for sugar and sweet
stuffs, see the apple
blossoms opening feel
the bees approach
touch the molten lava
freeze it you can
but no matter.

Once we admired multiple
uses of one another
of the now tossed
cast off laugh
tassels flipping
flopping bouncing
from rear view mirrors
windows all rolled down.

Now we adhere
to this new silence
deafens touch
asks for something
that is nothing
blends with the wall
wearing night caps
and socks to bed.

Outside cold winds blow
bare branches whip
the rain’s violence pours
mercifully out a kindness
allows for sleep and sleep.

The rain falls and falls all
night long soaks through
the ground walls fills
the basement rises
up the stairs
floods the living
room wicks up the wallpaper
and pours out the windows.

In Bed on a Needless Night

When a wicker burns-out quicker,
and another’s will burn no more,
nib a dry nub asleep in a wizened nest,
it’s nice to know, though cold indeed,

there’s no need now to heed
the urge and goad of goat heat,
no need to coax or be caught
to pressure, beseech and feel

the close reach up against the ropes.
A litany of no goes to plural of peaches
and peace is a rosary of yeses said
in the silences between diminishes.

When you come to admit, at rest,
it’s all over, bent, sore but soft,
relieved neither bothered
nor bother anymore will be,

breaths roses fall,
almost not fall, slow pink petals,
and a peaceful evening now alone
in bed on a needless night.

Summer of Love

Mid-June we sat out exposed to one another’s musical ups
and downers, refusals, kissing eye dews until the moon
falls down, waves turned around, and the air like steam
foam swept in drafts up the beach and over the hot strand.

We walk down 42nd to the water rolling papers, smoking,
and you toss back a couple of star-crossed pills, peace
a far-fetched potion. You look for signs. I read a few poor
poems by Hanshan on ways of being beyond need and want,

the beach our Cold Mountain. Make-ready teens for war
learn early love is not free, our children’s prayers said
on red plastic rosary yo-yo beads, putty explosives,
headbands turned into tourniquets, floral wreaths

into olive drab steel pots. It takes courage to work out
the hackneyed stereotypes future fighters might come
to know. What is written is artificial intelligence.
We might still be surfing were we better swimmers.

We would be one were we better lovers, more open to fall
and quail, but Summer of Love, a stone wall
around my heart built, inscribed with three names:
Kevin Mulhern, Gary Grubbs, Robert Shea – mistaken.

Essentials and their Equivalents

The essentials get hoarded by the rich, the fluff, and the oofy, the pantry stuffed with truffles and beans and such, starch and flour, coffees and chocolates, the hall closet full with bamboo bathroom tissue, the library stacked with first edition hardbacks, clean copies dust covers intact, and a few handmade porcelain jars and a cast bronze abstract sculpture catching some sunlight through weeping glass, the boudoir walls dressed with formal wear and evening gowns made from wet fly wings, the garden roamed with roses, wisteria, and a cherry tree, and three peacocks playing near a pond. Others make do with equivalents, pink flamingos made from plastic, for example. The necessities of life change slowly, and vary from place to place, person to person, time to time. What profits youths to join jobs where like their mothers and fathers would have made happier children? Predicament is everything. And connotations take us away. White, blue, or pink collar? What’s behind door number four? The privileged get on the job training. Someone cleans the privy, the house of office, wash the washroom the washer person. The human path is littered with exuviae, as one’s growth outstrips one’s capacity for change, “a nine-hundreds-year-old name” not a gift but a curse. When any name or experience will suffice, a number, a meal, a drink, or its equivalent.

Elasticity

She’s the Wicked Witch of the West sleeping up in your attic. He’s the troll lives in the hollow under the stairs, in the crawl space. He’s the bugaboo in your damp basement. He’s the psychopomp comes ticket collecting as the train enters the long dark tunnel. Or it’s the grey slightly out of focus shark in the clear waters of a mellow blue bay on a yellow day in May. They don’t come quietus, to relieve us of our debt, of our terrestrial weight. At random do they come and go, to and fro, a sudden angry bee in one’s bonnet of fake flowers. They appear and disappear. She comes in blue calm or in the dark and stormy night, to the homeless and the castled, so democratic a figure is she, yet despotic, but at the same time permits you to go on self-governing, but in her presence. You are still free to go about your way, but she goes with you. They come for no reason, no cause. They don’t want anything, and when they say they will not hurt you, they’re telling the truth. You feel no pain, but neither do you feel joy. They are the secret sharers in your heart of darkness. What to do, when your butterflies turn into winged monkeys? You live an elastic life in an elastic city.

Utopia

A place exists, not external to terrestrial time, and unconcerned with cosmic time, and not ignorant of clocks and calendars, but where one has no need to know precisely what day it is, day of the week or calendar date, or the current time: here, there, or anywhere. Call this place, notplace. It’s not a place one goes to, more, it’s a place one appears within, unannounced, unexpected, without predetermination, appointment, or predestination. And notplace is empty of assumptions and predispositions. This is not about bliss or heaven, some sort of painless state and such; it’s here, and it’s real. Also, it’s not about the Now of mindfulness. Even now is irrelevant in Notplace. All reference, research, redolent of time, disappear. It’s not seasonless. The sun still burns and the east wind still blows cold. The sun rises and sets, or appears to, and the moon shows and not shows, and the stars are there and not there. And, of course, there are no words spoken, no words heard, none written: it is a place of prayer.

Chess Puzzle

The chess pieces, old, dry, and frizzled, can only sleep, but as alive as cold-blooded bees in winter they dream of moves, puzzles, contretemps, and suck honey from the hive of time. They cluster quietly, clot in knots, in symbiotic formations, each exchange of pieces in turn reconstituting a meal in which each guest eats at the table of the other. Condemned to the board, the bored King snores while the Queen stirs the hive to action, cleans house, chasing the pawns this way and that, has knights jumping over the furniture, splits and clefts the sliding Bishops, insanely, apparently, willing to surrender their position to move closer to their dreary King asleep like a fossilized cat on the love seat in the living room.

Comma and Anti-comma

Is the comma in danger of extinction? Here at the The Coming of the Toads commas have fallen out of favor as we have begun to eschew the common comma, not all commas, and the comma in writing (where else is it used?) still remains an effective tool for the common reader, but sometimes the right word in the right place creates its own pause and nothing more is needed by way of punctuation, for the common reader or the anti-reader. Of course commas are used for more than to create pause. The comma used to separate items in a series, red white and blue, for example, often punctuated as red, white, and blue, keeps the colors from running together. The comma evolved from the colon and suggested something cut out but today the comma is used to add on, to amplify, to continue, to ramble on, sometimes unmercifully, the end nowhere near, the sentence a structure of lean-tos, each clause flipping about like a butterfly which may look to the common reader indecisive. Then there is the comma butterfly, also called angelwing, and what writer would want to eliminate angel wings from their writing, not us. Whoops, that’s anglewing, not angel wing, a mistake no comma can rescue. Still, the happy discovery that commas may suggest angel wings gives us a lift.

Rain

As said of politics, all rain is local, parochial. It may seem frivolous to a parish under water that in a neighboring bureau filled with sun denizens are dressed in shorts and sleeveless shirts drinking dizzy fizzy wine coolers in the town square park sitting in beach chairs on the warm dry grass listening to a gypsy jazz band play La Mer, while next door, where rain falls, Leonard Cohen indoors on a turntable sings, “All the rain falls down amen, on the works of last year’s man.” Yet in rain country umbrellas are not as ubiquitous as one might expect, nor are they absent in the sunny clime. The rain falls through hair, straightening the curl, seeps through flannel and wool, fills the shoes and soaks the socks, wrinkles the skin. The rain bounces off the asphalt street, runs down the gutters carrying along leaves summer and fall debris: a dirty tennis ball, a burnt out sparkler, a used up crumpled face mask. The rain overflows the curb down at the corner and a car spins by splashing a muddy wave across the sidewalk. A city bus sploshes around the corner, windows fogged, the driver and riders masked and anonymous. There are no cats to be seen out and about, a few dogs hunkered up on their porches. A woman with no umbrella scurrying shoulders hunched head down misses her bus and takes shelter under the awning in the doorway of a closed cafe, pulls out her phone and votes for sun, but the polls are closed for the winter.

The Apostrophe of Waiting

You took away the source, but it was some graffiti, as I recall, but now in the grog of morning’s woke fog, I forget what it said, but one of the words was missing an apostrophe, crowds, I think, should have been crowd’s. The crowd is awaiting its apostrophe. So something is missing, the elemental that connects. That’s the meaning of apostrophe – an elision, but more, to turn, to turn away (from), even as things merge, as in a crowd. The apostrophe, like a stray bird, lands in the nest of merged things, its meld. The crowd is awaiting its possession, what it wants, its melt and weld. Also, the apostrophe that is an address to a missing person, one who has been turned away, or is turning away from another, as the crowd disperses. Waiting’s apostrophe. Waiting for the bird that has flown to return. As the crowd scatters, like birds, each one turning away from their neighbor, coming apart, each now a new apostrophe looking for a new gathering, a new mustering, a levy of birds, where they can drop into place to satisfy the whole. And today’s crowd of words is punctuated by the police, steel pot helmeted commas out to enforce the gravity of grammar, but they seem unable to put a stop to the run-on sentences.

Dolce & Metallico

To sand a page of flat board, one abrades first metallico then brushes dolce, as the piece turns to canvas. That is a music lesson learned in the woodshop. On the guitar, metallico is played near the bridge, where the strings are tight and unbending and sound like the steel wheels of a train or fingernails on edge across a chalkboard – both sounds rarely heard these days as trains recede farther into the industrial inner city or disappear through the countryside, and chalkboards fill landfills. In the middle of nowhere one learns to listen. Dolce on guitar is sounded where the strings loosen, up the neck from the soundhole. Sweet is dolce, but the hard, long ē of sweet sounds more metallico, so soft is dolce, not sour, but balmy. Metallico, that steel rail sound, harsh and disagreeable, straightens the spine and tingles the neck hairs. For some listeners, dolce raises goosebumps; for others, metallico does the trick. Dolce is the sound of the short, soft vowel, metallico the sound of the long, hard vowel. Thus the meaning of a musical note changes with its vowel length. A bent line over the vowel illustrates the soft sound (ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, and ŭ), a straight line the hard (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū). Often, the meaning of a poem rests within its sounds, not seen in its definitions. One must listen to a poem like one listens to a piece of music. The reading question is often not what a poem means but how it feels when read or heard, what its sounds suggest. Some poems sand wood; others cut stone.