Lyrics of childhood, adolescence, maturity and the development of the poet.
The poems in this chapweb, unlike the others, contains poems with some autobiographical content.
Contents

One

June Bugs

Skeleton Pirate Girl

Grasshopper Hunter

The Encyclopedia of Seashells

Beauty Behind Bars

That Funky Stuff

Wraxen

I Sip the Feral Buzz

What To Do When . . .

The Analogist's Nostalgia

Qasida of the Mirage

My First Thousand Years

One

 

Outside the chapel, on the grass,

beside the pond — dark, virulent —

the restless children heard the mass.

Lined up to take the sacrament,

they ghosted past in that black glass.

I knew that I was one of them.

 

After, we played, ran wild, though some,

wary even in play, took care

to keep their equilibrium.

They'd shiver, move away, or stare,

imagining the cold, the scum.

I knew that I was one of them.

 

Tired and clammy from dizzy bliss,

the children lay across the lawn.

I gathered stones, each smooth as a kiss.

To the water's edge, a few were drawn

and sat to wonder at the abyss.

I knew that I was one of them.

 

I held, the weight a kind of need,

and one by one I dropped, condemned,

each stone to unknown depth to read

the soundings of this new pretend.

I sensed the cold, the light recede.

I knew that I was one of them.

 

June Bugs

 

The beetle, more than other beasts,

seems a mechanical device:

its weight, the burnish of its casing,

legs like wires bent with jeweler’s care

that move in clockwork alternations.

 

June bugs, the common scarab here*,

are like baroque brass pocket watches.

Their elytra, wing covers, pivot

away to free the flying wings,

and close so true and neat and firm

that one expects a muffled click.

 

A June bug, once subdued, may be,

with patience, leashed with thread, and then

released to fly in circles round

a fence post, or a boy’s deft hand

which slowly reels more thread to wheel

the buzzing flash in wider orbits.

 

The game, with time, will lose its joy,

and curiosity will sate;

the hand will jerk, then loose the thread

to hurl the iridescent gizmo

into the outer space of dusk,

or swing to change the game, and crash

the pendant blur into a wall.

 

The metal frame is crushed and dull,

the parts lie scattered: escapements,

tubes, springs —  the bit of ooze between

the only sign it was alive.

 

*specifically, Cotinis mutabilis, known as the fig beetle or the green fruit beetle

 

Skeleton Pirate Girl

Halloween 1971, Kindergarten

 

I centered the lid of a coffee can

on the pale yellow construction paper,

ran the stub of an aquamarine crayon around

then cut the moon free. 

I raised my hand, so Mrs. King brought the paste jar.

I painted the disc with a scribble of glue, and mashed it

into the top left corner of the big white sheet.

Beneath, I had already pasted the silhouette

of a black cat, back arched, fat tail straight up.

The cat drawing had been on a sheet the teacher

gave us to color before cutting out.

The girl next to me, Amy, asked for the glue.

Her much larger moon looked like a stop sign.

“Amy, didn’t you trace from the lid?”

Mrs. King pointed. Her cat had a short tail

that came to a sharp point, the feet almost square.

“I didn’t need it, Mrs. King,” Amy murmured

as she drew a sad face on the moon

with a black crayon, gave the eyes long lashes.

 

Later, as we waited for school to end,

the smell of paste and crayons

still strong on my fingers,

Amy put on the molded plastic mask

of her Halloween costume:

a skull with an eye patch and pirate hat,

a curved blade running through the head.

Mrs. King rushed over and told Amy

to put the mask away, her voice almost hissing.

She didn’t seem angry, but more like she did at church

when one of us was talking too loud.

I talked to Amy until we were let out

to our parents; it was the longest I’d talked to a girl

who wasn't my sister.

 

Amy didn’t go to the same school for first grade,

but I saw her again in high school.

I heard someone call her name; she wore

tight maroon corduroy pants, a white frilly blouse.

I don’t think she remembered or recognized me,

then or ever.

Grasshopper Hunter

"…and his meat was locusts and wild honey." Matthew 3:4

 

That August in ‘73, there were so many grasshoppers.

Watching the abandoned field across the street,

I could see a dozen or so leap

above the grasses and weeds and fly

an erratic six or ten yards before dropping.

 

I found the glass jar I used to hold captured

lizards or snails, grabbed the bamboo pole

I had harvested myself from a stand growing

near a culvert at the far end of the field,

then crossed the street and waded into the scrub.

 

As I walked, startled grasshoppers launched

from their rocks and stems. I craned to see

where one would land, stepped closer in slow motion,

took aim and impaled it with the bamboo spear.

I collected the broken fuselage.

 

In an hour or so, the jar was full of mottled bodies,

angled saw-toothed legs, and cloudy honey-gore.

They smelled of the sweet gall of new-mown grass

and the sour tang of hot molasses. The summer heat

concentrated the scent until my stomach turned.

 

The Bible reveals John the Baptist survived in the desert

on locusts and honey. I emptied the jar near an ant hill.

 

The Encyclopedia of Seashells

 

Visiting relatives, I sit bored and my eyes wander to a book,

The Encyclopedia of Seashells, that sits among others about animals

and armor and how to find God and glass lamps of the 18th century.

I take it down and leaf through pages of line drawings and full-color

photographs meant to soothe with symmetry and pastels.

 

In the next room, people talk about the weather, the job someone's son

just got, the problem with a certain ailing aunt. Voices pitch higher, urgent

as some controversy arises and opinions jab into open spaces of silence

like a tongue into the emptiness left by a missing tooth.

 

In the pictures the shells are lovely and bland, chosen no doubt from many specimens,

for none, except those of ancient, long-extinct species, are chipped

or cracked. I flip pages until, in the book's final pages, I discover the glossary.

 

Someone is on the phone now while the others listen to the conversation and try

to follow, participate. Then the phone is handed off to someone else.

 

I write words in my notebook: columella, escutcheon, nacreous, operculum . . . .

 

Beauty Behind Bars

"Beauty is a dirty word." — an art show organizer

 

1.

 

The fairy tale's gone strange and sad,

the ever after on the news.

We learn the truth: Beauty's gone bad —

assaulted her husband with her shoes.

 

And then as some reporter brays,

we see the clips of films she made,

as if to sample the endless ways

that Beauty can be used, betrayed.

 

And yet, I can't believe at all;

I still see Beauty before the fall.

 

2.

Days, a week go past, and yet

I find myself still brooding while

I drive to work: a vague regret,

nostalgia's tug wrenching each mile.

 

My thoughts return in brooding laps

to a C-grade flick and a silly scene

I won't describe, ashamed perhaps.

I will say that her eyes were green.

 

I recall the boy I was and see

a schoolboy in the dark, eyes wide,

rapt student of her poetry

and marked as one on Beauty's side.

 

The press will soon forget the tale;

fresh scandals soothe our aching ennui.

But I find, all thought and rhyme to no avail,

I can't express what Beauty meant to me.

 

That Funky Stuff

 "Give me that stuff, that funk, that sweet, that funky stuff."

          — Rick James, "Give it to me, Baby"

 

When I was 13 or so, I was allowed

to stay up late when school was out.

I had my own small television set.

Each week, when it arrived, I’d scout

the TV Guide for late show monster movies,

cheap 1950’s sci-fi flicks

or reruns of Monty Python, Benny Hill.

I was a nerd; those were my kicks.

 

One Saturday night, on some forgotten

proto-music video show,

I saw Rick James: from purple smoke and mist,

like some weird alien gigolo,

and strutting out on platform boots and flash,

his hair in beads, in full debauch,

he wore a cobalt day-glow vinyl suit

with that conspicuous bulge in the crotch.

 

We borrow style, our walk, or stance

from those so sure, they show us how:

new tracks are dropped into our mix.

And even though I still can’t dance,

that grain of funk my soul allows

is really Rick’s.

So, in a way, those vinyl pants

— yow, girl — I have them on right now.

 

(First published in anthology of Inland Empire Poets, Wednesdays, 2006.)

 

Unwilling, I Remember

 

the feel and tangy scent of plastic soles

of new school shoes, first day of class, and fall

of summer, many winters past in white

shirt uniform and corduroy blue slacks;

 

the virgin pencil not yet subjected to

the cruel blade of sharpener, but then

the smell of wood, blood crisp, as dermis peels

away in curls to bare the slaty point;

 

the first firm stroke of lead on fresh lined paper

to write my name – slow, neat – as I would never

achieve the rest of year, each letter etched

in round perfection, sacred penmanship;

 

awakening from trance to see the mark,

the stain upon the paper, pencil dulling,

flaking carbon dust, the new eraser

abrading, smudging the immaculate.

 

Wraxen

Wraxen: overstretched, strained, sprained, wrenched.

 

The wheel on a child's bike, spokes slightly bent;

an ankle, broken once, and never quite

the same; or any mind once innocent

can take us home again, though we must fight

the more a pedal's stubborn catch, or limp,

diverting weight and torque away from scarred

and painful joints, or take firm hold and crimp

the fairy's lacy wings, and do what's hard.

 

The world is harsh to broken things, it's true,

but tolerates the unbroken but impaired.

The lizard on the wall, it's tail askew,

for instance. Note those scales, fine crepe

along the tail so bright and free of wear,

which tell of danger, once, and then escape.

 

 (First published in The New Formalist, 7.2 2006)

 

I Sip the Feral Buzz

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Blow the Ivory Pop Stand

 

Did you get your PhD yet?

— Any Busybody

 

No. Dropped. Quit. Failed. It’s what some want to hear.

I passed the quals, but never wrote my diss.

And never wanted to. Had a MoFo of Arts,

had nectar dripping to make poems from.

 

Why market someone else’s soda pop

by writing 300 pages on how I think

it tastes, in theory? It’s true I had the knack

with jargon, but I wasn’t overdetermined.

 

I didn’t deconstruct the ivory slats

so much as, well, Rapunzel my way out:

I hung out long enough to grow unseen,

then shimmied down my matted braids of time served.

 

Somewhen, far, far away (o, honeychild,

I sip the feral buzz of lyric love),

somewhere (yes, yes), a dissertation waits

unwritten, but, Erato sweet, not mine.

 

Shuffle, Repeat

 

A tune comes on, I wince, feel seams unlace;

an oldie tugs and pries time’s sutures loose

and after all these years, I see a face.

I’m driving, let’s say, trading time for space,

and think of work, or curse lane change abuse:

a tune comes on, I wince, feel seams unlace,

and I’m a kid in school, that awkward place,

the ache, the itch. I fight, but it’s no use,

and after all these years. I see a face,

a girl, whose form and style encode a trace

within a song, sweet rhymes that will seduce.

A tune comes on, I wince, feel. Seams unlace

as I assess my glitchy database,

accept the ghosts the neural paths induce

and after all these years, I see: a face,

a song, a pang entangled, forms of grace

that whisper time rewinds with every use.

A tune comes on, I wince, feel seams unlace,

and after all these years, I see a face.

What To Do When You Realize The Man
You Love Is A Robot From The Future

 

In the Outer Limits episode

titled “Demon with a Glass Hand,”

there’s a moment when Consuelo Biros,

played by Arlene Martel

(who later played T’Pring on Star Trek),

realizes that Trent (Robert Culp),

a man she has come to trust and love

over a few hours under attack

from aliens bent on destroying humanity,

is not a man, but a robot from the future,

something he did not know himself.

 

She’s worked alone for years as a seamstress

in a shop in a rundown building.

The widow of an abusive husband,

she’s long since retired from the world

and herself.

But now, she has been pulled

into danger. Someone has asked for her help,

and protected her in turn. There are needs

beyond the meagre rent, the shallow profit

from cut-rate merchandise, the work

of hemming and patching.

She wants with the greediness of life

remembering itself, and falls in love.

 

But he is a robot from the future.

 

When that moment comes for Consuelo,

her face seems to fall through floors

of emotion in a few seconds.

First, a fear of this man, a robot,

a monster, perhaps, to her modest experience.

Then, a flash of empathy, of love

and gratitude for what he has done

and will do to save her and humanity.

Finally, the sadness and disappointment,

unbearable, unavoidable.

A robot cannot give her love,

perhaps as her husband could not,

or worse, that the machine’s tenderness

can never be real, can never be for her.

She knows that there is no one to blame,

no fault: heartbreak with humble grace.

 

Perhaps she might have chosen to stay

with Trent, though he would be ageless.

Perhaps, but she leaves him to his mission.

 

Perhaps the poet makes too much of this.

Who remembers Outer Limits anymore?

Who expects depth in a TV show?

 

I asked my wife what she would do

if she discovered that the man she loved

was a robot from the future.

She gave me a sad, indulgent smile.

 

The Analogist's Nostalgia

 

The housing project ended at our house,

and then an open field, though here and there

an olive tree, unkempt, arthritic, clutched

at the sky and dropped its shriveled heirs to rot,

now disinherited by tumble weeds.

Though only seven then, I roamed that field

and played among the weeds, tried on godhood

with the ants, my power felt in boon of food

dropped on their hill, or in apocalyptic

upheavals of the earth, or in the strange

appearance of some rival warriors.

 

A mile away or so, an air force base,

made necessary by the threat of A-bombs,

made these tract houses necessary, too.

And when a bomber rose from runway rush,

its engines tore the air, as if the sky

were stiff, thick paper shred through turbine blades.

 

The biggest pepper tree I've seen gave shade

to our front yard, or some of it, and yet

it wasn't on our property, but grew

in the field, a remnant like the olive trees.

And so, when new development began,

the pepper tree was cut, uprooted, scrapped.

My mother cried for that old pepper tree.

The field was plowed, and houses grew, and then,

more distant fields gave way to houses, stores.

We moved a thirty minutes' drive away.

 

It’s all developed now, incorporated,

a town: more than the name has changed.

When I drive through, it's hard to navigate.

In recent years, they closed the base, the place

where I was born.

                            I've played in other fields,

and at the college, I pass three olive trees

as I walk to and from my office. Unlikely,

disheveled, they are welcome nonetheless.

The condo association where I live

has torn out all six pepper trees this year

because they were "too messy". The bombers gone,

I miss the tearing air sometimes, and though

an airport is nearby, the planes are tame

commercial flights, and fat with passengers,

or Fed-Ex packages, their engines muffled

so as not to disturb suburban slumbers

with thoughts of fiery seeds that wait within

the parcels, luggage, minds that swarm the skies,

or some such sweeps week tv-scripted dreams.

And yet, mere wind-stirred shadows from the tree

outside the bedroom window can renew

vague childhood fears that tentacles of night

hover in the sky, and from dark limbs

let fall, or launch, in slow ballistic arcs,

their fruit of dissolution down to bloom.

 

Qasida of the Mirage

 

Nasib

 

Thirty-three moons I’ve ridden through the sands

seeking the city praised in poetry.

 

Towers of seamless white, the verses sang,

roses entwine in scented filigree.

 

Lazuli pools refresh the eyes and mind;

pergolas shade the walks with vine and tree.

 

Avenues swarm with colored silks, the air

fragrant with tarragon, lemon, the sea.

 

Scholars and artists are its citizens,

masters of crafts and all philosophy.

 

Beauty and truth, labor and leisure’s ease,

science with faith pluck strings in harmony.

 

Faith of a fool: was it the child in me

who dreamed and wished that such a place must be?

 

 

Rahil

 

Thirty-three moons I’ve ridden through the sands

seeking the city praised in poetry.

 

Ruins inhabited by scorpions

I have discovered in futility.

 

Cities that teem with people stink and shout

wealth without grace, and all is vanity.

 

White minarets some have, and palaces,

ordering faith and law -- absurdity.

 

Knowledge and wisdom have no homes, no schools;

sages instruct, and none may disagree.

 

Better alone within the dunes, plateaus,

sandstone arcades, the wind’s chance artistry.

 

Endless the sands, and vast the azure cup

heaven has turned to trap this hiveless bee.

 

 

Hikaam

 

Thirty-three moons I’d ridden through the sands

seeking the city praised in poetry.

 

Winds like a dulcimer keen through my tent

pitched in this place; the search is done for me.

 

Someone nearby is plucking an oud, not well:

sweetly enough for a humble melody.

 

This is no city: sprawl of tents and huts

built upon ruins that are itself, yet free.

 

Trees and some stones from other lands are placed,

stitched on the desert, a patchwork tapestry.

 

Artists invent for use and pleasure here;

wisdom unfound, all ponder mystery.

 

I am composing this, for I am here,

here in this town unpraised in poetry.

 

Note: The Qasida is a traditional Arabic and Persian form. The three parts are named after traditional sections: Nasib, a reflection on the past; Rahil, a travel narrative; Hikaam, a moral or lesson. There seem to be many fairly different variants of the form, so this is certainly my interpretation based on my own understanding and intentions. Its general structure seemed an apt vehicle to dramatize certain aspects of a personal narrative I wished to explore and express.

My First Thousand Years

 

A century, or fraction, I lived, and then

the borrowed atoms scattered. Flesh is mist

that holds a shape, or so observers think

as if some drowsy, sultry afternoon

finds them, with drooping lids, upon the grass

and looking up to find amusing figures

before the breezes stretch and mold new forms

or drift and thin them wide as all the blue.

 

A hundred later on, some might recall

my life, or artifacts I touched or made

will stand, though none remember me, to mark

that I once passed some way or had a thought.

And my three hundredth year will find that none

know me, though I might hope a hardy poem

or two survives; they will not speak of me,

for like a lover sent a letter, readers

will see themselves and not the writer's face.

As centuries uncoil, I will descend

through ever finer scales of indistinct.

 

And when my thousandth year begins, I will

approach the first step of eternity

that spirals down to the invisible

and purest nothingness, but never arrives.

© 1990-2019 Joel Lamore