Oct/Nov 2002 Poetry

Three Poems

by Robert Lietz

Artwork by Tara Gilbert-Brever


Two Februaries

                         Vietnam, the Gulf War


     I see the yard again, the scarves
of smoke beyond the shed and house,
the lightning-split, still-prospering
cherry limbs, and, through these limbs
tonight, a family wishing on the galaxy,
the children scrambling off to woods
and out of woods to sled runs.

     These half-made-up and half-remembered kin
skew form to ease aches
childhoods conceived, northern enough,
begun in winterbirth,
in novels once, Time building itself in sheds,
in all there was to touch
along the boulevards, under the corner chestnut
and then in islands
of trousseaus.

     Like storm and storm's accompanying throbs,
we felt our lives stretch out,
among the thousands dead, and in that dark,
like violet muddled in, we practiced
stillness impossible for men, struck as we were
by love, and by the moonlit pastels
lovers turned for us.

     Could we have imagined forty-five, stories
without a reader still, schooled
by nightly news to bring an end to myth?
Could we, at the end of myth,
absorbed still in believing as a gift,
have seeded the world with these christs
made up in our own voices,
drawn in cold and in predicted cold, in thickets
garlanded with young men
who might have spent their pay, seeking
an angel or lucky coin,
looking for hardware set a-dance,
to make an end of them,
no Time but Once, no God but One
hurt by our whisperings
     and blood?


     The news repeats itself.
A beakless thing flies wide in winterspace,
standing the cobbles up on end,
puzzling the children at their play,
seeking in wind a source
behind the shepherd sounds of it,
who build their maze and dream,
seen from this blue-walled,
blue-floored, second
-story study.

     And now this grumbling overhead, the lock-in
dead-on delivery. And now
this subterranean roar, Time ribboning,
these voices of men
with countrymen at stake, ferrying
toward mirage and toward

     Had we been more than hobbyists, a people
feeling handsome at the world's throat?

     And these many dead, cat-like
and vanishing, they find their ways
toward space great-grandfathers
inhabit, the finished dead, like love notes
tucked into heart-red envelopes,
at the horizons choiring, leaving
this air-brushed desert blue
to say what family was, this singing
woven again
among the spikey desert grasses,
the singers, like dangerous jewels,
stepping the clear air, coaxed high
along the trade-winds of the planet,
spiraling skies toward grand
attractors in deep space.


     And she, conceiving sets and properties,
my own child now, imagines the candles lit,
     in St. Valentine's Day snow, shoveling herself,
no matter how the newsmen toss it up,
     another month of history to bear, enlightened
again by the field chiefs' restraint, showing
     the gizmos off, laughing as if they were
permitted to by edict.


     Stars or neurons flash. An asylum treble
teases people yet to live,
a madness in each liquid syllable,
the orphans, Christ,
dear Christ
, stripped even of disbelief,
suffering these the colder bodies
of their school

     Stars or neurons flash. And this fix
of martyrdoms,
as news repeats itself, young men finding
what to buy, fingering
the catalogs of fire-power, fighting
to leave unhappy streets, blocks
searched the ways men search
their bureau drawers
for love notes.

     The dead, and many dead, passing
a common seasoned plate,
heaped high with flatbread and with pounded corn,
gather themselves to eat
as they had eaten once in good times,
to hear that plastic sax
jacking the abstract, and one voice,
above that common fare,
seeking the clues
in blood seeking level
on flatland.



     Jackhammers and picks tear up
the street around the storm drain.
And after, the heavy grate in place,
the crew in village green
tamps down the steamy dark, neighbors
in freeze-time, keeping our streets
in check, nicked by the burrs in words
their children have for them.
Noon repeats its estimates in millions.
I see the invalids draw back,
leaving their yards to children summering
in unfolded chairs, their holy rooms
to grandchildren, to the boys and girls
at play on yesterday's clipped green.
And see the two-week summer people
stack their bags again, vacationing
here in homes they made themselves
for decades, neighbors in freeze-time,
setting the turquoise bowl in place
to spare the season-stricken porch cat.
And here, at the source of given names,
where laborers joke and spar,
where from and toward go blank, the light
through leaves, the sounds
of bird-panic and cicadas, start words
let sit too long, until the starlight
seems to list, and the cries of loons,
that came to mean a summer,
the looks of things as persona. And
I am piloting through smoke, sampling
the wreck foretold in air above a desert,
seeing souls on foot, hearing emperilled
tongues, neighbors in freeze-time, crying
aloud, and crying, as their many praises
I sip this coffee desert-thick,
imagining the dreams ahead, hearing
the windows hum and drip,
my neighbors turning in their dreams
to versions of concerti, as meteors
rain and miss, these many dead, taking
the shocks for us, alive again,
and almost solid to touch. I leave
the lower rooms to them, neighbors
in freeze-time
, at the start of appetite,
their fractioned lives, their wells
run black, imagining the children left
at each theatrical advance,
putting the injuries to rest, and now
the freshenings the children
will have squinted clear
     to witness.


Working Back

     The children sit their curb, playing space
in their star-robes,
or, riding range one warm middle-Fifties schoolday,
slap their thighs and run,
because they like the sounds of it, the risks of raids
or rescues neighbor brides shut out.
He picks his mother's order up, and stops to watch
that play, and, from the top steps of Mangano's,
to watch the old men entering in and out of Testone's,
a quick two or double
after sweating spots on line, men that look to him
like kinds of weeping
after decades, talking their labors out, fashioning
a parish out of tavern light
and fish sticks.

     The asylum streets (squaring a boy's life) will be gone
like whirlwind, ill-matched within
his will to measure them, Herbert, Pond, Gilbert Hill
and Spring, their lights absorbed
or just now entering the building, as the boy slips home,
from dreams the colors of skirts
and cola floats, to find his old man sprawled
on body-lightened carpet, until
the company comes by, coaxing the strength
in him for bowling nights
or golf leagues.

     Grey and pushed and flawed, he's all that's left of it,
remembering the patterns of carpet
the next owners would tear up, the sweetest bedroom trials
tempting breath. I gaze again
through that pay-scope across concrete and planned green,
entirely in innocence look up, finding
the family there, like a people yet to be, easy-going
in advance, brought nearer through this gaze,
through this editing advanced, that comes to seem
erasures, falls from the grace that come
to seem a witness after all.

     Think of the wives and of cicadas men would settle on
as comforts, and of the weathers then,
like kinds of seeing in, of the noise and image boxes,
shaken to set the world straight,
and of this one's eyes, squinting, searching
through the oddities of households,
meaning to get at an address.

     A cyclist drops from sidewalk down to street-edge stone,
drops two feet down between the phone pole
and the guy-wire, the daylight threatening to singe,
sharpening the scene and scenes
he blinks and seizes on, three now, in this
his earliest remembering,
as she lets her long hair down, combing and combing
her auburn fall, 1949, the woman
he'll name his daughter for, woman sick to death,
and this child (the half-sister
to his dead first-born), her name like charm
in these the first of his rememberings,
these weathers with tomorrows
whispered into them.


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