Sunday, December 18, 2011

Approaching the solstice

As usual, I've let too much time slip by without posting here. But my roommate has had me running errands to do Christmas shopping, getting more boxes and wrapping paper, mailing boxes at our local Postal Center, and dropping gifts off at friends homes. And I got my annual chapbook put together, printed, and mailed off to family and friends. This year's chapbook is thinner, as am I, from the time my brain spent under the influence of anesthetics, paralytics, and other assorted drugs. But, strangely, I think this year's issue is cheerier. Perhaps the renewal of my wonder at the gift of waking up each morning.

Here's an example of one poem that I had a lot of fun writing.

Winter morning walk
My dog and I amble along. 
I watch for cars. She sniffs for 
calling cards left by other dogs. 
Sparrows squabble and squawk
in hedges near my head. 
A downy woodpecker peck pecks 
on an elm where I can see 
that he sports a red scarf.

I hear a tap tap tap 
pattering up behind me, 
and I guide the dog 
into the grass and watch 
an athletic young woman 
run past. Black tights hug 
shapely legs, tight buns, 
narrow hips. Pink and white 
running shoes flash 
left right left right 
pitty pat pitty pat. 
Auburn pony tail, 
through the back 
of a black baseball cap, 
flicks flicks flicks 
from side to side 
keeping time 
to swaying hips. 

And I trip over the damned dog. 

Another poem I have that I'm still working on describes the first two days in my hospital room after six days of being unconscious from anesthetics, paralytics, and other drugs. Kath and I have rip roaring laughs over my hallucinations those two days.

Narcotic shape shifters
I sit in my hospital bed and watch a squadron 
of silver shape shifters fly out of the room and stop 
in the space behind the nurses station. There 
they form precise ranks as they pass in review 
and then hover in flights ready for a combat mission. 
I send my wife and kids out to look at them, but they 
are unable to see them. They look at me as if I'm crazy. 
A long line of larger shape shifters drifts into my room 
near the ceiling and lands on the cream colored 
sound deadening panels and forms baroque patterns 
that look like streets in some futuristic city. 

Later that evening, after the family leaves, 
the night nurse, a wonderfully caring woman 
from India, comes into the room, and I show her 
the detailed patterns on the ceiling and the flight 
of large metallic shapes coming into the room 
to create more intricate patterns. She does not 
see them either, so I have her come close to the bed 
where I can point to the patterns. Again, she doesn't 
see them. But unlike my family, she looks at me 
with knowing concern and tells me that I 
am hallucinating from the anesthesia and drugs 
the doctors have given me over the past week. 

I'm dismayed that the shapes are phantoms 
of my drugged mind. So, I sit back, smile, 
and enjoy the magic air show.

Another I've been working on comes from some of the demons that drift back into my life, unwanted, unbidden, and unsettling. But I find that writing about them helps keep them out there away from me. 

The haircut
The young Asian woman motions me to a chair 
and covers me with a black cloth. As she reaches 
for her tools, I read Anh Lam on her license. 
I ask if she's Vietnamese. "Yes," she answers. 
But her tone allows no further discussion. 
I watch her graceful motions and try to imagine 
how she'd look in an Ao Dai, the traditional 
white silk tunic—ankle length, slit to the hip—
over black silk slacks, a white rice-straw 
conical hat covering her beautiful black hair. 
I remember the graceful women of Kontum, 
and those of Pleiku, and Quang Ngai. 

I think abstractly about Anh's mother. 
She probably wore the Ao Dai for celebrations, 
perhaps even for her wedding to Anh's father. 
Then, I feel a familiar chill in my soul as I 
imagine her mother forty years ago, a child, 
learning her father would never come home. 
He had watched from a bunker in a tree line, 
as my little Bird Dog dove to aim a smoke rocket 
near where he hid. He didn't see the bombs, 
only felt the fire engulf him. I imagine that 
I had killed Anh's grandfather, widowed 
her grandmother, deprived Anh 
of her grandfather's love. 

"How's that?" Anh's cheerful voice breaks 
into my thoughts. She holds up a mirror. 
It reflects a sad man with dark memories. 
"How's that?" A distant voice asks. 

The news this past week that all our troops will finally be out of Iraq was very good, although it also made me sad to think of the young lives wasted in what I consider a very stupid war brought on by arrogant politicians who have no skin in the game. On the morning the New York Times had a lead article about our last troops driving the road from Iraq into Kuwait, I wrote this haiku.

our kids leave Iraq
four thousand five hundred dead
precious squandered lives 

Their homecoming is truly a national Christmas gift. And I wish all of you who read this blog a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, prosperous, and loving 2012.