The farm boy’s idea of romance,
a warm moonlit summer night,
a beach blanket and gallantly holding
barbed wire strands apart for his date
to slip through into a cornfield,
to walk between dark rows,
unfold the blanket, a narrow bed,
and listen to corn grow. To hear
the shoots groan as they unfurl
laminated green growing pains,
to see the glasslike shards
of moonlight cut through the leaves
that chitter in the oxygenated air.
The glossy innocence of something new
turns them towards each other.
The moon dips low, pans out.
Corn stalk curtains hide their bodies,
muffle their naked desire
to moan in harmony with the leaves.
There is no putting it back. The silk
begins to tassel, the cob to kernel.
Translating the Punic Wars
She is looking his way, but not looking at him.
Somewhere over him. It is her job, this illusion.
The full lipstick pout barely hides the artifice.
The play fantasy bores her but pays the bills,
one dollar at a time. She gyrates a bit out of step
to an old Marvin Gay torch song.
Like God, she is out of reach. She is more like luck.
If you believe in it, she will almost touch you,
but her attention wanders as if she is translating
another line from The Punic Wars. In the darkened
strip club she moves into the shadows on stage, until
the spot light catches the artificial glow of her skin.
She turns her back to them, reaches behind her
and undoes her bra, twirls bare breasted.
Men open their wallets. He cocks an eyebrow, but
his spear is bent. He is a defeated Carthaginian.
And as the last of her feathers fall to the floor,
she turns away, having grown tired of their wide eyes.
She bends over, the moon rises. It is then he notices
the Band-Aid on her heel, just like the one on his blister.
The Band-Aid he wears that weeps in this room full of
wounded soldiers spurring hobbled elephants over the Alps.
Bean Curd Home-Style
He found an old ticket stub
between the pages of a book
shelved long ago.
Scribbled on the margin
in her handwriting
was an order
for Chinese take-out,
bean curd home-style
and two eggrolls.
He never finished the book,
doesn’t remember the movie.
He recalls they quibbled.
The bean curd they shared
straight from the carton
by the light of a candle.
what was there to do
but go to bed.
Morning dust rises sinful,
looking for a place to settle.
Like a second story thief
it steals into the house
through the stove vent
and coats the tea pot.
I write your name on it—
(which is my own).
How was I to know
you were dying,
yet I did.
Now your picture is too heavy
to carry in my cell phone.
And the churches of Santa Fe
go unvisited by me.
This year’s chili peppers
have heat. They burn
with the fire of absolution,
but who will redeem God?
On the horizon an anvil cloud
is bringing a storm.
In it, there is sand,
gray and abrasive.
Back to North
Brittle leaves, bitter and inflexible,
do not care. They fall in heaps.
The missed freeway exit at the triple overpass,
the split second decision, an existential wisecrack.
The waxy build up in the ear thickens the tail end
of a heart-to-heart swallowed just beyond hearing.
What good are reading glasses
left on the book shelf?
Look up. Overhead geese are honking
in a strange meter and rhyme all their own.
Wing tipped line breaks edited in flight.
They bank and return to repeat the stanza,
north to south
back to north.
Lately, I’ve been giving thought to how we store our experiences, access them and use them to compare with new perceptions. Do we arrange them in some kind of orderly fashion in our brain, cross referenced and categorized for easy access? How much weight does one experience carry when comparing it with something new? Does it matter how old the experience is? Is it dependent on the emotional content? Happy? Sad? How does all of this affect our thinking, our judgment, what we deem important, true, or beautiful?
David Wojahn says of poetry, it is “where the wondrous and sorrowful commingle.” It is that process of commingling that has captured my attention, and in writing these and other poems, I am looking for a way to begin to make sense of it all, not only the outside physical world of the present, but also how that present intersects with my past, resulting in some kind of concocted understanding. By the way, it does not hurt to be retired and have the luxury of time to just sit and think about things and recapture memories, filling in the blank spaces with invention when memory is not up to the task, or when memories are inconvenient.
I’ve also found as I’ve gotten older that in my poems the stanzas have gotten shorter, tighter, more regulated. I wonder sometimes if this is because as we age our thoughts are sometimes more fleeting, as if the cranial hard drive is filling up and is storing data randomly, wherever it can find free space. Perhaps you have had the experience of leaving a room having a clear objective in mind only to lose it as soon as you cross the threshold. I wonder if these shorter and regular stanzas are my way of retaining ideas in a more organized fashion, almost in a do not forget list. Sometimes I see the ordered stanzas as a neat closet, a way to hang onto what I have in the poem, a way to keep it sensible.
But I don’t want to think too long or hard on this. For me, it is a new direction, and I have been enjoying the compartmentalizing, and that is reason enough. It has forced me to slow down and toy with the experiences I am using to form the poem and consider what involvement I want my potential readers to take from the poems.
The five poems in this issue were not originally written to be part of a set, but I think they can work that way in that they are explorations of the nature, or perhaps stages of love. In “Growing Pains” the young couple experience the unfolding of physical love in a perhaps unusual place and circumstance, the wondrous and strange. There is no stopping the greening. In “Translating the Punic Wars” the desire to connect to love beyond the body is thwarted by the artificiality of love as a commercial entity. There is a maintained social distancing that prevents any personal interaction and so this kind of love in translation is doomed. “Bean Curd Home-Style” revolves around the rediscovered memory of an old love. How a trivial spat over an old movie can bring back memories of how it can sometimes be difficult it to be oneself yet united with someone in love at the same time. The unease resolved by going to bed. In “Dust,” it is the loss of love that is experienced. The speaker confronts his father’s death and in so doing realizes that the given and assumed love of a parent is forever taken away. And so the questioning begins in earnest. If God is love and love dies, what are we left with? And finally, in “Back to North,” old age is confronted. The once supple and robust body does not cooperate as it once did. Love in the physical sense has lost some of its urgency. Yet there might be an enhanced awareness simply because of the years lived, all the experiences gleaned. The old codger is able to look up and recognize even the ubiquitous geese are writing their own kind of poetry. That too, may be an expression of love, or at least something worth loving.
Les Bares is a retired public high school English teacher who now lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife, the poet and essayist Roselyn Elliott. He has been published in The Cream City Review, Stand (U.K.), Southword (Ireland), and other journals. He was the 2018 winner of The Princemere Poetry Prize.