Locomotive Breath

To know that it has always been so —
the angry mob, the fist and the fury —
knowing doesn’t help at all.

It doesn’t help at all.

Today I took an online test
to see what mathematics I might recall
from decades of long ago learning,

word problems concerning trains and speed
and distance, angles of intersecting lines
and percentages and ratios.

And I failed and was not surprised
by my failure.

I knew all that, once, how to calculate
across time and space, the train of the fist
and the rails of the fury, and knowing
helped not at all,

the train it won’t stop going,
no way to slow down.

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Preppers

It took longer than any of us expected,
our children were older than we were
and theirs were older still,
I remember when the fortune in your cookie said
be like water and you said who has that kind of time?

The soles of your boots are worn now right through
at the place where the weight of the world
met the road that carried us here, all those footsteps,
all that leather, all those people we used to be,
they cling like shadows and hide when we turn.

Did you ever think, I ask, and no, you never did,
we blink like mole people, blinded by the light,
both of us knowing we got it all wrong,
you with your gun, me with my bowl,
you with no bullets, me with no spoon.

February

Snow crusted garden, last year’s coneflower
grey as old bones, q-tipped and stiff in the wind,

the neighborhood scoundrel cat passes through
the damp and molder in search of a wren to kill,

cowl mane the color of gravel and thaw,
the color of February, the color of the shadow

that followed me home, one that still clings
to the soles of these worn out winter shoes.

Ship of State

Who knew it was all so fragile?
The ship of state a houseboat of cards
pontoon shantytown heaving
in the hot humid bluster of a grown
man’s tantrum. Sad!

Pretend I’m crazy.
It’s how we get things done.

In school they taught us how a bill
becomes law, powers held separate,
checks against power to keep it all
in balance yet here we are, keeling and
aroil and taking on water.

Pretend I’m the king.
Tell me that you love me.

We vacuum the oceans for treasures
to sell at auction, fake fortunes, fever heat
from a spray-on sun, peeling gilt,
lower the lifeboats, our iceberg cometh,
and lo! The devil cannot row.

Love Sleeps

I closed the door on you.
This is not a metaphor. You were snoring.  I couldn’t abide.

I need a quiet house. That’s not your fault.

You disorder me. You are a distraction,
a leaking faucet: dripping, dripping.

Reminding me
(I do not need your reminder)
of all I’ve left undone.

Maintenance foregone. Weatherstripping. Yard work.
The front porch needs painting.

Winter will be here before we know it.

Death Toll

When the snow comes we stay in the house
with mugs of strong tea and honey,
fleece and flannel, buffalo plaid and log-cabin quilts,

The fire burns steady, kettle set to simmer,
it mists the air like hot breath against a pane of glass
jackfrosted opaque.

We press our fingers to the frozen edge, co-mingle
our heat with the last light of the day.

In the quiet golden corner El Tio sits before his ledgers,
turning a pale green page to scan the names
of all who asked for one last solstice,

one last feast of Epiphany, scheduling payment,
sending invoices, tallying his bottom line by candlelight,
he calculates the weight of souls and payroll

for the psychopomp, holding out his cup to us
that we might fill it from the kettle one more time.

Dust II

We walked across this desert once,
red dirt rising to meet us,
the impressions made by our bared soles
no more lasting than the thin light of dawn
unzipping earth from sky. I remember
standing with you on this spot, do you
remember this spot, where we met the ones
we might have been and the ones we never could be,
and the shadows grew long behind us
and rose tall to meet us
and we looked beneath this small red rock
and saw our dust there, gathering.