My mom says I love you with her hands.
She spells it out for us. With her smile. With her eyes.
My mom doesn’t say anything unless she believes it is true.
Mom walks out of her room in pajamas at nine thirty on Sunday morning
we all know what it means.
Like a brim that wiggled off the hook but kept the bait.
We sleep in the results of the decisions she makes.
Answered prayers. Skipping church.
My mom has climbed into every trench with me chucked a grenade overhead
and charged the enemy inside me. There is no moment in existence more poignant
than when your parent looks at you honestly afraid and asks ‘what’s next?’
Life. Robin. The early bird who could not wait to get to us. Robin.
Egg cracked many months too early. You knew to hurry and get to her.
You carried her to us like a robin fills the little yellow triangles chirping in her nest.
My mom is her mom.
My mom had to also be my grandma.
Before she was ready. She was handed a burden
I will never in my lifetime be strong enough to bear.
Because my mom is here.
She fights for it.
She outpours it.
She says I love you with her hands. Some fingers bend and others straighten.
She spells it out. My mom shouts I love you across the room.
And no one hears it.
But her children.
Each scuff on the stage is some poor character’s misstep.
Clunky unfamiliar shoes. Heavy heeled.
Scarred the thick black matte some poor soul was paid to paint.
So many scuffs in the same space seem to create a scar.
A gouge. A place gone bare.
Where now the plywood can be seen.
Like a relative.
Like a minister of some kind closing only one eye with a headnod.
A family made up solely of the unfamiliar.
Strangers. Who share blood. When we squeeze the egg.
Globs of it left out glistening on the floor.
So many scars and you start to see real damage.
Splintered fibrous tissue torn up through the paint.
Wide eyed wonder and anchor jawed acknowledgment.
Brakes struck down through the boots now officially digging into the structure.
The lumber-boned and lead-skinned body of our theater. Footsteps.
Stumbles. Outright tumbles. Foot falls. Close calls.
So many misdirected footsteps wearing unfamiliar shoes.
Then new paint.
What is new paint put up against the past.
Scuffed. Broken. Peeled up.
But if we didn’t paint it every year
there’d be no stage left.
Chiggers infest my shoulders. Poison ivy bumps lie dormant like volcanoes
threatening to burst-break open lava fields of radiant rash. Bruise-dents
in knuckles from slipping off wrenches. Been putting work in.
And like writing. My hands show it.
Callused fingers grip lovingly around a sharp liquid filled pen.
Cage of blue bars with letters hooked like fingers
through the chain-link notebook of time.
Yellowed paper. Burping up banana and water and beer.
Acrid washed pallet.
Me breathing through my nose.
We turned locked bolts I disbelieved would budge.
Stretched taught rubber bands beyond the point of breaking
against thin grooved rust red tracts fit centered
on the seven spoked PTO pulley wheel.
Mowed paths all over one hundred and thirty dirty overgrown acres.
Offered up this heavy blade spinning prayer. And saw it answered.
A baby cottontail bounded headlong terrified just in front of tri-grooved
fourteen inch diameter unpowered steering thin black tires. There was a time
I didn’t thank God for cutting things down
like they were made for it.
Smiled over it.
Like I had somehow reclaimed it.
Or made it clean.
I didn’t. I just cut it short. Laid it down.
Marked up land with a little red tractor
like a professor
tears into a paper with a red ink pen.
Lost is still on the map.
Lost is not suddenly some other earth.
You are still found, when you are lost.
Just not without help like you’re used to.
Love is still on a map.
In the mountains of Virginia.
Love is not suddenly some other earth.
Our feet are still on the ground even when
we are high on love.
Just not stuck without choice otherwise
Like we’re used to.
I’ve written more numbers on lumber this past week
than words into any story or poem.
I am a confused sort of man.
Walked up on where two paths diverge into the woods
and chose neither one. I’m losing skin from shins
and will be itching for weeks from high stepping
all the wild unwalked life-choked spaces in between.
Footsteps scar the earth. The earth grows thorns
and marks chalk on me. An alphabet of illegible lettering.
One over sixteen with two petite dashes tilted like military berets.
The word heavy.
The word slider.
Rip it longways to five and a quarter and give it another run on the router.
Wipe glossy white wax on each end after you cut them. Born brown faces
squint into the sun off the pool they’re building. Burnt brown faces
have measuring tape like loaded handguns on their hips
clutching little notebooks and a teeth marked pens.
They’re poets too. In their way.
Calling grown men who don’t speak English too stupid to their face
and keep sawing blue stone tiles with circular saws and no masks on.
White dust and the smell of burnt glue fill the air.
Clouds. Clock out. And head on to the home place long before any of us.
Short. Long sleeved men. And knit polo tucked into crisp clean khaki foremen.
Trying to read my scratched black handwriting in this hard dark stubborn Ipe wood.
A man from Brazil told me it was from Brazil. “It is amazing to have such long boards,”
he said, “the Ipe tree, you see, it grows very crooked.” As he read a scrap of it
with more intention than anyone has ever looked at one of my poems.
Oh you life, pompous and loud, loopy yet proud. Lightning crashing parties in heaven.
At the entrance telling lies that barrel down deep like thunder, a second too late, truth debates shaking ground from sound, flustered, rippled air. The clouds hoisted rain withheld, dangled, above head, just out of reach, beyond, water in aerated ascended ponds casting shade and crooked lines so thin you can see through them, translucent,
as rain rapidly sinking, the ferocious storms of real, devoted thinking, consideration. Uncompromising. Life, oh, how there are those who paint you anywhere
other than in raging weather, wind leaves trees giant rustled chickens
flashing pale upturned feathers, branches falling crashed lightning but closer,
nearer, thunder felt under feet, in ankles, before there is time to even hear.
There are those who do not know the meaning of awe.
Most feel only frightened, tired, ducking heads, cowering out of the rain,
cursing an unknown creator seed-planting our pain. Oh my life.
When I was a child, how I loved the sunny dispositions of my parents.
And vilified their strife. The complex truth of their life.
The disparate realities of parents.
Oh life, like parents, your love, your presence, is one of many forms.
But it wasn’t until I was grown and worn, that I found comfort in storms.
The things I have done have climbed inside my hands.
Used engine oil. Black grease spiraled out an iron jack.
Dad swears it once held up the entire house.
A touch of rash off a three leaved brat like a bracelet
decorating my wrist. Inch long scar from a bowsaw
when I was too young to have had one. White lightning
sunk into my right pointer knuckle from a kitchen knife
I’d forgotten I’d put in the sink. Green veins
peek through stretched thin red window panes
from so much sun the past few days.
The dent. Where the pen sinks in. Black fingernails
half step between pink ivory keys on a self playing piano.
Where there once were blisters.
As if I wasn’t going to remember.
Their religion is seizing.
Clear glass mountain view
eyes rolled back like blinds,
fluttering spring green leaves
in rain bearing wind.
It is not dying.
People are not abandoning it.
But giving it space.
Waiting for the episode to pass.
Wondering how long this one will last.
It has happened before.
It is safe for the church to drive a car.
Or operate heavy machinery.
The theology is heavily medicated and loopy.
Like twisted links of chains upholding a red candle.
Loopy like the redundant circular music.
The hymn and hers mind. Kind. Of. Loopy.
Eyes glazed from the cold outside
and the breath off volunteers
and so much mismanaged time
The mountains saw God. And oops.
Their hair turned white. Parted nice and neat
in between full wavering ridgelines combed over into neat clean
albeit dusty looking landscaping. Streaks of dark where evergreen
keeps the whole scene dirtier and salt and peppered. Bovines speckled
like dandruff and the hillside is framed in farmhouses for ears.
Muddy overflowing creeks at the bottoms of powder white mountains.
Electrified, traumatized by the divine presence
streaked white lightning like a skunk’s sour complexion.
Smell it from a corpse on the side of the twisted mountain spine.
Conscious thoughts in cars slow one by one slink up along connecting
traffic circles and overlapping highway junctions to thoroughfares down around
the hips to the mind. Some house in a row of them. This one is mine. My mind.
When it believes it perceives a thing it fails to describe.
A jolt of spirit blown white lights the burning penetrating radioactive kind.
Snow. High of sixty yesterday. Tonight. Oops. Low of nineteen. God.
Is not all these mountains have seen.
What is a flood to a fish. Fast running earth softening apocalypse.
White water parted around park benches. Is there a little low cabin
of stiller cold current stable along the stirred up muck lined basin.
Does the flood happen far above the heads of fish. Wait it out
weighted out way deep down. Beneath high water. New real estate.
New adventure. Was the fish’s world expanded by a natural disaster.
Thick rich one percent water heavy with death and nutrients.
Button eyes glued on and bulged out, flake of shiny black sequin set in a droplet of water
and loose to roll around while each slippery scaly arrowheaded wing throated muscle
patiently packed with tin cans rolling across the bottom of so many drowned rivers.
Horny heads hidden in creeks. Bass buried bellies brushing the bottom
of every many layered lake. Is that it, to fish, a flood. More traffic delay than catastrophe.
Bringing off the beaten path shortcuts into possibility. Honey get off at the bridge.
What bridge? I never saw a bridge here before. How could that be.
Well it never was underwater before.
I see. Said a blind fish. Lost in filth laden busybody highly agitated medium. Fast falling.
Dirty. Rich. Maybe floods are the opposite. For fish. When the weather is rough.
People hide inside and wonder how high the creek might rise,
how much more the lake can swallow before it is finally full.
But for fish, maybe a flood, means time to go to school.