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Category: My poems

POEM: Sixty-Seven Unopened Videocasettes

A poem about seeing my biological father and grandmother for the first time in 30 years.

Sixty-Seven Unopened Videocassettes

Thirty years and fifty percent of my DNA
have brought me to a double-wide with a steep driveway,
tucked away in an enclave of trailers not far from the iron banks of the Ohio River.
She asks me to call her “nanna” because all the children do.
He’s missing most of his teeth — waiting for a new set of dentures.
I have no hook on which to hang this porch conversation,
this three-decade history lesson and game of tag.
So we talk about tobacco farming, long-haul trucking,
and spying on the Russians from within a cigar tube deep beneath the Mediterranean.
I learn about great-uncles and great-aunts and an extra uncle,
only to learn that money and land and other tragedies have driven wedges into this family, too.
I want to walk into the dining room like Antwone Fisher,
but the table is given over to Charlie Brown and Linus —
Christmas decorations awaiting transfer to their holiday destination.
There are sixty-seven unopened Star Trek videocassettes,
a bathroom crammed with history books,
lighters from the Navy,
a robe almost like the one I wear,
and an old shaving cup with a worn brush.
No matter what happens, I’ve erased the most terrible vision —
awaiting the end with the moisture of regret dampening my cheeks.
“The next time you come, darlin’, we’ll have chicken and dumplings.”

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POEM: It isn’t merely the fashioning

I wrote this last February while thinking of my friend Julie White. She knits, cycles, gardens, teaches and other worthwhile things. Visit her blog.

It isn’t merely the fashioning
for Julie White

It isn’t merely the fashioning
of new meanings from the threads and whisps,
rather it is the intention, the

unsounded affirmation of a
relationship, woven into each
chosen strand and intricate pattern.

Pearls uncovered in the depths, the craft
rows back to shore, where it is met by
the warm wool and the gathering in.

One must take stock in it, and accept
the gift for what it is, speech rendered,
unspoken, as textile manuscript.

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POEM: At Mr. Frost’s

I wrote this poem after a visit to Robert Frost’s house in Shaftsbury, VT.

Stone wall behind Robert Frost's house
Stone wall behind Robert Frost's house. Photo by Jason Crane.

At Mr. Frost’s

Bathed in
autumn
sunlight
on a
table rock
in the fallow field
behind
Robert Frost’s
stone house,
I’m reminded
of the poet’s
advice
to not press
the poems
too hard.
Sometimes sunlight
is just that,
and fallow fields
need only
sun, seeds,
water
and time.

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POEM: Long Haul

Photo from the David Faust Collection
Photo from the David Faust Collection

Long Haul
(for my father and his father)

it wasn’t easy keeping all those wheels on the road
another late-night diner and a nap in the cab
hauling one of the damned things was hard enough
it took a man to pull two

it wasn’t easy to raise seven of them
the boy was first and then six — six! — girls
you’d think we would have stopped trying
to make him a brother

and since he was a solitary boy even then,
he would put on his suit and walk down to the little church
that was happy to have an usher
an extra boy to pass the hat for what little there was

he wrecked the car, I made him replace it with college money
I wasn’t teaching him a lesson about responsibility
I was trying to hang on to my boy
the one who’d always had his eye on the horizon

and then later, when he was home from the service
we’d go down under the church to drink at the Legion hall
thick smoke in the air, cheap beer on tap
looking down the barrel of a one-stoplight life

it took a man — and I knew it — to leave
to drive and keep driving until he’d built a better life
to be more than I was and to do it with dignity
and I never told him, but I was proud



(Thanks to David Faust for letting me use a photo from his collection of St. Johnsbury trucks. That’s the company for which my grandfather drove.)

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POEM: Memorex Hummingbird

Hummingbird photo by Derek Scott.
Hummingbird photo by Derek Scott.

Memorex Hummingbird
by Jason Crane

Memorex hummingbird hovers above the nectar cup;
animatronic woodpecker hunts for scuttling food.
Nature or Disney ride? Who can say?
Disconnected as we are from snow falling off branches.
I hold the binoculars steady and point out the Blue Jay
as it pecks the last leaf on the winter elm,
and through those lenses peek the unspoiled eyes of my son.
He shouts, “I see it!” and is rooted to the spot,
A sapling full of the coursing energy of the yet-to-come.

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POEM: Gene Ludwig

GeneatClefClub
Photo by Ben Johnson, Sr.

I saw organist Gene Ludwig in concert earlier tonight, and wrote these three pieces while watching the show. If you’d like to know more about Gene, listen to my interview with him on The Jazz Session.

Gene Ludwig

1.

Gone deep inside, he slides
effortlessly across the organ keys,
never losing the sense of weightlessness
every earthbound mortal
longs for.
Unlike most, he isn’t held
down by gravity, not forced to
wear the chains of step-by-step,
inch-by-inch. Instead, he
gently leaves the earth, smiling.

2.

Perhaps he’s the local mortician,
skin made alabaster through
affinity with those he serves;
or an accountant, toiling away
until life’s energy winds down
like the gold watch they’ll give him;
he could be any one of a hundred
buttoned-up Rotarians in grey flannel suits,
friends with the mayor or with
the chief of police.
Then he sits down at the organ, and
joy springs from those ivory fingers.
He strips off the grey shell,
revealing the light at his core.
That light is the only thing
that reaches us faster
than his sound.

3.

Grabbing two handfuls of
electricity, he
naturally believes that life is beautiful, that
everyone has ready access to this
level of presence, this certain
understanding of the melody.
Doubtless, they all
would trade places
if they could, exchanging
Gene’s grace for their own.

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POEM: Bernard Orrin Joseph Flanders, 1912-2009

grandpa

A poem for my grandfather. The first letter of each line spells out his name.

Bernard Orrin Joseph Flanders, 1912-2009

Bent over one of many art projects, he is perhaps
eyeing a stitch in a pattern, or
running his hands across the smooth surface of a
nascent scrimshaw.
All of our houses have some
reminder of his artistry,
done on commission or by surprise,
or given over after a move to a smaller apartment.
Rarer pieces, such as the carved nameplates
resting from nails set
in doors of his own making, will
never pass from their owners’ hands, nor will our
joy dim each time we catch sight of
our names carved in the
soft wood.
Each of us holds onto whatever small treasures we’ve
placed so carefully in the bank of our memory.
He never seemed to understand the weight of his gift,
feigned embarrassment at our gushing praise,
lowered his eyes
and said, “It’s
nothing,
don’t mention it.”
Each of holds onto whatever small treasurers we’ve
received from him, ever thankful that his love has been captured in
stitching or ivory or wood.

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POEM: Lillian Dupree & The Ballad of Frenchman Street

UPDATE: This poem was published in the Winter-Spring 2010 issue of Blue Collar Review. You can get your copy at partisanpress.org.

Photograph by Richard Oliver

Lillian Dupree & The Ballad of Frenchman Street

It always starts with the rain and wind kicking up.
Clouds circle like vultures far out over the ocean,
higher than the sailors could see them,
if they were looking.

In a bar near Charity Hospital,
the TV shows the slowly spiraling storm,
but the sound is off and no one pays much mind
as the weatherman says “this is the one.”

In old westerns, the Indian lies prostrate,
ear to the ground, listening for the approaching hoof beats
of a warring tribe. If Donald Harrison, Jr., were to put
his ear to the ground, he would hear the low rumble of the future.

A factory in Texas made the guitar
that will be strummed when the horn should be sounded.
The strings are tight across the bridge,
like the cars and the buses and those on foot will be later.

Back on Frenchman Street, Lillian Dupree gets up from the bar
and starts for home, noticing that the breeze is strong.
She’s still in her scrubs after a long night taking readings,
listening for pulses and watching the moving lines.

This is the old part of the city.
The part the French built when it seemed like they’d be here forever.
As time and the storm proved, no one
is guaranteed this plot of land at the edge of the gulf.

First the French, then the Spanish, then the French again;
they all tried to conquer what could not be tamed;
tried to civilize the wild Caribbean soul of a city that was
never really part of this country, and yet is at the heart of it.

Perhaps it is that very separation, that very wildness,
that will make it easy for many to look away
as the bowl fills with unholy water like a rusty pot
left to decay in the tall grasses out behind the house.

Lillian Dupree is tired.
Tired of walking these same streets every night.
She wishes she could drive, or that she could afford to live
far enough away to commute.

She was born at this very hospital, born to a mother
who was born to a mother
who was born to a mother
who was born a slave.

Did you know that the last ever shipment of African slaves
from the continent came to this very city?
By that time, all the Africans you could ever want
were being mass produced in Virginia.

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POEM: Bongocero

Bongocero
(for Arturo O’Farrill)

the meaty slap of flesh on flesh
the pop of skin on skin
fingertips, the side of the thumb
legs a vice to hold the shells

the heart of the matter is a mix
of rhythm and freedom
of accompaniment and improvisation
of ancient order and modernity

then from the back of the stage
the trumpets kick in
and the bongocero drops his drums,
which fall to the stage with a thud

now it’s skin grasping wood striking metal
as the bell cuts through
the urgent stabs of the horns
and gives a lift to the dancers

gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-go

gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-go

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POEM: The Menagerie

(Note: Jen and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary today. I wrote this for a previous anniversary.)

The Menagerie
For Jennifer

I remember the menagerie –
red ants, cockroaches,
a dog that stole underwear.
Horned toad burying himself –
at least, we assumed it was a “him” –
under the bush beside the screen door.
Lime-green geckos clinging to
sun-warmed stucco, cooling
in the desert evening.
Blue plastic bowls with the name of
our furry practice child.

I remember the meeting –
front-row seats at a round table
just across the dance floor from the band.
Hesitantly approaching two women
and knowing instantly.
Suddenly the sets were twice as long
and the breaks twice as short.
I’d hurry to put down my saxophone
and continue the conversation.

I remember the desert –
long hike with fast-beating heart.
Brilliant moonlight washing over the hills,
air warm enough for shorts
even in the middle of the night.
The swelling drone of bees as they
awoke to the Sonoran sunrise.
A horizon so distant that we could watch
the sun pour onto the land like thick honey
filling the mountains’ bowl.

I remember the restaurant –
heart in my throat,
ring in my hand,
one knee on the hard tile floor.
You said “yes” and applause drifted over
to our table.

I remember the train –
exhausted after semi-circumnavigating the world.
Comatose kitten in a plastic box and
tired smiles as the train pulled away from Narita
and headed toward Tokyo, then north.
No jobs, no place to live.
All the world before us.

I remember the trees –
white cherry blossoms flowering
outside the second-floor window.
Early morning sounds of
baseball
from the sunken field below.
Waking at night as the house shook and
deciding there was trouble just as
the tremor stopped.

I remember our son –
watching in awe as life emerged
to the strains of Nat “King” Cole,
the same sounds that joined us together
in the desert now welcoming our newest bond.
Walking down the hall where the
others waited and bursting into tears.
“It’s a boy.”
Crying again with worry in those
first harrowing hours.
The same emotions repeated three years later.

Mostly, I remember you.

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POEM: It isn’t merely the fashioning

It isn’t merely the fashioning
of new meanings from the threads and whisps,
rather it is the intention, the

unsounded affirmation of a
relationship, woven into each
chosen strand and intricate pattern.

Pearls uncovered in the depths, the craft
rows back to shore, where it is met by
the warm wool and the gathering in.

One must take stock in it, and accept
the gift for what it is, speech rendered,
unspoken, as textile manuscript.

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POEM: Luxury Hotel

Luxury Hotel

Room after room after room with no stopping, no let-up.
How many in a year? Five thousand? Six thousand?
The human body can only take so much.
So many liftings of the mattress, so many bends of the knees.
Then there are the chemicals, the solvents, the cleaners.
Scrubbing with your face right down in the fumes,
breathing deeply from the exertion.
Cracked skin, aching muscles, arms like rubber.
You can’t even lift your baby girl for a kiss.
Other people’s pubic hair, other people’s vomit and blood.
One time there was a man hiding in the closet.
He put one finger to his lips and told you to be quiet,
but how could you be quiet when there was a man in the closet?
So you screamed and ran and they gave you half a day off.
Another time you begged and begged for shoes,
the kind with the special soles so you wouldn’t slip.
After days and weeks and months, they ordered them
on the very day your head hit the tile floor,
the same day they cornered you in the manager’s office
and nobody called for a doctor, the same day
you passed out waiting for the bus and a passerby
took you to the emergency room. A stranger had to do that.
There are seven Dominicans and three women from Jamaica
and five Senegalese and one Vietnamese lady in the laundry
with no English who keeps to herself in the mouth of the furnace.
Eight hours, ten hours, twelve hours if it’s busy.
Then it’s home to cook and do your own laundry and help
Javi and Lisa with their homework. Make the lunches
for the next day. Shrink into the bed and fall asleep
to the throbbing in your joints. The alarm at 4 a.m.
Then it’s room after room after room with no stopping, no let-up.
How many in a year? Five thousand? Six thousand?
The human body can only take so much.

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POEM: Bookshelves

Bookshelves

All our bookshelves were made by our fathers,
crafted by calloused hands from woods
soft or hard, fine-grained or no,
fashioned in damp basements or dusty barns
on Saturday afternoons while Black Magic Woman
or Love Me Do played on what used to be the nice radio.
The bookshelves are, like all fathers’ creations, imperfect,
slightly wider at the front,
fitting some books better than others.
In one, there is a pair of hearts carved,
delicate filigree surprising
from a splitter of logs, a man of the earth.
The bookshelves are a framework, intended
by our fathers to be filled with thoughts
of our own choosing, maybe with a gentle nudge
from a “doctor of books.”
But it is we who must encumber the wood
with our own words, we who must choose
which volumes to stack or lean,
we who receive the hard or soft legacy
cast in simple wood by complex men.

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POEM: Robby Burns’s Hat

Here’s my contribution to the memory of Monday. For more, read Dan Wilcox’s Birthday Poem, 2009 and his write-up of the event.

Robby Burns’s Hat

Crusty snow beneath our boots
as we watch a limber young poet
scamper atop the McPherson Legacy.

Once settled between Robby’s legs,
he takes the beret — the same one
they used last year —

and balances it on top of Robby’s head.
The last time, it was up there a week before
a less young, but no less limber, poet

found the beret at the base of the Legacy
and rescued it from oblivion, restoring
the cap to its place of honor twelve months later.

And so it goes, year after year, in honor
of the man who started it all, and who
made the trail through the snow that we follow.

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POEM: Last Night I Watched

Last Night I Watched
by Jason Crane

Last night I watched an American president-elect on the television and cried. Next to me was my wife Jennifer, tears running down her cheeks.

Last night I watched the awakening of a nation that had all but given up on its principles and ideals.

Last night I watched Jesse Jackson hold one finger to his trembling lips as he wept, the marathon runner finally crossing the finish line.

Last night I watched John Lewis talk about the unbelievable road from “Whites Only” bathrooms to steel truncheons on the Edmund Pettis Bridge to the steps of the Capitol.

Last night I watched an actor from The Color Purple rest her chin on the shoulder of a friend as she watched an African-American man speak about his future presidency.

Last night I watched an ocean of joyful tears give a gentle lift to the ship that is America.

Last night I watched Walt Whitman as he knelt down and pulled a blade of grass from the rich earth, singing.

Last night I watched as Kenyans danced on dusty ground, arms raised toward the glorious sun.

Last night I watched as a crack opened in the wall, and looking through, I could see the glimmering field of stars.

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