in the fallow field
of the poet’s
to not press
is just that,
and fallow fields
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.
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.
Gone deep inside, he slides
effortlessly across the organ keys,
never losing the sense of weightlessness
every earthbound mortal
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.
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.
Grabbing two handfuls of
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.
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
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
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
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.
UPDATE: This poem was published in the Winter-Spring 2010 issue of Blue Collar Review. You can get your copy at partisanpress.org.
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.