I’ll Tell You How It Is

I’ll tell you how it is
When you sit down at the table
To write it out
Plain black and white,
How it is/was/can be—
Not so easy to do, you know
But I’ve got to try
At least a bit
(maybe sneak up on it unaware…).

In the Spring
Standing on a beach
Kicking holes in the sand,
A small human mark
Erased by wind and water
Once I am gone.
Kept coming back
All that Spring,
Stood on that very same spot
Kickin’ kickin’ kickin’
But I could not make it stick
Against the air and the tide.

One Sunday
February 1970
Couldn’t sleep
Early in the morning
Breath on the air in hanging wisps
Crunching down the street
Shaking snow off bushes
Looking for the starting buds
Of flowers,
Watching all the flakes sift down
And lose themselves against the carpet’s white.

Flat on my back 1976
Sweating curls and streams
Beads and humours
Forcing myself to trace the ceiling cracks
In the yellowing corners
Lights in patterns through the slats
Bugs crawling on the edges
Dripping into my water glass
Floating to death at dawn.
By the time the phone rang, I’d gone out.

Drew a picture
On a store ad in the subway 1980
Reaching up, balancing on the plastic seat
Hanging onto the ring at the steps.
All the kids pointed
Sniggering perhaps;
Don’t understand
Why someone with a briefcase
Would paint a skyline
With a felt-tip pen.

Last winter in Colorado 1990
Tried to drive my body
Through the abdomen
Of a woman
Half my age.
Ran my tongue from her toes
To her earlobes,
Breathing in short gasps
Whispering promises
Dreaming sinuous climaxes
Pretending I didn’t hear her laugh.
She went back to San Diego
And gave me a phone number for when I’m out that way.

Wore a baseball cap last night
In a bar in Tampa 2002
Full of fishermen
Drinking beer, ate some jerky,
Sleeve of saltines,
Switched to bourbon no ice
And looked at my leather face in the mirror.
Ignoring the women/cops/hangers-on
Bought no one a drink
And belched into my water chaser.

2016 can’t remember the important things.
Can’t remember very much at all.
Just a few vignettes
Gray hints really.
Go to the table
Try to think of what to write
Record and leave
For nameless to read.
Once I almost got it all in mind
But by the time I reached for a pen,
Smoothed the paper
Lined up the pen
Arranged my light and chair,
I forgot and went to sleep instead.

That’s what this is, then.
It’s all here, you know.
I wrote it down for you.
Don’t miss it now:
Reread the lines.
Everything I ever thought
Or felt
Is there as clear as I can make it.
Do you see yourself as sand, or drifting snow?
A ceiling crack?
Graffiti on walls of time?
Naked women?
Sour mash bourbon?
All of them?
Of course you do.

If I don’t wake
Mark these lines well:
Nothing’s at stake,
See you in hell.

(written 1970-2016)