Sunday, October 20, 2013
from the Shepherd’s Center
This short collection is the sixth by our Shepherd’s Center Poetry Group.
These pages are meant to be a memento of our weeks together during the winter and spring of 2013, which I believe have emboldened us to find and affirm the poet in ourselves and others. Thank you again for sharing your talent and insight with the group.—Bob Demaree
Cognac brown, soft, consoling,
I tilt the decanter to the glass,
the heavy one with the scene of downtown Baltimore
etched in black and real gold,
probably 24 carat.
Not to be put into the dishwasher,
though I do.
A golden bourbon in an exquisite glass.
I stand before the bookcase,
urbane, sophisticated, like a writer,
though the books not so urbane,
I’m not ashamed, just
But behind glass, leather-bound books,
a special occasion.
Before I even know the title, I open it,
smell and riffle the pages.
It sounds like bourbon, poured from the decanter.
Alexander Dumas, one of my dad’s favorites,
The Three Musketeers,
Athos, Porthos, not D’Artagnan. Who is the
He would be disappointed that I could name only
I return to my chair, sit,
book and bourbon in hand,
to read, to find the third musketeer’s
New Garden Cemetery
For a long, lean while
I came to the cemetery because
that was the one spot where my little dog
would walk -- walk, that is, until
a strange human appeared along the path
or an intruding car slowed at a nearby gravestone,
and then, in alarm, he would freeze.
It was not as I would wish.
I'd used to walk there unencumbered
by leash or noise or fear.
Then I marched alone past unknown graves --
Inmon, Worth, Cummings, Bowles, Baker,
others I never knew --
hoping to raise the heartbeat, calm the mind.
But over time I learned
the real dividend of my brisk routine:
that -- like a child’s toy
whose silver balls fall
into neat columns --
as I strode along
the mind-thrashing thoughts
that first drove me
to the cemetery now, too, filtered down
into columns perhaps not neat,
but finding home.
That is how it is.
And so now I breeze out the door,
past my little dog’s pleading eyes,
and escape once more to the graveyard,
where, attended by silent neighbors,
I trace an invisible thread,
uncovering unseen patterns,
readying for the moment when,
back home at my desk,
I will pick up the pen yet again.
For Harvey Shapiro
I feel I should apologize.
I didn’t know you or your work
until I read the obit in the Times.
I said, “He could be my older brother,”
the sensitive one who preferred books
to baseball, to Dad’s chagrin.
Or the guy I started talking to
in a New York coffee shop
because I noticed he had a copy
of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems.
We spoke of metaphor, of assonance,
but I never caught his name.
Or the guy I saw on the subway,
bent over, nose wrinkling, scribbling
in a beat-up tan notebook, oblivious
to the boom box of life around him—
intent on transferring thought to paper
before it escaped through the open window.
Now I’ve sampled your spare verse,
enjoyed a walk through a gallery of cityscapes
reeking of smoked whitefish and pastrami.
I’ve observed you observing your son,
swaying with his newborn as if in prayer.
Harvey Shapiro, I wish I’d met you sooner.
At Uncle Ott’s
A coal fire glowed in the grate.
A bowl of peanuts in the shell and
a jar of horehound candy graced the fireside table.
“I want to see the eagle,” I would say.
I followed Uncle Ott to the stairs, and ascended, one step behind. As we approached the halfway landing
I was filled with dread, but was irresistibly drawn upward.
At the landing, from his permanent perch,
the eagle glared at me with his glass eye.
I scampered down the stairs.
Deenie Out in Front
She scampered up the rock,
my line in hand,
dragging a three-pound bass
which I had hooked but failed to land.
That was Deenie, always out in front;
she was the first to the raspberry patch
first to water ski and first the choose the spot
where we would fish for perch by night on Sebec.
We boys, in groups of two or three or four,
would follow her to do her bidding
because she knew where the fun would be,
not for fear that she was a beauty.
Comely she was not, so we grew apart.
I felt uneasy realizing she wished for me to be
a beau not buddy, a fella not a friend;
no longer could I follow where she wished to go
This chasm now cannot be spanned
for as of old she is eternally out in front,
no more boats to row, no more cliffs to climb;
now in December I long for July and Deenie out in front.
Watch Out for Things
Inanimate objects seem benign
but that is just opaque design
to hide malevolent intent
of devious mishaps they invent
else why would shoe laces part
and trusted cars refuse to start
always at the most untimely times
unless planned by rebellious minds
to make us sentient beings understand
it’s they who have the upper hand.
My lesson was before school.
My father waited in the car,
Smoke from his Lucky Strike
Clouding the windshield of our ’48 Plymouth,
Against a gray January sky
We did not know to call it the Rust Belt then.
My spinster teacher walked about
Her Victorian row house,
Checking on an invalid mother
And calling out to me,
“I hear wrong notes.”
The house smelled of cooked vegetables,
Even at 7:30
When Teddi Kalakos came for her lesson.
She and I played a duet once,
One of the Bachs, perhaps.
Her family ran a restaurant;
She may have inherited it—I don’t know,
One of many threads of the plot
Lost over time.
Once a year Miss Edna would take us
Into Philadelphia, the Reading Railroad
More than a Monopoly card,
Elegant iron horse, cold coal-smoke dawn,
Dutch trainmen in shiny blue suits
Calling out the station stops:
She let us shop at Gimbel’s,
Have lunch at Bookbinder’s,
Wasted on 12-year-olds,
And took us to the Academy of Music,
The children’s concert,
Peter and the Wolf, no doubt.
Years, years later
My mother asked if I remembered
Seeing Ormandy conduct.
Members of the Shepherd’s Center Poetry Group, present and past, won awards in the 2013 contests of the Burlington Writers Club: Dave Upstill, first place, Light Poetry; Mary Vick, second place, Adult Poetry; Sandra Redding, first place fiction; Bob Demaree, first place, Adult Poetry; Cynthia Schaub, honorable mention.
Our next Shepherd's Center term will begin Thursday, January 16, 2014.