Featured Poet:

Christopher Buckley

 

BOTTOM LINE

 

Walk home every day from school

in re-soled shoes when there’s ice

on the poles, and clean air

in San Fernando Valley,

50 years ago. . . .

Look over your shoulder where

Sister Vincent de Paul said

St. Michael and his flaming sword

would be watching, making sure.

Tell us what you see?

 

Fall asleep in front of Walter Cronkite

on the Evening News, Dorothy Kilgallen

and Kitty Carlisle on What’s My Line

you won’t be missing much . . .

John Cameron Swayze, pitchman

for Timex, will remind you that

it keeps on ticking . . . .

The sky shows

its shelf wear no matter where you are.

Whistle “Amazing Grace.”

Fill your lungs.

 

This is no country—as the old man said—

for old men. The birds—those that are left—

have flown.  Find the clouds you cherished

growing up—no loopholes left, no way out. . . .

Search the stars, reread the hard-edged

imbedded clauses, small print, illegible

scatter of notes in the margins—

come away

with nothing, a prerequisite to the past,

to the next handful of hendecasyllabics

in support of war.

Greet the boys

in the back room in their pin-striped suits,

cracking wise, tossing back gimlets, making

energy deals, pay-offs, sending out dividends

from Sanctified Oil. . . .

Forget Plato,

forget the flicker of images skipping

against the wall where you were 5 years old

among the tide pools, your parents’

shell-white Pontiac parked on Cliff Drive,

almost no traffic pushing back the air. . . .

  

Never mind the poor, the neighbors you know.

Proceed as if no one’s lied to you, as if

it’s axiomatic that the next cortege of particles

will sing back the atomic mix ad infinitum.

Exhale slowly now as the tide slips back

unconsciously after each dulled wave.

Stretch. Your last breath is out there,

coming out of the long suffering blue.

Wait for it. . . .

 

 

LATE REPORT

 

I didn’t die young

on Arthur Street,

amid the heat

and creosote,

despite tearing through my 20s,

and disappearing

in the tower district half the night

beneath the wandering arithmetic

of stars. . . .

I refused to leave

my disappointments in the streets,

the way working

in my rose bed

the canes snagged

my jeans every time I turned around.

My hope most days

was for a few anapests of wind

in the sycamores and Chinese elms

stationed as I was

by a swamp cooler

with sun tea

and a yellow pad,

a palimpsest of dog-eared idioms

and ideas

and not one note of inspiration

from the jay

in the Mulberry tree

as he blurted his demands. . . .

I moved

half a dozen times for jobs,

forgiving myself

an inability to suffer

committees, prigs in blazers

and striped ties—

made it back to the coast

where long ago

I’d given my blood to the seas,

or they’d given theirs to me . . .

the analects

of salt still as useless

as the surf grumbling

along the sea wall,

evening walking away

in its grey bones,

oblivious. . . .

Each night

an on-shore breeze comes up

from the beach,

the syllables of the dark behind it.

Mist drifts down

the channel—

time passes through the world, dust

settles on our eye glasses

reminding us of the fractures

in the sky.

My conversations with clouds

never came

to anything

more than silence

moored on the outskirts

of air,

some doves muttering among the palms. . . .

It would have been nice

to disregard the winds

that refused

to carry my complaints,

my coat pockets still heavy with them

as I patrolled the harbor

watching boats drift in

or leave. . . .

Tonight, looking out to the scars of light

we guess by,

I think the problem could be

that the birds I spoke to

all these years had no reply—

the problem could be

we were not imperishable. . . .

 

 

AGING EMPIRICISM

 

The channel fog . . .

its dull transition

across water, is like

the confusion in dreams,

every blue star flung

past where you stand . . .

what are we, really,

ever going to know?

 

I gave up trying

to make the figures

add up decades ago,   

but feel, absolutely,

the subtraction

in my bones—

one more complaint

to carry to a bench

where I can comfortably

appreciate the salt spray

spiking at the point,

briney hosannas

riding an up-draft

from the beach

where I was once 16

and transfigured

inside a head-high tube,

electrons and soaked

nerve endings sparking

between my fingertips

and lip of the wave,

blood shouting

hallelujahs as I shot

through bottle-green

space, living on little

more than sunlight

and Pepsi Cola. . . .

 

I was never thinking

about angels, levitation,

voices all the way

removed from stars.

I can only attest

to the indecipherable

scribbling above

the outline of the trees

at dusk, the dry leaves,

just these few remnants

of joy and the benefits

due me from the air

along the coast

where I still do

what I can to connect

the dots trailing

off into the blue,

into what little I know

from experience

is sure on earth. . . .

 

I suppose it was

reasonable to look up

and hope for something,

uncommitted as I was

to the inevitable,

content to just praise

the continuing resolution

of my breath,

the hearsay of the heart.

 

Safe now to sit out here,

no rain for years . . .

the cypress have

thrown up their hands

and surrendered,

but I’m not there yet.

Feet on the ground,

I keep turning over

an underemployed sky,

a lifetime of blind guesses,

rounding off my chances

to the nearest zero,

looking out across

the swells to find

that’s pretty much

what’s left.

 

 

Christopher Buckley’s recent books are Star Journal: Selected Poems, University of Pittsburgh Press (2016), Agnostic, Lynx House Press (2019), and The Pre-Eternity of the World, forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin State University Press (January 2021). He has recently edited The Long Embrace: 21 Contemporary Poets on the Long Poems of Philip Levine, Lynx House Press, and Naming the Lost: The Fresno Poets—Interviews & Essays, Stephen F. Austin State Univ. Press (both due Fall 2020).

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