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Ken Autrey


"I had always thought of the present as morning--as prologue.
Now I realized that for me, at least, it is not. It is
afternoon--the afternoon of a day that will bring nothing more
than the fatigue and, perhaps, the peace of the evening."
--George Kennan, at age 52

I slip into the afternoon of my life
leaving the door ajar behind me as though
I could decide to turn back.
Morning grows quaint. These bifocal eyes
absorb the later light, shadows
under old oaks, ivy sprawling.

Starting fresh every day, looking
to a peaceful evening, I find the door
hinge, oiled with memory,
swivels well, a riddle of passage.

Last week a waitress gave me
the Senior Citizen's discount
for a cup of coffee.
This morning I was distracted by a list
of the world's 100 best movies.

My mother calls, reminds me: 52 years ago
in Pennsylvania coal country, I was born
a week late with long fingernails,
scratches on my fat red face.
She says my father, confined to the house,
has lost his love of beautiful wood.

My daughter, just out of college,
prepares quiche for my birthday.
My wife vacuums the living room rug.
For now, those I love seem safe.

In day's waning warmth, I come under
the spell of meandering talk
and good music, embrace evening
with full and heavy heart.

. . .


Midday gauze-filtered light
drenches the living room,
its clawed upholstery. The cat
dozes in gray and melts
rug's mute Orient. That body
fills the mandala's whorls,
tail one with pattern's paisley.

The phone rings and you stride
through human air, dodging furniture,
toe catching the unruly howl
of rug that rolls, skitters, ends
upright and clump-still
in the doorway.

The triangular head locks grace
on you quick as the shoe
slammed its twitching side.
So sudden forced alert,
whiskers doubt, muscles curse.
Sleep collapsed rips memory
to pieces. Slight comfort,
refusing to build a life on hope.

. . .


"On the freeway," you say, "we have two choices:
toward the mountains or the ocean. Just that simple."

At the far edge of America, you would have me believe,
four directions vanish, give way to pure sky and water.

Out where the road's not so open, which do you choose?
What do you do when you want both?

Isn't there middle ground somewhere: a field
near your cottage, for example, dotted with roses?

When smoke rises from your chimney which way does it blow?
Does the bay's tide coax it north? The ripple of pine seduce it?

When I hit the coast, which way will I turn to find you?
Off the freeway, shall I wander like a vagrant?

Send me a complex answer. Tell me surf's up
but treacherous, mountains rocky but passable.

. . .


Thumbs up! The cockpit's charged and stocked.
Some Waterloo of sky urges you toward aluminum
sleep, plane whirring through cloud bracelets.

Is it you, Catherine, thumb on the joy stick,
future cerulean as your enchanted
Middle Sea aslosh against a ring of islands?

Colossus of doubt, you fear the pendant
that will zoom you sleepy, leave you
shivering inside night's fuselage.

No lamp or locket serves to spirit you
out of this pressurized Atlantis, whoosh
erasing one day's faint thumbprint.

Copyright 1998 by Ken Autrey

Contributor's Note