Featured Poet

Photography by Gerald Wheeler

Robert Lietz


( Ohio )

After Hours at the Glad Light Diner

     Another midnight ragging the counter down,
another 10 o'clock like midnight, as predictable
as ceiling waves or the wallpaper's alluring turquoise.
He reads the news from out-of-state out loud.
Galaxies splinter to fine light.  And wind, rising
by sleights, rattles the eaves and casings,
obliging two so far, the moon showing a face
through gold-hemmed drapes, and 
this face meaner than a man's 
would wish to be.
     Local time's plenty of universe tonight.  And coffee 
will have its way with his descent, the snowy 
two-lane, south shoulder sloping to creek's flow, 
ice building around smooth stone, 
the up-sloping far side barred with straight-up 
or leaning spindles.   Again 
he'll crane to gulp stars down.  And again the galaxies 
will overturn then clear, seen through breath 
that might confirm a living, easing his mind 
another night of lead guitars and ale,
back and back, en route rollercoastering,
seeing her face as he expects, seeing 
the drawn lines of hair drawn 
finely back for him.
     Ripples close.  And the stone he tossed leaps back up
to his fingers.  Out there, beyond the lake
and river channel, the shoulders cramp, causing
a man to brake uphill, to squint and find
road stretched to the next rise, the shivers of ragweed
fringing the upslope off the water, stars
as breathtaking as the stairs she'd made to seem so
by ascent.  The summers were theirs almost.  
As wide as their next breaths, as the words 
a couple had been counting 
on as futures.
     Not out of chaos but concentration does he call her 
to the Diner, this foreign bride 
who speaks in accents, bearing the secret dark bread 
she's hidden in print skirts.  They eat.  
They speak in gestures.  They resume their chores 
half-dressed and vanishing, ragging 
the counter down, the midnight flowering on driftwood, 
the moonlight flowering on the ice-cutter's 
large-toothed saws and tongs, an obsolescence 
a man outlives, his heart horse-racing yet, 
remembering the snow, leaf and sand 
burials, seeing the practiced lives, 
suffering correction, there 
at the bottoms of dark cups 
a man will take again 
for dreams.

Toward Evening

     It might take years, I think, as it has taken years,
to get the hang of argument, to shake these hints
of hills that seem to breathe at certain angles, transformed,
as they had thought themselves transformed,
these beau old men that fill our evening's air with singing.
To speak a life would not be poetry as such.
But what poem here would do, what small book
interest them, on the screen-closed
or open porches where we sit, indulge 
these partnerships, peopling 
village textures?  
     Italians, Czechs, stocky Germans set a-dance, cobblers 
and shopmeisters, shopping these scenes 
Time's flawed, remembering themselves the stalks, 
the yellow beans and fallow only steps away 
from backdoors, the shapes of eaves and cornices, 
of prayers they left with Easter treats
and Easter wishes.  
     They would not join the sunrise choir as she would, 
repent the words let spin, to get the rough worn off, 
excite this dance of lamps to ask a pardon of the fathers,
to ask of this one more, who brings her flowers 
to the sun porch, than that she speak a word to them, 
and show her face to breeze
that clears the air out under porch roofs, as the memories
rebuild, and the solitary child, crying at her curb,
healed or helped across by someone older, sets 
the mood for triumphing, for the gold-dust bees 
examining our hedges, seeming to doze 
as the moon flutters among then quits
the mixed horizon trees.  
     The dealers in antiquities stand smiling at the signs.  
The silhouette stamped sheep, cropping front-yard grass, 
sense the suburbs closing in on them.  And 
this other love tonight, taking care to be invisible and witness, 
she watches at her draped pane, voicing aloud 
addictions neighbor men prefer to sainthoods, seeing 
the stars out overhead, and stars to come, 
appearing as they're ready, seeing their faces turned 
by what could only be the music, remembering 
lusts, she thinks, in cities deeper than star-dark, 
and shimmering banked clouds, wearing 
the looks, she thinks, men such as these 
try on, the looks of animals, when 
they pretend to sleep.

Ecce Homo

For Ray Hopkins, my wife's brother, who lived and worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts, owned a cottage on Cape Cod, and cared for his ailing mother in Arlington, even while he, without having told us, was HIV positive and experiencing signs of physical decline. The poem deals with a period from December '93 through his death in May '94 and imagines a pot-luck gathering of friends that my wife had hoped to host for him, set in March, and at a location that willfully blends the family home in Arlington that he had had remodeled to facilitate his mother's care and his own home on the Cape. The week after his death, my daughter and I joined my wife who had been there during his last weeks and shared in the funeral service on Monday, 5/30, the funeral Tuesday, the burial in Rhode Island on Wednesday, a Memorial Service on Friday evening on the Cape. On Sunday, 6/5, we participated in the AIDS benefit march in Boston with 35,000 others who shared with us their own griefs and their hopes as well that the victims with us live on.

     There would be boulevards to choose,
and March snow reacquainting strangers,
     a "shapely house" gradually showing ruin,
beheld as memory, turned in the hand
     with attic scraps, with the dreams let go
in shy accomplishment.  The light
     accelerates.  And kids, amused by lathed materials,
beat rhythms home, inviting a poetry
     as rose paper peels away from boards, as
the old glues fail and fields dissipate.
     December, shriveling toward spring.  Boulevards 
to choose.  And light, where light 
     once shared the likes of bodies.  And Death, 
and Beauty in a pinch.  And Death 
     puts on its looter's grin.  And Beauty
does what Beauty will in March,
     taking the stars, the daylit tales to heart,
the rooms to heart still warm
     with winter travelers...


     Was that a '56 Bel Air?  Were these
the feasts of consequence?  And these, because
     we have the need for them, our genies,
our angels after all?  Had we, like prodigals
     come home, coursing the mint-hued light,
figured remodeling against the seasonal
     conscripting drift, finding the old men dead,
the brothers bloodgrim, more wooden  
     and force-fit?  The angels occupy green light,
arriving now, and, being natural, stand with us
     in the green light among the ranks of medicines,
family yet, ( each to each roughed in
     and each to innocence, ) here, because
the malice went for naught, because
     a few lines, yielding form, will have to do
for shades, for the intimacies more snugly
     matched to human motions, directing the eye
from breads, the ear from sounds
     of home deliveries, the mind from vespers
and from matins beverages.  And from
     this music parodied, this poetry surviving kitchen tools
and colors of appliance, stirred here
     in awkwardness, in invitation to odd costume,
so much resembling, so many cast
     as memories survivors rub for luck, texturing
light in the worked yards,
     entering the reconfigured kitchen, the light,
at daylight's end, brightening
     the cupboards and white walls, the floor's
sea-textured hues, entering
     with these the west-facing, repositioned entry
and on these others gathering,
     showing their forms to us, along
this brace of added glass.
     The beef's blade-trimmed and underdone
or done to suit the company,
suit Rhone and cabernet, and the water's chilled,
the juice and fruits and the chablis,
the mood late-breakfasting, the human body
twisted, with no other way to tell,
so many dead, so many accomplished sandwiches,
so many considered streets, inclining
to cool water, having to do without
their springtime elegance.
     An earlier dark imbues these eastern edges
of the time zone.  The calendar's marked,
     checked.  The bedroom's ours another night.
The bed we share, moored
     to southern stars, within this dormered niche
looks over water darkening, and on
     this light we'd swear begins in Provincetown.
We float blue figurings, buoying griefs,
     breezier guitars, two in capable slow-building love,
expecting the dawn light builds
     a way on the Atlantic, and finding the dawn light
builds, showing itself on chimneys
    where the shore-birds roost, filling the sea-grey
rock-grey gaze, finding
     the sea-programmed debris, adrift where sea-winds
concentrate.  And now this winter-keep, 
     this winter-deep, more terrible repertoire,
redrawn again and swept with consequence,
     leaving these maps to trace, these handsome
flirts and bill-laden twilights,
     to chart and covenant, stories that journey
and come back, assuming a place
     on shelves and on the mindfully mended rims,
among the clowning toys,
     restored to function and bright shades, the tops
found spent beneath the maps
     of ceiling stresses, like charts to treasures
he followed home to dreams,
     like birthday tumblers, brought down again
from attics where survivors keep them still.
     A people, used to listening, as old as European brides,
as the grandpas bringing their brides
     to local porches, will let its neighbors sleep
in loudly wondering, as he has left us
     wondering, moistening his lips to speak,
to draw his comely audience,
     declaring his own, their own,
deliberations at the gate.
     He searches us each we think, as if to be believed,
delivering sage and motherlode. 
     As if to be believed required these shaped materials,
and saying how Time's stopped, 
     speaking these names that had been friends, or now 
the names of gods 
     that would not hold still for their pictures. He moistens 
his lips to speak to us. 
     And currents, merciless, that once had seemed benign,
leave his bare arms chilled, 
     his shoulders chilled, somebody's opened yard 
     and innocent.  He moistens his lips to speak, to tell us 
last night's dreams, letting 
     the spirits search the seams of our dimensions, 
the subject dreams 
     and vanishings, lifted and beheld, served here 
among the trays 
     and evening's company, among the sandwiches, 
     the yardviews crossed by every 
breathing thing.
     I see him lifted and beheld.  And see
the book of lyrics, face down, 
     by the fire-screen, explaining everything.
I let that book tell all, twilight
     activate the lamps.  And snow, spilling 
into groves, filling the deep chambers
     as the scales play, the snow itself says
once upon a time, until 
     the absence ramifies, until the wind lays out 
such light and visits latches.  
     He moistens his lips to speak, saying 
the words as one 
     of many acts of faith, such as might be heard 
among the angels visiting, above
     the snarl and buzz of capoed instruments.
Not these blades dropping, 
     signaling further spring.  Not this necklace 
and smoking corpse,
     this news like zone-reports, a generation,
as it seems, like real
      and racing ambergris, pursuing these crusts, 
these sizzlings, 
     this street's seductive balance and retreat. 
Couples like ourselves, 
     pronouncing parts in outlines given to them, 
couples circulate, 
     like poems become the subjects of a study, 
the names of young men 
     vanishing, condensed to boxed suites 
and sorry medleys,
     fit deeply to that center
their mean indenture 
     How little you let us see, commuting
that way between Cambridge and the Cape,
     composing your life as left,
its vivid and crazed materials, the plunder,
     say, we had mistaken
for exhaustion, numbed as we were by light
     and after-travel dreaming,
by this off-ocean grey, meaning this ruin,
     reach through, these restitutions say,
for our mis-reading of the compass.   Maybe
     you just pick up or use your urgency.  
Maybe you just move off, let the slipperiness
     affirm, and let the men towel blood,
lift their own stone tears, let the men discuss
     the looks of corn in other seasons,
as if there had been no time like their own,
     no conditions but their own,
crying aloud for irony or for detachment say,
     leaving these neighbor kids below,
these March streets that seem to sigh and replicate,
     a view absorbed, as much
as roughnecking or seepage seemed to be,
     as the face of a grandmother, bed-fast,
becoming something like, letting her hands
     go lightly, tracing the pension moons,
and tracing the pension custodies.
     Maybe you just move off.  Maybe you stop 
to watch, as alive as these, 
     and these hard-bodied young, a few years older 
than our daughter, at their outdoor exercise, 
     a mirage  almost, perfecting the bloodprint, 
who might have caught your eye, attracting 
     the eyes of boys already scared about themselves, 
thinking to control or risk their hearts, 
     six miles of it today, because we ask these benefits, 
brought out and ushered through such streets, 
     among the jugglers and these performing Asian exercise, 
the choral singers brightening shade, 
     the boy guitarists playing at mid-block 
and the corners, bringing the day ahead, 
     futures ahead more safely shored in their professions.  
Because the benefits  exist.  Because 
     you're nine days dead.  Because you haunt 
the spectral crossings of the city, 
     your name inscribed with these, rainbows of names 
on tilting or on sun-warmed upright boards.  
     Tonight, these ghosts, distracting ghosts to be, 
will make of rooms this marveling, these shades 
     and sheer, like tube-squeezings and sprays of light, 
will enter the olive-shaded float, the huge red eye 
     taking the weather in, leaving to each the street's 
green shame, and leaving to us our own 
     child's voice, become the voice of the next century, 
reading as she must our lives, the risks 
     and measures of delight, telling whatever that was
that made your laughter peel for her, 
     had made your laughter paramount, riding 
the racing thrones, the machinery 
     and local options for equipment, the designs 
and parts that put the villagers to business, 
     inventing the love to say some thing, 
the innocence men in love 
     had drawn upon.

I - Kneaded
II - The Dust of Worry
III - Windy Vowels, Consonant Doors
IV - To Carry Emptiness

Featured Artist - Leslie Marcus

Current Issue - Fall 2006