EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

 

POEMS

by

DaVID JROTHMAN

____________

NINE POEMS FROM ORPHEUS LOOKS BACK

 

 

TO EMBRACE ME SHE INCLINED

Emily and I are in bed. We are naked but it is not sexual.
I am flat on my back, she is on top of me and we are kissing.
It is loving and gentle and so beautiful. I can smell her hair.
It is sweet as always just to hold her, to feel her against my skin.
My arms are wrapped around her. I can feel the length of her firm belly
And her legs, and my warm hands are slowly moving up, around and down,
Are rubbing and caressing her lithe back, deadly birthmark, moles and all.
But something seems strange. She seems a bit uneasy. Distracted. Distant.
Well, nothing too strange about that, I tell myself. I am calm, drowsy.
She was often preoccupied. She was often depressed. Often dark.
But today is different. And then suddenly I realize what it is.
“You’re not really here, are you?” I say. She looks me deeply in the eye
With indescribable sadness from an incommunicable depth,
Slowly shakes her head no, hugs me hard, and vanishes like smoke.


'TIS BETTER

My sons, these times are hard. You watched your mother
Take her last breath between us on the bed.
She fed you with her body and that body
Is now no more than ash and memory.
Now both of you must be as good a brother
To each other as you can, for here
We are, alive, together yet alone,
A tiny fleet upon a wild sea.
You know me well enough to know that I,
Despite a passion for the greater good,
Will not suggest to you our troubles lie
In winds we cannot change. Would that we could,
But that’s a dream. So, keep your distance from the rot,
But don’t obsess on whether love’s worth it or not,
Or what’s too much. So what if love’s a storm? Get caught.



BUT IF I DON'T, WHO WILL?

Not good enough. Not wild enough. Not sweet
Enough. Not long enough. Not strong enough.
Not wise enough, and no chance to repeat.
Not quite enough. Not smooth enough. Not rough
Enough. Not yes enough. Not no enough.
Not big enough. Not small enough. Not fast
Enough. There’s not enough space for this love
And not enough time now or in the past.
You think you know what’s coming but you don’t.
People are more important than ideas.
You think you will remember, but you won’t.
Not real enough, not pure enough, these words
Aren’t even false enough. Or true enough.
And now you’re gone, they are not you enough.


THE SECOND DATE

As the wreck of her once-gorgeous body
Drifted in a dream toward death, I knew
At that same moment our first kiss, the shoddy
Apartment where she lived thus turned into
Not only her place but the point in time
From which she’d work the rest of her life out,
The joys and sorrows, hard work, every dime
We earned and spent, our sons, our faith, our doubt,
And it came clear how then and there she’d made
The most rebellious choice of her whole life
Enthusiastically and unafraid
To help a man learn how to love a wife—
Though as I fumbled with her zipper and my fate
She laughed and said “I don’t do that on the first date.”


ONE LAST CHANCE

Most of my lovers, with my closest friends,
Have said they just don’t get it. And it’s true
I often said that what I planned to do
Was leave. Could not see how we’d make amends.
We broke our vows and marriage only bends
So much. It’s hard to walk far in one shoe.
And yet we limped through years as partners do
When there are children whose whole life depends
On it. Marriage is hard and ours was no
Exception. We both bitterly complained.
Then we were given one last chance to see
How what matters need not be explained.
I learned she couldn’t tell me what she needed, though
She needed it. My love returned and overflowed.
She let it. How strange: cancer set us free.


HAUNTED

This is how it happens. You buy steak,
And while there think about what else to cook.
You think “Potatoes would be good. I’ll make
Some roasted slices. I don’t need a book—
Oven at 400, olive oil,
A little garlic, pepper, salt, maybe
45 minutes on a sheet, or foil,
Check at 30 minutes just to see…”
And then it strikes you where you learned all this.
She used to sigh as you said “Then do what?”
And say “This is so easy. You can’t miss,”
Hand you the knife and with a laugh say “Cut.”
I turn the knob. I hear the oven start.
Now where’s that knife? Oh, here. It’s in my heart.


DINNER WITH MOSE

Jazz was not her thing but she was game,
Although she hated late Coltrane and bop.
When for hours I practiced the same
Bud Powell line she’d finally yell “Stop!”
Or start the dishwasher and leave the room.
I’d get up, turn it off…and keep on going.
Meanwhile, as I learned how to duck the boom
When tacking, what a pliť was, and slowing
My mouth when it was working overtime,
She developed her own tastes. So when
Mose played Fat Tuesday’s back in ’89,
She said “Let’s go.” I know she liked it. Then
We somehow wound up hanging out. Late night.
Em was fascinated. He had killed it,
And she loved his hip demeanor, right
Down to the trembling hands. That hour? He filled it
With stories of a long life on the road.
Her molecular structure warmed, then glowed.


ORPHEUS LOOKS BACK

It’s not as though if he did not look back
The underworld would ever let her go.
Eurydice must always fade to black.
There is no other choice. I know,
You want her laughing, flowers in her hair,
Embracing him, suggesting they make love.
Who wouldn’t? So do I. But I’ve been there
And back a thousand times. I’ve learned part of
What’s going on in Hell is that it seems
So real. She’s present there, persisting in
Herself. She climbs obscurely through his dreams,
Alive, alive as she has ever been.
Now he hears footsteps on the path. She must exist!
He aways turns. She always vanishes like mist.



SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL

Good God, but she was beautiful. I don’t
Mean merely body, whose remains now sit
In a green urn. Only more, that won’t
Comport with simple motion and won’t fit
Inside the visible, shows what she was.
How to say that when I knew her as
I knew her, more than naked, all the laws
Of tenderness compelled me, as love does,
To love her as we slept within our flaws?
Elegant and tender spirit who
Chose me, in that one great rebellious act
Of your clipped life, I see you clear and true
Despite my blindness, gratitude intact.
You were a precious singularity
That I here submit unto eternity.

 

 

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     _________________

 

 

TEN POEMS FROM ORPHEUS LOOKS BACK


IT'S MADNESS

These days it seems the madness is complete.
Obsessed with the impossible, I try
To make it make some sense. This is why:
I dreamed I had the crazy luck to meet
This girl so fierce and sweet she almost shined.
She made time stop and go. She made it fly.
She danced the truth of what it’s like to die
But also said to leave that truth behind.
She speaks my name and smiles, now she’s dead.
She gives me grief but dares me to a test:
“Travel the waste land where you’ve gone and curled
Up like a dog. Find my spring. Drink, though fed
On facts. Then—you can do this—write the best
Damn love poem in the history of the world.”

JACOB UNDER THE RAINBOW

You painted well, just as your mother does.
I keep the watercolor that you made
Of Jacob in the storming street because
It’s real, it’s true, it’s life itself. Things fade,
But not this memory: just one year old,
He wandered, holding his shoe, laughing, through
The door. We were preoccupied, and bold
As barefoot love he made for his rainbow.
“Where’s Jake?” you said. I said “He’s not with you?”
And then we both dashed down the stairs to see.
No Jake. The door ajar. We almost flew.
Now there he stands, with what you wrote to me:
“September 8th, 1995.
Happy Anniversary. I love our life.”

POSTCARD TO AN URN

A day so good it overflows the cup.
Last week’s rains have not ended the drought,
But the dust is down, the rivers up.
Now both sun and flowers are busting out,
The valley floor a mess of columbine,
Phlox, mule’s ears, lupin, bluebells, Queen Anne’s lace.
Politics? Whatever. Town is fine,
Tourists dropping coin all over the place.
Most poems are not joyful, because one
Of the defining qualities of joy
Is that it spends itself until it’s done,
As unconcerned with sorrow as a boy.
I am no boy. The air is crisp and clear.
Oh, Emily—your kind of day. Wish you were here.

SAY IT

When the sadness comes, what will you do?
You need a plan. For it will come, and take
You where you do not want to go, back through
The years to swimming in a mountain lake,
To kisses on a sailboat deck, to mountain
Summits ringed with quaking aspen gold,
To an old, rusty Venetian fountain,
To winter nights in Crested Butte as cold
As…no. No, let it come. Do nothing. I
Say yes. Yes. Yes to everything that was,
From orgasms to arguments, because
Any other move would be a lie.
I ask for nothing. Rather, let me bless.
Blessed art thou, who gave this to us.

A CURSE

Forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive.
That’s where I want to go, what I would do.
But there are days that, if we are to live,
We need to sow some salt to show what’s true.
God forgive me, I can do no less:
“You injured us, and did so at your peril.
I bless our love and curse your wickedness.
I’m undomesticated now. I’m feral,
As the one who held me back is dead.
So yes, I curse you and deny the lies
You told as she lay broken in our bed.
The curse: May you too watch as your love dies.
And when you die, may even Hell not let you near.
Be forgotten but for what I’ve written here.”

 

JUNE 23, 2020

In the photo on my desk they stand
Ankle-deep in Long Lake, Noah on
Her right, Jake on her left. A healthy stand
Of Engelmann Spruce rises dark upon
The far bank to an aspen-grove ridge where
Some small, unthreatening clouds drift down the sky.
Calm water muddies at their feet. The air
Is clear as glass, the way it is up high.
We hiked there, but in less than four months, she’ll
Be dead. One long, thin hand is wrapped around
Jake’s waist, the other is just visible
On Noah’s shoulder. I can taste the sound
And touch the colors. That’s what lovers do.
I will remember this forever. So may you.

MUSTANGS

This is so hard. And yet it must be done.
Because it is the truth. And love requires
Messy honesty. Which isn’t fun.
But beats the fairy tales told by old liars.
I’m not a jealous man, but it was clear
This guy wanted to sleep with her, and she
Was spending one full day a week more near
To him than in those days she was to me.
They’d go and do what I’d taught her to do,
Climb mountains, while I worked. I know that there
Was nothing more than talk. They didn’t screw.
But it was an emotional affair.
We fought. What she yelled made me want to die:
“Well, I have needs that you can’t satisfy!”

Well…don’t we all? Have needs that can’t be met?
By mother, father, sibling, child, friend, spouse?
I did too. And so a choice was set
Before me. Leave my wife, my kids, my house?
Hurt them? Or stay and see it through and try
To work it out? She couldn’t even say
What her needs were. Who wouldn’t wonder why?
A dozen years together. What a day.
I stopped the car and looked back at our son,
Just five, and made my choice. We all have needs.
I met mine. She never knew. It’s done.
But love is strange. Who knows where deep love leads?
Mustangs, we ranged where the shadows lurked.
We loved each other. God forgive us both. It worked.

I'D RATHER BE LUCKY THAN GOOD

In grief more cruel because the world is blameless,
I still cannot resist seeking a cause.
It’s stupid, but I want to know the nameless
Yet real reason she had to die. The laws
Should have been kinder, though that word, “should,”
Is obviously laughable. What strange
Tweak in the monkey brain makes us think good
Things happen if you’re good? We have to change.
No, luck is all that matters. Try as I
Might I can’t see how being more kind
Or loving would have saved her. What a lie.
This stuff can drive you straight out of your mind.
But here’s the thing: I rage and come unglued…
Why, then, do I weep with gratitude?

TEN YEARS BEFORE THE FLOOD

I dreamed she didn’t love me once again,
And woke in silence and a sweat. I had
Been trying to explain something but then
She turned and walked away. A line of sad,
Cold, dark, enormous waves rose up and dragged
Me through our ghostly house and out the door,
Surrounded by tsunami wreckage, jagged
Glass shards, some chairs, a bed, a piece of floor.
I floated, staring into nothing, lost
In sorrow and regret. God bless the muse
Who then descended where I had been tossed
And carried me away. “You had to lose
Your mind,” she said, “to learn how much I care.”
She kissed me then, and vanished into air.

YES, THERE IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO

Imagine a vast desert. Dusk. We are
Alone, the only human beings there.
We don’t know why. It’s cool. We see a star.
We walk, at peace, embraced by gentle air.
A bird flits back and forth. We have heard
Its song before, somewhere. We feel no shame.
The snakes she hated are asleep. A word
Is on her tongue. Perhaps it is my name.
But I have learned the deepest love must be
Unrequited in its passionate
Pledge to another’s solitude. You’re free
When you see that. Can you imagine it?
The moon comes up. Love is everywhere.
Imagine Emily and me, together, there.

 

 

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     _________________

 

NINE POEMS FROM ORPHEUS LOOKS BACK

 

WE DID OUR BEST

She did her best to stay alive. I did
My best to help her live. She did her best
To stay alive. I did my best but hid
From truth, a truth that loomed with its great test
That I put off as best I could. I did
My best, of course, and it was pretty good,
To stay the course and stop what killed her mid-
Life, but, oh well, it didn’t work. I would
Give anything to know if there’s some way
To balance life with knowing what life is.
Dogs seem to have no problem. They don’t say
“Arf. I refuse to give to death what’s his.”
But screw it: I’m no dog, mystic or saint.
Let it be said that I showed no restraint.


YOU KNOW

What to do with the king bed, that lighter,
Shray’s brass sculpture and the bright green shirt,
Each slowly fading through each day and night, or
Not, though all of them will turn to dirt
Some day, I guess. And what to do with rings,
Books, sketches, notes, the ukulele, freedom,
Regret, boots, videos in which she sings?
How do you live, and live in a museum?

“Wait. Wait. Remember when I said to wait
A while after I die and then go out
And live? I know I had big problems saying
How I felt, but I meant that. Don’t doubt
Me or yourself this time. Weren’t you paying
Attention? I know that you still like…you know…”
That laugh. “Keep some. Then trust the rest to luck.”


BRIDE OF DARKNESS

To make the invisible appear, I labor.
Under the bright star where it’s possible
To meet the dead in words that transform paper,
I summon a sweet ghost to drink her fill.
To balance tiny bits of time and matter
Against the infinite abyss in which
Even molecular vibrations scatter,
I wield a pencil that makes zero rich:
She loved life and brought more into the light;
She knew love and was known beyond your never;
She wept and fought with demons late at night,
Yet when she danced her life became life’s lever.
So, Darkness, bring it on. Do what you do.
You cannot win. For now she’s your wife too.


TO LIFE

To life. To the lovemaking and the wine.
To our sweet sons, the mountains where we walked.
To every single flaw, both yours and mine.
To every single time we ever talked.
To the way you shaved your lovely legs,
So flexible, one foot up in the sink.
To how you only ate the whites of eggs.
To your anxiety about each drink.
To all of it. To everything, the kisses,
The shoveling, the jokes you couldn’t tell,
The fights, the making up, the hits and misses,
The blessed days when everything went well.
To every minute, hour, day, week, month, year.
I cannot say it all, but it is here.


FOR MY FRIENDS

You have to act as if it all is meaningful,
Something those who love you say is true,
Until meaning returns, coming through
In its sweet time, responding to the pull
Of something hard to name, like gravity
Reasserting itself on a ball,
Or what a lost child feels hearing the call
Of someone who loves her from far away.
Here, through an autumn afternoon there walk
The living, with their love. It all surprises.
The ashes settle, then there’s drinks and talk,
And like a curious fish the spirit rises.
Someone cracks a joke. The cat’s asleep.
Food’s good. It all makes sense. You start to weep.


SOMETHING MORE

Once, when boarding an airplane, walking slowly
Down the aisle and enough behind her so that
Other passengers didn’t think we were to-
Gether, chance tossed a truth that had been hiding
Right in front of my eyes, a truth of beauty,
Something more of the depths. I’ll never lose it:
She was wearing a sweater, jeans, no makeup—
Rarely did—and of course the men were looking,
If discreetly, above their books and tablets,
Curious. Nothing new there. It was the women
Doing something I’d never seen: veiled daggers,
Rarely shown to a man, of envy burning
Like a flare in the night of eros. I could
Almost read their resentful minds: “You bitch-whore...”
She, as always, was unaware of strewing
Such confusion. So when we took our cheap seats
She said “Why are you laughing?” And I kissed her.


THE ICEBERG KING

How does he do it? Ounce by ounce, his home
Is melting, yet he sits upon the ice,
A naked, perfect king holding the throne
Of days, laughing and singing “Paradise!
I have my song, I’ve paid the purchase price,
And now I’m bound for warmer oceans, where
I know I will abandon every care
To water, melting back into the sea…
As if it matters…” And now he is sad.
He remembers how she could not be
Herself, how arabesques could drive her mad,
Her fights with sister, brother, mom and dad.
Her roast chicken. The birthmark and its shame.
Weeping now, he starts to carve her name.


YES

100 years before, it would have been
Mere fiction, and a hundred before that
Unthinkable—my people to hers sin
Incarnate, hers to mine unclean. But at
This end of time it came to be, across
Eons of hatred and misunderstanding,
Centuries of violence and of loss,
Silence, cunning, exile, famine, branding,
That back on planet earth we two could see
What clearly was invisible above.
Give me my sin again. It set me free.
Love conquers all. Let us, too, yield to love.
If life’s a riddle, we made a good guess,
For when I asked, yes, she said, yes I will, yes. Yes.


THAT IS WHEN I SAY THE BLESSING

When time is crushed. When everything is dark.
When emptiness is all I am caressing.
When nothing seems to live or leave a mark:

When loneliness transcends the arc of words.
When every memory begins undressing.
When reason scatters like a flock of birds:

When love has shattered like a hammered crystal.
When fire weeps and rocks begin confessing.
When every dream looks like a loaded pistol:

Strange how some words carry what they weigh.
Speak them. They do what they say. It is a blessing.

 

 

 

 

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