What Strangers Said

  What Friends Said

  What the Thunder Said

  What's Next

  Any Port In the Storm





Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

                -- Job 5:7



Dulled to miracles, chilled by disbelief,
I drove I-10 West home through the corridor
of dusted eucalyptus, into a headwind of
Stratocasters, Telecasters and Gibson SGs.

Ringing the city, three fires were burning
and the moon rose red. A block down
from the Ivar, whores leaned
against painted trucks and the wailing wind.

Someday even this sad shit will seem precious.

When I took the gun out of its case
in the motel in Twenty-Nine Palms,
I smelled the lanolin from the wool
mixed with the other
oil of the gun, and I thought of you,
across the country, across time, your hair,
all at once how we danced
to “Time Is On My Side”, while the pilings
of The Ocean Pier reached
through sand to limestone,
while the Atlantic broke up.

I drove to the overlook on Mulholland.
A red light ambulance pushed a mile up Western
through the smoke,
like a fissure in the surface of the earth.

I came back down
through Benedict,
to the all-night newsstand.
Now the theaters were dark
with their marquees dark. Now the whores moved
to the storefronts on Sunset,
looking for just the right amount of darkness.

I counted my change.

The out of town papers
were lined up beneath the hanging
clear bulb lights, from city to city,
from East to West, in black and white.

How did I lose you?

I fell to my knees, raised my hands to the appalling sky.

                -- V



Why does a box, painted white,
have such meaning?
And what is it? A farmhouse, two story,
lightning rods on two corners
of the silver roof,
under a half of a moon,
as we go by.

There’s a light in the top back bedroom.
Why do I think
there is a girl there, reading?

Mine is asleep against the door
in the icy light of the radio, of the rental car.

The Divine Comedy is ahead, snow, and telephones.

We had a day to remember,
sweet and scared,
two lane,
the green explosions of trees,
water walking longside the road,
high voltage tower scarecrows,
a third grader doing cheerleader splits
in the ankle-high grass
of her side yard,
Amish in black wagons,
one child posted to look backwards
for the overtaking world.

How she’ll cry. How far away I’ll be.

On a road I don’t know,
hope turns right again and home,
a farmhouse, one out of many,
but blue in this light.

                -- V




Here comes the night, there go your knees
Reaching for the floor. You say I’ll stand guard down here
As she stands in the door,
With a pony on a tether, pulling coal and sugarcane.
There go your knees
And there she goes.
She’s hauling cane like it was gold.

And when she calls upon The Dead,
They stand up in her place, to raise the roof up overhead
And speak out from her face. And fish
Jump in her boat all day and flog your feet like steel.
There go The Dead, out through the roof.
She speaks your name, like it was proof.

The carneys kick the gravel and wait for you
In town, to pull back on the lever and bring the truck
Around. But her fingers on your lips
Are like a penny for a fuse.

And it would take all the world to go.
The town will burn, for all you know.

                -- Joe Henry



After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

                -- T. S. Eliot



Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry –
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there's a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods' excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone's road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you're lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left's no bigger than a harness gall.
First there's the children's house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

                -- Robert Frost



A curve of concrete, slab-sided and flat-bottomed,
where cars could go if we’d let them,
by a wall of windbreak trees, behind the bank.
Ducks pick at something at the edges of what
water there is.

The sky is white. And waits.

Who else stood here? What howled? Who cried?

Two old sisters cross the bridge every day.
A man walks a red dog off leash,
a hand over his head to lead him.
A mother crosses to the juice-stand with a boy,
sad in the middle of a morning
for a reason she can’t name.
Lovers, with the other in their eyes, step on lacy shade.

Even they wait.

In darkness, which most of us never see,
the stunned face of a moon rises,
gives the circling mountains a serrated edge.
As coyotes come down out of the hills
or out from under overpasses.
(There is a gray cat’s forearm in the dirt.)

And wait.

As helicopters beat overhead, red and white
lights, like sparks above a fire.

And wait…

Snowmelt in Winter, runoff from sod farms in Summer,
residuum from stuttering golf course sprinklers,
chased with oil dumped in gutters…

Come the flood, come the flood…

…pushing Von’s carts around the corner,
tennis balls like bleached oranges…

Come the flood…

…Christmas trees and broken chairs…

Come the flood, come the flood…

To change things.

But not today.

It’ll rain tomorrow. Promise.

                -- V



What is essential is invisible to the eye.

                -- Antoine de Saint Exupery

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