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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aachen

The river will soon speak
In fire and blood.

Until it does
It sleeps.

On the far bank
Men shelter.

Rifles, like branches
Jut in frigid air.

Bayonets, like thorns
Thirst for blood.

We wait for dark
To cross.

When night falls
Men will die.

Snow mantles the earth
Evergreens drape in its freeze.

Beyond the far shore
A shattered steeple pierces the gloom.

War has two seasons:
Dying and waiting to die.

We will lay down covering fire
Soon.

They will answer
Bullet for bullet.

We will kill them.
They will kill us.

A body floats face down between the banks
Its uniform uncertain.

But I know who he is.
He is all of us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Communion

Her eyes stunned me.
I was without words.
They had never failed me before
But they failed me that day.

I learned some truths.

All true communication
Begins in the eyes.

All true communication
Is rooted in communion.

You may not have both
But you must have one.

If either one
Or both fail
Communication will be difficult
But possible.

If both are intact
Conversation is not required.

Without saying a word
She taught me those truths.
And though we have not had contact
For many years
We still have communion.

I can shut my eyes
And vividly see again
The fire in hers.
I can still see
Every single fleck
In her iris’s
Can still see more deeply
Than her biology
And into the core
Of whom she was.

That being true
What did it matter
The things said by
Our lips?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cathy Died

Cathy’s desk was moved
To the back of the room
And draped in purple bunting.

The teacher made a short
Terse announcement:
Cathy died.

Cathy.
The sweet
Little round-faced girl
With freckles
Who always smiled
Always had nice things to say.

Cathy died.

There were no panels
Of counselors
To help us grieve.
It was simple and direct.
It was the first
Among my many encounters
With Death.

Cathy died.

Now open your math books.

I was eight years old.
More than half a century later
I still see Cathy’s desk
Buried in bunting
At the rear of the room.

Eight year olds do not die.
Unless they do.

Cathy died.

And somewhere
In my little child brain
We all died a little bit
Between the Pledge of Allegiance
And Arithmetic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Apricot Moons

I listen to my pony’s breathing
Feel her hooves against the cold river rocks
Her muscles working
As we cross the shallow stream.

Blowing steam from her nostrils
It rises and dissipates
In the chill autumn air.

I mindlessly slide a hand
Along her silky mane
Telling her she’s a good mount
Assuring her we both will find rest soon.

I’ve a little jerky in my pouch
A little coffee
And far too many thoughts
Regrets
Too much to dwell upon
Along the banks
Of so placid a water as this.

In a few minutes
I will picket my pony
In the tall grass along the bank.

I will tuck into a likely place
My back against a big rock
Brew my coffee
Chew some jerky
Heat some beans
And watch the evening stars play.

A man alone is a dangerous thing.

It’s a dodgy matter
Being alone with memories
That challenge even the most sturdy soul.

She is somewhere behind me.
Somewhere beyond my left shoulder
Just under that rising apricot moon.

I still hear her breathing, too.
Feel her muscles working
My hands in her long hair
As I tell her all will be well soon
Tell her she is a good woman
That all I need do is cross
One more river
And very soon we can rest
And settle into a new life
In the tall grass
In the rich prairie
Along a slow river.

But that was a long time ago
And many miles distant.

Damn these thoughts
Damn this jerky
And damn those distant stars.

Sometimes
A man ought not stop
Ought not think.
Sometimes
A man is better moving
Until he cease looking over his shoulder
At apricot moons.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Her Arms

She loves snows
Relishes winter
With the enthusiasm
Of a child
Huddled within sweaters
Scarves and mittens.

Hot chocolate is
To her
As wine
To the sophisticate.

She lights candles
At Christmas
Promising there would always be
One lit for me
Every holiday season.

It is right
She so love winter.

Her love is frozen in time
Glistening
Like December ice
Sparkling
Like tinsel on trees
Flashing
Like nativity stars.

My mind runs to her
When I see
Children sledding
Snowball fights
And twilight walks
Down bright holiday streets.

This year
I will open my coat
To the chill
Embracing winter
As though it were
Her arms
Pulling at me
Laughing in my ear.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nothing But Honor*

Pinning
His battle ribbons
Upon his lapel
I stepped away
From the casket
Came to attention
And in the soft light
Saluted my father.

Honor answering honor.

Lying before me
Was the body
The casing
Of the man
Who gave me
A name
Who provided
A model
Upon which to construct
A life.

The tri-folded colors
He served
Rested near his head.

I held my salute
Long moments
Finally
Slowly
Stiffly
Returning my hand
To my side.

Later
Would I tell him
I loved him.

Later
Would I thank him
For his love.

But my first debt
Was one of honor.

I saw my father
Laugh
Saw him
Angered
Frustrated
Happy
Saw him
Kiss my mother
Saw him
Weary
But I never
Saw him
Fearful.
He had to have been.
But he never let me
See him
Shiver.

Honor.

That which lay before me
Was the vehicle
That transported my father
Across eight decades.
It was scarred
Worn
And thin.
But it accomplished its purpose.

Honor.

When I left him
In that military sod
I took away nothing
But memory
And left nothing
But honor.


* My Veteran's Day tribute to my father, Cpl. H.L. Woods, Co. C, 1st Army, 2nd Armored Division ("Hell on Wheels"), serving from North Africa, the Normandy Landing, and on through France, Belgium and Germany.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Personal to Nic E....

Thank you for your comment on Erosion. I would be pleased for you to try to put some music to it. I'll be interested to see what develops! And, thank you for reading my poetry by e-mail.
~ James

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Erosion

You struggle
To recall my face
Although my eyes
You cannot forget.
In them
Is remembered fire.

My embrace
Could be that
Of any other
With the exception being
I held you in more
Than mere arms.

I held you in hope
In promise
I held you with purpose
And no other has ever
Touched you like that.

Time is a teaser.
It whispers my name
But takes away my face
Remembers my eyes
But robs you of my smile
Returns my words
But erases the sound
Of my voice.

It is disheartening
What time does
To erode the passions
Of remembered love.

How do I know?
Because it has done
The same
To me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Wood, Hay and Stubble

Into the mind of every man
Who has labored
Under the sun
Comes the notion
That all is not permanent
All is at risk.

The growing fear rises
That a man’s hands
Cannot form a single thing
That can testify
The laborer was here
Was significant
Had merit.

A man’s hands
Become leathery
Calloused and cracked
After a life of endeavor.
It seems fair trade
For an honorable life
Fair trade
For value.

But a swelling apprehension
Rises like bile
In the throat
That there can be no
Assurance
That anything may stand
The test of time
That all may be but wood
Hay
And stubble
When tried in the fire.

With time running out
A man's hands work harder
Work longer
Hoping the application
Of a little more
Of the same old stuff
Will make a difference
And assure his legacy.

But the sun sets
The hands ache
And the head turns restlessly
Upon the pillow
Hoping for one more day
To add just
A little bit more.

But the clock ticks
Relentlessly.
And so the story goes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Outside the Cafe

What were you thinking
That afternoon
Outside the cafe?
Your eyes
Did not betray your thoughts.

Your smile
Was pleasant
But reserved.

You shook my hand
And I thought how odd
Knowing soon the formality
Would evaporate
Like dew upon a morning petal.

Your voice
Was well-modulated
A business voice
Offering simple truths
Pretending interest.

You sat opposite me
Across a Formica table top
Leaning into your chair back
As far from me as possible.

Before the leaves dropped
So would all pretense.
Before the snow flew
So would all reserve.
Before the spring grass grew
So would love.

But what were you thinking
That afternoon
Outside the café?