At ease, Spaceman. Congratulate yourself

for climbing through the junk of atmosphere.

You’ve arrived — the stars presented on a platter,

the moon white as a flame. Your spoils gleam as crystal.

Every calculation, crunch and heart

endurance test all finally worth

the grime and duress of interstellar voyage.

But there’s the earth just out the pod window

as blue and bright as God and just as mean.

Why, Spaceman, why do we insist on dying?

Your lovers, friends and folks oceans from war,

but you know better. The breath inside this blue

floating lung is glazed with gasoline.

One day, the fireworks. Now, drink the stillness.

Certain hours of a life — tumultuous

by trade — fall darkly as shadow spots, rain

hugging a windshield, a drunk can whipped from

the driver’s side. I’ve raised the blade. I made

the change, but that was years behind: a pair

of glowing tail lights long since blown out. But you,

now living as a crinkled pocket buck,

will smooth soon. The sideviews suggest the worst

is five miles past, where the crooked mailbox hangs.

So break your bag-wrapped bottle like wedding glass

and clink a cheers to brand-new black Hondas,

fresh snow tires, six-disc changers and endless road.

We’ve both been bred to spin our wheels. Collect

the deposit change and gas it. Tonight we ride.

I owe you three more poems but can’t deliver.

The appendix in my hand has just ruptured

a vulgar stain of ink, which now drips sludge

upon my outfit and smears on the page.

Suppose I try to trace some lines before

the mess all dries — the poem forever printed

as a dank tattoo, a generous mess. But I won’t.

Never will a pair of eyes look noble

on my pithy oil spill and feel released,

for I have already died, am already dead.

A body cannot fathom the toxicity

of spoiled ink tossed carelessly until

the liquid, like wet concrete, solidifies

and kills the nocturnes your heart hides inside.

Slug fist and drop, machinery of night

extinguishing the rage which, when at peak,

pours over as a crude metallurgy curse.

Down goes the rat as flat as evening air,

swollen and hot — a gasping eloquence.

Cranking smiles from scum, horrors from the prim,

harrowing as a car wreck scene. I feel

nothing. Not anger hot white nor a fit

of nausea. No square root of catharsis.

Only release is after, years removed

over coffee or in traffic, neutral spots

where the mind revisits scenes dark-lit like cigarettes

in cocktails rooms. Follow your ears. They don’t

lie, the traitors. They reveal in snippets.

A weekend is a freckle on a cheek,

a constellation down the nose, a waterfall

of hair straight down the back. An itch that won’t

quit. A sleep outside on porches and

rank docks with fatherly stars kissing goodnight.

A power outage in the raging heat.

Three years that zip marauding as dark droogs

past memory and fond recollection

to steal. The bottle prices up a dollar,

the music cringeworthy, the faucet leaking

scents you’ll never shake – the twist of heartbreak

in a daze of teenage mock heroics.

I’d drink the lot again and balk at consequence

the way time permits for a mere freckle.

 

Them Coney Island mermaids can’t flash a set

of teeth as wide as yours. You warm as you strut

vibrato like a string section, resounding

in the walls of apartments too small to make a home.

You still do. I’ve the found the barkers and the balloons

of joy — they swim round the corners of your mouth.

Creation blooms inside your eyes and eases

to your cutting-board hands. I still love you,

the way you hang a laurel canyon wreath

around your hair in summer, creeping down

from foothills to city, guitar slung. I listen like

a child on a lap. The coffee place

remembers your smile and has a cup ready.

Simple as a star. Bright as the moon.

Frankly, I don’t blame you, Bill. The vultures

at the papers would’ve buzzed above like saws

until your pruny hands folded at ninety.

The stories would never die. The hawkeye lens’d

fix forever on your wilting smile. So your

swinging exit, as treacherous as it was,

just fits — “A man who died in grief: a martyr.”

 

This town runs full-bellied on dribbling courts

and to hell with those whose greed upset the balance.

You should’ve known, but we can’t grudge it now

in the charred remains of mid-decade finances.

A clear choice — throw a rope and get a building

named for you, else rot in mediocre bronze

until the facts emerge as forehead sweat.

 

We endure your end as marathoners arc

toward promise, first through ribbon, shelf dreams clutched

in pious victory. The crane has come

to raise your name. The dark penance begins.

The forest down the highway has a fire

that decimates the brush, finds the seed again

and plunders on as lurching transformation.

What was that dream in the state park soaked in snow

when the young fawns blinked hello and receded?

You’re in the old Ford again, Curly at wheel

and the other two sighing alphabet games to occupy.

Age 18 or some near variation.

Trotting miles from campus to smell the pines

and listening to learn, to grow — before you knew everything.

 

What is has melted like fields of blue winter

where old deer shrug and drop at hidden barrels.

You’re at the shop again, Ponytail at register

and the fellow clerks hawking pots to pay the rent.

Cold 22 with some lump in your throat.

Sneezing rarely so to hide a bit more self,

and thundering to flee, to find — before your ice dissolves.

Grow up, poet — sink your ship

of desperation and find God in

the grass. Let the leaves breathe yes in your ear.

Reach with dark eyes to loop your joy

with lake summers and garage tetris,

always one arm as lumber for your boy.

 

Settle in with feet upturned,

your pesky yearning discovered like sudden gold

as the heart that beats in your bed, the son who nests

a wall away, the goddamn car even.

Proclaim as a sticky prophet, live like paint

and re-crust yourself. Leave drops along the floor.

 

Fall in now, poet — take your turn

at the schoolyard fountain we’ve named a life.

Allow a tiny flood, even the basement.

Begin to acquiesce and quell a fire,

but light a smaller pit’s worth. Fly on now

and, if a wing collapses, surrender.

Follow the smoke and coffee of AA crowds

down Seventh to the cathedrals and the chapels

where scores of men have fled their haystack towns

and women’s dresses flutter in fields of apples

in visions. Now turn your eyes to drink the scene:

the lens and boot generation thugging against

the fences of life, ever the in-between

and shiftless as dark wind. The money’s spent,

the four-year assault on movement fresh as snow

to hunters. They can’t return, the fidgety throng,

so they turn to trails and drunk Europe. They’ll glow

as bulbs half-screwed and float like errant songs.

The fractured waste of new millennium

is all. Scatter the ashes in requiem.