A Poem for Tracy K. Smith

  What does the storm set free?
        Spirits stripped of flesh on their slow walk.
— “The Speed of Belief,” from Life on Mars, by Tracy K. Smith

So we both lost our fathers,
your Floyd William Smith, 1935-2008
and my Richard Alan Sharp, 1936-2007,
both engineers, yours worked on the Hubble
and mine on the fuel cell for Gemini in the 60s.
You think of the soul wandering, a man
without country, spinning,  perhaps to touch
down on Earth again, through you,
while I imagine the soul, or something
like one, fueling a distant star cluster
with a power that could only be love.
And so I am left to look at you, wide-eyed
with hair exploding like a supernova,
and believe I see him there, too,
in your smile, seeing through your eyes,
your father who looked to the stars,
toward my father, burning in the night.

Tell Me What You See, Mistress Moon

Mistress Moon, I feel your million-mile stare
over my shoulder as I cross the black plain
of night, but my weak Earth-bound eyes only
see the dumb grin on your pock-marked face.

You are the shape and heft of light and its absence.
In your wax and wane we know death and birth
and the mighty tug of sea-tide and womb-blood.
Tell me what you see in your blue-white sight.

Mice scurrying across the wind-spun snow,
the red-eyed wolf, the faint glow of my heart,
more ash than ember? Can you penetrate
the caul of deceit that smothers me, beneath

to the field of tiny stars tattooed across my chest?
Have you missed your mother these four billion
years, or did you long ago turn your best side
away from her, toward the cold fires of eternity?

Baghdad

Everyone had this strange compulsion
to pause like minarets in the ritual wind
and listen

because they were convinced
that the tautness could not go on
indefinitely

that some day something had to happen
that much was certain but what form
the release

might take could only be guessed at
and lying out on the roof at night
under the stars

I strain my ears trying to imagine
I hear perhaps in the direction of
Arbataash

the faint sound of voices calling
but it is always the presence
of silence

broken now and then by a sleepy rooster
crowing on some distant housetop
or a cat

wailing in the street below or a truck
far out on Mosul Road
backfiring

bang bang
it coasts down the long hill to the Tigris
fertile old giver of life.

February-March 2003

Haibun: April 3, 2016

All Around You

In a world without end, anywhere you stand must be the exact center, but no more so than for the bee hives or the raspberry patch or the old white pine that lost big limbs in last week’s storm. The snow seems to be coming from all directions at once, like the stars of an expanding universe in reverse, so it doesn’t really matter. This world is all around you, but it is not all about you.

it is still snowing —

little pieces of the sky

falling on my head