Plain corrugation of clouds: amber, midwest, underlit, proceeding stately above the empty con-tower. Dark panes like sunglasses looking down on runic lines of tar written into cracked tarmac. Warthogs and Hueys dismissed from the apron: cut up, mothballed, or sold to convenient friends. Trucks parked in the last standing hangar and beset with sparrows.
Behind new chain-link, jacks and backhoes have pulled down the terminal into shoals of cinderblock and linoleum, sprouting rebar. The remnants beholden to rising goldenrod, sawgrass, and the province of blackbird and red fox.
Wind folds around standing antennae, through spaces between so many tools of an old trade, while calm radiates with the day’s heat. That which accompanies obsolescence, with a state of waiting: to be removed, to be resolved according to current affairs, our fears having shifted to a new imminence, and our new responses employed.
She is a pointed Artemis, surveying and holding over the dusk median of I-70 in suspension, patience. The taillights trailing away blood lit. Her flight framed in the pulse and stream of traffic. Hovering, her splayed primaries caught in rushing high beams. Flagging me off from her province, miles long and scant feet wide. She is hunting in the margin between come and gone.
While she is poised beside the diluted moon in my side window, I hope for her the narrowest of blessings: a sustaining prize In the steppe of state-mown ryegrass. Her quarry sheltering in tires, cups, boxes sagging, Stained shirt or shoe: the interstate mouse, the pecking starling, Red-eyed cicada or dusty shrew. May she take them with reflex and expert eye, wary of fast disaster close on either side.
In the preened cul-de-sac, one house built before the rest keeps a rural semblance. Some paint peels. A swaying small barn is attached. A bare oak hails from a medium of ripe weeds.
Junes, a cashbox and table stood in the grass streetside, presenting, undeclared, several jars of candescent honey. Over the days they disappeared. Some stolen. Some sold.
By July this year there is no table. Instead by the curb a cardboard square: Sorry Dead Hives. The civil habits of the vehicles and houses proceed in busy disregard.
What is the margin between communion and collapse? Our residence is a tight bargain. Inside the frame of pale walls, there is some manna, and some latent blight.
Every host builds its dependent cells, which, untended, may bring latent blights to flower.
Seared under smeared sun July hulking in plastic pot green-black dusk watered by crashing gutter washers the tomato plant manages to stand hunched on fibrous stalk holding out spotted leaves as if in meek plea but bearing still some few fruit round of a shining yellow.
Each day one or two small fists of promise that mostly vanish overnight plucked by raccoons who leave black mocking footprint trail across deck boards or dropped by the wind to concrete below.
So this one that I manage to pull from hard stem and hold small and palm warm sour and tough though it will surely be is the prize beyond any keeping past now.
"...of course, I disavow and condemn them."
I will become milk, and in a bowl will mix myself
with ash to make a healing poultice
for conscience or memory.
I will remove my rested heart and place it
on the road shoulder, to aid a traveler
in need of repair.
I will walk before the stores and churches
and open my wallet and let the birds
fly out to roost wherever they see fit.
I will pray we each may shoulder a humbling burden
one we hold around us as a sign
of no harm intended.
I will stand with the cornflowers and sawgrass
in the field, and wave at the glowering
aircraft as they pass above.
I will fill the cracks in every rotting foundation
with my fingers, and intend to do so
until the rain stops.
I will weave a flag of creepers and fallen leaves,
starred with shining insects, and fly it unseen
in a forest of disputed territory.
I will learn to speak every language but this one
and will change the color of my tongue
for each in turn.
The posts set straight once, stayed upright long enough to outlast the cows, now straying from vertical and splintered gray.
The course along the pasture grown over in chokecherry and gorse. Wires red-brown and soft with rust, but still up, mostly.
Pointed coils spaced one foot each along three lines in rhythm and wavering pitch. No longer keeping anyone out of anywhere, just keeping time.
All that past effort for tidy division splayed and breached. Every measure between posts has since caught some evidence of weather or passage: milkweed husk, knots of grass, feather, clotted hair of deer and coydog. Odd notes, hung on the staff of a score composed slowly by season, played by crickets.
The roads in these farm lands run along the rules of vector and radius. Reaching small towns, they become brittle and hollow streets, which bisect mostly hard standing structures, emptied, made of brick or wood, containing occasional persons.
Between each road and town, the green areas are conscribed and managed, more or less according to practices of profit, chemistry, and using appendaged machines. Fields rest, divided by standing or leaning fences, and walls of stones, upright or stumbling along.
Property is purpose in this landscape. Docile animals, populating low barns, or standing in squared spaces, sway in the weather. Wheeled machinery, red or green, for inscribing, medicating, and culling from the swaying earth, churns and labors, or idles.
Land of collection: the standing or swaying animals, vehicles in care or decay, wheeled toys upturned, fading in the weather, appliances agape, furniture from a near or distant room, presented on the land, presided over by insects from the fields, and guarded by harping birds.
Arranged around small metal houses, or old wooden houses, outside doors and windows: all these possessions, settling down and into the used earth each particle with each rain, as though it all might soon be subsumed, determined for a particular moment to germinate, and grow new.
These words could be written in the border margin of a map rendering the assembled counties of Ohio. The page in the bare sun presented to the reader’s eye on the side of a county road wavering in the green heat.
The road ahead meandering and inscrutable, nameless, as all roads to themselves are, bisecting farms and woodlots: homes of creatures domestic and feral. The reader perhaps a pilgrim, expatriate or lost, and as such, in hope of bearing.
This map could resemble dissected arteries and organs: the topography of a peculiar creature rendered for study. The lines surveying a foreign anatomy of township, like a confounding specimen: illegible, though exposed.
As these words are written, the page of this map could be attended by a dragonfly marked red and blue: nameless to itself, born of connate ponds and fields. The clear panes and regions of its wings bordered in black.
Like roads on a map, each arterial line housing a lens, now held over the routes and destinations in red, blue, green, and black. The projected lines, the compass rose now legible, the bearing clear, as if foreseen, the way forward open and understood.
Having moved with her family to Kansas from Wisconsin woods, by way of Missouri, but before her father's lease on the new farm was revoked for lying on the Osage Diminished Reserve in her early girlhood, she waded through the bluestem grass, trying both to sway, and to stay upright.
Behind the gray-brown house, she found nests of fleeing mice, who ignored her apologies and appeals to come back. Quail too, launched from their hatchlings, leaving them to scatter under the thatch and in her chest, she could feel the percussion of wings.
And once, ferrets—which she scared off with her careless steps, and they were like threads of a dream: traceless, slippery in the dim light under the grass and almost gone before one knew they were ever there.
Everything leaves, she thought: grasshopper, milkweed seed, V of geese —pushed by wind, cold, hunger or a shadow beyond reckoning.
’68 bike ride home from supper at Davey’s house. It’s Friday night: hot dogs, Spaghetti-O’s and Chips Ahoy. In the front wheel of my Stingray, a clothespin holds a ball card. The fading yellow beam of a big chrome watchman’s friend, Wobbles duck taped to the chopper bars.
Down the driveway and the D cells quit. No high beams oncoming. No streetlights to race under. No possum eyes or porch lamps, I’m piloting just by crickets, thrush song, tire buzz and infinite happy blindness.
Which, as I lift my hands free as wings, slips into foresight: Mom and Dad will die someday, then me, then my sisters. All will roll away into murk and vacuum. No birdsongs, stars, Laugh-in, no Hot Wheels.
There is only now, and the sudden ache for the lamp light over my desk, after the climb up the long hill to our garage, So steep I have to get off and walk every time.
The six-point buck stands fastened in the driveway in full morning summer light candid in place no reticence tension recessed effortless in the pull of his senses drawn evenly from the hollow cover of brush, to lilies and cosmos bedded and ripe all the frantic birds in early commerce homeowners marching down the plain sidewalk towed by dogs the outbound flight close growling overhead and a dreadnought passing train beyond the trees while in herds traffic bellows toward the city.
Inside and Out
Even with clouds slipping over us
from the west and the old snow
waiting to be interred beneath
its new kith.
Even with the cold so dry our hands
crack like pottery.
Even with the drudge chores
of the house waiting to be taken
in hand again.
Even while the trees outside creak
in the cold, and stones near the creek
sit frozen dry, while small creatures
interred beneath them are curled so tight
they sleep like stones.
Even with the water in the soil frozen
into thin stems that push up bits of earth
like fists of grey flowers.
Notice that each afternoon the light
stays a minute more.
Notice the baroque frost reaching out
across the window like some painter’s
Notice the small lamp staying on
in the corner of the warm room
waiting for you to come sit close by.
W.S. Gilbert was a fixture at Father’s table, where he made, some whispered, advances to Mother that were as cleverly expressed as they were improper in design. Ellen Terry presided at the Christmas theatricals Father produced for the children each winter, her beauty refined and enlarged in old age. And Father was knighted in 1909 during the run of Twelfth Night at His Majesty’s. Playing Malvolio, he spoke of how greatness comes, and the people rose and silenced him with their applause.
The question for a child growing up in these theaters was, always and emphatically, whom to be, and young Iris addressed herself to this question with deep misgivings, as it seemed that all of the roles had been previously assigned. So, at age 16, in a second-class coach from Wolverhampton, Iris cut off nine inches of her hair (her luminous, red-gold, Pre-Raphaelite hair) and left it, a strange bouquet, on her seat when she emerged at Paddington Station.
That was the summer at Bognor, back in the dunes, when Iris at nineteen held in Nancy Manners’ Kirby Grips a tiny smoldering ember of hashish wrapped in a strip of The Telegraph, (Father called it The Tory-graph) inhaled deeply and waited, as Nancy vomited on the sand, for what would come. Some aspirant boy had bought it for them from an Algerian at the docks, and Iris was expecting arabesques, but what came, along with the sense that her peripheral vision had contracted, was a series of aperçus. First, that unlike sexual experience, which was a wanting that could result in a having, aesthetic experience was a wanting of what never could be had. Also, that the odds against living the dreary conventional life of her time, place, and class were so laughably, implausibly bad, that her own escape must be treasured—consciously, actively, treasured—for the singularity it was. Further, that time was inescapably subjective, that growing up was a growing away, and that her hair was certainly her best feature. These and a good lot of rubbish that only made sense at the time.
During his years in New Orleans Longstreet pursued several commercial ventures including the sale of insurance and membership in the city’s cotton brokerage, either of which, before the war, might have brought him a comfortable return. But the General, who had known command in a different world, was too blunt and naïve for the scarce and subtle business of those post-war days, found his means reduced, and wrote letters seeking accommodation of his debts. His penury, of course, remained both private and a matter of degree, since he was a man of modest habits. He was discomfited, then, each of the several times there was a knock on the broad door and the servant revealed the caller to be a veteran of his Corps: one who had fought at Antietam perhaps, or Fredericksburg, and now was seated before the General threadbare and gamey, and bragging that he had “just killed me a Yankee.” Even settled deeply as he was in the good chair’s horsehair cushions, Longstreet recoiled as he recognized the false boast to be coded beggary. Still, he would find for the man a bag of food from the pantry and walk with him to the hall. But after setting him out with farewell and exhortation the General would turn inward with dismay at the frailty of the renewed Union, and apprehension at the reckoning of his name.
The coyotes nightly move in twos and threes across the black backyards and along the fences in the townships of Ohio, within earshot of the beltway. Picaroons, ragged and dauntless, robbing dinner bones from the trash, pillaging the odd suburban chicken or the family cat, and pausing under the streetlight.
Whereupon, seen from say, the kitchen window by a woman in the grip of night clothes and insomnia, the police are hailed, the media are primed, and by morning the public is duly warned: Lock the heirlooms and flowers! Back up your files! Buy bread and gasoline! Are your vaccines up to date? Stay tuned for more fascinating dangers!
But we need these transient crimes, alien as they are from human code. We may augur terror from the scat on our lawns, yet is it not right and true to have a few interlopers shambling among us, while we are retracted and reposed? They take their tariff, hold morsels of our security in their teeth, hold the dark open, and lightly prance away.
Dust giant in the field behind the superstore, rising in the late sun over offices in the strained wind, built from worn air. The ambitious heat rises, spins and strides away, across the access roads, away from a tangle of derelict shopping carts.
Chrome baskets piled into an architecture of rusting discard. Wheeled feet splayed up in the dry weeds. The latticed tenement of voles and crickets, of perched starlings, impatient crows and spiders squatting.
A cross-hatched catch fence for coupon flyers, flayed cardboard, erratic plastic bottles. Chaff and leaves collect at the feet of small flowers. Wind, in discordant song, plays in the geometry of bent steel wire and small creatures.
Dusk wanders slowly into the space left by the wind. Lights from cars and parking lot reflect from the junk, onto shy hares, possums sidling through hairy grasses. A jaded, tattered fox passes in evening transit. All these residents in the business of procurement.
Gleaning for themselves, across the bound, meager landscape. Enough, or nearly so.
Black rat snake soaking in yesterday’s pavement heat rising under the standing lights in an empty parking lot. Behind the box store, she is innocuous, disguised as a shred of retread, a cable, or lost tie down. In a landscape of gray scale and litter, in a grid-laid plain for waiting, she is the purpose-built anomaly: reflecting darkness, curving in stasis, antithesis of tar.
In a cowflop field up the Trebo road, Old Gassett has a hundred or more, piled and scattered. Uprights mostly, players, a few busted baby grands, a battle plain of the excoriated, decorated old soldiers culled from barns, emptied from parlors, unsold from estate sales, left-behinds from foreclosures or auctioned off clans grown and moved. They are long-toothed, exhausted veterans of kids’ scales, booze breath sing-alongs, carols for the deaf grandmother, and the waltz, the rag, the boogie-woogie, Broadway and the tuneless wanderings of sleepless fingers in the dark.
It is senseless work, making this collection. Gassett yanks and swears, levering them onto the dolly up the ramp to the trailer for the ride behind the pickup up the hill. Camp now to mice and wrens, once prized ebony lacquers now mottled. Standing with splintered, warped tops like wrecked tuxedo socialites, tilted and reeling, wearing sprung collars and spattered with insults from pigeons and bats. Gap toothed smiles leer from curved keyboards held in skeletal frames.
Gassett says he’ll invite everyone he knows up to see when he decides its time. Grill and swill. Haul ’em all to the middle, huck in a gallon of kerosene. And chuck on the smoking end of a Swisher Sweet. We’ll stand clear of the crashed chords, singing strings, moans of failing joinery, skyward flailing sparks and the chorus of perfect ash, And howl with joy at all noise, light, and upward endings.
Robert Smithson is stuck in traffic on 278 just west of the Goethals bridge, crossing the river into New Jersey, November, 1967. The sun is meek and low, so the windshield glare is slight, but enough to wash the tanks of the Philips refinery faintly blue. He sits on the vinyl of a Plymouth, which sits on an arc of concrete. He turns off the radio. The other interchanges curve into knots across and above the scarred marsh, each causeway posted over the mud on staunch legs. Crawling yellow machines below slog along a temporary road lugging loads of sand and stones to the site of a new ramp. Under their tracks, the earth is gracefully rising, then ending like a question about the difference between a monument and a ruin. He waits in an interruption, among cars, trucks, the blue exhaust gracefully rising, gasoline and afternoon slowly burning away.
By the time we are able to know their green past They are hard-edged and drained of suppleness, semblances only of once high rare residents, Now they cling to the hard sources of their days. Swaying in the risky air, their landscape becomes strange. Season and light shifting away, we wait hopefully with them for some final bright gestures, but pray at least, Since they are after all, our parents, That we are present to bear witness. That they not descend unseen, or in darkness, at our passing feet
Striated, creased, scarified and peppered, along your hardened skin. Knotted at every joint. Stiff bent body held pointed on tibiae like splinters Standing stuck along a wall near to home in some sumacs and ashes. Ancient in form and purpose, built now only to play the part of a dry appendage atrophied past use, cast down by means of recent storm. Swaying in place as if to an aura, as if from a palsy, as if demented, or as if to focus your weak eyes on a welcome shadow. Near to a ghost in your single season, and scarcely there even in the open. About to step off toward some solace hidden out of the sun or stooping wings. Each movement articulated rickety as if mocking an old dance.
Mark Luebbers teaches English at an independent school outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. He has written poetry sporadically all his life but has become serious about the discipline and more ambitious about publication in recent years.
“Like the subjects of these poems, I’ve lived most of my life on the border between the natural and ‘manufactured’ worlds, as I suppose many people do today, and find it a confusing, frustrating and fascinating way to live.”
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