The Quarry

On a wall of my study a picture
    of a quarry
with high, jagged cliffs like
    the one
my father dove from, just miss-
    ing a floating
pole, he'd told me years later,
    giving me
a wink in the same breath he
    said that
would have been the end of me,
    both
of us laughing in that dim kit-
    chen
despite his drinking himself
    death,
despite the woman who had left,
despite the pockmarks on his
    face
that slowly swallowed him up,
    the black
wings covering him even
as I dialed Lorraine's number
    and
whispered I'd be there with-
    in
the hour, my back turned to
    him
who had given me two of his
    last
four dollars, smoke flowing
    from
his thin lips as he hacked
I would not have to pay
    him back.
 

Copyright © Len Roberts 1997

    Fall

Even the leaves
couldn't keep him from the drink,
October's first cold fall
of reds and yellows and golds
nothing to him at all
except a safe place to drop,
if it came to that,
as he stumbled back from Boney's Bar,
sometimes making it all the wsay to our door
before giving it up and swaying
into the pile I'd raked
away from the fence
to where I'd judged
he might need it most,
like today, looking out at October
again, him twenty-seven years gone,
my son so much like him down there
in the big yard as he leaps
and swims in leaves
I have to shake my head to see
the blond hair instead of black,
the clear cheek, the faultless eye,
but still the stance is the same,
that one-legged kind of dance
he'd totter miles on
when the cold came
and he knew finally his wife had gone
off to Troy with another dark Irishman,
when the bottles leapt like leaves
from the shelves into his palm-open hands
and stuck there with their little hooks
until he'd emptied them and called for more,
and more came, all autumn long,
as the thermometer dropped
with his dollars and change
on the long walnut bar,
only the wind of the barkeep's hand
waking him for the long walk home
in a draft he felt sneak beneath the turned up collar
and down into his wide-open heart
that turned brilliant red and veined
until it, too, had to stop
hanging on and let fall, let fall
 

Copyright © Len Roberts 1997

The Ride Home, March, Wassergass

They're back again, black pads
raised, shiny claws scratching
the air, teeth clamped on what
I don't want to imagine as I ride
home on narrow Wassergass Road,
ready for the fool to come barreling
around a corner half on my side
of the yellow line, ready to honk
the horn, flick the finger,
to slam on the brakes, if he
stops, get out and fight, I'm that
angry this March, unable to sleep
because the spring peepers are howling
in the pond, the moon so full last night
it turned our bedroom into twilight,
the green glow of the digital
clock's hands like the X-ray
of my wife's chemo'd bones,
the marrow sucked out while
she was as doused, the marrow
injected back and still
she was dead within the year,
her blond hair brushed
in clumps until there was
only skull, the yellow
blue bowls of her eyes
I look for in the rear-view
mirror, waiting for the guy
behind me to push
his luck and get too close.
 

Copyright © Len Roberts 1997

    My Job

Last night ghosts appeared
    in the movie,
one on either side of the
    heroine
who knew they were there
    and still
said nothing, just kept
    peeling
the small read potatoes,
    splashing
them into that agate pot
you'd used back on Olmstead
    Street,
water boiling, spudded skins
    dropped
into the garbage bag at your
    feet, my job
to pick up any that missed
    and hit
the speckled linoleum, staring
    at the
bulged veins on your legs, the
    big black
pores, the red-yellow-green
mole above your left ankle
    that faced
out toward where I sat
    listening
to you curse the man on the
    Golden
Eagle bread route, late for
    dinner
again, curse the woman with
    the red
skirt whom I knew nothing
    about,
the hawk of your throat
    forming
the pearl of spit that hung
    on your lips
before it slowly stretched
    to the
steaming edge, suddenly
    snipped,
when you whispered this
would be our greatest secret.
 
Copyright © Len Roberts 1997

    Night Swimming in the Pond

Nights I'd creep from our bed
and open the door with the slightest
    click,
walk down through dewed grass
to the pond whre I'd stumble in,
    careful
on the sharp rocks, the slippery
    clay,
moving among the marsh weeds
as I slowly lowered to my chin
and began to swim, knowing
    the snapper
was there with me, his mouth
clenched on the shreds
of my large carp,
his stone eyes and stone heart,
the eight-inch leathery neck
and baseball-sized head
he stuck out at me once, hissing
all the way up to the driveway
where I was taking the garbage out,
    caught
in that second of sunlight and hatred
when time stopped and only his thick
    shell
moved, slow, hieroglyphed with my own
    little hell
right there in moss-green and brown
    mazes
I knew I could never unravel,
the bone-hard hook of his beak,
his ability to hang on, to not
    let go.
 
Copyright © Len Roberts 1997

    My Son's Words of Wisdom Cup

Barely awake, reading Words of
    Wisdom
on the cup my son brought home
    from college,
Dare to dream, Do what you love,
    No bird soars
too high if he soars with his own
    wings,
I wondered what my father would have
    thought
about all this as he sat those 5 a.m.
    upstate
New York winter mornings dragging
    his Lucky
Strike smoke in, sipped the steaming
    coffee,
the snow outside there now for a good
    three
months, more snow falling, ice on the
    curves
he'd speed his Golden Eagle bread truck
    over
to his pink-bathrobed lover's shack,
    It's all
in the game filling that dim lit yellow
    kitchen
where he coughed and clutched his bad
    heart
one Sunday morning while most of Cohoes
    prayed
at St. Joseph's high mass, no words able
    to help
him then, Believe you can and you're
    halfway there,
The important thing is to not stop
    questioning
an utter emptiness there as he rose,
    his girlfriend
said, to swing at the black wings
    that had
clutched his chest and slowly
    lifted him.
 
Copyright © Len Roberts 1997

    Oval

The pearled, plastic ivory
    cross
gleamed as I listened to
    the chop
and hack down there in the
    dawn
garden, knew here trembling
    fat
arms shook with each dig
    and
stroke, that she'd be
    down on
her knees in the silent
    spaces
to tap the white seeds
    in,
stones whitewashed
in an oval around her
like this picture frame
from
which her face
    looms
out, bloated, diseased,
    half
the hair on her head
    gone,
white hospital tunic
blent so perfectly
    with
her skin I can't tell
    where
one begins, the other
    leaves
off, not like that
    Sunday
morning with sunlight
    beating
the chopper from the
    dark
brown strands, her
    lips
bold red, wedding
    ring
still gleaming
on the hand she leaned
    to the earth
while the other tucked
    and brushed,
not like the coals of
    her eyes
suddenly glancing up
    to
see me all that while
    looking
down, only the screen
    between
that mother and son,
and fifteen feet of
    air
she seemed to fill
as she stood to call
    my
name, lightly, not
to wake the others
    asleep,
brushing dirt from
her hands, elbows and
    and knees,
as though making ready
    to welcome me.
 
Copyright © Len Roberts 1997
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