Poems


Autonomy


I don’t claim to be no renaissance man

Dancin' through life, doin’ the best that I can.

Jack of some trades, I’m the master of none,

Living my life 'n just having fun.

Sittin’ ‘round thinking ‘bout right ‘n ‘bout wrong,

Making up poems 'n singing my songs.

I like to cook, ‘n I just love to eat!

Play my guitars, Man! This life is a treat!

I like drinkin’ beer     I enjoy sippin’ wine

Love bein' with my wife. 'n every day is just fine!



Verses from the Lake


A dove, feathers puffed out like a softball 

Against the fog and chill near the shore,

Belies its mythos of 'Peace'

By charging, wings-raised, at a chipmunk

Encroaching on her sacred space 

Beneath the bird feeders.

 

A Pileated woodpecker, 

Perching on a tired birch tree,

Drops more suet than she eats 

To a waiting scarlet-capped Crossbill

New to the vicinity and obviously

Happy just for scraps.

 

Harbinger is the ‘word-of-the-day’.

The north wind whispers
To the assembled multitutude, 
“Winter days are a-coming!
Shhh, Shhh, Shhh!"

***

In the foggy Minnesota morning

Just outside the cabin door

A single silent wing flap

Atop an oak tree at the shore.

An eagle rises in the autumn sky

Till the eye can no longer see

The epitome of Majesty


***


Two eagles arrive just before dusk

As we sit lake-gazing, wine in hand.

They silently appear, wending their way

Into the shoreline trees.

One, a dark-feathered adolescent, lumbers

Onto a decrepit, dying birch 

Desperate to achieve balance 

On weakened branches.

Its mentor, with wizened white head and tail,

Perches in majesty in a sturdy oak.


Suddenly, both rise in simultaneous circle

Reassessing the lake-potential for supper.

Upon return, the youth chooses a better limb,

Perhaps seeking some sort of avian approval.

With another silent extra-sensory communication

The two birds soundlessly disappear across the lake.


Beneath the branches

In silent sleight-of-hand,

Myriad tiny occupants of the leaf-strewn carpet,

Chipmunks, squirrels, the variegated family of birds,

Having fearfully disappeared

Reappear as if by magic resuming their forage.

Woodland life returns to peaceful normalcy.

The lake turns red from the sinking sun.


***

Justice

In the morning sun
A gray squirrel, tail flailing wildly, 
Gesticulates, wordlessly. 
Announcing his presence
To the assembled avian multitude
Beneath the feeders.
His posture says,
"Look at me! Am I not beautiful?
I am the king!"
In their diversity and strength of numbers
They dismiss the rat-like rodent narcissist
Ignoring his posturing bombast
As a raptor in the tree top
Ponders the mammalian morsel,
Then silently swoops.

***

 

An eagle passes overhead, fully grown, but

Sans the white head and tail of adulthood.

Twitchy, furtive, perhaps adolescently impatient,

Impulsively, the young bird lands, splashing,

 Floating for several minutes

In the shallow water by the lakeshore.

Contemplating,

It fumbles for a moment.

Wings lifting, it walks on the water,

Rising to the sky, and back into the treetops

Again, watching, waiting,

'Til it disappears disappointed

Back to its nest on the far lakeside.


***


Bangkok versus Minnesota 


Hell hot and steaming 

And sweat-soaked silk shirt

Beats stone cold and shivering 

‘Til finger-bones hurt. 

Rainwater rushing 

Down streetdog-filled streets

Beats slipping and sliding 

On snow covered feet. 


Summertime visions, 

Sweet corn in a dish,

And friends and cold beer

And home-made smoked fish

And lakes, crystal clear…

An expatriate’s wish.


***


Homage to Edgar Allan Poe

I live a life of languid loneliness

And sail from shore to star-kissed shore.

Oft off’ring thoughts to fools and thieves

‘Midst the nurture of buds and leaves,

And wonder what this all is for

And what means the somber 

‘Nevermore’. 

I bask in love of one so fine and fair

The years can not this truth deny

The pulsing pounding of this stricken heart

That sometime seems prepared to fly apart

At word of love or oft-heard heartfelt sigh of 

“Nevermore!”

I ponder weary, worldly chores and curse the 

Fool who sails to other arduous shores

Fleeing from the fleeting feeling 

That his dazed mind holds, reeling 

In sad demure unseeming  

‘Til his fruitless life lies

‘Nevermore’?


***


On the Streets of Shanghai


      Pride


A man in rags 
Cooks jiaozi
In a battered black wok
Over a smoky fire
In a 55 gallon oil drum.
He sells them to common folks
On a street in a poor part of town. 
He wears a clean, tall, white chef’s hat. 


      Dignity


A man in rags,
Who clearly has had a stroke,
Shuffles on his good leg
Between cars at a stop light.
Dusting windshields with his good arm,
He sings out of the good side of his face.
He isn’t begging for money,
But, if you give him a coin,
He will give you a half-smile. 


 ***


Firik

From Istanbul across the border to Thessanoliki

In a battered, yellow Volkswagen Beetle

As the sun begins to set, we drive through fields of fire

Burning the spring wheat to create the firik, a smokey bulgur delicacy.

Just ahead of the advancing flames, storks leap on gangly legs

Snatching insects of all sizes and shapes 

And retreating just before the line of fire.

As the sun descends, dragging the dusk into dark,

Silhouettes of avian gourmets prance in the firelight.

Gorging advantageously, perhaps to return to the nest

To regurgitate sustenance to their waiting newborn.


***


Ominous Portent: 1983

 

In the back seat of a restored ‘54 Chevrolet taxi

On Istiklal Street in urban Istanbul

A sulphurous yellow fog constricts my lungs. 

I gasp for breath and ponder death

In a country I both love and fear.

I am asthmatically immersed 

In the miasma of the burning lignite coal

That heats the winter neighborhood.

 

Later that night

In sleepless bed 

I listen to the whistle

Of my respiration and

The drumbeat of my struggling heart

Awakening in panic, I stumble to the kitchen

Opening a tap to fill a glass with water.

In the sink a red-legged centipede

Fully eight inches in length

Stares glaringly at me,

Defying, daring me to intercede.

Grabbing a dirty kitchen knife 

I sever the interloper

Into wriggling partitions

And return to my sleepless bed.


***


Iowa Rain


The early morning

Iowa rain 

Has water-colored

The muddy ground 

From brown to green,

Willfully speckling the yard

With scattered dandelion-yellow.


A change in the light

Awakens this sleepy-eyed city

And sun-warmed buds 

Turn coyly into 

Blossoms of white.


The wind from the west

Will soon send the pollen in swirls

And maple tree seeds

Will twirl to the earth.

Birds and squirrels will

Nest and procreate while

Spring peepers peep 

In the dew of the night

And in the early morning 

Iowa rain.


The Black Bowler Hat

 

In a roadside café a tired old man

Gazes grimly at his breakfast.

Eggs over easy, hash-browns, kielbasa sausage,

And a mug filled with a tepid hint of coffee

A black bowler hat 

Is politely placed on a chair next to him 
As his mother had taught him to do

Decades ago.

 

A blast of cold air ruffles his thinning hair

As twin six-year old girls hold open the door. 

A pale woman with red, winter cheeks 

Pushes a husband-filled wheel-chair

Festooned with oxygen and breathing tubes

And seats him next to her at the table.

 

When the family’s food finally arrives, 

The old man watches as the woman

Holds a coffee cup for her husband to sip

And then lovingly spoons some egg 

Into his bird-like mouth

 

The twins giggle as they fill-in a coloring book with Crayola.

Whipped cream mustaches from their hot chocolate

Leak down upon matching red outfits.

The mother assists one twin with her drawing 

Then bends over, gently kissing the other’s curly head

Crudely crafted with crooked corn-rows.

 

The waitress brings the old man his bill 

And as he stands to leave.

The little girls look quizzically at him. 

He places the Black Bowler Hat on his head, 

Tips the hat as if to say good-bye, and smiles. 

In bashful return

The twins shyly flash Chiclet grins.



Reunion


In a visit surprise, two old buddies stopped by.

50 years back, they were young. (So was I.)

Time disappeared as we talked of the past

And our youth reappeared, recollections amassed.

Glasses were filled and guitars were uncased

And old songs were sung and our cares were erased.

And, the problems of present-day, everyday life

Dissolved in the dust with our troubles and strife.

Yet it seemed, in an instant, the swift moment passed

With promises made. This would not be our last.

But, who knows what happens? Who knows what will?

Who knows what wishes our hopes will fulfill.


***


Hey, folks! Here's a couple new poems written by my pal, David Ralph Johnson, with some additions and changes contributed by me! The Dave and I like to bounce ideas and suggestions about each others efforts in hopes that our co-mingled parts make a better whole! 8^)*


Phrases
To write, I cast a net 
Over my memories 
And pull hard.
The good and the bad 
Come sagging up 
Dripping and intertwined.
Do I really want to relive the pain 
In exchange for phrases on a page? 
Change the names 
To protect the innocent? 
Who protects me?
I place that last question aside, 
Embrace the pain, and 
Let ambition crack the whip.

Tulips
Squinting as my eyes open, 
The spring sun finds me lunch-dozing 
And plays warmly on my face as I awaken. 
Tulips border my picnic spot and reach for the sky, 
Envious of the attention the sun is paying me. 
They angle their vivid colors skyward, saying, 
“Look here, Sun, look here!” 
Yellow-pink ones smell honey-like, 
Perhaps to attract winter-starved bees. 
Red ones are silent of scent,         
Depending soley on their visible vibrance 
To draw in the hungry, buzzing pollinators. 
These tulips are obviously happy. 
This is their time to shine, 
And the weather smiles in full cooperation. 
Such unbridled beauty can only be owned briefly. 
While in my lazy recline, 
I close my eyes and let the lullaby 
Of tulips and bees work its magic.

David Ralph Johnson
Menagha, Minnesota

(with input from Robert Vernon Valentine Johnson)