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Poetry

Softly cursing in the graveyard on 4th
Behind the church, an old man picks up detritus,
The Halloween revelers vanished
Like the years, overnight. He harvests more
Than sticks, cupped leaves that creep along the brick walk
Like hands, but wrappers, cans. Let screaming teens
Have their carefree terror. With luck, ignorance
Will last longer than they want, the truth
Not haunt them with its frisson, its sudden touch
Like a breeze with teeth on the skin, the body
Seasonal, a pagan reference,
A secretly held belief. New superstitions fail
To quell the old, the gut certain of the gut,
This the one time and place, the horror
That there are no shadows, no spirits,
That one’s own acts will in the end explain
So much sorrow, each day the mystic passage
Between worlds, breath the marvelous gift
And breadth of what is sacred. He’s clearing
Leaves now off one particular stone.
Children know. They just pretend they don’t
Like peasants in the druid days of old
Samhain, burning all at the field’s edge.
Each day leaves us bereft and yet, unlike
The scattering trees, we hold on. There are
No ghosts. The dead can’t return. They never left.

                                                          —David Moolten

                                                                After Wyeth

Formulaic, her arms like sticks, she’s everybody’s
Though I can’t like an object when I’m not painting
Rectitude. This lady invites me
Because she could be somebody else.
I don’t really have studios. Women busy
With my work come alive. Mysterious
Places dream a lot though I find a clearing,
And dry grass isn’t romantic. Her pink dress
And turned back don’t give a damn about you
Just the small shed and tire tracks. A bad disease
Honestly picked the nagging dignity
Of this lady. Nothing foolish, glazed
With nostalgia, she’s happy in a way
A girl posed for the body. So people look
Past maybe for a young man waiting, effective
As gray skies. Realism crawls to the house
On a hill, her weakness not clear, just the want,
American, lost marrow around people’s attics
And farms, history, or my own conscience,
Life the only clue something isn’t right.

                                                          —David Moolten

“I had the impression that the old man was green;
perhaps a shadow from my heart fell upon him.”

                                                                —Chagall

The tender darkness grotesques him, bilious, alien,
One eye wide, the other squinting at Hebrew
Etched in a wall his tiny hand has begun
To scan. Such a natural shade must be true
To more than paint, the artist himself, breath-close
And hunched over with fascination
For the mendicant rebbe’s Russian cap, his
Patched sleeves and rays of golden beard. Vision
Has its own language beyond time or place
Though it must have felt terrible to walk around
Blessed with that verdant face and never take
Root, have anywhere. He still needs to find
The words, the right earth for his wandering,
For his buried heart to bloom from nothing.

                                                          —David Moolten

                                                      After Hopper

Brick apartments with a shade or cloned pair
Of blank curtains, the middle dark between them
Above a short row of storefronts, no perspective,
Everything near, and the empty street nearer—
Only the light that touches them appears
At all unique, sidelong and full of bias,
Intense in its calm attention to a place
No one would visit unless he lived there.
But you see no one, which forces you to be
That person who admires the lucidity
Of an ungodly hour, the world embellished
By removing distraction. It’s this the paperboy
Bicycles past, what the tired nurse or night
Watchman sees coming home, nothing abstract,
No drama beyond the understanding of light,
Which, merciless, yet just, falls upon the hydrant,
The barber pole, with as much indifference
As it might an odalisque, a wheat field. The shops
Will sleep all day with their windows black. In art
Nothing happens, maybe this hard enough,
Yet the aura of possibility hangs like a vow
That comes from within, a stubborn denial
Of a flat on view so limited and limiting
It must be mood coloring your expectations,
Not just air the same shade as marigolds.
Their absence blooms from them in the way you face
Your hands, your own body straight up, no companionship
To dilute your thoughts, the long shadowed chances.
This is life which consists of one city block,
Happy brooding, loneliness you love
Because you have plans that may finally go right
Beneath the plain old sky that isn’t poetic
Pap, religious diatribe, but clear and real and bright.

                                                          —David Moolten

Note: This new poem is a response to a prompt to “mash” together material from two other poems. I wound up “mashing” just two lines, which I altered slightly as I drafted the poem.

1. whose absence blossoms from it

2. and maybe this was already hard enough

Having played for maybe the third time
In twenty years, my wife can only
Giggle, flailing as she fails to snap and spin
The human paddles, trouncing me like Beatrice,
Her heroine in The Postman, that scene
Where Mario crawls in search of the ball
And she engulfs it with her open mouth.

We’ve left the highway for better than rest
Stop sandwiches and all through our chatter
In the tavern the guy with the fast-gun
Pick-up out front who mixes spirits
Stares impatiently, a matter of class,
Not elegance, social strata. I’m sure
He’s never seen Il Postino, this after all
The kind of quaint town one might call an island

Without water, where one hears foreign language
Just about never except from recent arrivals
Who have no choice, and foosball means
A half-lit gin joint, and victory unconsciousness
Or driving very fast for the hell of it
And maybe even dying like Mario
Except with no cause, only reasons.

Each exaggerated bump must lift the truck
On a radical cushion of air
As if its driver vies in a contest
Where the point isn’t rattling a ball
Around somebody’s slot but rising up,
Breaking free of the bar on one’s back
And leaving the field of play, refusing
To be a little man with no face.

                                —David Moolten

Yesterday, when you called me from where
They wring your body in rehabilitation,
And cried like static into the phone,
I wanted to say, this is not you anymore,

Forget your life as it is, let the receiver
Fall away as I do, summer, sandalled women
Along endless asphalt, black turf, glory again
Years ago, enough for both of us. Remember

How you used to swear there was nothing
Close, nothing that would ever shut you down,
Your `71 `Cuda, with its bored and blown
426 Hemi? Well, I believed you, racing

Alone all night in my bunk while our parents
Snored or tried to make another brother
Through the wafer-board walls. Rather
Than sleep I would listen for the chance

Screech and roar at an intersection
Rising somewhere from the gold sphere
Of mist that uptown became at night, sure
That it was you, and pretend I rode shotgun

Through that traffic of shadows, defending
Every stop light and woman on the boulevard
From the hated college boys whose lacquered
Foreign two-seaters were left finding

Second gear. Older, I cruised with you
And your girlfriends, smelled their beer
As perfume, watched you make them wet right there
On the leather seat; and I’m sorry now

I lied about my own nights, still a virgin
At sixteen when I followed you into
The mill. You said if there was any true
Likeness to the innards of an engine

In this world it was that place: metal dust
Searing as ash, arrow showers of sparks, booms
That swung and plunged while fires loomed
In vats; all day the roar ground us, a blast

Of steam down our throats, the world red hot,
Water cooled, sweat oiled. I know we’re both
Big, and you were bigger, with a bad mouth
And a good right, but when that plate hit

Your back, I knew you’d never walk again.
In the facility that you lived to loathe,
Where the spoon quivered each day to the mouth,
They claimed your hands might come back and then

Maybe your sex. Your wife wants children,
And you can’t stand to think she’ll bear
Only you, alive but miscarried somewhere
Inside yourself, the way that car you can

Never drive, sits eaten by rain out back
With half a tank of gas, and lets the weeds
Embrace it with slow ruin. Go on, you said,
Take it, and finally I did, for your sake,

But I won’t drive it. I still punch a clock
For the men born in white shirts and paisley
Ties, whose parted hair flutters in the AC
Of their offices. Their armpits used to reek

With real sweat under the exertion of facing me
While I helped all those adjusters and lawyers
Right the wrong, so you could lie for years
Totally snowed with Darvon. Sometimes I see

Their wives turn as I pass, to second the praise
Of my snug work clothes, the smell of Paris rising
From their breasts, because now that you’re nothing
I’m the one they take raw and finish with their eyes.

All their laughing smiles remind me of a night
When I raced beside you, loving the whiff
Of high octane that seemed to never wear off
Your skin. We waited by the black iron gates

Of the University, the supercharger you bolted on,
Simmering, until an Austin-Healey nosed the line
At the light. The driver flicked his thumb down
While his blonde shook her head and laughed. On green

You let him have a length, and then all
At once, so smoothly, so evenly, your foot
Bore down the throttle like a man who puts
His root inside a woman because they will

Never have anything else, your Firestones
Scorching in every gear, your hand tossing
The shifter as the drive train whooped in passing,
The sidepipes emptying like 12 gauge shotguns.

Shuddering with sheer torque, you sucked the chase
Right out of them. But pulling up at the light,
They were still laughing. They just sat
And loved it because they didn’t care, because

They didn’t give a goddamn what a true-
Run, boost-snorting, big block motor could do.

                                                             —David Moolten

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