Monday, July 28, 2008

Poem of the Week #30

Tom Remembers

Brother, go find your brother. –Tom Sawyer

It was I could always find the lost marble,
and I who knew we had to go by the book.
I knew that the busted captive must endure
the torments of snakes and spiders to write
his heart message in blood on a tin plate,
pass it to his friends through the upper window.
I knew his leg irons must be sawed off proper,
not just slipped easy under the bed post.

If ever we won a battle, it was because
I knew the timing of the whack to the back
of the head, I knew the right curse to howl.
I knew the shoulder shove and chin thrust,
when to pull up and when to charge. I held
the crime-crusted cutlass in my pirate’s bag
and I knew when the deed was done.
I could trade up no matter what the price.

But you, you knew of the undersides of things;
of fallen tree trunks and the dust of doorways.
You knew where to find bullfrogs and castoffs
and how to spend an entire day in hot pursuit
of nothing, save for the hum of the honey bee
and the whisper of wind through meadow grass.
You knew how to thwart witches and the evil eye.
You had the least and most of any boy in creation.

We parted ways as grown men do, and I always
dreamed we’d meet again one day. I heard you
went down to dig the Panama Canal, and stood by
on the ground when the Wrights first flew.
You rode a while with the Rough Riders, but fighting
never really suited you. So many oaths mixed the blood
of our youth—when I sit at my desk by the window,
I feel you trickle through me, a river I still follow.

Lisa Vihos

Friday, July 25, 2008

Poem of the Week #29

Help for the Wordophobe

Like a late-onset allergy
to shellfish or milk,
fear of words can arrive
when you least expect it.

One day, you can articulate
your thoughts with the best of them,
the next day, you find yourself shy
facing words like phenomenon,

filthy, and bosom. Commitment,
malignant, and apologize
have been known to silence
the chatty. Fear of words

can strike any time or place
where their users gather:
at lecterns and pulpits, in libraries,
schoolyards and boudoirs.

The condition is characterized by
tremors when speaking or listening,
the slurring of words, or their avoidance
all together. Wordophobia, the poet’s death.

Possible cures include immersion
in kindhearted words like daisy, flipper,
scallion, beekeeper, locket, and anisette
or basking in musical pairs such as:

corn cob, feather weight
slip stream, and push pin.
In the early stages of therapy
it is best to avoid words

that are confusing in look or feel:
paradigm, bologna, aesthetic and colonel.
Rebuild the wordophobe’s confidence
using the old rhyming trick, practiced

by every courageous kindergartner:
cat sat, me bee, pig jig, song long, bun run.
Or simply spend a quiet afternoon
getting in sync with the meter

of the dictionary, letting the pages drop
through your fingers as you sit curled up
on the couch, a fire in the hearth, weighing
all the words in the world in your hands.

Lisa Vihos

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Poem of the Week #28

Huck Forever

He comes round to my place
time and again; but won’t stay long
a night or two at most, then gone.

Travelling light, he always finds me
in the dead of night, he always
brings a trinket—found or swiped—

remember, it’s the thought that counts.
You can’t pray a lie, he says. I know,
I tried. I tried to be civilized.
He is afraid

of rattle snake skin and the new moon
over his left shoulder. But, he can catch
a catfish and fry it up in a lick; lay back

with his pipe and me for the longest hours
on a summer day. The boyish eyes that gaze
from his weary face bust my heart in half.

In sleep, he mouths the names of old ghosts:
Mary Jane, Tom, and Jim, always Jim. Awake,
he tells tales of floating down river on a raft

with a runaway slave, a duke, and a king;
dying more than once to take a new name,
with con men and preachers, all the same,

in a voice that melts butter. How he survives
in between times, I’ll never know, but I suppose
he has one like me every place he goes.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poem of the Week #27

The Man on the El

His eyes tell a story of the old country. Which one,
I cannot say. But his gaze, like the scarred mirror
in a lover’s locket, speaks to me of an old place.

It's a sunny day in the old country of his eyes,
with family gathered round a table laid for a feast.
There, a small boy without care runs under sturdy trees

between the legs of the uncles drinking quietly
and old women in black, picking their teeth in the shade.
Their arms grip him like a vice, but cannot keep him

from the call of the train. Too young to see disappointment
in the arms of raven-haired girls, or fear in the faces
of silent men, he vows to leave them behind. Now, his eyes

have traveled so far, they’ve become dark scopes
that magnify a world lost under creased brow. His eyes
peer over the edge of me as though down a dry well.

He sees past my weathered doorways and worn icons
to a bed draped in crochet. Something about me makes him
smile. Before we get to Halstead, should I offer my name?

Should I ask him to marry me? If I were to open
the lunchbox at his feet, would I find what remains
in my own pail? A crust of bread, a rind of cheese?

Lisa Vihos