The Art of Camouflage (Written February 2, 2018)

The Art of Camouflage

I will change names, places, dates,
I will change tenses, persons, voices,
I will change genders,
I will change days of the week,

I will change months of the year,
I will change seasons if need be,
I will conceal my sources,
I will become an expert
in the art of camouflage.

No one but myself will know
the words I have been given,
in the beginning, to look at,
to interrogate, and to find
the story they hide,

Which is there for me and me alone,
the story I want to tell, about her,
about us, about our life together,
about how we look after each other.
Although it starts with someone else,

The story will be my own.
I will tell it the way I see it
and the way I feel it. No one
has heard it before, or suspected
that it could be so. I will say

What I have to say, even if I expose
myself, or her, like the pheasant
behind the japonica bush, hiding among
bare branches, in plain sight, visible to all.

A Fighting Chance (Written January 26, 2018)

A Fighting Chance

My whistle failed to elicit a response.
I tried again. A chickadee answered
from inside the forsythia bush.
A dozen pigeons, neatly lined up

On the top bar of the swing set,
stared at me in a calculated display
of indifference. They knew what
I was up to, and what they needed
to do, to get what they wanted.

On top of the house next door
another dozen waited, expectantly.
It was a thin whistle, which left them
guessing as to my wishes. Was I trying
to welcome them, or scare them off?

I re-shaped my mouth and tried again.
High in the spruce tree crows cawed
impatiently, angrily. From the window
of the upstairs bedroom my wife watched.
A blue jay, on a chair in the neighbor’s

Backyard, made a sound like a yodel,
melodious and seductive, before reverting
to the more familiar shrill cry, like a rusty
clothesline. A male pheasant, with its white
ring around the neck, hid in plain sight

Behind the japonica bush, sure
of its camouflage. If I moved slowly,
I hoped the bird would not fly away
in a thundering fright. I wanted
the pheasant, along with any starlings

And chickadees that might be nearby,
to have a fighting chance at the feed
(black sunflower seeds, wild bird mix,
peanuts in the shell, left over crusts
of bread broken into bite-sized pieces)

When I cast it, by the handful, across
the white plastic table by the back fence
and onto the ground, before the pigeons
descended en masse. Although, as my
wife had often reminded me, pigeons

Need to eat too, like all the other birds,
if we don’t want them to die. The cold
weather, in and of itself, will kill off
more than a few. Don’t be so stingy.

These Various Proofs (Written January 12, 2018)

These Various Proofs

She is at least grudgingly aware
that many of the things she used to do,
by herself, she can no longer do.
To get in the car and go visit

A friend, on the spur of the moment,
is a dream she abandoned years ago.
The ice on the path to the studio
makes getting there impossible,
and even when it is bare,

As with this early January thaw, she’s afraid
to go out, because she might lose her balance
and fall. From experience she knows well
that she might take a sudden dizzy spell,
and need a helping hand,

Which would rankle. Sometimes, for lunch,
she feels inspired to concoct a more complicated,
hearty soup, one better suited for chilly winter
weather, but before she can finish, with
so much cutting and slicing,

More often than not she runs out of steam and
gives up, in tears. It’s for me to finish the job,
or not. Later, after our rest, we like to get out,
into the fresh air, and if it is a nice day,
walk around the block,

Or down the street to where there is
a path along the river, which is always
a wonder to behold, at this time of year,
with its massive ice flows, which are like
the thoughts and images

That float through our unconscious, night
after night, when we are not paying attention.
But we get down to the river less often
these days, and then only with a walker,
which at first seemed to be

An admission of some sort of defeat, but now
seems perfectly okay. Simple, everyday
tasks, such as opening the milk carton,
with its stubborn pull-tab, she finds
difficult, even exasperating,

Because of the weakness in her fingers,
and her wrist. And yet, faced with these
various proofs of decline, and others
as telling, she feels no different,
she claims, than she felt

Fifty years ago, or sixty, when she came
into her prime. Life has been good to her,
despite the loses, the aches, and the pains,
and she wouldn’t change a thing.

What I Wanted To Say (Written January 5, 2018)

What I Wanted To Say

I tried to talk with her last night,
and then again this morning.
My words were weak, ineffectual,
like someone calling out a warning

After the storm has already past.
She knew more about the dangers
than I, but had reached a point
where she simply did not care.
I’ve had a good life, she’d say,

When pressed. I have no regrets.
I’m not afraid, don’t worry. She
liked to watch murder mysteries
because the format guaranteed
that the culprit would be found.

The fun was in trying to guess
who it was. None of the violence
was real. What I wanted to say
was simple enough. It’s essential
to keep moving, if only around

The house, from room to room.
Take another look at the art work
on the walls, or the tiny bottles
on the glass ledge in the window.
Step outside onto the back deck,

And watch the moon in the trees
as it rises for the night. Sometimes
bats swoop low, so quietly,
so darkly, you can barely see them.

Real Life (Written December 29, 2017)

Real Life

I will have to abandon my dream,
if I want to go on living. Real life,
compared to the dream, is dull,
monotonous, hardly worth the effort.

The dream seems to be illuminated
from within, the way the warm, translucent
waters of the Caribbean, when calm, are lit
from below, revealing wondrous forms
too rich and varied to be believed.

What is the dream? It is always
the same and always different.
I am in another city, another country,
where people recognize me
for who I am, and value me,

Where people do not hesitate
to speak to me, openly, where people
love me and look after me when I’m
in need. All my wishes, whether modest
or not so modest, are fulfilled,

As they never are, in real life.
It’s too good to be true, but it is true,
in the dream, which stays with me
all day, like a drug. I never want
to let it go, but I must. Must open

My eyes, look, and see, all around me,
a world of small, everyday things,
each as remarkable as a bird
perched on the arm of a man.

The Mental Life of Plants and Worms (Written December 15, 2017)

The Mental Life of Plants and Worms

I couldn’t stop yawning.
I wasn’t bored, no, no,
that wasn’t it. How could I
be bored, when every day

We had something new,
an appointment to keep,
a friend to meet,
a book to read,
a movie to watch.

I was a little tired, I’ll admit,
but not unusually so.
I’d had a good night’s sleep,
and woke to a vivid dream,
in which I was in my old

Bookstore, talking to a customer,
deploring the sad state of affairs,
the paucity of quality paperbacks,
when in walked a young writer,
in town for a festival of authors,

Searching for a book by somebody
called Stuart A. Guest, whom I’d frankly
never heard of before. Or maybe
it was Stuart N. Guest, he wasn’t sure.
I was very sorry, I said, at which point

The promising young writer
disappeared behind a stack of books,
then reappeared, just as suddenly,
with a copy of the book by the author
he was looking for, the title of which,

Once I’d registered it, I promptly
forgot. I couldn’t stop yawning.
Maybe I’d had too much to eat,
but no, that wasn’t it. I’d had
a plate of linguini, with a meat

And tomato sauce, topped with
grated cheddar cheese. A modest
helping, nothing extravagant.
A glass of red wine. Frozen yogurt
for dessert, with rasberries. Maybe

I wasn’t getting enough oxygen,
it was so cold out and the wind blew
through the cracks around the windows
and the doors and the furnace ran
almost non-stop, pumping out

Hot, dry air. Or maybe the book
she was reading to me, which I
had welcomed at first, was about
a topic I had little interest in, namely,
the mental life of plants and worms.

I thought this was stretching it a bit,
though that just shows you what I know.
Apparently, worms have a central
organizing cluster of nerve cells that functions
very much like a brain, and underlies a certain

Primitive form of intelligence. Well,
maybe it’s true. I couldn’t stop yawning.
Annoyed, she said, why don’t you
go to bed, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.

Cloud of Forgetting (Written December 1, 2017)

Cloud of Forgetting

I kneel by the sofa where she lies,
one hand on her ankle,
the other on her knee.
She’s quiet now, breathing

More easily, trying to forget
the angry words she shouted at me,
when it was not even me
she was angry with, but
someone else, an old friend,

Who had gone off script,
thoughtlessly, and said things
that she found hurtful.
I could have intervened,
but I didn’t see what was happening

Until too late. Besides, it’s not my part
to protect her every step of the way.
That would be asking too much.
If that seems heartless, I really
don’t know what to say.

Let me pull the blanket up,
around her shoulders, and stay
a while longer, as she drifts away
on her cloud of forgetting.
Without forgetting, there is no

Deliverance. But I am, I suppose,
the enemy of forgetting, someone
who, almost against his will, remembers
what she so desperately wants to forget.

Ally (Written November 24, 2017)


Because it is made of crystal,
not glass,
and because it was a gift
from her mother,

More than fifty years ago,
when she lived in a different town,
with a different husband,
facing different challenges,
she keeps it tucked away,

In the back of a drawer, in a box
with no name, hidden but not
forgotten. Whatever healing energy
it had to give, it’s already given,
and now it’s just a stone,

About the size of a thumbnail,
half an inch thick, oval in shape,
purple below, white above,
with raised dots over the uneven
surface, which sparkle like silver

In the light. The setting is silver,
in two rounds, the lower round
like beads strung together.
If I look closely enough,
I can see a moose

Emerging from the purple haze,
with its antlers tilted into the white
above. Through all her troubles,
in the distant past, the not so distant
past, and the present, when the world

Sometimes seemed to be collapsing
around her, she’s taken the moose
as her symbol of strength
and endurance – her ally.

Sleep, My Love (Written November 17, 2017)

Sleep, My Love

I shake her knee
but she just stares back at me.
Don’t go to sleep yet!
The show’s hardly begun!

There was a time, not long ago,
when she was the star of the show,
the one who could take an idea,
and turn it into something grand,
the way a sunflower seed,

So small in the palm of the hand,
will keep growing until it is
as tall as a woman, or a man.
Whatever the obstacle, whatever
the hurdle, whatever the puzzle,

She persisted. She never gave in
or gave up. And what she did,
though often hard, she did with joy
in her heart. Everyone felt better
in her presence. She made people laugh.

She could have been black or white
or brown or yellow, male or female,
or something in between,
it would not have mattered,
for she was the spirit of adventure.

She sleeps a lot of the time now,
but I’m okay with that.
There’s such a feeling of warmth
whenever I’m close to her.

White Noise (Written November 10, 2017)

White Noise

When she discovered that the white noise
not only did not
stop her from hearing the voices
but made her listen more closely,

In case they were talking about her,
saying things that were not true,
or at best half true,
with the aim of undermining her,
and sending her further into a tailspin,

She felt the wiser course of action
would be to accept her loss,
quietly, without protest, keeping
all her wits about her,
the way tulips will close up at night,

To retain whatever light and heat
they’ve captured during the day,
so that her enemies, who seemed
to be multiplying by the hour,
could do her no further harm.

She felt something funny in one ear,
a buzzing, a grinding the likes of which
she had never experienced before.
Was it a stroke? The flu? Chronic
fatigue? Or something else?

She stood up and announced to the others,
whom she had always thought of as friends,
but now believed otherwise, that she did not
feel well and wanted to go home.
Everyone stopped talking and looked at her.

She swayed back and forth, and we were
afraid she would fall. She took a step
toward the hallway, where she had hung
her coat, turned and looked at me.
I hurried to her side. I thought

We should go to the hospital,
but she said no, and she seemed
so sure of herself, so set,
I gave in and went along.