As sullen as darkness, as surly as wind,
it’s out there tonight, awake and hungry.
Maybe far off under desert stars,
some place where coyotes snarl over bones,
it stretches its limbs, yawns its cat mouth,
leaps from a rock and begins a long trek.
Maybe even as you read by lamplight,
its green eyes and perked ears search.
You’ll never see it until it sees you,
and when it sees you, you’ve seen it too late.
Across dusty gulches and stony arroyos,
it stalks with a muscular, padded tread.
Into the foothills and up rocky peaks,
the sure-footed bighorn scampering aside.
Over iced slopes and trout-rippled streams,
into pine forests and stubble fields
where yelping dogs bring out a half-dressed farmer
who levels his shotgun— nothing is there.
Into the suburbs and cities it strides,
into the scrap-yards and rubbish-strewn lanes.
A stirring of shadows? A tap at your window?
Probably only a moth at the screen.
Relax. A moth. Nothing to see.
Besides, when you see it…
from The Midwest Quarterly
Out of a gray depression of sky,
a cold rain falls. Stark, black branches
shake in rough wind. The birdbath is toppled,
the wood fence gapped. The garden,
the stonework in ruins. Meanwhile old friends,
like last year’s leaves, are scattered all over,
or under the earth. Above these floodwaters,
hunched on a limb, a crow now broods.
It’s been here before.It knows what to do.
All we know is to fasten our jackets
and bend like a branch to the buffeting wind,
grope like a root in the cold, wet ground.
from Atlanta Review
There’s no easy side road out of this longing,
this slow, seductive line-dance of desire
that snakes the four-lane commercial strip
on this warm, spring Saturday night.
So you’ll have to give in and just mosey on,
headlight to taillight, under the winking
come-to-me billboards and gleaming marquees
of Good Times, Great Food, Live Entertainment.
Two girls in tank tops above a convertible’s
backseat wave at traffic behind them.
Boys raise heads out of windows and hoot.
Engines rev and car horns blare.
As smells of barbecue mix with exhaust,
a prom party gathers before Bob’s Buffet.
Couples at outdoor tables lift drinks.
Rumbling motorcycles race between lanes.
Warm touch of April. Sweet breath of night.
Radios crooning, “I want… I need…”
Girls. Pawn. Jewelry. Spa & Nails. Drugs.
$10 a Month, No Commitment.
And, should you weasel your way through traffic
to lovers’ cars parked along dark, weedy lanes,
you may find you’re pinched by the bullfrog’s call
for a smile from the hazily gowned half-moon.
from The Comstock Review and Dark Leaves Strange Light
When, out of mist, those specters descend
to a bare-branched oak in your yard,
one casting a cold eye over you,
the other flexing its midnight feathers,
don’t ask what brought them, raucously croaking,
dropping long shadows on your roof and walk.
Don’t ask when they’ll go. Their ways
neither wind nor rain understands. But know
they will hunch there, hanging their sadness,
unfazed by your shouts, your hurling of stones,
and when at the hour of their choosing they rise,
they’ll ride off on unhurried wings.
from Open 24 Hours and Dark Leaves Strange Light
Here is your forest pool hung on the wall,
a portrait of you with adjustable pose,
the window on one room you never can enter
though one you are already in.
You consult it daily, religiously even,
standing within its gaze like a shadow,
the bedroom behind you now cast in front,
the light of the world bent backward.
It tells you your shirt and pants match today.
Your collar is crooked. Attractively roguish?
Your hair’s a mess. Pat it down there.
Is that just the light? New gray?
No matter how deeply you peer into it,
of itself it tells you nothing.
A perfect companion— honest but silent.
All its reflections will be about you,
beholding you not as you are, exactly,
but as an immortal might see you —
you as a phantom, a short-lived brightness,
a flicker, a flourish, a trick of the light.
from Open 24 Hours
Tom Raithel's poetry chapbook, Dark Leaves, Strange Light, is available through:
amazon.com (sold out)