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
When, out of mist, those specters descend
to a bare-branched oak in your yard,
one of them casting a cold eye over you,
the other one 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
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 Comstock Review and Dark Leaves Strange Light
They look so lost, staring in windows
or standing wide-eyed by a neighbor’s pool
or stumbling up to a boulevard island,
pausing and gawking at cars around them.
With heads high or close to the ground,
they wander as if looking for something,
a highway sign for a home-bound exit,
a key they dropped to a door now closed.
Glassy new corporate towers above them,
around them the labyrinth car lots of malls,
they tread along roadways and well-mowed paths
that lead them to think they have somewhere to go.
A car honk startles. Sharp ears erect,
they take trembling steps, unsure what to do,
then quicken their journey on long, thin legs
through a world that won’t welcome, nor leave them alone.
They’ll lie down tonight on some golf-course green
or brambly edge of a railroad yard
and dream of a brook through a columbine meadow,
moonlight breezing through landscapes of pine.
from Tipton Poetry Journal
Out of this oily wash of river,
sullen pillars of concrete rise,
lifting a rusted span of girders,
lightwork and rigging into the smog.
Rows of headlights shuffle across
to where tows and barges steam in shadows
of chucked-up gravel and coal.
Foundry smokestacks heave up their ash.
Dark gears grind and foghorns groan,
while above the whole shore, those white-winged gulls
float through morning as gently as dreams
over the scrambled debris of our lives.
from Comstock Review 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 thrown 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?
But 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)