THE REALLY LONG SUMMER OF LEE WHITENER’S WIFE
There was once a really long summer
when we all made love a lot.
All of my friends. It was almost incestuous.
We all loved Lee Whitener's wife,
but we couldn't save her.
She died, having loved most of us,
and having made love to most of us.
It was a summer that lasted for ten years.
Rock music and marijuana.
Mushrooms and LSD.
Some of us went to jail, but not me,
I went to Maryland, I went to California.
I went to Hell at the very end of it.
Lee Whitener's wife died, but by then
she wasn't his wife anymore.
She took the pills and drank the drinks,
and loved us all until it was too much.
Some say it was a terrible accident,
just a mistake, that she went too far.
I know better. She just ran out of love.
How can you go on when love is done?
I loved her, too, like everyone else.
My mother loved her, my sister loved her.
It was a helluva summer, ten years long,
and by the end of it most us were spent.
And I loved everyone myself, just like her,
just like Lee Whitener's wife, but I lived.
I survived the summer, the fall, the winter.
There was a life and I lived it, but not her.
Lee Whitener's wife took all of the pills.
She drank the wine, the whiskey, the beer.
And I loved her. For real, not like the others
who could see the beauty that she wore
like a cow wears a brand, who could smell
the perfume that her life gave to the world.
But they were just there for the summer,
for a toss with Lee Whitener's wife.
It was really me who loved her. Her name
was Cathy. And now the summer is gone.
There is a tree in California that is five thousand years old.
A Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva.
In the White Mountains, up in the eastern Sierra Nevada.
The oldest tree on the earth.
Surrounded by stone and sky for five millennia.
As old as the earliest settlements on the Nile, a tree.
We humans build houses of wood and stone,
we wait for our brief lives to be done
and then we follow the dead to the other world,
but that pine just watches us go by. And what are we?
Grains of sand in a desert with no beginning and no end.
Born to be forgotten. But don't be sad, it doesn't matter.
Near you is a tree. Go there, and sit. Pray a little. Meditate.
There is a part of us that is greater than our everyday lives,
a part of us that remains here when we go on.
And friend, that is not a bad thing at all.
HIDE THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS
Hide the water beneath a wild, empty desert,
and bathe your heart there on a night so pure and clean.
Hide your soul from those people who seek to crush it,
you may think you don't know anyone like that, but you do.
Hide your life from the sudden onset of death,
even though it is only for a short while.
Hide the sun
behind the clouds.
Hide the truth from those it will destroy, and at the same time,
cleanse the lies with a draft of pure truth.
Hide the last of your strength for that moment
when the challenge cannot be denied.
Hide some beauty
to stave off the ugliness.
Hide your wings until it is finally time to fly, to rise,
with your own light blazing across the beautiful universe.
Hide the last prayer beneath your tongue.
Daily rising well before dawn
to light the candles
and sit in meditation; life
might race pass,
but I still prefer to walk.
THIS HOUSE IS A WIDE VALLEY
Open the door and I will feed you from my body.
Here is my heart, here is my liver,
eat them. Raw.
Allow me to enter, and then drape yourself
in the robes that are made of my flesh
and my soil, and wear them.
There is no shame in this.
Hold your head high.
Raise up my entrails to the roots of the sun.
Say these words to the sky and to the earth.
"This house is my home.
This body is my meal."
There is nothing to see here. Move along. You have questions? Good for you, go ask someone else, someone who cares. I am a child born with a third leg, running with scissors. I am the dog that indeed does bite. Why are you still here? I do not welcome visitors and I keep a baseball bat beside the door. I am the shadow that chills you to the bone, that freezes your heart. And you want to touch me? Go ahead, fool, reach your hand into the cage. I dare you.
* * *
I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard used to do. I slept heavily and dreamed of words that were solid objects of various shapes and sizes, and made of many different materials. Metal, wood, concrete, plastic, and so on. I was using tools to assemble these words into poems; a hammer and nails, a handsaw, a drill, nuts and bolts, a sander, and wrenches. The poems I built were as large as a man and crazy looking, but they read beautifully. The poems I built were better than any I ever wrote, but that isn't saying much.
* * *
Perhaps I am still like a child waiting for a story. My parents are dead, my grandparents are long dead, and so there is no one left to come in here at night, to ask me if I have brushed my teeth, and to sit down on the side of my bed and open the book. To smile and begin with "once upon a time," or, "long ago and far away." So it is that every night, even if I have let it get rather late, I sit here and take out my pen and begin to write. In this way I get the story that I want, the story that I miss.
A fog as thick as pea soup—
pull the car over and have a bowl!
* * *
The owl seems to have something to say tonight
but the moon has all of my attention.
* * *
And suddenly there is her face again
after so many long years—
No, you fool, it’s only the moon.
Note that Barbara West will be reading today at The Avid Reader in Sacramento on Broadway, 3pm. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.
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