From Fell Street Footnotes, Poems

Poems From Baltimore, 2014–2015

 from Fell Street Footnotes
See, also, the essays under this title

Poems on the Early Days in Baltimore  


21 degrees when we stepped outside, dogs on leash.   
A soft light pastelled the horizon and the sky grew 
bright and clean-lined, the buildings took on 
their defining forms and blinked into their rising colors. 
The hunkered boats moved not a muscle,  
still as a painting while the city clicked awake,  
window by window, footstep by footstep,
the clattery delivery truck on a brick street,  
a dog-squabble, the beginnings of language. 


Late night a fisherman 
the tone of water 
sits hunched on the walkway 
that rims the harbor, 
his feet dangling. 
If he has seen us
with our eager dogs
or senses our nearness,
he doesn’t mark the moment 
by flinch or turn; 
he is the wharf and the water 
and the rising fog where
he will disappear 
from our sight
into memory or imagination.  


Oh, my sense of direction is poor, 
two rights making a wrong, 
and the doors on the row houses  
turn from walnut to faded green 
or maybe hopeful blue 
slapped on old wood, 
and the markets announce their tired
businesses in languages 
I sometimes understand  
and sometime not. 

The sun shines on these streets 
as on mine, puzzle pieces  
of living’s colors playing out.  
Ageless women and old men 
carry home their straining plastic bags. 
I know how those handles crease 
against the weight of milk 
and flour and jars of beans. 
When Siri sets me back on track, 
all the turns to my temporary home
seem mistaken. North seems East  
and West seems South; yet I trust 
the voice, and it delivers me.  

With the release of held breath,
I remember with a little yearning 
the bar in Paris many years ago 
where I interrupted the after-work ritual 
of a brace of men debating life’s wrongs
because I couldn’t find the ramp  
to the Périphérique 
that would steer me South.  
Two of them, bright-faced,  
with daughters likely near my age, 
came out to the sidewalk, 
thumbs on suspenders,  
and pointed and conferred 
and then one drew a map  
with a stub pencil, helped 
me figure out my rental car’s  
reverse, and sent me on my way.  
I am a wealth of images richer 
for their sheltering and care, 
they, richer for the flattery  
of my young smile, my hand in theirs.
Finders, keepers.


The large man, 
his great bald head
reflecting the sun,
sits on a chair 
on the sidewalk 
in front of a pub
and spreads around 
his ripe optimism
like butter. 
He smiles white teeth
and chuckles at my setter 
lunging at pigeons. 
We chat a moment,
her red coat, 
her fruitless game, 
my trouble reeling her in,
and off I go 
with a nod to him, 
his nod to me, 
with my treasure 
of light.

Saying Much About Learning Not to Say Too Much  –for Jeff Hardin

We slid along the rails of Amtrak
to visit our old friends.
Through a taxi’s filmy windows
I memorized the way 
from Union Station 
up Massachusetts Ave., 
Cathedral, New Mexico 
to Klingle St. NW. 
I was leaving breadcrumbs
along the labyrinth of changing views.
Our greetings: happy and brief,
because we’re just continuing
conversations begun and ongoing
no matter the distance of time.
A fine soup warms us 
in the kitchen they have made 
from the scraps of a ruined house, 
the whole place now
new and modern and full of hope. 
High and broad-reaching,
these rooms make nests
you can swing your arms in,
splashed with windows and color 
like the only right words 
for a poem: white space
shouting light. 
“Windows”: An exhibit at the National Gallery,
where Andrew Wyeth’s paintings 
reveal the stages of looking.
And beyond looking, how to gather the silence,
how to leave out for seeing more
than is there.
William C. Williams and Ezra Pound,
Marianne Moore. Black umbrellas,
a couple of chickens, real toads
in a garden. Keats, “That is all
ye need to know.”
Mary and Bob and their architect son
have crafted, in their house,
something spare from the nothing 
of clutter. Haiku, a window
on what can be.
This poem, I know, has too much 
shoving and pushing in it. 
I am off to clean house.
Open windows.
Air out.
Art should be as
generous as that.
Should quiet its tongue
and wait.

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