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.
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
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
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
“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.
Art should be as
generous as that.
Should quiet its tongue