Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Songs for the end of summer


Where did John go, who once loved thee so,
Where did he go, gentle Jane?

Down to the sea and the Jolly Old Jack,
Then away like the wind and the rain.

What did John leave thee, ‘ere he did grieve thee?
What did he leave thee, poor Jane?

One sickly daughter with hair black as he,
Gone away like the wind and the rain.


John Bach was dead; the pastor's wife brought roses.
She wrapped the stems in a faded gray washrag.
The Masons tied on their white aprons
And the Legionnaires wore their garrison caps.
An Honor Guard fired cartridge blanks
While gophers ducked fearfully in the yellow grass
And rattlesnakes sank into holes under concrete.

John Bach knew pine buttes and wet tar roads.
He knew rotten gray trim around window panes.
John Bach knew swollen plywood sheets
When spring rain fell on unfinished houses,
And he knew blue snow in the early twilight.
He smelled casseroles in township halls,
And cigarette smoke under porch lights.

John Bach was photographed at birthday parties.
His red eyes look up from glass-covered coffee tables
And out of the black pages of water-stained albums.
Slide projectors flash his face on bare sheet rock.
John Bach had a rust-colored polyester shirt.
John Bach had a blue ceramic table lamp.
Bits of broken asphalt stuck to his boots.

John Bach felt the sharp pelting of grasshoppers.
He rested against pine headboards in hotel rooms
And balding velvet seats in distant picture-houses.
He tasted cold beer beside dark gravel roads.
John Bach had an orange and black vinyl couch
And a television set with three wooden legs.
Tiny white hailstones fell into his coat pockets.

John Bach had a shoebox full of greeting cards.
He liked vodka and apple cider at Thanksgiving
And telephone calls on Christmas morning.
John Bach knew spiderwebs in cinderblock crawlspaces
And tall kochia weeds at church picnics.
John Bach had a hollow plastic Santa Claus.
Birds drank from his empty ice cream buckets.


We took a stone that morning
in the cold green haze.
Lichen lives two thousand years.
I've lived two thousand days.

And yet I've had a year of days
in every tender touch.
Lichen may outlive me yet -
if so, then not by much.