5 Poems by Paul B. Roth
Night is yours when all other breathing sleeps. Music a distant owl hoots, a whippoorwill whinnies, icicles drip, and winds shake from spruce branches with loose clumps of fresh snow, all deepen the rhythm of silence within your aloneness.
Rising, a waning quarter moon shivers its distinct brilliance from the coldest of wide open skies. How its blinding light, diminished by your squinting eyes into a thimbleful is still able to signal crocuses when to push their fragile heads up as yellow scouts above the earth’s thawing blue surface.
Sudden music crests over and wavers a tea candle’s flame in the empty room where you stand at the window looking for what never returns. You wait and although no roads lead back to you, you wait.
The only thing abandoned are your tracks in damp mown hay. What follows you, stops, sniffs, lifts its leg to pee beside these fresh prints, then runs on ahead, draws its own line of tracks through tangled vines and downed branches into late fall’s thick though leafless oak and maple woods.
Where your steps tip-toe across shale, your open mouth breathing earth from under shore rock leaves traces of your saliva’s longing to speak its waters, grunt its roots, converse its stones, whisper its caves, and echo its gorges. You try but with each attempt your longing cries itself to sleep in the effortless arms of drowned men.
Looking back, you lose sight of what’s ahead although nothing goes on without you. What you do or don’t do happens anyway. Even the end at which everything comes to a head is where you look around but aren’t quite there yet.
…unless looking out one broken window or another. Where there’s wisps of smoke escaping crushed brick rubble and heaved asphalt, there’s also fused main-frames, knotted handlebars, sharp edged rebar and stone pocked shards of concrete, contorted screen doors, and rusty puddles of shallow water that ground sparrows drink as though you were not there.
Blood soaked and threadbare burlap scraps impaled on spear tipped iron gates dangle at ease in light winds. Death at half-mast. Ripped open by mudslides, cemetery handbones clutching knives and forks resume poking the air with their defiant hunger.
From a distance, you’re who you are when first planting corn in volcanic ash, oranges in coral sand, pecans in the fine sawdust carpenter bees pile conically, and dates humid blue bags of sky in the Negev encapsulate.
Close up, hunger survives you every time.
Once no one else existed, you knew no human love but your own.
Scorched beverage cans you kicked along granite curbs sounded even louder after nothing sounded at all. For so long, sunless days, starless nights, all passed through the moon’s lens magnifying their absence to the size of what was there before it all disappeared.
As if it never existed, could not exist, you saw no difference between things named darkness and those that just were. When you tried, icy comets replacing your eyes scorched tears down your swollen cheek and jaw.
Your cold life had never been warmed by another except for that recurring dream in which bodies with multiple hands probed the secrets you buried under decades of clipped toenails inside the tattered shoe a Chinese proverb always says can walk without using either foot.
You bend over fingering fresh deer tracks for any warmth you might find. Your ungloved fingertips, blackened by cold and numb to their own pain, long for how they once lay folded in your lap inside a dim gaslit parlor warmed by wood ash baked johnnycake, Elgar string quartets, and that tantalizing overflow of silky caramel creams engulfing you and your cousins’ tongues.
Although home’s the absence of everything you ever knew, you know if you had one you could find your way there. For now, you stay put sipping creek water between cracks in snow covered ice even though your childhood slept in feather beds full of dreams whose skies promised they’d sag with heavy stars every night after that.
Not knowing where it’s gone, you’re always ready to welcome your childhood’s promise back but wait the way you wait for all things, alone and inconsolable.
Ahead, through heavier falling snow, perhaps a barn’s faint light and a chance to sleep between the warm rhythms unaroused but crowded dairy cows breathe standing up.
Paul B. Roth, in addition to being the editor and publisher of The Bitter Oleander Press, is a poet whose work has been published internationally and whose two most recent collections of poetry include Cadenzas by Needlelight (Cypress Books, 2006) and Words the Interrupted Speak (March Street Press (2011). He resides in Fayetteville and Moravia, NY.