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  Robert Lietz:

Topping Off (3)

(from "Character in the Works: Twentieth-Century Lives")



     Measure the flaws, slice in, correct
what had been certain to break free.
A deep calypso entertains.  The summers
cool at distances.  But tonight
love thinks it has bever been so chilled,
explaining itself in this new west,
a grip or stance that had seemed awkward
at the start, then wholly natural,
that left us a little worn afterward,
listening hard to catch
the secrets of the landscape.  And just
when we believed
the heat would never quit, we're chilled,
stiffening, affections coursing
through such parts, labors done for one,
and done for one this husbanding
     of lifetimes.

     Had any of these, we'd ask, been ours,
the rooms or boutique brands,
these kids, like hot-wired delivered vehicles,
ours?, ourselves?,
offending, in all that battered idiom,
filling the bat-cooled dusk,
offering to us their spots in weather-curled pictures?
Allurements leave this half-sleep
afterward, adding the flats and summits up,
the poor phenomenal desire, volumes
of acquitted mystery.  And I, ready to speak,
to explain because she might be interested,
would say what sisters meant, what brothers
meant, called in to mealtimes, appearing
as boys again in March, that shook with Spain
and all the fervor of the labels, because
the food was good, the original and timely
reds, the coral registers
brought brothers again to twilit hobbying,
and boys to channel ice, to schooled
and public decibels, their bodies defined
by speed, brightening air and brightening
the skate blades under them.

     They enter the ranks of stars, bright peddled air
the children tumble out of
on themselves, who stand and step
and glide, perfecting themselves
for once in flash-along and distance,
enter the ranks of stars, through
doors with all their implications for promotion,
leaving that past to local trees,
to lines suspended between trees
and sheets in bleak-bright yards,
competitions followed into
all the carried places.

     I speak because she might be interested.

     And let the hand-held children stand,
bring us in to see,
their festal salience and fires laid down,
established again
in serious, wind-cindered laughter.
A child might quit
to listen as the President soothes hearts,
listen to that plain talk,
imagining, hand-to-hand, realigning space
behind the European murders,
sending the kids from home for exercises
with live fire, men in arms,
men squinting to catch the glint
of Nazi buckle.

     Imagine the children at their play,
leaving the blood
to deepen into useless camouflage.
What would the medics
think of it, the human waste, the false joy
diverting afternoons, a woman's
loveliness receding into straighter parts,
into the rock rain plays to,
into the names of men, peddling blood
for scraps, spared their own
short ends, the latest if muted
prints like specimens?


     Saturdays, Sundays like turned dice,
ghostly bridges to old decades, children lost
in the star lists
and in the course of product cycles, so many
odd and now disinterested appraisals.
Listen to the young men guess the stakes,
and to the flaming up of guest lists,
half the fun perfecting courtesies, to months
of newsmaking dissolve in near-forgetfulness,
bearded, because the wool was limited,
because the young men quit the runningboards
and stove-tops.  So much for rich solemnities,
for conversations as the calendars required,
for getting away with it, the politest smooch,
as planned, inviting remedies, as the daylight
ends more mercifully, or dignity permits,
the next in love ordered up or ordered off the property.
-- Delano turns the image of the world
to his liking.  Sunlight ranges through near-sleep,
among the early morning crosses.  You
may call this what you will, miracle, turnstile,
the daylight gone, the day's selections
of detergents and the nightly smokes, and Bloom,
M.D., made calm, made delicate,
quitting the violence for desserts, the happy suppers,
she believes, moved by all the influence,
to step over pools reduced in front of houses
at mid-block, into the moonlight acting up,
the moonlight settling on curb's edge sludge,
and in these voices like her own,
ascending as friends leave, a syncopation
sounding the dark air of the sub-porch,
and following after him, until
the chipped news quits.


     He counts on lasting then, counts
on the faces coming out, the shoemaker's sons
or ballplayers, given their roles
in reading time, and in his own good reticence,
weighing the sweet mileage, remembering
the diva, drag, and all this smoke between,
such looks as darkness concentrates,
more saved, he thinks, more paid, he thinks,
than longing realized, ransomed here,
where fit men dressed themselves, where afternoons
drain off as weather or health assumes.
-- 1986.  The small bones crack, relax.
He sees the cat outdoors, paying in her flesh,
millennia-old decisions steeped
in her turned gaze, looking after him, hunting
for the night done, yielding to him the yards
between some men and their withdrawals.  Happy,
close to home, sitting the deep shade cast
by streetlamp and eucalyptus, she watches him
pace porchboards, more still in that oval
where only the ears twitch, until her still head
turns and nearly breaks the spell...


     Choices from which there'd seemed no turning back
haunt their common dark, reminders of a style,
     where men had once seemed cliff-divers or shaman,
huntsmen shouldering poles, bearing their vivid prey,
     leaving a man tonight his snagged accomplishments,
sparing a man the sentence he was not prepared to ask.
     Let me tell you this:  She died a brutal, unlucky death,
indulging its full authority, leaving the holiday yard
     to kids, 7 and 8 year olds already dizzied by departures,
leaving the words on it for kin, for these that seemed
     to search the nests of origins for sources.  The lucky
or caught calls resonate.  And this chance glow,
     the bright ski-weather, appoints the looks of these,
the looks of dusks and all their passionate surprises,
     with all the white-walled dreams by which the midnight
compensates, revealing the shapes of calves,
     powdery leotards, the haunted tunes on meaty corners
where wilder drag ensues, where these were waiting
     just, appealing for cool water, sewn to soft extremes,
and to the morning's cooler pastels peeled back,
     leaving these wrecked interiors, this nastier tag of questions
clinics obfuscate.  I listen to tough kids cry alive,
     driven more deeply now, as if this gaze into cupped palms
were not some instinct for survival, defying
     a mind to ask, to speak and not to flinch, to let the treble
affect key change, bringing about, in slow discovery,
     some desire to ease the earliest cries again, as if these
were not the source of every distance, as if these
     wild descents would after all seem rational.


     She swore blue skulks.
She swore featureless and mean,
smoke spilling where lips were,
gathering on shears
she'd raised to hurtle into shadows,
until the moods exhausted her,
the pinched collars drew men's hands
to eyes and buttons,
leaving a shocked wife bachelor,
and the hoarded murmurings
peopling grey air, above the mouth
of her noon bottle.

     I could not forgive myself, adding
lightning's shock to all accomplishment.
Time would not shake free, release
a man in his own custody, letting him
breathe, and not to feel the catch,
feeling the fear he was, and the torque
events applied to task the linchpin,
emptying homes lived in, deranging
the pop songs with no man's syllables.  And
after all the tracks the tires scratched
in the raked stones, I think to answer
after all and innocent, finding a heart
in these redone insignia, stealing,
you'd say, preparing the mind to stand
the shock of human volleys,
that seasons should bear such urgencies,
urged light should list behind
the failures of intention, and the delicious
circuitries, sharpening a man
for this mused green, should now engage
a man, at 80 once and not, each
of the fit plugs drawn, feeling fabric's
worth and touches of construction,
and feeling all the unkempt
items under mark.


     We whipped ourselves to shape with suppertalk,
as if we'd meant to advertise,
or happened again on variants for spires,
peeled through backlots, chasing
guarantees, pursuing the strict light
left to us as solace.  I might as well
be talking recipes, as well slip home,
a charmed runt weathering freeze
and his first hungers, and lovely  costumed
as the deepest hungers then,
as mighty discipline, nothing for him
to catch, startling him with moods
and incapacities to fathom.  Could she accept,
subscribe to advertising cardboards,
or feel the conditions of such skin, reasons
that shops should stand,
in their exhausting differences?  Imagine
how patterns warm even the iciest
of lifetimes, or lives  regain themselves,
redress that first exhuberance,
confessing the seasons ahead, the celibacies
ahead and studied healing, the years
ahead for them as concert seats
and board lengths...

     It wouldn't be wisdom then, another year's
dull show, rations
refining family, all of the wishes
finally trusted to oneself, observed
in pictures from such heights,
in aerial or tunneling light, or in the mind
adjusting notions to such speeds,
and speeds to all capacities to measure.
-- Vantage could now be any
of dull porches, the seasons dusting off
recruits, a traffic's sequential blanks,
where the enlisted sought impossible routes home,
riding the breeze we'd sworn
the rabbi authorized.  So lives pursue
their own revenge as recreation.
And so a man will sit this long, encouraging
her to eat, a physician made to pay,
hearing the commotions sweetened now
by outdoors orchestra, easing a man
tonight, a woman tonight who just upset
the dinner tray, attempting
to pass blame, acting as if there's not a soul
besides herself, and he, absorbing
the breaking amplitude, paying in dreams
for every failure to matter.

     He readies himself to face, to repeat
the nightmares now, repeat
the looks where everything appeals,
takes cheer from grey-bright arcs
of a new daylight, grey dusting hills,
grey rigging spans
and all the moving water, all of the hazards
marked, and even the presence
of their mothers, putting the numbers up
and rushing ahead from accidents.
-- It wouldn't be wisdom then, remembering
the ways first love struck men
as spirited, the slim sides of harbor
tossing an image back,
or this unspoken loveliness, brought dull
before the riprap and sequoia,
too much to fancy we knew better once,
that choice could fall
in such eventful increments, patient to reveal,
until a man forgives himself,
forgets, wears out designs, and finds
the shapes of his believing,
talking this way to suit perceptions
of the treatment, that talk
itself might find ways home
in steady guesses.


     Carl would seem so cold, punished again
for company, as wildly roused
by blue remainders as by counting, by texts and columns
and candied nubs, the wooden forms
and subjects of a research, worn that way,
between the thumb and the first finger,
from riding on a thigh.  Cold, so cold,
the names made alphabets.  And here, say,
as motion comes apart, leaving
the low leapt hedges where the children ran,
the casings from waxed missiles
they had first sucked dry, Carl remembers
the pitched fruit, the limbs
and chestnuts, imagining himself through wars
the kids would settle their faiths in,
anything but this, feeling the heat of services,
the lightness of riot afterward, inventing
the love of women and what that must be like.
-- Cold, so cold, I'm listening,
chilled as we all were, remembering the blanks
where lightning crossed,
the blown wash acquainting silhouettes.
He welcomes his guests tonight
with cheese and San Francisco ales, believing
he's thought too much to say things presently,
and cold, so cold, even as sunset factors
the searing colors in, factors the young men
cresting somewhere with the hours,
feeling their limbs' poor news, the inconsolable
blue shivers, and their limbs made red
as if with rubbing over beachstones: biographies
to tell, stories as lost as the tears were,
lending fiber to the downpour, as words were lost
when lifted from the neighbors' histories.
-- But who's insured long life?  And who,
dying now for intimacies or dopey jokes,
would stop to blame the anchorite,
the capable vivante, missing in action say,
absorbed by street fires as men were,
or taken away by the machines so much
in operation, so many nights
to walk off wine, leaving the cold selves
shivering as the censors clip?
He mirrors the hard right hand, steps down
into the river where the guards patrol,
seeing the cold eyes there, glazing with excuses,
and steeped in news with casualties
and next exams:  1942, the decades, perceived
as lengths a man turned from, leave
him their the noise and rinse, leaving
a man his long matriculations
of surprises, and the daylight then,
like extremes of appetite.


     The kids run off, as if to run were not
an experiment in choices, getting
     an eye for speed, kids that played too close
to country highways, patching
     themselves in present time, feeling
the shock of seasons
     and designer medicines, the music tasked
against coincidence.  And now
     the task's to be of use, to throw off fatigue,
repeating air and asking miracle.
     So husbands forget themselves and ask.
So wives impress themselves
     on their physicians, charmed to think
what distance makes of it,
     nothing to dazzle but place names, the blocks
condensed to bankruptcies
     and glad-handed reductions, decades
condensed to this sipped water,
     this cracked wiped lip, to lyrics the children
entertain, and the failed guardians,
     settling themselves again on air times,
abstinence, imagining safe routes home,
     whispering young men and houses emptying,
believing, because we all were
     strangers here, the grafts and sidereal forms,
and love as the next or next new wave
     of immigrations.  There might be something
said for all this follow through,
     this heat and now these hybrid antidotes,
reminding a man of homes at risk,
     called on to depend, to feel the daylight strained,
as he, who sweats into my hand,
     lets his eyes go on, unable to will himself
to choices, to understand what he
     or August is becoming, to balance the forms
where two stood up, perilously steep,
     and must repeat, when asked, the blank
expressions squarely searched.


     Have I been 50 years at this, shaping the timbre
of new thoughts, repenting
     lost materials, Bloom, M.D., sleeping
out of doors, stretched by the bellowing,
     boasts, and the sad news of the republic?
And this, we think, could be the end of it,
     sleeping out of doors, approaching certitude,
seeking a voice to blow storms off,
     Bloom, M.D., 50 years at it, stepping
from the screened front rooms,
     as if agreeing to ambitions, hearing the laughter
left as explanations of a format, permitted
     to sift this latest news about their bodies,
until the reflex turns the while to new uses,
     reminding a man of love and other kinds
of recreation.  Maybe I've stood too long,
     looked too long through scopes, thinking
to find the space, the performances
     of surf that meant the last days of a summer,
getting what love men called, in all
     that men might be to men about their bodies.
He attempts the crisped bread, tea,
     settling himself to days ahead, to futures ahead
like rented vehicles, feeling
     this sovereign absence build, the spells
in gilt or teak displays, who cannot
     lift a hand, or bring a spoon around
with the weight of a spooned portion,
     remembering the flatbeds moving north,
relocating half-tracks, and young men
     on maneuvers, chilled trucks and chicken parts,
treatment lines reformed, in drag
     and body paint, confusing his own
porous sleep, and these attending
     relatives, causing a heart to catch,
bearing the looks of it, full moons
     and rifts, and trackings
          of libretto.


     Daylight climbs the rooftops and the eastern trees.
We think the smart things said,
the bituminous or reedy voices of the wounded,
second takes on jokes, propped
by restaurant raves, stories of wooed terrestrials, by
Browning or St. Paul, these nearly synonymous
regions of belief, appealing as it were, as much by heat
as by the stats on the equipment, as the honey
smeared all over biscuits or the tummy's rise, 1942,
meaning the tongued, conditional treats
her eyes in love stood for, until the props fell out,
the evenings changing everything, and we,
act and audience, stepped down from love to long walks
into countries.  Hadn't we, rather, watched
ourselves perform, brightening dim rooms, spared
for that short time the frisked and dangerous streets,
the stabs, stammers, hungers for your money,
because a moment satisfied, the once in it, two adding
themselves as two and then subtracting bass?
And hadn't I, to believe myself a party to such loving,
believed a southern girl come north,
and north enough to feel the needs of northern winter,
and north enough, as far again as grammars,
receiving the words for ice like a prescription for her future,
finding herself another way, another night
to stand the tinkering and timbre of the voices,
the dawns past all imagining, the harder spaces,
hemispheres, and nuisance points of origin?
Not so much to tell, but explanations of first love
the children might take home with them,
might find a use for finally, foster loves a man
would then adapt as a profession,
and find  a use for finally, hearing the horns
outdoors, meaning the season's
had its way, and now the blowers starting
all this insufficient heat.

Go to Topping Off (2)
Go to Topping Off (1)

© Copyright Robert Lietz.
About the author.

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