Luck at the Helm
The boat held steady between ferry
and buoy though the boy at the helm
yelled to his father to take the wheel.
It was not the first time he was in charge
Of his own fate though it was a first
To steer a boat between go and don’t,
a swell of a line in the best of times.
The boat held steady because wind
with tide obliged the direction needed.
And the boy felt that pulse in his hand,
that wild thrill, the charge of feeling
in command of some powerful machine,
the way a child feels with its first step,
and then the fear of how things change
so fast the way a ferry may veer closer
and the course ahead shrink to a few feet.
In this case, the boy held it steady
just enough to get through as his dad
watched from the bow, taking pictures.
Now the boy turned a man long since
scolds the father for negligence.
“You took your photos, but not the wheel.”
The father smiled the way he had
forty years ago beneath the sail.
“I enjoyed how you earned my trust
which always must come before earned.”
But the son would not accept paradox
for apology, nor bowing down to a sage.
“Dad, you’re lucky I didn’t let the wheel go.
Had we crashed, you’d have been blamed.”
“I knew you could steer that boat, son,
The wind following and the tide with us.
The only question was would you do it.
That choice is one’s fate here and now,
the ferry and buoy one must sail through
every moment.” And then when the dad
rose from the table to hug his son,
both beers spilled like a wake makes foam.
And they just laughed (and ordered two more).
People all over the world had come
to my house, uninvited and dressed
as if Halloween. First I saw siblings
not seen in years and my mom
dead for a decade at my door,
and a long line of people unknown,
disguised as ghosts, witches, faeries,
superheroes, puppets and machines.
In a distant room I heard my wife’s
voice so I called out for her.
Had she planned a party this size
and not said a word? Her laugh
suggested she thought I joked,
leprechaun from Cork as she is.
But we couldn’t talk, too many
in the way for us to squeeze round.
So I looked for a seat, somewhere
to take it all in and hide the fact
I alone wore no costume,
just my typical clothes, what
I wear any day when I’m out
and need to fit in and be
a bit invisible. Now I stood out.
And people looked down at me
as if I spoiled the spirit of the day.
I looked up to see this giant
black woman in beautiful flowers draped,
complaining about her shoes. “Oh how
these heels hurt my feet.” And I asked,
“Aretha, why not just take them off?”
She laughed when she found cool grass
to dip her toes and began to sing.
I found rest on a soiled stone bench,
reason why no one else claimed it.
I sat down and felt at last alone.
I watched the parade stream by,
faces sunrise red and black as night,
speaking all languages of the world.
Then two others came by me, each
invisible, because we, we were dead.
He stood there at the door as if to say
it’s about time. We had to let him in,
handsome and healthy, this blue-eyed
blonde, Adonis of a kid with a judge
in his pocket, perhaps in more than one
way. The judge too would show up
at our door, just walking in one morning,
to check on the boy, dawdling in his room,
late for high school again. “Why isn’t he
in school?” the judge asked me but I
said, “Your honor here I wear the robes,”
still in my bathrobe. He patted the boy’s
head as he ran smirking out the door.
He loved to show us karate moves,
coming close to our nose, but when he
clobbered his grandma on a visit,
I took him back to Family Court to see
the judge again who told him, “Robbie,
you’ve got to behave better,” sending him
off to another group home. I never saw
or heard the boy again, but the voice
of his grandmother with its slight brogue
on the phone, trying to cover up
the beating he gave her when she
found him in her purse, has never
left my head for the past forty years.
“Forgive him,” she asked me, “he knows
no other but the hard one he’s learned.”
To Jackson Pollock’s Naked Man with Knife (1938-40)
What are you trying to free? Is it
the bull within? Is it the spirit beyond
the blood? Naked man, you are not
naked enough for death to claim you,
wielding your brush like a knife as if
it were a road to another world.
This life must be enough to do
your work. That must pour itself out
of you, not like a vein you’ve cut
or a bomb smashing but like a bird
freed from a cage or a lover
loosed from desire’s hold. Now
the bull’s tether has been cut.
Open fields allow no turning back.
What the Wind Says
From every peak, it blasts its decree:
“Nature’s the fingerprint of eternity
but no one knows who or what made it.
Death insures that no one ever will,
erasing the press of metaphor.”
Also - in whispers – “God is so great,
There’s no need for God to exist.”
What the wind says to a single blade
of grass, however, cannot be heard.
Anthony DiMatteo's poems have recently appeared in the American Journal of Poetry, Cimarron Review, Connecticut River Review and The Macguffin. His latest book In Defense of Puppets (Future Cycle Press) explores the way we imagine things when we speak for others or they for us. A recent chapbook Fishing for Family (Kelsay Books) charts the experience of language from infancy to senescence. Bienvenue au Danse, Anthony.