Wear your helmet, p.1
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Wear Your Helmet
Wear Your Helmet

  Poems

  Charles Hibbard

  Copyright 2016 Charles Hibbard

  Thank you for downloading this book. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form.

  Table of Contents

  1. Early March

  2. Community Chorus

  3. Hang Glider

  4. The Music

  5. Swallow

  6. June

  7. What Can We Save?

  8. The Puzzle of Roadkill

  9. Demolition Day

  10. Leaving

  11. Austin State Hospital Cemetery

  12. Clouds

  13. Bedtime

  14. Fundamentals

  15. Revolution

  16. Endangered Species

  17. Jack

  18. Capri

  19. Porto Empedocle

  20. Villa Romana del Casale

  21. The Renaissance Lute

  22. November 8

  23. And If You Can’t Change Your Life?

  24. Trinity Episcopal Church, Built 1845

  25. Worth Living

  1. Early March

  Like Carthage plowed

  and salted the city lies

  beaten down by winter, now

  withdrawing to its polar lair.

  The tops of the trees still bow

  waiting for another icy blow;

  too much blue sky shows

  through their thousand

  crossed fingers, where

  a cardinal thinks of singing

  and tattered clouds slide by

  happy as June.

  Here below, it’s all dunes

  of winter dust and the last

  slumping hills of snow.

  But sunshine kneads the meadows

  and the dead rabble of grass

  is combed over bubbles

  of frost-heaved soil, as though

  the earth itself were on the boil.

  2. Community Chorus

  On the riser of bald

  and graying heads

  that orange sweater glows

  like a hot young sun

  too bright for staring

  but target of a hundred

  sidelong glances;

  as one last flaring

  October maple on a drab

  hillside burns alive

  but will bare its branches

  in solitude only long after

  the rest of that wistful slope

  has cleared to the parking lot

  and driven home

  through dusk and cold.

  3. Hang Glider

  I.

  All the others

  expected birds

  so I think only I

  saw him up there

  suspended briefly

  in a clearing

  between slow

  evolving clouds.

  Shocking silence

  of high altitude

  presumably human

  speck below a flake

  of red sail

  then vanished

  into that long

  gone afternoon.

  II.

  Now we know better:

  it’s hot down here

  on the desert floor

  but cool up there

  in the blue, so high

  we earthbound

  can barely see you

  cruising the sliding

  gaps between clouds

  that guide the fanning

  rays of sunlight.

  You may yet escape

  this labyrinth!

  Unfurl your red sail

  and leap, rise,

  ride on those tall

  pillars of hot air!

  Wax is obsolete!

  Soar as near the sun

  as you please.

  Wear your helmet.

  4. The Music

  The music was caged

  inside a vaulted hall.

  Sunlight struck

  through tall glass

  to the gleam

  of organ pipes

  and the players

  working in black

  to reconstruct

  a tidy old song.

  Outside the windows a band

  of cottonwoods jammed,

  bowed by a warm wind

  and swaying against the glass.

  That messy rush of leaves

  was banished from the room;

  but the beckoning branches

  are all that I recall.

  I wanted the windows open.

  I wanted to hear that afternoon.

  5. Swallow

  During these ascents, often at twilight, the birds climb up to one and a half miles. – James Gorman, NYT, 10/27/16.

  You may spend all your days

  cruising the lower layers

  above the flatlands,

  in the smoky air of cities,

  swallowing all the fat flies

  and drifting spiders

  that come your way.

  But you can climb at night

  a mile or two high,

  leave that mundane below

  a deep cushion of sky,

  close your eyes

  and coast carefree

  through dreams of flight.

  6. June

  Our nighthawk

  is back, scoring

  the soft night sky

  above city bricks

  morning glories

  unfurled on fences

  blue flag the dawn

  hibernators snort awake

  and burst into streets

  abreeze with the first

  countable warmth

  while thunderheads

  rise on black feet

  to sober the childish sun.

  Take a table outside.

  It’s June, the Friday

  evening of summer.

  No need to rush July.

  Interlude: Summer House

  7. What Can We Save?

  One way is to recall it

  as it was new, before

  parents made it old for us:

  logs still with their bark

  and oozing sap,

  floorboards pale

  as the hearts of pines,

  shiny brass bedsteads

  and the windows gleaming

  where the boys stood

  in their various heights

  to dream the endless

  walk of the waves

  and watch the moon,

  over hills only lately

  swept clear of trees,

  water the lake with light.

  They could shutter the house

  for winter, that first Labor Day,

  knowing for sure it would all

  be waiting for them in May.

  But as things stand now

  perhaps it’s better just

  to give sway to this wind,

  and look back even further

  to when there was only sun

  jittering on poplars,

  no cabin, no clearing

  no slightest tear

  in the quilt of fragrant woods.

  And safely distant through

  gaps between the trees,

  only fair weather clouds

  above the shock of blue.

  8. The Puzzle of Roadkill

  ...this century-old house

  in the wrecker’s sights,

  like the holy construct

  of a mouse in headlights,

  to be ripped apart

  door by window,

  night by quiet night,

  tick by tock, ghost by ghost,

  smeared down the road

  and left a lump,

  ignominious mound

  of fur and skin, disjunct

  eyeballs, splintered bone,

  a mangle of once tidy

  rooms strewn down

  tomorrows until at most

  a memory remains,

  and far beyond.

  9. Demolition Day

  Bedrooms and kitchen

  torn open to the sky

  chimney and hearth stones

  scattered hornets routed

  and swarming mad

  mice and squirrels outed

  and skittering unroofed

  ants boil shiny black

  in sunlight bats fly blind

  and hang themselves

  blinking in trees serpents

  driven from ancient dens

  snake through grass to new

  homes or nowhere...

  All these spirits must fly

  crawl or slink away

  before someone can raise

  tomorrow on this open grave.

  10. Leaving

  This afternoon is gray

  and soft, a scrim

  of silver light.

  From hills across the lake

  gone summers glide

  toward this window

  in orderly rows

  without flash or gleam

  herded by the wind.

  Stolid old pines

  frame the view.

  Below, one last dog

  dozing on dry grass,

  and voices of those

  who are able to stay

  a few days longer.

  I have to catch a flight.

  And Moving Right Along...

  11. Austin State Hospital Cemetery

  The rolling well-mown field

  is sparsely strewn with stained stone

  crosses and broken plinths, as though

  even in death these wild unknowns

  must be buffered from each other

  by space and grass. Three thousand

  interred beneath this treeless rise,

  though “It’s a myth they were ever

  buried one on top of another”;

  the scattered stones mark the spots

  where a few memories poke through

  the manicured lawn of forgotten.

  A small shrine – cross hand-carved

  from a shingle, plastic flowers,

  prom photo, and heartfelt words:

  “Tears are not a sign of weakness

  but the mark of an unspeakable love”

  – is backed up against the fence

  that encloses that silence,

  with its unspeakable hint that love

  might not be all we need it to be.

  12. Clouds

  We’re not talking

  on this speeding train

  but my wife’s shoulder

  presses firmly on mine

  as she knits an intricate

  landscape of colored strings.

  Beyond the window summer

  clouds grow and dwindle,

  reach and retreat, tower and curl:

  they’re not castles or hills

  not camels or whales

  but airfill only, piled high:

  remoteness, stately drift,

  unquiet boundaries

  firm as any flesh.

  13. Seventy-one

  At bedtime I notice the bones

  in the back of my narrow hand.

  (“It’s all going to end

  badly.”) My wife appears

  from the bathroom and prepares

  for bed – more slowly

  than yesterday? My skin

  doesn’t look the same tonight

  I think it needs some cream.

  But coffee tomorrow morning

  and no alarm

  seventy-one and sunny

  migrants exploiting a south wind.

  14. Fundamentals

  And suppose they’re right

  our fevered brothers

  with their sacred books

  and guns and blades

  determined to make us

  avert our gaze

  from everything but

  what can’t be seen...

  If a star is just a star

  and a tree just a tree

  perhaps it’s wiser to pluck

  our offending eyes

  than to let them look

  too closely at any things

  or try to name the atoms

  that join to synthesize

  a love.

  15. Revolution

  Screams and shouts

  and running feet

  plate glass sags

  like melting ice

  bullhorns bellow gas

  forces of order briefly

  back on their boot heels

  as the world takes another turn.

  Days that make history

  seem almost real

  almost worth living.

  ...and there they are, too

  the befuddled old

  stringing out

  superseded lives

  collars turned up

  hats pulled down

  against the storm

  on aching knees

  peeking out windows

  at the mayhem below

  waiting for a lull

  the chance to limp

  and list along

  glass-glittered streets

  clutching their empty

  shopping bags.

  16. Endangered Species

  Springtime in Audubon’s woods.

  In his day the trees and swamps

  were plush with birds.

  Today we may still welcome

  some kind of spring; but his May

  was to ours as ten is to one,

  a plenum of sex and song.

 

  Needlessly numerous, some now

  would say of those birds – so many

  it could be hard to know

  just where to point his gun.

  Point and shoot and paint;

  seven hundred species saved

  on paper. Meanwhile Audubon

  lost all his teeth,

  not to mention his mind,

  before he was finally done.

  17. Jack

  Always hurricane weather

  in the flip-flop climate

  where you tried to escape

  from winter: your roof

  cartwheeling down the street

  “friends” blown downwind

  your marriage beached

  and leaning on the trunk

  of a snapped-off palm.

  Flying always into the eye

  of your own history.

  You started to talk

  about leave-taking

  so I kept talking too

  and a grip on your arm

  until I got the old laugh.

  But after I left

  there was one more blow.

  Wherever

  you’re off to now

  I hope the breezes

  are gentler, flowing

  only in the kindest

  of open-ended curves.

  18. Capri

  Nosing against the cliffs, crowds of crowded boats

  wait their turn at the Blue Grotto.

  And cruising by,

  four happy

  Americans at Capri

  strewn in sunshine

  on our cockleshell deck.

  Italians drive us.

 

  Plowing the sea nearby are other vessels, bigger, tourists

  seated in rows, hats tugged low over sunburned noses.

  Nearly naked with privilege

  we send them our sympathy

  and contempt, as our sailor

  idles his craft to let us slide

  down the side into the sea’s

  ruffled glass, or glides us

  high over our blue shadow

  through arches of stone.

  On the cliffs far above

  red bougainvillea spills

  over walls of white villas,

  their heavy-lidded windows

  unimpressed by our glow.

  19. Porto Empedocle

  Liugi Pirandello was born in this town;

  and him today we hail

  where a magpie sits on a power line

  flicking his long black tail.

  20. Villa Romana del Casale

  The news from Rome was bad.

  I imagine him

  strolling this garden

  to clear his head

  while someone silent

  followed behind him

  waving away the flies.

  Wind humming low

  in umbrella pines

  calmed his whirling mind

  or maybe helped him

  harden some resolve

 

  – or meant nothing at all

  in his crowded life

  whatever the same breeze

  among these newer pines

  may sing to me now,

  sweeping away all that time.

  21. The Renaissance Lute

  So soft, the song

  of that little lute,

  intimate as a child

  humming to its own play.

  You could imagine

  some dancing too:

  the swish of silk

  gentle as a smile

  meant for you alone.

  What was a musician

  in those long-gone days?

  What was a lutenist

  before spotlights

  microphones and amps?

  Clever fingers

  and skintight pants.

  The lutenist bows

  and turns to leave,

  slinging his little ax

  over one shoulder,

  tipping back

  his feathered cap

  or tugging it down

  to darken his glance.

  A lady or two may

  watch him as he goes.

  22. November 8

  Winter does come around.

  There will be no basking

  for a time. Winter

  is for weather-stripping

  window frames, stuffing

  the chinks in your walls

  drawing the drapes

  lighting a fire.

  Buy a new coat, a hat

  that covers your ears

  a sweater for the chill

  fold an extra quilt

  at the foot of the bed.

  Go out and walk

  in the long, dim light.

  Darkness will have its day

 
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