WHEN YOU CAN’T FIND ME And Other Poems

Most of the poems in this collection appeared in various issues of the following publications: River Poets Journal, Voice of the River Valley, Poetry Pacific (Canada), Ceativity Webzine (Germany), Red Morgue, Punchnel’s, Camel Saloon, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Screech Owl Literary Magazine (England), Burningwood Literary Journal, Wisconsin English Journal, The Glacier Stopped Here (An Anthology of Dane County Writers), Yahara Prairie Review, Poetry Break Journal, Malcontent, North Country Journal, Northland Review, Modern Haiku, Cicada, Brussels Sprout, Wind Chimes, Frogpond, Haiku Zasshi Zo Anthology, Dragonfly, Wisconsin Poets Calendar, Country Poet Magazine, South of the North Woods Anthology, Upland Reader III, Isthmus, Lyric Fiesta, Editor’s Desk, Days of Future Past, The New York Poetry Anthology, Bear Creek (Colorado) Review, Yahara Prairie Lights, and Lake City Lights.  The author appreciates all the editors of these publications, but especially the publisher of Modern Haiku for printing numerous haiku over the years, and to the editor of Northland Review who featured seven poems in one issue and got things moving.

Earlier versions of several poems appeared in a small collection titled Waupaca County: 7 A.M. (Apollo Books).  Some of the haiku were printed in a small hand-set limited edition chapbook After a Day of Feasting (Millstone Corner Press).  Several poems also appeared in my novel Miles To Go Before I Sleep (The Fiction Works).

Other books by Jerry McGinley: WAUPACA COUNTY: 7 A.M., JOAQUIN STRIKES BACK, CYCLOPS, MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP, A GOAL FOR JOAQUIN, THE LOVE SONG OF JOSEPH FLAHERTY, LAKE REDEMPTION, and THIS OMINOUS BIRD.

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CROSSING OVER

It is not what I expected—crossing over—

no tunnel of glaring lights, no blare of trumpets,

no crescendo of celestial choirs, no harps

or halos, no sounds at all.  I am not alone though.

Other ethereal shades wisp past me, silent, pallid and frail,

detached, never making eye contact, gliding by,

though motionless, as if riding on a moving

airport walkway—hypnotized, paralyzed, mesmerized.

 

Am I the only soul aware of these other ghosts?

Maybe it’s because I’m new here.

Maybe I’ll adapt, meld into a lifeless trance,

slip into my silent, interminable self.

But what if, what if I should meet another neophyte

phantasm?  Could I catch its ghostly gaze,

wink, smile, smash through that silent spectral shield?

What if we should slip off into the eerie haze,

away from sightless, colorless eyes?

Could we ever break that wraithlike spell?

 

No.  It will not happen.  We’re beyond that now.

We have crossed over.  I will linger in this limbo

land, limp, alone until my name is called.

But what if there is no other place—no next phase,

no Deva Loka, no Rapture or Reincarnation,

no Heaven nor Nirvana—only icy silence, vacant shadows?

 

What if I am simply one of them, wafting stoically

along my way, empty-eyed, vacuous, beyond mirth,

beyond sorrow, beyond existence, beyond rebirth?

But I will adjust.  I can do this!  But wait!

What is that dazzling light?  A tunnel?

A gate?  A chute toward some other circle

of Dante’s seven stairs to the inferno?

Should I take a chance and launch myself

toward that frigid, burning light?  What if I miss?

Maybe it’s a test.  Only the strongest reach Salvation.

Or maybe it’s a trick, a trapdoor to fiery Damnation.

Freefall for the faithless—suddenly I am sucked

forcefully toward the light.  Wind screams in my ears.

I smolder in the soft cool light, reaching, stretching,

touching, nearly grasping, aware, fully aware… Oh,

I see it now.  I wish I could tell you, but I…

THE NIGHT DYLAN THOMAS DIED

Two-fisted Welsh boys grip stones

Cold and round as moons, pause in their hunt

For wolves in the primeval forest

Of the neighborhood park, stand rigid, stare

At the sky expecting meteors or the moon to fall.

Then sense something strange unfolding

In that cold, early winter night.

 

Old uncles nap in front of the fire, stir in their sleep,

Emit deep guttural grunts, refold thick hands

Across bulging waistcoats and recapture slumber.

Frail aunts flit like wrens from perch to window,

Filled with anxious stirrings that something is not

Quite right.  A log tumbles ghostlike in the hearth.

The cottage groans against the chilled night.

 

Arctic winds drop down from Iceland,

Churn polar whitecaps on a purple sea.

Howling waves crash against coastal rocks,

Promising cold so severe that wooly mammoths

Will return, walk twice around the town,

Then huff great puffs of ghostly vapors and vanish,

Leaving only their huge oval tracks in the snow.

Stray dogs yowl as though high-pitched whistles,

Blown by errant school boys, pierced their ears.

 

Humpback whales roll on the icy sea,

Spout their own rhymes and aerie moans

And keening cries.  Brindle foxes awaken

In snug lairs, yap three times at the gibbous moon,

Then curl feathery tails around like wooly scarves,

And return to sleep.  Owls abandon field mice,

Hoot softly, swoop like fallen angels,

And move off to roost, bellies still empty.

Corduroyed bloaks in a Swansea pub

Clink stout glasses, mumble drunken toasts,

And rekindle tall stories about the night

Dy Thomas drank twenty-eight whiskeys,

Crawled home on hand and knees,

And was back at the bar at ten in the morning.

At home the widow pounds her head against the wall,

Blasphemes God for snatching him away, then

Spends the night in strait-jacket sorrow.

 

Three thousand miles away, a boy, barely old enough

To print his own name, wraps stubby fingers

Around a gnawed pencil and scrawls boldly:

My mellow cat has a yellow hat.  Then boasts proudly,

“Mother, come look, I’ve made my own poem.”

And the light above the table dims three times,

Then glows radiant over the child’s small rhyme.

WHEN YOU CAN’T FIND ME

Some day when you can’t find me,

when I’ve been converted to ashes

or dust, ask the cardinals where I am.

 

They may know where I’ve relocated,

maybe the grainy bark of a bur oak tree,

or the glossy green leaves of English ivy.

 

If the skittish cardinals aren’t talking,

asks the squirrels.  They keep close tabs

on these riotous woods and gardens.

 

Check the earthy essence of acorns,

or the seedy souls of milkweed pods.

I may be there, growing, ripening.

 

I could be hiding in the hostas,

or eating honeysuckle berries with

the robins.  Look for me there.

 

If the hunter moon is up, you will

never see me, hiding from the owl,

frozen in the shadows like a stone.

 

Today you saw a yellow swallowtail

lapping nectar on a purple coneflower.

I was there too.  Did you feel me?

COLD DECEMBER NIGHT

Cold December night,

the soft white belly of the moon

bounces light against my window.

 

A ghost taps my shivering shoulder,

startles me from dreams of an emerald river,

asks, Do you remember who I am?

 

I’m the fiend who stole your dove,

the one with golden gossamer wings,

that perched in your dogwood  tree.

 

I’m the brute makes you quaver in your sleep,

who makes you scream at icy stars,

and makes you cower at your own shadow.

 

I just stopped by to remind you

that your dove still coos for you, alone,

in her cage of iron chains in my dank lair.

BITTER WITNESS

The icy-eyed moon gnashes her razor teeth,

shrieks like a wounded possum, glares

at the starry-eyed lovers who pledge fidelity

by her light.  I’m not who you think I am,

she screams.  Swear by your own veracity.

I know nothing about your foolish passion.

I orbit morosely in my own frosty solitude.

 

Affirm your silly promises by the sun,

that fiery mass of gaseous bluster who

mocks my lonely existence with periodic

flashes of pitiful second-hand illumination.

I want no part of your misfortunate folly.

MAN IN THE GARDEN

There’s a naked man lying in the garden.

It has been softly raining all morning.

A tall white lily grows from the man’s mouth.

A hummingbird hovers above the snowy flower.

 

There is green moss growing in his hair,

and clematis vines sprout from his beard.

His vacant eyes look like ping-pong balls

jammed fiercely into hollow sockets.

 

Small red worms ooze from his pores,

and an acrid stench of rotting cabbage

floats like the plague above the garden.

Heavy air hangs like a gray curtain.

 

A murder of crows perches in a pine tree.

They converse furtively in quiet caws.

They are waiting for something to happen.

The rain has nearly stopped falling.

 

The man’s chest faintly heaves up and

down in breaths nearly imperceptible.

The naked man is alive but unaware.

His name is Human Civilization.