On Bullet Night

she keeps ranting
cussing every bullet
that shatters a parlor window
thuds into the wall –

she doesn’t try to protect herself
figures her voice
is all the armor she needs
when it comes to kids with guns
firing away at random –

no trenches dug
no money hidden away in a Swiss bank
not even a car for a quick getaway
this is all she is
and it’s been this way for sixty years –

she doesn’t even cross herself
or pray
or wish things could be different –

it’s all about gangs
and turf
and drug money
and weaponry –

she rants –

another bullet
just misses her head –

her voice is working

Summer Camp

A bunch of guys, the oldest only eleven,
strangers. awkward, quiet at first
but all we didn’t know or like about girls buoyed us,
when we camped by a stream no wider than our shadows,
but chilled by snow melt,
each splash on face
temporarily taking the cheeks out of commission,
the perfect shock to waken

I’m back at camp.
So what has changed other than myself?
Not the magnolias.
Not the brown water from the tap behind the barn.
Nor the pond.
Nor the boat tied up at its dock.
Branches and debris floating.
Bright green algae coating the banks.
Plants clustered at the edges.
The constellations aren’t out
but I’ll always remember how,
with the right teacher,
a boy can learn how each star combination
is something else entirely.

No, the memories can’t be discounted.
Deep in the woods, navigating exposed tree roots.
Fire popping and crackling as we fed it,
forming a natural arch from a cloud of ash.

We were full of brave adventure
as we gathered firewood, tossed pebbles,
pecked the skin off dead trees,
filled buckets at the spring.
In the late afternoon, before day folded,
found a forgotten cemetery,
remains of candles
in a frog-slimed puddle.

I lean back on the bank of the pond,
toes dissecting clear, shallow water.
My image is in there somewhere,
rowing that boat,
lumbering through brush,
or in thrall to stars of such magnitude,
they made me want to plunge my hand in the sparkling darkness,
so sinewy stems descended from the heavens
in the moonlight, forming patterns on the ground beneath.
And I find the place where we pitched tents.
white flowers still spreading
so like the smaller stars

Ah, the sounds of faraway summer,
someone squealing without end,
like they’d accidentally kissed a dog
or hollering for their turn,
or splashing up the hill with a bucket in hands
or struggling with the names of trees
and the tiny buzzing monsters on the surface
of both pond and skin,
or touching the snake that looks like it’s dead
but could just as easily be motionless,
or shapes in water detailed at a depth we couldn’t see.

I remember rowing through
the broad round leaves of waterlilies
to find bright purple blooms
sprouting from a ledge before me.
That was wilderness,
to set the oars at rest
and wrestle with a flower’s identity.

We found a cave as I remember,
parted its anchoring plants,
braved our way through semi-darkness
while teasing and arguing and laughing,
where conical fungi gleamed from wet walls.
Each brought out, in kind, his shy neighbor.

You Never Know

The menu is coffee stained.
The water is blue and clear to the bottom.

The waitress is unaware
her child has nearly drowned

in a neighbor’s pool
while she waits tables.

Cook burnt the bacon, starts again
and some guy is annoyed with how

long it’s taking for his 2.99 special.
The kid ventured too close to the edge,

slipped and fell. He’s okay but the woman who
pulled the boy out wonders

whether or not she should call the mother.
Mild hunger invokes annoyance.

Near-death brings out the wondering.
Cause and effect is happening all around us.

Heavy fingers thumping on the table,
light fingers brushing against a telephone key pad:

it’s the sound of not knowing
what will happen next.