A Dome Larger than St. Peter’s
The night before the fatal storm
I’m speaking Russian in a dream
of fleeing the suburbs to evade
your latest crime. Defying law
and sense, you erected a dome
larger than St. Peter’s, whiter
than the capitol’s, atop a hill
in a forest of raccoons and skunks.
The storm could topple us both,
erasing our homes and leaving
a stink of unsolved mysteries.
That dome frightens me. Eerie
as a skull, it looms above the world
and outweighs the other matter
of the universe. You built it
to scare me into speaking Russian,
and it worked. You don’t believe
I’m speaking Russian right now?
The storm approaches from the south
while cold air pours from Canada.
When these forces meet, the power
will fail and roofs will collapse
and the tree-fall will render travel
impossible for several days.
You’ll gloat safe in your condo
while I gibber in my basement
in a language I don’t understand.
The dome rises like cumulus clouds.
Beneath it, ghostly parliaments
debate the futures of nations
thousands of miles away. The dream
has already absorbed me, leaving
a greasy residue. Zoning boards
all over America hate you,
but you’ve gotten your way forever.
The oncoming storm will swerve
to spare you. Sheltered beneath
your sepulchral dome, you’ll drink
cup after cup of sugary tea
while I’m busy suffocating
in the weather of your mind.
All night the lisp of snow off the roof,
heavy wet October snow heaping
in the trees, bending them to fit
a secret but public agenda.
The cats cower as the snore
of tumbling snow enlivens the dark.
I lie awake and trouble myself
with fears shaped like dirigibles.
A house sold fifty years ago
haunts me, room by room. Books
spilling from broken walnut cases.
Mirrors smudged with the ghosts
of everyone who’s ever lived here.
Upholstery tunneled by mice.
The seductive reek of mildew
oozing from damp-stained ceilings.
An old woman in a nursing home
has hired me to clear up the mess
so the house can sell. Donate books
to a church sale. Give the furniture
to a fellow who restores and sells
at small profit. Dump everything else.
The naked interior needs paint,
as soon as roofers patch the leaks.
Halfway through the job her children,
grown thugs, demand I leave
the rest to them. One night later
the house burns to a mess of cinders.
The snow piles up two feet deep,
a record not only for autumn
but for all the years I’ve lived here.
How will I clear the driveway?
The dark puzzles in snow-mist
ghostly as the flex of dimensions
that like time bend and double up,
struggling to make ends meet. The glare
of a snowplow doesn’t cheer me,
but remembering that sad old house
parses a distance otherwise
impossible for me to cross.
A Halloween Tour on Horseback
Because I’ve got the weekend off,
I escape the daily round of chores
for a Halloween tour on horseback.
Slouching men sneer as I pass
on my tall white mare. Unemployed
for decades, they smoke and curse
and vote against politicians
whose promise to create more jobs
threatens their status quo.
They despise the horsey set
whose daughters go to Wellesley
and marry boys whose genitalia
weigh less than pairs of moth wings.
Despite my appearance on horseback,
I don’t belong to the gentry.
Having lost my driver’s license
for driving while deeply bored,
I chose a horse for conversation
and warmth. Parked at a general store,
I feed the mare Rice Krispies
and nosh on a couple of Ding-Dongs.
A knot of those slouching men
stares at the ground. Their faces
have clenched so tightly curses
can’t slip through their toothless grins.
Across the street on a fence,
a row of jack o’ lanterns gape
at the slow world passing. Tonight
kids will drape in costume and prowl
for candy. I’ll park my horse
in a riding-school stable and pay more
than the B and B would charge me. [stanza break]
Horses outweigh people, of course,
and Halloween threatens with pranksters
who often become cruel. Maybe
I’ll sleep in the stall. Tomorrow
we’ll saunter home through villages
crushed by early snow. Wood smoke
exhaled by sleepy houses will sting
my nose and make my horse snort
as she pauses to snack on pumpkins
smashed like daydreams in the road.
Our tour will end with a sneeze,
a hot bath for me, a rubdown
for the mare, and a few snapshots
to explain where we went and why,
despite the unseasonable chill,
we came home drizzled in sweat.
This Old Truck
Why did you buy this old track?
Bald tires, dead battery, worn out
from a lifetime of heavy service
at our favorite gravel pit.
You’ve emptied our checking account
to buy a dump truck too clumsy
for you to drive in public. Jump
started, it coughs oily white smoke.
Needs a ring job. Needs spark plugs,
ball joints, paint, and a muffler.
Rumbling down Main Street, I feel
too blue collar to marry you.
Maybe that’s the idea: get me
behind the wheel of a shabby truck
and bring out the old-fashioned male
that lurks in me like childhood trauma.
Drink beer and swear at football
on TV. Vote Republican
to keep minorities in their place.
Smoke cigars that reek like sewage.
Slap you around so you run off
with a fragile, spiritual fellow
who could be our abandoned child.
No, I can’t apply this paradigm
without laughing at those cigars.
The truck grumbles up our driveway
and stalls under the hemlock, snuffling
gouts of oil and antifreeze. I spread
kitty litter on the spill and prop
a For Sale sign on the windshield [stanza break]
and hope someone macho enough
for this truck takes it and you away
to wallow in gravel together.
How The Idiot Ends
So you retired to Virginia,
to the Blue Ridge where villages
look shabby as New England’s
and tourists get lost in the fog
of early autumn mornings.
And you’re complaining that the dead
you left in Boston have followed you.
With their colorless smiles they bag
groceries at the general store. They pump
gas at the surly garage, or stamp
library books with green or red ink.
They can’t work computers because
their feeble electrical fields
would fail in a slush of digits.
They can’t drink beer with rednecks.
They can’t lecture on topics
that have arisen since their deaths.
Ignore them. Paddle your canoe
up modest rivers, study the birds,
and watch the coal drags shudder
through Clifton Forge as they track
east along the Jackson River
to terminate in Norfolk. Maybe
I’ll retire, too, and watch the trains
shoulder between the mountains,
gray diesel exhaust weeping.
Maybe I’ll retire a few miles
north or south of your famous view
of misty valleys receding one
after another down to the plains
where Richmond grumbles and fumes.
You won’t distinguish me from the dead
you lured from Boston until
you catch me reading Dostoevsky
aloud on your porch after midnight.
Don’t worry, the neighbors won’t complain.
They’ll want to hear how The Idiot
ends; and you, after scolding me,
will be glad to hear it again.