Category: Poetry

Ordered Time

Ordered Time

Ordered time

They tried to order Time dawn to dusk,

Futile spreadsheets of manageable units,

Denying its nature to slow, to speed 

To pause, to fly with thoughts, dreams, 

Friends met, enemies loathed,

With pain and agony and anxiety, 

With pleasure, gaiety,

With visions, prophecies, with 

Feckless Fraud found out.

Ordered like railway ties

Clacking underneath our passing carriage

Carrying us toward the illusion, 

Of rails merging beyond the horizon, 

Combining before and after, 

In front and behind our journey.

And We passalong the tracks, the self-same tracks 

That transported circus animals to towns of laughing children, 

And carried the Jews to the ovens

And passed in front of Einstein, 

Standing on the platform, 

Visualizing eternity.

And locked in our box cars through the slats we see

Tree limbs encased in ice, white

The beauty of the morning, breaking, falling, 

The ache beyond our finger’s reach,

That we will never touch or hold,

Not for us to possess, to savor, to hoard.

Order beckons us away from the wide moment,

The joy of girls laughing,

The approval of a wife’s smile, 

The grief of a widow,

Order leaves behind the town, back before crowds,

Bare feet skipping between the sticker burs,

Curbs free of cars up in the work day

Young boys delighted to run an errand,

The touch of smooth porcelain, 

Birds chasing rabbits in the meadow 

And the singing, singing, singing as we lament.

Sad, time will be there tomorrow, somewhere, 

And was there, somewhere just yesterday

As we ride away, and disappear chasing the illusion 

Of separate tracks merging beyond the hill.

And worst of all, unordered, Time quietly resolves,

Barely felt, it ends the longing, desire, ambition, hope, 

the possibilities, When it ends, it ends

The dagger in the back of the Prince,

The speech of a President sending the nation to war,

A bullet in the chest of a Mother’s son,

The Preacher on Christ’s divinity, on God’s wrath, on God’s grace

The assassin’s bullet shattering the brain of his better, of our better,

The desperate search for a lost child,

Wandered off or taken?

Murdered by a Father or a Father’s mistress?

Getting lost in a picture of Micky Mantle

His halting, haunting, lumbering gait rounding the bases,

Country strong, country smile, innocent and lethal 

Having a drink with his own nightmares,

Ends 

A Father’s teaching,

A brother’s perfidy, 

A sister’s betrayal,

A mother’s slap,

A daughter’s laugh, tickled, unrestrained,

A granddaughter’s tear, as life impinges on her innocence.

Our tear as she looks away from the horizon 

Where the tracks maybe just might merge and stands shyly watching

The boy serving hamburgers and sodas at the counter.

Poetry in the Public Square

Poetry in the Public Square

Is poetry a public or private thing?

One’s love of country could be deliciously stirred by the magic of poetry:

“This happy breed of men, this little world, 

This precious stone set in the silver sea, 

………….

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England . . .”

Historically western poetry concerned itself with very public matters.  In verse we found Kingdoms and Kings, Gods and Fate, Destiny and Mysteries, and Mankind and his cities.  Poetry strutted on the vast stage of great events from Ulysses to Oedipus the King, to Dante’s Divine Comedy to Shakespeare and the souls of his flawed Princes struggling in the midst of cruel happenstance. 

But that all began to change last century.  One wag said, “the poet has no more part in society than a monk in domestic life.”

That sentiment has become debilitating in the age of Political Correctness.  Perhaps it is one reason why so much of modern American poetry is a desert of the inane, the mundane and the profane. Most modern poetry says nothing important that you cannot find canned on the cable T.V. channel of your choice. But does it have to be this way?

Could it have an impact on the public politics it once had?

Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982), an American poet who studied law at Harvard and dipped his toe in the political world, said, “The very last qualification for appointment to public office by and with the advice and consent of the Senate – and I am speaking with some personal knowledge – is, in the eyes of the senators, the practice of the art of verse.”

By contrast, Shakespeare’s most memorable characters included a Moor, a Jew, a conniving and murderous woman, a crippled man, 

“I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, 

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,

Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, 

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them.“ 

And, even more shockingly, he made fun of cross dressing, bestiality and shrewish women. One can just here the gasps!

Could a modern-day Shakespeare be expected to explore in verse his musings on the State of the State? Would his plays be boycotted, his poetry banned from the public-school system.  (oops, I guess that has already been done at some colleges.)

When a man cannot become a judge because he is Catholic and member of a charitable organization as innocuous as the Knights of Columbus, when a comic is pilloried because in the past he did what comics do, make fun of groups of people, how can a poet, be expected to take a risk and hope to be published?

Poetry (and to a large extent Art) has been relegated to the private realm.  And to regions safe, secure and is not allowed to deal with the messy unpredictable life of the public arena. One cannot explore the many sides of mankind, not in the public square, not ever, not in real flawed life ever, not without being crucified, if not now, at some future day, by someone, somewhere who will find offense?

As William Butler Yeats, (1865-1939), an Irish poet intensely involved in the politics of Ireland  said,

“The daily spite of this unmannerly town,

Where who has served the most is the most defamed,

The reputation of his lifetime lost

Between the night and morning.”

How many men and women has that happened to of late?

It is a supreme irony that we all now live more in the public sphere than ever before. As MacLeish said, “We no longer worry much about our private souls.  We worry about the soul of America or about the soul of mankind-the condition of mankind-the human condition.” Yet no longer can anything dangerous ever be publicly ventured about the condition of humankind, the basis of poetry and art.

Lastly, for the person who steps forward, lives his or her art in public, it takes extraordinary courage. And maybe we, living our private lives, should better appreciate all those brave souls who take to the public stage and make the poetry of their lives public for all to see.

Again, Yeats

“The drunkards, pilferers of public funds,

All the dishonest crowd I had driven away,

When my luck changed and they dared meet my face,

Crawled from obscurity, and set upon me

Those I had served and some that I had fed;

Yet never have I, now nor any time,

Complained of the people.”

Phil Cline

For more writings by Phil Cline, visit philcline.com

He Credited Fear

He Credited Fear

At the window he credited Fear,

Regretted his temper drive,

And looked to gloomy vistas

This morning again arrived.

Secrets of giggly girls,

Potent Innocence fails

Divers of missing pearls

Bartered from greasy nails.

Christmas lights harken End,

Heralded toys broken fine,

Discarded in the snowy mud

Cheered by crows atop a line.

Don’t hurry to turn away

Rush to doubt of all beliefs

Enrichments but a brief delay,

Days too few; hours too brief.

Where Boys Walk

Where Boys Walk

Where Boys Walk

Fist clenched, 

Forearm flexed, 

Raised above, hovering,

Before down the hit. 

Cringed below, a boy child’s 

Dread,

And fear.  And Humiliation.

Again.

Hands, kind, reach, 

Stretch, pat on’a back, 

Rest on’a shoulder,

A smile, a nod, he said “good job.”

Eyes open, breath released, hope.

Courage, 

And will. And defiance.

Indomitable.

And between the two places

Boys walk

Back and forth, to and fro

And despite it all, 

Somehow grow.

Laugh like a young man

Laugh like a young man

Trigger Warning. Caution:  This poem tends to glorify being a man.

 

Laugh as a Young Man Laughs

 

Laugh as a young man laughs.

Laugh hearty, laugh out loud,

 

Laugh at facing a day’s hard work,

Laugh at the wobble in your knees

Hauling hundred pound sacks of “taters”

Balanced across your shoulders.

 

Laugh and lug the loads up the ramp,

In the back of the big Mac Truck trailer.

 

Laugh at how damn hot it is gets,

At the sweat dripping off your forehead,

Running in your eyes and stings like hell,

Laugh at the damn forecast cause it’s only going to get hotter.

 

Laugh like a man laughs

As he strips the rotten shingles,

Splashes the black tar, shoots the nails

Into the new shakes on the old roof.

 

Laugh at the beer headache from the night before,

Laugh at needing to piss real bad,

Laugh at the cussing from the young wife

For flirting with a buddy’s girlfriend.

 

Tune up the News, laugh at the stupidity

Of pundits, presidents, prime ministers

And the local councilman

Who sells used cars during the day.

 

Laugh as they scheme to steal your wages

And spend your Money

At night meetings in empty chambers.

Laugh cause you know they’re all thieves,

 

Every one of them.

 

Laugh in your soul at how good to feel

Your muscles strain and push and pull

And dig and wedge, and turn and wrench

Until some mighty thing you’ve decided to move, moves.

 

Sling a sledge, chop an ax down hard,

Split the wood, explode the bark.

Feel the cool sweat return,

Rivulets down the back, over the belly,

 

The way it does when you work hard,

Gets the poison out,

Toughens the sinews, bulges up the arms

Bulks up the shoulders.

 

Breathe in the dirt and dust swirling

From your hits, stomps, kicks, and slams.

Could get you hurt?  Yeah!  And hell, if it does, laugh,

Got to do the work, so the hell with it.

 

Grit your teeth, smile, and “gett’er done” anyway.

Brag, yell, say what you think.  Don’t whisper,

Don’t’ chant, don’t hum nonsensical crap.

Be sure of everything, exclaim your beliefs to everyone,

 

Whoop it up, Shout out, In their face,

Laugh at the soft, weak, snotty effete professors of profanity

Who’ve never thumped a shovel in the ground

Turned over the dark earth, never crumbled clods in their hands

 

And who fear the offense of being a man.

Laugh as they shrink, and if they move to fight, club them back down

Sneer at their bowing and scrapping.

Laugh at their cringe, at their sniveling.

 

Know, by God, you are not wrong.

Laugh and go ahead, go forward,

It’s a job to do and, by God, it feels good to have a strong heart

Beating in a rhythm, a cadence in time with strong legs and arms

 

And the will to build,

Then tear up, then shatter,

Then erect it back up and then

Tear it right down again.

 

Don the pads and take the field

Tackle a runner and slam him to the ground,

Laugh when he moans and utters “good hit.”

Break up a double play and spike the shortstop,

 

Go on the court and Dunk the ball.  Hard!

Make the backboard shake, your defender cower,

Humiliated, mad as hell at you.

Laugh at the fear in his eyes when you drive toward him again.

 

Jump in a muscle car, a combustion engine!

Blow blue smoke in the atmosphere. Break the speed limit.

Hit the pedal, press it all the way down, peg the tach,

Go fast. Push a “vette into a curve too fast and

Pedal down! Accelerate out.

 

Ski head long down the high hills,

Those way beyond your skill.

Walk out on the edge of the cliff

And feel the danger of falling and laugh,

 

Show off and do a funny dance

Almost fall over and down the canyon laughing,

 

Launch on the ocean when its roiling.

Turn the sail boat sideways into the wind,

Race the storm to shore

Dare it to catch you, swamp you.

 

Walk down the avenue in the storm.

Out yell the thunder. Light a smelly cigar,

Lift your face heavenward

And dare the lighting.

 

Shoot a shotgun.  Feel the boom,

The shock, the force, the power,

And laugh at the splitting target.

And fire it again while your ears still ring.

 

Howl and joke with the whores

Standing on the corner.

Laugh cause your wit can never match theirs,

Laugh cause they know how stupid men really are.

 

Jump in the middle of drunken brawl,

Sock somebody in the jaw, sucker punch some dickhead,

Then buy them a drink and grab a hunk of beefsteak or ice pack

For the black eye he gave you right back.

 

And, Man, listen, if they come for us. Go to war. Fight the bastards.

Kill the sons’a’bitches with a knife, a gun, a grenade,

Blow them up with a shell from a tank.

Laugh over their bodies, kick them in the side of the head.

 

Laugh as you ship home

Laugh as you care for the widow and orphan

Because it’s hard, sacrifice is hard,

Duty is hard.

 

But you owe it to your brother

As he owes it to you.

 

And while you’re at it, Kick the bum off your sidewalk.

Laugh at his drunken curses

As he rolls around in the gutter,

Getting his filthy blanket soaked.

 

Then buy him a steak dinner

With mashed potatoes, with all the fixings

And, yes, a beer and laugh at his sorry tale

Cause they are all sorry tales.

 

Drive a cement truck, its big belly spinning.

Keep it going and turning so the cement

Don’t cure, then pour a foundation,

And carve your initials in the wet pavement.

 

Shift the transmission

On the big Caterpillar,

Ram it into gear,

Will it up the mountain road

 

So you can dig out the old road,

Haul it away and scrape level the ground for a new road.

 

Feel the strength in your shoulders and chest

As you wrestle a bridge in place,

Span it over the gorge, build it to last a hundred years.

Laugh at the hundred years.

 

Step heavy and loud into the forest.  Leave the camera.

Fell the redwood tree, chop it down,

Strap it to the long bed truck

And drive it to the mill.

 

Strip the bark, plane it through the giant saws.

Laugh when you tell how you cut off your forefinger

Right up to the knuckle because the damn board jumped

When it bounced off a knot in the wood.

 

Roughhouse with the dog.

Get him fired up and fighting.

Snarling and growling,

See if you can make him bite.

 

And laugh at his barking at you

Because he can’t out rough you.

 

And when you get tired, lay down,

Sprawl across the clean sheets

In your dirty sweaty clothes

And take your pulse and laugh

 

At the life beating, pumping under your wrist,

Deep in your chest, echoing across the canyons and gullies

Of your town, your nation, your region

And reverberating

 

In the laugher of other young men

Of every kind, on every other side of the planet,

In every time and every place.

Laugh it up with the young guys.

 

 

A Tide Barely Felt

A Tide Barely Felt

The Tide Barely Felt

 

Time, the tide barely felt,

Sweeps us

Away.

 

Its low waves rush across the shore

And withdraw,

The clicking sounds of tiny rocks colliding,

Raking over their fellows,

And

With each arrival, each delivery, each departure

Less force, less vigor, less wash.

 

Random faces float top shallow pools,

Then gone.

Lesser men, never friends, never mattered.

Women too with their skeptical eyes,

A smile, a hope, a moment’s attention,

Then forlorn, resigned,

Sad

 

To know I do not care

And

Have already forgotten.

 

 

Morning Moon

Morning Moon

Morning Moon

by Phil Cline

 

Mist surrounds the morning moon

Hovering above night’s remainder,

Heaven’s pale reflection of regret.

 

Dawn waits wet residue to dry,

Moist women asleep, their legs languid,

Carelessly spread, left apart-by the departed.

 

The raucous evening’s promises redeemed

Foolish jocularity shortened by haste of

Dreaded day.  Here any moment now.

 

Friends hurry home,

New enemies scurry away,

Excess devolved to lonely stillness

 

The tinkling music of clinking glasses gone,

Dark wood bar wiped, band packed, smokes lit.

All’s mute, wary of another horizon.

 

Windows shuttered, doors locked,

Gates of iron bars chained and secure.

The night’s celebration contained.

 

We, the last souls out,

Standing on the street

Respectful of the silence.

 

A dog pats by on gentle paws,

Suspicious of what he smells,

Cautious of what he might disturb.

 

Impatient of the Dawn

Impatient of the Dawn

Impatient of the Dawn

 

No new lease for the cabin in the wood,

No replenishment for the lake

At the bottom of the hill,

No more apple slice

 

Slipped between my lips,

The taste crisp, crunched

And savored like dew drops

From a branch’s furthest tip,

 

Only the lonely slap of my slippers

On the rain wet pavement.

 

I bend for my paper and up again,

Among homes still cozy dark.

 

The widow next door in silhouette,

Watches me from her upstairs window,

The flutter of her gown a whisper,

Ghostly and stark. She remembers

 

Not long ago,

When her husband drew

The rubber band away and

Unfolded the self-same news.

 

Those better times and bitter,

The feel of him, his arms,

The press of his chest,

His infrequent laugh, his frequent smile

 

At some homely comely disaster.

Then the day the test came back,

The day the cake slipped from pan to floor,

The dropped cup broken, and more, much more

 

Before he left ahead of her,

To lie in peaceful meadows

Among lesser friends utterly forgotten.

She does not know

 

My cortege too is leaving soon,

Leaving these verdant fields,

These dandelion hills

To craggy rock ledges,

 

To slate slabs for eternity’s repose

To troubled dreams,

And memories un-deposed.

While she continues her vigil

 

As dawn turns to day

And day turns to night again,

And homes cuddle to sleep all around

Until there’s just the one lone light behind her.

 

Thoughtlessly rude, I wave at her.

Crude to interrupt her reverie.

Offended, she turns away, disappears,

But circles back to wait her turn,

 

And poignantly ignore me and, like me,

Impatiently wait for the Dawn.