Monday, May 04, 2009

AWAY FROM US: For the Spirit of Roger Wolfe

The shadow of your smile
when you are gone
will color all my dreams
and light the dawn.
P. F. Webster

Big birds flying across the sky
throwing shadows on our eyes
leave us helpless....
Neil Young


October moonrise
on empty DeKalb cornfields,
Year of assassinations,
police brutality and

driving Chicago
streets in bleeding August heat,
the Tet offensive
and leaving San Francisco—
away from Reagan’s attack

on education,
cats and kittens in the car.
Canadian geese
flying south with the frost, sun
falling into Scorpio:

We are far from home,
from the Magnolia Beach house,
childhood in Eastern
Washington wind and snowstorms,
apartment in the Richmond,

classes in the fog,
classic films at the DeYoung.
Now we’re in the core
of the country, where maples
bleed their leaves into the snow

and we lose the love
we found on Roanoke Street
gliding along the
Fox River in a kayak
that you built, easy as pie—
it just slid away
from us up an island bank
into the nettles.
There is a stinging when love
is replaced by a friendship

that isn’t easy:
Like ocean water hitting
a cut you don’t know
you have when you wade into
a perfect day at the beach.


3 years was enough
of being blown around on
the icy streets
by winds off the prairie, so
I designed to resign

from my teaching job,
go back to graduate school
and have a baby.
You went along for the ride
through falling leaves in Amherst,

I walked barefoot through
Copley Square in October—
too pregnant for high-
heeled shoes. And a daughter comes
at the November full moon:

We are not alone.
At 6 days Renate sleeps
through The Mily Way,
starts a childhood of midnight
movies, trips to antiques shows

up in the Berkshires
or where my people come from,
Quebec—where you pose
as the winning general
at the door of Montcalm’s house.

I think we wore out
New England—knocked mussels off
the rocks on the beach
at Newport, walked up and down
main streets of villages

until we were tired
of colonial houses,
Provincetown tourists,
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” on
the pizza joint’s jukebox,

packed up to go home,
crossed the country again, with
a kid and a cat—
white clapboard houses speeding
away from us in a dream.


Our apartment looks
down over Elliott Bay;
I can walk downtown,
but the city I walk through
is not aging very well.

Sunsets compensate
briefly; better move by the
where that which we lost began
over glasses of draft beer

in the Red Robin,
where I danced to “Rescue Me”
on the bar and knew
we would be young forever
and ready for adventure.

Another house to
paint, coloring on the pages
of my unhooked life.
You drive back and forth
to work in another town—

sometimes outrunning
alcohol with cigarettes
rivers of coffee,
lakes of t.v.—sometimes not—
still up for midnight movies

though Renate shouts
in her stage whisper: “Dad, what
are we doing here?”
Even a 5-year-old knows
when something is broken not

to keep fixing it;
another round of marriage
counseling, I take
a job at a printer, we
buy you a used Fiat and

fill out the papers
for Do-it-yourself Divorce.
In the courthouse hall
the loneliness only 2
can share fades away from us.


25 years pass:
Yours in work, hikes to the beach,
clothes I bought you in
the 70s, mushrooms hunts;
mine in different careers

and mostly alone—
free to pull up stakes and head
for the Not-Yet-Known.
When I fly from Mexico
to the States, Renate says

you weigh 90 pounds
and have gone south with the wife
to Baja, searching
for retirement property.
“He’ll never make it!”, I shout.

“It’s Midnight Cowboy—
his favorite movie—with
Ratso Rizzo dead
On the bus in Miami.”
Folks in the restaurant look

at me in horror,
as the reality of
our fiction swamps me,
and later Renate calls
to say “We jinxed Ratso: He’s

in the hospital.”
The now-diagnosed cancer
takes over your life,
leaves you waiting for your death
for 15 months of t.v.

and Marlboro Reds,
and your wife doesn’t want me
to visit you, so
I wait in Mexico for
the shadow of your smile to

be erased from my
life’s pages. One Saturday
while I was napping,
you came and said good-bye, and
then you went away from us.