James Thomas Culleny 1918-1980
1. The Tongues of His Black Boots Say
as my father sleeps the world goes on
his work boots are by the door
he left them there unlaced
the right run down at the heel
the left’s toe scuffed
his blue shirt hangs on a hook
wrinkled below the belt line
where every morning
its tails were tucked
there’s no forgiveness in pasts
just now and here, defeat
is the hardest epiphany
the tongues of his
black boots say
My father at the kitchen table
in a rare expression of mystery
said, I think life is a cycle
but he was not a mystical man to me,
nose to the grindstone he ground
day after day, pressed
by incessant work, bound
like Sisyphus to his stone
linearly, but uphill
in his black boots and socks
his blue shirt and pants
cinched with a black belt,
sometimes a fedora,
often a smile through
he trucked on (unbeknownst to me,
and despite his flat trajectory)
mulling over vicissitudes,
weighing the properties of circles,
as does any common philosopher
hoping to unravel the hiddeness
under blood and bone,
coming to the conclusion
that to begin again
was the only thing that made sense
3. Now I Know What He Meant
—I’ll have that done in no time, my father would say
I’m in the midst of a moon
(as the Lenape called them)
dead center. It’s Thursday
dead center, too, of the week
I’m at the pinpoint of noon poised
precisely at the day’s fulcrum
just thirty seconds into the minute
at point five Oh! of that second
and a breeze blows
across my cheek
which the sun warms
in no time
4. Hummingbird Acetylene
The turquoise flame of a hummingbird’s head
is a blazing torch of acetylene
burning, as when my father put a welding tip to steel
joining parts of his world with the bluegreen flame
he held between
This hummingbird burns in afternoon light
at the mouth of a flower in god’s machine
jabbing her tip at a perfect hour
joining his flame to mine
in a darting iridescent gleam
Mary Mraz Culleny
the tsunami smell of yeast inundated our house
the mornings our mother baked bread
up through floorboards it came up the stairwell
it spread stirring our dreamselves alive
fresh loaves, bells for the nose
their toll sent sleep from somnolent heads
She had a whisper in her soul
louder than the wails the planet utters
She did the unselfconscious things
that were miracles only made by mothers
–on my mother’s birthday
Under cover of light the moon disappears
just like that, following my mother
travelling not by casket but
instead by memory and dream
(alike as death and birth), so alike
there’s just this mirror between them
Today we celebrate that which you excelled at, mom:
being a deeply loving, generous mother to each one of us
You are always missed.
Song: Bob Dylan
Lead Vocal: Jim Culleny
Harmony Vocal: Mary Pratt
Guitar; Kevin Jones
Harmonica: Mary Pratt
& the radio reports how in 2050
farming Massachusetts will be like farming Georgia—
all’s flux, no one can say what will grow in Georgia,
where maples will grow then or whose fine taps
will sap sugar from the cold in spring. Will we get syrup
from the boreal forest, peaches from Massachusetts?
Drone strikes & opium poppies.
Oil spills & poisoned wells.
Drought zone. Famine. War zone.
My inner cynic says
don’t bother this is navel gazing
& my friend at Yale says my hunger
to be near zucchinis
will not save the planet from real hunger
except I remember in the film on gleaning
when the priest in his compassion says:
those who glean now out of spiritual hunger
also should be fed.
Ecosystem of yard or field or mind:
these cucumbers are more art than science,
than global action (if we separate the two).
But digging now I feel an otherness—
life, a great inhuman freedom—
here I work a plot that also grounds—
by Tess Taylor
from Work and Days
Red Hen Press, 2016
Do you have adequate oxen for the job?
No, my oxen are inadequate.
Well, how many oxen would it take to do an adequate job?
I would need ten more oxen to do the job adequately.
I’ll see if I can get them for you.
I’d be obliged if you could do that for me.
Certainly. And do you have sufficient fishcakes for the men?
We have fifty fishcakes, which is less than sufficient.
I’ll have them delivered on the morrow.
Do you need maps of the mountains and the underworld?
We have maps of the mountains but we lack maps of the underworld.
Of course you lack maps of the underworld,
there are no maps of the underworld
And, besides, you don’t want to go there, it’s stuffy.
I had no intention of going there, or anywhere for that matter.
It’s just that you asked me if I needed maps. . . .
Yes, yes, it’s my fault, I got carried away.
What do you need, then, you tell me?
We need seeds, we need plows, we need scythes, chickens
pigs, cows, buckets and women.
We have no women.
You’ve a sorry lot, then.
We are a sorry lot, sir.
Well, I can’t get you women.
I assumed as much, sir.
What are you going to do without women, then?
We will suffer, sir. And then we will die out one by one.
Can any of you sing?
Yes, sir, we have many fine singers among us.
Order them to begin singing immediately.
Either women will find you this way or you will die
comforted. Meanwhile busy yourselves
with the meaningful tasks you have set for yourselves.
Sir, we will not rest until the babes arrive.
by James Tate
from Memoir of the Hawk
Harper Collins, 2001
David Schneider, a Facebook friend, just made a very smart post in which he mentioned Ahab, a character of Melville’s imagination who is the perfect icon of the moment we are called upon to tend (BTW, I recommend the book).
I like the white whale ref
I hadn’t thought of that
but it’s apt
Ahump or Trumphab
Melville has spelled it out
for common consumption,
and we eat
to vote no-Trump:
his promise we’ll never
see him again
But we will (see him again)
He can’t shut up
He loves a camera
He lives to see his image
in a flicker of light
He’ll do damage to
see it there
Seriously, you don’t think