Poems from SWING SET

                    NIGHT WARS


The fighting never stops for long before 
the battle starts again; shouts serrate my brain 
as casualties are tagged for hauling off. 
My torso tenses as tanks rumble into place, 
start shelling through the night. 

Sometimes I bugle for my will to charge 
through no-man's land, seize control, 
force an armistice.  But every time I'm routed 
in mid-charge, captured, tortured, freed 
once more to fight these ceaseless wars. 

Other times I stage a brief retreat, rise 
from bed, feel my toes sink into sand. 
The desert drifts to ankle height beneath 
old photos in the hall; grains fall from frames 
of parents, children, others in my life. 

I pause before the pictures, sink in 
pondering who I was, am, might have been. 
Sand tugs my heels as I wander back 
to bed, crawl in, pinned down til dawn.
"I'm sorry,... we'll fight anytime," my wife asides 
to guests who watch us brawl the night 
before our wedding anniversary. 
"We're so flexible," she adds sarcastically. 
then turns to wallop me another verbal blow. 

The guests have watched our marriage seesaw 
for a decade, amazed that it's survived 
for twenty-seven years of fireworks and coos.  

At daybreak I stretch out my arm, realize 
our skirmish left me in a single-occupancy bed. 
Remorse squats on my chest, pushes me  

into the mattress.  I reach for the radio, 
ask two sighing cellos to pick the knot around 
my chest, let piano keys roll down my spine. 

All right, okay, last night was my fault! 
As usual I drove my point too far into the table, 
proved it by my own example, flattering 
that celebrity then asking her "Don't assholes 
lead to freedom for problems of your kind?" 

Now dawn postures by my bed, hands 
on hips, nods toward the telephone. 
I lurch to snap inertia's strands, dial the motel 
where my bride stormed off to sleep. 
She lifts the phone beside her bed, pauses, 
floats a guarded "Yes...?" I take a deep breath, 
push the words I'm sorry through the line.
                      POLAR SWING
                    Caretaker!  take care, for we run in straits. 
                                 -  John Berryman
Some days I wake with light, spread 
my wings and fly.  Other times I rise 
with darkness lounging in my mind, 
lean words like ladders on the inside 
of the pit but my hands and feet keep 
slipping as I heave myself toward light. 

Today I leapt from the hole inside my soul, 
tangoed with my shadow until noon, then 
lost my nerve, trudged with guard-and- 
prisoner steps until I stumbled, fell.  

Now ideas writhe inside ennui, unruly 
inmates growling only bullets in the warden's 
brain can free them from their cells. 

Suddenly a thought bursts free, skitters 
like a cocained rat, sits back on its haunches, 
roars, "Bring on the goddamned cat!"
                      NEW MANTRA
                   Life is a strange teacher.  First she gives   
                          you the test, then the lesson.     
Pick your battles, choose your ground. 
I crusaded fifty years before that order 
carved a beachhead in my brain.  

Persevere through pain and fear: 
the prior oath I took to slay the dragons 
I saw under every challenge, large or small. 
I'd square my shoulders, grit my teeth, 
drive forward towards imagined light. 

In college that old vow clapped boxing gloves 
and rugby cleats onto my paws, later marched 
me into courtrooms, boardrooms, left my soulmate 
barely hanging on til she could land a punch.  

Then my kids and endless energy linked hands, 
headed south, left me boney legs to swing from bed. 
I heard soul's shout above my ego's roar, realized 
not every challenge signals war, not every task's a threat.  

Now each time ego flashes armor in my eyes, 
soul jumps in front: "Is this one significant?" 
A dozen times each day I step back, grin, 
amazed to hear my answer: "No!"