Robert Perry, 2015 Poet

Pale Trees of January

Do not forget the train
the panes of glass
with a face in every one

The smoke in the sky
 
We waited for our friends to return
until they disappeared completely
 
The sound of children playing
stops short of explaining
how or why this happens
 
What do I remember?
 
The pale trees of January
tender the branches in snow

 

 

 


Dance of Hours

finding the center
of a long afternoon

the pitcher

watch spring
of the game’s
clockwork

winds up

a question
mark

rises, pivots
extends to ask
what is
possible

in his delivery
and the batter’s
reply

we learn


 

 


Before the Revolution

The tallest redwood in the neighborhood
and the best climbing tree stood
in the Worthington backyard.

As a boy I reached its highest branches
perched there for hours
watching the parade of grown ups
gather on the patio for Saturday
afternoon cocktails.

This generation assembled
attempting to enjoy the best years
of their lives   walking across the lawn
with drink in hand and lust in their pants
treating the future as a foregone conclusion.

Mrs. Worthington sat on her chaise
Helen of Troy of the cocktail hour
lounging in the middle of her entourage.

Turning the ice in her drink slowly
with one finger extended across
the frigid contents of her glass
as if the entire gathering
revolved around her.

Leisurely sipping her Scotch and soda
Mrs. Worthington was a nest of secrets.

Beneath a glacier of self-assurance
there grew a fissure, a desperate seeking,
an urgent fire in the darkness reaching
the surface where she pursued
her voiceless ambitions in a voiceless room
before the revolution began.

[text in italics by John Cheever deleted from a New Yorker story in progress]


 

 


Silver-Screen
(or Who is Ronald Coleman?)

The difference between the known
and the unknown

The difference between the voice
unspoken and the voice

Spoken for the first time
emerging from the mist

The wash of light and shadow

From the pantomime
of comedy and tragedy

From the high cliffs of the silver-screen
across the heath or on a busy sidewalk

From the cloud of some nightclub
dispensing advice over a cocktail

Or wisdom on the gallows
nodding to the Fates

Standing before our hero
like midnight satin and silk
as thin as his moustache

Cut by a wry smile
and an almost imperceptible wince
under his brow

The tale of two cities
in a long career of measured steps
out of the gloom into the light

Of whatever the eyes will say on cue

Of whatever way the words will grow
into forests and stars

Our civilization from in front of
the camera and the microphone

The difference between the known
and the unknown

All for the price of admission


 

 


The Last Emperor

I am Aisin Gioro Pu Yi
the last emperor of China
Lord of Ten Thousand Years

I am the cricket
in the Great Hall
of the Forbidden City

I am a truly useful person
after all

I am a gardener
with a purpose in life

I am the fisherman’s song
for violin and piano

I am the father of disgrace
and the appreciative son
of kindness and virtue

I am a butterfly and a traitor
imprisoned without love

I am a singer in Tienjin
singing Am I Blue?

I am a careless tennis player
ready to plead guilty or innocent

I am a reader of fire in the night
rousted from my bed but not sleep

I am the bicycle riding
on the rooftops of heaven


 

 


Echolalia

A mechanical repetition of words or sounds by a person with autism as a way to bring “order from chaos” as observed by neurologist Oliver Sacks

Hear these cries from the wilderness of my being
Manifestos against the enemies of imagination

Trying to bring order out of chaos
I line up my blocks from end to end
Leap from one moment

And climb into the rocket ship of the next

No time to notice how the universe reacts
To the touch of my hand

I listen to the heartbeat of my tongue
the way I trace the map of unconditional love

For the kingdom of the body has many mansions
For those like me who don’t know how
to love in a one-note world

Hear these cries from the wilderness of my being
Manifestos against the enemies of imagination

For I am the train of countless reflections
Arriving and departing

Where I am going?

I wish I knew, I wish I knew, I wish I knew


 

 


If Not, Winter

upon castle walls
worn down
by war

a distant flute
plays
against the sky

old bones may
learn to take
the bite

but it is
no defense
against the madness
that prevents Spring
from showing
her face

when the earth is
nothing but dust with fires
smoldering

wailing is heard
over the fallen:
if not joy, Winter

[Title from a fragment of Sappho’s poetry]


 

 


Return of the Prodigal Son
after a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn

Across the wild earth
I wandered
without a hat or coat
without the benefit
of your knowledge
or the wisdom
of your house

I lived the gaudy life
exposed to the perils
of my own conceit

I traveled high and low
in search of the many
and the few

And nothing at all
drunk with fear
I shattered the night
with my laughter

Carried the stones of hunger
in my belly and stained
the earth with the blood
of my desire

Tasted the ashes of regret
my lips burning
with righteous indignation

How could I have ever known
the pleasure of your company?

How could you have known me
Lost in a maze of stars
weeping at your gate?

Shoes worn thin
feet calloused and sore
from my journey
of long abandon

Spent from hard-fought battles
unable to speak your name

Your dogs barked
without knowing why

But your soft hands
recognized me instantly
my tender skin
and the hard dark matter
of my soul

I returned
to familiar shadows
knelt in your light
within reach
of your forgiveness

You embraced me
as your own again

The dark crimson
of your mantel
flashing red
with mercy

I kissed your cheek
and whispered in your ear

I am with you now


 

 


Cycling

The scent of oak
reaches out to me from
Camino de los Arboles

cycling down the lanes
of my childhood I see
the flaming pyracantha
leap from fence posts
 
birds tipsy
from the berries circle
above the trees and houses
this way and that

these racing thoughts of mine
whatever they do
they don’t change a thing
the sky is still the sky


 

 


Robert Perry is a local poet, book artist, and graphic designer who specializes in designing poetry books. Interested in the history of art, Robert is an enthusiastic practitioner of Ekphrastic poetry. He enjoys exploring the interplay of word and image in the process of writing, designing, and producing books and other publications. He is author and co-designer of Poems on the Spot, a limited edition handmade letterpress book, and a contributor to The Sand Hill Review.

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