ALFRED CORN

 

Long-Distance Call To a Friend Who Lived with AIDS
As Long As He Could


Because we hooked up most days courtesy
of Ma Bell, only now and then arranging
to meet for lunch or coffee, it’s your graveled,
ambling voice I miss, the live connection
"no longer in service," as the sound-bite says.

Remember that haiku I jotted down
on a café napkin several years back?
How cities, even with their gridlock, noise
and pollution, also sheltered gardens? Your eyes
crinkled with pleasure: Those cool, green, inward places—.

The one you’ve moved to may not yet be wired
for cellular, but here’s my morning call,
dialed by habit or a "burning desire"
to speak. And how much does it matter if
the message and the channel are the same?

Though Asian verseforms seldom clicked for me,
they hung the moon for you, so here’s a haiku
six-pack for the picnic, sent in hopes
we’ll get that smile again. At least on my side
any image would if it brought you back.

*

Red oak leaves floating
On clear water and, below,
Speckled rainbow trout.

*

Stripped by cold or blight,
Bare elm trees. On a high branch,
Clumps of mistletoe.

*

March snow falls and falls.
Droplets bead down my window.
Cloud, light, one substance.

*

A single reindeer
Moves north across the frost-white tundra.
Fog. The rising sun.

*

Spring winds. Mourning dove,
Perched on the telephone line,
Is it warm up there?

*

July 4th. Blue eyes,
Glancing up from a full plate,
Smile so hard they close.



Who, What, Where, When, Why?

Rumor, the homemade metamorphosis;
That with each telling modifies its key
Adjectives, its semi-colons; that scales
The afternoon, beyond the towers’ nth floor,
A geyser of invention, a carnival
Lingo disseminated on winds of envy,
Calculation, itch for the fecund dirt.

No kangaroo court so summary as rumor,
Dispensing with the drab credential-check,
Skirting obstructive rules of evidence,
Always with an eye to the camera,
Always lobbying for conviction, however
Listless the testimony, however queasy.

Those times when prosecution aced its game?
A human metaphor stood for sentencing,
The lifelong upshot sealed in lead, since rumor
Makes no provisions for parole—or any
Amendment that might heal a broken statute.
Defendant reads a lot, no? Most of you do.
Some find the Stoic writings helpful. Try them.



Who Said That?

The loose-furled, sopping black umbrella
lets its silver spike dribble mercury
beads of cold rain in a ragged line
along the hall carpet his boots track mud on….

Through the window, Artesia’s single
water tower standing on the outskirts
like a tall barstool, the focal point
for a clump of benumbed oil pumps
that haven’t pumped a drop since `89.

Drunk. And has been for years,
hankering away his daydreams, listening
for what exactly. At times your ear
comes near to hearing the sweetheart deal
it wants to hear through a tear
in the rain-soaked realm of debt and fear
of deeper debt, frustrated, ne’er-do-well
afternoons and twilights drowned in malt beer.

Clouds part, the sky sends its sober,
red and gold valentine to the Missouri
Ozarks. Black capitals on their stolid tower
confirm the obscure destination.

She does remember. And thought of you last night.


Whether

Whether anger quickens a lagging stride,
and periodic burnoffs in the forest
revitalize exhausted soil and flora—.
Whether we should take pleasure in the wildcat

jubilation of a lightning bolt
that whips its silver vein of genesis
through the night sky, flash-photo of a white
birch upended, the root-system buckled

to swollen thunderheads—. And whether naming
an offense amounts to sour grapes and common
bitterness, or even the conceited nonsense
of unwashed yahoo multitudes, a yawping

insult to civilized behavior—. Whether
a July rainstorm, even when it drenches
the unprepared pedestrian and befuddles
traffic, might be extravagant, a joy,

like the whoops and escalating bop glissandos
of Gillespie’s upraised horn, cascading pitches
a countersong to meteoric chalk marks
Perseids burn across the House of Leo—.

And whether peaceful ecstasy might float
up from a fifteen-second avalanche
reflected in the skier’s goggles, his jacket
a spark of scarlet on the topmost slope,

waiting for the homeward track to clear.


The Common Thread

In the graphic textiles of experience,
Where themes are threads, trace the one that runs,
First, through the fable of the compliant Cat
Who combed red coals (the Monkey goading, scolding)
To rake out toasted chestnuts tittering guile
Could then with unharmed fingers peel and eat,
Not one left for the dupe who scorched her paw;
That, and the clemency of Coriolanus,
Sparing ancestral Rome a bloody sack,
His banishment, meanwhile, still not rescinded;
And the French maxim noting that we all
Have fortitude enough to endure the torment
Of persons not ourselves; or gibes lobbed at
The man forsaken: "Others he saved, himself
He cannot save."
                           Like common thread, serene
Expedience outstrips the speed of insight,
Consolidating patches of a quilt
To keep complacency snug as toast—for instance,
The donors who, instead of food or shelter,
Sent castoff, threadbare T-shirts to survivors
Of the hurricane, a few with printed slogans,
Home truths like, "Life’s a bitch, and then you die."


La Luz Azul

San Miguel de Allende, Día de la Asunción

Mediodía. Ligeros velos
Transparentes del ancho cielo….

En la estancia una sombra amorfa,
Blanda, no acababa de anunciar
Ese alto silencio que jamás
Ha de callar.

                      Tan comprensiva
Como dulce, recíbeme, luz
azul, que colmas los recodos…


Pues, inmóvil? No, mejor fuera
Salir en busca del asunto,
La palabra de mortal piedad
Caída como una flor ardiente
Entre las piedras de la calle.


Blue Light

San Miguel de Allende, Feast of the Assumption

Twelve noon. The open sky’s transparent
Weightless veils.

In the room, a mild, amorphous
Gloom would not stop announcing
That high silence that will never
Again be quiet.

                      As comprehensive
As you are gentle, gather me in, blue
Light, you, filling up the corners…


Immobile, then? No, better to go out
In search of the assumed subject—
The word, embodied, compassionate,
Fallen like a flame-red flower
Between cobblestones in the street.