apology

sorry i didn’t call

couldn’t force myself to

pick . . up . . that . . fucking phone

should’ve done that

on the weekend

but i’ve gotten through this

shit before

 

didn’t work this time

timing is everything

right? wrong

like so much

in the world

and in my head

which finally triggered

that alarm

in the heart

slammed the doors

and locked the exits

 

don’t worry about me

punching walls

crawling in holes

and hanging

with john barleycorn

are the limits

of my self-

destruction

 

sorry to let you down

but the ship

was taking on water

and i couldn’t bail

fast enough

life rafts

were deployed

 

nothing worse

than being the focus

of a drama offstage

what i want most

is an audience

who loves me

and my poems

 

i know you

have been down

this dead end

road old friend

failing to rise

to the challenge

of selling yourself

in the name of cold

cash and credibility

 

so please give

my love and regrets

to those i know

i left in the lurch

like you i am just

one more lost fool

searching the dark-

hearted wilderness

           —for Sheryl Noethe

 

Mark Gibbons

July 2017

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DECADES

My son’s thirtieth birthday.

His mother turns sixty next week,

and her mother, eighty,

is coming to celebrate the dawn

of the decades with us, them,

me, and my other son who turns

twenty-seven in April close

to his brother’s conception date.

Numbers, accounts, descendants,

family. Our DNA marches on.

 

Dylan told us not to trust

anyone over thirty, so why have we

listened to him for the past

forty years? My old neighbor

told me everyone over forty votes

Republican, but a decade later

he discovered his Butte grandfather

ran guns for the IRA. Today

 

The newspaper is looking for stories

about the infamous Grateful Dead

concert here forty years ago

where according to many sources,

“nobody liked the show.” Sure,

 

I was stoned, and what do I know

sitting in the field house nosebleed

seats grinding my teeth, and riding

the waves of adjusted perception,

Jerry’s blues tiddly-rumpling

in front of that “wall of sound,”

a mellow rock and cocaine roll—

three and a half hours of tonal flow?

 

As the legend goes, on the anniversary

of that show, somebody threw a plastic

pitcher, hit Bob Weir in the head, and

The Dead walked off the stage.

 

Up in the rafters for hours on end,

when they walked off from the encore,

I figured they were all in, most likely

as tired as me. After all, I wasn’t

quite twenty, and they were close to

being as “untrustworthy” as Dylan.

 

“Disappointed” some said described

the show, but I guess I was too high

up in the bleachers riding the flow

of music that just rolled and rocked

on and on, then played and played

and played some more. I figured

I’d gotten more than my money’s worth.

 

It was the Grateful Dead for

fuck’s sake! That was just a decade

before my son was born

which was another drama that went on

three times longer than I figured

it would, culminating in a life

change, fatherhood, something else

I knew nothing about going in.

 

Let’s face it, we’re along for the ride

and grateful to be here, I imagine

even if we’re Bob Weir. I know

I’m thankful for this gathering

in the guise of numbers, decades,

anniversaries, Earth spins around

the sun, another one for the books,

the records, and those beyond

keeping track of it, all that

silly shit we do to count coup

on the old wolf, father time.

 

Mark Gibbons

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The Rosy Dark

photo by David J. Spear

Mornin’ Glory

your cheery poem

forced me to

polish my rose

colored lenses and

watch some football

maybe sip a glass

of beer consider

the whiskey

anything but the fear

pressing my lungs

and heart flat

as the lack of empathy

and compassion

absent in my neighbors

my fellow citizens

sitting next to me

glassy-eyed trapped

by the habitual shiny

consumptive dream

that new/old

religion cheering

our home team

on to greatness

resurrection

another victory

for Michael Dickel

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David

The doctors gave him six months

six years ago. They called it

a fiendishly aggressive melanoma,

 

eating away at his face and jaw.

Each morning he packs the wound

with cotton, applies the flesh

 

toned bandage — Phantom of the Opera

mask. Malignant forces tug

at the corners of his eye, his mouth, his ear.

 

Morphine dulls the pain. He drinks

his meals, smokes the occasional

cigarette. An ex-Mormon,

 

he read the Bible for the first time

last year, found his namesake, the shepherd

boy, stone and sling, heir king to eternity.

 

No pestilence, Goliath of the modern

age, can abate the warmth, brilliance of sunlight;

the aroma of steeping coffee; or her night shirt

 

folded on the pillow. This is how it feels

to be alive. He is sorry for living dead

for so long; doesn’t regret the brute who reels

 

from the blows, staggers on, refusing to go down.

David knows the sad isolation of a bully.

He wrote the book, Despair of Materialism —

 

autobiography of a car salesman.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, one by one.

Confession was good for Saul. Heaven

 

exists inside us all if we are willing

to walk through Hell. Would you thank

Cancer for knocking at your door?

 

Irony is not dead. Christ descended from David.

Consider the lilies, the ravens your soul, and ask,

Of how much more value are you than the birds?

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Go Lightly

Sometimes the weight of the pen is too much

to pick up, a rusted rail embedded in the ground,

 

so you keep going, walking, looking and listening

for words to lift those bodies buried in your chest

 

as if language can work like a pick and shovel,

make sense of the hole and hard-pan in your throat,

 

somehow levitate and turn this husk of existence

under light like a jeweler examines stones

 

before transforming them into glittering beauty—

you want that untold story we’ll never hear.

 

As you fold your hands, don’t bow your head,

look up, out, through, into . . . the only rules

 

you follow you break . . . sadly we make no

mistakes, we all learn what we need to know, so

 

when that bullet flash ends your sky light and

beating heart, all guitars return to their cases,

 

no weeping tomorrows will be heard, merely

the phantom hum of your amp left on and no

 

forgetting of the questions, the whys—those who

had no idea knew for certain your destination.

 

Like all who labor to ignore the night, go lightly

across this cemetery—look to the sun burning bright.

 

—for Craig and Melissa

Mark Gibbons, October 2018

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PARADISE WAITS

When I go traveling

in my mind to get away

from shit, I climb the mountain

above Alberton, scramble up to

it—the meadow that sits atop those sheer cliffs

overlooking the Clark Fork River.

Only game trails lead there—each approach

a steep trek. My senior year I scaled

those rocks—stone teeth of the Ice Age—

wanted to run away from myself.

Wedged halfway up a crevice, I knew

it was a mistake, another macho risk,

some dumb-ass “prove-it” invincibility

test. My only choice: keep going—don’t

look back, don’t turn around

or admit vertigo—inch forward,

breathe, know what you can do—focus, move

ahead. I decided there were no mistakes that day—

paradise waits for heroes & fools.

 

Years ago someone started building

a small cabin up there: square, four walls,

three logs high—a doorway facing south.

Summer hikes, I’d pause at the edge

of the meadow to catch my breath & watch—

imagine a young woman waving

for me to follow her inside

that unfinished house, unbutton her

dress & blouse under the ceiling of blue sky.

Like beasts we’d lie naked on the cabin floor,

flattening the tall bunch grass. I’d smell

sun in her hair, pine needles

warm against our skin, then lick

salt from her neck & breasts, feel a sweat

bead trickle down my back as her fingertips

brushed my flanks—before nails caught & scratched.

I’d sip, drink long from her swollen mouth,

listen to the rhythm of our quickening breaths.

We’d tear up roots, cry out, push

hard into earth & empty ourselves—

what it was we couldn’t hold

in that idyllic meadow—

the echoing explosions of summer.

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Summer Solstice

The hedge pods, lime green, hang

in clusters like beans six

to twelve feet above ground. Spindly

shoots swoop-up off gnarled,

woody stocks thick as my forearms.

Insects, unseen, buzz-ring

in my ears unperturbed by the lonely

hound barking nonstop, fenced

a block away. The sun warms

 

my hands, this page, and the shadow

of my dancing pen knows

it will find no solace

on this longest of days.

I don’t believe there’s any significance

to this moment, this necessary

elegy finding its voice in a turning

point of mine, this calibration of

space and time climbing beyond our reach,

but since we are painfully aware

that we are mostly in the dark,

it doesn’t seem fair to bury or bemoan

anyone or anything

on a blue-sky, wispy-cloud day,

cool-breezy, leaf-rattling,

and brimmed-full of birdsong,

the cat squinting then napping

on the lawn as spring passes

the baton to summer. I don’t wonder

 

why the nervous animal paces

in my gut, and I understand the date’s

obvious foreshadowing of what’s ahead,

having nodded off in mid-poem.

I assume it will be alright,

take care of itself in the winter

of our goodnight, that we’ll slip away

easy as sleep, but still, today

is no time to let go of those

we’ve escorted down this spinning

road for as long as we can remember.

At least in December the mood,

the light and temperature are right

for leave taking. This time of year

 

there’s too much to lose. Summer

elegies belong to the ants

carting dried carcasses of honey

bees underground, hauling sticks

or corn chips, whatever they find,

busily catering to the queen,

working and dying in droves to increase

the size of the pile, support

the colony, the empire:

go forth and multiply,

make it pay every trip, every load,

every minute, every day.

Isn’t that the way we do it

under the sun, keep running,

keep going until we’re gone?

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DILLON GHOSTS REVISITED

connie & butch

I walk this rutted alley from The Club to Skeet’s Cafe

with my son, dogging my grandpa’s hill-climbing heel,

my old man’s voice in my head talking about my long

dead punch-happy uncle whose clothes I still wear.

 

I imagine nighttime excursions of raucous Irish brothers

chasing moonlight blood and lust. Now silent to my son

in sunlit afternoon, heard faintly as barroom whispers,

echoes choked by the scuffing gravel beneath my feet.

 

Feeling nameless now as drunks who crawled here blind

with hope, searching money, a misplaced pint or reason

not to lay back down. They realized their blood in broken

Highlander bottles, found the strength to make last call.

 

The ice man told secrets of these sagging back porches,

the angry early-morning brogues of immigrant women

laid on suits and hay hands dancing lightly downstairs

from Dirty Jean’s whorehouse. She always tipped in trade.

 

I come searching for my family, Gaelic ghosts, fast fighters,

sure friends, who sip whiskey on a wood box in the lunch-

break shade, lilt Celtic ditties, bring tears to your eyes

telling heroic lies in the resonant voice of St. Patrick, himself.

 

This back door playground of hard working men, dirt and stone

more honest than the clean swept curbs out front, knows

the pleasures and pains of the flesh, the soul – the grunts

and bruises, lost faith and aches of spent life and hunger.

 

Where after years in these thrown-away shadows, toothless

grins and vacant eyes broadcast the degree of hangover

acquired on a fixed tab. These guys who financed Phillip

Morris’s Early Times, Old Crow’s who made Jim Beam.

 

A stark, gray world of weeds and dust; chinkless bricks

and weather-faded wood; torn, yellow blinds and cardboard

window panes; all exposed to the raised leg of a mongrel

Blue Heeler marking the stoops of dead and unsung kings.

 

I came to discover Eros in the mirror of the back bar,

betraying reflections of buzzing neon coded riddles to be

ciphered on the journey always out the back door. But ghosts

tell less than dead men know, and more than I want to hear.

 

Don’t we all suffer ironic deaths from exposure? A sad

heritage of no regrets? These ghosts of sheepherders

and miners, ranch hands and railroaders embrace me.

They claimed this wasteland mirage, an oasis of spirit.

 

I smile at coughing laughs from open doors, smell booze

breath sweet as dying lilacs, feel a rough hand squeeze

the back of my neck, and taste the warm vanilla froth

of unrefrigerated ice cream politely offered in a dirty bowl.

 

Behind Skeet’s, gone now, his strawberry pie not forgotten,

my son is ready to move on. The Cabbage Patch and cemetery

will have to wait. He’ll exhume those ghosts soon enough. We’ll

gas up, buy Coke and Bud, and drive to Wisdom tomorrow.

 

for Connie

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Down and Out

Chris LaTray photo

at the crossroads again

begging the bosses for work,

some way to make it, easily,

 

a monthly grub-steak, a few

bucks in exchange for me,

my aging-marketable abilities,

 

whatever they may be, since

I need money, shelter, time,

that tick-clocking and increasing

 

chill-risk factor, whatever

jobs-to-be-got, whatever shit

needs shoveling, cold palms

 

to be squeezed—I’m your man,

I know I can get it done, keep

my songs buried, be a good

 

employee till this hollow shell,

my chest cavity, retires to pretend

the black hole is really this blue

 

heart aching, circling the dying

fire (and our silly, repetitive games)

oh-so briefly before the light fades.

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406-401K-2018

this is it,

that sweet (enough)

amerikan dream

of disability,

social security,

unemployment,

or the lottery,

some desperate

way to stop

punching a clock,

give you a chance

to stand outside

under the stars,

collect your thoughts,

observe,

come to grips

with the obvious,

your profound

ignorance,

and embrace

the wonder

and chaos

of this wild-ass

dream trip,

the mother-fucking

sideshow of

crazy shit—you,

yes, you—

that miracle—

consciousness.

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