CONUNDRUM

How to answer or better yet

Ask the question . . . and

What question you might ask

When really why may be

Where you want to go

 

Which is a valid inquiry

And the one you think you know

Is at the root of who (another

Perfectly good question) you are

When you open your eyes

 

Truths and lies both

Clarify and disguise

From one another what they want

And why—teasing and pleasing

We try to satisfy the puzzler

 

Once our backs are covered

Our bellies full and we’ve milked

Ourselves into reverie

A time to ponder . . . a time

To ask . . . to wonder

 

What tasks a poet might perform

If any save talking to oneself

The rhythmic beat of music

Pounding the ear . . . the heart

Thump lapping at the shore

 

In the dark singing the sun

To rise—that time to appreciate

Being alive and giving something

The only thing we have

To give the only thing

 

We truly own . . . our voices

Singing the beauty of life in death

The sun’s kaleidoscopic dance

As it sets—the long sleep—the dream

Of music or sweet peaches kissed

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grandma

 

she rode the Greyhound

from L.A.

to Montana

every year

holding her rosary

her water

the bus tires to the road

and watched

the moon glow

out her window

the same moon

she’d wished on

in Connemara

before she followed

her husband

from Galway to Butte

and raised her children

in Beaverhead County

where she scrubbed

floors and folded

other people’s clothes

to buy eggs and potatoes

she fed her kids

the church

her boys abandoned

for the bottle

their father embraced

to escape his Hell

of digging ditches

celebrate a wee bit

of Heaven early

just in case

the meek didn’t

make out so good

so she lost them

the way

all mothers lose

though she didn’t

give up

she never let go

always made the trip

prayed for our

everlasting souls

in her thick Irish brogue

that still echoes

inside of me

 

mark gibbons

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For the Life of Me

it’s all a mystery

what makes us tick

 

what matters

the whys

 

how we deal with each other

how we handle ourselves

 

one man cries

one woman hits

 

one billion-plus will never quit

two billion more don’t give a shit

 

what they say when they don’t

know what to do

 

so we work

we play

 

we busy ourselves

we poke and provoke

 

we make up stories

to entertain and explain

 

to teach our children the system

navigating the terrain

 

give them reasons to believe

they have a stake in this

 

and help them continue

walking through

 

what we don’t understand

solving the puzzle

 

one piece at a time

is the main motivation

 

for opening our eyes

once we become bored

 

with our distractions

and toys

 

with practicing

self-control

 

our place

in what we define

 

as this

space/time continuum

 

wrestling the messy

animal inside

 

that heart-pounding

Poe pendulum

 

swing of love

to fear

 

the roller-coaster ride

where art resides

 

gripping the load bar

blind enough to see

 

the possibility

beyond the trees

 

that molecular forest

where eventually

 

maybe there will be

some good reason

 

an explanation

for the life of me

 

Mark Gibbons

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The Ninemile House

The Ninemile House

was renowned for

its T-bones and prime rib.

Max Huff’s recipes,

 

Roquefort dressing,

spaghetti with grilled

garlic-buttered French bread.

Butterfly prawns shelled

 

by hand, and the fries

like the burger patties

were pressed fresh daily.

That menu from the sixties:

 

the relish tray olives,

peppers, and pickled

veggies were canned,

only the carrots, celery

 

sticks, and green onions

were raw unless you ordered

your meat rare. The salami

was rife with peppercorns

 

and paired with Sharp Cheddar

or Swiss on Club crackers.

Of course there was a bowl

of shredded Parmesan on

 

each table and bread sticks

for the spa-ghett. A spicy shrimp

cocktail kicked off the parade

of food, but many just came

 

to the old roadhouse for fun,

the full bar and music every

weekend, a honky-tonk juke

box was loaded with country

 

classics by Hank, Patsy, Johnny

Cash or Paycheck, George

and Tammy, Loretta, Buck

Owens and Porter Wagoner,

 

Charley Pride of Helena and

the Sons of the Pioneers, you

could play three for a quarter,

watch the jitterbuggers swing

 

around the bar, order a ditch,

tuck four bits under the pool

table side rail. Some nights

Lillian Young and her Youngins

 

might be fiddling around

a table, Brownie on the spoons,

or if you were lucky, staged-up

to deliver the Tennessee Waltz.

 

Wintertime the knotty pine

lit by lamp light and warmed

by oil and wood stoves felt

comfortable-cozy like Christmas

 

at home with the extended

fam. For better or worse

we knew how to get along.

Those days are long gone

 

for me, but I do grieve for

those who still called it home

after hearing it went up in flames

last night. I remember the wagon

 

wheels, the only lights at the bottom

of Cayuse Hill on any dark

night of the year inviting you in

for a beer, maybe a shot, some

 

country cheer, a conversation

before heading home, a last call,

a six-pack, or a chance to warm-up

in the neon glow elbow to elbow

 

with a row of straw cowboy hats

telling tales of steers or stumps

or mud or snow, some goddamn

broke down piece of shit rig,

 

and laughter would roar. Somebody

would order a round. The sound of ice

cubes tinkling in glass made me smile

like the cartoon Hamm’s bear fishing

 

there in the land of sky blue waters.

 

Mark Gibbons

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Heartbreak

Where else can you go

when the sweet dream turns on you,

hair up, baring teeth, eyes dead-

cold, the low growl from frothed lips . . .

as it slowly skulks away?

 

Nothing can be put out of its misery,

and who are we to decide

whether an abused bitch is rabid

or crazy? All we can do is move,

turn away and hit the trail,

put our feet on the ground, walk

down through the ferns in the cool cedar

bottom, watch for stubbers, Paintbrush

and Bear Grass, listen to the trickle

of water (or its roar) over stone,

the quake of aspens fluttering in the breeze

below a talus slope of boulder scree,

maybe caress the smooth bark

of a regal Piss-Fir queen—then cuss

her firey pitch-pockets that spit,

stick to, and stain the skin.

 

What else can you do when

death has betrayed you again,

wrung your love like a sour rag

you hadn’t noticed was wearing thin?

If you’re lucky it’s always new

when life plays you the fool. Don’t fear.

Go threadbare. Use it up. Let it take what

it needs, everything you’ve got.

Just hold onto what remains. Take that

up high. Go outside—call it fishing.

 

Bathe your wounded soul in Heart Lake.

Feel the flow. Bleed and sing. Know

this medicine—the cast of your line,

the sun shining, a slight wind, snowfields

still holding in the circ—is enough

to help sadness heal broken hearts . . .

in time. Watch your fly, eye the dark

shadows below the surface . . . disturbed—

alone, above, the mallard preens, dips,

and rides the ripples, scans the sky

turning and turning overhead, then flies

on to another pond of stars.

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In the Weeds

I am comfortable lying

in the weeds

looking at the sky

be it warm summer or musty fall.

I like watching the bugs

crawl, the flight patterns

of butterflies and bees, chewing

stems and smelling the grass-

earthy scent around me, contrails

etching across turbulent clouds

unfolding images locked

in my head. I listen

for any sounds: trains, voices,

planes, the occasional car

driving by, barking dogs,

chain saws, the thumping of

my heart, the wind in the trees

and in my chest.

No one can see me there

buried flat as a fawn.

Sometimes I’m with a friend,

but it’s best by myself

because the silence is all mine.

Those who jump to disagree

with my proclamation of loving it

“in the weeds” probably haven’t

been there face down

with the beetles and ants,

eye-level to voles, then rolling

over to watch hawks hover

in thermals against the blue.

I guess to those figurative souls

“in the weeds” is to be lost—

“at sea” or at least “in a funk”—

certainly it has to be an inability

to act decisively. Of course, for me

that’s the most interesting place

to be, literally in the here and now

of this constantly transforming

magical trip, that wonderland

we paid more attention to as kids—

uncertainty—call me Peter Pan

if you will, but I love it

deep in the weeds.

 

Mark Gibbons

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For the Life of Me

 

it’s all a mystery

what makes us tick

 

what matters

the whys

 

how we deal with each other

how we handle ourselves

 

one man cries

one woman hits

 

one billion-plus will never quit

two billion more don’t give a shit

 

what they say when they don’t

know what to do

 

so we work

we play

 

we busy ourselves

we poke and provoke

 

we make up stories

to entertain and explain

 

to teach our children the system

navigating the terrain

 

give them reasons to believe

they have a stake in this

 

and help them continue

walking through

 

what we don’t understand

solving the puzzle

 

one piece at a time

is the main motivation

 

for opening our eyes

once we become bored

 

with our distractions

and toys

 

with practicing

self-control

 

our place

in what we define

 

as this

space/time continuum

 

wrestling the messy

animal inside

 

that heart-pounding

Poe pendulum

 

swing of love

to fear

 

the roller-coaster ride

where art resides

 

gripping the load bar

blind enough to see

 

the possibility

beyond the trees

 

that molecular forest

where eventually

 

maybe there will be

some good reason

 

an explanation

for the life of me

 

Mark Gibbons

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Smut Poets

Sally opens the door and jumps on my friend,

hugging, kissing, and dragging him

into the kitchen. I follow. She yells,

“Polly! Mikey’s here!” tells my pal

to take off his shirt. Paul strolls

sleepy-eyed out of the bedroom, gives us

the brotherhood handshake. Billy Joel,

Cat Stevens, and Rasputin come to mind.

My buddy introduces me as “another poet.”

 

Paul blinks, steps in for a better look,

steps back and asks, “Who do you read?

Bob Hass? Jorie Graham? Lowell?”

I never know what to say, where to start

when asked that shit: who’s your favorite?

Name names, and there will be a follow-up

exam on what you know. So I spit out,

Bukowski, I guess. His eyes dance intensely,

“Yeah? Bukowski? He’s a smut poet.”

I laugh, not sure if he said “smut” or “slut,”

and feel the adrenaline pump, my heart beat

faster. Could be, I agree like some

dumb-ass sidekick at a fantasy salon

where the hair dresser runs her fingers

through the client’s hair while he grins

stupidly half-naked in a kitchen chair.

 

“You want a beer?” the poet-boyfriend

asks me. Sure, I say and sit down

on the worn-out love seat, watch Sally

press her pelvis against Mike’s side

then lean back and start snipping his hair.

Paul hands me a Heineken, and I quip,

What? No Rainier? He throws a questioning

glance at me, then says, “That’s all I’ve got.”

I raise the bottle, salute, and take a pull,

notice a bead of sweat in the hollow of my pal’s

neck, his hair combed down over his eyes

like Cher. She nudges between his knees

to get in closer to cut his bangs, and I see

one of her breasts loose and jiggling

through her baggy blouse sleeve.

 

“So you’re not a fan of German beer?”

Paul asks. No, just German poets,

I laugh. It’s good, but a little spendy for me.

We watch Sally straddle my buddy’s knee

then move in over his thigh. “You sell

weed?” he asks. Sometimes. When I have it.

I take a sip of beer. “We’re looking

to score a lid,” he says when something hits

the floor, and Mike grabs Sally around the waist

wrestling her onto his lap almost

overturning the chair. She screams and

pushes free, playfully warns him,

pointing her scissors at his crotch,

“Be nice! Or . . .” She snips the blades.

We all laugh (and watch her glorious

tits dance and sway) as she bends over

to pick up the comb she’d dropped.

 

“Okay then,” Paul grabs his double-breasted

P-coat, “Gotta go, Babe, I’m late. So

how much do you want for a bag?”

Depends. Fifteen right now if there’s any

left. “You’re shitting me, right? I don’t

want fucking ragweed, Man!” I shrug,

Does the job for me. He looks at me and smiles,

“Okay, Bukowski, we’ll check it out.”

I take another swig of his Heine.

 

Paul grabs his books, hooks Sally

and kisses her neck, gives Mike

the brotherhood grip, and flips me a nod

before lunging out the door—his hair

and coattails flapping. Sally finishes

Mike’s trim and brushes him off.

She rubs his arm and kisses his cheek.

They hug goodbye and agree to try

to get together more often. I thank her

for the beer—don’t mention Paul or pot

or the beautiful romantic poetry

I witnessed beneath her blouse.

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She Takes Me

edges and centers

rivets and feathers

nothing holds

ever so

let it ride unfold

slouching gyres come and go

laving on paint

thick as Vinny Van Gogh

from Top Sail to York

from Flagstaff to Cork

nobody sings like Aly McGee

when the moon rises fast

blood red over Atlantis

bow your head and listen

to your lover’s vampire lips

lilting the wash of sweet dog

bones still chasing birds

in the backyard of heart

nothing is buried

only finally forgotten

unless it’s scribble-sung

in stone keep on

digging the cool surf on sand

caress your toes

let it take your soul

way down below the ocean

follow your tow

headed sons on the beach

then kneel and watch

the red sunrise

kiss the sky

the color of their eyes

Oh Ghalib

it’s where you want to be

 

for JimBo

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DAYLIGHT IN THE DARK

What I like about Ray is

the way he notices the little

things that don’t count toward

the business end of the day:

peeled paint, mossy shingles, pine

needles & cones, the freshly dug hole

& mound of dirt beside the garage —

shovel leaned against the fence.

 

What I like about a Carver poem

is it reminds me of smoked salmon & blue

cheese, Guinness beer; walking the alley

after dark & running into deer; the way

a patch of snow becomes water dripping

from my nose & eyes, cold burning

like a blister on the palm of my hand;

my wife’s raven hair tossed by March wind.

 

What I like most about the poet

is his attention to moments

lived & buried; to necessary tasks;

to questions that question the answers . . .

no one else will ask. What I like

about Carver is the way he focuses

on pulsing blood & breath — on waking

& walking through the day: ordering

 

hunger into words savored long after dark.

 

in memory of Raymond Carver

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