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by Worth Bateman

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Trafford Publishing
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

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X and other poems from A to Z

By Worth Bateman


Copyright © 2012 Worth Bateman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4669-2618-9

Chapter One

    Auld Lang Syne

    Eight of us for dinner
    to celebrate another orbit
    of our aging star.
    We talked of houses,
    children and grandchildren,
    parents and pets,
    trips taken or planned,
    movies worth seeing,
    good places to eat.
    not much of politics
    or our health.

    At midnight,
    we crossed the finish line
    with a champagne toast to the year ahead
    and then our hostess passed around
    some Chinese crackers,
    the kind you pull apart
    to find a favor or a fortune.
    Mine said, "Don't worry about avoiding temptation!
    As you grow old, it starts avoiding you!"

    There were also tissue paper crowns
    of gold or blue which we put on
    to read our fortunes.
    How apropos the crowns I thought,
    for us to have gotten this far,
    sometimes wise,
    sometimes not so wise
    but still, far advanced,
    still here.

    Like a gathering of the crowned heads of Europe—
    late eighteenth century,
    before things started
    turning bad.


    I saw a blacksnake swallow a bird once,
    a bird that hadn't learned yet to leave the nest,
    a bird that couldn't fly.
    There was quite a commotion up there;
    I'll never forget seeing,
    as if the little bird had made a headfirst dive,
    the spindly legs,
    quiet now,
    disappearing down the all-enveloping throat.

    Up there, high up,
    in the stacks of the library,
    in two carrels side-by-side,
    was where that too began.
    She was holding a large book
    in her lap
    and wanted me to come
    look at something she had found.
    I bent to see what it was,
    brushed against the combed black hair,
    caught the scent of her,
    almost touched her neck.
    She offered me a closer look
    but didn't move,
    so I slipped my hand
    under the book,
    where it rested,
    held it for a moment,
    before I raised it to my eyes,
    which didn't dare
    to look at hers.

    Let's see,
    where was I?
    Oh yes, yes. The snake.
    The first little bird was gone
    so then it ate the other one.
    I almost forgot
    there were two of them.

    Bocce Player

    You don't see the game.
    What you do see is a bocce player
    dressed in slacks and a sweater
    patiently awaiting his turn.
    The photo is shot from behind;
    you see part of his torso,
    some of his legs,
    his left arm,
    and a hand,
    cradling a ball in a cloth,
    maybe for wiping it clean
    before it is tossed.
    We don't know what toss
    the anonymous player will make or
    once made, whether it went where he wanted;
    whether it mattered,
    or how many rounds he would play;
    whether he won or he lost.
    We don't know why he was there,
    where he was from,
    or where he was going
    when he finished the game.
    All we know is
    he was there
    and he played.

    Caesar's Wish

    We're told
    when Caesar was asked how it was
    he wanted to die, he answered,
    a wish we know he was granted,
    as are we all—
    the last instant of time
    separating life and death
    being infinitesimally small
    for everyone.

    I think, perhaps
    what he meant to say was,
    With as little warning as possible,
    like a pop-quiz
    rather than a final exam
    or orals you'd have
    plenty of time
    to prepare for.

    Yes, that would be better—
    knowing, of course,
    when the quiz was announced,
    you'd never have to take another test
    and it didn't matter anyway
    how well it was you did.


    Flying horses
    Mother called them:
    three rows of stallions
    gliding on invisible waves,
    round and round,
    ride after ride.

    I remember
    she had to help me up.
    My feet barely reached the stirrups
    when I was in the saddle,
    and I was disappointed when I took the reins
    at how lifeless they felt.
    I didn't know about the brass ring then,
    how this prize, if grasped, could be exchanged
    for a treat or another ride.
    All that came later.

    Some mothers took the chariots
    but she rode the horse next to mine,
    Women still wore dresses then
    and that was how a lady rode.

    Then it all began,
    one moment at rest
    the next in motion
    like a train when it first begins
    to leave the station.

    Gently the horses climbed and fell
    in a rhythm perfectly timed
    to the hurdy-gurdy music.
    And we went with it.

    The music didn't seem to match
    the fierceness of the horses' eyes,
    the tension in their necks,
    the outstretched legs pawing the air,
    or the smoothly harnessed power
    of their airborne bodies.
    But nobody seemed to care.

    What mattered then
    was being part of this rotating universe
    of movement in harmony with music,
    this dance of flying horses.


    For Plato,
    he could be a metaphor:
    the unenlightened man,
    believing only in the tangible world,
    making the most he can
    of a false reality,
    who may emerge from the cave
    but only via his mind
    and the power
    of pure Reason.

    For me,
    I'd rather picture someone
    near the back of his dark cave
    blinking in the gloom
    after his fire has gone out,
    sifting through the dead, cold ashes,
    a few dry bones scattered here and there;

    and the moment when he realizes
    he didn't make fire itself,
    that fire was something he'd been given,
    had appeared long before
    the ritual gathering of his few dry sticks,
    was something he'd had no part in;

    the moment when he knew
    he'd been a fool to think
    fire was something he'd created,
    something he had made,

    when he understood he could only do
    the humble work that made
    his own small fire possible,

    but knowing he did have that—
    even if that was all he had,
    it was something—
    and he believed some small good
    could come from it.

    Cinque Terra

    We took the train from Florence here
    where I wet my hands in the Ligurian Sea,
    the sea where Shelley drowned
    when the boat he was sailing on
    went down in a storm off the coast.

    Like dipping my finger
    in the font of holy water
    before going into church,
    I wanted to make some small connection
    to the man who wrote so hauntingly of death
    and so passionately of life.

    Somehow I'm reminded of
    Dust we are and to dust
    we shall return
    one of my grandmother's favorite lines.
    Mopping the dust under her bed,
    she liked to say someone there
    was either coming or going
    but wasn't sure which it was.

    I think she was telling me
    there is an afterlife of sorts
    but one of little use to us the living,
    we of the crystal waters and blue lagoons,
    the pebbled beaches,
    and mountains diving to the sea,
    we of the towns clinging to their sides;

    and me, with two small stones
    now resting on a shelf
    with some favorite books of poetry,
    stones flat and round like well-worn coins,
    picked up that day from the shore,
    smoothed by the same waters
    in which Shelley disappeared.


    I guess it's obvious
    why that meal together,
    eaten in the car
    in a roadhouse parking lot
    not long before he died,
    reminds me of falling off the pier
    at Riva over fifty years before
    when I was ten or so
    while bringing in a crab
    hard pulling on a line
    baited with smelt
    and a hex nut for a sinker.

    Uncle Bob, his older brother,
    a big man with a twinkle in his eye
    was standing next to me,
    net in hand to dip the crab
    when I got it close enough.
    It's true I had leaned far out
    inching Maryland's finest
    to the surface just before
    I went into the river,
    but sure then and now
    I was also helped along.

    There was a moment
    when I was so taken by surprise
    by what had happened
    I forgot to swim
    and thrashed around,
    helpless in the water.

    Later, my father said
    he was coming in for me
    at just the moment I remembered
    what to do,
    so he didn't have to.
    I hate to think how many times
    since then
    he must have felt the same.

    Dog Bite

    I was just a kid
    but a kid old enough
    to walk by himself
    the few blocks from home
    to the movie theatre downtown.
    I can't remember what was playing that day,
    likely a western,
    maybe the Cisco Kid,
    maybe the Lone Ranger and Tonto.
    Leaving the house in high spirits,
    about halfway there,
    a dog, a dog I'd never seen before, a collie,
    came racing out to the sidewalk from nowhere,
    and without even a bark
    or any warning whatever
    sunk his teeth into the tender flesh
    behind my left knee, then ran away.
    The wound started to bleed
    and for a moment I thought
    turning back would be wise,
    but the temptation of being out on my own
    and going to a movie I wanted to see
    was too strong
    and so I went on.
    The bleeding soon stopped
    and when I got home,
    my mother was baking a pie—
    one of the many good things
    mothers did then;
    but by now I was starting to worry
    about what could happen to me—
    a bad infection or even rabies—
    and I pressed her to go
    to the doctor post-haste,
    which she said we would do—
    when the pie came out of the oven.
    Surprised by this cold-hearted reply,
    I asked what she thought more important:
    a pie or my leg?
    To which she observed:
    what had waited so long for a movie
    could wait a bit longer for pie.

    Doing the Numbers

    I'm not
    when I
    doing this
    or why
    it all
    how old
    my father
    when I
    was doing
    he must
    have felt,
    and realizing
    I am
    older now
    than he
    was then.

    I do
    adding to
    the calculations
    is left
    for me
    if I live
    as long
    as he


    loves not,
    cares not,
    fears not,
    remembers not,
    withholds not,
    offers not,
    worries not,
    regrets not,
    rejoices not,
    sacrifices not,
    is not angered,
    is not comforted,
    is not proud,
    is not downcast,
    is not happy or sad,
    does not lie down,
    does not rise up,
    and yet is
    our mother.


    Everything looked good on paper:
    the resume of jobs and schools,
    the houses he owned,
    the money he'd made,
    the children and grandchildren.

    He'd sowed some wild oats
    but his favorite movie
    wasn't Five Easy Pieces any more.
    As for Jack Nicholson,
    he now preferred Something's Gotta Give
    and he liked Paul Auster's film Smoke
    better than either of the others.

    But there was a problem.
    Even on his best days
    he felt like the late impatiens in the garden:
    still erect after the rain,
    a few nascent blooms,
    but on the way out.
    On other days it was worse:
    more like the fall hostas:
    green gone,
    limp yellow leaves
    drooping around the edge of the pot,
    dragging on the blue stone.

    Was it that "he'd been led around by his dick,
    his brain turned to mush," as Erica Jong saw it;
    or was it "some things just happen, that's all,
    as David Mamet thought;
    or was he just "sinking under being husband and wife,"
    as Robert Frost once said.

    He couldn't figure it out.

    Maybe it was more like notches on a gun.
    You know, how cowboys
    counted their killings
    by cutting a knick on the handle of their Colts.
    Maybe the big events in life—like the killings—
    were the notches
    and the spaces between each one
    was all the rest.
    Maybe the problem was
    he hadn't cut any notches lately.

    He'd had some surgery, the usual stuff,
    "age appropriate," he liked to say.
    He'd retired. He lived comfortably.
    He loved his wife.
    He'd given up drinking; done some writing.
    There was the pleasant matter of the grandchildren.
    But he wasn't sure if these were notches
    or just part of the long space left
    after the last notch he cut.

    Family Farm

    Gone the spring house,
    gone the mules and cows,
    gone the pigs,
    gone the chickens,
    gone the corncrib and corn,
    gone the feeding,
    gone the gathering,
    gone the curing and preserving,
    gone the father and the mother,
    gone the mother's father,
    gone the mother's mother,
    gone the cats that followed them to milking,
    gone the barn,
    gone the boy.

    Still the creek,
    still the frogs and minnows,
    still the skippers,
    still the springs,
    still the water,
    still the meadow,
    still the hills,
    still the rock outcroppings,
    still the maples and the poplars,
    still the oaks,
    still the iris and the lilacs,
    still the lilies of the valley,
    still the earth.


Excerpted from X and other poems from A to Z by Worth Bateman Copyright © 2012 by Worth Bateman. Excerpted by permission of TRAFFORD PUBLISHING. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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