Conversations Overheard in a Restaurant: Poems

Conversations Overheard in a Restaurant: Poems

by Robert Alan Clanton

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781449042790
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 07/29/2010
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.34(d)

First Chapter

Conversations Overheard in a Restaurant

POEMS
By Robert Alan Clanton

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2010 Robert Alan Clanton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4490-4279-0


Chapter One

The Geometry of Clouds Weightless somewhere at thirty three thousand feet the ocean foam-colored airscape seems benign: the color of a jolly old man's beard, the color, at least, of a sea of shaving cream. Back on the concrete at Detroit the clouds menaced: We had taxied anxiously through gray air and falling snow. Now, quietly above them, the clouds form lines, patterns- a method to their moist madness-like the huddled queues back in the Northwest terminal. We fly south, geese escaping the bitter air, and underneath we see nothing of Michigan or Ohio save their clouds. Somewhere above the Ohio River I stare into the stunning rich cobalt blue of sky toward the east where the air and the dry vacuum of space dissolve like a liquid dance, and the sun-bleached whiteness of the clouds below stings each retina, burns like jet fuel under my eyelids. But still I stare, scouring, searching for the shadow of the plane which I cannot find among the clam chowder hillocks, ragged valleys, and cotton candy spirals below, the shadow perhaps too dense, too heavy even for the delicate top edge of the foam, too tangible even for the imagined weight against the surface. But the clouds have their lines, their system, and as we break past them over Kentucky, finally Tennessee and Georgia, they give up their ghostly order, faltering, eventually trickling, until they are gone, the landscape below exposed, naked, warmed by the sun, the captain happy to see the smog of Atlanta, the flight attendants hurrying, warning us too late, perhaps, not to stare at what we cannot touch, not to dare to find patterns in what we cannot hold, and not to fall in love with the transient air. Chapel of the Transfiguration The eyes are drawn to a muscular uplift skyward- plate tectonics straight from the textbook- eleven, twelve and thirteen thousand feet abruptly wedded to a smooth valley floor, while among the crowns clouds undulate, gray courtship among stone steeples, tips obscured are soon revealed as ever-shifting shrouds conceal, then unveil shoulders and peaks draped in purest snow: Grand, Middle and South Teton, alongside Nez Perce, Mount Wister, Buck Mountain, snow falling in ghostly rolling curtains. Where peaks possess patience, mist seems imbued, a silver sky offering more snow, turning crags of bare steely rock to jeweled white as if guided by a deft, painterly hand. In this June drizzle of ice the chapel is a vessel- walls of lodgepole pine, pews of deep aspen, anchored in scrappy soil and earthy greens as the clouds above the Snake River begin to recede, breaking, parting in silence, the fresh snow now radiant, shimmering on canvas of highest stone. A God Named Joey It was the first I'd heard of death other than the occasional great aunt great uncle one grandparent people wrinkled hunched frail parents dressed in black more food, nicer spread than we were all willing to make when they were actually alive. Third grade, I think, at Upson Elementary, and only the third week of school. Glenn was his name such a great name for a kid in those days, like an astronaut-like John Glenn! -only Glenn was his first name blue eyes crewcut blond hair same color as mine, actually, word spreading during that first hour: Glenn had hanged himself accidentally near the playground swinging silent swaying still bass boat anchor rope around his neck eyeballs popped open like a housefly a couple of friends with him playing Tarzan or some such thing horseplay from that tree limb do you remember that oak tree? muscled thick, gnarled drooping limb a great place for a rope swing Glenn's little neck snapping with the sound of breaking celery or a package of spaghetti cracking in half in my kitchen even now (too cheap to buy a stockpot big enough for the long pasta). You see, Glenn was someone our age, not disfigured from arthritis nor molded through with cancer like old cheese, but a kid who could run pretty fast, third fastest after Kenny Kendrickson and that Filipino kid Manny. As an adult in my apartment in Tallahassee, the whole neighborhood watched the brightly colored spider build her monster web, six or seven feet high, it was, between the magnolia and a little oak, and for weeks we watched her progress, measured her, photographed her, the kids from all over coming on bikes just to have a look, studying her paralyzed food, an impressive collection of impotent prizes trapped: flies, moths, beetles, ladybugs, crickets, all wrapped in inky silken black, cells still alive inside ... then, after three weeks, there they were!: dozen of babies, little spitting images of their mother, all spaced perfectly randomly about three or four inches apart on that web. But the next day, Joey, the kid from next door swatting at the whole radiant architecture with his bamboo pole the other kids screaming at him, Joey just laughing, grinning, an eight year old god under the magnolia, toddler spiders running lost, aunts and uncles dressed in black only the third day of school. Confessions to the Mountains Should have taken that little exit. Should have gotten off the interstate. Should have pulled off the road, walked to the dusty shoulder, stared for a silent moment. Pilot Peak, just inside the eastern edge of Nevada, showboats its muscular chest in majestic eeriness in whispering winds at the edge of the Goshute Range, rising up almost misplaced above stark, minimalist colors of the scrubby green dotted desert on the Nevada side, and the unforgiving radiance of the Silver Island Mountains on the Utah side, and I knew I should have stopped, taken a breath of the dry air, had a proper look. But I kept driving. Must make Reno by six. It would have been easy enough to have taken the little dusty white road near where I stopped briefly at Wendover to gas up, grab some chips and a Coke, stare at the argument between the store clerk and the driver whose truck had broken down just outside: You can't leave it parked here. My truck ain't going nowhere. Yes, but you can't leave it there. It's thrown a rod fr' Chrissakes. Yes, but you can't just leave it. Fifteen, maybe twenty miles driving north on that unnamed gravel road toward Grouse Creek with the white sand dunes and the Silver Island Range shining off to my right, and the glistening spires of the Pilot Range to my left, and I could have been there, right at the edge of the foothills. What communion would I find there? What nutrients would I absorb in the holy solitude of such a shimmering place? Perhaps I would even confess things-strange truths, common misdeeds-like my Catholic friends to their priests ... anything, just confess something, perhaps on my knees, or maybe simply leaning, an elbow stamped onto the dry swirls of a fence post, whispering the way men try to whisper near the thin shadows of someone's barbed wire fence, the fence there to discourage trespasses of others, keep out the silver reflections of guilt. Waterspouts We counted seven of them, toy tornadoes, tall as nimbus dreams, gossamer spirals, elegant as blown strands of green glass, dancing slow as ghosts along the beach that day. A ballet of pale turquoise sifted through a straw, the clouds sip, drink from the water's gray edge, salty geysers in the slow motion of gravity in reverse- water vapor lifting skyward in a tubular dance into the underside of brooding aroused clouds. Does the sky massage the ocean's choppy surface? Or does the ocean tickle the sky? Perhaps it is lovemaking, interplay between below and above, the sky's penance for all the angry lightning, and the ocean's reward of all its patience, eons collecting the wash, filtering the runoff, the inevitable melting of every clenched mountain chin. A dance between up and down, a waltz in the cold air of the beach- the waterspouts fade one by one, slipping into transparency, transient and thin as a cloud's spiraled dream. Somewhere West of the Cedar Mountains, Utah The high school kids write their names, initials and loves with stones and beer bottles in the crystalline white frying pan flatness of the salt flats, little graphic signals to the vast sky above and to the passing drivers who by unforgiving daylight rush across the plain at seventy and eighty- nothing here to see- not stopping to play as the teenagers do at night, the kids just shadows on salty earth, dancing singing swaying across the dried saline smoothness, endless as the eye can see, only the roadbed and the headlights breaking the perfection of the emptiness of land and the cool dark dome of night sky over the Utah of midnight. The kids dance among their headlights, write their messages to the truckers' eyes to the stars above to a glancing God smiling down at the naked energy of youth and the salt bleached purity of time. New Smyrna Beach, 1980 Our arrival was just after dark, the ocean calling to us, a churning, low roar on the east side of the house, but, courage blunted, bullied, in the moonless, windy cold- eerie shadows and moving phantoms lining the narrow, sandy path between sea oats, toe-headed palms, and elderly wire and slat fence twisted, half-buried in a chaos of angles along dark drifts of sand and brick between the door and the ocean, the old house drafty as a barn, but warming once the stove and fire settled in with flickering, glowing reds and oranges, ripples of heat wafting through mildewed air while outside the chill factor dropped, sinking like a stone thrown past distant breakers, windows rattling, whistled groans between doors, a dark song of drafting, paint-peeled edges. We sipped hot chocolate, nibbled from bags of salty junk, spread pimento cheese on wheat bread, toasted and dry, stared at the fire. Two girls, two boys, a house not used since September, but now the January chill so potent, biting, only the sleeping bags and blankets call to our youthful drives, but still eyes twitching at the first dare: who wants to go skinny-dipping? Finally a brave volunteer, she'll test conditions first, and maybe we'll follow, but when the door was opened, air tested, Holy Mother of God she rasped between chattering teeth, black hair thrown weightlessly in the relentless wind, unforgiving darkness like a blanket of ice as our flashlights stabbed blackness and howling gusts of bracing air, her clenched towel flapping like a flag. We retreat from the kitchen door. She made it only a few steps on the path. Back at the fireplace we pretend not to watch as she dresses quickly, a few brief seconds of her nude form burning into my eyes, memory, skin backlit by the golden reds of the fire, goose bumps rippling across taut olive skin, sparkles of ash and embers cascading in moving air as a renewed draft draws through the chimney. Startled by the fireplace's groan, she steps away, blue jeans, sweatshirt half on, brown eyes bright with stunned excitement. She sits by the fire and tugs at her socks. Sometime a little past midnight everyone finally tucks themselves in: two twin beds, two sofas, only crisp fire and the slow, achy tune of the wind through ancient window frames to sing us to sleep, bundled near dying fire, fading heat. Poem Written on a Gallery Schedule for July-August The echoes off the marble and glass move like sparrows through open sunny air, flickering here, flitting there under the patient, tireless rotations of the winged Calder design and bits of conversation on stairs: a middle-aged Asian woman with her younger companion, you know what this kind of sculpture is called in Mandarin Chinese? but in a blink they are gone- six, seven steps up as I walk down, so I never hear the words, never know her complete thought. Later on the escalator there is another fragment, another fleeting eavesdrop, ear turned toward this gray couple: I know there's an elevator up here that takes us to the Picassos, right up there past the water fountain and the ugly thing. But before I can correct them (I found the Picassos earlier) they ascend past me, hands gesturing toward the mezzanine and the massive Frank Stella jutting colorfully out of a smooth marble wall, and I want to correct that point too, because perhaps the Motherwell is ugly, but not the joyous layered Stella. Back downstairs children's voices ricochet off glass and chrome and over vast bright spaces where light shifts from high to low as two young women sit and tinker with a small silver camera, snapping pictures of themselves at point blank range. Thermals continue to move Calder's puzzle pieces overheard in a ballet like slow conversation, echoes of thoughts, voices trailing on wisps of chattering air. Goldsboro Park The roundabout is painted green, squeaking on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when the children twirl, spin, caps flying, hair spilling outward, a sort of backward gravity before they plunge laughing headlong into space and across the brittle winter grass to the fence near the tennis court where their little fingers-some mittened, some bare-clutch the diamond mesh, climbing, then descending, rattling jangly dry metal in the cool gloaming. I have walked from Ponce DeLeon, across Fairview and along the colors of Oakdale-colors muted this day, no longer fall- but drier, weathered, almost sepia now with the approach of colder weeks, the start of that damp Atlanta chill. Kids have flung their jackets onto the dry grass, little heaps of hue- nylon purple, cotton green, polyester red- bright spots in a near colorless landscape. A window in a house is open, and sounds drift toward the street: infectious, cheerful reggae from a mildly scratched vinyl record, music tumbling where I walk, rolling down brick steps and hexagon sidewalk stone where Euclid Street forms a triangle tapering toward Little Five Points. The children are laughing, shrieking, and I feel a sweet shudder as an otherwise impassive Autumn sunset lets out a moment of giggle.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Conversations Overheard in a Restaurant by Robert Alan Clanton Copyright © 2010 by Robert Alan Clanton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction:....................v
Author's Note:....................ix
Acknowledgements:....................xi
The Geometry of Clouds....................1
Chapel of the Transfiguration....................3
A God Named Joey....................4
Confessions to the Mountains....................6
Waterspouts....................8
Somewhere West of the Cedar Mountains, Utah....................10
New Smyrna Beach, 1980....................12
Poem Written on a Gallery Schedule for July-August....................14
Goldsboro Park....................16
Alligator Point....................18
Conversation Overheard in a Restaurant in Poncha Springs, Colorado....................20
Physics 101....................22
North of the Caldera Boundary....................24
The Presbyterian Pilot....................25
Apalachicola Bay....................27
Leaving Your Baggage on the Tracks....................29
BBQ is Subjective....................32
Journalism Club, November 1975....................34
Thirteenth Floor....................36
Conversation With the Waitress....................38
Postcards From Spain....................40
The Girl Who Could Draw Like Roger Dean....................42
Medicine Wheel Passage, Wyoming....................45
East Building, National Gallery of Art....................47
Recipe for Pasta Primavera....................49
Envy....................52
Peace River....................53
Random Things Culled From a World Almanac & Book of Facts....................54
Snow in Good Hope....................57
Navigation....................59
Sunset Near Bainbridge, Georgia....................61
Greek Restaurant, East Moriches, Long Island....................62
Tsala Apopka Lake....................64
Resurrection Fern....................66
Sunday Chiffon Pie, November 1996....................68
Orange Julius, 1972....................70
Moon Rise, Atlantic Beach, Florida....................72
Mountville, South Carolina....................74
Recipe for Champurrado....................76
Crater Lake, June 18....................77
One & One & One is Three....................78
Aisles of Temptation....................80
Still Life in Afternoon Light, April 1983....................82
Fed by the Gulf....................84
A Blush From the Touch of Snow....................85
Power Outage, Calhoun County, Florida....................87
The Cold Chase....................89
Superstitions of the Heart....................91
Necessary Clutter....................94
Erasing the Hangover....................95
Dillon Pinnacles....................98
Godzilla Versus Opie Taylor....................99
Burnt Umber, November 1963....................101
Dancing With the Wind....................103
Weeding Under the Azaleas....................105
Miami International Airport, March 1997....................107
Shortly Before Midnight....................109
The Fun Parts....................110
Ocean Artistry....................112
Liquefying Sunset....................113
Golden Gate....................115
Conversation in a Restaurant on West 72nd Street....................117
Sunset....................120
The Wind Above the Garden....................121
The Possessions of Sleep....................123
A Few Additional Notes:....................125

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