Poems En Route

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Lobster boats, spectered emissions, fuming bark, chipped ancient teeth, dried stalks, endless halitosis, moccasin shops, zealous beavers & Penobscot Bay.

Traveling Towards an Approaching Storm Outside Brattleboro, VT

The smell of early January was dusted with exhaust,
with too many cars for a small old Main Street
stopped at a light, releasing into the hard,
late afternoon air, heavy wads of thick white smoke.
These spectered emissions of Detroit’s crazed vision,
of distance dissolved into nothing more than
space rather than place, rose feather-like
over the whole downtown area. And nearly as soon
as these gasoline ghosts gained independence
from their idling creators, they spread clearly,
vanished into chilling stains of waste.

The perfume of woodsmoke is delicately veined
with various paths of seduction
leading into a small town. It is
a familiar breath scented with expectation
and contentment, a whispered, slow exhalation
that should lead toward a welcome home. Its
thin twisted finger points toward
reunion’s trail and curls familiarity’s comfort
around the lover’s return
from an unwanted absence. And it
reminds one too of the cold, of
the settling evening chill
that would end a warm respite
and carry out its seasonal sentence.
The crackling call of fuming bark
so much stronger when one is alone, off
the main state routes
and up into the elevation
of back and private roads, the
light brown gauze of dirt swirling
behind like the remnants of something
one is not yet ready to surrender, some-
thing suspended in the frozen air
like breaths sighed in exhaustive near-resignation.

The grey approach of the storm
laundered the sky, laved the trees and air.
Chimneys pumped out thick
and clumsy apparitions,
diagonally steered west
and chased into the fading horizon
by the strengthening breeze.
Tricycles and discarded auto seats
paused forever, defeated
by neglect and obsolescence,
by the seasons’ relentless pursuit.
It was a time measured in loss rather than change.

Compass Rose

En Route in Late Autumn

The green houses trimmed in white
with rusted farm equipment,
dulled spindles, pointing brown stars
silent in the stiff brown grass,
chipped ancient teeth that
chomp no soil in this hardened yard.
In the worn red barns,
steel ladders still reach,
leading into the abandoned darkness
of an autumn afternoon.
It is a time, a bailed moment,
lost to warmer memory.

The state routes, numbered out of any sequence,
save that of intersection,
reach deep into the nation
and its local modest hillsides.
The aging farmer can no longer eat the
     corn he’s grown.
His son and daughter visit yearly
and speak with an empty nostalgia
of their childhood years
when it is good for business
or in their early dreams of mortality
that are sparked into twilight
by their parents’ more frequent habit
of repeating the same questions
just answered in the previous ten minutes
     of telephone conversation,
or when they sense there is no focus
behind the clouded lenses of father’s eyes
magnified by a thick outdated prescription.

The mother no longer bakes, nor
does she knit for awkward teenage grandsons
     she barely knows.
She ignores the sinking pressure in her chest
that comes in watching her husband’s gnarled hands
refuse to open a jar, that thumps in rhythm
to their frustrated pounding of the jar’s lid
against the smoothed angle of the countertop.

In the late evening, when the rustle
     of dried stalk
scratches the air and the occasional blare
of music from pickups’ cassettes,
the farmer and his wife
harden with the ignored dark earth
     of their land,
absorbing December’s familiar chill.

Compass Rose

Interstate, Late September

On the right, blue runway lights sketch the promise of distance, the hope of flight, to or from. On the left, streetlights yawn a yellow breath before quiet towns of seemingly random roads and homes. Smokestacks exhale an endless halitosis of resignation and stale continuity. A shivering florescence cuts down the center of wooden municipal buildings closed until Monday.

Curves in the lazy highway are so wide we barely feel their pull and do not notice any lean buckled in our seats. Giant extended eighteen-wheelers carry miniature cities within aluminum walls, and easily pass us on flat or declining stretches, their red and yellow lights flickering back at our flashing high-beams.

And then it is completely dark again, so black to the left and right and behind us that we may still imagine the old dream from years ago in which we do not already know the destination.

Compass Rose

Vacation Notes, 1998

It is such a pleasure
to be sitting on this porch, over-
looking Penobscot Bay
in this rented house,
reading 13th-century Japanese poetry
while the washing machine and dryer
rattle and bang away—
the washer secured on wooden mounts
that prevent it from vibrating away,
the dryer smacking the metal buttons and hooks
of overalls and jackets,
rude little dull-toned bells.
A sip of Chianti poured from a straw-wrapped bottle
     (a “fiascetti”)
into a small juice glass; my daughter
munching chips, reading a scary novel
by someone named Willo; she is
bright with blues and yellows
and the advancing blush of puberty.

At the rocky water’s edge the other
children fuss over the raft, their
mother’s straw hat tilted downward
into her book and contentment;
gulls float on the surface, rest
on a green canvas canoe cover.

At seven or so we will leave for dinner,
for as large a lobster as I can eat
and an after-supper walk
into moccasin and pottery shops.
Earlier at the Meetingbrook Bookshop
     & Bakery in Camden,
The soft-spoken Buddhist owner casually mentions
a retaliatory military action,
     “—a ‘preventive strike’
          they’re calling it,”
against Sudan and Afghanistan.
We have not heard a radio or television
nor read a newspaper in days;
there is a certain distanced confusion
to the shop owner’s telling.
Yesterday at this time we were
     30 miles out in the Atlantic,
200 dolphins forming an escort
     around the boat;
our trip back into the sunset,
the early evening sky changing colors
     every several minutes.

Another glass of Chianti, and a
deeper stare into the rolling bay water.
Small lobster boats named Ocean Fury and
Sea Fever and Stephanie Diane pass by gurgling
only hundreds of feet beyond the window,
their wake softly dissipating,
     spreading wings.

At the restaurant, someone
     will have certainly seen the news, or
read a special early or late edition of doom.
I pick up Hojoki again—

     Great houses fade away,
     to be replaced by lesser ones.*

I hold the moment, forbidding
     its replacement,
stalling evening’s conquest
by staring for as long as I can without blinking
     into the disappearing water.
Across this ocean, American fighters
replace life with death, villages with dust,
with no question of course
indicated in their orders.

*Hojoki, by Kamo-no-Chomei (1155 to 1216), composed in 1212, describes, in its first section, the devastation of Kyoto by earthquake, storm and fire in the twelfth century. Translation by Yasuhiko Moriguchi and David Jenkins.

Compass Rose

Flying to Eron and LaTasha’s Wedding

Reading Jane Kenyon @ 34,000 feet,
twenty minutes into the first leg of a flight
to Lincoln, Nebraska,
via Minneapolis-St. Paul.
She writes of the length of winter,
comparing it to a “Mahler/ symphony,
or an hour in the dentist’s chair.”
An odd coupling, perhaps.
Later on we hear of “zealous beavers,”
who bring trees “crashing down… Sometimes
it seems they do it just for fun.”
(Don’t really need to read that phrase on a plane!)
And wind over ice, carrying
“the sound of breaking glass.”
Up here in this speeding tunnel of anxious travelers
time crawls above the endless settlement of clouds.
The jet seems suspended,
moving only a few feet at a time.
But in fact we know
we are speeding along
at hundreds of miles per hour.

When the pilot shares his data on the temperature
and general weather conditions in Minnesota,
we shiver in our downstate New York skin:
30º there, near the Wisconsin border,
over 50º where we left.
Is it November there, where we will pause,
and merely early October at our point of takeoff?
Will the winter last longer, begin earlier,
if one spends his time in the air?

Now the clouds break,
and the perfect ice-blue sky reappears
amid the thick cumulus foam.
Below, somewhere between Queens, NY, and our destination,
land begins to smear this transparent canvas.
The earthbound begin routine commutes,
marginalized from our roaring breathless perspective.
We race determinedly toward a wedding
(my nephew, Eron, and his longtime, high school sweetheart, LaTasha)
and a reunion with those seen only rarely,
at nuptials or funerals, it seems.

And our sun too, like Jane’s,
“has gone behind the hill.”
(Cloud mountains in our case.)
But unlike her we do not hurry home
from “Chill, or the fear/ of chill.”
Airborne, floating toward love’s frenzy,
we continue west
toward a warmth not known
since the last marriage ceremony
and reception in North Carolina.
And tomorrow we will once again witness
vows of eternal passions
and the exchange of simple ancient symbols.
Join with those present,
                                              remember those not.
And hear love proclaimed in sacred texts
and enthusiastic applause.
                                                   And shouts of joy
rising from pews
                                 into celestial murals
doming earthly celebration.

(The Jane Kenyon poem referenced is Walking Alone in Late Winter.)

Anthony DeGregorio’s writing has appeared or is scheduled to appear in various publications including Bloom, Phantom Drift Limited, Wales Haiku Journal, Polu Texni, So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, Paterson Literary Review, Light—A Journal of Photography & Poetry, The Maine Review and The Westchester Review. He taught writing at Manhattanville College for twenty years, and in another life or two or three he also worked in various capacities for the Department of Social Services, much of that time while also teaching at night. This, of course, after several lifetimes toiling at numerous jobs following birth. Mostly. He is obviously ageless. Or is it time-challenged? This suite of poems was a finalist for Nowhere’s Spring 2020 Travel Writing Prize.

Lead image: Clay Kaufmann

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