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Originally appeared in Issue No. 2



Robert Lietz


Practicing Down

Practicing Down (1) 

     Once, I think, for good. Then the story-line divides.
Too many clouds. Too many pieces to see fit. And
then the day builds over us -- stretched /skewed /strung --
the intimacies restored to all of their hard uses.
And more -- as the moonlight frays -- in the births
and star-crossed weddings Time conspires -- more
as the story-lines divide -- the frogs and the strung birds
vanishing -- and the ghosts of husbands
target-shooting in "the Swedes" -- finding their ways
by heart /and by the heart of her instructing. 

     I think of the counter and caught breath -- phlegm
cleared to tell -- of that cold cold well
and chiarascuro deepening -- of two in Alaskan light -- coaxed
to the evening's violet hues and primaries --
and two -- and we -- there where the waters rose --
where the woes flared plausibly and healed --
coaxed by interiors to forms and by the hard play of desire --
practicing down /down -- stroked by the shade
and light and stories she would sieze on -- blind --
or blind almost -- bored as she was by weeks and weeks
of library recordings. 

     I think how the wind-lifted late-winter limbs lift over them.
And over the dreams we're drawn to -- and
then -- in an instant -- gone -- and then -- in an instant --
finished with -- alive in this knowledge visiting.
I think of the cold and costs of living alone and centermost --
a chamber as still as love and children in good favor ---
considering that slipped deliberated shell -- and -- troubles
enough /God knows -- and then -- in that instant --
gone -- conceding this much to lungs to finally concentrate --
practicing down /down -- given these first
cold rains and end of season freezes. 

     And more -- as the light /the vibrancies /the story-lines
spin down -- over the macabre carpeting -- stroked
to another poetry -- stroked by this cold
/cold hand I brought my own to trembling -- remembering
the light-gathering /light-lettered consequence --
the terrible and compounding valentines -- that troubled
but hard resilience in so many plastic things --
and -- once -- I think -- for good -- given
that colt-quick and icy siring -- instructing love
/inviting love in as accomplice.      

Practicing Down (2)

     And now that you're dead one week -- beyond
the physician's /physicist's fine-boned gesturing --
now that the first March rains and floods have quieted
/leaving behind such snows
where there were storm-lights flickering -- troubles
enough /God knows -- what with the tanks
/the dog-fretted tubes and oxygen -- the midnights
splayed with every common emptying. 

     Maybe you've chosen /chosen well considering. 

     I'm tyring to see with your eyes now. I enter
these notes forever's bluntly written in --
enter that room imagining -- a kind of convenience
bargained on -- remembering
the shadow-chat and the Ash Wednesday sandwiches --
and trying to see with your eyes now --
finding such snows as once I might have cheered
to make my way through --
desiring only to see straight -- but talkative /dumb
considering -- if only to quiet this moving space
and these obsesssions of the newsteams /struck
as they are by one more hard thing
come upon. 

     I'm reading these notes you left for us -- so much
a mind that seeks and speaks ahead in images
/so much a mind must reconceive as body-heat --
if only to wonder now -- to see
to that wind-swept and reedy place -- see to that X
/this X /this fullness of deciding --
into these heat-subscribing mists -- back to that place
/no place -- older than print
or compassing -- and older than plasmas were --
than features the evening light lets on --
now that we're talking sleep /and the fullness
of desire -- and now that the sleep ahead
must come to us with freshening.      

Practicing Down (3)

     The moon would be Thirties decorative /light-letting --
holding the features back -- too much
for the mind mistaking the mind for omnibus. I missed
the half of it -- missed how the cadence
drew the surrounding world in -- remembering a cold meal
shared -- the olive and ice -stretched drinks --
wetting your taste for smokes /for the buzzing shapes
you woke from sound sleep up among. 

     And think of the mornings once -- teen shy maybe
/and shyly confident -- alive as their laughter
then /as yours -- in your own resembling -- at home
with these homeward and moving kin --
or there on the cottage steps /composing pot-shots
with the squirrel-gun -- turning
the creature back -- there with the bandit spit
it might have turned against the children. 

     Enough that it turned tail /fled -- blended in brush
and banditry -- leaving the kids their afternoons --
such secrets volumes might have held back from the neighbors!
But when did elixirs ever last? And when were the smokes
enough /were the ghosts enough -- so far as the stories
go -- as family /fire-arms -- and the rooms
the rain-driven snows would wrap around -- when no one
had thought of us or what would come
of the behaving -- enough /enough --conceived
with the months-long oxygen -- and the ghosts
/unwound -- within the range of their becoming --
practicing down /down -- assembling
for you their own and one another's heated music.

Practicing Down (4)

     I missed the half of it. Sundays were szechwan
/mandarin. Sundays were pesto
or prime rib /spiced soups or stews -- observed
by who knows what observing children. I
missed the half of it. And now that the rains have quit
/and now that the squirrels -- gladdening-in
beneath the feeders -- remind us the more the more
the mind accedes if not agrees -- I'm thinking
to save and save. I'm thinking Depression thrift -- of
fingers you'd raised to drop
the pennies in tin boxes -- of that unweighing innocence
/more real than the pistol --
simplified past marveling -- changing the ways
forever seems -- as if we could see
clear through the long rehearsals
in your street-clothes. 

     I'm trying to see with your eyes now
/to see that clairvoyance through -- sending
your own son
out to check his younger brother's trouble --
before there was one word come of it --
before there was news /then news
reduced to parables. 

     I'm trying to learn some things before the whole bus vanishes. 

     Before the mind -- reduced by the mind's
sloth-simple or mercury-quick scams -- is satisfied
by making less -- by all we have asked
and asked /of all we have learned from twilit rooms
your twilight wishes fell within --
reviewing the films we have of it -- of that Depression
thrift /and Depression innovation --
spun -- as that whole filmed world -- spun
to rotational abstraction -- and latitudes
to dreams -- withheld
by the acoustics /by this volume's
altogether dissonance.        

Practicing Down (5) 

     Hard as a season's been -- and meals with fish
and ghosts and ghostly featherings --
this Friday's finished with -- even to the start of Time --
to these open spirallings --
home -- beyond the plasmas and bravado -- even
to these two -- quickening
in Alaskan light -- warmed by the day's own glare
and doppler intonations. 

     I'm up for hours listening /following their story's
lead /watching the wet snow
dropping in over Alliance -- and leaving behind
such cold -- such
complicating rhythms -- where two -- leaf-stepping
/love -- and we -- depending
/loved -- in music undersaid and underschooled --
are tracing a family back 

     /hearing these dead declaring blood -- under
the horn /the nib -bright galaxies
under the threaded stars we came through wet snows
to admire -- believing in once --
for good -- as the lead -- coaxed out -- steps
slowly now as choreography requires --
steps to the coaxing /teased -- and to this solo
now -- tracing the family back
to less and less of echo -- darkening in
filmed-lives among quick-silver


     I'm up for hours listening -- following the same
dead/reasoning -- as hard
as a Friday's been -- as Sundays arranged in blood
/in storyboards -- crosscut --
and struck -- so many shining ways to lightning! And
now that the snows are finished with --
and now that these stars reply in multiple exposures --
now that the story's finished with -- taking
these weeks of almost winter home
to source -- 

     I'm up for hours listening /and -- having
asked /been told -- am glad
how these wine-shades glow -- and these rooms
lore-locked -- where the flaming
/flaming out intoxicates -- up for hours listening --
watching the snow-bedded
spring-wire brush wrapped round with ice --
white shades and shapes unbind --
crack now and now as winds move in the branches --
with Sundays for weeks cone-cut
and giving out with chances -- with universes
may be -- where Sundays play
to even worse or keener endings -- lighter may be
for snow /or maybe nearer
to warm weather -- with so many leads and riffs --
and -- if only an instant -- glimpsed --
chances we take -- take on -- speak
to the squinted light /and to
mid-light meticula.       

Practicing Down (6)

     The storm last night crowned woods
and rooms we moved among -- looped off
and back and off again in flashing branches.
The news had been gridiron /classroom promises.
The news had been lives more ruined
than Michigan facades /another slippery set
of hazards sobering. 

     This morning the cardinals light themselves
and the yard's about as wet as we can stand --
the garden too wet to thumb seeds in -- wet
as an April's been -- keeping
a weekend casual -- keen as these tunes
love trusts /week-ending
wines and recipes. 

     So the cardinals sit still-coming limbs
and fractured rails --
building the week ahead /the weekend ahead
in woods Ohio dedicates -- looking
for tanagers and royal fern and trilliums --
for owls and bobolinks --
smart tunes the May-woods make available --
wild geraniums /burr oak --
cinnamon fern and foam-flowers -- hemlock
and aspen circling -- decades of elms
and yellow beach and butternut -- shading
ravines a family had protected
through a century -- inviting us back
and back -- into these colors
come while rain holds off
near Ashtabula.  


     The Schweitzer Track of the Grand River Terraces!  


     And steps back -- steeps --
too difficult
may be to be taken gracefully --
these lands
where your mother walked -- was
filmed at seventeen --
where this Boston lawyer -- looking
down on all of us --
looks down on slipwood
laid out across ditchwater --
breaking under him --
a Harvard son come home
to show
what Harvard thought
of wet-lands. 

     So much for that smirk no one
had paid attention to
for decades. 

     So much for those greys and blues --
worsteds a man with roots
mis-matched to brown fedora --
worn -- pressed
to creases through -- from Beantown
to the heartland --
seeking another hand in this --
and -- rueing
his step so far -- so much
like his own and yet
so many futures
rigged to it.   


     I think how those woods -- wings --
could seem like make-believe --
that wagon like rust-on-rust -- three wheels
attached /and fourth
lying near behind -- left there by two
when two were all two ever needed.
Discussions were hands and handsome then --
smoked chicken /clams
/frog legs and perch laid out with beers
when the men finished. 

     Europe -- they'd said -- was over with. 

     And maybe the storm-lights circling --
the neighbors proved
too much for company -- mildew proved too much --
there in the mattresses
and there in the seat-covers and carpets.
Maybe the woods
/wings -- the make-believe light threads
through families seasoning --
was plenty enough for some /or poverty
to someone's likings -- a strand
of /stranded -- intelligence to prosper
/strings of orbits opening -- 


     chances I walked in on -- expecting the regular

     caught breath -- 


     the words in rooms with wick-fired lamps
and figurines --  


     The wagon can sit as is /the crisscrossing
field birds
fly off and re-assemble in a witness.
So the ghosts of
/the centuries of veterans entertain --
come home
to family feasts and Derby Saturdays --
to these hardwoods
/sedge -- these liquid economies
the sedge and hardwoods
thrive upon. 

     I survey this sunlit garden ground -- our yard
and the mowing over with -- dry
as it gets /if still a little wet in the low corners --
assuming the stories after all --
the looks the old men wore -- distributed
like face-cards -- bearing
the words for all of it -- 

     lake in the woods -- or something close -- 

     suawa or something close -- lively
as light bears down
and heat bears down over a household -- where
we have sipped
such thimbles-full -- have worried
the spring-worked land
and stammered into trash-fires -- trusting
these woods --
these wings -- these words
that we've scored
in seamless or almost seamless fingerings --
in our own sure steps /in
our own and make-believe
most generous.     

Practicing Down (7) 

     Wildblooms -- and wildflowers to come -- dress up
the center-strips -- bright Wednesday's finishings --
refining /and refining distances -- bright storm's desiring --
now that you're gone -- agreed --
to unagreeable appointments -- and now -- in these tapes --
annoyed -- the more annoyed
when questions turn you back from an agenda . Then
there's these Heartbeats /Zodiacs --
this music I cross Ohio with. And then I'm awake and listening
/absorbed as the words themselves --
feeling what comes by love and stupid with the music --
as if I were chosen /spoken to. 

     Bright Wednesday's finished with. And what will this rain-light be
/these contours greening into wheat
toward tassellings -- the season alive as love
and the music we have chanced on
/as the story-lines chanced on a second time
among percussions? 

     I think of the broomful /candied light -- the west-going
light we'd pencilled in --
and all of the lights put out among the hills and signalings.
I think of that ice-house chilling
a summer evening's beverages -- imagine that keeping fresh --
and you -- in the moods as words connect
and then displace them -- seeing that ice-house slipping
downslope into seasons -- into these woods
as orioles /tanagers come visiting. 

     How would a weekend a year of weekends feel complete? 

     I feel complete in traveling -- except for these words
/this poem worth listening -- this sky-wide Gloria --
this Monday the fog -- keeping me early and alert -- the fog
misfabricates -- and one more week of it --
these lights I can just make out -- and loads of lumber
strapped to flatbeds just ahead? 

     Then there's this stillness -- like hammered spikes --
driven in old and comic and completing elegance --
this sense of you now and everywhere -- as sudden as fog
/as is -- and moved as you seem
through every human need and tolerance. What can I say
to make one poem worth listening -- to find --
in this knowlege -- Time -- volumes when words won't hold --
this brightness say -- setting
the speeds for everything -- a commonplace (may be)
and complecting literacy -- as the tulips /story-lines
/the distortion-frazzled leads -- your voice
and their own walk smoke /around
another April fountain?    

Practicing Down (8) 

     Between two homes the spring woods sigh
in autumn colors. And the first sun -- gaining
on my drive -- bringing these autumn hues
ahead -- can tell us how far we come -- or say
how the dog-made wave -- one of the twins
may be -- returning late and deciding on a shower --
woke us from dreaming then -- and how
we returned -- hand-over-hand again to dreaming --
seamed as we were as darkness
made its way with our own motion -- reaching
/reasoning -- until the daylight struck
in ascending water-tones. 

     This morning our lips repeat that seam. And
we are together/spun -- letting
our gaze go on in the space over a car door --
until the week ahead
and the week-long schedules -- the panels of May light
start /bring a finish to my travel --
disclosing these thorns and wild-rose -- this
ancient ghost-ship dogwood
drifting on fresh green -- these irises -- the first
since the year they were transplanted --
putting the light to use /where
every alchemy takes over. 

     And we are together/spun -- filling this space
where knowing must oblige
and disoblige -- and standing like kids
in this -- moved by the tracks
and absences -- by words we can follow
just so far -- to their first
and sudden cry in prism light -- the first
of such longings then -- refining
the prism light -- the light -echoed
lines we'd heard and underplay
of the bass voices.      

Practicing Down (9) 

     There had been fog no doubt -- and out of fog
the Troopers on the by-pass at Bucyrus --
bringing old hungers home to forms -- a pick-up
in form and vanishing --
gone like some trick with chalk and bullet-holes
in the side-panels. 

     I pass on the Cigmarts /Dairy-Storms -- on a Friday's
/Saturday's spread and changing weathers. 

     Enough to be home and out of fog. And cold
as a spring can get -- to be warmed
by peppery soup and oven loaves -- to be at home
in love and satisfied
in front of fires -- together/spun -- involved
in the stillness now -- taking up
and opening /assuming


     We put the 'stang top down and cruise the May-light
to the Oldies -- believing Alaskan hues -- in blooms this year
where we thought blooms would never take --
and blooms this anthology brings on -- when
these wrapped heads raise their own "congratulations"
or say where this sister's come and gone
and got herself. 


     We're turning the volumes home -- the bass
and falsetto home
toward Oregon pinot -- and toward this fledgling owl
by Saturday in the bees' branches -- turning
its head around to us --
where we are together/spun -- when none of the tired words
or tired idioms can measure --
but music mistaken or mis-explained -- speaking
this way in dancing fires
and glacial light -- as the stillness -- worn
in rings around our whispers --
the stillness engages and extracts --
Liz/Elizabeth --   


     revealing these daybright and these unfolding
perishables -- these golden irises
and amethyst almost! -- redrawn on the world
/these daylilies deepening --
moved from her yard to our own greens and expectations.
The evening's these larks and orioles --
this music we happen on -- practicing down
/down -- and raised again
to singing -- and nothing without the looks -- without
these four and five -part sums
to speak their stories by -- You see what you will
/see /this -- the looks of a family
everywhere --  


     assembled on the greens or catching up on smalltalk
in the fairways -- 


     You see what you will /see /this --
when all you have asked /asked openly --
a family with smoke and drinks
and all their lively summer gossip --
their subject yourself
may be -- as they lift their coins to putt
or say this finish
to their vision -- conceding their parts
in all of this -- over
that old and unbecoming questionnaire --
welcoming another there --
and mindful as they are of us -- of this gold
/this platinum -- these
garnets and diamonds MeMe left you
through her daughter --
set in this ring we' ve asked
be made /and made
this promise over.


Robert Lietz is the author of eight published collections of poems, including The Lindbergh Half Century, Storm Service, and After Business in the West. Recent work has been published in Istanbul Literature Review, The Pittsburgh Quarterly Online, Interpoetry, and Lily. Meanwhile, he keeps active writing and exploring his interest in digital photography and image processing and their relationship to the development of his poetry.

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