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Robert Lietz

  

Alaska in Advance 1

In anticipation of our trip this June to Alaska,
where Liz's parents met during the gold rush
and where we will become officially engaged.

One knock / one door. One pileated
drummer's blow-note
and percussive signalling. The early birds
stop still. And in re-gaining light
these hints -- and all that we've learned
from hints -- unsettled
as summer smoke / as that tree-high fire
made perform beyond
the woodlot.

I hadn't remembered it at first -- or
the blown sparks -- excited on / lifted on drafts
toward stars encircled by that clearing --
stars in the flame-high limbs the field-birds
re-join / among the year's bright-going
greens and appetites.

*

So I defer to field / to the smoke-burdened
light and bandyings -- June
fractured / fissuring -- deepening our own
long-weighed emerging
and much more.

So I defer to field -- to natural
and remembered scents --
to these green-gold / rose-gold stairs
and ends of day --
woods where we'd hoped for orioles --
remembering the cigars twins puffed
and customs must have winked at --
bright-tipped or wrinkled goads --
smokes so packed the twins
would suck them blue
to venom.


*

So much for the ash. So much for smuggling.
So much for the dark
pre-dawns -- for waking's fierce commodes
or any other house-fire!


*

Given the need to choose -- given the jay's
hinged cry -- thinking there'd be
no time for it -- given these leads let range --
these groups absorbed in taking turns
on the bright standards.

So a year completes itself.
A year begins in credible suspensions.

And so the jay-thug spurs the cardinal's spouse
from perch to perch -- because he likes to
say -- with so many lives / so many tellings
timing sessions out -- and so many
songs -- made up in love
and traveling --

in lingering transformed --
in this refining / reach -- this breath
as much the summer's as our own -- here --
at the start of seasoning -- spun
among sweeps / shapes -- this ice-blue
/ garnet -- and this daybright now --
enlarging to star-sprawl / garnet
/ ice and promises.

 

Alaska in Advance 2

So the jay and brighter fires of the grosbeaks
fill and flash through limbs --
vanish through woods-high upturning wells
of greenery. An afternoon --
with its dogs yardbirds more complicated
bookings -- an evening out
and asking full attention
out of us.

I'm thinking of Salem now -- shore waters --
conversions of speed and space --
how the shore light -- turning
over us -- and our own first year --
turned in the shore light then
/ under the seven-storied
gables.

We put on another pot -- remembering
the gars and ash --
maybe some blow-hard's counterfeits --
and the sea-bright
refracting light -- so many months made known
in all their terrible rhythms --

believing these heights / these latitudes
/ these sea-tricks achieved
against so many twisting scales
/ these hundreds of miles
gold and rain-light deepen in -- garnet
and glacial hues -- verdicts
we're left -- with our own hands
as evidence -- and much
/ more / less -- begun
in one depending
question.

 

Alaska in Advance 3

The sun / chill / the snow-light
on midnight waters
surprises us -- far north / far west --
and farther now
than I have ever found myself -- raised
by this polar glow -- by you
/ the observed and moving valuable!
So I am ahead / imagining.

And the image endures -- another
Wednesday's
suddenness -- another picture's readiness --
until I'm absorbed
in Time -- Alaska's absorbed / ahead --
and that river scene --
two men enjoying stones -- sitting in northern light
and maybe wary
of tight spaces -- saving themselves
for home -- and
saving this space for us -- desiring
and close -- finding our own
way home -- to blood
/ to dialogue.

There's only this rain to trade on it.
There's only this ring of daylight
stretched -- lighting the paste-board
slopes / the slopes of cutting boards --
and now this whole year's
editings -- bringing us here and home
and calculating figures --
here -- at the heart of play --
/ and home -- into
the heart and full
appointment.


*

Remember the ways -- as kids --
we wished for friends
to come with us -- promised
them toys
/ hamburgers / bread-slices to fill them --
promised the old ones
good -- as if we were building ways
toward this --
these sparks / this glow -- this ice --
like harlequins on fire --
these many moods of snow-light
Love accompanies --
withstanding the crease
/ critique of broken
alphabets.

We're stepping so close because
we've asked each other to --
and into this ring of light -- bright Love
/ bright gift of anniversaries --
into this promise after all -- the subject say
for all that buddying
kid's stuff --

Liz / Elizabeth -- rejoining the rest
and offering
this deepest draught to them -- alive --
in this almost dark
/ in this unending shared -- where
clocks can go ahead
and count the hours -- where
you are along / around
and everywhere as promised
/ the evening's
light and keen
ingredient

/ are here in this formal light --
and more than ever formal --
and here in this readiness we share --
and in this leisure
changed -- shaking the worries out
and smiles over everyone --
letting the clocks go count the time --
drawing me through
and home / into the heart
of your designing --
tipping the haut-medoc
to light / and sharing
that garnet
glow / that personal
and five-star
recipe.

 

Alaska in Advance 4

Ohio's coaxing another garden up. And
on the green-gold / rose-gold stairs
the birds have finished breakfasting -- a part
of so many firsts -- of Alaska
say -- this second summer traveling --
imagined ahead in drafts and dreams
and wakefulness.

I think there were always songs
I had to tell my friends about
/ songs I had strummed myself
or heard in the first playing --
even as these I've brought to you --
shared in this rising now --
a music re-mastered
/ primary.

But what was Alaska months ago?

A place where some friends had moved?
A movie or song -- a history
I had just begun a part in -- antithesis
to mid-Ohio summertime?
What was Alaska then / or your expressions
at its shining -- that century-wide
dream shared -- pressed among leaves
love wrapped / and the thrills
of family leathers.

I think how the songs -- the pop or pulp
adagia -- the vectors / volumes
formed -- how literatures of love disclosed --
and each an experience in firsts --
as far from their shaggy steeps
or picnics on cold beaches -- how once
we are sheathed in light

/ with our arms wrapped round and holding off
the weather -- remembering
these songs we've put such miles together by --
and remembering again --
over Ohio corn / or over Erie as we rise --
seeing these towns below
I guess and misidentify -- no matter
what features tell / what features
I knew by heart and months
of country driving.

 

Alaska in Advance 5

And who am I to judge -- to trace
their conversions of square feet
to shelf or cellar spaces -- imagining
survival's stock --
when I have been lightened by so much
/ made new by drafts
and by the promise of locale / by this chill --
the more I think of it --
when the midnight spills in every flavor
on the ice-floe?

And I -- the more I think of it --
thinking of her -- agreed
/ indoors among the whispers -- considering
her image even here
as it emerges in your smiling -- I see
how the daylight bends -- how
the midge-wide yard
assumes the full glare of the bonfire --
warm with so many pasts --
bright as her diamond
and your own

tonight as the elm / the willow leaves
/ tonight when Alaska -- once --
and Alaska everywhere -- the aromatic
ruff where the woods quit --
bring out these lyrics from least things --
these words we have dressed
and underdressed -- Alaska away /ahead --
with so many local hints
and so many ways to tell -- and here --
in the incendiary / adorning
garden light -- worth / taking time --
and all that we've learned --
acquainting love and promises --
in hints a locale unfolds
/ in common
properties.

 

Alaska in Advance 6

The lambs' ear and tricks of the monarda
adjust old eyes after all the other lightning.
We're taking the handscript up some points.
But when were we speaking cameos?
When were the roads stretched out in leased infinities?
Middle-June (I think) 's a kind of hurrying
in place / middle-June gem-bright --
as birthstone bright as souls
in transmigration.

We're listening to the albums made
of homecomings
and summer love. We're taking
these first steps toward -- moved by these groups
known severally from stacked-on 45s --
and warmed by that other history -- un-newsworthy
maybe -- even as the formats changed
the ways we came to listening.

Soon there'll be flight-snacks -- strangers --
stranger seating than we'd asked --
and poems / and puzzlings -- seated apart
as tickets go for the flight out
/ and sharing the looks of you
when all the strangeness
ends.

I feel these words redrawn / from homely
weathers to snow-light. But
this is Ohio after all -- this grey congeniality
and drizzle -- this green
over green laid on -- warm with the flickers
gazing bears -- and these cardinals
/ chasing into it -- the moment as is / crisscrossed --
showing how rain-skins change
and the flagstones wear themselves -- until
we're at last shipboard -- agreed to the winds
/ windbreakers and a summer sweater's
fit -- feeling the engines under us --
the lift as the prow moves out
in ever-growing waters

 

Alaska in Advance 7

And as I imagine -- feeling
our common pulse
rung round -- and knowing
so little after all
/ of northern lighting and sea-winds --
feel to look at you --
where you have brought me now
for all you meant to show me --
and more in this clement glide
/ in this more clement
element --

remembering the gasps lives seemed
in their tall sweeps
over time-zones

/ and moved by their presencing
in this -- by the Swede-red
/ Swede-bonneted and German influence --
stepping back and through
/ inside and out of us -- tonight
as the ship-lights play
among the ships in the kind waters --
and after we've said
ourselves

these northern inflections
happened on

/ moved by the heart-hued lights
that almost seem
on fire -- dressing
the harbor rocks
and ice --

/ moved by these twists of light
like almost constant sighings --
these months we have said ourselves
and so much more by our becoming --
pleased by this ring's blue hues
and leaping central fire -- and by
this gem of glacier now -- large
as we'd guessed and so
to speak such love
before.
 

 

A Little West of Haines

Maybe it's so we're larks and only playing at Alaska.
And the night -- still lit the way it was
in the old pictures -- brightened by you Elizabeth --
here in this gown you steamed
to entertain a dinner table -- Maybe it's so we're larks.
And the night / the beach would now be ours
and memorably -- such names as we've heard
for all it -- the sunrise on Scagway --
the sun -- as it dropped in over Haines -- bright
where we've stroked as asked -- raised paddles
as we were asked to catch the wind.

One wild strawberry might do / one blueberry
like a gift the rainforest's saved for centuries --
and something to read most anywhere -- cities in fog
and light -- shore-grasses blown
as engines roared in over them. They say how the sea's
given up / and how the ice draws back from it --
how Scagway -- more than a sourdough's full height --
has risen in just a century -- alight
in the last gold glow as we will be tonight / rising
in family names and northern dreams
a family trusted.

I think of that beach and circle of still water west of Haines --
of our beach-landing then -- a strip
of recovered land and ocean out in front -- there
where the eagles skim and fish -- ascending
to lodgepole / hemlock tourists
hike toward openings.

How the light on water made light moving everywhere!

And how your eyes tonight -- Liz / Elizabeth --
and the aisle ahead of us -- the looks of the late clouds --
rubbed still-blue and underlit -- make
moving everywhere! Tonight. Tonight! After Scagway
/ Haines -- with Juneau ahead --
we're sailing -- enjoying this twilight in summer eyes --
enjoying that calm made new a second time
in thinking over -- rich with its salmon / strawberries
arranged for sampling -- and trying our hands
and eyes on it -- finding what hands might do
/ what even our eyes might do -- when
all of the words have failed them.
 

 

Ship Notes

Tablesides around and facing avalanche --
we think how the great rains
spilled -- loosened a hill's weight down
and left a hill to green again.
So Maria's smiling -- So Csaba's his own
and every silence haunting us --
earning a life remembering -- half in love with love
and sweet accomplishment -- weaving
his way into our gaze without obstructing --
and whispering -- to himself alone --
the names for the streets and restaurants --
the recipes for dreams Dbrynyn
left him for safe-keeping.


My daughter's their age about -- twenty
this month -- with so many paths
and parts -- and close in our thoughts at sea --
having stepped with us upstairs
from suppertimes to deck-rails -- ducked
with us behind the angled panes
from the sea-winds. And what will Maria dream
or Csaba dream tonight -- so far from Lisbon
/ Budapest -- and what will my daughter
dream -- the sea reveal to each -- showing
such stuff to us -- a trio of porpoises maybe --
and behind these three -- another three
in sync -- and dolphins ahead or orcas
/ riding the good air under them?


And what will the sea reveal to us --
after the harbor boats -- bringing themselves
around to look on our embarking --
to play for awhile in our wake -- have returned
and skies go slowly dark around --
as the plainest light hangs on for a good hour
after sunset? And here -- enlarged -- and
at the start of memory -- what
must the kid-staff / kid-guides think of all of this --
running in Scagway / Haines -- in Juneau
/ Ketchikan -- or think of the shipside recipes --
earning a summer purse and then
a winter purse among bright islands -- or --
sailing a contract out -- scraping by
snowboarding states below
in a dark season?

*


We think how the humpbacks played / fixing
an afternoon in front and under us.
And think how their flukes stood up -- how
the humpbacks dove and rolled
from the sea's depths to surfaces / taking
their shares of ocean daylight
deep with them.


Then it's Christmas say / or Valentine's
in redwoods land or Colorado.


And what would my daughter think? And
what should we think or be to them considering
/ but one more season under northern skies
and over water -- filling our lungs with light
we've turned into such singing --
and lending our limbs to this -- step-parents
say / or aunts -- cousins who'd heard
and lacked the seasons or the passion -- lending
our limbs to this / and our half-centuries
of balance -- immersed as we'd seemed
maybe / in our own god-parents'
inflections -- and having such tastes ourselves
/ remembering the lives men lived
on certain streets in their old countries
/ dreaming themselves a village
crossing water at such costs?
 

 

Dream

The waters lift and fall
despite the glass-bright surfaces.
And the Russian sea-men --
silently -- at least the way
he tells it -- accent
an ocean burial -- a Russian
liner's sweet clandestine
obsequy.

Then a salute maybe. And
his full arm raised
to bless the body given to depths.

This French Canadian's own
seem matched
to rhythms under us. And
he goes on to tell.
Someone alone at that deck-rail.
And the dead
himself become chief subject
of the hall-stewards
/ somebody watching till first light --
until the sunlight
shared the lengths of water
where they sailed
/ the sunlight whispered
up a little sleep
for him.


*

Maybe the dream -- that cup --
more than the cup
in the dream's planning --
required the same
from us.


And maybe her body -- bagged --
as if the dream
had meant to give her back
to northern waters --
required from us that much --
a little more
than we had figured -- bringing
your brothers there --
where there was only one of them --
letting us know
we're under-dressed / and more
as they sit with us
dismantling their pizza
/ as we sit with them --
placed by the dream
to sit and watch
remembering.


*


Was it the sea-air / approaching
Ketchikan? Or was it
this priest's memorial / something
more certain wrapped
in information spiralling -- brought
home to Ohio now / inviting
the whole ship now to join us
in our mourning?

So I am reduced --and absent almost --
but in this state-room
almost choking on such flowers --
flown from who knows where
/ by what arrangements some place
north of Ketchikan / some place
in real time -- with ashes
to fling on private land
with the wind's
blessing.


*


I think of transcriptions / tapes.
I think of her voice
again -- letting the kids in
on good stories --
imagining the children
keeping touch --

but seeing with you such stars

and the glint on northern waters --
all of that motion still --
the ways the dream inspired it --
filling that bag
/ as if the bag were breathing
by some power --

until she was standing in full light --
like an idea taking flesh
you never could prepare for --
as if there had been
one code -- and that code
had been re-entered --
until you woke up
trembling --

there with her own / your dogs
for company --
with her alive because
the dream
had seen to it -- and love
where it was --
away at the far end of Ohio --
keeping touch / apart --
/ in all our shares
of dreaming
then.

  

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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