Poems by Richard Alishio
Even in the falling of the pink snow,
The tiny petals twirled by the fingers of a young breeze;
Even as the drifts of cherry blossoms build
At the edges of the cobbled walk;
Even as the nude sun in the noon sky
Arouses all the people in the park;
Even as the easiness of Spring
Unfolds within a winter-shuttered soul;
Even on the branches of the gnarled wood
Where the finches skitter and sing;
And even here beneath my naked feet
As the lush grass moistens each step—
The throbbing of sensation
And the thrilling of the day
Hold within themselves their mortal opposites.
Even as the snapshots of a picnic
Capture all the spirits of the recent dead;
Even as the happy banter of a kissing couple
Decays into the agony of accusation;
Even in the rising of the hyacinths,
Where the stench of time suborns the flowers’ scent;
Even while the swaddled infant nurses at his mother’s breast,
The tyrant peeks around the blanket’s edge;
Even as these words are slowly pictured in your eyes,
They quickly pass into a puzzled memory;
And even in the evening of my life,
I feel the evenness of silence fill my harrowed heart.
The Hole in the Woods
It is time to return to the hole in the woods
The deep and the cold of the hole in the woods
Time to return to live in the dark
In the dark of the hole in the ground of the woods.
I lived for a time in the light of the day
In the heat of the sun and the freshest of air
And walked among those who spoke in a voice
That sounded so certain and easy and light.
I rose for a time and dressed in the clothes
Of those who knew who and those who knew how,
But now I must go to my place in the woods
And slink to the bottom of the hole I have dug.
Down in the earth with the smell of the dirt
And the rustling sound of the worms and the grubs
And the sneakiest glance of the possums and rats
Peering across the edge of the hole
In the cold of the night in the hole in the woods.
And there I will sit in the shadows of day
And sleep in the night of the moonless sky
Grieving and weeping and blaming myself
For losing my chance to breathe in the heat
Of the days and the days of the days I once had
With the others who know how to live in the light
Of the sun and the sky and the blueness of life
Instead of down in the dank of the clay
That makes up the walls of the hole in the woods.
And here through the tears that roll off of my chin
I mutter the names of the ones I once had
Who loved me and loved me until I said stop
So I could return to my hole in the floor
Of the deepest of dark in the woods.
I see by the sky in the circle above
A window that frames the life I gave up
So they could go on all safe and alone
Without being stung by the poisonous words
Spit through a dream in the dark of the night
By the one who must live in the hole in the woods.
And dreaming of dreams is what I’ll do best
Down in the hole in the dark of my soul
In the night of the whispering woods.
In the last days of his mid-west youth,
Days drawn long with wonder and awe,
He learned the world from the passenger’s seat
Of a train in a storm in Hammond.
In Indiana in the summer
Thunderings come loud and long;
Funnels by the dozens
Nipple the sea of darkness overhead
While the trains beat out their song:
“Off to the mills—off to the mills—off to the mills,” they go.
As the workers wait impatiently at the crossing gate,
This train, bound for Chicago, skates
Lazily back and forth upon the tracks
Squeaking like a sectioned-steel snake
Passed the gassing cars.
This is not the Indiana of the cornfields,
Yet the cross currents of time and place yield
Their eerie shimmerings,
Leaving farm-boy innocence
In the eyes and heart of the man-child
Swaying in his seat in a storm in Hammond.
The swaying of the train,
A line called “South Shore,”
Lulled him into easiness and peace,
But then the vision of the city
Bore him into horror with a sudden swat,
Leaving him to feel a fright
From a quickly dying streetlight.
Past the giant smokestacks to crumbling porches
Where the laundry of the poor made colored torches
In a blur of grey-blown smoke and soot—
It is the ghetto at Chicago’s foot.
Past the vast expanses of the industries unease
Towards giant mounds of manganese
Piled high for miles in Goliath’s sandbox.
Past fifteen miles of nothing-like-a-city,
And then reaching the Chicago River’s locks
In time to see the freighters leaving their docks;
In time to ship innocence to sea.
Across the street from their homes
South Chicago city kids searched down heavy loot
Amongst the droppings of the switchyards.
Here bb-gun wars raged around the shifting boxcars,
And the only rule known was “Aim low when you shoot!”
A cruel irony grew up from the rocks:
Corn stalks in scattered patches between the tracks
Stood like lost aliens from Nature
In a sea of grease and steel;
Hog-feed seed being shipped to sea
Would spill from the seams of the strings of cars
And plant themselves,
Making something pure occur
In a land that smacked of Mars.
The storm weakened to reveal a looming cityscape
That whispered from its distance, “Escape! Escape!”
The train began to make its stops.
The man-child could see some cops
Shaking down a group of Blacks
In the empty lot across the tracks.
And then the motors of the tram turned,
And the boy had forgotten all he’d learned.