A boy, I climbed the neighborhood
apple tree; it lifted me to its shoulders
so I could see my school, our church,
the candy store. Leaning, holding on
tightly, I had apples easily at hand.
A boy perched in the trombones,
I thought that girl with the pony tail
in the second row of saxes was cute.
I didn’t know then that I would be winded
climbing such a little hill, the path lifting
beside little houses all the same, all fruits
gone. I didn’t know that I would fall in love
with the saxophonist, or that she
would be climbing at my side, as I
lean on her, holding on for dear life.
An Ocean-Front Hotel Room in
Atlantic City, NJ
I wanted to drive life
into a corner, and reduce it to its
lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to
get the whole and genuine meanness of it.
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
My dad, we’re at the beach and he’s standing
in the pinstriped shade of a pier. His eyes
shine as he watches vacationers weave and bob
in the surf, wearing swim trunks, with a towel
over his head, he looks like a boxer
eager for the match to begin.
My dad, he picks my brother and me up,
one in each arm like bundles, holds us
tight against his broad chest, and carries us
out to the waves for five minutes before
he has to duck back into the shade again,
before he’s bright pink and burnt. Later,
he and my mother sit on the boardwalk
watching the moon and whitecaps make
a souvenir picture postcard.
My dad, he took us to the beach
every summer before he died young,
but—not enough awe or honesty in summer
weather—he always wanted to go by himself
in winter, hole up in a hotel room
right against the ocean, to watch a storm
lunge and batter the building, rejoicing
in the shipwreck roar of it, maybe even
hoped a wave would slam a window in
and drench him in cold salt joy.
My leukemia, it’s that winter-dimmed
hotel room, with a narrow bed,
one dark wooden chair, a cracked sink,
and a little window already glistening
with spray: out at sea a storm is blackening
the horizon. It’s coming, it’s coming
and I’ve thrown the window open wide,
my arms cocked at the ready.
|In 2007, Ron
Tranquilla published a second rattlechap for Rattlesnake Press,
entitled Playing Favorites: Selected Poems, 1971-2006.
Here are two poems from this collection:
Mowing the grass was my boyhood chore;
I took all Saturday for twenty minutes’ work.
I’d stop to watch the bees fondle
the flowers, their legs heavy with pollen,
follow the trails of ants through the jungle
of grass to find their nests, and O
the black and yellow garden spider
centered on its silken circles
like a gaudy jewel on the breast of a queen.
Sometimes my father would yank the mower
from my hands, pushing, whirring, flying
down a swipe of lawn then wheel,
his red-faced glare: “That’s how you do it
in twenty minutes!” In his fiftieth year,
after forcing a path through snow,
he fell to the kitchen floor like a stalk
of Joe Pye Weed on the bank behind
our yard I scythed twice a summer.
I always said if I reached fifty
I’d throw a party—instead I walked
into my yard and lay down on the grass:
a beetle black as onyx scrambled
through the blades; nearby, a spider
with delicate stripes of copper and gold;
ants, tunneling their labyrinth,
raised their little pyramid
one grain after another.
Father, I thought, what was your hurry?
Not a Wild Goose Chase
(for a sick friend)
Last night I heard three flocks of geese
flying south. I didn’t hear them
for literary purposes, the symbolism
of night and empty fields,
the gathering of icy knives and the geese
getting out while they still can.
In truth I heard them because
I was awake, worried about you.
These lines are not for nothing:
to tell you I won’t fly away
when the chill wind comes to you.