Seeds of the Storm
I must have lost my accent years ago—
that’s if I ever had it, twanging vowels,
slurred consonants—something I suppressed
between the tongue and teeth and throat and jowls
or simply lacked. I really don’t quite know.
Was it a sense of shame still unredressed
but buried in rounder syllables? How now
brown cow? No, wait! Or was it rain in Spain?
A misadventure on the Southern Plain
that lasted eighteen years? I don’t know how,
but it’s the case that when I say “again,”
it’s a perfect rhyme with New York rain.
It’s raining now, a constant pattering
against the window sill, and I recall
being caught out in flash thunderstorms at times
like this one—a strange elation as the fall
in barometric pressure, clattering
distant trains, cacophonies of chimes
on porches rearranged the very air
from molecule to macrocosm, fire
and water, every element, a gyre
of possible tornadoes. I would stare
into the churning clouds, past the spire
of some austere religion—loud and dire.
And every time I thought to pray,
I couldn’t find the words to interact
with the dust in the air, the cough lodged in the throat,
the allergies twitching in the nose,
a thunder wall threatening to break into a sneeze,
sore-throat days spent in bed
until the weather turned,
indifferent to anything I asked or begged.
I never stood a chance—too delicate
in health and features to really look the part
of what we called success.
It’s just as well, I guess.
And you’d stand off to one side; so would I,
staring with hopeless irony. We smirked
at where we came from, and we dared to wish,
at times, for something else. It never worked.
The pop chart hits got worse; the summer sky
turned even less forgiving, and so I left,
seeking the gray of clouds and concrete, cold
gusts of wind against my face, bereft
of home or even memory (I lied),
until I woke up, feeling, if not old,
aching and fatigued. I'll go outside—
I like the feel of movement, of the wind
blowing from elsewhere, a modest morning run
reminding me that just around the bend,
a few blocks further from the Southern sun,
isn’t Utopia, but somewhere hidden
until one sees it, shaded and unbidden
and nothing special,
but I kept on running for years,
through bus terminals and airports,
large cities and small apartments,
past men yelling at women in Spanish
or construction workers in Polish,
and I found myself on a bridge
between two boroughs, staring past my feet
and through the empty leap and to the waves,
remembering, regardless of the street,
zip code, time zone, neighborhood, or town,
outward’s not the only move—there’s down
and even back. (I’m never going back,
not now or ever.). I somehow doubt I’ll leap
or even turn around, although the crack
of thunder makes me think of you. Too late
for consolation, it’s too late to weep
for what I never wanted quite enough,
for alternate scenarios in sleep
that give no waking solace. Life is tough.
The memories are hardly clear,
but come in a jumble of dirt and sunlight, red brick dorms and mobile home dealerships,
ersatz California blondes in the local team colors
downing farcically large numbers of Coors Lights on the lawns of sororities
while fat men in rusty pick-up trucks honk and bellow
as if it’ll make any difference to anyone
in yet another endless summer of bad AOR and talk radio screamers,
of celebrity weathermen and country music blasting like the central air.
I try to explain it--even utter it
in some compelling way (who gives a shit)
in bars, in print, in everything between.
Can you, at least, intuit what I mean?
Take a common phrase and mangle it
somewhere between one’s memory and mouth
between the old impression and the thing itself,
between the West and South.
Beginnings of disintegration.
Sign lets go of sound.
The roots appear, gnarled and heavy,
from the eroding ground.
Song and saying dissociate.
The very sound waves strain
across the shorted wiring
of the switchboard of the brain.
Imagine how a bug might see the place
through many eyes, and wholly ignorant
of fragmentation in the retina,
not sound, not heat, not even in its brain,
a tiny ball of nerves, a battery
of fear and mute aggression,
that trying to hold this in a single sweep
of eyes and green and sunshine is the goal—
to synthesize what was in something else
than narrative, to see it in its shapes…
colliding, recombining, splitting up
in addled metastasis, illusory
appearances of fusion that soon break
into component parts when we awake
or sober up or go on growing old.
I should just let this go and act my age,
but that overripeness in that summer yard
hasn’t aged itself, and if I screw
my eyes to squints, the hard
twinkles of back-porch lights cut through the husks
of plants, cicadas, nameless rotting matter,
wordless dream impressions,
and an overlay of wordless insect chatter.
And this is the time that was, the interstitial
mess of train schedules, demands of course catalogues,
and the usual tangle of airport terminals,
and I’m skimming some bestseller
with one eye grazing the departure times,
waiting for the moment
when I can stop kidding myself
about the hopelessly gushing paperbacks
where love conquers something or another,
books that I’ll never buy but gaze at
in boredom and disdain.
And we both know the aftermath of that
illusive final page—the moment where
one looks across the pillow at who’s there.
The numbers don’t balance; someone smells a rat,
and we wind up in bed with an alarm
shuddering as light streams in
the smudged, indifferent window, blurred and thin
as a shaky laser beam that does no harm
but just illuminates the gathered stuff
on shelves, in drawers, in stacks, and in the bed,
posing whether this is quite enough—
accumulated words and sounds and pictures—
accumulated dreams that others had instead
of us—fleeting as morning, dour as the Scriptures
I can’t un-memorize.
The Holy Ghost
becomes another figment, just a wisp
of air recalling words, and at the most,
it’s semiotics whispered in a lisp.
Do you recall a half-lit parking lot,
dilated pupils—blue stared into brown,
does that stir a thing? Of course it does!
Another tale of my reserves being shot,
another tendril from that goddamn town
drifting out, even now. What never was
should never haunt me—but the humid air’s
vague perfume of gasoline remains
within my nostrils, and your shadow stains
a long-junked car like red wine on a sleeve.
We kissed a moment, then I had to leave.
Tonight, I feel… I wouldn’t say regret,
but rather something I would not release
and carried with me—I could not forget
the timbre of your voice, though I found peace
with others—time here, time there,
other scraps of verse and greater tragedies,
sardonic jokes and hangovers,
close-packed boxes and storage units,
and, at times, a slight nagging sensation
of assignations permanently missed.
What’s the word I’m hoping to convey?
Where’s the past I’m hoping to relive
—not to change but understand today?
What’s the wrong I’m hoping you’ll forgive?
What’s the mathematics of too late,
addition and subtraction, how a friend
is added or expunged? How long the wait
until the Reagan years come to an end?
And I always think I’m back in the grocery store,
walking my way through aisles of Cheerios, ravioli, milk,
dog food, cat litter, apples, various kinds of tropical fruit,
and childproof bottles of Tylenol,
and I’m always losing my mother,
always trying not to cry again
or throw myself on the bewildered mercy
of teenagers in ill-fitting uniforms.
Outside, black asphalt
stretches like some desolate pond,
beyond which and down a creek-bisected road
is the house
I still imagine as if in chilly haze
in some sleep-deprived morning
at the end of a holiday
just before the start of another semester.
Another cup of coffee gets me through
another morning, a nippy walk to work,
serenaded by the sounds of whining horns,
the clanking of construction, and the swish
of distant jets above—heading where
I almost wish I was—I won’t go back.
It’s only foliage. Remind myself
of that. The riotous spread of leaves
and shadows threatens to engulf the street
I know the place too well,
each branch and root and twig, each prurient thought
mused many years ago upon that spot.
I dreamed it all back then and hoped it true.
Did I recall your face, or was it more,
a fantasy, voluptuous and green,
a never-ending summer, me and you
or someone like you, just behind the screen
of a backyard porch, perhaps behind your door?
Quincy Lehr's is the author of several collections, most recently Shadows and Gifts (2013) and the book-length poem, Heimat (summer 2014). He lives in Brooklyn, where he teaches history.