In Need of Flow

I stroll home along the banks of the white river,
my hair set afire by sunset.
My mind is shared with the stream,
its swift current, the banking, blithering debris.
Air encourages the trees to speak
but their words come to nothing.

Two young girls pass me,
laughing, at me or the colour of their nails,
I do not know.
I find I often compete
with bright fingers and thumbs these days.
It is of no matter.
Yes. I am older than many
but, like the river, I can only proceed.

A turtle sleeps on a rock.
A goose sequesters eggs beneath her feathers.
A fisherman packs up his rod and creel.
Two lovers cuddle on a bench.
All have their nature,
accede to it when flowing water is involved.
Yes, look at you.
Spring swift or Fall languid,
you’ve been doing this forever.

You’re cyclical
not linear like the rest of us.
There’s passion in your running.
But nurturing to all that you encompass.
If it were up to me,
this is the kind of blood I’d choose.

The Edge of Extinction

A cold fact
is like a narrow ledge
with a window on one side
and a long drop on the other.

So what will we do
without the rhino’s charge,
the elephant’s trumpet,
the gorilla’s human-like pose.

Those are humans
scrambling to safety.
Those are humans
crashing to the street below.

That’s what we’ll do.

Songwriter’s Tale

He wrote songs
for other people
to sing.

His hopes, his fears,
burst from the mouths
of strangers
in spangled shirts
and wide-brimmed hats.

His breakups,
his letdowns,
were taken home
by an unknown audience.

The job of the royalty checks
was to make it seem worth it.

Whose Body

At the graveside of remembering,
I’m carefully exhuming chiselled school desk,
tattered kites, old books whose heroes
stare at me like I’m familiar but whose
name escapes them,
I shake the mud from the day when
I stood up before the class, recited Blake,
“Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,”
my eyes glowing like that beast
in the forest of 30 awestruck faces.
Strange how the child’s body hasn’t rotted;
white teeth still, laughter brimming
at the surface, not one stretch of skin
wrinkled or destroyed, and a brain
stacking what it learns atop itself
until this annex of history and science
is more brain.

Strange how the past must bear the tombstone
when it’s in such good, athletic shape.
It could easily shake off the sweat of my forehead
for 10 laps of the oval,
or up and down the pool 10 times.
It doesn’t have years instead of muscle,
heavy people strapped to its back,
the thumb and forefinger of a living
pinching its rosy cheeks.

I’m trying to mourn the young face at the window
but he won’t stay dead
Can’t keep the funeral parade
synchronized when he keeps
darting in and out of the cold black cars.
Why should I leave flowers
when he’d just pluck them on a dare
or hand them hopefully to a pigtailed girl.
He avoids the disease, the bullets, the aging.
When it comes down to it,
only regret can kill.
If there’s a corpse at all,
I’m standing in it.

Alone

She’s waiting to die,
looking around for the bright light,
the outstretched arms.
but it’s just the nurse on night duty.

The crying hordes have left.
They’ll be back tomorrow.
She hopes she won’t be.
She’s weary of others’ tears.

Once she worried for the fate of others:
one son, two daughters.
For all their troubles,
it was worse being them by proxy.

She prefers it now that
everyone just be themselves,
that all ties be cut,
that no one be dependent.

She’s who she is,
who she will soon cease to be.
Her memories can’t stop the inevitable.
Nor can the lives of others.

In Regard to the Other

Man sitting at desk

I’m in my apartment,
at the kitchen table,
struggling back and forth
with the mass of bewilderment
that is my chequebook.
I am totally responsible for myself
and these numbers are part of it.

So is however wretched I feel
at any given moment.
There is no one to soothe me.
No one to chastise me
for feeling wretched in the first place.

At night, as a child,
I closed my eyes
and once saw a field of ice cream.
In my dream, my mother said,
“Don’t go out in it,
that sweet stuff will rot your teeth.”
Bur I never knew of anyone’s teeth rotting
in a dream.

She’s dead now.
Not so much
in my subconscious, however.
I’m still asking for her approval.
Well, at least I’m not begging.
I remember being a good kid.
But nobody’s perfect.
I did bust the vase.
And that was my handprint on the wall.

I’m driving
something I never did when she was alive.
I’m in the city,
a place she hated.
I eat out four or five times a week
which she would have considered a complete waste of money.
And I’m seeing someone.
She’d have gritted her teeth at the sight of this woman.
Or any woman, if it comes to that.

At least, she’d be pleased that I’m still working.
Every day, nine to five,
I’m as reliable as some of her sayings like,
“The apple never falls far from the tree.”
There’s some of me that is the son she wanted.
The rest, I’m sure, would have her eyes rolling
and her right hand reaching for the pill bottle.

I no longer need her permission.
I don’t even need my own.
Nor do our lives have to find
a way to co-exist.
So why is it
what I’m doing now
is always in relation
to how I would have done it then?
I’d go ask an expert
but she’s no longer living.

«RELATED READ» POEMS BY GEORGE PAYNE: Where the Gods Dwell, I Need my Used Bookstore and more»


image 1: PublicDomainPictures.net; image 2: Pixabay