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Sample Poems by R.A. May

A Lap Of Art Institute Chicago

The high hard polish on finest parquetry
reflects footsteps of the curious and awed.
The ceiling drips crisp echoes -
impeccable clicks and taps syncopating
the wonder and thirst of we toe-dippers.

This is the deep end -
a dry aquarium built to hold a selection
of history's greatest whales.

Breathless gasps sound like hiccups
at this depth.
Some of us get only sprinkles -
some of us get soaked to the bone -
all submerged in the serenity,
wetted within its sanctuary,
treading - and yes, nearly drowning -
relieved to discover we are not
the only non-swimmers.

I am overwhelmed -
in over my head.
There's a moment of panic
and I survey the surface,
blushing for having broken eye contact.
My half-shrug is self-forgiveness
as I recognize no one knows, no one knows.

It doesn't help much.
I'm secretly jealous of anyone who appears
to have mastered even one stroke.

Then I'm tired - been in too long,
and I flop and flail toward an exit.
I drip out onto the sidewalk
within sight of Lake Michigan, ripe
with ignorance like a prune-skinned infant
smelling of chlorine.

Yell For Help

A cloudless sky reveals
itself through and around
the reach of a big backyard elm
where I capture nearly
ten full minutes of calm.
A neighbor's dog has arrived
to play. He knows this yard
as well as he knows his own -
knows where the resident mutt
hides, and where he hides his toys
and buries his bison knuckles.
I can almost make out a few
of his master's sentences, from
the breakfast table where
he shares bits of neighborhood gossip
in exchange for a cup of coffee.
All of this happens like
the stencil tracings on a pad
of kitchen cacophony . . .

"what do you mean, you don't eat sugar?"
"mom, Stacey left her sandals beside the pool, and they got knocked in -
now she's mad at me."
"honey, did you drop off the propane tank to get it refilled?"
"I'm not fixing anymore eggs until somebody clears the dirty dishes for me!"

Some of the noise comes up
from the basement -
some of it comes down
from upstairs bedrooms -
there's no sense to any of it,
and no relief except one's
acceptance that it's the normal
sound of family gatherings -
in this case, Independence Day,
when none of us is capable
of doing anything without
yelling for help.

Act of God
Regardless of what our preacher might say,
we knew our grandfather was the real arbiter
regarding the acts and will of god.
No matter what the circumstance, if and when
it threatened to disrupt our family routine,
we would look to him to tell us.

Sometimes it was just bad luck, or a neighbor's
error in judgment, or a "crime" perpetrated
by a business competitor. But sometimes it was
an act of god, and those disruptions were the best.

As it happened, luck and judgment and crime
all justified, perhaps required, an explosive
demonstration. Such explosions were rarely
aimed at us, but sometimes it was hard to tell -
and they were almost always rituals which
the average bystander might choose to avoid.

But it became clear to me at a very young age,
those nights, when it began to snow heavily,
and the snow started to accumulate on tree limbs
and the barn roof, and the radio news warned
of a severe winter storm -
that no one should be on the roads, and the state trucks
were already working to clear the main highway,
but rural residents should plan to stay inside
until the sun came back long enough to start the melting -
that on those nights we were in the throes
of something beyond any mortal will -
not error in judgment, nor crime, not even bad luck.

There would be no explosive demonstration.
There would only be extra logs on the fire, and
the family huddled on the couch in the living room,
listening to weather on the radio, and sometimes playing cards.
Grandma would make hot chocolate and grandpa would
light his pipe. A blizzard might have been roaring outside,
but we would never feel safer than on those nights.

Grandpa would blow a smoke ring at the ceiling and say,
"It's just an act of God, and we're all right here -
safe, warm, together."

Answers to Today's Puzzle
No one can tell us
if we are planned or accidental -
I've asked

Pascal might have calculated
our potential for error
Aristophanes predicted this dilemma -

when was that - 420? 410? 10-4?
we figure it up, we figure it down
predictively, analytically

all we glean are the severed facts
e.g., I'm here - you're here -
and our understanding

of that, being quite minimal,
is either on purpose
or totally on account of chance -

so even if it matters,
it can't.

As a Comet
Note that wiser ones will delve deeper -
study the niches, ebbs and flows,
and acquaint themselves with all the smells,
and the taste of the air.

By contrast I will view from far above,
interfacing with the world the way
Halley engages the Solar System -
(give me the comet's(1) view).

I'm more apt to zip right by -
fly on past, ignore all the substrates,
enrapt of the big picture -
avoiding temptation to join or compete.

I might survey a thousand things
in the time the wiser assesses one
singular phenomenon, relationship, or event.
And I never lament my nosebleed seat -

this, my chosen perspective. At day's end,
the wiser one has acquired insights
into the thing, as resolved with a grander vista,
my context is larger and less complete,

with long dissections through Manhattan -
longitudinal furrows from this altitude,
appear to have been perfectly plowed
deep into the field of fecund concrete,

and precisely sliced, latitudinally -
as by Rohwedder's banded blades,
though shiny in the rain, like keratinous terga.
A brick and mortar metameric beast,

Broadway piercing through its bowel,
per the artist-warrior's line of sight -
the trajectory for a filched Gungnir
up to the heart of a theater district,

and landing beside a green rectangle -
with clumps of fur and patches of blue,
where wise ones may autograph playbills
and savor the various trattoria treats.