Monday, December 30, 2013

I Would Not Profane

©  Steve King
All rights reserved

I would not profane
the pageant of this dawning wood
with any small reflection
that a man might bring.

Yet how else may I know?

Light rises,
autochthonous, it seems;
this world displays itself in full always,
while I am left to trace faint shadows
in the afterglow.

(The last of the year for me, to be shared on Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads.  Happy New Year, all!!!)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


© Steve King
All rights reserved

My wife came home to me last night
and she unveiled the new tattoo.
She hid it well beneath the folds
of the plain fabric of her blouse.
I blushed at it so naively—
to know that night another hand
had left this mark upon her form;
to know another’s eye surveyed
and measured out the pure canvas.
I did not ask to know his name,
just happy that he didn’t sign
his artwork with some grand flourish.

“What do you think?” she finally asked.
But I was not thinking just then:
she had been changed—had changed herself,
without the least of letting on
that any change would soon be due.

The artwork was a tiny orb
encircling a tight spiral
of flashing, enprismed color,
a captive rainbow gathered round
within the unknown stranger’s hold.

“It’s me,” she boasted.  She smiled.
“And, no, I wasn’t even drunk.”
Her laughter echoed in the words.
She was so pleased with the new ‘her’
she’d found there amid the many
strange waiting possibilities.

So I agreed.  “Yes, it is you.”
I didn’t picture how she could
see within the small talisman
such a beautiful reflection.
Should I be looking there for her?
Must I reintroduce myself
as someone else, unknown and new?

The calling card upon her skin
appeared inflamed, and tinged with blood.
Had she not explained it to me,
I would have seen it as a wound.
“Doesn’t this new ‘you’ come with pain?”

“Not very much.  I was surprised.
I had so fixed my mind on it,
the much greater pain would have been
to find a convenient excuse,
rationalize my way again
to doing nothing whatever.
I’m sorry that I never thought
to say a word of it to you.
It was only a lark at first,
and without anticipation;
no planning or pretense in it.
There was only the empty space.
I am trying to make sure sense,
but I had never come against
a sudden thought like that before.
An emptiness?  So…awaiting?
What words were these to lead desire?
Empty of what, I could not say.
And why would not it be empty?”

It is no more an empty place.
And she must now exert her will
to fathom fully that new self
--the one that cannot be explained--
in the dark circle closing round
the fresh-born colors in her life.

I too will gain a sense of it,
as I behold the new stranger
now brandishing this bold palette.
It’s not for me just a mirror
reflecting exotic colors.
Not an impulsive thing, unthought,
nor a quick reckoning of whim.
A former world has indeed changed
by more than just a needle’s span:
so, too, in those musings I had
while waiting upon her return
last evening, when all was well,
when the blank spaces still made sense,
before the time she’d shed her blouse
and donned another world anew.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Long Weekend

©  Steve King
All rights reserved

            You glance idly at your calendar and note with some surprise that November 22nd has come again and gone.  The mind reacts without conscious application, leading your thoughts to a rarely visited inner sphere where you sometimes draw a fine focus on events long past.  In this constrained light, the seventy-two hours spanning that Friday and Monday afternoon seem at first to be collapsed into one long, monolithic instant.  But as you watch, unforgettable images begin to compete for primacy in the rising jumble of thoughts, the mix of old emotions that pull you back to a strange point in time.

            Tallying the years since then, you realize that people not yet born that distant afternoon have grown and raised up children—and grandchildren-- of their own.  Soon, a second full generation will know of this thing only through the slick gloss of magazine pages, or from the quaking imagery of the Zapruder film.  The event itself, one of the great tremors at the epicenter of what you felt and thought in the years that formed you, will live on directly only in middle aged or older memories, and soon enough will linger nowhere.

            For many of those of the right age, the memory, even with its immense sadness, is cherished, perhaps like an expired passport to some once-visited land of pleasant recollection.  It is proof of passage, with an indelible stamp demarking 'before' and 'since.'  Whatever the details of one's own personal odyssey in the interim, each fresh perception of that cold November slows the inevitable process whereby the vibrant spirits of that age slip from the ever-now of your consideration on their way to joining all the other quaint sepia-tinged portraits that crowd the attic of our national imagination. 

            By extension, this is of course just another attempt to preserve some young and distant image of ourselves--against the odds, we know, since the very essence of our train of thought rises from the recollection of full and bloody mortality.  Still, we do our best.

            Assassination, regicide, the assault on sovereign republicanism, cold and systematic death, each of these has a weight of its own that presses on the observant conscience, issues of specific motive and denouement notwithstanding.  It seems therefore ridiculous that the event is of interest to scores of millions only insofar as it can be linked to Castro, the CIA, the mafia or, ideally, some diabolic combine of the three.  This needless tendency to hyper-dramatize the event has made it fashionable to deride the Warren Commission Report with its obdurate insistence on the singular marksmanship of Mr. Oswald that noon hour.  No doubt there were stones—boulders—left unturned in the Commissioners' rush to satisfy and unify the dazed nation.  But who can truly blame the authors for not rising above the convenient wisdom of the day, especially once the hasty presumption of Oswald's guilt became unassailable, we brunching with TV and the Sunday comics, he strolling out to early public execution.

            In the light of retrospect, who really cares what the Report reported?  'Fair Play for Cuba' and the anomaly of the grassy knoll; Tippit, Ruby, Curry and the rest; the autopsy, the strange trigonometry of the two (or three?) projectiles?  These and all the other 'facts' are just crumbs on the table of this feast of history-in-passing.  When weighed against the monumental nature of the crime itself, a trial and the subsequent exacting of official vengeance—though filling a proper legal and technical purpose—were bound to fail any fair test of emotional satisfaction, in all probability serving only to excite the worst excesses of sensational journalism and speculative commentary.

            No.  At the last, full knowledge of the crime and a strict allocation of culpability would not have been enough to transform decades of memory. 

            Much of the strongest imagery is of the pageantry, the high drama of the passing of tangible force; the sheer spectacle of the survival of State, melding an eerie sense of courtly ceremony with the raw power and grim determinism of inevitable historical succession—an admixture of Arthur and Shakespeare, if you like, well suited to a prince of any epoch.  All of it overriding the puny contingencies of human indulgence and of the shattered protagonists in the lesser, merely human, drama.

            What contradictions were endured through those days:  the power of death to deny life, and the exuberant life of the body-politic rebounding to refute the verdict of the grave; a Friday to mourn and a Monday to remember; one bookend tragedy and the other splendor.  This conflict of dualities has always animated the greatest achievements in human art and understanding.  The weekend was foreordained to mimic this dynamic, echoing the lessons from those throughout history who have thought most and deepest about life and death.  At the same time, through its interweaving of pathos and grandeur, it redefined the scope of our own imaginations and lives as we readied to make our way, collectively and as individuals, out of what is now merely the past.

            Yet, even the most majestic panoply needs an audience.  The most lasting rituals are also the ones that seem to be most interactive.  Thanks to the long reach of television, we were part of it, and each step along the way to Arlington seemed to have been contrived to reach deeply into the experience of the scores of millions of individual hearts whose common beat was, and is, the pulse of the nation.

            Yes, you were there, a part of that pulse; and though your heart has been transformed in many ways in the intervening years, the beat goes on.  No matter where you've been or where you are, no matter what you've done in the time since, this one day each year you find yourself standing alone again, a part of that vast and silent throng lining Pennsylvania Avenue.  You wonder when this community of mourning will end. 

            Maybe this time will be the last.


            In recent years, you've found that many of the details seem to have grown a little less distinct.  More and more, that small inner sphere, the place where the fine focus comes and goes, is waning toward the dark.  Even so, you suspect that some things will always stay.  For now, you are left with this:

            The muffled drum.

            The ancient caisson.

            A riderless black horse with all of history in its wake.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

In the Cafe

©  Steve King
All rights reserved

That night you chanced upon the old café,
I recalled times we had so long ago.
Not  just the words, nor how we sounded then,
but in the way our eyes would speak for us
to top the clamor, and the way our smiles
at once would satisfy each hidden care.

The while you spoke, I pored over your face.
I saw the things the years worked to deny:
youth, innocence and infatuation,
wrapped in the folds of some fine elegance;
a legacy that showed your gaze, your smile,
framed just the way an artist might have done
to hold it for my ideal vision.
I needed but a curve, a shadowed line,
one turn, one scent, to seize the whole again.
When you had gone, your space was resonant,
grace notes alive to theme old worlds anew.

I took your picture, needlessly, I know,
for I will never look to you that way:
that image would not so deny the years—
cast by the bottled light on plastic screen,
recording but a shape, without your forms;
hard vestiges that point to your old griefs,
the changes you accrued in long absence,
the weight of secrets never meant for me,
and gladnesses that I shall never see.

These speak not to the pleasures in my eyes,
that choose to find only what could not be;
nor to the hold of ancient promisings,
and old sirens that sang too long to me.

This week’s post for Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads

and The dVerse Pub OLN on Tuesday

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rush Hour U-Turns

by Steve King
© 2013

You are hurtling,
one stop to the next,
on and on,
a faint, elusive point
perpetually gone,
arrival and departure synonyms,
reciprocating echoes
melded in the vacuum of transit.

And how do you get off?
Is one locus
better than the next?
One new arrival
keener than the rest?
There is always just one more,
and then another gesturing beyond,
always an horizon to be filled
one scintilla at a time
with the ready stylus
of your fickle needs.

Even so, your hands tighten.
You grasp a-hold
your pounding wheel.
Ready, you think,
to move trajectory
without calculus or care.
You are used to taking chances here,
No problems, you are thinking
as you wait


Posted for Open Link Night at the dVerse Pub

Monday, October 21, 2013

Too Long These Winter Moons

©  Steve King

All rights reserved

Too long these winter moons,
dark the heart that waits.

Unquiet souls
will seek their peace,
akin to sleep,

—As if new mornings may await,
          sunlight yet appease.

Though lightning stripes
each transient dream;

though winter’s moon
does linger on the dawn.

A new post for Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads

and Tuesday’s Open Link Night at the dVerse pub.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Chord

©  by Steve King
All rights reserved


I sometimes hear so much,
listening relentlessly,       
wrapped in high solemnity,
gliding through the grand design
of vast symphonic harmony;

and sometimes too
within the passing threads
of lurid, jazz-infused improv

or lingering in funerary drones,
buzzing voices lowered
in purest dread tones;

and always in a stinging riff of rock and roll:
taut strings stretching to their ends
to spin a dance of fleet arpeggios,
stuttering like broken speech,
balancing atop that odd backbeat.

And I have heard the music breed
in small measuring breaths
when leaves stir
and hollow spaces speak
with the songs of wind,
each night the winds across the valley,
echoing some furthest peak.

And from the very center,
the roar of fire gods,
their murderous bass notes,
song emergent from the core;
a universe of tones
hardly random or ill formed;
a reservoir of nascent sound
in which all other harmonies abound.


Then, too, come strange calls
alive to greet my listening,
wandering through new discovered streets,
to find a certain way:
lamplight to lamplight,
slipping between shadows,
past shuttered doors and darkened alleyways;
stepping deftly
around children without faces,
there, amid each rising moan and incantation,
cantatas of regret
that stir long in dark places;
lamentations of desires undone,
abject songs of silly midnight dares
invoking quick embrace and needy stares;
last calls and come-ons to indifferent ears;
even the measure of caesura
when the weight of all emptiness
shall have won

as when darkness shutters every yearning sense,
and arms hang empty at the sides,
emptyemptyempty again,
surrendering to the usual absence,
while one devises painless ways
to make decent amends,
while all the old longings intensify;
while the shadow steals
to fill another vacant dream
and color the old rhymes
the mind rehearsing different ways
to sing old songs,
wanting only the one decent key,
a constant cadence again in each familiar space,
reminding, to be sure
within the hollowed meter
of each muted phrase
of ancient gladnesses,
and, looming in the minds half-light,
imagined facades of repose


So now, within these attic shadows,
folded deep beneath a night,
please to linger with me here,
listening, quiet at the last,
waiting for fled things to reappear;
when silence shall again retreat,
to fill some others emptiness;
the music turning as the first,
stillness yielding in its train,
every shadow singing out.

And please to tell me why,
with all the music
waiting to be heard,
there still rings ever clear in memory,
in singing presence lost only to time,
the unrelenting tones,
in lyric voice that I would gladly claim no more,
chiming as a solemn chord,
the one echo I try so to ignore:

the biding murmur of that distant wave
breaking slowly on the rising shoal
forever set to cast its falling note
and sing, relentless, to its empty shore

gathering its long-abandoned airs,
to measure me within the hold
of  once familiar strains.


And yes, the way old words lie waiting to be heard again;
the way old words would once again be said,
the way old words lie waiting for new song
as if they might gently live on,
as if meaning may yet cling
all else gone.

All else.


That soft postlude to resonate
across ensuing days;
always to replay,
ever to unfold,
while all the music else,
so charmed in each refined reply,
yields, surely as a cresting tide
called homeward by its distant moon,
slipping sure away.

A Post for Imaginary Garden With Real Toads
and dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night

Monday, September 16, 2013

“…but what if I should die before my time?”

“…but what if I should die before my time?”
--Then everyone I leave behind
will have more leisure to amend
memories, to paint anew 
the picture of this life; I’d find
ways to hide in dreams unsought,
in their new found imaginings,
adding texture to a gentling dark
that soothes all grieving senseless numb.

What if I knew the very day?
That secret would I most deny.
Every hour already holds
all the hurts the world may bring:
times endured with fair surprise,
a shrug perhaps, or nodding wise,
to note the transit of all things.
I would not tax our slender joys
with my precipitous goodbyes.

And what would be the final wish?
I would not cling to easy hopes
of saints and raptures waiting by.
I mean to quietly greet the night,
with modesty and middling calm,
to gaze on the receding light
‘til life’s safe harbor slips from sight,
and all distinctions disappear.

Savoring peace as clamors flee,
the thought of you still standing near.

(A new post for Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads
and d’Verse OLN

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Hunter

©  Steve King
All rights reserved

I watched old Orion slip
behind the tallest tree,
sly and careless with his craft,
trailing the shiny bow,
sword forged in a perfect heat: 
he had his pick of stars.

Maybe I am patient bait
for all his bloody dreams,
tethered out in full display
beneath this quarter moon.

For me the earth turns quick,
the measure of all things—
rising suns will conquer nights,
just to lose their place again.
My soul will wrestle dark and light
and every hour shall contend.

Empty wishes will upend
my few deserved delights,
and dreams shall be the death of me,
but only ‘til the dawn returns
and burns them to their flight.

So silly I must seem, and small,
now, to that keen eye—
the gaze of one who ever preys,
the vision that would gather all,
that one who never blinks.

But I shall see things come and go,
while he does stand a wicked age,
empty bag and silence there,
wondering why it should be so:
waiting, still, for their approach,
circling lion,
sleeping bear.

(A post for dVerse OLN and Imaginary Garden With Real Toads)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Sea Is Always With Me

©  Steve King
All rights reserved

The sea is always with me when I think of you:
great tides rolling—my thoughts endue me
with that sense of moment,
each surge carried near or away,
drawn afar, then covering back,
all at motion, never rest.

And unfathomed currents, too,
running to some fancied depth;
running, as if there might be escape
from the call of the one moon.
As if those tides might be displaced
by whimsical contrary things.

They say we are all come of the sea.
In these instants I would sure agree,
each dying wave, each rising storm,
resonant of every life within.

And so I carry you with me,
feeling ever that old pull,
grateful for each coming wave,
lifting always as the great tides will.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I walked through a far field

©  Steve King  2013
All rights reserved

I walked through the farthest field,
where winds rose and long grass bowed.
It would be too much to assume for myself
a solitary power that would move the winds and grass;
a power to call spirits of earth and sky
out from age-long slumbers.

I say that if there are spirits still, they must wait—
withholding sky-borne charms and earthy nods—
and slumber on, imagining better days
to yield a truer prophet,
a shaman or a seer
to utter, even blind, for them.

It is only the least of breeze,
born of the distant sun,
that stirs long grass,
touching all the things that have no care
for great spirits and ages and airs;
a hovering beat that will not sing
until that day when spirits
must gather for real, or not ever;
when spirits might bring lightning
to invest a new waiting dawn.
No saints nor prophets on the path,
shamans or seers to invoke;
though the winds do seem
to whisper in tongues
upon indifferent ears;
though grasses still bow from afar.

For now, the winds and grass,
and those who merely walk,
are caught up surely in the old slow dance:
restless and unready all at once,
glad for something, if only new days,
moving as those tremors move,
that ripple through the patient spirits’ dreams.