Here’s how I learned East: camped on a tarp
beside a brick-pile, flannel sleeping bags
with dew-fall beading up along the seams,
when sunrise broke the treetops from the low
far corner of the yard, lit up our dreams
and burned our eyelids till we came awake
to manic music, songs of mockingbirds.
How I learned South: from Monarchs in the fall—
a view of distant river, and the air
afloat with orange flickering—a few,
and then a stream that flutters overhead
to crest the eaves and dip and float away
toward Florida. And North was where the trains
that rumbled deep into the ridge at night
emerged, with whistles blaring—and the light
of their bright pulsing beacons cut the sky.
West was a highway out—and when I could,
I took it with no thought of turning back,
clear to the edge where ocean plays the role
of compass, and all points converge: sunrise
and sunset equal in the level day,
and Monarchs winter in a nearby grove,
and passing trains crisscross our cradled sleep.
But nights when sleeplessness prevails, that sound—
those whistles blowing warning to the dark—
cuts deeper then, sets off an outcast chord:
I pull old brittle maps from cluttered drawers
and spread them on the tiles in yellowed light
to trace the lines—as though my fingertip
could hop a slatted cattle car from coast
to fading southern town, and lay my tarp
in heat and dew and birdsong on the green.
If transmission were perfect;
if old truths met new minds
with the smooth-meshing ease
of a Rolls Royce slipping into gear;
if a word to the wise
and a word to the wanting
would equally suffice;
if we never had to say it twice—
would the world outstrip its wanting?
Would the current of our cunning rise
to spark the armature that turns the gear
of progress, and a vital friction seize
that ever-spinning, treadless wheel that strands
us here, our fatal defect?
Suddenly I Know How the Cat Feels
Suddenly I know
how the cat feels
when he’s dropped a bat
and let it get away,
when he’s poised to spring, head jerking
to follow its jagged flight,
his mouth still open, still full
of the taste of it,
crouched for a pounce he will never fulfill,
for he knows it’s fruitless;
and the bat spirals up into the trees.
He had it, held it in his teeth,
the soft fur moving on his tongue;
tasted its living heartbeat,
its quickened breath,
the heat of its blood and bones;
felt in his mouth the membranous wings
straining and relaxing—
not the usual thing at all,
not a feathered bird
nor some common kind of rat,
but a strange, dark creature
unlike any he’s held before.
Then a noise distracts him,
and he drops it—just for an instant—
and his claws aren’t quick enough
to catch it in its fluttering escape.
And suddenly I know exactly
how he feels, having let you up
to get the phone,
the receiver to my ear,
my mouth still open,
the taste of you still on my tongue,
half in conversation, and half of me
transfixed by your animal self,
my mistake dawning and setting
as I watch you spring up and begin
to dress for work.
D. R. Goodman’s first collection of poetry, Greed: A Confession, was released by Able Muse Press in late 2014. A past winner of the Able Muse Write Prize for poetry, her work has appeared in such journals as Crazyhorse, Notre Dame Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Tampa Review, South Carolina Review, and many others; and in the anthology, Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets, William Baer, editor. A native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, she now lives in Oakland, California, where she is founder and chief instructor at a martial arts school.