Michael Lauchlan’s poems have landed in many publications including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, Southword, The Dark Horse, Tar River Poetry, Harpur Palate, and The Cortland Review. His most recent collection is Trumbull Ave., from WSU Press.
The moment a storm hits the dry
silence before the storm and all
that lives within that airy vault–
the cleaners with the rusted sign
hanging by cables over the door;
a bakery without doors, the roof
already open to what will come;
Franny’s grandma, telling Fran
her hip’s too bad tonight for those
lousy cellar steps Ricky claims
he fixed, but don’t worry, she says–
if the weather lady was really smart,
she’d buy a skirt that fit her.
The gaunt girls on Michigan
peer from doorways for the last
few truckers who might stop
before hell loosens; glass
towers wink from downtown
in the weird glow and one dead
traffic light bobs and twirls like
a lethal toy. When the rain breaks
over us, the first blinding sheets
wipe out all vision, suck breath
from one guy still running,
or wading across a street to beg
a girlfriend to let him in, at least
for now, until it eases up.
I should pull over since I can’t
see anything but falling water
reflecting my useless headlights.
I’m crying for no reason
or for all of them. I try to stay
in my lane and row on. This night
I know, as I’d not known
a thing before–my years are yours.
I feel myself falling and I fall.
…this white page where the woods should be
I talk to my old friend, Larry,
and tell him, all is well.
His name is praised, his grandson
grown, and his poems beget
new poems, his voice lending
gravelly wit to our ambling days,
fleshing our shyer voices.
He tells me that’s alright,
but he misses the touch
of his lover’s hand, misses how
hard she laughed, how
even at the end, she smiled.
I almost understand. I, too,
have losses–those who endured
so much hope, those
who went suddenly and alone,
those who seemed brave
and those who were, but wept
anyway. Maybe the weakest
were stronger than I knew.
I tell Larry this and he admits
how he used to chuckle at some
small thing and then break down,
as though laughter pried latches.
It pained him–I know–
facing death. How little help
I offered. I didn’t get it–
he’d hung on so long that
his death seemed predictable,
inevitable, a necessary denouement.
But he seemed so…surprised.
He says I shouldn’t fret.
I couldn’t have been otherwise
and, he says, you’ll soon enough
be looking up from a white page.
The Tongues of Empire
As words were waking in us,
who first uttered mercy,
saw rage for once supplanted,
a fist stilled, and named
the non-act, the subtle wave
of a hand or nod of a head?
Easier to name acts–untold
millions gassed or chained, a mound
of skulls on the Silk Road,
a couple cities incinerated
along with their people.
Yet we’ve written–in Greek,
Hebrew, Mandarin, Latin,
German, English–in all
the tongues of empire,
we’ve written of mercy,
its slow-budding relief
like finally dropping a stone
hauled down a trail, along a river,
over a bank to a tomb.
So tell me how it leaked
from some race far less
rapacious than our own,
some species of morning glory
feeding honey-bees, hummingbirds, etc.,
slowly drumming into our cells
until we said it aloud
and sang it and prayed it
and carved it into tablets,
wrote it into plays, and sometimes
made it into a sandwich
and handed it from the back
of a diner to an old man
who lives in the alley.
We had a guard once, a quick,
decisive gunner, who saw all
and knew when to pass. He wore
a look on his placid face–
a kid outnumbered in a fight
and ready for nothing else. Like him,
or maybe like a girl on a beach,
gouging a moat and reshaping ramparts
with sand tools from the kitchen,
you appeared in my pretend life–
so earnest and loss-marked
that your freckles glowed.
I write this only for you–
also for readers in decades
to come until the great dissolution
when power fails and servers
blink and the islands of Miami
and Manhattan go finally dark.
I’m kidding. Just a few readers
and even fewer years. Meanwhile,
during a perfect evening by a lake
becalmed, a hummingbird hangs
at a flower for half a minute
sipping the necessary nectar.
Her wings beat eighty times
every second of each sip,
each flight and, given brief
h-bird life-spans, she’s
unlikely to witness our cities’
future immersions, which
diminishes the crisis not at all.
The world is with us late
and ever, tenable as a rabbit
held before dogs on a track.
We’ve given our hearts away
for little, blind to our own day
and tomorrow’s hidden kernel.
Like you–bird, bball
wizard, and kid digging in sand,
are all serious as church,
mortally alive in moments
that still hover over a bloom.
What Courses Below
When the rain relents, we flee
our house and the thrall of news
for a yard made muddy and new.
We gauge the size of the willow–
maybe three times the nearest bungalow,
a hawk nest in a topmost crook
and five feet across at the trunk.
In last year’s storm, a lower limb
broke–struck earth like a mortar.
Suckers leap from the new scar.
Shrouded under fronds, we look
down at root-riven dirt,
then at the bulk above. Think–
another quarter of this mass, unseen–
supporting all, sucking up what’s
required for tenants on the top floor.
All that water–how it flumes
from runnels to pool here
a foot deep in spring, then
wend toward the Lower Rouge
and the Rouge, itself, toward lakes.
Dowser-like, we lean toward
what courses below this moment
morphing into willow frond and lilac,
ripening into the black mulberry
like a slow urge that creeps
along limbs and prickles our skin.