Ken Meisel is a poet and psychotherapist, a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow, a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of eight books of poetry. His most recent books are: Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit (Blue Horse Press: 2020) and Mortal Lullabies (FutureCycle Press: 2018). His new book, Studies Inside the Consent of a Distance, was published in 2022 by Kelsay Books. Meisel has recent work in Concho River Review, I-70 Review, San Pedro River Review, Crab Creek Review and Trampoline.
I’ve been sitting alone again, on this green park bench under the shade trees
in that forgettable city park where I used to feed the comatose,
easy going pigeons with my scraps of listless day-old bread,
& I’ve been reflecting on the time that’s gone by, especially through
my stop watch, & I’ve been listening with my whole entire heart
to Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World” & “I Can’t Believe It’s Over,”
& maybe it’s the season, what with all these summer breezes blowing
immoral & transgressive through the simple apricot trees & maybe, also,
the way the pigeons seem to ignore it, in their easy, deliberate lassitude
&, when I feed them, I can fall asleep again into that remembering
that will always ignore the present. & maybe I’ll remember all the old rooms
& the soft bottles of wine we consumed, while listening to Moondance
on that old, lawless turntable & how, one night, I cooked her dinner,
by candle light, & we drew ourselves a warm bath.
& maybe time’s contemplation is like a cooing dove, eager for bread,
& so we allow it & we follow it, dumbed by its lasting, immutable
phonetics &, like two beings sitting still on a bench, one talks & one listens.
& I’ve been in that commandment of love, that contemplation again
where the Dharma edict calls up memory & recall, & so time is Dionysian
& full of reverie & rapture & it’s also unhinged & seditious,
& thick with old smells & all those sad morphine fragrances
that the self – by its own to surrendering into a permissive willingness –
can become lost & oddly captive in, like an insubordinate prisoner
in a row boat. & maybe, sitting here on this laughing park bench
with my little transistor radio on, & dialing down the long band
I hear, in the static AM radio fuzz, The Glaser Brothers, that country music
trio from Spaulding, Nebraska,
“Ain’t It All Worth Living,” & “Through the Eyes Of Love.”
&, maybe, just because of all this, I’m no longer in control of myself
& I’m just slip-sliding, like a ready-made drunk quickly lit on lime juice
& gin, & I’m all alone & I’m readying myself to say my evening prayers,
under the first carnival stars.
& maybe all contemplation arrives through music’s deep refractory haze,
its soft Decalogue of romance & remembering,
& maybe I’ll hear all those finite years just now
as the sumptuous young mother rolls the child by me in a baby stroller
&, behind her, the little dog follows after them on a leash
& the father, so young
in his soft, red beard, follows still behind, chatting on his cell phone.
& maybe all life can be seen through the eyes of love, & that’s why
its all so worth living.
& once, in a room dim with dusk-light, I sat so still on a couch I could feel
the streams of red blood moving in me, like laudatory commandments
through my ears,
& I knew I was waiting for something or for someone,
but I couldn’t see just who,
& sometime later, after all the sirens of the evening’s torment lessoned,
I saw in the bathroom mirror someone else’s face, someone not me
who would become something in me
&, later – relaxed & stretched out & drinking a beer, my legs
dangling over the other end of the couch –
I turned the transistor radio volume up loud again so I could discover
how it was Eartha Kitt could deliver that song,
“Under the Bridges of Paris,” so sublime, where the young lovers
turned & they fell into imponderable, immeasurable knots of love
with one another & I saw me, under the bridges too, announcing myself
to her – my wife – so that we could live in that excited, animated firing
that a brain, deep in love, can accomplish when it bargains itself
against all the loneliness – inside the insanity of deep wishes –
&, out here today, just sitting alone on this park bench,
every hour of that night, long ago, blinks & flutters here before me
like a calendar of tiny, lost, softcover memories…
& maybe all human contemplation collects what’s been held autogenic
in the thickness of the body; &, upon this recall, all the old memories
come back like a blueish, blushing color. Blue feathers dropping on lace.
I can’t begin to describe it to you, beyond this set of colors. It just seems
like blue bird feathers, falling one at a time, into a creamy euphoria of lace.
Except that maybe it’s a cream-going-into-indigo, or a looseness of string
gradually pulled through a soft hole in the roof & then, into nothingness
so that when you try to locate it, later, all that’s left of it is a distaste,
something avowed & admitted & yet, somehow echoic, & not at all
forgettable &, even then, inspective & heedful, attentive, like dust,
or a loose sliver of a morning dream, floating random & imponderable.
& maybe this is what memory sounds like: like a fanning of bird wings
with bullets shooting through them so that, inside their echo, one just
hears a repetitive whacking & a flapping, followed by an emptiness.
& once, I sat straight up in the front seat of my car & I bellowed out, with
Gladys Knight & The Pips, to “Midnight Train To Georgia,” just feel it,
that galvanic, inflammatory willingness to ride something far out
of a comfort range & to fail at it anyway, & completely,
but that was a long time ago, before I was here in this drowsy park.
& it was before I heard the whack-whack of bullets through feathers,
& the sudden, fog-cloud of nothingness where everything fails, & even
the almond blossoms we waded through, like a downy path, distill.
But it’s okay. I’m just sitting here on this little bench, sipping my coffee
while the children across from me discover the open spaces, the rooms
in twilight monkey bars, while their mothers’ chit-chatter on phones.
& on the sonic transistor radio I discover, just now, Al Jolson,
blurting out “Me & My Shadow. & I am in another hotel room again,
& this time so sanctified I can’t remember how it is I’ve even arrived here
& I am struggling just to stretch the necktie around my collar,
so as to tie it for the wedding I am in. & my legs shake a bit,
they tremble under me, & my leather shoes, supposedly steady,
slide left & right as I try to stand, watching myself in a small, oval mirror….
just trying to find what it is I am so afraid of. So commanded in.
& time is anomalous, it’s a nomology of scriptures & edicts
we remember of ourselves – all the good & bad recalls mind you –
& on this park bench, today, as the simple white clouds pass me by,
I forgive every moment I was mutinous & against myself because
I couldn’t hear, or didn’t even try to see the concluding bagpiper there,
standing listless & readied by the park gate, playing that song we’ll all hear….
& to tell you the truth, he was always playing it, just for her & me.
& if I stop now & I wait, trying to end this poem, all I can hear –
as she & I dance under the apricot trees in this ephemeral park
while trying to recall the fragrant, nowhere smells of that day,
is Peggy Lee, singing that song, “Mr. Wonderful,” & by God,
she’s humming it, & she’s humming it right on time, for me.