What I Say to You After Work: for Naomi It’s just a bad day, Darlin. There have been others before this and we’re still here, still breathing, still waking up in the morning to do it all over again. I know. I know it has to get better. It will. Let’s go for a walk and look at the maples in our neighborhood budding their fresh green leaves, shedding the whirlygigs with their veined helicopter wings. Let’s feel the warming spring Kansas breeze on our faces, let it tousle our hair like a busy mother’s touch. Let’s leave the smart phones and music players at home. Let’s talk out the frustrations and the humiliations and the fuckups. Let’s talk about planting flowers and tomatoes, playing guitars, grilling, inviting friends over, getting out of the house. Let’s stop at the corner where the redbud ignites against the greening grass. Let’s curse the dandelions but enjoy the yellow. Let’s give the bad day the attention it deserves, which, really, ain’t much. © 2019 by Shawn Pavey
Rumbling Through Dreams
At midnight and two, it shook walls
with a diesel and steel roar
that could wake the deaf,
yet in a little house built next to tracks,
my brother and I,
stacked in bunk beds,
slept a practiced sleep
as the Burlington Northern rumbled West through our dreams.
Walking in measured steps
from crosstie to crosstie,
I followed that line,
eyes forever to the horizon,
never losing sight of the point
where it all comes together,
stopping only to mine the best pieces of rose quartz,
mica, and coal,
from beside the tracks.
When a train would come, off in the distance,
before moving clear,
like an Indian, I put my ear
to the rail just to hear
the music of steel rolling over steel.
And, at the end of the day,
all walked out,
I dropped my treasure in a tattered sneakers box
with collected stamps, Bicentennial quarters,
Navajo tears, and letters from grandparents
half a continent away.
In the mornings before breakfast
in arid Colorado summers,
I ran to the tracks
to the special place on the rail where I put pennies
the night before,
smoothed flat by impact and mass
of trains carrying coal from the mountains,
sugar beats from the eastern plains,
delighting in the occasional remnant of Lincoln—
a nose, an ear, an eye, a texture of beard,
an e pluribus unum,
each atom of currency destroyed each a different way.
I dream of riding trains,
of snaking serpentine through the American patchwork.
East Coast forests blending
into Great Plains wheat,
rolling Ohio hills flattening
into the Kansas horizon
slamming into the sheer granite faces
of Rocky Mountain cliffs
and then, through desert sand,
to the sea.
I dream of salt mist and factory smoke,
ponderosa pine and sequoia,
of rain pelted windows and thick valley fog.
I dream and in my dreams, I ride trains
and do not make good time
but rather ride forever on trains that never stop,
longing to reach the place just ahead,
the elusive point of perspective
where the rails merge,
where the separate become singular,
where all things bind together
to be the one thing, whole.
© 2008, all rights reserved by the author.
“The poems in Shawn Pavey’s Nobody Steals the Towels From a Motel 6 examine the seasons in the author’s life, broken down into days and then into moments, whether it’s a warm Kansas City wind, drinking on 39th Street, or a moment of quiet contemplation filled with the uncertainty that comes with just being alive in the 21st century. Pavey’s poems are straight and honest, taking the time to just live now and put it all down on paper, something that the rest of us usually put off until tomorrow. His words are as spare as bone, leaving the wind and taking nothing for granted.” John Dorsey, author of Appalachian Frankenstein
“Shawn Pavey’s poems capture the longing we feel when we lift the needle from a record album. In the turntable’s wishwiswish between Stratocaster riffs, there lies hope and resignation, Bruce Springsteen and hungry cats, maple leaves and ‘plastic blasted into space.’ Pavey’s poems give voice to our hunger for life, a medieval song heard through 21st Century earbuds.” Al Ortolani, author of Francis Shoots Pool at Chubb’s Bar and Waving Mustard in Surrender.
“In Nobody Steals the Towels From a Motel 6, I was reminded of how a gifted poet like Shawn Pavey doesn’t try to convince his readers to have things we don’t need but to slyly persuade us to open our eyes to the presence of the treasure of those things we cannot live without. In this book we have love, surprise, death, angels and more pictured for us in a flow of language both ordinary and extraordinary gracing us with a dancing vocabulary’s most lyrical and unforgettable choreography.” Chuck Sullivan, author of Zen Matchbook and Alphabet of Grace.
It is a simple act,
the brewing of coffee in the chill
of a dark March morning.
My cheap automatic drip machine
belches and spits a grotesque sound
as pleasing as any cello concerto
or crow squawk,
making music to make me wake.
The sun will rise soon.
This sky will move from black to gray
and from the window of this low-rent,
I’ll see the three-story side of Queen City
TV & Appliance,
its top to bottom cracked wall anointed
with a healing concrete salve and stitched up
by two iron bars bolted into brick.
But now it is only a black slab in invisible decay
in the shadows of new monuments
straining up from downtown Charlotte streets,
scratching at the horizon with jagged spires of steel and glass
shiny like aluminum foil crowns
littering the sky like a playground.
Cars already begin to sputter by on the streets below.
A block away to the West, an ambulance siren screams,
dopplering around a corner.
Buses will soon lumber by
with their high pitched diesel moans and sighs,
short sharp squeals of air brake expulsions.
Ceiling creakings above me signify movement,
an unknown body staggering
into the consciousness of another day.
It is business a s usual:
a toilet flush,
a cascading of pressure-fed water through
a shower nozzle
bouncing off a metal tub.
The sun has risen, silently.
I somehow always expect to hear it creak and groan
in the well-worn motions of a task
so ancient and lasting
that maybe we don’t even notice the sounds;
the universe itself being such a well-oiled,
well-maintained cog works,
its machinations leaving us in a silence
we don’t even notice our own noisy bumbling
through the days and nights of our movement.
And remarkable even yet is the singing of birds,
pigeons and robins,
dingy with the dusts of city living.
Early morning light finds them perched on power lines
through which the juice of coffee makers and electric alarm clocks
flows in turbine generated currents.
The brick wall through my window begins to glow
as only orange and red cooked clay can,
vibrant and dull.
Coffee has brewed and I sip it slowly in new light
where somewhere away from this city
dogwood trees bloom fragrant, crucifix blossoms
and finches and towhees may sing sweeter songs
than the awkward soundings
of mocking birds on telephone lines
in the center of a rumbling city
yawning and cursing itself awake.
© 2008 by Shawn Pavey. All rights reserved.
Leonid Meteor Shower with James
Our bodies clothed against air cold
enough to freeze water where it stands,
James and I stand and look skyward, to the northwest,
sipping coffee in the dark of our yard.
Crazy enough, we two,
to watch rock burn in the sky
as the matter and the atoms of the matter
component parts reassembling
into something altogether new.
This, we will not see again.
90 years will pass.
We will not see
this rain of rock
of fire of ash
mingling with the air we breathe.
We will not taste on our tongues burning
sky, crackling energy, as steam
from our breath swirls a silvered
motion away from our bundled up selves.
Big as fists, big as elephants’ heads, as small as a grain of sand,
sizzled dark sky two hours before dawn
November’s July 4th fireworks
raining bright fire
down on us,
exploding into air connecting us
to all that is in
this infinite expanse
where we spin in perfect symmetry.
90 years will pass,
politicians will die.
Captains of industry will die.
Priests will die.
Before meteors meet us again,
lighting a dark night with embers,
we will all die.
meteors will shimmer a dark sky,
they will pour upon the earth,
spread dusts from places we have not seen,
they will come again
out of darkness as before
when the world still steamed in the chill
from its new birth.
They will bring with them
fire, a breath they will breathe
into bones and dust and ash,
they will breathe into the air, stain the sea,
vapor into clouds a fresh mattering.
Who will stand in the cold dark then?
Who will smell the fire in the night?
Will they coat themselves against frost and ice,
drink the black coffee of morning before light,
will they delight in a spectacle of fiery mists,
will they fix their eyes on heaven?
© 2008, Shawn Pavey. All rights reserved.
My contribution to Ghosts Over Water: A Kansas City Renga was selected by the Johnson County Library as one of the “Poem a Day” selections for National Poetry Month.
Take a look!
On the passing of Lucille Clifton, 1936 – 2010
I would like to think
that B.B. King named his guitar for you.
I know he didn’t. We in the know
know the myth
the real story –
we know that it is not you
whom he played to make music so sweet
that I, a grown man, cry when I hear it –
but I am comforted thinking it is so
even though you did not need a man
for making music, your wide hips
spinning men like tops
(we never doubted it for a second!)
and your words spinning out
to the sky because the pages could not
hold them for long, Lucille,
could not keep them silent all black and white
your words like you bigger than what they laid upon
and they echo like you now that you’re gone
so that sadness cannot take
hold for long, Lucille.
© 2010, Shawn Pavey. All rights reserved.
“Do I dare disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
— T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
And on the moonlit sundial on Morehead planetarium’s lawn
we lay right down
you and I
accompanied by trumpets of breeze moving the flesh
of raven leaves resonating eternal rhythms
of chlorophyll filled veins stiffened toward stars in prayer
in the center of all things born and dead and unborn
echoing at once
a symphony of spheres staining the night in a resolute
paradox of existence and non-existence
light and dark
all time and no time without time to measure
drunk on complexity’s thick nectar
of chaos and order
bound to all things here and there
now and forever
then and never
became travelers in time and space
grasping at the impossibility of moments just passed
giddy like children
when at that moment a camera
would have captured us static on our backs
lying in the middle of the round ball of all time
your tiny slender fingers woven into mine
creating a single connection
on a dial unlit by sun
as two dark bodies at rest stared
up to where explanation finds only mystery
and God balancing
now and never
then and forever
© Shawn Pavey, 2008
“Grisly, foul, and terrific
is the speech of bones”
— Donald Hall
Brittle and dry,
white and empty
of marrow – bones
cook in a desert sun.
Molecules in the heat
crack wide open,
atoms spill out onto sand
a fine powder once alive.
Vestige of frame,
purpose of structure,
crumbles and flakes
layer after layer.
Over what was once coyote, wind
thunders through skull cavities,
howls a vox phasmatis.
© 2011, Shawn Pavey
Previously published in Cant.
Little Big Star: for Alex Chilton (1950 – 2010)
“I never travel far without a little Big Star”
— Paul Westerberg of The Replacements in the song “Alex Chilton” on Pleased to Meet Me
All that mattered was the song, Alex,
the letters and the words
and those succulent poppy hooks.
We danced for you, Alex,
we learned diminished chords for you, Alex.
We bought your records.
We played them on our turntables
until the vinyl wore so thin
that light passed through the grooves
and it is that light that we miss, Alex,
but it shines on wax and gleams in bright
binary code like the light we drank from you –
our “Blue Moon” in darkness.
It will sustain us for now, Alex
until that next misfit unearths
a copy of “In the Street”
without a thing to do
except talk to you.
Previously published by PresentMagazine.com.
© 2010, Shawn Pavey. All rights reserved.