Three Poems ~ Scott Withiam


Gone, our friend,
though now whispers
to keep him in

good standing. He fought it—
the murmur—

from the start, ran
long distance, track.
What about the time, though,

in his forties
he pushed too far, almost completely

left us— that heart of his
pressed harder than any of us
knew? Woke in—

was it a foreign hospital?—
with his partner bedside,

on either side of her
others— he’d discreetly continued with—
also responding. Unplanned,

then, someone in our clan
saying, “Get out. That’s right

out of a clichéd movie. Never
happened.” Just released
again: after that, when living,

he really left us. And lived alone.
At his worst? Or with?

Oh funerals, weddings,
theaters, don’t we all go to entertain
others’ weaknesses

to be with our own? Now showing,
shouldn’t we have seen it

from the beginning— that obsession,
his first love?
But who wasn’t absorbed

with coupling at that time? And now, taken back
to that age, resorting

to one summer day; from that porch
shadows playing, the mottled lawn sighs.
Oh, that cottage on the lake of his. His

out-of-town girlfriend there. Everyone
was. She disappeared

into the bathroom to slip
into a two-piece bathing suit. No lock
on the bathroom door,

she changed in the dark.
Like our friend. We didn’t know

who was in there. One of us
stuck his hand in the door
left open a crack,

reached for the string—
we all knew as weighted

by a miniature anchor—
to pull on the light—
and touched her breast. Twice.

Because he couldn’t believe what happened.
Or because he could.

Intellect; Our Friend   

leaving town for good
for the city
where feral-growing vines went
’round and ’round and ’round
choking the staked-
to-hold-it-up spare poplar tree
of knowledge next to a parking meter for how long
did our friend feed stiff company with postulations like “Fog
always fog if so never really lifting” so never was that is
never existed only acted to fit
and like him came away with?
fog is fitting
and no intellectual pursuit really
seeing people in the fog first
just hearing them walking in it
like they did back home
but in the city visible offline institutions
like Facebook or leaders like Daniel Ortega
as revolutions moving people at their edges
but circling back to first take care of their own
fitting he came away with anxious anticipation of what
others were going to say—
“You’re so absolute. What about the balance of
selfless and noble pursuits which helped humankind?”— and left—
our friend?—
before they asked finally moved
as far as we knew
back to another small town
for just plain, simple words as he remembered
which they weren’t now
more than townspeople as emptied chambers
of commerce working too hard at attracting people by letting
the world know their town would take care of more than just their own
would not be controlled by could not
live in fear of Facebooks or Ortegas would remain open
and just to show it no one
ever locked their doors—  world welcome if
so how come we never found out everyone like our friend gone to the city then gone back
someplace close to home never really moved
till night when no one in their homes our friend turned feral broke in
though breaking totally unnecessary— the doors unlocked—
broke in anyway had to
bust and unscrew
and prying ruin why
a lot of beautiful doors
intellectually speaking
our friend no longer inquiring
and after he broke in stealing nothing just disturbed things and that felt cozy
for a couple of seconds till
What about the person living in this house that poor person now
would never again convince himself
that whoever broke in wasn’t still in his house our friend
couldn’t stand in it any longer so moved farther out
to live off the gird with his dyslexic sister she after all said it left her whole life full
of incredible notions
her whole life unemployable till she’d landed
on a hybrid cultivation of black and white one variety of gray flower called cushion bush
which looked like dining jacket buttons grown for
distinguishing matters as she advertised
not distinguished occasions
but she also had life-threatening allergies
at pollination peak she got dizzy collapsed
almost died at the foot of her flowers
but as far as any ideas went
that was her best yet
she could no longer be near them
and while she recuperated her brother our friend
more than ever
couldn’t waste time
drove those flowers down to the superhighway
to one side and then the other side either side
people on their way country to city or city to country stopped
and he handed them gray bouquets
out of five gallon buckets full of water everyone thought they were left over from
a wedding or a funeral
and maybe they were
and maybe they weren’t
but nobody asked
they were free weren’t they?

From Rachel Carson to Paul Bunyan; the Stranger Camps        

Spring, something deep in the brains of the people in the little town said,
and their winter-pinched shoulders eased down,
away from their ears to allow bird song in,
but there were few birds, so people’s shoulders came down
but went back up again. So shoulders as headphones
and faces as if hearing new music but disliking it,
and mouths mouthing, “Somewhere deep in the woods”—
though there were no woods anymore—
“the stranger camps.” As that story went,
at night the stranger kept stealing into the completely exposed town
but could not be located.
“Where did that strange bird come from?” people continued,
with their shoulders up, their arms, as if wings
coming out of their ears filled with so many threatening words
that they unfamiliar-ized, “He’s scary.” But once a year that changed
to “The smelt are running!” Though fish couldn’t run, finally,
many troubling days ran into The one night
men and boys rushed out of town to net smelt. For pickling,
the life a head, men and boys still forged the cold pour
of the lake’s tributaries, trying,
as the men said, to keep to something,
one constant, regularity, though the air lacked the funk and willow and spunk enough
to make the nostrils flare. However,
among those men was an old-timer with very broad shoulders,
shoulders so broad and heavy that they never went up like everyone else’s,
so large that the rest of him falling below his shoulders,
navigating the rapidly shifting world below,
looked more like clothes hung on a line,
when there’d been wind. Flap was his name.
Flap paid attention to nothing stranger
than his own loss of sleep, when there was time,
when that’s all there was to deal with,
along with his own struggle to find words in his head
disappearing— no matter what unnamable season—
making it impossible to push against his own inevitable,
if the inevitable already here. “Oh never
mind,” is how he put it,
though getting harder to do. So Flap
made damn sure – as he was apt to say – “Just make damn sure” –
that he was never left behind,
left out of the smelting and pickling.
And someone always pickled him up,
brought him along for his damn sure-ness.
He was damn sure that he could still carry a net
and tip the lantern to help the young
see into the dark water in which they stood,
find the pool where the few smelt spawned,
when that’s what it had always been, he said,
a few smelt upstream circling, mating,
staring face-to-face as if seated around a table playing cards.
“Deal!” That’s what the men and boys smelting in the creeks heard
that night, all night – “Deal.” It cut through the bad music,
punctuated the shortened reach of their arms.
“Flap,” they said, “Come on,” but then Flap jumped
too quickly and scattered what few smelt there were.
“There they are,” Flap said, “and there they go.”
“Oh, Flap,” they said, and flew off for a while,
but came back with new, possibly new locations
for the stranger.