Monday, September 21, 2015

Three Poems from "Chestnut Ridge"

Laurel Caverns


In this year
two men were lost in the caverns for three days.

When found,
they were locked in each other’s arms
waiting for the end—

two travelers, eyes wide in the blackness,
ears pinned to the whisper of wings,
the seep of water.

When found, they were locked in each other’s arms.
Breath by shallow breath,
they had fabricated life.

Blind touch bound them.
They stole heat from the brush of a cheek,
the cup of a calloused hand.

And so they survived the ordeal
of never embracing again.




A dark day, and a day of storm,
and amidst the darkness
the angel of death spreads his wings over the valley.

Midday comes.
And now rumors rush down like rain.
A horseman thunders through the streets.

“To the hills!” he shouts.
“To the hills, for the love of God!”
The townsfolk stare at him, as at a madman.

They hesitate. They shake their heads
The shadow darkens,
and the hills are veiled with mist.

Upstream, rain rattles into the pretty lake
that laps against the dam.
Only the desolating angel fishes there today.

The dam is a jumble
of boulders and straw and wet earth.
Here and there a leak springs forth,

and yet another, and yet another.
Now the wall is honeycombed with tunnels.
Still the rain rattles down.

The lake laps against the dam.
Streamlets of lake spill over the stones.
Rivers of lake pour over the stones.

Midday passes.
The center stones begin to sink.
An archway opens; it totters in the churning foam.

Then, like a tiger rushing into a sheepfold,
the angel roars down the valley.


Basic Training


Thanx for writing!
Your letter was very entertaining to read.
Please excuse writing & spelling,
it’s 2 a.m. and I’m tired.

I’ve got fire guard in case your wondering.
Boy do I have a lot to tell you.
I’m sure I told you about Victory Tower.
I must have.

Did I tell you about company competition?
Well my platoon won.
We got to buy candy bars that night.
On Sunday we went to battalion competition

and came in a close second.
We thought we won but we didn’t.
We were hoping to beat those male companies.
OK enough of that story.

July 3rd we went to a large field on post
and watched the fireworks.
We sat next to a male company.
By the end of the night

the 2 companies were rather close.
I was so tired that I fell asleep
even with all the noise!
I got 4 hours of sleep that night

and then Sunday I had K.P.
K.P. is hard to explain.
Its not like the old army stories
but its also not peachy-keen and groovy

as our sergeant likes to say.
This week we learned about gas!
And nuclear bomb blasts
and first aid.

We learned how to put on our mask in 9 sec.
(not easy)
and then we went into a gas chamber of nerv tear gas.
We had to take our mask off for 30 sec.

Some people got sick
and some lost control of themselves
but I just tried to stand like a soldier
so I wouldn’t have to stay in the gas any longer.

It burned real bad.
Well I’m falling asleep on the job,
I better get up and walk around.
I hope you understand my run-on letter.


[All three poems are from my manuscript Chestnut Ridge, a verse-history of southwestern Pennsylvania. The Laurel Caverns are now a Fayette County tourist attraction, and the poem arose from an incident noted on their website. "Flood" retells the moment just preceding the dam breach that caused the Johnstown Flood. "Basic Training" is, I hope, self-evident.] 

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