One Among Thousands: Poem by Shawn StJean

 

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Most nights, the stars seem many, and cold and aloof

And perhaps more beautiful for the distance

Flung like paint-spatter across a canvas of void,

The journeywork of the gods.

To embark and cross the sea to any single one, even that closest one

Laying down a blanket of russet across the bed of ocean,

Might diminish the whole, and,

The passage being too daunting to try,

I stay at home, in safe harbor.

 

Yet, my own work takes me out some days,

I mend and loose my sail, untangle and lower the net,

Hoping to catch enough to make a meal, or more.

And despite every good omen, once in a while,

Once in a span of years,

I’m caught by current and wave and wind,

Thrown out of reckoning, into abysm.

 

Strange islands brood there, through the spray,

Among the darkening, under black clouds.

The luxury of choice fades

With the glow of light diffused

When night returns, and settles.

 

Any landfall is a blessing, then:

A beach of sand pebbles in the grasp,

Fresh water collecting in pools.

Things quiet: thunder recedes, like tide.

 

I sprawl close under the beaten hull,

Shivering, exhausted, and pray

not to hear the beat of drums.

 

 

A single, clear star wakens me, with its pulsing

Somehow big and close, whispering a word through the night-surf.

 

Solitude, perhaps, but I’m no longer alone.

 

That star is a friend whose orbit I’ve chanced to enter,

Calming my blood with its gravity and even heat, and its thin, focused ray.

 

The passage home lies long, beset with dragons, maybe,

So I linger here, while I may, my own sinews knitting, before dawn,

For stars that peek through the storm curtain on a lone castaway

Come far, and few between.

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By Shawn StJean

 

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Co-Tenanting: Poem by Shawn StJean

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by Shawn StJean

 

A horde of half-a-hundred dragonflies, aloft, cuts off my path

across the unmown meadow this morning–

A Virginia species, unknown to me up in the fenced and gated North.

I’ve only ever seen them singly, or in pairs, and avoided the dangerous-looking bodies,

sometimes blue, or green, or yellow, or gray, ominously named “Sewing Needles.”

I don’t know their business, or their defense of it

any more than I know my own today,

whether to work on a poem, change out an old Ford starter,

go to the hospital for multiple stings, or spend the hours

missing beloved friends that miles part me from.

 

Yet, I don’t slacken or hurry my pace or even close my eyes, swishing the long grass

and dampening my feet and legs through shoes and pants, wading into the buzzing cloud.

 

It’s not bravery: I’ve been stung, in younger days, by many bees at once.

And learned to fear tramping around hot junkyards without proper care.

A body can only take so much of that punishment.

Many species treat proximity to their hives as an incursion,

not bothering to distinguish who owns from who rents, when we’re all just renting anyway,

and a rusting iron hulk of car returning to earth belongs more to nature than man.

 

If these fliers follow the rule of most other insects,

much more power they hold, than the Huey Helicopters they resemble in minature.

A few could level the plain of my body, erase the borders, defoliate it as thoroughly as a napalm strike.

 

No, I go forward because I’ve never yet been harmed by a dragonfly:

Logic and ignorance, or innocence, put together, as simple as a child’s.

In school they classify this as an inductive leap,

In church they pronounce it faith.

Me, after all this time, I still call it trust.

Inside square, engineered buildings you learn all the fancy names for what you were born doing.

Outside, you just do them.

 

My body and I emerge untouched beyond the border of the meadow, unstung,

without even a touch-and-go landing on the shock of golden hair many bugs find fascinating.

We continue to amble along the landlord’s property, seeking our business,

it carrying me through the trees, over the running creek, along and past the fences,

as if we own the place.  Because, for now, this year, this hour, today,

we really do. 

Palms: Poem by Shawn StJean

It’s been a long while since the inspiration for one of these breathed through me, but here’s a humble offering. I’m open to suggestions for revision.
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By Shawn StJean

Palms

Look at your the back of your left hand.
Take a good, hard scrutiny, with the eye you seldom use.

If you’re 20 years old, you may not spot a flaw.
Or, perhaps a small scar from a childhood wart removed,
Or a ridge from the time you punched a wall to demonstrate your anger.

If you’re 40, the veins may have begun their rise,
the skin may fissure a bit from countless scrubbings in dishwater,
and a finger may pale where a wedding ring once encircled it.
The joints begin to tighten now, and one night, a shooting jolt awakens you.

When you’re 60, a lifetime of work tells tales: my index finger is grooved
Where a die grinder sliced through my glove, nor does the wrist bend all the way.
I’ve lost my thumbnail three or four times, and the knuckles all show the pure white of healing.
I once trapped the whole between a cylinder head and engine block,
And the pain of that mistake returned me the gift of greater patience.

If 80 finds you able, and your eyesight can work around the cataracts,
Your hand may now resemble the hook, the claw, the tool you treated it as.
It may pain you relentlessly, or at odd times go scarily numb.
The fingers no longer function as a family unit, drop things,
Shake when your blood sugar falls, or even when it doesn’t
And you often find it stretched out to take what’s handed you (“damn pills.”)

Now, turn it over.
The palm, at any age, retains the curious perfection of youth.
Unless you’ve lead a particularly hard life,
The callouses will soften with a few weeks off.
Even the two-inch scar I have from when a dog chased me through a swamp
Cutting across my lifeline perpendicularly
Stretches over only half the hand that was so much smaller when I was ten.

Strange, this is the side that works thanklessly
Rakes leaves, catches balls deftly, or plucks up a single grain of rice.
But, when asked, it can also trace the cells in flower petals
and the fingerprint registers stubble on an unshaven cheek.

The back of the hand keeps pace with the rest of the body’s shell,
the sagging stomach, the smile less often seen amid jowls and poor teeth,
the bending backaches. But the palm. . .
The palm indicates the interior life within.
It grows more supple and sure with use and age,
Mature, potent, like a strawberry that tastes of wine as its outer skin wrinkles up.

Now, raise your right hand next to your left.
If you’re lucky, you find inverse twins
That have toiled and wrought together, stitched and sewn,
grappled and steepled in prayer, applauded your daughter,
dug in the earth for worms, pulled an oar, and a bowstring.
These things, and the rest, tinkered your spirit into its better functioning.
Monk-like, I copy a line from another man’s pen:
The motorcycle you’ve worked on is yourself.

Put them, now, to their best uses: Stretch out your hands to whomever you meet, grasp theirs,

Firmly and Man-to-man if that’s your style, or lightly if so, but no matter.
Embrace palms, and when called upon, palm the back of another’s hand in communion.
Massage your friend’s bad shoulder, comb and braid her hair.
And grip tight again, entwine fingers for a long moment, and hold fast, whether your paths lead together or apart.
We’re, none of us, old enough yet to cross the street alone.