|E. A. Hanninen - 2008
The Coffee Shop Saint
spends his mendicant days mostly alone
sifting through old books at the campus-edge store
in the student union coffee shop.
His academic career stalled out years ago,
but he clings fingers and heart to
his part-time, adjunct status—
teaching one theology class (the same one), over and over.
Never married; doesn’t
even date. Not celibate so much,
but women have drifted away to some dusty, back-room shelf
beside the incomplete last
chapter of his dissertation.
He is, himself, the most unfinished of his many projects.
Like the saints in the storybooks,
he seems a little bit off;
odd with a kind of white-robed, disciple simplicity,
but sometimes when he talks, solid-rock
truths fall out
to land with a splash, rippling the surface of his coffee,
of people around him, and his face shines
Then you see, in those moments,
in the held-breath glance,
he knows you know: all was chosen,
all he has paid and lost has been well spent.
Chessmen at the Close of Day
Chessmen march in dust-caked boots
through war-torn, sharp-cornered fields.
Their opening gambits of
conquest have come to naught.
Fork and pass, the pawns pretend
they are rooks and white-mitred bishops. Alone at
they dress up and dream of someday becoming queens.
Covered retreat, the rooks keep watch
as the charger-mounted
knights pull broken-lance shards
from the crevices and gaps of dented honor codes.
Check and run, a haggard king
blood on his hands, longs for the simple life of a pawn
again holding a single acre of some far, holy land.
ending, the sagging king stands
trapped behind a queen he no longer believes in
while brambles grow unchecked along
the hedgerow grid.
Woods Words Worlds
Here is how the story has always been:
two young lovers hiking the green wide wood
the painful glare of day talking in voices of earth
and stone, souls tangle together taking root
time is free to circle
past and future mastered by tense;
speaking bends all distances, expanding twilight
spreads imagination, moon, and stars
rising up from wells of myth and memory
the murmuring creek speaks soft and strange
words that can never be caught
few yet remain who know true words
have to be spoken. Writing slows time
holding the past still, distorts meaning,
around trees and wildflowers stand tip-toed
sending leafy whispers up to silent listening stars.
in time intertwined
strangely now, as if always,
rooted in this shared story,
promise and promise they will hold
onto all these things
Later in the story we find those two tangled souls
days of pavement in harsh bright sunlight
while words of making lie unspoken, visions fade unfed
now time flows only
onward leaving part of them behind
like a children’s book we think we’ve long outgrown
do stories disconnect with imagination forever
sentenced in writing to “Once Upon Some Other Time”
other world is always close enough to hear you whisper
a burbling creek is always rising from deep stone-cooled springs
the echoes of its own voice. If we call to it speaking true
the stream of time will turn once more
to free the past
and the storyteller
moves us forward into a different future
Here is how the story has always
two lovers and their laughing child
hiking the green wide wood past the painful glare of day
bubbling laughter is heard but can never be written
as it echoes and shifts all the while. In growing twilight
souls strangely, as if always,
twined and tangled together from roots to leaftips
rise up on voices to stretch tip-toed
the silent listening moon
and stars, full of promises they will hold onto all these things
Be careful when you write
this story down
it might no longer be true
Postmodern Change of Seasons
Lighting the artificial fireplaces at Starbuck’s
as we switch from late August Frappucino
to warm winter drinks — signature hot chocolates
(whatever the hell that means)
priced slightly higher than gold bullion per oz.
We are the spoiled restaurant patrons
as Pasha from Doctor Zhivago looks in out of the cold.
Summer clearance sales cleared away
to make room for plastic masks and Halloween candy
bags the size of small east-European nation-states
New fall t.v. series launch saturated
like a commercial-dense opiate of the denser masses
growing new channels until it has enough
mass to exert a strange gravity of its own.
Mid-winter bursts of new cars blooming along the streets
as dealers slash the end-of-year inventory
out with this year’s already-out-of-dates
make way for the beautiful underaged
automotive supermodels of next year.
Driving home every evening accumulating
peculiar burdens with each attached garage we pass
on every stale gingerbread street.
Our youthful ambition to change the world
drained away one “just-be-practical” moment at a time—
traded in for the illusionary leisure of a golf-green lawn,
for every piece of crap stacked in your attic.
Set this poem down
break 30% of your stuff into kindling
throw things into the fire that make you throw away your life
or you and they will all be covered in ice
by the goose-stepping winter now at hand.