Laurence W. Thomas
A Town Never Sleeps
--for Lee, after chemo
A town never really sleeps;
there’s always some figure under a light
over the platform at the station
or just walking along under a streetlight,
someone drinking coffee in the only restaurant
and one serving the coffee making small talk.
Light behind curtains marks an insomniac
or sleep interrupted. Sometimes on his rounds,
a cop responds to a call to settle some difference
and restore order, or he just saunters along
clicking his night stick on a picket fence.
A dog barks, a car passes, the tower clock
ticks away the hours as unnoticed
as the convalescent moon gliding silently on.
I loved that man.
Through the mud and sweat,
the hardening of bodies and honing of skills,
learning neither to think nor question,
we were trained in the futility of war.
And then we were in it.
Through sand and incessant sun,
the constant threat of mines and suicide bombers,
learning neither patriotism nor victory,
but that the will to live leads to hostility.
We became a team.
Covering each other’s asses
as we burst into homes, blasting the nameless,
mindless of factions and principles,
we sang the song of dissolution,
We loved each other.
With the manly love of trust
and mutual dependence to save our skins
we loved, until one absurd explosion
and all love went out of me.
The Coffee Table Book
--opens to an argument over a nude odalisque
plucking grapes with fingers like mother of pearl
awaiting the veneration of a plumed prince as the page
--moves to a rose-stained window depicting armies
marching in blood-red dusk, the disarray of victory
etched grimly on their faces while the enemy’s fate
--shifts into luxuriant meadows and copses, villagers
celebrating harvests or marriages, wine turning sour
in overindulgence and boys brawling under windmills
--turning into towering cities awash in golden sunsets
beset with fountains spewing gore into the gutters
snarling traffic bent on evacuation, the warning light
--changing to a Madonna and child, their halos aglow
spreading peace in the manger, attended by worshippers
with gifts of gilt treasury bonds and smoked salmon
--that morphs into an amphitheater of wizened worms
crawling to get to the lobby echoing the vulture cries
of those arguing to gain the favors of a nude odalisque.
Study the aging, how they forget the names they
would have had trouble with at thirty. A sudden
question confuses them like on an examination in
high school, a poser on a quiz show. They do well
for their age like children, praised for their efforts
even when they lose or raise eyebrows when they
make mistakes. Suffer the deliberations of those
getting on; they don't dash out between parked
cars, abuse themselves, nor end up with unwanted
children. Help them to find ways to fill their time like
travel and gardening or bridge and good books, without
ever suggesting roller blades or bunji jumping. If there
were a war, the oldest would remember and say it isn't
worth it or that all strikes are from ignorance blaming
the unions perhaps, or unwillingness to compromise.
They complain too much that no one listens like
teenagers whose ideas are shot down untried, like
subordinates who are prevented from revolutionizing
the work place. Think of those advancing in years not
as prone to maladies like measles or mumps or gaining
the fortunes of others to squander, but as those with
irreversible illnesses such as old age pensions, senior
citizen discounts, destitution, and deaths that someone
else must pay for. Consider the successes or failures of
man as guides to action, but for the condition of the world,
study the aging.
Beasts supreme in their territoriality
defend what is theirs instinctively.
Big fish do not hate their prey
nor minnows those whose hunger they satisfy.
Birds and squirrels contend
over available food.
Animals cannot argue; they strike--
their monstrous egos blinding them.
it is easier to strike than talk.
-Taken from his collection, Beyond The Bridge