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Sample Poems by Dan Carpenter

On Again Looking Into a Homegrown Chapbook

Already swallowed into the seasons it sings,
Buried alongside the mother it would immortalize,
Squeezed to invisibility on my basement bookshelf,
This green-skinned slice of a life examined
Tastes cold and sweet as a modern classic
To this rare reader,
Who last cracked it at the signing party,
Added it to his store of courtesy souvenirs,
And hoped -
That it would delight and instruct?
That the poet, his friend, would be that important new voice?
No, those were fears,
And not from jealousy.

The problem is, it's good.
Truthful, beautiful, all that.
And worse, it is the opposite of rare.
Heaven's sacrificial host, these
Local poets, backyard violets,
Showered gifts of giftedness,
Underfoot, unsung, unmourned,
Save by fellow poets;
And a poet may be anyone
Who can muster the weakness
To surrender to beauty's awful truth:
Remember when you were the boy
who lost the girl
who never was his
and you saw right then
that what kills you
about this love thing
is that it's dying all over
like a sweet ballad on a car radio
the cold flame of a cardinal on a shed roof
it is everyone's
it is everywhere
it is gone


Reading a favorite poet's
odes to his wife
at interval after interval
of their long marriage
I am reminded
that the so-called Feminine
that lurks in the bearded beast
and makes of him artist and shaman
is not romantic and restless
but homebound
lusting for the slowed pulse
for stew-flavored chimney smoke
for the clothing of nakedness

If the art is in the living
mortality is the masterwork;
If the loving is the work
the reward is the night --
peace but no rest
from the sweet labor she is owed

On Empty

In '65 I was 17
and so was Jackson Browne
Already then, though we didn't
know one another, we both knew
which of us was to have the life
one of us would envy, and which
would have to mark his life by small
daily victories over envy

Closing in on 65
I've got envy pretty much licked
and, if anything, we've drawn closer
as the guy I was not
has done nothing but recede
along with the I of my mind

Just yesterday, in a town he'd fly over
in a room filled with intimates
who've chosen me and know neither of us
I nearly shouted as his schoolboy voice
slipped from a radio into the clamor
of football, gossip and shopping -

Gotta do what you can
just to keep your love alive
trying not to confuse it
with what you do
to survive -

and evaporated like prophecy
as I've grown to expect
and to flatter myself for expecting
through all these 17th years
keeping it alone and alive

At Rest

Meeting an object of desire
nigh on 30 years after our weddings
it strikes me we are now at the stage in life
when aging is less and less dreaded
because it is familiar; and our precious powers
provoke not panic over their loss
but sweet thankful joy over their lingering.
The descent we lived to deny
is downstairs; we hear the click
in the hall door; we'd forgotten
it has a key; we know
it will take its time
with scarf, hat, galoshes,
the musty wool coat with the missing button.
We can roll over and try to recatch that dream,
leap up and do those stretches, reach for a bedmate
or whatever affords a final fine pleasure
before the voice booms upward, the step creaks.

Happy St. Paddy's Day

I remember it best as the best of excuses
for cutting class and getting drunk and kidding yourself
that you looked as good to the girls shedding their winter pelts
and inhibitions as they looked to you;
that their green tongues said go

It came to reside, with New Year's Eve,
in that locked upstairs room of the mind and heart
kept by the loved ones of alcoholics;
misshapen mockery of faith, flag and sex,
lost youth leering beneath a green plastic derby

With you in my March, I open again to the phony sodden clamor,
extend my thousand Irish welcomes to the daytime drunks,
the knob-kneed parochial step dancers, the corsaged politicians,
all the flaunters of the color the singer reminds us
my ancestors wore at the risk of their shabby lives

With you in my retreat, across the miles, as they say,
I say to them, Yes, you are, all of you, please, be Irish
for one afternoon, herded away downtown, insane and innocent
of Yeats, of hunger, of my toothless coal-miner grandparents;
of the pair of us, colorblind, deaf to your drums, free, green, locked in song

Blind Love

March 2011

Lenten Sunday, Genesis the text,
naked couple dealt death for playing God;
our prayers for Japan, in Hell from His wrath
and in terror from its own creations --

the fragile Faustian nuclear ovens,
atom bombs of the target's making,
seething to join their penitential ash
to the cloud that could reach this garden

where my G.I. dad grunted into my clay
against the faint echoes of Hiroshima,
where I play Adam, split you beyond atonement
and we crunch the apple