After Hearing Old Men Talking

by Charles Thomas

Isaiah 61: 1,2

Now reads like new breath in old lungs,

Like a streetlamp’s flicker, an interruption,

A transitory break in tandem, hinting of another

Perpetually. Perhaps now is nothing more than

A vagrant, the wandering Jew, or a mother’s device

For training her brood.

I’m sure if asked, the mother would explain

Now as being between here and there,

Intercessory, seen only in a clock

Or a bust of Janus perhaps,

But heard only in a pause between tic and toc.

And now takes many forms, I suppose,

Just as my here is your there,

And your there my here, or in any place,

But it would be wrong to say it is intangible.

For now was where I first found favor,

First it came in the warmth of my mother

Pressed against my cheek,

And the taste of flour from her apron.

Later I heard it in the polemics of lovers

Young and old, resolved and unresolved,

As well as in the murmur of the river

Wrapped in gifts of all seasons:

The energy of spring, a solace in summer, fall colors,

And the ether of winter settled among the stones therein.

I began to seek that favor among the old hands,

Shouldered the sun in ruts for an eight-hour load,

Carried with me the scent of heaven unto dusk

To show my children the narrow road

Is a trail that smells of brush and musk.

I’ve wrung that favor from my shirt as an ablution

On behalf of every roughneck, grease monkey,

Mill-hand, and pot-top of any shade,

And have lifted my hands to the footfalls

Of old boots, predawn alarms, and rhythms made

By the hammer’s fall, the wrecking ball, and the hacksaw’s blade.

Soon I became weary, however, and broken,

Bent doubled as if to inspect my soles,

There for a time I had lost the year’s favor

But soon found it again. This time,

It came in wool thrown over my shoulders,

Fine tobacco, rain on a tin roof,

And in visits from my children and theirs.

It made light of me in mirrors,

In the shop windows, and pulled

My wrist toward the primordial question

Of what?

If you asked me, I would tell you

Now is the chemistry of the tapeworm of time

With properties of all wholes and parts

Reading of every extreme in sonnets, ballads, free verse and rhyme,

But stilled only by a blind man’s dart.

My now is not yours,

But neither is it wholly mine.

Rather it is the proscenium

Of an open book, every page

An act, a scene, a line, a stage

To delight

Or to disappoint.

But it is yours after all,

At any rate, and vulnerable,

Stripped bare, and unvarnished

To absorb the light of many rooms

In many places along many streets

That vein many cities

Founded in some now without color.

My now? My now is here and obscure

Much like it was, and much like it’ll be, I’m sure,

But at least it is here.



Author bio:
I’m proud to say I’m an Oklahoma boy, the son of a farmer raised around roughnecks. As such, I’ve developed an intense love for faith, rustic life, and the blue-collar lifestyle. I generally seek to delineate my experience in my work: tent revivals, red dirt, old dogs in old trucks, and gravy (lots of it), although not all of it is regional.  In short, I aim for quality and freshness, and I pray that my work reads with the energy of Native America.

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