Poetry » Richard Widerkehr »


Medieval Steps

Let’s go look at the stars,
says Linda. We walk on a ledge–
black water sliding, waves unsheathing
themselves.  A few stars.  I don’t 
like precipices, I say.

It’s not a precipice.
Something mischievous
in her grin.  The white breakers
on black rocks, each spot-lit crest
slow as an out-breath.

What’s the opposite of fear–
black water, ancient as grace?
I’ve started climbing the medieval
steps at the end
of middle age, but so what?

A few hours ago, golden girls
and boys clinked glasses and clicked shutters
at the sunset, as if they were explorers,
and maybe they were,
their lawn green as Astroturf,

women in evening gowns,
guys in T-shirts and shorts, no one
throwing girls in swimming pools
as on Gatsby’s lawn.
Here we had valet parking,

no limo’s.  Pink-orange
sky, soft air.  One guy snapped
pictures with his black Leica,
as if it were a kaleidoscope.
A blonde woman in a coral dress,

one hip thrust out, posed
as if making up her portfolio.
You liked hot babes back then, 
said Linda, smiling.  Yellow-white clouds
open.  Somewhere, monk seals

poke up green-gray snouts.  Black eyes.
Animate souls.  On our sidewalk,
the woman in coral tips us a slight smile–
black water, still a few stars
as we pass by.

A Street Falls Upward: On Returning
A Rental Car In Orlando, Florida

Stay with me, Mom, as I truck our bags on wheels tonight.
I’m trying to find a way out of this fenced lot where yellow buses
shuttle the Gold Club Members to their rewards.
Driver, where’s the exit?  Where’s the street?
A kid at a car wash gave us directions to Edith’s hospital.
The manager at IHOP told us how to get back on the turnpike.

Now we’re lost.  Again.  When we found the Florida Turnpike,
signs kept saying, Sea World, Tonight’s the Night.
Edith greeted us with a mechanical chicken.  The hospital
was waiting.  We didn’t know.  These buses
have steps too tall for you.  I’m trying to find the street
where the Country Inn said they’d pick us up.  The rewards

of trudging on must be–what?  The wards,
her flowers, her mockingbirds. We got off the turnpike
last week….  Edith’s snapshots, our street
from the fifties.  We sang, Tonight, Tonight.
I’m trying to get us out of here.  The buses
only go to the airport.  What was the name of her hospital?

We never thought she’d die.   Before the hospital,
didn’t Edith call me Tootsie-poo?  My reward,
you hugged her as she cried.  Light breeze, bussing
us.  Balsamic air.  We sang Yellow Bird into the night.
How you filled her birdbaths after she died.  A spike
in me, as you sat by your sister’s body.  A street

hid a parking lot.  Glass walls across the street,
the West Marion Community Hospital.
The charge nurse:  Your aunt’s in a better place.  The night
doc:  It had spread throughout her body.  Words
must need us to be their secrets.  Tomorrow, a turnpike
will take us on a shuttle bus

to a runway where a Hawaiian princess floats on the tail of an Airbus.
We’ll step on the moving walkway.  On this street,
we’re kids on a Ferris wheel, singing Gypsies In Yon Wood.  A turnpike’s
for naughty girls who disobey.  How the hospital
held Edith just two hours till her heart said Stop.  Our reward’s
this wistful Hispanic driver who lifts us out of the night.

A street falls upward, a hospital,
a turnpike of suitcases on wheels.  Our almost empty bus
breathes lightly.  At the Country Inn, one last reward, a kiss goodbye at night.

In My Life

A star reassembles its shards,
as if that song were you
and me, Mother.  Can you 
take care of me? you asked.
I said What?  Your face
sagged on one side.

Now Linda and I take you
for a drive.  You sing Born Free. 
A stone blossoms, and memory
releases its blue balloon
into a sky that gets wider and wider.
Two months ago, you lay,

doing speech therapy, chanting,  
Dee, dah, duh, aay, eeh, aah, 
your guttural voice like something
from The Exorcist.  How you tried
to slow down ninety years.
I tried, too, thinking, Death 

isn’t the mother of beauty.
You are.  Dinners you cooked,
pants you tapered and pressed,
times you took us swimming
at London Terrace–they’re
like headlights streaming by

on this freeway.  I keep trying
to catch one lost word, April,
as this ghost wave, cars and semi’s,
breaks over my head–a steady
rolling song of tar, emeralds,
Jones Beach, a scorched shirt

on your ironing board, elm
leaves behind streetlights,
the smell of asphalt, your far-off
gaze.  You ask me to sing
that Beatles song–you call them
The Four Boys–and I do.


Three pelicans, ministerial,
glide over green water. One
has gray stripes under its wings.

A grandmother in a black bikini
folds both hands under her belly,
as if content. Mr. Akumal

asks if I want to play bocci ball
in two minutes. White clouds
on the horizon like stage sets….

No, I’ll float with the tortugas,
the green turtles browsing
on sea grasses.

They lift their necks
and fan themselves up
to breathe. Two remoras sway,

attached to one turtle’s belly.
I float past cities–their green fans
and blue-gray branches,

knobs and shoulders of coral.
Goat fish stream by me.
Off to my left, I catch a flash–

something big, silver-gray.
I beat my fins, part the shoal
of fish with my fingers,

get out of there. Later, I learn
the Great Barracuda herds small-fry
in a circle, till it’s ready.

Days Like Forever

Miss Akumal plays volleyball on the beach.  Wearing blue shorts
and a silver tank top, she crouches, knees bent slightly, big hips
and buttocks.  Her stance reminds me of a black belt in karate.
Bill catches me staring.  You’re busted, he says, grinning, then adds 
Hermoso culo, which means nice butt.  He asks Can you believe 
my sister?  Getting in a taxi with her thermos of brandy and that 
cold-ass omelette.  He shakes his head, smiles as if rueful.  The
water’s almost colorless beneath a cloud, the same blue-gray of
Miss Akumal’s eyes, which glance at you from Asia, or farther
than that. The sun appears to stand still.