your heart

I have known death well enough,
known it as most have—
from a safe distance,
and yet have felt it intimately
and oh so painfully.

When my mother passed
I was lying exhausted
having rushed that awful
distance to see her
one last time.

I cringed at how incapable
it—I!—all seemed,
her lying there quite
probably not hearing
my quavering voice.

And when my mother-in-law died,
I was in a train casually
traveling back to her side
without even knowing that
it was too late.

Yet now there is this—you—
mo ghràidh, facing a loss
all your own and here
this distant I quite trembling
can only wish you well,

and hope beyond reason perhaps
that you may feeling sense
any regard, any warmth
this my aging heart
can most eagerly offer you,

to hold your so tender heart
as it breathes again.

use a proper knife

loss is not always so concise
so precisely severed
by sharpened words
and shrill retorts
and allegations
that beggar belief

loss might crawl between you
insidious and still
the expanding space
on the couch
the dulling patter
the silent bed

loss should never be so easy
so effortlessly attained
I’d much rather
you screamed at me
cracked open my skull
crushed my heart

if I must be cut away from you,
then for God’s sake,
use a proper knife

Looking at Photos

That was me—
the happiest me
apparent not only for the smile
but for the glow emanating
from my supposedly knowing soul.

It was March,
and I certain declared
for a future unfearing
with most endearing you
truly unencumbered.

But then April came
and you fell, oh God,
how you fell so so hard
shattering the spine
of your loving soul.

And the March me
withering wandered
through meaningless days
awaiting the waxing moon
to birth a new hope,

leaving trembling me
to endure on masticated memories
that growl desperation
in the deepest hollows
of shallow nights.

the day she died

Before I entered her room,
I had been kindly warned
to prepare for the worst.
I wasn’t sure what that meant
or how to heed such words,
so I stumbled to my father first
and took him in my arms.

In the event, it didn’t matter—
my mother’s eyes were closed
with so much medication
coursing through her veins
to dull the enveloping pains
that sleep was the only thing
her failing body could manage.

Once or twice that long day
her heavy lids slowly rose
yet quickly lowered again
her mind cognizant of nothing
her once eager voice silenced
her pale flesh sinking steadily
into the coldly wrinkled sheets.

For hours we spoke beside her
as if somehow she could hear,
and I prayed in my heart that
she might speak to me once more,
but all I heard as darkness fell
was her harshly rasping breath
and the lengthening pauses between.

Although I had indeed been warned
to prepare for the worst that day,
I know now with painful certainty
that the worst was not that moment
seeing her cancered body dying there,
but rather thinking of all the days,
the years that had quietly passed

while we had been apart.

My mum, Dora Mae Stewart, with my father George near Monterey, California (May 2006)

it isna gold

He stood at the foot of the steps
that rise precipitately up from Grassmarket
to the crags that cradle the castle.

My curious wife heard him first,
sat on the sill of the window
glancing down to watch him bray.

“It isna silver, ye fools!” he declared.
“It isna ’boot gold, do ye hear me?”
And he danced from foot to foot.

The sun disappeared behind envious
clouds glowering insatiably down
at the oblivious shoppers of Edinburgh.

The angry Dundonian stared above
and grew still, his feet barely shuffling
as the castle imperious looked on.

“Ehl no lie, no me. No, no, no, no.
Wha’s fer Joe. It isna gold, isna silver.
Twa pehs fer Joe. Twa pehs, ain pint.”

A young tourist, “Here you go, Joe,”
dropped the angry old man a quid
with an embarrassed smile at his feet.

“Ehm no Joe!” he objected, and I
thought there were tears in his voice
as he moved back, staring at the castle.

“Twa pehs, ain pint,” he whimpered,
glaring at the Union Jack flapping above.
“A’ fer Joe. A’ fer oor bairn.”

Grassmarket from our apartment window (May 2015)

ain = one
bairn = child
’boot = about
Ehl = I’ll
Ehm = I’m
fer = for
isna = isn’t
oor = our
pehs = pies
twa = two

you’ll get over it

“You know you’ll get over it,”
she said with such conviction
I very nearly believed her.

“Oh? When?” I asked
forcing a nonchalance
into my shattered voice.

“Soon enough.” She shrugged
and finished packing—
all but the unwanted photos.

I never really liked winter,
how it needling crawled under
my pale wincing skin.

“My bones ache in this cold,”
I used to tell her, and she—
“You’ll get over it,” would say.

the bluest sky

When breaks this heart
may it be a matter of some weight,
not a trifle but lightly beheld by some
even more easily cast aside by others
but greater yet by far than that which
‘neath bended knee did Atlas nearly fail.

When breaks this heart
may time itself in dread possessed
grind swiftly, irrevocably to a halt
and worlds shatter like plaster cast
sensitive even to the abrasive touch
of Aurora’s gossamer veil.

When breaks this heart
may it not in whispers pass unheeded
but cleave the general ear of man and
woman too with a rending of hearts and
a beating of breasts bared the like of
which even Hector could not inspire.

When breaks this heart
may not a single bird take wing aloft
nor infant in mother’s arms sweetly grin
nor child giggle lost in folly’s delight
but all take fearful notice, all beware
all cease to breathe lest this they miss.

When breaks this heart
may it find an echo in the pounding
waves of imminent doom that dance
across this soul made weary by want,
grown pale with the cast of thoughtless
wandering spirits who love embrace.

When breaks this heart
may the pieces thus rent asunder alight
on none but thy sweet wings enfolded
carried hence o’er lands untrammeled yet
guided naught but by thy sweet voice
that in verse does sing the bluest sky.

everything changes

He looks back now
at the words he once wrote
with such effusive passion
and dauntless hope
in the heady days of youth
when life felt endless
and love eternal.

In one regard, I must say,
he breathes easier now,
at least for a time,
knowing so much better
what ideals really mean
and what it is that hope,
in all honesty, represents.

Those whose hearts
breathe blissful being,
careless of tomorrows,
may yet happily know
the fulsome joys
of love so very pure
and unrestrained.

But everything changes,
and nothing weighs down
with greater severity
than to see the ponderous
decay of primal passion
when the light of adoration
is slowly extinguished.

I have seen

I have seen

the deepest red in gently folding
petals of a humble rose
not the one beside it which was more
than arrogant and unworthy
but that one, the little one
the quiet one
and it touched my heart and
made me long for love

I have seen

the most verdant greens stretching regally
and true across all of Cumbria
encircling Derwentwater
where swans splash while ignoring
the many curious visitors
who have come to honor Wordsworth
and revel in romantic verse and
glory in ever trembling song

I have seen

the truest blues bedeck the skies
over the bewitching redwoods
ranging over California’s mountains
standing proudly above the Pacific coast
looking down over Santa Cruz
and those vibrant sands and eternal waves
that ebb and flow and never seem to find
a reason to cease

and I have seen

the grayest of grays on solemn days
and felt inspired to be nothing
to do nothing
feeling naught but the bitterness of age
while listening to the mournful sounds
of a heart that once believed
only now to shudder in lonesome fear
just waiting, still waiting

oh yes, I have seen

Sunset over Derwentwater, Keswick, Cumbria

dust

the besmeared merchant sighs
his dilapidated stall shivering
even from the weight of the dust
that covers his trivial wares

useless all but for one piece
one timelessly treasured vase
facelessly reminiscent, recalling
nana’s gentle hands folding the clay

never would he have chosen
but for the direst of needs to place
her final work beneath the sun
shunned by one patron after another

a screaming child races past
a cloud of dust clinging to his heels
which kick at the angry world
with zealous determination

behind the child, lost in his clowd
an elderly woman growls, teeters
blindly rubbing her stinging eyes
as her hip collides with the stall

down it falls, beautiful in despair
down it falls, crashing to the earth
smashing a heart that had nothing
left to hope for beyond simply this

he does not scream, does not yell
does not tear at what remains
of the bedraggled gray mess strung
limply over his sweaty crown

his jowly countenance drips sorrow
into the dust of his finality
his skin cracks across brittle bones
enthroning a once proud man

as a naïve prince of fools