Dale Cottingham ~ Three Poems

As Walking In Fog

As walk­ing in a fog, I am lost.
I see only what’s right in front of me,
lay­ing down one foot then another,
hop­ing the ground will hold
as I sift feel­ings, rethink
what I said at the meeting
or lat­er on the cell
What the hell were you think­ing and
Don’t you have to tell him sometime
while won­der­ing if I’ve made
the best use of my time.
Still, glances skid halls like expert skiers,
smiles are shared, even slaps on backs,
punc­tu­at­ed by harsh critiques …

So this is my life. But some­times a clar­i­ty appears,
small rustlings heard in bushes,
gusts unwind­ing on the plains, par­tic­u­lars come into view,
I focus on the exact pre­mo­ni­tion that glows with detail,
even feath­ers, puts on airs,
it’s all I’d hoped it would be.
Spring deep­ens, the days are longer
offer­ing the promise that I too
will be there for the event as it happens:
a storm ris­ing in after­noon heat. There’ll be
streaks of light­ning, thun­der, dri­ving rain,
it’ll be a clean sweep, and after,
things won’t be the same.

An unlined page stops me: did I write that?
Is that my intent that strides across,
pro­ject­ing itself, like my face, my orig­i­nal statement,
or is it one more style I adopt,
to lat­er toss like clothes to floor
when the time comes, and it will come.

The domin­ion of that moaning?
It’s wind tak­ing the place of oth­er wind,
groan­ing at eaves like a heart
griev­ing for what it could not hold,
you call­ing on the cell wondering
if I’m com­ing over again tonight.
We’ll have din­ner, switch on a movie
and after that, who knows …

Dawn now announces itself, rose sky
advanc­ing on retreat­ing dark, your foot
touch­ing mine, noth­ing sex­u­al but reassuring
in this tiny world of pil­lows, sheets.
An inhale ris­es from earth’s small things,
dish­es, jour­nals, pics in old boxes,
soon-to-be com­muters lift­ing heads like field grass
ready to por­tray their roles,
the dark that lev­eled the small city where I live
let­ting go to anoth­er day.
Night, envelop­ing and ret­i­cent, allows recov­ery, retreat,
but day, bright, involved, opens like a play.



It wasn’t the speed. And it wasn’t
the all night dri­ve to the gulf to see her.
It wasn’t the spent cof­fee cups in my pas­sen­ger seat
or the closed up gas sta­tions when I need­ed gas or
the urgent voice of talk radio.
If the line I carved was from my life,
that was good, if it was for my life, even better.
From road­side strip malls wait­ing for tomorrow’s
big thrills to harsh words spo­ken and
thrown in the ditch, the pub­lic road was open.
Houses were dark. Reading clubs weren’t reading.
Last night’s hymns had fad­ed into air and parishioners
who said see you next Sunday found a way back
to their place. In oth­er words,
I was alone on that road,
I was allowed through.
And hav­ing arrived after those hours in the dark
I ask: what was that all about?
One minute I was speed­ing at a furi­ous pace
and the next I am stopped won­der­ing what is this place.

It so often hap­pens that once on the road we take
we don’t know what we’re doing or what fig­ure we make.
And just as free­dom gives per­mis­sion, sets us free,
we scrawl a line all the way to the sea.


Those Kind of Plains

She had a boyfriend in Dallas
but got rid of him. Now
she spends time spruc­ing up the place,
clean­ing out the fridge, chang­ing sheets,
wear­ing noth­ing under her robe
but her well-groomed tan,
and why shouldn’t she? I mean,
doesn’t she have spe­cial­ized equipment
to face what comes …

Soon enough she’ll leave
for her shift at the hos­pi­tal, maneuvering
those glances she invites with flir­ty lilts
and all the while she hur­dles oth­er memories
of what hap­pened upstairs in the sleep rooms
where she played out scenes
from movies

and after, maybe a friend will call, invite her
to a par­ty with all its throb­bing voic­es and
spat­tered laugh­ter as background
while she dips and sways to music,
maybe leave with some­one and
go back to his place, who knows …

She loves inti­ma­cy with all its promise of warmth
as the after­noon deep­ens to dusk
but even if she sleeps with some­one tonight
it wouldn’t ease her sense that she’s still back there,
walk­ing the coun­ty road,
high wind moan­ing in wires,
her feel­ing of lost­ness on a broad plain.


Dale Cottingham is mixed race, part Choctaw, part White. He is a Breadloafer, won the 2019 New Millennium Award for Poem of the Year and is a final­ist in the Great Midwest Poetry Contest. He lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.