David Moolten ~ Five Poems


My father sat a while under elms and moon
before dri­ving off like the day we played
tug of war with him and his suit­case on the porch.
Hindsight is like long­ing through glass,
every­thing clear but out of reach, hard­ly titillating
had some­one watched the two of them those last months,
besides us, I mean, immod­er­ate perhaps,
as in a silent film, how she shook her head,
how he ges­tured as hard as she stood
her ground, not even a peck on the cheek.
He denied it was him in that stol­id blue Ford
he was syn­ony­mous with, there perhaps
won­der­ing if he’d done the right thing
or weep­ing over how much bet­ter the movie
might have gone. Perhaps he’d changed,
become the stranger who shame­less­ly admired her
at the start. We could almost see him
find­ing the nerve to con­fess only a fool would leave,
and if it did­n’t work out he was lonely
in the next town. But the most he ever mustered
was that stare with which he’d once held her
atten­tion, if not long enough to feel sure
she was­n’t the one look­ing inured,
as peo­ple get to love, crav­ing some­thing more.



The one dili­gent thing he did was stay
gone once he left. Then she had to work
twice as much, des­ig­nat­ed you boss
of your old­er broth­er, his shame your reward
for being a nat­ur­al with a broom, not responsible
for the dai­ly deba­cles that more than earned him
the time he spent in a sup­per­less room
or a Lewisburg prison. You had no trouble
heed­ing the fable, only with living
simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in anoth­er, the lazy rat
also the prodi­gal son, your sick and tired mother
insist­ing you do it all hard­er because now
that he’s out he deserves you for his
emo­tion­al sedan chair. Here you are already
the bread­win­ning hero who returns
for the hol­i­days and pays for the power
they threat­ened to shut off because she’s a deadbeat
despite two jobs, and she’s too chick­en to shush
his sar­cas­tic awe, the fam­i­ly’s dysfunctions
laid out like side dish­es. You almost want
to pull his hair like when you were nine, wrestling
for the phone from which her voice squawked,
help­less not unwill­ing to get it done,
what­ev­er it was. Maybe the moral
is some­where some­one else gets to make it up
while you sed­u­lous­ly beg forgiveness,
and at last you’re not hun­gry enough.



Whenever we vis­it­ed my grand­par­ents, my moth­er bowed
to formi­ca and made amends
out of egg whites and vanil­la for their son
mar­ry­ing her against their advice.
Her col­or bet­ter matched the devil’s
dark alter­na­tive though she nev­er tired of what had to be
her last ounce of sweet­ness beat­en yet again
in the mix­ing bowl along with her secret,
dis­si­dent tears upstairs. That heav­en­ly foam
engen­dered a con­fec­tion feath­er-light as manna
the old bible fairy tale com­pared to cake.
When she served them they praised
the results of her labor like they’d slapped her
so gen­tly it would appear
they’d stroked her flour-stained cheek.
For a moment, she was the help
the gal­lant patri­arch lay with, not Cinderella
only pre­tend­ing. I was con­sumed by this slight
my whole life, though by the end
of hers, it began to taste like grace.



We wheeled my moth­er out the backdoor
more for us, the last trite sough of fresh leaves
she’d hear from the elm we blessed
by tak­ing for grant­ed until that April
they came to col­lect the hos­pice bed. Twelve hours
ear­li­er, my father in his unzipped parka
picked a rose for her from her gar­den like it was love
at the start. Yet he did it perfectly
almost like he’d rehearsed for decades
giv­ing back her gift, lovely
as when he drove off to mar­ry some­one else
and by and by improb­a­bly returned.
What a waste of time it all comes down to,
all the sac­ri­fice and sit­com reruns
and tweezed gray hairs. She gave her life for us
how­ev­er long it took, every­one sit­ting around
bored and awk­ward as ever. Except just by staring
down at her feet, she performed
last rites on the past, less like a priest than a ballerina
danc­ing her­self to death
in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, whose strand
of melody at the end conceived
the whole piece, my moth­er dynamic
unto tran­scen­dence in the stillness
of her chair, in the green tem­ple of morning,
among the wet grass and wind­blown blossoms,
par­adise of the per­fect­ly ordinary.



Is what they call the wildness
east of San Juan. It means the pines, and pic­ture one
how­ev­er stunt­ed inch­ing up like an outsider
to the trop­ics, an out­cast with one boy­ish foot
else­where and a father with an accent.
Americano, I heard when they lis­tened to me
because his par­ents insist­ed my moth­er not speak
Spanish. She warned of spi­ders and full-grown men
van­ish­ing, the squall-tossed huts of the poor,
then not even, just lone­some coast,
a place of con­vo­ca­tion for the addicts and cutthroats
of a nonethe­less pris­tine world. The two of us,
you con­vinced me, because you were older,
were also beau­ti­ful, and you were right,
it felt like a for­eign coun­try at last
mak­ing love to me, so why not come home
to what was­n’t mine. I flout­ed rip­tides and sharks
because that’s where one went to be alone
with the wrong per­son, as if I weren’t, as if I didn’t
find my moth­er there too in spir­it, holy ghost
in the trin­i­ty with me and shame,
the thought of you even now like a debt to her
hov­er­ing over me. You were every gull
and the glar­ing sun, how could I?
and unerr­ing like the road I was on since
it was the only one, stub­born long­ing that got by
on noth­ing but tire tracks, a life-sized map in the sand,
two ruts that end­ed where the sea began.


David Moolten is the author of three books of poet­ry, Plums & Ashes (Northeastern University, 1994), which won the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize, Especially Then (David Robert Books, 2005), and Primitive Mood (Truman State University, 2009) which won the T.S. Eliot Prize. His verse has appeared in jour­nals such as Poetry and The American Poetry Review, and is forth­com­ing in Narrative, Pleiades, and Literary Imagination. He is also a pre­vi­ous con­trib­u­tor to New World Writing.