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Poetry by Kyle Laws


WILDWOOD Poetry by Kyle Laws


©2014 Kyle Laws All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN 978-1-929878-73-4 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 www.lummoxpress.com/lc/ Printed in the United States of America

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following publications where these poems first appeared, some in earlier versions: Journals: Abbey: “In a Nostalgia Store in New Orleans,” “Light and Shadow,” “Mesita,” “Smoke and Wild Berries,” “The Myth of Men and Women”; Aquarium by the Ocean: A Literary Journal: “Dazed”; Avalanche: “Beatnik”; Baker Street Irregular: “Two Boxers”; Bogg: “Before,” “Smitty’s Bar”; Caprice: “Deer Dance Taos Pueblo,” “Hollyhocks Standing Tall,” “Suzanne,” “Wash of Sea on a Sunburned Face,” “White Shaggy Cattle,” “Wildwood”; Chiron Review: “Cemetery on Banks of the Purgatory,” “Debris,” “Father Left on Monday for the Swing Shift,” “The Other Thing Kay Said at the Ugly Mug”; Eleventh Muse: “In the Dunes,” “Outside Moby Dickens Taos”; Más Tequila Review: “#82 Desire Bus From Kaldi’s Coffeehouse”; Poetry Motel: “My Room of Aloneness and Quarantine,” “I Eat Menudo at Jorge’s Sombrero”; Snapdragon: “ The Moon is Pale Over the Pine,” “Nat King Cole and Pepe’s Cottage on the Bay 1961,” “St. Augustine 1971”; St. Vitus Press & Poetry Review: “Bottom of My Voice,” “The Bridge Builder,” “I Will Die by Drowning,” “The River Is Hungry,” “What Resides in Wind”; Western Pocket: “After Dinner at Ute Cafe Fort Garland” Anthologies: At the Gates: Departures and Arrivals: “The Myth of Men and Women”; Hispanic Cultural Experience 2009-2010: “Coronado’s Trail,” “What Resides in Wind”; Interlude: “I Eat Menudo at Jorge’s Sombrero,” “Two Boxers,” “Woman Who Rode Away” Joyful Noise: “Ordelia and John Danced to a Player Piano,” “Ordelia Had Dark Red-Brown Hair,” “Ordelia Met John at the Carousel”; Lummox Number One: “Wildwood”, Midnight Train to Dodge: “Light and Shadow”; My Shameless St. Augustine Scrapbook: “St. Augustine 1971”; Paint Me Alive: “Father Left on Monday for the Swing Shift”; Poetry While You Wait: “I Walk the Abyss”; POETS On the Line: “Suzanne,” “Wildwood”; They Recommend This Place: “Deer Dance Taos Pueblo,” “I Am Coming Home to Wildwood Villas,” “Wash of Sea on a Sunburned Face,” “Wildwood”; Times of Sorrow/Times of Grace: Writing by Women of the Great Plains-High Plains: “How Do I Tell You About the September Day”; To Life! Occasions of Praise: “Crossing”; Under a Gull’s Wing: Poems and Photographs of the New Jersey Shore: “199 Steps to the Top of the Lighthouse,” “In the Dunes”; Unexpected Harvest – A Gathering of Blessings: “Debris” Broadsides: Kyle’s Clam Chowder, Alpha Beat Press: “Father Left on Monday for the Swing Shift,” “I Am Coming Home to Wildwood Villas,” “It Is 1953,” “Ranson”

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CONTENTS ix

Foreword by Jared Smith

Blue Atlas 3 4 6 8 10 11 12 14 15

It Is 1953 The Myth of Men and Women Ranson Before Beatnik Ordelia Had Dark Red-Brown Hair Two Boxers After Dinner at Ute Cafe Fort Garland Hollyhocks Standing Tall

Grits and Gulls 19 20 22 23 24 26 28 29 33

Waiting in New Orleans Suzanne #82 Desire Bus From Kaldi’s Coffeehouse In a Nostalgia Store in New Orleans I Eat Menudo at Jorge’s Sombero St. Augustine 1971 Father Left on Monday for the Swing Shift 199 Steps to the Top of the Lighthouse The Other Thing Kay Said at the Ugly Mug

Pueblo 37 38 39 40

Deer Dance Taos Pueblo The Moon is Pale Over the Pine White Shaggy Cattle Light and Shadow

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41 45 46 47 48 49 50 52 54 55 58 60 61

Bottom of My Voice Mesita Outside Moby Dickens Taos Pinon Rain Smoke and Wild Berries I Walk the Abyss Woman Who Rode Away What Resides in Wind The River Is Hungry Coronado’s Trail Cemetery on Banks of the Purgatory How Do I Tell You About the September Day I Will Die by Drowning

In the Dunes 65 66 68 69 70 73 74 80 81 83 84 87 88

I Am Coming Home to Wildwood Villas Crossing Debris Smitty’s Bar My Room of Aloneness and Quarantine In the Dunes The Bridge Builder Nat King Cole and Pepe’s Cottage on the Bay 1961 Dazed Ordelia Met John at the Carousel Wash of Sea on a Sunburned Face Ordelia and John Danced to a Player Piano Wildwood

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About the Author

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we write to get it out of us so we won’t do something worse Charles Bukowski

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foreword by Jared Smith

I hesitate to introduce Kyle Laws’ Wildwood as a book of maturation, of traveling the open road to find oneself, because that critic’s term doesn’t encapsulate the idea that such a book written by such a culturally aware writer can be more about the maturation of a country than a person. But let’s start with that term, and then say that this is also an autobiography of a people and culture that we are still trying to find our way through. This is a highly complex poetic autobiography encompassing America in the late 20th and early 21st century, where we might find James Dean ripping around Dead Man’s Curve to slam into Jack Kerouac while Charles Bukowski looks on from his table at The Bates Hotel. Now, I’m not meaning to belittle the majesty of writers like Kerouac or Bukowski—as a matter of fact, Kyle Laws quotes Bukowski in her epigram, because after all these men were of the open road and unpaved alleys and bar rooms as Kyle is, and they were searching for a cultural maturity as Kyle is, but they are getting a little old, whereas she is filled with a fire and life that continues to burn after covering this country from east to west in more than four decades of hedonistic detail and glory. There is nothing tame in this book of highly complex poetry. There is no self-pity or bitterness found in the falling apart of houses or landscapes or lives. Rather, there is a brilliance of detail in the imagery, and there is a highly feminine sensitivity to the layering of that imagery with subsequent details and images from other parts of the nation and other times of her life. This builds a cross-current of time and space and emotion which is all-present. As in the depths of consciousness or within the spaces between a blues musician’s notes as she strolls the banks of the Mississippi outside New Orleans, there is no linear time or space excluding

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the reader from experiencing the impressionistic and immediate satisfaction of our senses as we read the poems. The sunsets of Philadelphia meld into the sunsets over the deep waters off Cape May, New Jersey, and into the baked adobe of New Mexico with a multi-layered palette brush effect that could not be learned in any school or classroom alone. These are the poems of an artist who works in many media. There is an emptiness behind the facades of old buildings in Philadelphia, where the book starts out or at least where Kyle does…a blankness and hardness and time of the old wood fronts of urban buildings waiting for the factory workers to return with sunset each evening, hobbled and bitten by their hours at the machine. But it is not the emptiness or bitterness of a Sylvia Plath drawn to rage against her father’s machinery. It is the kind of emptiness that carries one forward through the most desperate of times on the organic music of life and the repeating circles of experience we grow from. The opening poem, for example, is of Ethel Rosenberg, and of her daughter being lost into the abyss of a mother convicted and executed by our society for conspiracy against the government. What comes out of that abyss might be a monster in another writer’s world. What comes out in Kyle Laws’ world is the christening of all of this country as Wildwood, a place of emotion and sensuousness and growth, of the small plants that grow between the cracks of city sidewalks and between the tall ocean grasses of the coast. And Kyle’s touch upon these small struggling and full of hope harbingers of life is like that of the half-hidden cat she writes of which passes on small pink paws between the blades of grass and into the shadowed sand dunes beyond, where anything and everything can happen. And it does. So this is not a little book by any standard. It consumes life in gulps and savors it in thimbles. The opening section, Blue Atlas, becomes a synonym for the world, of course. But it is more and less than that. A blue atlas is a world, but it is also a decorative kind of non-native species of pine tree used to landscape urban settings. Within that section, the “steel and feathers” that shape the contours

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of our life are hardened as the bark of all non-native species to the demands made upon us. The Grits and Gulls of Section Two bring together the emotional and literary meal that has fed our nation over centuries and given us dreams and courage to fly on. In this section we find words and references to Hawthorne, Capote, Melville, Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, and others swirling in the magic and detritus of Jackson Square in New Orleans while Tom and Huck sit fishing at the bottom of the Mississippi River, being washed and drowned in the muddy waters of America. The third section, Pueblo, brings animus or spirit to these voices and locales. There is a greater sexual intimacy at times, a need to deal with “the lining of nests,” but also the constant awareness of the need for freedom. This need finds release again in travel, but also here through the entrance into ancient pictographs and symbols that our minds cannot quite grasp the meaning of—just openings through the kiva into the soul. And The Dunes, the final section brings the whole book back upon itself, circles itself, brings depth to all of our experiences; layer upon layer, visually and tonally, as music from a farther room. For those who insist on talking of craft and forms when speaking of poetry, this is poetry of very fine organic form indeed. These are primarily short-line, organic poetry forms ranging from lyric to multi-page narrative in structure. The meter is determined by experience and the pace of modern life rather than by the traditions of a century ago. Its tempo, shape, and awareness are that of blues. This is a book that will live in your mind for a long time. It is one you will learn from and will cherish.

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BLUE ATLAS


IT IS 1953 Ethel Rosenberg dies in the electric chair. A child is born in February. In March renovations are complete; staircase behind the bar of Fagin’s Saloon is gone. All semblance of civility breaks down between husband and wife. A mother is convicted of conspiracy. A child is born. A staircase onto the sea is taken down. A grandfather’s sight diminishes. A second daughter is born. They move to a mutilated one-story, sight all but gone. Complicity continues behind eyes of blue; clouds film the sea. What little integrity is left diminishes with the grandfather’s death. A mother is convicted of conspiracy. What held husband to wife is gone. A child is born.

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Ky l e L a w s

THE MYTH OF MEN AND WOMEN Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life.

The Guernsey Literary...Society Mary Ann Shaffer

I know Kay would have agreed after one husband that made Errol Flynn look faithful, and another who made Anthony Perkins in Psycho look sane, then a boyfriend who “made book” in South Philadelphia whose name is still up on the pad by a wall phone with large numbers in the row house on 12th St, parting because she declared one day she no longer wanted to have sex. She was in her 80s, a broken back, hip and femur held together with wire and screw. I nodded the kind of assent you can over the phone, a cross between grunt and exhale, not a dismissal, but an I understand, but don’t really want to talk about it. Myths are as complicated to unwind as the union of men and women, like the marriage of Kay and the Errol Flynn-like rake. By their 70s, he was in her kitchen crying, sorry that he’d left.

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WILDWOOD

And her changing names had not changed why they’d gotten together in the first place. And for that reason, I could not bring myself to change the title of the book, even though I know the buzz about how it needs to be provocative, and how it doesn’t matter how awful it is as long as it causes you to pick up a book. What I have thought of doing is changing it to something calmer, more dignified. Because when you come from a place with a name like Wildwood, you don’t really know what you’re getting, be it seaside resort on the Atlantic, or fishing village on the bay that went by Wildwood Villas, or a place deep in the forests of the Rocky Mountain West. So, maybe what we make up in books is more interesting than real life.

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RANSON

A variation of ransom: to deliver esp. from sin or its penalty

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

An ice flow breaks loose and drifts in the sound, more beautiful than I had ever imagined, winter skin after the cancer, Krista, a scar only you can see. The bay has been this way before: immovable, frozen, then loose, running. And I wonder where the freezing begins, whether far out in the center where the current runs, or at the edge of shore inward. It begins in the back seat of the Plymouth waiting for you to be born, seats dusty in September, filings of ball bearings that covered us like grey dust, old snow, ice from which the moisture has been sucked.

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WILDWOOD

Father worked in a factory shaping steel that made all things run as he did after a second girl was born of his tying hands to the post of the bed. Kay says this matter-of-factly in a restaurant on Broad Street in answer to why there are so many years between my brother and me, “It happened twice, I wasn’t having relations with him, so I gave your sister his mother’s maiden name, Ranson.”

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BEFORE I was born the day before Father; it has been that way in my family before, a day, two or four. I was born before hydrangeas bloomed blue under the windows on New Jersey Avenue, before what was Fagin’s Saloon, then the Fishing Club, became our home, before John went blind, before we moved permanently to the shore. I was born on Plymouth Street, West Oak Lane, Philadelphia, a neighborhood carved out just before the war. Kay was born four days before her father, John, born December 7, before it was a day of bombs in a harbor of a bay.

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WILDWOOD

John always said he and Kay were a pair, 7 and 11, as he tucked a card under his hat on the way to play. After he went blind, men from the Fishing Club, the new one on Pennsylvania Avenue & the Bay came to ask if John would still play darts for them, said that even if he couldn’t see his hands should still remember; so they stood him on the line, on the wooden floor, and he threw one bull’s eye after another, steel and feathers remembering the way.

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BEATNIK It was fall. We walked through leaves in a cemetery, a shortcut from our row home on Plymouth Street to the trolley tracks of Germantown. I reached for Ordelia’s hand as she limped Walter Brennan-style past headstones. Only my father wasn’t quite Luke McCoy, and Plymouth Street wasn’t a farm at the end of a dusty road. I kicked crisp red leaves against chains that designated family plots, asked what we were going to town for. Ordelia said, “Stockings and a loaf of dark pumpernickel.” We climbed up onto the trolley, sat close together on a bench by a young man in a black beret, skin of Ordelia’s swollen knees folding around her nylons. I whispered, “Who’s that,” smell of moist yeast mixing with sparks on the trolley wire. “He’s a Beatnik, Kyle; he’s a Beatnik.”

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WILDWOOD

ORDELIA HAD DARK RED-BROWN HAIR The kind that only the sun off a spray of sea can make. She was short, less than 5 foot. John liked to watch the curve of breasts into the bodice of her dress, the turn of her ankles in sandals. She liked baseball, the sandlot kind, played at edge of oaks receding from sea, forests pushed back further each year. She paid attention to details like the way wood curved, spent a summer hunting down the name of a cedar they had lain under, going from nursery to nursery until she found the blue atlas, how it stretched out like a woman waiting for her lover in the dunes.

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Ky l e L a w s

TWO BOXERS

for John “Johnny Dundee” Dundess

I go to the 100th birthday party for Jack Dempsey, snow still in the clefts of mountains, blood still in the cleft of chin. 100 years ago a boxer was born in Manassa, Colorado and a boxer was born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Jack Dempsey works the mining camps of Creede & Cripple Creek, Johnny Dundee the backwaters of Philadelphia & Jersey shore points south. In mining camps bets are laid down on the bar, gold dust spilling from Levi’s, hoarse shouts cheering on fighters, aspens slim & tall & straight, the lime green of youth, legs without knots of age, skin without blemish of broken limb, and rain falls out of a puffed blue cloud-face sky, somewhere behind me La Veta Pass descends into San Luis and Manassa,

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WILDWOOD

and oaks stretch right up to the sea from Wildwood to Atlantic City, old growth thinned into beach shacks & bars, posts of the fight rings strung with marine line, a worn punching bag in the basement of a row house on Plymouth Street, fists soaked in whisky & brine to make ‘em just a little tougher, sauerkraut & watermelon rind on the shelves behind, and in Colorado, Jack’s picture on the wall of a one room log cabin, mosquitoes thick in the reeds of the Rio San Antonio, and everywhere unchained dogs running & wild yellow roses in bloom.

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AFTER DINNER AT UTE CAFE FORT GARLAND Fremont, misjudging how early and fierce these mountains can be, got stranded, sent a soldier down the slit between mountains on his knees like before an angry woman, and he made his way to Taos, through San Luis and the cut of road to Manassa where the Mauler, Jack Dempsey, grew up, who learned to fight pounding his fists against the fragile face of winter trees, how the jaw breaks, mouth of tree under eye of aspen in his hands, legs strong with wading through snow like through sticky blood. The soldier made his way to Taos as the others carved snow caves in the saddle between 2 peaks, ate one bony horse after another waiting for him to come back, while below in the San Luis Valley earth colored sheep breathe into the crust for blades of grass, lift their heads to the pound of hooves of rescue pressing north into the rising slope of land that leads to drifts where you can get winter-lost even in early December.

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WILDWOOD

HOLLYHOCKS STANDING TALL A bird alights on a hollowed log next to pinon pickers in the pine, the last of September, the eve of a harvest moon, the eve of San Geronimo de Taos, a room stolen late on a Friday night, #12 that looks out onto a courtyard of hollyhocks, innkeepers summoning us to the office in morning, “How did we get into that room? You were supposed to stay in #18,” instead we’re in a room that’s all bed behind black curtains, hollyhocks between curves of the rooms. Above us, cottonwoods of Kit Carson, explorer, blazer of trails, and you weaving a trail through hollyhocks with drum. Ours is the only room looking out on this courtyard, the adobe of other rooms buttresses up against the stand, no other windows open onto it. There is the edge of October in the air, sun pale in late afternoon but still ablaze with the approaching harvest moon, the biggest, the fullest, and people crawl under limbs of pine gathering pinon nuts as I gather you in my hands, your limbs in the limbs of hollyhocks & cottonwoods, soft peaches & apricots in the folds of petals,

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hills burnished magenta & gold. I lean into a stack of pale hay; you sit across from me, sing a song of stone & magnolia & New Orleans heavy in the air; and I drift back to streets of July, iced coffee in wrought iron courtyards, bare skin on the balcony, music drifting in our window, blues on walls around our bed, Lake Pontchartrain, blue crabs, water lapping the pier, heavy wood of mahogany in the tall ceilinged room, a trolley down St. Charles, lips against one another at the end of the line, Maple Leaf Bar, a reading in the courtyard, the hollyhocks I brought with me tied down a ribbon in my hair. In a dark Bourbon Street club strippers dance on a table, skin against skin; I sit in a corner, hands on a sweaty glass of beer, look to the ceiling like to the mirrored canopy over our bed, complimentary thick robes of terry behind closet doors. We are twined in limbs like in the trellis behind the bed, dark southern flowers growing around, blue cakes, crab cakes, lake water lapping, a stream running under an adobe wall, hollyhocks standing tall.

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GRITS AND GULLS


WAITING IN NEW ORLEANS I walk the Mississippi in cinders and shells between tracks, Love Apples, the Tomato with Taste stacked in the French Market next to a warehouse of sweet Vidalia onions, moss in the stubbled brick. I drink jasmine tea at Kaldi’s Coffeehouse, um pah pah of an accordion band outside the door, a fern tickling hair curled in the just-rained air. I read Winfield Townley Scott’s Scrimshaw, “Hawthorne and Melville parting at night in Liverpool, parting on a rainy corner, for the final time, Something unsaid between them.” I wait with Huck and Tom and a pole so many hands down at the bottom of river, steamship whistle calling Truman Capote at the Monteleone, Sherwood Anderson at Jackson Square; take a trolley to Elysian Fields, leave flowers about the ears of a carriage horse; lament the unfinished novels of Hawthorne, intimidated by the more masculine Melville like Fitzgerald was by Hemingway; and if I don’t forget to remember, waiting just might see me through.

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SUZANNE Mona Lisa pushed back into the tall ceilinged room of Kaldi’s Coffeehouse on Decatur Street in New Orleans, smells of the French Market outside the door. “How many times, when it all bore down heavy on her wildwood soul, did she” swoop up all the truth tellers and seers of Jackson Square, wrap them up in a cape of a Decatur Street haberdasher, take them down to the river like Suzanne takes you down to the river. You sit in her boat, lap of the wake of working river boats at the gentle curve of the bow. She dips the oars, loose & sloppy in the oarlocks, into the river. She takes you down with her, down to the muddy rough bottomed river of dead men’s trees. She takes you down with her under the surface.

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WILDWOOD

Wash in this river of souls; wash your soul in this river, Mona Lisa with the moan of wind in her coffee stained voice, a flat tinned cigarette case in her beaded purse. She takes it out slowly, extends it in her palm. She knows you want a taste at the back of your throat, the long slow draw. She holds it out to you, offers to wrap you up in the corner of the room, take you down to the river, this woman who might feed you tea and oranges, who might be Suzanne.

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Ky l e L a w s

#82 DESIRE BUS FROM KALDI’S COFFEEHOUSE A woman at the Rowe jukebox, portrait of Elvis tattooed on her back, strap of old 35MM manual camera between breasts, black T-strap shirt ends an inch and a half above khaki cargo pants low on hips, slightly protruding belly leaning into sway of juke, little pouch of a light meter clipped to belt, on other side of a short zipper, keys dangle from a diaper pin iridescent and blue in the dusk.

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WILDWOOD

IN A NOSTALGIA STORE IN NEW ORLEANS I knock a basket of depression bar soap to the floor, crumbled pieces falling under a dispenser for Black Night rubbers, think of the paintings by D.H. Lawrence in Taos, the night view from the bottom of a tall pine by a San Cristobal cabin where he and Frieda spent the winter, all day in the chopping of wood, his ashes not yet scattered in a cement mixer’s bowl, poured into a monument to the pull between two women, Brett’s hearing horn pressed to the rustle of pine, all of him scattered like depression bar soap on the floor in New Orleans.

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Ky l e L a w s

I EAT MENUDO AT JORGE’S SOMBRERO I eat menudo at Jorge’s Sombrero, not far from the mill that was the Colorado Fuel & Iron. The union’s broken, crushed like my 1962 Pontiac Tempest in the yards outside Pueblo. I’m reading J.C. Todd’s Nightshade, and the blind is pulled way down on that Philadelphia life of where I was born, lived until age 4, and returned at 17 to a tiny apartment on Tulip Street, not far from S.K.F., where Father pressed steel into bearings, steel from coke furnaces in Pueblo torn down and built up day after day.

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WILDWOOD

Ingots pulled from the furnace cooled in Colorado air under the shadow of Pikes Peak, carried on rails across the Mississippi, formed into ball bearings that let things roll, like the engine of the Tempest warmed on winter mornings by the machinist, warmed for a daughter who presses back and forth across the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge to finish her final high school year. She meets a young man from Colorado. They travel to Pueblo where steel workers eat menudo from the Sombrero between double shifts: wheels turning, bearings rolling, circle complete.

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ST. AUGUSTINE 1971 April of the year I graduated high school, Father and I were on our way to Ft. Lauderdale. I had mononucleosis. I was going to lie in the sun and get well. So, there I was at 5 A.M. in St. Augustine, at a roadside cafe, eating my first grits and drinking coffee I had not yet acquired a taste for. I asked the waitress how many hours to Ft. Lauderdale. I remember her saying eight, and how the grits stuck to the roof of my mouth like the cheese from Mack’s Pizza on the Wildwood boardwalk, only the grits didn’t burn; they were cool like the early morning breeze, a faint smell of fish in the air. The only place that comes close to this is the rest stop on the Atlantic City Expressway, how it is the first place you smell the Atlantic, and feel the frantic buzz that will become the casinos.

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WILDWOOD

There was chance in the air, the first sense I had of it, before glass-bottomed boats and lemon trees in the backyard of Father’s brother’s place, before Cypress Gardens and a single bed in the corner of the room, tendrils of moss hanging from trees, water murkier than bogs of New Jersey pines. Later, Father marveled that I could drive the beltway around Washington, D.C. calmly after he’d pulled over shaking, but I always had been better under pressure than he. I drove that blue highway all the way to Philadelphia, only stopping for cheap cigarettes in one of the Carolinas, thinking of grits and gulls and chance in the 5 A.M. air.

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FATHER LEFT ON MONDAY FOR THE SWING SHIFT Said about 11 o’clock, “I’m leaving,” and Kay said, “Have a safe trip,” and he said, “I don’t think you understand, I’m leaving,” and Kay said, “Be sure to have a safe trip,” and he raised his finger, wagged it in front of her face and repeated, “I don’t think you understand,” stopped and pointed, “I’m leaving you.” So Kay went into the bedroom where she kept the bills rubber-banded together in the order they were due, came back into the living room, her 2 daughters on either side, and said, “Well, if you’re leaving, be sure to take these with you,” and handed him the unpaid bills. He took the rubber band off, tossed them one by one into the air like a deck of cards unplayed, and Kay says even today she can still see those bills fluttering to the floor as he walked out the door.

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WILDWOOD

199 STEPS TO THE TOP OF THE LIGHTHOUSE A woman sits in the dark, tells you that you can make it to the top if you take advantage of the landings, railings added to make the ascent easier. Each landing tells what has been taken, washed away by the sea: buildings, silos, an older lighthouse on this extension into the sea, the town built over an estuary, pilings above the water that rise & fall, sidewalks of wood planks, reeds & grass creeping through. Scattered on the circular streets are bits & pieces of the old places; the second story of a white house became a bar off Sunset Beach. I remember eating there in 1964, Barbara Streisand on the jukebox; the inside, small and dark, felt as if the sea had rushed through. It was damp and smelled of salt. The sea rushed through many places in March 1962. We watched from the kitchen door as one piling after another of the bulkhead was taken with each wave.

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The bay would smash hard against what remained; and as it retreated, drew in its breath, it would take another piling with it, draw the yielding blackened wood into its arms and roll back to its turbulent bed. It was like Father who took all things to bed, wrapped them up in his arms, swept them away. At times we shook our heads because we did not understand how it was done, but he was like the bay we lived on. Speculators are building homes south of town; the sidewalks are of wood; the sea rushes under them when the wind blows, when the light wavers from the top of the lighthouse. A trolley ran on rails from the bottom of the steps to Cape May, ran the street by the sea. You could go to town on Saturday night, eat steamed clams & mussels, drink beer at the Ugly Mug, bring home salt water taffy;

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WILDWOOD

but it was the ride on rails, the sea in your hair, the salt from an afternoon swim still on your skin, the waves against your body, the tumult, the embrace, that stayed with you, letting go and letting the sea take you to its bed, leaving you on the edge of foam, of tide; that is what you take on the rail, the glide on sun bleached sand. When you sit in the corner of a bar it is in the clams, the broth that tastes of sea; they slide down rough; they have the tumult in them. This could be any place, this circle of stairs; but as soon as I say it I know it is not true. I have been from state to state and nowhere feels quite like this; nowhere is there the tumult, the tumble. It will stay with me, rise on the wings of a grey & white gull, follow the boats through the canal, break the protection of jetties

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at Higbee’s Beach. It is here, where Father would go to watch women swim nude, stand in the reeds and tall grass after finishing up at the Gulf Station at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, wash his hands in the stained sink, drive the Plymouth over the drawbridge to the end of the road across the canal, watch the tide rush bodies of women under the moon, letting go to arms of the sea. There is a railing at the top of the lighthouse; you can walk outside the light. The sea for all its tumult is not this unsteady. I will climb back down, wait for dark, look up from the sand, this—what I was searching for: the view of Father to the beam of lighthouse as it circles the sea.

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WILDWOOD

THE OTHER THING KAY SAID AT THE UGLY MUG “You know, I had to go out with other men; I had no choice. When you were first born, your father woke me up early one morning, said,

‘I want to show the baby to someone,’

so I dressed you, brought you downstairs to a woman he’d brought home, and I asked, Are you with him? She said yes, then asked why I’d had a baby so late in life since I wasn’t able to go and do much anymore, and then they headed to the shore, stopped in Vineland, sent a postcard,

Having fun! Sorry you couldn’t be here.

What could I do? I wasn’t working, had a new baby. What was I to do?

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Poetry by Kyle Laws I too have memories of “the shore,” so Wildwood brings a rush—like looking into someone else’s old photo album—of vivid images, scents, and O, the sounds of voices. Watching the grownups, hearing the histories, and almost too quickly making one’s own life story, Kyle Laws’ poems move from the shore to other storied places: New Orleans, Taos, Pueblo, St. Augustine, and return full circle to the Cape May milieu she knows so well. They are a guided tour, not only of one family’s personal struggle, but the universal quest for understanding how we grow and survive, with the grace to be alive to the world. —Ruth Moon Kempher, Kings Estate Press Her poems are archetypes of her life, myths of her land. From the Southwest of Colorado and New Mexico to the Jersey shore by way of New Orleans, she creates a universe of ocean and desert, of mountain and river, of men and women.” —Tony Moffeit, co-founder Outlaw Poetry Movement

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Wildwoodesampler  

These poems inhabit place—beginning on the Jersey shore; moving to southern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and the wild spaces between; retu...

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