Arthritis

— Doug Nelson

All I did was walk every day on vacation.
Now my good doctor tells me I have arthritis in my knee.
Walking, you know, bipedal locomotion?
I had a hominid ancestor who could do that
It was a late Miocene development, so he and I been walking for 6.5 million years.

Well, they say rheumatoid arthritis is my immune system turning on me.
Layers of bone and cartilage built up by my mother’s good cooking,
the bread that built strong bodies twelve ways, boys and girls, and sugar Frosted Flakes,
are sloughing off.
I thought that hiking with a 40-pound pack on the Pacific Crest Trail, and jogging a few miles a week, might be how I could spend my retirement.
Not to be.

The good health I enjoyed for nearly seven decades now
Has just gotten on a Greyhound bus to go back to wherever it came from.
I see a hominid that looks something like me, in my twenties when I stopped shaving for a while,
Looking out the window and grinning at me as the bus drives away,
An opposable thumbs up,
To tell me there’s more to life at my age than walking all day or carrying a backpack.
I’ll try walking shorter distances with a limp.

I’ll recite my rants about aging to my friends,
And they’ll treat me as if its poetry.

Anchors

— Doug Nelson

Old boat anchors, in neat rows, laid end-to-end
Rust-encrusted, on a sand dune, among wildflowers
On the Algarve, coastal Portugal, just before the Atlantic becomes the Mediterranean
A logical place for boats and anchors, but why like this?

I wanted to know so I asked and found out
That this area was known for tuna fishing
And the fishermen and their families lived in rows of neat white-painted cottages,
And their boats were drawn up onto the beach
And they mended their nets before they went out again.

Now the main industries here are salt from ponds as the salt water dries out
And tourism, taking denizens of damp, foggy northern European cities to the sandbar in boats
Where they go to lie naked in the sun
Looking like pink walruses.

Why do the tuna boats not go out any more, no longer to cast out their nets
and draw them in
so that the strong young men can jump into the teeming mass of huge desperate fish and,
gaffing them behind the head, fling them into their boats?
Did the fish stop their migration, or were so many of them caught by more modern means,
that it makes no sense to take the boats out anymore?

As it makes no sense in my country to make cars any more,
Because other people do it better and cheaper.

But I think rows of anchors in the sand make a better monument
Than derelict factory buildings.
Rust is somehow less mocking than graffiti.

Predation

— Doug Nelson

As I did when I was younger,
I checked my equipment, its condition and its operation,
the deception of choice was chosen
and I ran through the checklist of the skills I’d not used in five years.

I carefully tied a hook with feathers bound and glued to it
Onto a gossamer spider’s thread
With not just any knot, but the right improved clinch knot
And with a twitch of the wispy rod’s tip
I sent it out onto the water.

False casts are when you tilt the rod back in your wrist, and
let the line elongate behind you
and with just the right motion (it’s all in the wrist)
You send it out away from you, as many times as you need
to place it ever so gently
atop the surface tension and floating pollen.

When my dad’s friend, Alston, taught me how to fish,
he laughed as I flailed around with my whole arm.
He said, “Do this, keep your elbow down on your knee and just use your wrist.

As I sat at the army’s radio or filled sandbags,
as I fished in my in my near sleep
I used just my wrist.

Today, drifting with the tide in a johnboat on a creek off the Chickahominy
I placed the fly, every time, right by the log, right in the little pool, sliding it off the lily pad.

The breeze on my face like her kiss,
the darting of swallows low over the water,
the clarinet trill of a redwing blackbird
and the fecund scent of the mud of marshes
brought me up short.

I am alive.

I left the bream, the bass who eats them, and the catfish who eats everything else
to feed, to spawn, to swim and to live
In peace.
I reeled in my line and put the rod down on the boat seats.
I was done.

 

Photoshop

— Doug Nelson

Dragged kicking and screaming into digital photography,
I had thought that digital meant of or pertaining to the fingers.
Before I board a flight, I somehow can’t really believe this heavy thing flies.
Likewise, I can’t get my head around ones and zeroes reflecting and even creating
Light intensities, color and hues.
I cannot see the coding of binaries any more than I can see the internal structure of an aircraft wing.
A megaton airplane really flies, and digital colors are accurate and malleable, my art brokered through Photoshop.

So I have dutifully fed my Kodachomes from Vietnam, Japan, Colonial Williamsburg and European travels
into a scanning machine, that turns the chemical emulsions containing
my light intensities, color and hues into
You guessed it, ones and zeroes.

When I look at pictures of myself,
I began as colors, of hair, eyes, proudly tanned skin, paisley ties and hippy-dippy camera strap,
And now that I am sixty-eight,
The God of us all has moved the saturation slider in His cosmic Photoshop
All the way to the left.
I stand before you in shades of gray.
Now even old women don’t follow me with their eyes.

A Visit With Uncle Nick Grindstaff

— Doug Nelson

 

This hermit’s grave is marked on the Appalacian Trail in Tennessee. The inscription says, “Lived alone, suffered alone, died alone.” He withdrew from society after an assault and robbery. I was hiking ten miles a day with a 40-pound pack on this trip and appreciated this boxed spring. A lady hiker had been assaulted on the trail near here near the time of my visit.

 

To Nick Grindstaff

I dunno, Nick.
Only you could know your suffering.
I drew water from your spring. Was it you who built the stone wall to keep it clean and pure?
hank you.
So strange that the place you chose to live in peace should see a senseless act of violence.
You wouldn’t like the world today, either.
Those of us who come this way are seeking peace, good friends, insight into ourselves, things
nly we know.
Once in a while, although rarely, someone will suffer for their innocence.
Like you, Nick.
Whose uncle were you?
Did you ever know the love of a woman? Did you hear your child’s laughter?
Did you know the warmth of a home?
I think someone loved you. Someone loves all of us. I hope that they didn’t wait to put up this stone to tell you.
The water from your spring is still pure and sweet, Nick.

On Bach’s Double Concerto in D min

— Douglas Nelson

I found this concerto by Bach
Just before I found you.
So touched have I been by both
That I would swear
Bach loved someone,
And knew his love was returned.

In three movements:

In a Vivace of pure euphoria,
We manage to be together three times a month.
We wait for each other, you with a thermos of coffee,
Me warming croissants in foil over my car engine,
Manifold blessings in the literal sense.
We walk every street and along the river.
I live for your smile.

The sweetest of Adagio,
Two violins, in a contrapuntal mirror facing upward,
One side, then the other,
Apart, yet together,
In perfect intervals of thirds,
Comforting our western ears,
But like a Zen koan,
We are in the moment, no intruding thoughts,
Our wish only to be in each other’s presence.

The Allegro passes all too quickly,
The seeds of parting in the dwindling time we have,
One final hug, one last kiss, a yellow stickie for tomorrow in my lunch bag,
Until we wave from opposite freeway entrances.
I play only the third movement driving home,
Because the second brings me to tears.
This is all we can have now – lovers’ talk.
Any more than that must be in some undetermined future.

Joy in a minor key.

For My Wife’s Father

— Doug Nelson

I am Ruth’s husband.

We chose each other many years ago.

I was so struck when I first saw her, I knew she was the one I didn’t even know I was looking for.

The nuns told her I was a bad boy. We ran away together.

Our first two children looked through the railing of the ship that brought us to America.

We left the hell the victors had made of Europe. We saw no place there for us.

Our children are on their own, self-sufficient and competent, like us.

Ruth toddles around the house and cannot sleep. Because I watch her to keep her out of trouble, I cannot sleep. I sleep only when my daughters come to watch Ruth.

When she walks like that, I see her pregnant. Six times. I see her nursing each of our children. Those breasts, when we were young, that I could not see enough, touch enough. Where I lay my head.

Cooking for us, baking bread, and cookie treats for the children. I see flour on her hands and her wiping them on her apron. I see flour on the end of her nose. I kiss it away.

I feel her presence beside me in church, I see her waiting for me when I came home from work every day.

I hold her hand still.

I do the best I can for her these days. She did her best for me and six children every day.

She’s not gone; she is fading.

My love for her has to be the one thing that doesn’t fade.

She holds my hand.
 

To a Fallen Marine

— Doug Nelson

Mom and Dad, weep for me.
For the drooping bouquet of flowers I brought you when I was little,
for the times I sought comfort in your arms when I was scared,
for the perfect throw to first base,
for the dropped infield fly.

I know that my mother turned to my father in the night,
Saying, please don’t let anything happen to my little boy.
I know that my father made pledges he had no way to keep.

I knew their love.
Every day of my life.

My darling wife, weep for me. For I knew your love.
It was always you with whom I wanted eternity,
with whom I wanted children of our own,
wiping noses, carrying them on my shoulders when they are tired.

Marines,
with whom I shared danger, hardship and mirth,
I thank you for your friendship, for your help.
I tried to keep you safe so that you could go home whole.
I love others who have always loved me,
but none more than you, my brothers.

My countrymen, my fellow Americans,
I chose freely to serve you in this way. I was proud to serve, glad to wear the uniform.
Did I die for anyone’s freedom, in the defense of my country and loved ones?
Ask yourselves when you look into the faces of those I loved.
Go and act as their eyes tell you.

I am part of you
from you
of you.

Am, not was,
For I live
in you.


I wrote this after a mother of a Marine spent Mother’s Day 2006 by her son’s side in an Army hospital in Germany, as he drew his last breath. His lungs were seared when his truck hit an explosive device.

His funeral service was in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. My poem was printed in the program.

Rib Of My Rib

— Doug Nelson

The rabbi was right.
God made woman from man,
For man, out of man,
More than just a rib.

She comes from one whole side,
same flesh, same heart, same soul.

Over and over, every creation,
Half of the double helix.

For everything that multiplies,
Two sides, to us, from us,
It works as well for life on earth as in metaphor.

Science proves Creation; it takes nothing away.

The poet has known it all along,
The doctor couldn’t cure cancer with it,
Until they gave it a name.
Rib of my rib?

Side of my side.
I smell your soup on the stove.

I am home.
I am whole.