Poetry Niche – December 2023

Bill Frayer is a retired college English professor who lived and wrote at Lakeside for ten years and now lives in Maine. He has had his poems published in The California Quarterly, The Poeming Pigeon, The Main Street Rag, Heydey Magazine, Poetry South, El Ojo del Lago, The Lake Chapala Review, and Magnapoets. He has published five collections of poems.

Mano á Mano

When my father died

early one January morning,

my brother called

with the not-unexpected news

just as I stepped from the shower.

As I sat and drank my tea,

I looked at my hands.

He and I shared

the same wide fingers.

Now I was alone

with our fingers. 

I remember watching his fingers

happily holding a brush, mixing paint

in the Maine sunlight

reflecting off the sea.

He squinted at his world

alone, quiet, reflecting,

always dabbing his love

in full color

creating his landscapes,

bringing us all to his palate,

brilliantly illuminating each of us

with his colorful, silent strokes,

as we each emerged,

growing stronger,

on his canvas.

Later, as we all gathered,

I examined my wide fingers

and remembered his gentle touch.

Looking at each face,

I can see his indelible pigment

on each of our souls.

I watch as the young ones come

to kiss his urn with their tears,

and we all know, in this moment,

that we have all been caught

in his splendid painted web.

*****

The Cave

Francisco is my amigo.

He lives in a home with a beautiful garden

and weaves art on his loom.

He has not always lived in such comfort.

He once worked in California picking onions;

he worked as a caretaker for a church in Puerto Vallarta.

 But his life fell apart when he heard voices. 

He was alone and had no place to live. 

So he climbed a mountain near San Juan Cosalá.

He found a cave in an old opal mine.

He looked at the lake and lived alone, in the cave,

for two and a half years.  

Finally his father, Teo and his companion, Janice,

brought him to live in their home

and gave him medicine and a new loom.

He healed and he was happy. 

One day when I walked to his house 

to help him with his English.

But he said “No, today teacher

I take you into the mountain

where I used to live, please come.”

He had not been back for eight years, 

so the paths were overgrown with brush.

Now I am old and the climb was hard,

but his eyes were desperate, so I 

did not give up.  We climbed together 

and our hearts were beating hard together

and our arms were bleeding from the brush.

When we reached the cave he joked,

“Come see my living room, teacher.”

The rotten mattress was still there.

He wanted me to take his photo.

He found his old sombrero 

which he had painted with red birds.

“Sit on my mirador.” We sat

in front of the cave and ate bred

and looked down at the silver lake. 

*****

Camp

Think of the old musty camp

long-settled, sitting askew

by the clear lake ensconced in birch and pine

the long table covered with red checked oilcloth

the benches stained with lobster butter

where families sit, holding fast to memories

which did not exactly happen as retold

but create the tapestries daughters and sons

need to pass on to their daughters and sons

to explain why they need to return to this space

and to lie on the dock together and look at the stars

the same stars they see from Maine and Indiana and California

as the same blood courses through their veins

as the stream leads into the lily pads

where the blue heron sits waiting

like a sage who knows what it all means

without explanation. 

*****

Helga

He drew her into his blue-eyed gaze

with careful strokes and warming hues.

She held her pose in nakedness,

for fourteen years a deeper bond ensued.

To him she brought a perfect bloom,

innocence, that unmade bed,

always chaste, he claimed, but then

who would know? Ask her instead.

A master with skillful hand—

was she grateful for the chance

to show her silent love to him?

A pure or sensual romance? 

We now can only search for clues,

the genius and his secret muse.  

*****

Duet in Counterpoint

Together sixty-three years.

He couldn’t hear much;

she couldn’t see much. 

yet together they danced.

Cooking was a skirmish.

She shouted instructions.

He understood the gist,

sometimes improvising,

always cheerful, nodding his head.

Mornings she listened to NPR,

annoyed when he asked 

what she wanted for breakfast. 

Ill have eggs.  Now quiet!

I cant hear the news when you talk.

What?  Did you say eggs? 

Would you like toast with that? 

Quiet.  Im listening. 

With marmalade?  

He prepared her afternoon Stoli

and picked flowers for her 

to arrange her way. 

The stories she told us

made him smile

pretending to hear.

*****

Louis Armstrong and the Mexican Goats

I am sure they never heard

of the great jazz man, yet…

the day I saw the old goats

jump the concrete barricade

and across the road,

I was listening to

Satchmo, loudly, in my car,

and as they pranced

I put down the window

to let the clear trumpet notes

cascade into the dust.

Those hairy beasts paused

at the rich staccato

then, tentative, 

merged their steps

and picked up the beat,

just then,

for a moment,

reaching back

to New Orleans. 

Astonished,

I watched

my new friends

in seeming

synchronicity across

an unlikely gulf

of time and space.

Louis Armstrong

and his Hot Fives

sending their beat

into the ether

to those yet unborn

Mexican goats. 

*****

Not Natural

It is not natural

to worry about our child

being a victim of hate.

It was 1998.

To worry about our child

who just told us she was gay.

It was 1998;

Matthew Shepard had been left to die.

She’d just told us she was gay,

but who could imagine?

Matthew Shepard had been left to die.

What would happen now?

Who could imagine?

How does rage begin? 

What would happen now?

her edgy haircut, tattooed arms.

Where does rage begin?

I could not sleep at night,

her edgy haircut, tattooed arms.

She was just in love.

I could not sleep at night

while she danced all night in gay bars,

She was just in love.

I, helpless to protect.

She danced all night in gay bars, 

not yet a victim of hate.

I, helpless to protect.

This was not natural.

*****


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com


Mel Goldberg
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