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I saw them through the rain and mist, by a stage door,
arrayed in perfect tableau as if some unseen artist had escorted them
to their symmetry: thirteen or fourteen dogs scattered at the feet
of a young man who held their leads gathered into his hand.
A dogwalker no doubt with his “clients” pausing
on their way to the park. Two of this group were dressed
for the wet having donned rain gear for the day.
One was the young nian in hooded rain jacket, the other
a splendid purebred pet who sported a bright red slicker of his own;
sitting apart, he was clearly the leader of this pack.
As I turned to leave, pressed by time and the rain and the weight
of two heavy shoulder bags, I caught the eye a the youth.
His rival looked through me since I was not of his breed;
and I thought to myself how like the dogwalker is the poet:
holding borrowed words on lead, arranging them in tableau,
hoping somehow to find some voodoo incantation that can cause
sitting words-on-lead to rise and soar and hullaballoon us
away from the earth, allow us to float free; and gyring in this bright
Alpha moment howl satisfaction at finally being in this world
but no longer of it.

Thomas Lisenbee © 2002


I am worshipping in my father’s church: sharpening the knife preparatory to the carving, keening the blade against honing rod, testing its edge with my thumb. It’s all ritual: the blade drawn just so, the card stock thick slice that slides neatly onto my waiting palm. A dull knife is a dangerous knife my father always maintained. Don’t get your bowels in an uproar: nothing is achieved if it is not done right; you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s car. He was full of motivational aphorisms, my father. lust as he would grunt while he caned his bird, the tip of his tongue edging the comer of his mouth: and if it were summer there could be a drop of sweat at the end of his nose and he might be listening to a baseball game. smoking a cigarette or taking the dents out of some careless student’s trombone slide and I’d be playing somewhere outside, my cars tuned for that long single blast from his ‘coon dog whistle, which dated to a time before I was born, that he’d sound to call me in for supper the way he once whistled in his dogs after a hard night of drinking moonshine under a tree, a young man from Cherokee, Kansas in rapture to a distant choir of crazed ‘coon dogs chorusing after a ‘coon: but he is as long gone as my mother is long gone as those dogs are long gone as this bird that I carve in his name is to he soon eaten and gone and someday I too will be long gone and wondering.

Thomas Lisenbee © Dec 2009

Did you know that Dorothy Parker was Jewish,” she said to me and no I didn’t know, which, added to a long list of things I didn’t know, didn’t mean anything because! was thinking about something else. We’d just returned from Kansas where I’d reunioned in Girard with many of my old friends and my mind was locked on something I had meant to, but had forgotten to ask, which was, whatever happened to Mimi de Carbonal. She didn’t graduate with us and as I recall we’d only been classmates in Junior High, and Mimi—like Joe Pouch who in Grade School blew Isis snot directly onto the playground, that alto’ years later was riding shotgun that dumb drunken teenage night John Henry Foxx cleaved off the passenger side of his Hudson hitting a culvert—has remained lo these many years, an unforgotten mysterious disappearance unsolved in my mind because, dead or alive, where do you go when you leave Kansas’? Mimi’s standout feature was this big scar that, I think, was either on her cheek or her leg, that was said to have come from the barbed wire of a Nazi concentration camp and that she’d escaped to America in a submarine; and to a boy whose manhood was just beginning to soldier his blood, it was snore than enough for me to fall in love with her: much. as I suppose, the boyish way Alexander Wollcott was ga-ga over that petite little bird with the saucy tongue. Dorothy Parker the Jew, who’d never been in Kansas as far as I knew, who’d never spit in the eye of a tornado or clicked her red shoes to get home to the Algonquin Hotel; but! had just gone home again. hadn’t!; spoken some of what I’d written to a hall packed with old friends; and come away a humble, better man, because that day was a collective day of tribute paid by us to ourselves; a basement room in a small town Carnegie library became Carnegie Hall and the poetry heard sacred because it’d been forged in the smithy of our lives; and the miracle of this glory was not mine or theirs but ours.

Thomas Lisenbee © Oct 2009


You are standing on a pier.
You are a man standing
on a pier at dusk.
You stand with many others
looking out to sea.
You are staring.
You are carrying out a search
and thinking of other piers
other evenings such as this;
thinking how there is no turning back
because there should be a turning back—
a regrouping, as it were
a way to re-wind the clock perhaps—
to the time before here
where we meet again
and fall in love again
into, out of, again and again
ad infinitum the way it is
supposed to be but this time
without rancor as if love
is just a game
not mortal combat
and there are no winners or losers
and piers are for standing on,
mooring boats or catching fishes.

Thomas Lisenbee © Jan 2010