sho Parallel Press Chapbook | The Poetry of Lee Kisling

Parallel Press Chapbook

Published in the Parallel Press Chapbook The Lemon Bars of Parnassus in 2013


A Town Full of Owls

This town is full of owls.
It seems unnatural—there being so many.
They flew down from the north in search of food.
They are watching the corner grocery store,
swivel-heads following the delivery boy.

They watch the unlanded farmers and the unhusbanded women
and the men who fish to be at peace,
the swaying alcoholic and the doubting priest.
They see the man on the corner with his hands in his pockets,
a man who built on high ground but thinks of the sea,
the immigrant with an unspeakable language.
They watch the family in the front room watching nature reruns.
They see tattoo boys and apron mothers with wooden spoons,
unfinished dinners, tire tracks on the back road
and the illumination of radio dials.
They see empty clothes hanging from clotheslines
and the barber sweeping the hair from his floor.

There is an owl-dog who follows the mailman.
There is a drooping willow, toys left in the yard
and gray smoke curling from the chimneys
of the houses in this town so full of owls.
There are elbows-on-the-bar owls,
faded sports glory owls and long story owls.
There is a night owl poet with tattered notebooks.

Darkness, closing the day, brings them out—
call and answer hoots from front porch to widow’s walk.
A deep, deep and wild repetition—
owls with headaches, owls with crutches,
upstairs owls, back yard owls, full moon owls,
can’t go home again owls.


Anvil Sky

Do not look up
to avoid the prospect
of an anvil falling from the sky.
It is, unfortunately, a common occurrence,
though not discussed at family dinners.
To imagine it is to invite it.
And who talks of near misses?
There are few accounts of the heavy thing
burrowing deep into the earth only yards away.
But wouldn’t you think? With all that sky
and our small heads…

If you do look up
try to be focused—it begins as a black speck
against the lovely blue sky,
a tiny mark becoming
slowly somehow larger.
You have a little time to look around and reflect,
to doubt and to wonder, to deny or disbelieve
in the hurtling destiny of iron
on its way from, seemingly, nowhere.

If you look down
you may see a shadow
gathering where you stand—
innocent of evil, thinking of tomorrow,
and you may feel the small breeze
that billows the curtains
in the pink house with the ivy
on Kalamazoo Road.


Listen to Anvil Sky here:


Blue Horse

A half a mile, I was told, turn left,
cross the tracks onto an unmarked county road.
Shoes and socks in the rising water.
Sitting quietly, retrace in my mind
the gestured directions which brought me here.
Here? Am I the first one here?

Fingers pointing east, then north, go past
the old creamery, follow the power line,
left at the silo, right at the cool breeze.
Gurgling water and cattails bending,
red-winged blackbirds flutter and scold.
Slowly sinking
the mud.

Go. Past the fallen barn, by the 3-way stop, then
look for the blue horse by the pine trees.
Turn right just past the hayfield.
You’ll see a corn crib, they said, then bear to the east,
over a hill where the road curves south.
Up to my knees. Colder than you would have thought.
Listing to the right and a paper cup floating.
Blue horse? They must have said house.

You are here, wherever you are, and where you belong—
where you’ve been taken by chance—
by wanderlust, by persuasion, by trains and planes,
by misunderstanding, by love or loneliness
to the place where you ended up,
passing through narrow doors of necessity.
Here you are at last!

It’s a nice drive, they said. Easy to find.
Follow the landmarks. Right at the cow, left at the ant.
Here, in the lowering car in the percolating pond,
listening to KOEL, 96.3, voice of the people



Pittsburgh. Pancakes.
Streets busy. Fair sky. West wind.
Stroll along the docks. Iced tea and cinnamon toast.
An upstairs singer. Sea gulls on posts.
A bookshop. Young girl selling flowers.
Manikin in a yellow suit with a large purse.
Downtown Marriot. Blue pajamas.
Woke up screaming.

Spokane. Noon whistle.
A hopscotch drawing on the sidewalk.
Cop eating a donut.
Taxicabs in a line. Evergreen trees.
Fat man wearing a bow tie.
The Jefferson Hotel. Birdcages in the lobby.
Jet planes drifting into Fairchild.
Woke up screaming.

Chicago. Sail boats.
Skyscrapers. Lakeshore Drive.
A balloon drifting away. Elevated trains.
A street musician with a guitar. Skateboard boy.
Young girls in uniforms.
Hand in hand lovers. Taverns: Johnnie’s, Billy’s.
Small plane pulling a banner.
The Monet Exhibit. The air chilly.
Yellow-gold leaves. Street lights flickering on.
Sit on a bench to watch the lake. Sorry.
Really very very sorry. Words are inadequate. Just
sit on the bench and watch for a while.
Woke up screaming.


Peggy Lee

In musical terms, the earbone is connected
to the eyebone, and that’s why
your eyes go liquid
every time you hear
Is That All There Is?
by Peggy Lee.

you should get over this, a grown man
wanting always more,
such as—your mother humming privately along.
She kept green figurines of elves
and she had a job selling water softeners—
two facts which, only later, seemed funny
when you moved away to a place where the water was so hard
that tears just bounced off your face and
clattered across the floor.

But then
the slow dancing disappointment of that song
imagined for you the saxophonic sorrow
of the very best people.

that’s all there was, and is,
her sweet sad humming
and this joyful melancholy imagining
of water so hard you could walk across it
back to fourteen years old, listening
to every sound.




Wednesday night in a cold clear sky
we watched an eclipse of the moon.
The full moon dimmed, then threw an amber light
down upon our neighbors who stumbled outside
in their animal skin robes. Then huddled together, stealing looks
at the sky they started in crying and wailing, calling—
No No No! They tore at their hair.
These people, not known to us, never turn on lights,
never collect their mail, cook meat over a campfire,
have Michigan plates.

Would morning not come? Does heaven portend
dark days ahead? Have the gods abandoned us?
Is it now finally that terrible omega—
the end of everything? The blank bitter end?

As we knew it would, morning arrived
with its daily paper full of riot and ruin—
the school bus accident and the fallen bridge,
the university shooting, the globe warming.
In the variety section a starlet in handcuffs;
on the sports page the blue blue eyes
of the oversized ballplayer who denied shooting dope
into his buttocks.

Coffee and Corn-puffs, handcuffs and buttocks.

That the stars sparkle with irony is, in this universe,
some relief—a story, a comedy, a long-legged vaudeville.
The drama in the night sky reminds me of
the distance unfathomable, the light years of space
between us, we who watch,
waiting, wondering,
shivering in this pale light.


The Fullness of Time

In the fullness of time, in the late afternoon
you are going to feel better—
it is the promise of the passage of days.
Knowing this makes things worse, of course,
because pain is a river without banks.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about.

In the vastness of space, in a back corner of nowhere
drifting quietly, pulled by invisible ropes,
glinting in starlight old as creation is an
amazingly perfectly tuned piano
waiting for your long fingers and your sad sad smile.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about.

In all of the books on all of the shelves
on the millions of pages of words,
in between the lines is the distilled essence
of the battered fact that
life is hard, then it gets better.



The Lemon Bars of Parnassus

The god of electric guitars is behind bars
and the god of dancing naked is behind bars
and the chocolate divinities have been detained
and the purple painters and the hollyhock men
are wanted by the law again.

The god of singing songs is behind bars
and the pillow talk gods are all behind bars
and the lords of comedy have disappeared.
And the man who is shot from a canon went up
and up and never came down.

The bumper car gods and the candy bar gods
and the yellow kangaroo cookie jar gods
are all behind bars and the skeleton key
has been dropped to the bottom of the Vinegar Sea.
And the only gods left are bandaged and wear glasses
because the old gods are all locked behind
the Lemon Bars of Parnassus.



The Yellow Buick

The sky over Agincourt was a nuanced gray.
Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t—
let’s argue about this in the car.

My parenthetical remarks offend you. In fact
they make you furious. In fact they make you want
to drive a stake through my (like this) heart.

The famous poet once kissed your grandmother on the lips
in a moment of inexplicable passion.
She hit him hard with an umbrella which is now
one of your most cherished possessions
especially when it rains.

I have observed that in the blackest deep
of the darkest night, out of most flashlights
no light comes.