Poems

Small Gifts

I take them where I find them
like when I say goodnight
to my sixteen-year-old daughter
long past tuck-ins or poems on the moon
my stunning daughter with her anger and drama
and studded nose ring
her boyfriend and cigarettes
her mascara wings
my beautiful girl
with the chestnut mane
who sighs at the door
because it’s me again
but I tell her I love her
more than she knows
and she puts down her screen.
She smiles. She knows.


The Moment

There you are by the Boden Zee
on the Swiss side, where the lake and the river convene.
You’re alone. And you’re twenty years old.
There’s a bible in your pocket
because you think you’re born again
you just spent a week with a girl in Spain
and tomorrow you’ll be on People’s Express
heading home to friends who won’t know you anymore.
So this is it, the moment when everything before
came to an end
and everything else after it began.
When you next look up –

There’s a ring on your finger
you’re mowing your own lawn
you’re sending your daughter to school
with her pigtails and missing tooth
that makes you wince with joy.
Your hair is gone.
You lie in bed in the morning gloom
counting costs you can’t meet
while the faucet drips down the hall.
Divorce threatens darkly over all.
So this is it, the moment when everything before
came to an end –

Back at the Rhine, you open your bible
in the alpine air, then put it away with a smile.
Maybe you’re a Buddhist now
so you settle back to watch an angler
cast his pole in the water over and over again
like possibility.

First published by US1 Worksheets

The Maroon Raleigh

My father’s idea of a kid’s bike
was a maroon three-speed Raleigh
brought home for my tenth birthday
and while the other kids rode Sting-Ray or Huffy
I had this finely molded English cruiser
for taking on the rocks and creeks
behind the swim club
or along the tracks that ran through town
and once even to the highway malls
dodging cars in a sweat on the afternoon rush

Like any father and son
we’d learn to argue in the years to come
like during college
when he called me a Bolshevik
which I wore like a badge
and I let him know
what really happened in the 1940s
because I’d read about it

But now, watching my own girls
pedal back and forth
I remember the day he pulled me aside
to point out the beauty of that bike:
the arched crossbar
hand-molded into the frame
for extra support
the steel-plated Shimano brakes
to hold off rust
the smooth action twist-grip shifter
for fast changes up hills.
This was when my mother was sick
and his business had failed
taking all the money too
but he brought home the best that he knew
and with a firm jaw and steady hand
sent me off to ride.

First published by Caduceus

Poetry Night, First Grade

There you are in a folding chair
watching your daughter, who’s six
climb the stairs to face the audience
on poetry night. Lovely and slender
she moves towards the mike
the room hushed
parents whisper and sigh
at her missing front teeth
when she starts to read. Six lines
that’s all it takes
and for one minute on a Tuesday night
your daughter reads her poem
and when she smiles at you from across the stage
all the tangled strings of your life
neatly fold like fingers into a contented lap
and everything makes perfect sense.

First published by US1 Worksheets

The Last Weekend

That weekend they drove upstate
was their first weekend away together.
It would be their last one too —

She wore a vagabond hat and looked the part.
Once before it would have melted his heart
but he was moving on with someone else
it was the girl he would marry,
and yes, one day divorce
but their sweet, simple bliss was about to end
because he wanted it so.
Oh, what didn’t he know —

But still they had that weekend
stopping in that roadside café
roaming the mossy woods along the lake
talking about the things they loved
books, music, friends at school
at peace in the easy way they always had

And then too, that last night
when she came into the room
dressed in white, hair pulled back
over one shoulder bare
curves outlined by candle light.
Even now, alone in the dark
thirty years ahead
he can still see her eager smile
as she comes towards the bed.

First published by US1 Worksheets

October Peace

I open the windows to the morning breeze
so the whole house breathes
this stunning, airy light.
From the table, I watch as the maples
give back summer one leaf at a time
falling like a whisper to the ground.
It’s true, I am sometimes tormented by fear.
I’ve spent hours alone in an uneasy silence
certain that this will be the day
I look back on as the one
where the whole black business first began.
And yet here I am, oblivious
because the sun filters through a crystal light
with such clarity
that for the eternity of this moment
even the clocks stop marking time.

First published by US1 Worksheets

Palisades Portrait, 1974

A leafy hike, an autumn day
trailing behind my parents’ backs
hunting for treasures or that elusive stone
with a ring of white to stripe the gray
for wishing on.
Up the path, my mother’s hair
pulled back like a girl’s
falls to my father’s arm
holding tightly around her waist
Manhattan, dark and brooding, looms beyond.
I see them now, aside towering cliffs
walking towards oblivion:
My father, side-burned and sure in faded jeans
snapping photos with his Nikon
my mother, flowered dress and doe-eyed pretty
smiling into a Kodachrome sun
of orange and red through falling leaves.

First published by US1 Worksheets

All works ©Eric Heller

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