Singing From the Abdomen was published in 1976 by Stone-Marrow Press in Cincinnati.  It was distributed nationally by Serendipity Books in Berkeley, CA.  Stone-Marrow has since relocated to Bellingham, WA, and continues to produce beautiful books under the guidance of James Bertolino.  The unique illustrations for Singing...were made by Jeff Basting, one of my younger brothers, who is an exceptional artist in his own right.  The book is available from Amazon.com at a very reasonable price. The following poems are a selection from the original publication.



INTRODUCTION

Your waking's been planned into,
an arrangement with light

a little bump and run
you can meet halfway
around the sumac.

An oriole in the branches 
lets you know

it's morning
pawing over leaves
and garage backs,

slipping through
the screens on night
to settle

cat-light & sudden
on your bedspread.



TREE

Like an old pig in a wind
the maple out back
takes root
against the storm

giving up
a red leaf at a time.

In the still light of morning
an ice sheet
binds the silver bones.

A fat wind
picks its teeth in the branches.



LOWER MINNESOTA

At the bottom of this hill
a white house and a bar.
There are pines out front
and a face in the window.

This is the lady of the house--
at home, looking very relaxed,
a cot in the dining room
and a pound of cheese
loafing on the table.

From this window
she has seen men
lumbering from the bar's door,
having difficulty with their limbs,
or the way they swish their scarves around.

The man in her life
fought himself this way.
No job.  No Christmas bonus.
His uselessness held up to him
like a mirror.

She shrugs in the window.
The wind outside picks up
a little.  Some prickweed leans toward her.
Perhaps there will be more answers
next month.



SLOW DANCING

Together on the barn floor
young girls from Muncie
move heavily, as if in the shoes of a dream,
or with the weight of impending pregnancy.
Who could tell them their boys
would drink too much
and live roughly?
Always the new hands
with harsh stories
and at least one finger
lost in the combine.
Another dance and a girl
turns slowly, her pelvis an empty bowl
asking only, "What are my chances?"



VIGNETTE

My brother packs his kit
before the horse.  We may talk
about a cold spell, but it hurts
to see him leaving.

He used to help me with the buckets
mornings when the rope was too rough
on my hands.  Now his dreams,

a buck knife and beaver pelts
high in the cold streams,
are too much.

I told him my new dress
is almost finished.
And Reese's farm down-river
needs help...

But he is persistant,
and beautiful as daylight
in his fur and leather hat.



TOM'S GARAGE
                 after Phil Levine

is about the good mechanic.
The man last seen 
turning in his shoes.
His sure hand
buttoned into his coveralls
and shelved.
I recall his cigar,
his operant charm,
how he'd flick it
past the grease rack
and out the door.



THE WORKING WEEK: a series

MONDAY

Picasso farts in his jeans;
his daughter leaves 
the table.
These days
our worst habits
become us; we lose nights
stuck in the same dream.
Our dogs run back
and forth at the fence,
and morning opens...
The thump of hedgeapples.


TUESDAY

Joyce drinks beer and speaks
on hamburgers and irony.
When he leans to the bar
he says, Degas looked for balance
in the dancer's clothes.
A dog in the street
resembles God.  When the lights are low
a blank man enters the bar;
he buys a round for Joyce
and his friend.


WEDNESDAY

To the edge of a stalled dish
Braque adds a stroke of mauve.
Light from the trees
through his window, fattens on the canvas.
His hands rest heavily on the table
and he is daydreaming.
When a bottle of pale sauterne
lifts a slender tentacle,
his attention swerves.


THURSDAY

A black cane is
sleek and lit with sun.
At the blunt end
Goya rests his chin,
humming and sucking an olive.
He has been deaf like this 
for years.


FRIDAY

Matisse answers the door in pajamas,
his blue stripes
wrong again.
For a moment we appear
as nudes in the doorway,
our long hair tucked behind.
Later there is tea
and a breakfast.
The red thighs of a model
open on the sofa,
her perfume, the essence of candor.


BEFORE THE STORM

Light
from the moon's bone eye

breaks down
rough lengths of shore.

White crustaceans
twist their appendages 
in sand

and miles out
a sea-fist knots.

On the peninsula's dark farms
the company's all gone 
home.

Horse bolt from their stations,
make hysteric leaps
around the inland fields.

In a plain coastal villa
the Buddhists
sit quietly 
and twitch.



MY WIFE'S DREAM

He is the man at the campfire,
his back the black and perfect center
to a target.  He surrounds
the firelight with himself
and then the woods.

Crouched like a dog in your headlights
he moves
out of the way.

He is like a caribou, alive in a crowd
of wolves, his bow-tie bobbing
and uncertain.

But when he gets to my house
his hands are bare.  He is
a man engaged. With purpose,
with fierce laughter--
he tears the larynx
out of her sleep.



THE DEERSLAYER

works with no one.
His bow and arm
share an office and 
run together.
They can be 
relied upon
for a deft stroke,
a bolt of genius
in the clutch.

His daughters,
their hooves as thick 
as syllables,
rest in the woods
out there.  In the twilight
before morning,
his water boils for coffee.
He is clean from the snow
and ready
to bring them home.


SINGING FROM THE ABDOMEN

Requires a delicate strength.
Lifting each note carefully
through the chest and trachea
until the mouth forms perfectly
the solid "0" and delivers
a figure of speech
with sense, a sense
that hums so freely
through your frame and points
like a big finger down the road
to the turn by the poplar--
you should take it!
There are aberrations on that path,
things more than normal who can
teach you the required faith
in your musical tongue,
faith in the small planets that
swing out beyond you and offer
guidance when you call--
a whole organ in distress,
your animal radar peaked
and pushing through the dark
with an open hand, desperate
for the one small piece of body
you must have left
snagged on the back gate.
The piece that will return you
safely to the yard where
the spine fits snugly
into the hips and you're home.



THE JAZZ MAN
               --for Doug Simon, guitar player

When you make your head
like smoke in the jazz hole,
you've learned
to forget your shirt size.
You think that
animals
could be no happier.

You come loose,
your fingers unbound:
Like
no more rubber thimbles, man
and the notes leap out--
a jive dance 
hopped up with your essence.



RELAXATION TECHNIQUES #1

A girl, with partly open legs,
has just enough breath and 
invites you into the poem.
Come here, she says.  No no, here.

Perhaps she has an interest,
the parade in slow motion, the white hair
of your knuckle, or your ability
to march backwards.
But don't think now.

The man next door is calling.
There is trouble with a ladder
and he is geting serious fast.
His son is up the street,
having difficulty with his hands
and the pockets he's buried them in.
"Mark...Mark..."

Then you stop focusing.



RELAXATION TECHNIQUES #2

A man walking along a slope 
goes away.
Perhaps he was dismissed,
like so many clouds
or elk on the plain.
Who knows?  All that is left
becomes foggy, a vague impression
stuffed in a shirt like a man.

When you turn from the window
a yellow finch
puckers in the branches.
Wonderful isn't it?  Uncanny
how these birds recall so much:
your mother's dogwood; the old 
barn; all the time before before you
started turning things over
in your sleep.

Go back, you say,
To the little girl
on the sidewalk, her hair
spun with violets.
Forget the announcements,
the rip in your chiffon--
a man has come from the slope!
The flat heart of Africa
is lodged in his chest,
and there are bonfires
burning on the coast.


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