Sally’s Hair, by John Koethe

It’s like living in a light bulb, with the leaves
Like filaments and the sky a shell of thin, transparent glass
Enclosing the late heaven of a summer day, a canopy
Of incandescent blue above the dappled sunlight golden on the grass.

I took the train back from Poughkeepsie to New York
And in the Port Authority, there at the Suburban Transit window,
She asked, “Is this the bus to Princeton?”—which it was.
“Do you know Geoffrey Love?” I said I did. She had the blondest hair,

Which fell across her shoulders, and a dress of almost phosphorescent blue.
She liked Ayn Rand. We went down to the Village for a drink,
Where I contrived to miss the last bus to New Jersey, and at 3 a.m. we
Walked around and found a cheap hotel I hadn’t enough money for

And fooled around on its dilapidated couch. An early morning bus
(She’d come to see her brother), dinner plans and missed connections
And a message on his door about the Jersey shore. Next day
A summer dormitory room, my roommates gone: “Are you,” she asked,

“A hedonist?” I guessed so. Then she had to catch her plane.
Sally—Sally Roche. She called that night from Florida,
And then I never heard from her again. I wonder where she is now,
Who she is now. That was thirty-seven years ago.

And I’m too old to be surprised again. The days are open,
Life conceals no depths, no mysteries, the sky is everywhere,
The leaves are all ablaze with light, the blond light
Of a summer afternoon that made me think again of Sally’s hair.

E.H., by John Koethe

Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor,
Not going left, not going right.

—Stephen Sondheim

I like to get drunk and I like to write.
I search for ways in and can’t find them,
But that doesn’t mean they’re not there. What isn’t
There is the life between the words, the life that existed
Beyond the words, the life I don’t have anymore.
In Michigan the feelings soaked the page,
Yet now they seem diminished in the telling
And no longer in our time, no longer of our place,
But in another country, one of an imagination
Anchored in a style; no longer in the stream
Or swamp, where the fishing was tragic.

I (whichever I this is) saw Follies last year.
The Weismann Girls come back to stand for what they were
And aren’t anymore, in a theatre slated for demolition.
Sally is a prisoner of her rage and her imagination,
Pining for the magic of what might have been
Until the spell breaks, leaving her alone on the stage
Amid the shards of her illusions. As she looks around
For what she is, all she can find is her age:
“I’m forty-nine. That’s all I am.”

Why do I get so angry? Why do I assume
The characters I love, the characters I love and hate?
There’s a corruption from which I’ve never recovered
That diminishes me each day, until I can’t tell which I am
Anymore, the mask or the face. The boat in Havana:
Last time was the last time. The stirring begins each night
And continues through the day here in a home that isn’t home,
With Michigan far away, the finca far away, alone
In the vestibule in the early morning light, imagining
The feeling of cool steel against my forehead
And the sound of two drawers slamming.
I’m sixty-two. That’s all I am.

The Bean House, by John Koethe

. . . humming in the summer haze.

Diane christened it the Bean House,
Since everything in it came straight from an
L.L. Bean Home catalog. It looks out upon two
Meadows separated by a stand of trees, and at night,
When the heat begins to dissipate and the stars
Become visible in the uncontaminated sky,
I like to sit here on the deck, listening to the music
Wafting from the inside through the sliding patio doors,
Listening to the music in my head. It’s what I do:
The days go by, the days remain the same, dwindling
Down to a precious few as I try to write my name
In the book of passing days, the book of water. Some
Days I go fishing, usually unsuccessfully, casting
Gently across a small stream that flows along beneath
Some overhanging trees or through a field of cows.
Call it late bucolic: this morning I awoke to rain
And a late spring chill, with water dripping from the
Eaves, the apple trees, the pergola down the hill.
No fishing today, as I await the summation
Of my interrupted eclogue, waiting on the rain
And rhythms of the world for the music to resume,
As indeed it does: all things end eventually,
No matter how permanent they seem, no matter how
Desperately you want them to remain. And now the sun
Comes out once more, and life becomes sweet again,
Sweet and familiar, on the verge of summer.

Hackett Avenue, by John Koethe

I used to like connections:
Leaves floating on the water
Like faces floating on the surface of a dream,
On the surface of a swimming pool
Once the holocaust was complete.
And then I passed through stages of belief
And unbelief, desire and restraint.
I found myself repeating certain themes
Ad interim, until they began to seem quaint
And I began to feel myself a victim of coincidence,
Inhabiting a film whose real title was my name —
Inhabiting a realm of fabulous constructions
Made entirely of words, all words
I should have known, and should have connected
Until they meant whatever I might mean.
But they’re just fragments really,
No more than that.

A coast away,

And then across an ocean fifty years away,
I felt an ashen figure gliding through the leaves
— Bewitchment of intelligence by leaves —
A body floating clothed, facedown,
A not-so-old philosopher dying in his bed
— At least I thought I felt those things.
But then the line went dead
And I was back here in the cave, another ghost
Inhabiting the fourth part of the soul
And waiting, and still waiting, for the sun to come up.
Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life.
Tell Mr. DeMille I’m ready for my close-up.