person D.R. James, two poems

D. R. James has taught college writing, literature, and peace-making for 36 years and lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. His most recent of nine collections are Flip Requiem (Dos Madres Press, 2020), Surreal Expulsion (The Poetry Box, 2019), and If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press, 2017), and his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free, fun, and printable-for-folding at the Origami Poems Project.


Assisted Living

My father had entered a realm
I would never know. Although
slumped in a chair
in that common room
at the end of a dimly lit corridor—
well beyond the other withered bodies,
their wheel chairs lining
the bumpered walls, their
attendants glib, shouting directives—
my father sat small
like a seer, his web-thin hair
roostered, whiskers grizzling
his business chin. He was decoding
some constellation located vaguely
above the bulletin board announcing
Thursday Bingo, muttering,
raising his wasted arms as if in warning
the world was about to end.

Which it was—and it shuddered
shock waves through my throat,
the distance between us
collapsing like a telescope.
My mother, seated as calmly
as if my life would go on,
looked at me as if I were signaling
it wouldn’t, and before he would die
two days later, my father narrated ancient
sales trips—Gary, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne—
then turned only to my wife and ended,
“What do you think about all this?”

When I was a teen he seemed mainly to care
about the length of my hair, and in all
wrote me two letters, both advising
about life insurance. But now
my speech shivered, my chest
compressed the universe
of my heart, and I didn’t know
what to do with my hands.

—first published in If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press, 2017)


First Light

After the year of mere staring,
various grays at last color
tree, beach, breaker, the dark

undersides of waves, textured seas
arriving gently from an even,
medium gray. The horizon,

barely reckoned, smoothed
to its worn sheen, intersects
inexpressive sky, sedate Great Lake,

flattened and diaphanous—
like the road-show backdrop
before which one might finally

enact the refurbishment
of a feeble—no, make that
a threadbare—life.

—first published in Poetry Quarterly


person D.R. James, one poem

D. R. James has taught college writing, literature, and peace-making for 35 years and lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. His latest of eight poetry collections are If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press) and Surreal Expulsion (The Poetry Box), the micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free and printable-for-folding at the Origami Poems Project, and a new chapbook, Flip Requiem, will appear in early 2020 (Dos Madres Press).


Ash Wednesday

This life of separateness may be compared to a
dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop
of dew, a flash of lightning. —The Buddha

The heat kicking in at precisely five a.m.
stirs the shirred glass chimes dangling over
the open vent, their fragile song reminding me
I am alone. Outside, where I know too-early

browns loom in the dark where constant white
should lighten this time of year—here, far
north of the end of Mardi Gras—one car
purrs by per hour. A semi ascending the hill,

up-shifting its dissonance across the cushion
of the dumb neighborhood, will turn left
at the next intersection, head east to open road,
and merge with the world. This separateness

is indeed a dream, though priests today will call
the many to mourn whatever separates them
from God and from each other, then swipe soaked
ash across their foreheads in remembrance that

we’re all just dust. Which is true, but in this
blue mood I prefer the Buddha’s drop of dew
and picture its sole self temporarily resting
upon a palm leaf before a breeze shivers it

earthward or the desert sun draws it skyward—
in either case to mingle it by absorption
or by evaporation into the eternal system
of one. Which is really only a better way

of getting it wrong. Poor sentient drop, alive
in the thought it has ever left its sisters and brothers,
who in their own dreams manufacture fantastic
bubbles but imagine wry shadow, or lightning.

—first published in Talking River