Off the Grid

I’m not gone in body, just in spirit.  I’m still here in front of the same laptop as always, except that the past few days have been hectic and busy and, sad to say, leave no time for writing.

But I haven’t forgotten about you.  To make up for my extended absence (well, extended for me), I leave you today with an extended poem from David Wojahn.  Yes, I’m on a postmodern poetry bent lately…

David Wojahn is one of the great masters of free verse and is also — like our last two poets — still happily with us.  Originally from Minnesota, he is now a professor of poetry at Virginia Commonwealth University and once taught at our very own University of Houston.  In 2007, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Interrogation Palace, but was edged out by Natasha Trethewey.

Today’s poem is from his book, Icehouse Lights, and is rich with visual imagery, shared memories of childhood and thick, sweeping, brilliant strokes of sadness.  It’s a highly representative example of his poetry, of which Richard Hugo once said, “David Wojahn’s poems concern themselves with emotive basics: leaving home, watching those we love age and die, the inescapable drone of our mortality.  Yet as poems, they are far from usual. They help us welcome inside, again and again, the most personal of feelings.”  A perfect poem for a gloomy day like this one.


like cups of wine thrown back into the bottle
—James Moore


and the pipes knock,
the language of steam.
George has played his flute
all night in the living room,
short pieces, stopping abruptly,
beginning again and again
in search of the right note.
Now he is a child wading into a lake,
learning to swim underwater
in the light the sun brings
to the sand on the lakebed.
I watch him scoop up handfuls of sand
and stone in the blurred green water,
holding them to his face,
just learning to see.


Today was the shortest day of the year.
I slept through the afternoon,
waking to lamplight,
to plants watered after sundown.
Outside the neighbors
try to rouse their cars.
Ignitions grind and howl.
The engines complain,
led aimlessly into darkness.
I drink wine straight from the bottle,
and I’m already drunk when my father phones,
talking of the job that’s no good,
the money that’s gone,
the spine that sways like a willow tree.
He would weep if he could.
They want to put me in traction,
give me a back brace
for a year and a half.
Who is this stranger who asks me for nothing?


I want to talk and,
Father, what can I say?
The winter nights are dark red.
We begin to live underwater
in small rooms
filled with flutesong,
the shades pulled down.
We cannot let go of this darkness.
We sit inside it, touch its walls,
like wine poured back into the bottle.
We write at midnight
with music in our rooms,
calling our fathers in the black evening.


Tonight I am wine.
My father is wine.
The glass sits on the table, full,
with no one to drink it.
This afternoon I dreamt
my father was running to meet me
and slipped on the ice
into a hole in the lake.
The scene kept repeating itself,
and I never reached him in time.
A thick film clouded his face
like the eyes of my grandfather
who died blind, whose last words
were white, it’s white.

Now I swim down
to meet my father in the water,
cupping his temples in my hands.
He is crying into my palms,
and I can’t yet see his face.