The Red Light


Poetry in the Mainstream

Volume 18
Number 10

November, 1997

Designed, Edited and Published by Richard Spiegel and Barbara Fisher
Thomas Perry, Assistant


Lyn Lifshin M. M. Nichols Zach Warren
Arthur Winfield Knight Ida Fasel Sean Brendan-Brown
Chad M. Horn David Michael Nixon Billie Lou Cantwell
R. Yurman James Penha Albert Huffstickler
Joan Payne Kincaid Terry Thomas  

Waterways is published 11 times a year.
1997 Ten Penny Players, Inc.
2000 Themes         October '97 issue

Lyn Lifshin

The Mad Girl Is Totally UnSuperstitious But

when rushing and late
for ballet, when she
sees a tiny tear she

knows will get bigger,
she threads blue to
stitch what could

spread into a sink
hole all of Wednesday
could disappear in but

keeps a piece of black
thread in her mouth as
she remembers her
mother doing, (thinks
too how that dripping
out of her mouth is like

grass from a goose's
beak, wonders if her
goose from the Fly Away

Home film will come back
this week as she did 2
Januarys ago, knows it's

not likely but still
keeps watching, camera
and binoculars within

reach,) She's heard
without this thread
dangling she could be

grabbed by death who
might drop in and think
she was sewing her own

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shroud, was like a bride,
waiting, ready for him

Arthur Winfield Knight

James McKinney: Smoking Hop

I know they're out there
with their tin badges,
because I killed two lawmen,
but I have to relax
sometimes. Jennie helps.
After we're finished upstairs,
we go into the basement
of the Joss House.
An ancient Chinaman
hands us the hop, then
Jennie and I light up,
letting the smoke out
slowly. It's April
in Bakersfield
and everything's blooming
but me. I tell Jennie,
"I'm getting too old
for this game,"
and she says, "Me too."
We're both on the down side
of 40. It's a new century,
and we're that much older.
Holding each other
in the red light,
we blow smoke.
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Chad M. Horn


The soul makes NOT A SOUND
  as it separates from his body
  and drifts past her beet-red hair
  on its way to Whereversoulslikehisgo.
As she stands with blood boiling
  a flush comes to her freckled cheeks
  (and pales them significantly).

The crumpled mass which now
  sprawls before her
  once embraced her
  and shared a warmth,
  (you know THAT warmth)
  the warmth known only to lovers

As the red lights of the Coroner's car
  dance through the half-closed
  mini-blinds only one question
  remains concerning the amount
   of chalk the Coroner will need.
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R. Yurman

The Last Time I Saw Paula

Two soprano voices disturb
our careful male calm.
"Rich," one calls.
My fellow engineers pretend to study

as they stare. I rise
from my seat. She touches
my arm, "I'm Paula."
Three years and she's turned

an almost beauty. "I'm at B.U.
now." That party at Neal's, my
first real date, fixed-up
with his next-door neighbor,

a stringy fifteen year old, mouth
full of braces. We sat
on the living room sofa, chatted
with Neal's mother, a few times

ventured into the cellar, where
under dim lights my buddies
groped their girls in a parody
of dancing, music soft and dreamy. We

might have tried but my head
kept beating: What a mistake
What a mistake and we climbed
back to the living room and

small talk with the mother.
Paula is smiling, "I need a favor.
They won't let us check out
this book." She turns to her friend,

"What luck finding someone from home."
I stand straight, take it
from her, fix her with my most
adult look. "I can do it

for you," I say. The friend
is pretty too. Maybe I should make
some move, but inside Paula's shining
smile I still see metal and hear

our mothers' voices.
I hand the book over, exact her oath
to return it, pick up my books
and carry a wild grown-up
hunger with me to my room.

Ms. Hattie Mayes Donates Her Poetry Books to the Church Rummage Sale

"An aged man is but a paltry thing," Yeats
said, and, "Love has pitched his mansion
in the place of excrement." Ol' Willie B.
had me pegged for certain-aged, paltry,
excremental, my belly not turning flip-flops any more
at the sight of a man's nakedness.
Used to be
I'd grab that quick peek under my eyelids
at any tight pair a jeans crossing
the floor boards of my Jung Shop and General
Store and shiver myself with picturing
what was making that denim bulge, paltry
and excremental as I knew any workings out
of those fantasies might be.
Took all their
pitched loving I could stand, and then some,
of bung holes-mine or anyone else's,
female or male, human or animal-and it just about
drove me mad. That's how I latched onto
books in the first place, specially
ones I couldn't understand. And then I come
up on this 'poetry' and knew for sure what
I might've suspected if I'd had the time and sense
to sort it out sooner: Willie B. and all them other
classy types-Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth,
every man-willie of em-got but one thing
they want to see. That's me and you
buck naked, making our selves
like them, fools for scrambling
after pleasures.
It's a mercy,
I tell you truly, to get as old
and paltry as I feel right now-past
all that sweating and groaning and
longing for something right there between
our legs that ain't there at all
and never has been.
Never you mind,
Willie B. keep your belt tight
and your britches in place-aged man, aged woman,
makes not a hair's breadth a difference.
Best thing any of us can do
is leave such foolishness, and
the books, to the loose drawers
of younger folks.
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Joan Payne Kincaid

Color Blind

There are not enough people here
people have to be here to understand
there are not enough people there
for enough to be able to get it
or to stop it if they did
the way we do, at a red light.

We march twenty five blocks in eighty degree heat
to see no one knows of it
no one knows why we do it
you ask yourself why are you here?
No one ever heard of Cassini
so we chant at the New York Times
New York Times is a meany; they don't tell about Cassini
circling like kindergarteners in a game
the game is much too dangerous
the game is toxic going up, toxic coming down
the most deadly toxic substance known...
to fuel a probe that could use sun-energy
energy from the sun for safety!

As we march with banners and posters,
two men leave their corporate doorway
and state dogmatically: NASA Rules!
Going up and eventually down
the red light is flashing
the red light is a sign;
the media don't mention danger;
the people don't know the facts.

There are not enough people here
people have to be here to understand
there are not enough people there
for enough to be able to get it
or to stop it if they did
the way we do, at a red light.

Red Light

The color of power
reflected in blood,
dresses, cars, houses,
fire engines, fingernails, lips;
a place to stop action
or start passion;
you cannot go beyond
the line of danger
or you may invite death.
Shades of leaves,
and power within itself;
dread in the distance
on some road...
staring at tragedy-vehicles;
a signal flashes fear,
things to be reckoned with...
even a cue for love.
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M.M. Nichols


Just before dawn we are all virgins.
The first show of light is red.
You can see it break up into pink, orange, then yellow, and begin
to see what it shows us around here: colors describing everything else.

Afternoons in the park, you could imagine
flowers think backward: week by week a procession from yellows
to pink to red. Azaleas bud with cherry blossom
peaking as the daffodils say 'bye-forsythia
long gone.

Do they rise, fall and rise to another drum? Stretched over months, mirror back
a morning's ordered march of wavelengths?
And ourselves-islands of buzz, the dividing of waves.
Our ins and outs are nonseasonal and consult clocks. Can time know
what light is doing?

To rise before dawn isn't second nature in me.
For a blue moon's venture, I decide to try. To be
a moment of newness not myself but part of the great
red light's earliest coming. If it comes, when it does, out from the night
it will rename me.
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Ida Fasel

Unarguable Wonder

Six chairs in a room
circling mine close
freed to the great processes of time.
Six voices round me
overlapping, eager
plunging ahead from the ashes of earth
farther and farther into space,
deeper and deeper in infinity
to overpopulated stars in their turn
one after one
going nova, going dark

I listen as they future-guess
whole galaxies burned out
and life - can life ever begin again?
They have the figures.
I have the imagination, bright
as Byzantine enamel in full sunlight.
They have the uncertainties of endings.
I have the beginnings in local fire,
the perpetual magnitude
our human size makes together:

this ordinary action with a flair,
this unarguable wonder
just talking to each other.

5 A.M.

Leaving the house at dawn
for an early plane,
I pause by the porch.

A morning glory
is unfolding blue,
moving in time
like a quiet section in music
toward fullness,
naming itself in
increasing light
gently, smoothly
before my eyes.

I hold my breath
as if I were at the moment
of creation...
creation is any moment
where light separates from dark...
the sun just beginning
to tip the horizon toward me:

my chance to blossom too.
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David Michael Nixon

The Red Road

Somebody runs the red road;
somebody hears us calling
and the dust in our red lungs
shivers and leaves our chests
burning; nobody stops and the
sound of feet fading in red light
falls on our ears and shivers through us.

All the Days Come Out

All the days come out to greet you.
They stand at the edge of a spring field
and speak as the soft wind speaks,
bringing you the transparent news
of pollen, oxygen and light,
edged with a shading into evening
that modulates to palpable darkness.
You feel it caress you toward red light.
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James Penha

Night of the Dragon Dance
in Hongkong

They have asked me to die,
and if I do not obey them,
shall I not rank as an unmanageable child?
Tzu Lai

cradled, candled-
eclipse the moon.
Stealing still the fire,

pedalian, supernal,
consumed with children
tonight who move, magically

incensed, inhaled.
Joss sticks smolder-
ashen dawn's dragon dreams
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Terry Thomas

A Tan and Vinyl Wall

There were only three other people
in the hospital room: dad, breath
catching in sleep, chasing life,
and a husband/wife team behind
the curtain. I was certain she
was critical-a haunted catch
was in the man's replies, and her sharp
sighs had a touch of fear and pain.
They were talking-mostly her;
he would mumble a response now and
then, but I could catch pieces
of discussion about duties after
she was gone. I tried to sink
into my chair, but I had to
stare at the curtain, certain
of the look on his face. Her
last sentence I'd like to replace
with a walk in the park,
children's voices...anything.
She whispered, but not softly enough,
that she was sorry for being
unfaithful to him. I wanted to
leave, let them grieve in private,
but I was as wedded to my chair
as dad to his bed. It was quiet.
Then the curtain opened and I saw
his eyes, he saw mine, something
passed, he rushed out. I understood,
then, that death was for the living,
giving something or nothing, and
sometimes there are worse
things than dying.

Midnight Dancer

Of the jazz-ruined night,
Beat as plum goo;
Like the foam of all beat dreams,
Who mushed
The plum of joy
And sipped their juice
On you?

Joshua in the Great Out Back

Sometimes you can find them by
watching for vultures-
spiraling down and around,
black finger pointing from heaven.
Sometimes you can listen for coyotes
yowling a dirge in the crenelated
deterge of the desert. And
sometimes you can nose them
out yourself, during some politic
walk, worming your way among
rocks and the outcroppings dropped
like booty in the sandy expanse.
Don't look askance! - he's gone,
and quickly like some lizard hot-
footing it over silicate scorches.
Last night, with torches, I turned
through a piece of nothing, looking.
Took some water, wafer and the book.
Looked everywhere, quickly;
got all prickly, cholla fever,
when I followed his footprints into
a box canyon...and they ended -
tracks and trail. Couldn't put a nail
to coffin, turn a spade, shade
him in a cave. Enough to make
you rave for life under the dead moon.
Stuck a stick just
Sometimes you can find them...
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Zach Warren


Nauseous fumes impugn their heads
To the ringing of the wrath of the angels,
Impetuous flames seep, then roar
Like animals eavesdropping on their prey
Hoping to cling to a fleeing cloth
Attacking a body of vigorous adrenaline
Feasting on the screams of people
Who crumple like newspaper in the red flames

Spicy Foods

A jazz band is pluckin' a fast song
On my tongue,
And my eyes are starting to bleed
But I love it,
A pepper plays the drums
When I exhale,
And curry strums up a storm
On the bass guitar,
While the water chugs away
With a shiny sax,
And oregano screams in the microphone
Hanging in the back of my throat,
Cheeks exploding with spicy resonance
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Sean Brendan-Brown

Woman by the Tavern Door

Blue hills reflect her
moon-colored face--bronze, rouge,
blue, gold-time's imprint bandaged
around eyes focusing night
with animal alacrity.
She drops something, ducks
and retrieves coin, key.

She pauses, a red-irised photo,
hands hardened from street-farming
concrete, steel, plywood: a double-headed
ax blackens her left wrist, she is proud
of the tattoo's graphic ugliness.

Her green jacket is quilted into Vs
that point black thread lines down her body
taller than the exiting men: they notice how
her height smites their dates.

She licks her watch, rubs the crystal,
walks downtown winking at styrene
women behind plate glass. Fifty is offered
in a diesel-stinking fist. She turns and points,
a skid row docent, down the neon strip:
there's your discounts, honey.
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Billie Lou Cantwell

Dance of Life

Time tangos our days
like high heeled whores
on the Boardwalk,
clicking off minutes
per dollar.
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Albert Huffstickler


"Absent thee from felicity a while..."

Felicity's pout
was a culinary masterpiece.
It tasted like bread and butter-
new-baked bread and fresh-churned butter.
Kissing her was a full meal-
complete with dessert.
She didn't know it.
She could have been reading a magazine.
Felicity would let you love her
if you didn't make too big a thing of it.
Languid as a pool inside a mill,
she drowsed and waited
for that incomparable one to appear
who would ring her southern bell.
While from miles around
the ardent suitors came
intent on briding and bedding her.
But Felicity would have none of it and,
if forced into an explanation,
fell back always on the same excuse:
she feared that their snores
might interrupt her dreaming.

  from Short Fuse, Santa Barbara CA 1997

Tornadoes and Other Hassles

She said there was a
tornado coming right down
the road, if I listened
I could hear it, it was
about a mile off and headed
right down the road like
it thought it was a car
or something. I could hear
a kind of humming in the
background like a very
old train and so I asked,
"So why did you call me?"
and she said that me being
a writer and all, she
thought I might like to
have a poem practically
dumped in my lap about
a woman talking on the
phone while a tornado
was coming and just think
if she got killed, why
that would be even more
dramatic. "you aren't
going to die," I told her.
"And how do you know that?"
"You never do. You're
always inventing these
scenarios where you die
and I live out my life
grief-stricken." "I don't."
"Yes, you do." The humming
was more of a roar now.
"Can you hear it?" "Yes,
I can hear it." "Do you
want me to hang up?"
"Well, you might want to
think about getting to
shelter, someplace under-
ground." "No, I think
I'll stay right here." She
was yelling over the roar
now. "If you'd written,
I wouldn't have had to
call," she said. "I thought
we'd been through that."
"You always think we've
been through something and
it's over," she yelled.
The roar drowned her out
and then suddenly dropped.
"Is it gone?" I asked.
"Yes, it's gone." "I told
you you wouldn't die." I said.
"One of these days I will."
"One of these days we
all will," I told her. "Weren't
you scared at all?" she asked.
"Weren't you worried about
me?" "Yes, I was scared and
yes I was worried about you."
"And are you going to write
a poem about it?" "Yes."
"Good," she said
and hung up.

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