Recently retired from nearly 40 years of teaching college
writing, literature, and peace studies, D. R. James lives,
writes, bird-watches, and cycles with his psychotherapist
wife in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan (USA). His
latest collections are Mobius Trip and Flip Requiem (Dos
Madres Press, 2021, 2020), and his prose and poems have
appeared internationally in a wide variety of print and
online anthologies and journals. Link to publication.

Only This Just In

I once positioned my outpost on earth—
at the time, within earshot of owls
and a lake's short waves—
to be the center of all communication
beaming in from everywhere, out
to all the warped, rounded corners
of this universe. I was hoping
to fool that alien sense
I imagined as native to many,
that I was actually practically cut off
from the prime gist of being alive.
So, rather than scanning for more
koans-on-transcendence or
a how-to to convince the chipmunk
standing in for my mind
that this felt insignificance
was insignificant, thereby
skirting the issue that acted
as my Everest because
it was there, it was always there!
I pitched a little white tent in a holler,
with vents in the canvas to let in, let out
my antennae, the requisite wires,
and the million telekinetic messages
I'd be managing by the minute,
like some ancient eighty-armed operator
devotedly plugging in, plugging out,
the supple joint articulating a life to life.
And when all systems were finally go,
and after I flicked the little switch (a
Venetian-like light flooding the moon
of my face), the first words in were
wind, and how old leaves left alone
will crackle for no particular reason.
Then the slow creaking of tall beeches,
followed by a pulsing, silent swooshing
as if I were holding my own personal shell
to my own individual ear,
which, naturally,
as was my custom,
I was.

On Purpose

What was I thinking
when, while dictating my will
through an interpreter (since at the time
I was all alone in northwestern Bayonne,
where interpreting is interpreted as being creative)
I bequeathed myself to the earth?

I was thinking of Walt Whitman,
of course, whose solipsistic report,
its small objective being simply to contain
everything, makes bequeathing in general,
let alone of the self to the soil,
sound sound.

What was I thinking
then when the only aspect of me
to remain ungiven,
and therefore in the long run unplanted,
was my BMOC key to the campus, i.e.,
my key to what didn't really matter?

I was thinking it should matter,
of course, which would've been welcome
relief regarding how I'd spent
my life, but frankly Ivan Ilyich
and I had at least this much in common:
we'd always thought we'd always
been doing it right.

What I wanted
was to discover after the fact
that the return on my investment
in the song of my self
had created a rabbit hole
of an opening, a view,
some self-esteem I could live with.

And if I was instead found loitering,
like an early Christian hanging
back before the crucifixion,
then I wanted to be able
to drum up a good excuse
uninduced by some rooster
fore-ordained to reveal three times
the he's-only-human truth.

What I didn't want
was to stand on ceremony,
especially at the bitter end
under the trees and next to
the squared-off shrubs
just outside the cold stony residences
of our rather common ancestors.

Variations in Present Perfect Continuous

I've been listening for deer on the deck
again; iced planks will be like grease to them.
I've been learning to pocket logic now
and then, which senses night, eliminates
its thrill. I've been fading like light behind
sunglasses—like footprints on hardening ground.
I've been pardoning the pennants waving
heresies: they fly free. I've been moving
in a direction, whichever. I've been
believing nobody. I've been puzzling.


What was I thinking
when, without qualifications,
except for being as cold
as anyone all last season,
I ran to get elected
County Commissioner of Winter Heat?

I was thinking of warmth,
of course, the irony involved
in commanding the motion of electrons
within a fifty-mile radius of my
two-fold ignorance: geometry
and electrical engineering.

And what was I thinking
when I yearned to prefer
the official wire required
for the job rather than
the under-the-table imitation
available for a little gift of graft?

I was thinking of the Second Coming,
of course, that seek-and-ye-shall-find
system of irrevocability, how
I would want a seat up front.

What I wanted was
inclusion, to be connected,
wired if you will,
to the universe of painlessness
unavailable to those in pain,
by which I mean everyone.

And if I gained favor
by following the ritual
of water-into-wire
then you could count me in,
count me among the sheep,
not those goats also spoken of.

What I didn't want was what Mugsy
got: jolts at inexact intervals
from an on-going present eternally
separating him from any wire at all.

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