What I Remember

I remember the clouds:
Great, fluffy, billowing white,
and seemingly solid, like you could bounce
from one to the other
and then sink into their softness.
I remember that Midwestern sky,
so clear, so blue.
It was a warm, bright Tuesday morning.

At the bus stop,
two of my classmates burst from the house,
exclaiming wildly, like boys do,
about planes crashing into buildings.
But even their childlike excitement
was gilded with apprehension.

We didn’t know, then.

Those boys, ten, eleven, lived for explosions,
but they also understood mortality,
and after the second, they quieted, unsure.
In my head I thought,
What are the chances?
and something gnawed at my gut.

At school,
mounted box TVs flashed macabre silent films
as a backdrop to sad attempts to teach long division.
We were all afraid and we didn’t know why.
All day our class size shrank
as parents came for their children.

We had recess inside.

That evening,
my sister had soccer practice.
The last image I hold from that day
is the coach
clutching his children,
then holding them at arm’s length,
asking if they knew what happened,
and his daughter’s small voice, saying,
Yes. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center
and her father’s solemn nod.

We hadn’t known the word terror.
We’d only known war as impersonal history.
We’d never seen those towers
until they were burning.

-Laura J. Dobbs

 

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Dark Night of the Soul

My soul spirals serpentine
imprisoned by the Divine,
writhing and turning and folding itself,
a labyrinth of clandestine condemnation.
I am a conundrum vacillating
between freedom and salvation.
Daily I beat at iron bars
and grapple with webs of fate and faith
as blood and water spill from my veins.
My fellow man urged obedience, conformity,
made promises of communion.
Ensnared by the lie of free will,
the weight of predestination, of expectation,
smothers the wildness in my core.
But my heart thunders with ten thousand hoofbeats,
that shatter my shackles and break open my cage
and I make no contrition.
My chains gone, set free from sin,
my soul soars.

 

-Laura J Dobbs

Fireworks in Suburbia

A half dozen neighbors are setting off fireworks
with such ferocity you’d think it’s a competition
for who can alert the police first.
Those booming pops and sizzles
thunder like we’re in the middle of a battlefield,
and the yard smells deliciously of gunpowder:
a warm metallic smell
that says war but also home.
The whole street is blanketed in a smoky haze,
grey mist settling over us like toxic fog.
I stand, barefoot, and gaze
at kaleidoscopic colors sparking on the sky,
strobe lights dancing against the neighbor’s white siding.
I wonder about chemists—
that this marriage of art and science
came from them.
That rather than investigate some nobler purpose,
someone sought creation for beauty’s sake,
a child-like quest for sheer starstruck wonder and awe.
Now, here, nestled amid cookie-cutter floor plans
and cultivated lawns,
we seek the same enchantment:
that siren song of rapture,
the hunger for creation
and danger.

Laura J Dobbs

Shooting the Moon (for my brother)

We walk shoulder to shoulder
each of us with a shotgun barrel
nestled in the crook of our necks.
Moonlight paints the field in Van Gogh blues.
We meet the stony road
empty, darkness in both directions.
Trees stand as sentries in silent shadow,
our sought game secluded in the dusk.
A rustle to the right
some small creature settling into sleep.
He shakes his head and sighs.
We’d started out after squirrel,
scouring the treetops for those lithe brown bodies,
but the scratch of gravel echoes in the vacancy of his hands.
His frustration feels like flint on steel
that sparked on his hope, but wouldn’t catch.
Defeat thunders through his silence.

I match his strides and soundlessness,
but not his disappointment.
He doesn’t see it,
but it’s enough to share the twilight,
to treasure this togetherness:
a rare adventure just for us.

The trees fall away as we cross a bridge,
and I’m full of moonlight.
I turn my face to bathe in it,
to study that grey-dappled light.
He’ll tease me if I tell him, but I wonder
if maybe those craters
are nothing more
than the impact of thousands of shotgun pellets
–lifetimes of frustrations and hopes scattered
across that luminous, once-smooth sphere.
Instead, I offer:
“We should just shoot the moon.”
He snorts,
mutters about cards.
But I know he wants to smell the gunpowder.

We pocket stocks to shoulders,
aim the barrels moonward,
and fire on three.
It’s deafening.
A thunderclap erupts from us,
resounds across the night and booms through threads of memory.
We laugh. Whoop! Chuckle our way to the car
and unload the remaining shot,
though we’re already lighter.
There’s a new notch in the moon now,
imperceptible to even Hubble,
and it’s not his  fruitless hunt
but this moment,
already as scarce as the squirrels,
slipping away like shadow.
But there’s strips of moonlight
and wisps of gunsmoke
binding us,
and while wind and time will steal it,
that campfire smell wafts ever skyward
so we still might remember our crater,
and maybe the coming years
won’t erase these last four,
and the miles won’t stretch into silences.

 

Laura J Dobbs

Flames

Your flames
are beautiful:
Symmetrical.
Perfect.
I scribble wild lines and exploding color
reds and yellows and oranges leaping
in some haphazard, zigzag scrawl.
But that’s what fire looks like,
you tell me:
Disorderly.
Untamed.

Laura J Dobbs

Contradictions

I live in a world of violent poetry,
a life spent deep in the heart of ambiguous contradictions.
Nights pressed to the grindstone of physicality
tearing muscles, bruises, sweat and bleach.
My first love, the riddle of victory by submission,
a marriage of art and combat and humanity.
My last love
               coming home to you.

 

Laura J Dobbs

Coffee

When asked his definition of paradise,
Johnny Cash said:
“This morning, with her, having coffee.”

My husband won’t even taste it.
Someone once asked me
how I could trust a man who doesn’t drink coffee,
but he’s the one with java trust issues.
He scoffs at people who “can’t function” without it,
who turn three heads and bared fangs
on those who’d dare address them
before their cup of sanity.
He says,
“It’s just an excuse to be a bitch in the morning.”

I tell him:
It isn’t like that with me.
That coffee is my mother
kissing me goodbye before school in the morning
or seated at the computer playing Solitaire on Saturdays
one hand cradling a steaming ceramic mug
the other making little controller clicks.
It’s the smell of every childhood road trip
that wafted from the faded Disney thermos in the cup-holder,
that fueled our drives more than gasoline,
memory brewing with each long mile.

I tell him:
Coffee is the rain in Costa Rica.
In Alajuela we had daily cafecito.
Early evening, we gathered,
dipped small cookies and crackers
into rich, creamy nectar,
our voices raised over the downpour
that blew through every afternoon.
The summer air was cool and ripe with the richness of raindrops,
but the coffee and the people brought warmth.
I was used to a full meal at suppertime:
bread and meat, potatoes, a salad
(not café and galletas)
and I was used to English and my own family.
Those stormy afternoons, over coffee,
I learned more than Spanish.

I tell him:
Coffee is conversation
seeping through life’s cacophonous yawp.
It’s walls crashing down across turbulent borders,
human truth percolating
unfiltered
across brown-ringed tabletops.

But even more, I tell him:
Coffee is slow winter mornings
swaddled in the blanket of your drowsy silence.
When I glimpse you over the mug,
your face reflecting the TV’s blue glow,
even though my heart quickens,
my soul steadies with each bittersweet sip.

 

Laura J Dobbs