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Wear Your Helmet

Wear Your Helmet




Charles Hibbard




Shakespir Edition


Copyright 2016 Charles Hibbard




Shakespir Edition, License Notes

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Table of Contents


1. Early March

2. Community Chorus

3. Hang Glider

4. The Music

5. Swallow

6. June

7. What Can We Save?

8. The Puzzle of Roadkill

9. Demolition Day

10. Leaving

11. Austin State Hospital Cemetery

12. Clouds

13. Bedtime

14. Fundamentals

15. Revolution

16. Endangered Species

17. Jack

18. Capri

19. Porto Empedocle

20. Villa Romana del Casale

21. The Renaissance Lute

22. November 8

23. And If You Can’t Change Your Life?

24. Trinity Episcopal Church, Built 1845

25. Worth Living


1. Early March


Like Carthage plowed

and salted the city lies

beaten down by winter, now

withdrawing to its polar lair.

The tops of the trees still bow

waiting for another icy blow;

too much blue sky shows

through their thousand

crossed fingers, where

a cardinal thinks of singing

and tattered clouds slide by

happy as June.


Here below, it’s all dunes

of winter dust and the last

slumping hills of snow.

But sunshine kneads the meadows

and the dead rabble of grass

is combed over bubbles

of frost-heaved soil, as though

the earth itself were on the boil.




2. Community Chorus


On the riser of bald

and graying heads

that orange sweater glows

like a hot young sun

too bright for staring

but target of a hundred

sidelong glances;

as one last flaring

October maple on a drab

hillside burns alive

but will bare its branches

in solitude only long after

the rest of that wistful slope

has cleared to the parking lot

and driven home

through dusk and cold.



3. Hang Glider




All the others

expected birds

so I think only I

saw him up there

suspended briefly

in a clearing

between slow

evolving clouds.

Shocking silence

of high altitude

presumably human

speck below a flake

of red sail

then vanished

into that long

gone afternoon.





Now we know better:

it’s hot down here

on the desert floor

but cool up there

in the blue, so high

we earthbound

can barely see you

cruising the sliding

gaps between clouds

that guide the fanning

rays of sunlight.

You may yet escape

this labyrinth!

Unfurl your red sail

and leap, rise,

ride on those tall

pillars of hot air!

Wax is obsolete!

Soar as near the sun

as you please.

Wear your helmet.





4. The Music


The music was caged

inside a vaulted hall.

Sunlight struck

through tall glass

to the gleam

of organ pipes

and the players

working in black

to reconstruct

a tidy old song.


Outside the windows a band

of cottonwoods jammed,

bowed by a warm wind

and swaying against the glass.

That messy rush of leaves

was banished from the room;

but the beckoning branches

are all that I recall.

I wanted the windows open.

I wanted to hear that afternoon.





5. Swallow


During these ascents, often at twilight, the birds climb up to one and a half miles. – James Gorman, NYT, 10/27/16.


You may spend all your days

cruising the lower layers

above the flatlands,

in the smoky air of cities,

swallowing all the fat flies

and drifting spiders

that come your way.


But you can climb at night

a mile or two high,

leave that mundane below

a deep cushion of sky,

close your eyes

and coast carefree

through dreams of flight.




6. June


Our nighthawk

is back, scoring

the soft night sky

above city bricks

morning glories

unfurled on fences

blue flag the dawn

hibernators snort awake

and burst into streets

abreeze with the first

countable warmth

while thunderheads

rise on black feet

to sober the childish sun.

Take a table outside.

It’s June, the Friday

evening of summer.

No need to rush July.



Interlude: Summer House


7. What Can We Save?


One way is to recall it

as it was new, before

parents made it old for us:

logs still with their bark

and oozing sap,

floorboards pale

as the hearts of pines,

shiny brass bedsteads

and the windows gleaming

where the boys stood

in their various heights

to dream the endless

walk of the waves

and watch the moon,

over hills only lately

swept clear of trees,

water the lake with light.


They could shutter the house

for winter, that first Labor Day,

knowing for sure it would all

be waiting for them in May.


But as things stand now

perhaps it’s better just

to give sway to this wind,

and look back even further

to when there was only sun

jittering on poplars,

no cabin, no clearing

no slightest tear

in the quilt of fragrant woods.

And safely distant through

gaps between the trees,

only fair weather clouds

above the shock of blue.




8. The Puzzle of Roadkill


…this century-old house

in the wrecker’s sights,

like the holy construct

of a mouse in headlights,

to be ripped apart

door by window,

night by quiet night,

tick by tock, ghost by ghost,

smeared down the road

and left a lump,

ignominious mound

of fur and skin, disjunct

eyeballs, splintered bone,

a mangle of once tidy

rooms strewn down

tomorrows until at most

a memory remains,

and far beyond.




9. Demolition Day


Bedrooms and kitchen

torn open to the sky

chimney and hearth stones

scattered hornets routed

and swarming mad

mice and squirrels outed

and skittering unroofed

ants boil shiny black

in sunlight bats fly blind

and hang themselves

blinking in trees serpents

driven from ancient dens

snake through grass to new

homes or nowhere…


All these spirits must fly

crawl or slink away

before someone can raise

tomorrow on this open grave.




10. Leaving


This afternoon is gray

and soft, a scrim

of silver light.

From hills across the lake

gone summers glide

toward this window

in orderly rows

without flash or gleam

herded by the wind.

Stolid old pines

frame the view.

Below, one last dog

dozing on dry grass,

and voices of those

who are able to stay

a few days longer.

I have to catch a flight.



And Moving Right Along…


11. Austin State Hospital Cemetery


The rolling well-mown field

is sparsely strewn with stained stone

crosses and broken plinths, as though

even in death these wild unknowns

must be buffered from each other

by space and grass. Three thousand

interred beneath this treeless rise,

though “It’s a myth they were ever

buried one on top of another”;

the scattered stones mark the spots

where a few memories poke through

the manicured lawn of forgotten.


A small shrine – cross hand-carved

from a shingle, plastic flowers,

prom photo, and heartfelt words:

“Tears are not a sign of weakness

but the mark of an unspeakable love”

– is backed up against the fence

that encloses that silence,

with its unspeakable hint that love

might not be all we need it to be.





12. Clouds


We’re not talking

on this speeding train

but my wife’s shoulder

presses firmly on mine

as she knits an intricate

landscape of colored strings.


Beyond the window summer

clouds grow and dwindle,

reach and retreat, tower and curl:

they’re not castles or hills

not camels or whales

but airfill only, piled high:

remoteness, stately drift,

unquiet boundaries

firm as any flesh.




13. Seventy-one


At bedtime I notice the bones

in the back of my narrow hand.

(“It’s all going to end

badly.”) My wife appears

from the bathroom and prepares

for bed – more slowly

than yesterday? My skin

doesn’t look the same tonight

I think it needs some cream.

But coffee tomorrow morning

and no alarm

seventy-one and sunny

migrants exploiting a south wind.



14. Fundamentals


And suppose they’re right

our fevered brothers

with their sacred books

and guns and blades

determined to make us

avert our gaze

from everything but

what can’t be seen…


If a star is just a star

and a tree just a tree

perhaps it’s wiser to pluck

our offending eyes

than to let them look

too closely at any things

or try to name the atoms

that join to synthesize

a love.




15. Revolution


Screams and shouts

and running feet

plate glass sags

like melting ice

bullhorns bellow gas

forces of order briefly

back on their boot heels

as the world takes another turn.

Days that make history

seem almost real

almost worth living.


…and there they are, too

the befuddled old

stringing out

superseded lives

collars turned up

hats pulled down

against the storm

on aching knees

peeking out windows

at the mayhem below

waiting for a lull

the chance to limp

and list along

glass-glittered streets

clutching their empty

shopping bags.




16. Endangered Species


Springtime in Audubon’s woods.

In his day the trees and swamps

were plush with birds.

Today we may still welcome

some kind of spring; but his May

was to ours as ten is to one,

a plenum of sex and song.

Needlessly numerous, some now

would say of those birds – so many

it could be hard to know

just where to point his gun.


Point and shoot and paint;

seven hundred species saved

on paper. Meanwhile Audubon

lost all his teeth,

not to mention his mind,

before he was finally done.




17. Jack


Always hurricane weather

in the flip-flop climate

where you tried to escape

from winter: your roof

cartwheeling down the street

“friends” blown downwind

your marriage beached

and leaning on the trunk

of a snapped-off palm.

Flying always into the eye

of your own history.


You started to talk

about leave-taking

so I kept talking too

and a grip on your arm

until I got the old laugh.

But after I left

there was one more blow.



you’re off to now

I hope the breezes

are gentler, flowing

only in the kindest

of open-ended curves.




18. Capri


Nosing against the cliffs, crowds of crowded boats

wait their turn at the Blue Grotto.


And cruising by,

four happy

Americans at Capri

strewn in sunshine

on our cockleshell deck.

Italians drive us.

Plowing the sea nearby are other vessels, bigger, tourists

seated in rows, hats tugged low over sunburned noses.


Nearly naked with privilege

we send them our sympathy

and contempt, as our sailor

idles his craft to let us slide

down the side into the sea’s

ruffled glass, or glides us

high over our blue shadow

through arches of stone.


On the cliffs far above

red bougainvillea spills

over walls of white villas,

their heavy-lidded windows

unimpressed by our glow.





19. Porto Empedocle


Liugi Pirandello was born in this town;

and him today we hail

where a magpie sits on a power line

flicking his long black tail.





20. Villa Romana del Casale


The news from Rome was bad.

I imagine him

strolling this garden

to clear his head

while someone silent

followed behind him

waving away the flies.


Wind humming low

in umbrella pines

calmed his whirling mind

or maybe helped him

harden some resolve

– or meant nothing at all

in his crowded life

whatever the same breeze

among these newer pines

may sing to me now,

sweeping away all that time.





21. The Renaissance Lute


So soft, the song

of that little lute,

intimate as a child

humming to its own play.

You could imagine

some dancing too:

the swish of silk

gentle as a smile

meant for you alone.


What was a musician

in those long-gone days?

What was a lutenist

before spotlights

microphones and amps?


Clever fingers

and skintight pants.

The lutenist bows

and turns to leave,

slinging his little ax

over one shoulder,

tipping back

his feathered cap

or tugging it down

to darken his glance.

A lady or two may

watch him as he goes.





22. November 8


Winter does come around.

There will be no basking

for a time. Winter

is for weather-stripping

window frames, stuffing

the chinks in your walls

drawing the drapes

lighting a fire.

Buy a new coat, a hat

that covers your ears

a sweater for the chill

fold an extra quilt

at the foot of the bed.


Go out and walk

in the long, dim light.

Darkness will have its day

and summer always lie

helpless, sprawled

and ripe for sacking.

Numbers of leaves will fall

and cold winds sweep

the land bare and gray.

But that will not be all.




23. And If You Can’t Change Your Life?


Though long gone, he’s still condemned

by the dead poet’s lines to his endless rounds

the thousand-bar stare so rending

for a moment I have to believe

he can still be saved

the bars clawed down

the forest again enfolding…

But then time crowds back in

to number his million paces

to the very last one.

That particular sin is done

and not to be effaced.



24. Trinity Episcopal Church, Built 1845


This church was built of old beaches

carved into blocks and piled high

in tidy layers. Inside those walls

were weddings and funerals

and holy water spilled

over the soft skulls of babes

who then grew up to die

at Cold Harbor or Bull Run.


Bring your eye near the sandstone

and you’ll see older wandering

lifelines braided there: trails

of the trilobites and proto-worms

that traveled across that strand;

a million faint memorials

in a monument that stands

today without comment beneath

this particular gray predawn

November sky.




25. Worth Living


Come Sunday

proud tall clouds

and sunshine, trade wind

bending palm trees

and long grass.


Weekdays all day

I pull electric cable

in Gainesville

forearms hardened

with the work and cabled

with braided veins.


Sundays your fingertip

traces those conduits

sweetly downstream

one by one.

The two of us alone

or maybe three

while wavelets


beat on a white beach





all different always

the same



exactly right.







You can find other titles by Charles Hibbard at Shakespir.com:


Retirement Projects

A Burned-Over District

Your Hand, Please. Let’s Walk.

Among the Mandolins

The Inelegant Universe

The Popcorn Dance

Brainstorm on Black Velvet


Comments are always interesting, but please reference a book or poem in the subject line, so I don’t trash the email: [email protected]

Wear Your Helmet

  • ISBN: 9781370230983
  • Author: Charles Hibbard
  • Published: 2016-12-21 06:35:08
  • Words: 2378
Wear Your Helmet Wear Your Helmet