Poems by Bruce Niedt 2016

Bruce W Niedt BRUCE W. NIEDT is a southern New Jersey native and recently retired civil servant.  His poetry has appeared in Writer’s Digest, The Lyric, Spitball, Chantarelle’s Notebook, US 1 Worksheets, Edison Literary Review, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and many others. His awards include the ByLine Short Fiction and Poetry Prize and two Pushcart Prize nominations. His latest chapbook is Hits and Sacrifices, published by Finishing Line Press.

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Move On

A dead end doesn’t have to be
the end. With patience, you can find
another way. Just turn around
and double back. Don’t think that it’s

the end. With patience, you can find
a thoroughfare, not cul-de-sac,
and double back. Don’t think that it’s
a hopeless case. Keep moving on.

A thoroughfare, not cul-de-sac
will solve the riddle of your maze,
this hopeless case. Keep moving on,
and up ahead you’ll see the light,

will solve the riddle of your maze
another way. Just turn around,
and up ahead you’ll see the light.
A dead end doesn’t have to be.
 

 
The Back Door

Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens….
– Talking Heads

 
There are chaise lounges lined up to infinity
on a cloud like a cruise ship deck.
Some people are playing shuffleboard
or ping-pong or mah jongg. Some people
are reading all the favorite books
they didn’t have time for on Earth;
some are binge-watching old TV series.
There’s a 24-hour buffet, and no one
ever worries about gaining weight.
There’s a party in the community room,
and there’s music playing but everyone hears
their own favorite music. I hear the Beatles.
People still make small talk so no one knows
how they really feel, and everyone leaves
at eleven o’clock. There’s a couple kissing
in the corner; they’ve been doing it all evening,
the same kiss over and over again.
A pretty woman who may have been a model
walks up to me and whispers,
“I’ve heard that Hell is more interesting.”
So we slip out the back door to find out.
 

 
The Poet Who Came to Dinner

My friend, we have two invitations
From a man-about-town, bon vivant,
For an evening of food and libations,
Though we won’t discuss Goethe or Kant.

A mighty fair cook is my good friend Bruce Niedt,
And his specialty is duck fricassee,
But he may serve us something like squab or goose meat,
And after, we’ll read poetry.

He fancies himself as a master of verse,
Who loves iambic pentameter,
And in my opinion, he could be worse,
Though as subtle as a sledgehammeter.

And after our poetry reading we’ll dance,
With our twinkle-toed colleague, Bruce Niedt,
Who’s won many contests through sheer happenstance;
He’s known far and wide for loose feet.

So take it from me, your friend Ogden Nash,
We’ll enjoy the camaradarie,
Though sometimes he’ll ask us to take out the trash,
Which usually does not bodder me.


To the Artist

You must always start with feet on the ground.
Learn the colors and the words, the rhythms
of the dance. But let no glue, or tethers,
or nails through your feet
keep them there.
Take off.
Rise like a balloon,
the flame firing inside,
lighter than the air around you,
and see your house from here,
and see the canyon and birds and sunset
and the clouds and curve of the earth,
and tell everyone you know, and everyone
you don’t know, about it when you come down.

Sea Shanty from the Good Ship Brogaine

Me wife says I spend too much time with me mates,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
And I spend much too quickly me pieces o’ eight,
(Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

She says that I never buy ‘er nice things,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
But I bring ‘er home booty like cheap bracelets an’ rings,
(Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

It never fails that I always get heat,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
fer th’ way that I leave up the toilet seat,
(Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

I like action films with car chases an’ bombs,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
while she watches chick-flicks and lots o’ rom-coms,
(The feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

She thinks I watch football so much it’s a crime,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
But if th’ house caught fire, I’d leave at half-time,
(Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

She says that I’m drinkin’ too much of th’ rum,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
but she likes red wine when she’s out with ‘er chums,
(Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

She says that I could share my feelings some more,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
But that’s what I thought a bartender was for,
Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.

I ne’er ask directions, she don’t understand,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
But maybe that’s why we now can’t find land,
(Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

Th’ things that I’ve said here, ye may think are crude,
(Roll away boys, we’re all lost at sea,)
But I know that without ‘er, I’d be one sorry dude,
(Th’ feminine mind is a myst’ry to me.)

Rhythm of Your Feet

Today you’re up at 6 a.m.
to take a little stroll,
you give yourself some warm-up time,
and then you’re on a roll.

It takes a while to get in sync,
your legs more lope than stride,
but your reluctant body wakes,
gets ready for this ride.

You circle through the neighborhood,
admiring the blooms,
your heart begins to do its work,
blood pumping through four rooms.

Perhaps you have your ear buds on
with favorite rockin’ tracks,
but take them out for just a while
and let your ears relax

to hear the pulse outside your head –
the sun, its coursing rays,
the leaves that push nutrition through
the trees on sunny days.

The birds have songs to spur you on,
the wind nudges your back,
and you move like a locomotive
chugging down your track,

your piston legs, your drive-shaft arms,
you’ve hit your target rate,
there’s nothing that will stop you now,
you’re in endorphin state,

and now your heart does jumping jacks,
your sneakers pound the street,
and the world turns on its axis
to the rhythm of your feet
to the rhythm of your feet
to the rhythm of your feet….

Lost and Found

St. Anthony, please come around,
something is lost and cannot be found
-Catholic prayer

You thought you’d found happiness
till you faced the diamond-hard reality
that he was not who he appeared to be.
The invitations were already sent out when
your dreams shattered like a cheap glass.

Where would you ever find happiness again?
It wasn’t under the sofa cushions –
only food crumbs and loose change.
Nor was it under the bed, although if happiness
were dust bunnies, you’d be in bliss.
Not in the cabinets, not the dirty laundry.
You said the prayer your mother taught you,
but the saint didn’t seem to be listening.

Then one night you found it on a rooftop,
with a friend you hadn’t seen in years.
You talked and laughed into the small hours
and you suddenly realized he was your star
in that night sky – Polaris, lined up in your sextant
to get your bearings, to steer your sails,
and you were his new constellation.

Now today is your wedding day,
and your families have already blended,
love brimming over like the wine fountain
at your reception. How did you ever get so lucky?
Maybe it’s just that happiness, like any lost thing,
is always in the last place you look.

Pink Moon

Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all

– Nick Drake

By now most of us know that the “blue moon”
is just the second full moon of a month,
a rare event – yes, “once in a blue moon”,
but not, alas, the color of its face.

And as for “green moon” – well, that’s just a hoax,
concocted by folks on the internet,
with no connection to the silly myth
that our fair satellite is made of cheese.

This month the phrase “pink moon” is on our lips –
but no, it won’t shine like a glowing rose.
Native Americans gave it that name
because pink phlox blooms at this time of year.

So why don’t we stand under it tonight –
look up, you’ll see its normal gray-and-white.
But like some lunatic beneath its pull,
I’ll do most anything you ask of me,

like take a ladder up and paint it pink,
or change its face so it winks back at you,
or put my sandals on and walk around,
its gray dust squinching in between my toes.

Start the Music

Be in a place where words come,

like a night hill above all the wash of lights
where you can lie on your back and make
your own constellations, where it’s so quiet
you can hear the sky turning on its axis,

or the middle of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto,
where you imagine yourself the cello,
and arpeggios resonate in your chest
and counterpoint embroiders the air,

or an early morning walk, when your steps
set the rhythm and a symphony of birds
set the melody, and only you and they know
what secrets the sun kept all night,

or a Coltrane sax solo growling in your ear buds,
a new animal birthed from the bell of his instrument
that carries you away on harmonics like a wisp
of smoke in that club where he used to play,

or your spring garden, where you sit under
your wisteria that’s overripe with purple
clustered flowers, and the bees buzz
above you like some divine machinery.

Wherever it may be, it can only be your place,
and only your words can know how to get there.

The Flute Remembers

(after “Ode to the Flute” by Ross Gay)

And then a man
looks at a flute
beside him and
asks, How did
you learn to
catch the wind?
and the flute
remembers a time
before silver and keys
that locked in
the wind and
remembers days of wood
and finger holes
and how people
would dance to
its wind
the same wind
that has blown
for ages and ages
the same wind
that blew across
a hollow reed
almost a million
years ago
just as a man
was passing

Secret

These words I hold inside my chest
that cannot see the light of day
or stir the air, I keep at bay,
while thinking that it’s for the best.

I lock them down in shackles, lest
they break the walls and get away,
these words I hold inside my chest,
that cannot see the light of day.

I fear that I won’t pass the test
of confidence, because they weigh
so heavy on my heart that they
will burst out and leave you distressed,
these words I hold inside my chest.

Sometimes Angels Steal Your Dreams

I didn’t dream again last night,
or at least I can’t remember them,
so I can’t tell you what movies
flashed behind my eyelids.

I could make up something,
like a red house on a hill in Killarney
with daffodils by the door,
a house I never saw or lived in.

Or I could say I dreamt about
reading my poetry naked
in Madison Square Garden
before thousands of shocked people.

Or I could say I rode a tornado
like a rodeo cowboy,
till it bucked me into a ravine,
and I woke before I hit the ground.

Or something really absurd,
like mobster fish in trench coats,
a bicycle made from macaroni,
my dog as a fashion model.

I could create a dream of unicorns,
or lions on the veldt, or zombies,
or driving a yellow Lamborghini,
but that would be dishonest.

Sometimes angels steal your dreams,
my grandmother used to say.
I could ask them to give them back,
but for now I will have to make do.

In the Bungalow of Colorful Aging

At first you feel lost
as a marble after the game.

Your old bones rattle in their cage;
your feathers drop like November leaves.

But you refuse to dry up, to be a shell,
a metal casing with a hole inside.

Stretch yourself, be supple as rubber,
and stretch time too, a few more decades to rest

or be a kite, be a wolf in the snow.
Don’t lose sight of your vision.

Forget the other world, where passenger pigeons
carry messages to nowhere,

and all humanity that you left behind
hitchhikes to stainless steel offices.

Cease Fire

So, neighborhood, again we start the war
touched off each spring outside of every door.
We drive our mower tanks across the grass –
the smell of sheared green blades, the smell of gas.
We pull the cords, the weapons roar awake,
to edge and prune and blow our little stake
of land that is by standards kept pristine
with perfect borders and the brightest green.
But dandelions struggle to take root
with yellow flags, a beachhead bearing fruit.
Wild onion, duckweed, clover make their play,
insurgents we cut out or spray away.
The ceaseless din toward perfect manicures
just undercuts a beauty that endures
obsession for a picture-perfect yard;
so turn them off and hear who’s working hard.
The birds are giving concerts, bees are humming,
and in the nearby trees, woodpeckers drumming.

The Lovestruck Chef

I have sung for you, but you did not dance;
I have wept for you, but you did not cry.
If only I could have another chance
to move you in the best way I know how,
with recipes from Italy or France.
My culinary skills may charm your tongue
and whet your appetite for some romance.
But you’ll be hungry, and not quite know why,
If you refuse my delicious advance.

Torch

“I will uncover a use for the ashes.”
– C.D. Wright

That lavish structure you used to inhabit,
gaudy with granite and gold,

went up like paper in a fireplace,
then came down, flattened to ashes,

a blackened ring on the ground.
Fortunately, all that perished

was your façade, and now begins
the process of building again.

You are the vessel of your work,
not the walls raised around you.

Don’t blacklist your own feelings.
Don’t let them consume you, either,

or the only way you will be identified
is by a tooth in the smoking debris.

Longing

I am trying to read the form of longing
And see a wind with the sun inside it…
– Tim Lilburn

…and the cold wind is purposeful
and the sun seems to shake in the air,
and the trees wave across it
like hands catching a bubble.

I want to reach the warmth
and it to reach me. My jacket
is over my shoulder, my watch put away.
I follow the sidewalk for a while

then turn off to follow the grass
worn down to a path in a clearing,
but the sun is no closer
and the trees bat it away.

The wind pushes against my back
then shifts and buffets my face.
Fickle wind, where do you want me to go?
Unobtainable sun, let me face you,

and may you bake me in your blessing.
This is my time away from time,
my distance from distance.
Please tell me how much farther.

Last Gas Before Turnpike

I turn into your station because I’m running
on fumes, and because yours is cheaper
than the other price-gougers lying in wait
before the turnpike entrance.

You exit your glass booth and approach
my window. “Fill it with regular, please,”
I say. I guess from your turban and beard
that you are Sikh, and from that I assume
that you are a peaceful man, good to your wife
and family, and your last name is probably Singh.
In the windows of your booth are signs
for the local pizza shop and hair salon,
so I know you try to be a good neighbor.

Aside from that, I know very little, but I assume
you have weathered your share of abuse
from small-minded customers who spit
their orders at you like venom, who curse
or mutter things like “ISIS” under their breath,
with no clue that you are not Muslim or even Hindu
and that you have no love for terrorists.

The gas nozzle clicks in the tank and you pull it out.
I give you the cash. “Have a good day,” you say.
“You too,” I reply. And I mean it.

Death of a Bumblebee

Last night in the basement
I heard buzzing over my head
but I couldn’t place the source.

This morning you lay at my feet,
fat aerodynamic anomaly,
fuzzy yellow-and-black.

Your legs stick up pathetically;
your stinger is no longer a threat.
What was it that did you in?

Did you beat yourself senseless
against my fluorescent ceiling light,
or was it the insecticide around my house?

For whatever role my home or I
had in your demise, I apologize.
There are too many of you dying anyway.

You deserved better than to be dropped
in the trash with my junk mail. You should
still be hovering among my hyacinths.


playing statues with
a camo’ed forest dweller –
the white-dappled fawn

Ecstasy

The rains have come today,
beating against the pottery-hard clay
of his earth, coming down in a hard slant
with the wind, a sting of needles
on his cracked skin, but all he feels
is pleasure, relief, and he trembles
with the wet cold and with gratitude.

No one told him it would happen today,
no one gave him the forecast. Today,
God is water, and it is holy, washing him
for the moment of all hardships.
God drips from the ringlets of his hair,
and runs in rivulets down his back,
and he can feel himself dissolve.

Flame

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

This blaze of life can be exhausting –
bills, repairs, and chores and children
that need and demand and exceed –
a career winding down, and days
that I just go through the motions.
By evening, how I feel depends
on how much stress has worn me down,
abraded skin, bitten into muscle,
or struck a nerve, the knife of pain it sends.
My candle burns at both ends.

I know I never get much sleep.
Part of that is due to worry, part
is things to do, but most just wanting
quiet time, the aging evening when
everyone’s in bed, and I unwind
by reading, sitting down to write,
or maybe music or a movie, as I echo
through the house. But in the smaller hours
the flame of my attention burns less bright –
it will not last the night.

Still, this evening I recall my youth –
we thought ourselves immortal, till a car
hit a neighbor kid. Even then, we thought death
was so remote, as far away as Mars.
When we played “War”, each casualty
sprang up again – a brand new man extends
his life until the next catastrophe.
We wish our lives could burn forever, yet
our plans don’t always fit what fate intends.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,

so many of you have gone before me –
the school bully whom a car crash killed
at seventeen; my best friend recently –
cancer snuffed his wick. I should be grateful
walking past so many milestones
with a good woman on my right –
we still hold hands and kiss goodnight
and watch our children build their lives.
Today, a grandchild’s birth’s in sight –
it gives a lovely light.

Doodlers

margins were made to
keep our thoughts inside of borders

but the rest of the paper
was made for doodles

everyone needs to go
outside the lines once in a while

it stokes the fires of genius
even Leonardo doodled

from the kitchen window,
she watches her granddaughter

drawing with chalk on the sidewalk
she used to scribble randomly

but now she’s more meticulous
selecting the right colors

trying to make Disney princesses
with her grandfather’s help

you need to learn the rules
before you bend and break them

you need to learn a sonnet
to find your own form

someday when she knows all
the right words and colors

she’ll figure out how to use them
like no one else has before

Haiku

time lapse –
orange blossoms change to fruit
returning the sun

River Pebble

polished down by water
while babbling in a brook
for centuries

I’m more of a rock, really
in size, but that’s the name
the landscapers gave me

piled into a small mountain
waiting to be used
to decorate a yard

but today someone
excavates me
and a few dozen others

to donate to a group
that desperately needs
to unwind, to un-stress

so the paints come out
and someone adorns
my hard face

with red and purple,
green and pink – a flower,
a loving message,

an abstract design –
they’ll place me in a garden
or on some papers on a desk

it makes no difference
what matters is that
this old chunk of geology

has helped someone breathe
sigh
smile

Möbius Avenue

I step outside my house this evening, evaluating the stars and my position. Off on another constitutional. It’s always been exactly one mile, but since they repaved the street, it’s now twice as long. It must be that strange pitch and roll, a half-twist about five blocks down, that has changed things, left me strangely unsettled. My perspective feels different, even though the stars, the trees and houses look the same. The thing is, when I’ve gone two miles in a straight line, I’m back at my own house. Another two miles, and it happens again. And again. My street has become a tape loop, a repeating echo, a real-life GIF. I am constantly leaving and returning to my house at the same time. I feel a combination of homesickness and wanderlust. Others I have encountered on my street have the same puzzled expression that I must possess. They don’t know whether to be dismayed or reassured.
We’re never too far from home, but we’re never far enough.

“Cherry Hill”

As for the geography,
there is a rise or two here and there,
but nothing that most would call a “hill”.
The fruit abounds on signs around town,
but it’s hard to find them here in nature,
now that we have lost our farms,
where they hung heavy and ripe,
waiting to be plucked, red juices ready
to tint the lips and stain the fingertips,
sweet meat around a heart of stone.

What we do have are the flowering trees,
pink and white, lining boulevards
and adorning yards, like the one in mine,
largest in our neighborhood. When it blooms,
it is a cumulus cloud trapped in branches.
Star-shaped blossoms riot every April,
then lay their carpet of petal-snow,
and we forgive them for not bearing fruit,
because that beauty can soften any heart,
even one as hard as a cherry stone.

Why He Always Wears Black

(after Rothko’s “Red, 1968”)

 

Because he cannot betray himself

with feelings.

 

Because he wants to absorb light

and not give it back.

 

Because he wants you to keep your distance

from his gravity well.

 

Because he chooses ash

instead of fire.

 

Because blood still runs

beneath the bruises.

 

Because he is a volcano

and this is his lava dome.

Heirloom Mint
A cutting

from your grandmother

which grew from

a cutting from her mother

has become this patch of green

in a corner of your garden.

Rub your thumb across a leaf

and bring your fingertips

to your nose, crisp-fresh smell,

an oil that soothes and tantalizes.

They smelled it too,

for a hundred years or more.
Photos, letters, songs

can be shared for generations

but so can aromas and flavors,

as long as we still have the senses

to receive them.

This herb will continue to provide

year into year, but not without

some sacrifice – the pinching off

of little purple flowers.