Stakes

“Stakes,” “Mount Nebo,” and “Time Pieces”

In Issue 73 by Michael Sandler

Stakes

Photo by Sandy Sarsfield on Adobe Stock

Stakes

A lump hammer propels me close

to buried root, each head-heavy swing

a blow at resistance. I want to lash

the stubborn vines to scaffolding

 

so they’ll grow upright, as we want

for our children—as I raised you, my child,

trying to bind your away-ward bent,

your queerness; ties to you failed,

 

each of us blurred by tears when you fled

my upliftings...

                           On the ground, awry,

fruit may rot, a recipe to subvert

summer’s caprese. The stakes are high,

 

and I try pounding them further in.

It’s not as if they need to hold up

the gravity of family rifts.

More like temporary props,

 

although mine seem to linger: the strut

I adopted when a new dad to hide

an unease, the latticework of norms

we erect about our kids

 

and never think to dismantle. Last summer

I mistook what I let go—Romas

freed, you my child not, an outbreak

of blight, black spot, diseased strata

 

in both encounters, one of them trussed

with my ideas of personhood,

gender, appearance. In place of trust

I knocked your clothes, how you walked, stood,

 

listening in the way the vain hear...

              Gardening offers redemptive buds,

a place to set a guidepost straight,

hopes in line with that rectitude,

 

one more heft and strike quivering.

But vines twist back from where I want

to tie them, as if to live their own lives.

Perhaps the hornworms will relent

 

and not creep through these San Marzanos

and my torment. If I call my child,

will they pick up? How to replant

when supports fail, so little holds?

Mount Nebo

Sunrise: the chill incites

a rasp of cloudy breath

against a rising slope of the hills,

 

a cleansing sharpness, striking

as light haloing a fallen tree

beside the trail. A panorama

 

awaits, a portent; while here,

broken stones surround me

like aged exiles in the wilderness

 

with little hope from on high...

Quiet, as though the mountain had removed

its hat for a passing. Disquiet

 

as dust roused by my clogs disperses

to a still life of the paltry

odds and ends I leave behind.

 

I should have done more in ink—or stone,

though texts, if not transmitted by priests,

will decompose like daylilies...

 

It’s warming up. My shadow shrinks

to almost nothing. Perhaps I’ll leave

my coat on a limb of this tamarisk,

 

something of use for the seekers

who follow, in case they also journey

from hope to toil to a cold outlook.

                               *

The climb a test, sweat nearly blurring

my vision, my head floating—

about to faint, or to have a burden lifted?

 

The wind-scarred course steepens

toward the nearing Pisgah sight,

stuttering my steps, hesitant to confront

 

a burst of sheer light, vision

of a land promising—not promised

for even stone writings shatter.

 

Or should I be content with the promise

in grandkids round a table,

murky as if seen through hoar-frost?

 

It’s one view I’ve had time

to ponder, a fraught prospect,

hopes pinned between oblivion

 

and continuity... Push on,

past stunted irises straining

through scree and rock

 

to bask blue in a desiccating sun,

past water oozing from unstruck flint,

glistening its clarity on the arid slope

 

till night overtakes. Push on,

a final vista quickens, resplendent

mirage—if only I could believe it.

Time Pieces

1.

Secure the damn thing in its disc, mute it gold,

or seal it amber in an hourglass…

But it’s found an escapement on my wrist,

it’s funneling through a trapdoor of sand.

2.

I’m tempted to ask for a few more years,

draconic years, dog years, though perhaps

I’d regard them as a miser observes

a dwindling bank account, dreading

each payment, dreaming of a quoin

that wedges shut a coffer door.

3.

An experiment: two facing mirrors,

my image receding in both, ad infinitum.

What time is it for the last me beyond

the looking glass? When I beam a flashlight

at one, it races away in the other

at light speed, taking me with it—

I can’t say why, but hasn’t this journey

of the mirrored me (relative to you) swindled time?

4.

Heron wings. Their beat-beat casts

a shock wave, the vibration

a quivering—think of a fish speared by a beak

dangling in nothingness, the tide flats receding.

I suppose one day a raven will show up, fold

my shroud into a cloth sling, and bear me away.

5.

Cesium gas in a vacuum, mocking my heartbeat…

Or an abrading desert wind,

a melting glacier floe, tides and waves

to wash the young, bleach the dead,

coursing over a berm I’ve built,

sucking it back, surge by surge, to a fount…

6.

It varies like a sine wave, a parabolic motion,

a shuttle’s threading of the weft

tightening then loosening as I move

from excitement to torpor—always enveloping,

its silky hand imperceptible when I’m busy;

but noticing its drape I shiver.

7.

Our dog’s clock is complete mindfulness.

His stomach chimes hunger. A fading scent

of his master advances the hour hand of longing

as the afternoon wears on, until

the front door clicks—such innocence, at one

with it all, tail wagging, tail down.

8.

What’s become of the inner voice

that once asked us to mark the sun’s drift

from the horizon, the rising of Orion’s belt?

I think it hid in my grandfather’s clock,

riding the pendulum, rocking in the mahogany throat—

as somewhere in that cadence I felt a pause.

9.

The digital face on my wrist an icon,

its chapter and verse luminous on my mobile screen,

observed when I lie down and when I rise up.

No Buddhist wheel, more a conveyor

in a reprocessing yard—yet when its pulse is in sync

with mine, I almost comprehend transcendence.

About the Author

Michael Sandler

Michael Sandler is the author of a poetry collection, The Lamps of History (FutureCycle Press 2021). His work has appeared in scores of journals, including recently in THINK, Literary Imagination, and Smartish Pace. Michael lives near Seattle; his website is sandlerpoetry.com.

Read more work by Michael Sandler .