by Michael Sandler

How the past buttresses
remorse, as if today’s missteps
fit old indentations

that zig then zag from one
ancient beacon to another.
Like you I feel pulled apart

by each, unsure which will prevail
as if both flew my banner,
leaving me to soldier on

my compass flipping between
North Star of pleasing you
and Southern Cross of stern discipline.

When did I first comprehend
the long sleeves in August,
a reddening in averted eyes,

your lethargy as furtive cloaking
of an attempt to find some shelter
from craving’s call, from shame,

though such tents are poorly pegged
and then the wind comes up and
holding down the flaps turns futile.

Even Carcassonne gave scant
protection to the Cathars, hunted down
after marching out step;

the lucky ones walked out with heads
shaved, the crenelated walls
and machicoulis no bulwark

against siege—or for souls worshipping
two opposing gods at once,
the sally and counter of their creed.

Treatment and reversion, assuring me
you’ll give it up,
till the limbic brain says, More!
Your eyes lie on me and lie,
amoral as a god who inflicts the meek
with pain, letting them perish
as if to satisfy a need.

Someone in the support group raised
a hand and spoke passionately
of a clearing
in the mental forest where we might
stop for breath, the circling trees
like columns of an ancient tower
that isn’t there

and there we look upward toward clouds reforming
shape to shape—
until a demon tugs at the sleeve
and we’re left to juggle twin
that we suffer lethal cracks
in the earthwork, that we’ll bear up.

Perhaps the maneuvers themselves
confer worth, a step toward consolation—
a command not to quit,
in fact, to keep moving double time
through the obstacle course,
its berms of discarded treatment plans,
the chevaux-de-frise of used needles.

Less plan than a protective institution—
our doctor found the place, I went along,
we all paid—sheltered on a hill, well lit
and monitored (no texting or internet),
the sanatorium as mountain lodge
where it was understood you might be patched,
not cured (that one needs valor to be cured
of what the brain demands) and you appeared,
for a time, to be coping—resolve wobbles
like a book balanced on a trembling head
or the top course of an unstable wall.
I watch you tarry mid-climb, the pinnacle
in air too pure, the crevices summoning
you back toward anodyne oblivion.

And where am I in this? A bystander
within a fine cocoon
spun of neglect? My platework armor
in kinship’s delicate silk?

Your words disguise a plea
but I’m still offended by the syntax,
the sullen, sour tones of Just stay away,
almost driving me into the shoals…

Though I hear it’s really a disease,
and, pondering that, I imagine a buoy
and how it may signal
a narrow passage to a safe inlet—

or maybe I’m gesturing
toward atonement. Even this late I seek
communal fire, hoping
the flicker across your face means, It’s okay.

History doesn’t repeat;
it reenacts—as if helixed
in chemistries of impulse.

Do I contain my father,
his conflict whether to embrace me
or grab my torso and swat?

I’d make a middling CEO
or general, mapping out
competing plans, failing to choose,

groping for a constancy
the counselors now ask you to find,
an affirmative with conviction

or negative with oblique force—
but the debate roils as if each side
speaks the other’s shibboleth.

I tried to teach you mine,
clashes of lecture and love
or, if not love, indulgences—

perhaps I gave in too soon after
pressing too hard, one flank testing the other,
our center unable to hold.

Though now I chirp reassurance,
I too need a place to calm
the crenels and merlons of intention,

as much refuge as stronghold,
breastwork for indecision,
uncertainty’s redoubt

but, passing under the raised portcullis,
I sense your countermand
to break camp.


Category: Poetry, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing