Poetry from Michael Steffen

Going to Bed
Best not even raise the question
how long it will take for the halo
of the Late Night Show you’ve just clicked off
to fade from the blind of your
closed eyes. You keep seeing things
in the spectrum of the language in your mind
now and then surfacing to the present
like a swimmer for air, to pull off your tee-shirt
because even with the fan blowing
you feel too warm. And to find
the low rumble of the plane taking off odd
at this hour, perhaps with next-day
cargo. Driving down a country road
in Oklahoma once you pulled over to take
a leak and far away from the city’s lights
looked up to marvel at the stars in thick
clusters, as probably we would look
to heaven if we had fire in our DNA
like lightning bugs, an idea that changes
positions to find comfort with the body
lying here in its nearly nightly rehearsal
of death, which would similarly wonder
where we are headed, were it not that we are
already mercifully caught up in going there.
You Only Live Once
“but if you do it right, once is enough,”
said Mae West to the tall man, looking up,
her hand poised on the ample curve of her dress’s
hip, which in the day was thought to be sexy.
“You know,” she said to him, “I lost my reputation
and I never found it.”
With a little wiggle, she went on, “Hey
you handsome devil you, just how tall are you?”
The moment grew very gentle between them,
each grinning, his cheek a little red
suggesting a rural upbringing. “Why, mam,”
he said, “all of six foot six inches.”
“Goodness,” she breathed, wiggling again.
“You know,” he said, “it’s not easy for a man
over six foot, needing to bend at nearly
every door frame.” Simmering
the saucy dame raised a brow. She said to him,
“It’s not the feet that interest me. It’s those inches.”
It’s burning down the house from a boy’s wish
to be a hero when he grows up, calling
his body, breath by breath, forth, in an ash
nightmare of itself, with the walls falling
in sparks and cinder around him, each step
against his will—summonsed by elusive
voices of trapped souls crying for help.
It sears and blisters straight through his protective
gear… His face is that dazed. He’s in the store
I’m shopping in. And that must be his wife
beside him, her eyes as miffed, maybe more
to heart about the argument they’re having.
That’s love. It stinks. Mere misreads gone all life
or death. So burnt up nothing seems worth saving.
1940, the 22nd of June—
the French have signed an armistice with Hitler.
Churchill with Great Britain standing alone
this Saturday at breakfast in the Chilterns—
clouding with gloom. It’s such an awful scene
daughter Mary dashes for her bedroom.
With equal resolve, the Missus, Clementine,
hearing the tea cups rattle with a slam
inside the kitchen—does an about-face
for her boudoir. There from a bureau drawer
she seizes sheets of floral trim stationary.
We’re your family, despite this ugly war…
grooved with emphasis from her fountain pen,
the message bound for shreds into a bin.

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