night flight :: george bilgere

I am doing laps at night, alone
In the indoor pool. Outside
It is snowing, but I am warm
And weightless, suspended and out
Of time like a fly in amber.

She is thousands of miles
From here, and miles above me,
Ghosting the stratosphere,
Heading from New York to London.
Though it is late, even
At that height, I know her light
Is on, her window a square
Of gold as she reads mysteries
Above the Atlantic. I watch

The line of black tile on the pool’s
Floor, leading me down the lane.
If she looks down by moonlight,
Under a clear sky, she will see
Black water. She will see me
Swimming distantly, moving far
From shore, suspended with her
In flight through the wide gulf
As we swim toward land together.

basal cell :: george bilgere

The sun is still burning in my skin
even though it set half-an-hour ago,
and Cindy and Bob and Bev and John
are pulling on their sweatshirts
and gathering around the fire pit.

John hands me a cold one
and now Bev comes into my arms
and I can feel the sun’s heat,
and taste the Pacific on her cheek.

I am not in Vietnam,
nor is John or Bob, because
our deferments came through,
and we get to remain boys
for at least another summer
like this one in Santa Cruz,
surfing the afternoons in a sweet
blue dream I’m remembering now,

as the nurse puts my cheek to sleep,
and the doctor begins to burn
those summers away.

scorcher :: george bilgere

In the summer twilight,
a couple of hours after dinner,
we like to take a walk.
The birds have turned in.
The air has finally cooled,
but the crickets and katydids
are getting so worked up
that the lightning bugs catch fire
a few feet above the lawn,
just where we left them
when we were kids.

Now and then
we pass another couple
from one of the green, old,
more or less identical
streets of our neighborhood
as they move through the atmosphere,
mystical and obscure,
their voices softly registering
the news of the summer.

Good evening,
we say to each other.
Lovely night, isn’t it.
What a scorcher, we say
with gratitude and affection
for this shared mystery
of being human
on this dark little planet,
on one of the slender,
gracefully swirling arms
of one of the smaller galaxies.

corned beef and cabbage :: george bilgere

I can see her in the kitchen,
Cooking up, for the hundredth time,
A little something from her
Limited Midwestern repertoire.
Cigarette going in the ashtray,
The red wine pulsing in its glass,
A warning light meaning
Everything was simmering
Just below the steel lid
Of her smile, as she boiled
The beef into submission,
Chopped her way
Through the vegetable kingdom
With the broken-handled knife
I use tonight, feeling her
Anger rising from the dark
Chambers of the head
Of cabbage I slice through,
Missing her, wanting
To chew things over
With my mother again.

the white museum :: george bilgere

My aunt was an organ donor
and so, the day she died,
her organs were harvested
for medical science.
I suppose there must be people
who list, under “Occupation,”
“Organ Harvester,” people for whom
it is always harvest season,
each death bringing its bounty.
They spend their days
loading wagonloads of kidneys,
whole cornucopias of corneas,
burlap sacks groaning with hearts and lungs
and the pale green sprouts of gall bladders,
and even, from time to time,
the weighty cauliflower of a brain.

And perhaps today,
as I sit in this café, watching the snow
and thinking about my aunt,
a young medical student somewhere
is moving through the white museum
of her brain, making his way slowly
from one great room to the next.
Here is the gallery of her girlhood,
with that great canvas depicting her father
holding her on his lap in the backyard
of their bungalow in St. Louis.
And here is a sketch of her
the summer after her mother died,
walking down a street in Berlin
when the broken city was itself
a museum. And here
is a small, vivid oil of the two of us
sitting in a café in London
arguing over the work of Constable
or Turner, or Francis Bacon
after a visit to the Tate.

I want you to know, as you sit there
with your microscope and your slides,
there’s no need to be reverent before these images.
That’s the last thing she would have wanted.
But do be respectful. Speak quietly.
No flash photography. Tell your friends
you saw something beautiful.

unwise purchases :: george bilgere

They sit around the house
not doing much of anything: the boxed set
of the complete works of Verdi, unopened.
The complete Proust, unread:

The French-cut silk shirts
which hang like expensive ghosts in the closet
and make me look exactly
like the kind of middle-aged man
who would wear a French-cut silk shirt:

The reflector telescope I thought would unlock
the mysteries of the heavens
but which I only used once or twice
to try to find something heavenly
in the windows of the high-rise down the road,
and which now stares disconsolately at the ceiling
when it could be examining the Crab Nebula:

The 30-day course in Spanish
whose text I never opened,
whose dozen cassette tapes remain unplayed,

save for Tape One, where I never learned
whether the suave American
conversing with a sultry-sounding desk clerk
at a Madrid hotel about the possibility
of obtaining a room
actually managed to check in.

I like to think
that one thing led to another between them
and that by Tape Six or so
they’re happily married
and raising a bilingual child in Seville or Terra Haute.

But I’ll never know.
Suddenly I realize
I have constructed the perfect home
for a sexy, Spanish-speaking astronomer
who reads Proust while listening to Italian arias,

and I wonder if somewhere in this teeming city
there lives a woman with, say,
a fencing foil gathering dust in the corner
near her unused easel, a rainbow of oil paints
drying in their tubes

on the table where the violin
she bought on a whim
lies entombed in the permanent darkness
of its locked case
next to the abandoned chess set,

a woman who has always dreamed of becoming
the kind of woman the man I’ve always dreamed of becoming
has always dreamed of meeting.

And while the two of them discuss star clusters
and Cézanne, while they fence delicately
in Castilian Spanish to the strains of Rigoletto,

she and I will stand in the steamy kitchen,
fixing up a little risotto,
enjoying a modest cabernet,
while talking over a day so ordinary
as to seem miraculous.

once again i fail to read an important novel :: george bilgere

Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.

We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other’s silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.

All the characters can relax.
I’m giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.

In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,

the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.

We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.