Dan Pettee


There are circuits and short circuits, both
of which invoke a language full
of indirection, subterfuge, and humor with
a leavening of rue—the usual
grades of truth that pass for perilous wisdom,
images proffered like platters spun on fingertips,
or dervish dancers giving place to whim,
or racers at the margin, pulling out all the stops.

Always, there are certain signs along
the way, trimmed fingers on the pulse and flow
of messages that often don't agree
with all the patterns drawn, conclusions lost among
gyroscoping theories cast like tangling fishing lines
into a roiling sea, ideas like driftwood shards
which coalesce like drops of blood—or frozen words
crawling like runners up unfamiliar lanes,

stairways to nowhere, maps along the rain-stained wall
like photographs of loved ones long departed
for another world, with no directions given,
no ticket punched, no tarot tossed or flung.
You know, when all is said and spun, that everything
is lost, broiled in a witches’ oven,
wrapped in plastic, images supported
by clouds that drift above the frozen chaparral . . . .

Decline and Fail

The river slithers through the leafy grove
like a clothesline fallen in a bed of grass
grown green as shamrocks in the midday sun—
and then it disappears to underbrush
before the waterfall which roars unbridled
through the sun-drenched waning of the afternoon.

He stands before the water pooled
some twenty steps beyond the falls,
stands and skips a flattened stone across
its placid sheen—third and final try.
He smiles a rueful smile, remembers stones
skipped across the ocean's spreading calm,

times when the arm was firm and finely muscled,
the step had easy spring, not dead and rooted weight,
when the smile was true and truly spread
a glow, a nimbus faint enough almost to see,
and all who were its targets turned right to,
smiled and bought the cold hard thing of things.

But that was all to change, in frantic stages,
like a slowly turned and finely traced kaleidoscope—
image after image, message after message,
until the shifting tides of favor
swept him off his predetermined course . . .

and his tragically real sea legs were lost.



Lost, too, the vision of the beckoning future,
the heat and hurry of the spotlight’s beam,
the glow within the smile, the sparkle
in the grin, once so surely in demand. All lost,
though not all at once—in starkly naked increments.
Like notches on a gun barrel, or cryptic notes

scribbled in cramped spaces, once archetypes
of pure progress, now the RPMs of a motor
off a cylinder or two.  Gone,
all of it gone, and in the twinkling of
a jaundiced eye, and the mailbox
empty as a trodden, sodden mind.

And now?  He lives behind closed doors,
shuttered windows, clouded, closeted dreams—
family split and gone, old friends
with new phone numbers known not to him.
Only his aged and widowed mother there
to keep the links of life from shattering.

He carries extra weight, in body and mind,
and doesn't wear it well, his public face
a frozen, fretful mass the people of his place
too seldom see. The days roll on like endless tides
and only memory's successes, fragments stitched
like paper dolls within his errant mind, enable
him to sleep, and dreams provide enough
to wake him daily as he awaits the final truth
that's sure to set him free . . . .

A former teacher and advertising manager, Dan Pettee currently operates his own freelance writing business in Grand Rapids, MI. He has had poems published in a wide range of publications including Chicago Review, Texas Review, Pinyon, Descant, Puerto del Sol, and Evansville Review.



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