Stephen Roger Powers

When I Sing for Her

Not too long ago I said I’d do anything for her
except sing. But that was then and this is now.

Now, love is the whole bakery.
Then, infatuation was the stripper

in the cake. Sooner or later we grow
tired of pasties and licking the frosting off

our fingers, so
today her grandmother’s china

plates are stacked in
my cupboard. Our toothbrushes

touch in the bathroom. Two packs
a day for a few weeks

and I am ready, voice
so buried in grit and cinders the paint

goes wet and the hardwood
floors buckle when I crack

the Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou
version of “Rosewood Casket.” Fleas

from the previous tenants leap
from the chips in the floorboards.

Neighbors come out looking around.
My grandmother always said,

“A joyful noise, clear and loud,” which was half-baked
advice for a no-audience kind of guy like me

who cringed under the whole-bakery voice
my grandmother saved purely for Sacred

Heart and Father Goodhead,
but who now lets his own fly like buckshot

tearing apart her sheer curtains.
I can close my eyes and I hear Grandma now,

shrill like metalworking, on tiptoes for the high
notes, her Kleenex-dust mustache

gray as leaf-pile smoke
above a grove of bare sweetgums.

When a song ends in an empty room,
the unsung overture is, “I love you, please.”

The Great Chicago Earthquake of 2002

The ghost of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow spared the House of Blues
the night Dolly Parton teetered into that toddlin’ town
in her pointed-toe mules with mile-high heels. She sang & picked
stripped-down bluegrass for gay standing-room-only
packed-to-overflowing city slickers. One flame too close
to her wig when she bent down to grab some roses
and the whole place could have gone up in explosions
gamboling from beer breath to beer breath,
cologne boa to cologne boa.
It was as far as you could get from the back porch
on Locust Ridge in Tennessee, where stamping feet
rumbled a hundred miles through ancient shale
and blue smoke all the way from the Mountain Opry
to her old autoharp and wooden chair rocking over the valley.
I was there in the stormy, husky, brawling freight handler
of the nation when it happened, when she plucked a stray
platinum hair dangling over her eye. The music slowed down
and high notes lowered to bass while it floated to her feet.
When it hit the floor of the stage she kept right on sailing
through “After the Goldrush,” same speed as before.
Seismologists were puzzled the world over when
the corncob towers of Marina City swayed so much
they touched their tops. Long after the aftershock music
ended, and she was back in her custom purple Prevost
heading south, it was determined Dearborn was the unheard-of
epicenter. A shuffling janitor with a wide broom swept
that single hair into a dust bin.

In the Village the Night Before We Flew to Europe

we danced the Yellow
Brick Road Off to See
the Wizard song arm
in arm in the dusk
rain, she in strappy
sandals and me in hemp
flip flops kicking
up puddles just as easy
and fast as a bike
with no fenders.
Our sprinkler children
toes splashed and played
right down to it while the
people in the lit from inside boat
size windows of a Mediterranean
restaurant clinked their
Malmsey in olive tree
stem glasses.
Somehow we stayed
upright, like the guitar
case in the corner
of my bathroom,
buckles rusty after four
Sundays absorbing love
steam from hour long
morning after showers—
A year of nightfalls spent
drowning the funny way
you brushed the hair out of
my eyes couldn’t polish them clean.
Anyone would have thought
we’d stumble, but our legs
were plumb banjo
strings tuning to the cycles
that we live over
and over again regardless.