The Deserter, by David Chorlton

A lost soldier stops at a well
and listens to a stone
falling through the long shadow
to its dry bottom. The crackling
of rifle fire continues in the distance
but he cannot tell who is shooting
or who is dying. He takes the star
from his uniform and throws it

away into the trees
where it continues flying
in circles with its silver edges shining.
When he unbuckles his belt
it slithers off into the undergrowth,
and the passbook he pulls
from his pocket

takes off from his hand.
He lays down his gun and it disassembles itself.
He loosens his coat
and an owl flies out of its lining.
When the soldier lies down to sleep
nothing can wake him,
neither deer
nor the fox that licks the salt
from his brow

where dreams open their colored wings
around the fire in his brain.

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The Executioner’s Breakfast, by David Chorlton

When the razor slides
along a leather strap
the wife knows it is time
to heat water for her husband’s coffee.

While he spits foam
after brushing his teeth
she halves the grapefruit
and slips a blade
between its sections.

She sets two eggs
to boil, listens to the clatter
of hangers falling in the closet
where he fumbles for a shirt,
and gives him the three minutes
he always takes to shine

his shoes before plugging in
the toaster and pushing the lever.
When he sits down
with after-shave scenting his cheeks
she bends for a kiss

and asks him if there is anything
he needs, if he has
any last wish before
he leaves her to wash the dishes.

..

David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications online and in print, and often reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. A recent collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant. A new book, Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird, is out from Hoot ‘n Waddle, based in Phoenix.

Triumphal Return, by David Chorlton

The exiled dictators
stir their martinis
in the tropical shade
while they wait
for their time to come around again.
They open their mail
hoping for a signal

to put on their dark glasses
and return to the palace balconies
above the crowd
in their apartments with a view

across another country
they rehearse the speeches they will give
and accept the window’s applause.
Portly now
after years of inactivity
they plan to diet
for when their moment comes

and they stand before the people
promising a future like the past.
They will enjoy a long shower,
shave, pull a clean shirt from the closet,
brush their teeth, set their watches
and keep adjusting their ties

until the moment
the curtain is drawn
and they appear like nervous bridegrooms
when there is no turning back.
Their sources say
the day will be soon,

they need only have patience
and a maid
who does her job well. Everything depends
on her; the shoes must shine
like mirrors of death.

Tuned to Cicadas, by David Chorlton

Along the route we take to see
summer’s last cuckoo
a radio keeps company with the miles
of open country. There’s conflict
on the interstate, and arms
are being sold in all directions
even on the country road
that runs through hills made green
by August rains. The clouds today
are decoration, glowing at their edges
as they float without a care
that one country’s murderers
masquerade as a security force
and their trial has been staged to reassure
the people that they’re safe.
Ocotillo brush against
the sky, there’s a dip and a rise before
news of xenophobia
translated into yet
another language, and it makes us as sad
to hear it as glad somebody cares
enough to send reporters
to places that ceased
to be anyone’s home. Finally the trail
begins, away from traffic,
winding between mesquite
and Arizona sycamore
in dappled shade, vibrating
with the rattle from cicadas to a shrill
crescendo followed by
a sudden stop. There’s a woodpecker tap
in the quiet they leave
behind, and a towhee’s plaintive
note rising from
a rustle in the undergrowth.  Not a sound
can reach here from the war games
being played while half
a continent from them the real thing
continues every day.
She could be anywhere, the high limbs
or eye level, no longer calling now
the breeding season passed
and her work
is all preparing for migration. The body
is slender, the underbelly elegant,
and the tail won’t be mistaken
for any other bird’s. Another wave
of sound breaks from the cicadas, and it takes
only seconds for the years
to part and let the memory through
of seeing one the first time.
Then a long shape glides
in and out of sunlight, and takes hold
of the world by a slim branch
on an ash tree. And the cicadas send
another wave through the warm afternoon
of stained glass singing,
the kind of loud that’s peaceful.

..

David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications online and in print, and often reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. A recent collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant. A new book, Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird, is out from Hoot ‘n Waddle, based in Phoenix.

California Surreal, by David Chorlton

Magritte is in the air today.
A doorstep is a bedroom
and the pavement serves
as a parlor for so many
that no one walking by
notices how thin
their occupants have become.
A massive rock is floating
above the city and threatens
to fall at any time
but is held aloft by prayer
and hallucinogens. On the trains
that howl deep under ground
are acrobats performing
for the passengers who sit,
each with a moon
just over their heads. They turn
some cartwheels and move on
without anyone acknowledging
their virtuosity. Meanwhile,
back at street level
a dancer holds a radio close
to his chest and turns a sudden
pirouette to the chorus
in a blues song in lantern light
much like that reflecting
in the water in a scene so lonely
it could only happen
in a surrealist’s mind. A rose
fills a room there, and men
in dark coats rain down
from a clear sky. All presented so
matter-of-factly as to pass
without comment, much like
the way one is expected here to walk
lightly while sleepers float
on smoke and dreams.

..

David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications online and in print, and reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. His newest collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant.

http://davidchorlton.mysite.com/

New Morning, by David Chorlton

Sunrise, early summer: mute
clouds in the east edged
with fire, while the still full
moon hangs cool above
the mountain to the west.
The forecast is for

a hundred degrees by
the afternoon, but now
the back yard wildlife
is coming out from hiding
to nibble at the edge
of early shadows as they cross

the freshly watered grass.
Sunlight through the window blinds
rubs against the wall.
Morning news has not yet risen
from that dark horizon

beyond which the meetings
are held to circumvent democracy,
and where nobody distinguishes
politics from entertainment.

Sunday Matinee, by David Chorlton

The lady was a reckless rider
in the light rail car,
standing up to shake her hips
with the beer in her plastic cup
washing up the sides and threatening
to spill over upon
those of us just minding
our own businesses, which she
appropriated for herself
and campaigned for an end
to being miserable: an apt
description for how it felt
to be in her intoxicated shadow
while the smoothly running
wheels carried us along
our route to baseball
or ballet.
……………….The program
was all Balanchine, with its
angular grace and depictions
of sin and redemption, the struggle
to be human, and a jealous
woman’s vanity
leading to a fine finale with
her erstwhile suitor lying dead
to a knife wound in the chest.
Meanwhile, outdoors
………………………………..the temperature
was rising, and a certain
melancholy overflowed
the bars whose doors were open
and upon whose television screens
the final inning was in play. Some city
pigeons pecked for scraps
and the long streets
led to uncertain horizons.
On days like this
………………………it is impossible
to define the soul, thinking perhaps
it is the white moth
flying in the scene before
the curtain falls, or the part of us
that cares for what is lost
when a civilization turns into
technology; the part that wants
to scream like a chainsaw
when it sees what it has done.
Or is the soul
………………..the hand that holds
the knife? That tightens its grip
on the handle, bracing
to fight against loss. A fingerprint
upon its victim’s
final breath.

The Living Laboratory, by David Chorlton

The cats glow
when electric charges
flow into them,
the monkeys do not know
why they have been chosen
to be held inside a vice
that tightens when they breathe,
and a rabbit is the sore chemicals create
as they drip through a parting
in its fur. A rat
is a monosyllable in a jungle
of medical language,
a pincushion for science,
and trained to stand on the point
of a needle
to prove how small a life
can become when there is no crime
for which the punishment
is administered.

Poetry Waking, by David Chorlton

Its early: four o’clock. Too dark
for logic. The alphabet is scattered
across the floor
and the day’s arguments
have yet to begin, but the mind
is already sorting what matters
from what does not.
……………………………Loose ends
are connecting. A train
arrives from a long ago year;
a bird seen far from its range
becomes a portent of extinction;
Russia has returned to its iron
roots; all the teacups
in the kitchen fill
…………………………..with storms
and every toy gun
kills in dreams. Soon, the televisions
will wake up and start to shout
but this is poetry’s time
to purr in a world of lions.

..

David Chorlton was born in Austria, grew up in Manchester, England, and lived for several years in Vienna before moving to Phoenix in 1978. Arizona’s landscapes and wildlife have become increasingly important to him and a significant part of his poetry. Meanwhile, he retains an appetite for reading Eugenio Montale, W. S. Merwin, Tomas Tranströmer and many other, often less celebrated, poets.

Prayersmoke by David Chorlton

The marshal stood facing
his adversary, feet set firm
in the main street’s dust
as the two men dared
each other to draw first,

at which moment
several children ran, oblivious
to the standoff,
laughing between them

and suddenly a shot
was fired, then another
in response
until the guns were empty
and some of the children

lay on the ground. This
prompted both
shooters to bow
their heads a moment,
joining briefly

in prayer, then
reloading, determined
never to back down.

Morning Air by David Chorlton

Pollution rests softly

on the city’s outskirts

where desert shades

into mountains

brushed onto the horizon

by early sun.

                  The view ahead

is almost oriental,

so subtly do the blues

recede from each range

to the next, until

rock becomes sky,

                            and the sky

keeps on rising

like breath with wings.

..

David Chorlton, a longtime resident of Phoenix after spending his first thirty years in Manchester and Vienna before moving to the New World. His newest published book is BIRD ON A WIRE from Presa Press, and The Bitter Oleander Press recently published SHATTER THE BELL IN MY EAR, his translations of poems by the Austrian, Christine Lavant.

A Tuesday by David Chorlton

The internet provider has,
once again, failed
to provide this morning
while a softening of the darkness
behind Four Peaks promised
that the sun would rise.
The television news was,
as usual, lacking optimism
with a train whose maiden journey
ended buckled on
a bridge with traffic stalled beneath it
in a row of angry headlights.
When the topic changed
to the Tax Bill, No Signal
floated on a screen turned
black. The goldfinches arrived
on time, just as the desert
turned rose where it climbs
up the side of the mountain close by.
The radio efficiently reported
on missiles far away and
roads blocked close to home
while the bedroom window
framed a hummingbird drinking
from a leaf and the light
still wet from Sunday’s rain.

Tarkovsky’s Cuckoo by David Chorlton

          Stalker

A question mark has risen
in place of the sun.

Wearing woolen hats against eternity
three men set out to penetrate
the Zone, where a cuckoo breaks
the silence among leaves rusting
at their edges.

A tunnel runs
through the Earth’s mind
where it remembers the time before

when the land was beautiful.
Two notes
repeat. Rain pocks
a puddle glazed with poison rainbows.

Repeat. And a wolf’s call
churns in each man’s stomach
as he staggers deeper
into fog. Back in each
of their own weathered rooms

is a clock on the wall
that opens its doors
to let a bird on a spring
out every hour, with a mechanical

proclamation that
it has survived.

Last Act by David Chorlton

Dancer in the Dark

 

It’s just a made up story, something

like an opera, this tragic

sequence of events beginning

with the immigrant mother

saving every greenback dollar she can

to pay for her son’s operation

while the world she’s in

is fading. But even blind she sees

in her imagination

how she can dance and everyone

around her breaks

into song for as long

as the illusion lasts. Then she’s robbed,

and high drama ensues

at the end of which her landlord,

who couldn’t stop his wife from spending

more money than he made,

is a dead policeman on the ground.

Who’d believe the woman

that he came at her with his gun

and all she wanted

was her money back? So, she

who found her way home by following

the railway tracks is lost beyond hope,

though not beyond music.

We’re watching injustice

turn into an art form, with the closing

scene bearing down upon us

like a train, as the execution chamber

becomes a theater

in which the hangman’s only doing his job

and he’s not paid to pass judgment,

just to pull the lever

that springs the trap door open

and leaves the body swinging

back and forth before

the curtains close

as they do at every final scene.

The Creation by David Chorlton

Everything looks clear enough

in the text selected for the oratorio

where the beginning seemed to be spontaneous

with darkness on the face of the waters

and all it took

was to say what came next:

………………………..light,

a firmament, some storms, and with a hand’s

demanding wave dry land. After the appearance

of grass, the situation became

more complex

…………….as a food chain

had to be established. After Heaven,

a lyre, some angels and harps,

eventually the earthworms,

crept in long dimension

while the heavy beasts like thunder

trod the ground above them.

There was always more:

………………………the ibex

balancing on a shadow’s

edge; Birds-of-Paradise

with feathers that blossom; wolves

whose voices polish the stars.

…………………………………And a vein of copper

glowing at the center of the world,

inaccessible to all

but the most destructive of gods.

Final Scenes by David Chorlton

The way the villain spins,

one boot heel spitting dust and the other

already on a trajectory

toward the afterlife, as he drinks

a final gulp of sky

and pays for his transgressions is

delightful entertainment, as surely

as the speed impresses

of the draw and shot that brings him down.

Even the blast

that takes a staggering ne’er-do-well

when he’s three-quarters dead

with one bullet left

is a pleasant distraction. And the body

falling from a horse in a splash of blood

cannot fail to please

when the rider deserved all he got and more.

It’s as much a pleasure

to see the ice across a man’s eyes

as he spreads his fingers in anticipation

with his palm an inch

from his holster as it is to watch the long

black coat another wears

billow in the silent breeze that portends

his demise. There goes

the survivor, walking down Main Street on the day’s

final sunbeam, and there

lie the bodies, and here comes the music

to accompany the credits,

and we’re back

in the world where gunshots

never come with reassurance

and the script doesn’t say who to aim for.

Sunday Night at the London Palladium by David Chorlton

He meant nothing by it

when he leaned forward in his chair,

shot a finger toward

the television set and blurted

He’s Jewish

prompting the response

How do you know?

to which the answer was always

You can tell by looking at him

followed by an innocent

How?

and the ensuing explanation that

You can just tell – it’s obvious

leading to the further question

What does it matter?

begging a logical reply

as the performer took a bow

while the audience applauded

It doesn’t bloody matter, I’m just

saying he’s a Jew

I’m not saying it matters

and we tried to enjoy the next song

despite the following claim that

Most of ‘em are Jews on there

an eventuality that hadn’t

occurred to us

although when it was pointed out

it seemed possible

whether or not it mattered

as long as the performance lived

up to expectations

and with dinner cleared away

we were settled down as usual on Sunday

except for his uneasy

shifting that preceded

They make you sick

and our asking

although by now we knew what to expect

Who?

with the same answer every week

The bloody Jews

even as Bruce Forsyth smiled

his way to introduce the next act

while an outburst brewed

at the appearance of

Another Jew You can’t

get away from them

but he could sing and even dance

So what?

and as if it had been rehearsed all week

So nothing I’m only telling you

with a heavy emphasis on the first syllable

of telling

he’s a bloody Jew, they all are on there,

you can see it, it’s obvious

when you look at ‘em

you can see they’re Jewish

which observation brought

a flush of rose to his face

before he settled back to watch

the final credits roll

at the end of what

had been a most enjoyable entertainment

despite the constant

pointing out that

They’re all the same the Jews

and always made the point

before going to bed

that he really meant nothing by saying it.

..

David Chorlton was born in Austria and grew up in Manchester, England. He later lived in Vienna and moved, with his wife, to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1978. Living in Arizona has made him ever more appreciative of the natural world, while a certain bewilderment at local politics lives on too.  His poems have appeared in many print and online publications, as well as individual collections, the most recent of which is “Bird on a Wire” from Presa Press.
http://www.davidchorlton.mysite.com/