Dave Manning



The hanging glasses make a chandelier  
 above her and she is aquavit, maraschino,  
Bombay Sapphire. In the bar mirror 

she is unreal. She bends for Bushmills
and my nitroglycerine heart
signals danger. They say she takes 

the back door of rough trade. They laugh
and say she goes down hot
like good whiskey. Let the loafers,

swillers of cheap beer talk and roll
up their hopes like dimes. Let them
remember her in black, her time of tears,

the red votives lit by her mother’s
good girl. When the floor is cleared,
chairs and tables set aside, she is the one

I will ask for the next dance--
the Delirium Waltz, to sweep her
out into its great arc under the stars.

--from 32 Poems Magazine

“Carlita Corazon” we called her
in our high school Spanish Club. We were
honor students and so enlightened
we wouldn’t have jaywalked
without a committee decision.

But things happened fast one day
at Whittier and Atlantic Boulevards.
Too many piled into the old Ford
and Carla Hart jumped on my lap.
¡Ayee! ¡Caramba! I could only
hold her like Teresa of Avila
and in the hormone storm
all I could do was sing!

Later, Carla Ann broke the piñata
at the Spanish Club Christmas party.
It was the last time I ever saw her
and she left me with the taste
of bright red candy scattered everywhere.

                                   --from Free Lunch

tonight, Aunt Ethel, 123,
strokes her pale jade-colored necklace,
the green mamba about her throat,
as she tells Bill Phipps, my match-play
opponent tomorrow, how he will
beat me 3 and 2.

It’s often like this—dreams in which
I know I’m dreaming but can’t wake up.
And the dead are always prophesying
and, of course, are never wrong.

Tonight, in living color, we have

another false democracy in which
the living should show a little more
respect, the dead, a little less familiarity.

In the dim bedroom, a seedy pianoman
bangs out Erroll Garner in the corner

while the rest smoke foul Galuoises
and make cocktail-talk as if I’m not there.

            Then they scare the hell out of me.
Waking on the bedside floor, I remember

how the lights flashed on and off
and they all came up and thanked me
for bringing them together for the last time.

                                      --from Detained by the Authorities

The hero in the cartoon jail
sketches a door on the wall,
turns the knob and walks away.

I want to write night wind
and stars, rainsound,
sun-fragrant sage—that way,

to code the scent of orchards
on a page, or Christmas
when your hands made angel

shadows in the hall. Then
when that world’s complete—I’ll step
through into it. That real.

                                   --from Crucible

when we rode the River Queen
down the Big Sandy
from Twelve-Pole Creek

and a hung-over church organist, Windy
Skeens, clambered up the cabin roof,
sat down at a battered red-and-gold

steam calliope and slammed out Stars 

and Stripes Forever with masterful flourish
and so loud, cows fled the river banks

and people waved white flags from the shore
and you said to me “Honey, there’s the guy
I want to have play for us at our wedding.”

                                     --First Prize, Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Award
                                       N.C. Poetry Society

The horse rears skyward as she hugs
his back, nears the live oaks’ lower
branches. The girl is lost in transport
as she takes the great surge

between her legs. The menace
of trees and ground are only colors
now—dun of road dust, forest green--
fear cancelled by the moment’s shine.

So begins their first long gallop.
Ektachrome 200 shows only a girl
flying on a white-tailed colt. What was it
her mother warned her of?

Horse and girl have found a trail
her mother has forgotten
and follow a river whose rising
she will not see again.

                                      --from Free Lunch

TUX RENTAL                                     
                     For Dick Bernhard, keeper of the legend
Loan, actually. At all-male Caltech
In the 50’s you could get decked-out
For the spring Scripps dance, no charge

At the suit shack back of the cafeteria.
They came in midnight black or gray
With fins like ’59 De Sotos, doublewide, &

Prison striped. Moths never made the holes
We found. The story was that the mob
Of coats & pants had been salvaged

From the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre or
Possibly after the following funeral,
Trouser creases pressed to Sicilian razors

& stains steamed out. On the dance floor,
My girl gave the huge suit elaborate room
Then hung on the lapels, admired the great fit

Across the back & laughed. Not me.
For once, I was the master of situations
Displayed at social ease, in the right place

At the right time, impeccably attired.
Not bad, on top of knowing we would drive
Back later through the scent

Of the orange trees, that we would all
Live in Bel Air someday—live forever
With Palm Springs in our backyard
Between the ski-slopes and the surf,
Our loved-ones all alive & no cup

Ever allowed to go below half-full.                                   
                                   --from Wellspring

Tall tan guys
from Yale with handicaps

of 5 & yacht club memberships.
More interchangeable than clones,

these chairmen, bred for generations
by The Best of Families.

 They table-hop from board to board
with eastern seaboard smiles

they wear in sleep. Their gazes crinkle
at the corners of bronze squints

(consigning you & all your lineage
in squat flat to hell) as they go on smiling

in your face & downsize you
with those eyes.

                  —from Free Lunch

Sea-house porch. Night wind
rocks the empty chairs. Great stars
ride their rivers of light.

The children are all in from the sea.
Sand-pails are all put away.

In my country of sleep, Four-o-Clocks

that closed twelve colors tight
in the leeward yard pop and bloom
from Roman candles on the pier.

Awake in the dark to flying sand, I think
of the starling nests that sway

on the Ocean Avenue traffic lights.

Ready to depart, the house creaks
and counts its passengers. The starlings
have flown through a hole in the sky.

                  --from Out After Dark

WHITE OAK CREEK, WESTWARD                        
                                At N.C. Highway 751, White Oak Creek                                
                                enters a forest of flooded trees.
The light came in a dream. I followed 
its pigeony flickers through nightgreen woods
to where it vanished in a waterfall.
Next day I found those trees, and a path 

that took me over a tiny bridge where a worn board

banged and flushed a Great Blue from a minnow

pool. Delicate feet together, he spread blue vans
and floated into deeper green downstream.

I followed its counsel of sibilance westward 
to a bend where White Oak Creek drains

basinward to the Cape Fear, then opens
to a forest of dead oak towers in the Lake Jordan

water-land. Acorn to sprout, their lives cast off
to pale heartwood. The heron was there.

                    --from Crucible, 2009
                                          (Sam Ragan Poetry Prize)

                 I am here or there, or elsewhere.
                                —T.S. Eliot

When I am gone
I will be behind a creosote bush,
deep in a Mojave arroyo
no one has ever seen. I will
still be aware—the awareness
of a desert hiker
who, turning toward the wind,
sees a Saw-Whet owl fly
from that arroyo
at a great distance.

Where are the nests of shadows?
In wastelands or lost farms
where you, hiker, casting out
your thoughts, will never go.
Silently, they climb the stairs
like tenants their landlord never sees.
They are more alive than memories,
and when your thoughts stray
from grocery lists to flashes
of a stream or hidden field,
they’ve touched you.

The owl tacks windward.
Deep in the canyon wildness
her fledglings wait for food.
If she sees beyond their hunger
it is censored by instincts
of the nest. A thousand like her live
and perish in the night, their traces
hidden in the grass.

Sundown lights the cholla spines
gold. A breeze sweeps sand against
the ocotillos. High on the cliff,
shadows creep into the redrock
               Stand here
and turn in every direction…

                                     --First Prize, McDill Contest,
                                        N.C. Poetry Society

They start where stairs lead
down to creeks, then wander
through willows in and out of sun.
They draw me with a feline curiosity
for passages of access or escape. I enter
and follow till light runs out.

At night, I leave my body,
flow down lanes of shade and light,
discover side-trails I never saw before.
Later, I hunt these paths by day--
Somewhere they must be real.

I don’t think trails ever end,
only become brush-clogged and faint
before continuing. All trails finally connect,
which you will discover by patient parting
of the undergrowth.

There is mystery in turning corners
into fresh unknown—leaf-light kaleidograms,
no two alike—even danger--
the shadowed copperhead, the unexpected
daytime raccoon. And there is loss
when wheel tracks start in deep grass,
then die out (where hope died?)
at a crumpled shack with newspapered walls,
a soiled doll’s dress by the door.

I’ve found scrub-hidden doors to trails
that switchback up through creekbeds,
break out into high loneliness
at piles of blackened rocks,
lightning-struck trailheads, the
landing-sites of ancient gods.

                                     --from Out After Dark

                  --for John Dixon 
 Given his druthers, Lefty Beale
would have kept both hands, but
he grew right proud of the shiny
state-of-the-sixties gripper
they fitted him after

the lab explosion. Company to the bone
and son of a mine super who fought
the U.M.W., he wouldn’t have sued
if F. Lee and all his crew
had parachuted in. And Lefty

            got to wear it

fishing trips where he roused us
before good daylight beating
that two-pound steel hook up
against the cabin door. After

the cancer ate away his soft
parts he rose with that blinding

stainless crab and beat upon the gate
of New Jerusalem,
and they took him in.

                                       --1998 Poet Laureate Award
                                         N.C. Poetry Society

The Authority of Dream said take
one final look, and so, awake,
I run with the fury of grace
down to the wind and water

where the meek green-headed ducks
sail off onto the far fog-shrouded lakes,
where the great blues stilt
in the ink-shadows of calligraphy.

And blown in the tempest of the dream,
I make final pilgrimage to the vast heronries
of heaven, their great nests clotted high
in the dead swamp-drowned cypresses
of the estuaries, the waste-wets,

riverine salt-fields where the tears
of God fall into His old creation crumbling
like glacial till at the horizon
of the up-rolling world. I run west

away from the chaos of the world’s
reworking into the wind-blown switchgrass,

into the milfoil fields, low sun in my eyes,
late day colors mixing with indigo

of the failing final night.

I pray for another ark to come
for this failed trial world, to salvage
all its intricate work of innocence--

he robed heron, the firegreen duck,
the waving grass, the proud dead tree,
all made to flee the rolling up

of day and night.

For no other world has taken us
like a mother into its meadows
where the sweet strong yeast of love
once dusted down on it until

the heavenly contagion took and spread,

and all things came awake and grew.
                                     --2006 Poet Laureate Award
                                       N.C. Poetry Society

before you
disenchanted with

my performance
as a human
being, a moment--

when you,
disabled by

my suave façade
& stunned
into foolish

called me

                                   —from Detained by the Authorities

Even after good times funnel
down to intervals between waiting rooms
(for another report to set you free)

—you’ll still come back for more.

After the fiftieth reunion

(where the class president went
unrecognized), you’ll wait by your mailbox

for the Kodacolor souvenir.

Someday, reprieves expire
and tomorrow becomes now.
Think of what your molecules have
always wanted and let them go.

Think of how easily TV strangers die
in distant lands. Where do all the people
come from who never heard of you?
How inexhaustible they are!

That’s the secret. Think
of yourself as news
from a far country.

                                      --from The Flower Sermon