Young bearded man sitting on slanted rock jutting into the sea
A previous version of this poem was published in the Southern Poetry Review, v19n2, Autumn 1979.

Even as you are making up something
To tell her (to make it right),
Part of you is itching to get lost —

Find your island,
A rock on the cliff above the beach
Cut off from the lights of cars

And the starry eyes of couples
Passing as single shadows. As a child
You’d retreat to the hall closet,

Sit Indian-style under the coats,
Beside the vacuum cleaner and boots,
Making plans: working things out

Neat as a geometric proof,
Then, listening to the fall of dust,
Go woolgathering in the mothball dark —

No one to call your name
Or with the gravity of a stare pull you back,
The door you thought locked, flung open.



Two-lane asphalt road curves gently bordered by trees in early spring

Grateful for the errand that’s
put me on this rolling back road,
I’m about convinced to declare it Spring.
Through glass, the bright sun’s warm.
The wooded hills shimmer: gauzy light green.

A good ways off, I zero-in on an old man
backing out the door of a run-down farm house.
I see him clearly as he turns,
his skull-stark face a shock
off-set by the way he’s dressed:
sport shirt buttoned at the jowls,
his cardigan a dapper match.

He’s still looks spry, the part in his slicked down hair
straight as the furrows he used to plow.
He steps from the sagging porch,
throws his beak up and, squint-blind,
aims a gap-toothed grin at the sun —
his death mask cracked open like an egg shell.



Original version published in Marilyn: A Magazine of New Poetry, vol. II, Spring 1976

Colorful clouds around a dreaming person’s face

I’ve mounted my bicycle and pedaled into the street
when I realize I’m the emperor without clothes.

Panicked, I begin to pee on my leg.
But after all, it’s raining. I’m dreaming.
No sweat.

Riding along this way is bliss.

Ahead, I see where the bridge has washed out.
A wave curls up and looms above me.
After lightning before thunder claps.

Absurdly, I think I can still get across.
I pedal full-speed, embracing sheer air
like the pilot of an early flying machine.

The water’s warm soup.
How stupid of me.

I fish up the bike by its handlebars
and pull for shore using a modified side kick.

Climbing out, I’m grinning like a capsized drunk.



Red rose in glass vase viewed from above against slate background

Days past peak bloom,
the rose I brought home
has begun to disappear.
Three shriveling petals
cling to the sepal,
their career of slow
curling outward nearly
done. Soon enough,
air stirred by a shut door
will bring them all down.
Still, we leave this rose
to center the room,
marveling at how it
fountains from each now
into the next, ever-changing
and yet holding, like
the nimbus of memory
around a grandmother’s face,
the steady radiance of its being:
sweet bud to fecund bloom
to this exhausted survivor
giving and giving itself
to the ravishing air.



David Dayton

David Dayton

See Here, you’ll find draft chapters of a memoir and poems I’ll select from to publish a book later this year.