John Skoyles

A Brief Portfolio of Six Poems
September 22, 2020 Skoyles John

The pond flattered the foliage,
and our reflections
trembled at the rim,
as if showing
we were souls
in skin that would fall
from us like these leaves
this autumn.
We no longer breathed
between sand and sky—
we were with friends in dreams.
A kiss disappeared
into the mist near her face,
my palm passed
through his outstretched hand.
One turned the tarot deck,
another walked on his knees
down the center aisle
of the Church of the Typical Inhabitant
and at the rail
lit the wick of a burned-down vow.
I was enjoying my role
in this eternal animation
among friends in dreams,
when the best of them,
pierced by a diagnosis,
called from an office
outside my reverie
with the news
and the need
to leave the world
of make-believe,
asking that I take him home.
And there he was,
at the waiting room
staring into the sheer
sunlit maze
of streets and avenues
that ended here.


It was there the day
you opened your eyes.
It ran in the veins
of both pairs of hands
that guided you
through childhood.
Was it bright, was it dark,
did you look away
from the start, or dare
a path toward it?
Were you really that dumb
or was it really that smart?
It brought wit to your tongue
and gave you the nerve
to ask an angel to hold you.
You were here, you were there,
raising cheer north and south:
Bottoms Up! Down the Hatch!
accompanied by a sax and kazoo.
They say it’s a gift,
and it’s a gift
to think so, but if it came
from a friend,
you’d never see him again.

The bench by the entrance
to the Blue Sea Motel
is where I fell for you again
after so many seasons
building castles
in the sand,
men out of snow
and raising countless
toasts at midnight
in a garden
of ice figures
carved to life
in the old year
and disappearing
hours later
in the new.
Sunrise above the neon sign
seemed a fitting
but unnecessary monstrance —
I was already praying
I wouldn’t lose
my place
among the other placeholders
in your heart.
The splintered bench
seemed the only
steady thing
along that string of doors
unlocked by different hands
with the same key.
The Blue Sea faced nothing
even slightly aquatic
just waves
of warm asphalt
that shimmered
like a mirage
to those looking
at the past
and calling that split-second
of hope
the future.


I love you is such an inadequate way
of saying I love you. — Joan Crawford in Possessed
Everything falls short
even a skirt
trying to hold its own
against the wind
so I will bet
on Mother Nature
every time
I see a gust
make its way
across the street
to the bus stop
where you wait
as if for me
though I know
you are really
going to work
but I can have
the wind blow where
and when I want
all the while aware
it is only art,
an alphabet,
a few marks on a page
not nearly
what I meant to say.

Meet the late Maurice Ravel,
his bolero banned and his name
damned as a bar to heaven
and a door to hell
at the Convent of the Seven Sorrows.
and a door to hell.
Enter my colleague
in critical theory
who spent hours
analyzing the horizon
from the bottom
of a well,
and one night tried
to understand
the tides by kicking
over a bucket of brine.
I bring your attention to
the Baroness von Tyebell-Schmidlein,
whose burning passions
cremated time
until her life was ash.
Here’s Preston, her son,
fresh from his yoga mat,
who inhaled god everywhere,
like air, but shot himself
on mother’s day,
her white gloves in his lap.
Why this parade of revenants
down the page?
I’ve tried my best to prevent
the last breath
of my friend on his deathbed
by introducing this circus
of the marvelous and strange,
and it worked.
I mean, it gave him
a final smile.
With a quick turn
of his head, he said,
“Why look so sad,
when you’ve brought
Ravel and the Baroness
back from the dead?”


One wondered where he parked his car.
A mother asked, “Why’d you write that book?”
The priest said it was a bridge
too far to think paradise was in the cards
for a soul away from church so long.
One kept crying, “Dry my tears.”
Another bowed to kiss a cross
and left some spit upon the Lord.
My aunt got angry when a niece
fit a cell phone to her ear
and sighed, “Say goodbye to Cousin Faye.”
The pest kept crying, “Dry my tears.”
My father complained his place in line
had disappeared just as he was near
to paying the cashier for a triple berry pie.
My grandmother said she had something
in her eye.
My roofer grandfather didn’t have time
to tell what was on his mind
because the scaffold fell.
A poet said, “Don’t ask about the tolling bell.”
The refrain we grew sick of hearing
was the sissy crying, “Dry my tears.”
Another, standing bedside
and staring at the ceiling,
said he saw a God
who didn’t care about sparrows,
hunger, war and strife,
or plans to gain eternal life.
He transcribed that writing on the wall
by scrawling across a pad
his memories of relatives and friends,
his mom and dad,
whose funerals left him
in arrears, and he signed off
with a line better written one less time,
“Dry my tears.”

John Skoyles’ most recent book is Yes and No (Carnegie-Mellon, 2021).  He is the poetry editor of Ploughshares.