Lost All Age • sonnets


Sonnets by Michael Koep
Music by Monte Thompson
except * Music by Monte Thompson and Scott Clarkson
©2003-2012 Claytunes Music, BMI

Asleep on the Wicker Chair in the Backyard

I watch you on your hands and blackened knees,
Your frame curved like an egg in the grass, planting
Our garden. Your warm fingers seed down through
Cool slender holes in the turned earth. Sweat gleams
Between your shoulder blades and you’re singing,
While I fall to sleep, dreaming. I dream you
Laid me down in a basket by a stream,
A wicker boat among the reeds, and let
Your fingertips slide my craft out toward
The current- you let go. All that I’ve seen
All I’ve done, age I’ve lost and won, all spent
In rhyme and song I saw along the shore,
Shoot sunward. You have sown a dreamer’s seed.
Don’t wake me ‘til I make the river bleed.

Apple Wine

“I wish God would have killed me as a kid,”
She said as cigarette smoke snaked in braids
About her head. “I can’t undo the things I did,
I cannot worm my way out of this waste.
So with this wine, it’s time you knew my mind.”
Oh Mama, I’m the apple of your eye,
Your teeth are tearing me. “Kids have no time.
No time to know how not to know, just why
A darkness tunnels through the simple things.
How He allows me to be gorged alive!
And you, so young will one day feel the sting
Of all those bitter-sweets you’ll host inside.”
Her wine rushed through me and her apple loomed
Red at my lips, inviting me to bloom.

In Jude’s Stare

Looking out at the lake, I’m not lost, not
Really. I’m just looking out, and I can
Feel you thinking that I might be. I’m caught
In a delicate thought, like those of Rand-
Lennon-Shelly. I’m just sliding through the
Sky. Not asking why. Not caring. Spirit
Of the Age, my words mean nothing and the
Things I think I know all turn to bullshit
Rambling. I dream of the poet in me
And a road less rocky- One path to de-
liver myself to those bards I envy.
Will these images be put down: the watery
Sights I see- the deep stare that spells me out?
Are these things, things poets can live without?

–for Hardy’s Jude Fawley

Stop Watch

Was there a single moment that has made
A man of me? One second, Katie flung
Me kisses– left my pale lips Kool-Aid stained,
The next, my mind began to tick, my tongue
To taste and time tip toed through me. Hours tolled
Across green school yards. Thieving bells. Bells that
Taught the eyes to watch days fade, and the heart
To feel years die. And all the rest was rush.
That single moment clicked like gears behind
Her face. Now, hands and numbers circle fast;
I stop to watch my past. Oh Katie, find
Me while I don’t believe the past is past.
A single moment I saw fade to black
The moment I learned I could not go back.

Sky Water

We keep each other from drowning, you and I.
My starboard side, I see your boat midair.
Deep vertigo flies me. The water’s eye
Is filled with sky. Dawn’s light still in our hair,
It flashes silver, strangely. Have we grown
Beyond old childhood mournings? Where our hearts
Still stir? Grey we prefer. Together alone
We’ve grown. We’ve set the child to drawing charts.
You complete me, if I could ever be
Complete. This shining mirror to the sky–
Its scratchless lens we glide, until the sheet
Of water wrinkles, tucking youth inside.
So while your boyhood ghost hides in the waves
Take me as a reflection of your face.


Within her mother’s room she laid me down.
Her jeans slipped to the floor and she came to
Me. I couldn’t move. A shelf of candles quaked;
And white ceramic angels backed around,
And jittered as her body arched and drew,
Like the tongue of the sea. She knew to take
Was to give. Quick gasp, thick pulse and she stopped.
Her haunt I see still: wide, grave eyes framed in
The skylight, on the day she seemed to own
The universe, when a part of me dropped
And fell away. I could feel her warm skin
Against my own. This power she’s always known.
A force that turns our hearts to shapes that move.
A daylight moon above. She moved like love.

Maternity Ward

I must chain the wild child inside. Awake,
Before my own arrives. Grow wise, forget
About my grand designs, and not regret
A single compromise–just my mistakes.
That wild and slender vowel I will blur
And leave him wriggling in periphery.
Condemn him to rule ardent memory.
I’m not him, and he’s not me, I’m a Father.
Yet, as I near the glass, my empty eyes,
Like raw grey skies, behold him in and through
The pane: his tiny face, familiar eyes
Inside this father son: a boy anew.
Look how he gazes back! I recognize
Myself again. That someone I once knew.

Hold My Tongue

Lie there Love, just lie there. Let me look at
You. Let me write you into this book, then
Sing you. But I’m afraid– afraid of that
Warm bedsheet being pulled down. The scent
Of wakened skin, like sweet clay, damp spring grass;
To see those almond shoulders, white and wreathed
With hair dark as soil. I’m afraid that as
I try to angle you to lines you’ll weave
Me into your earth, hold your tongue to mine
And make me taste those wordless moans that I
Can’t write. No language can graft flesh and rhyme
Together like this. So pull that sheet up tight,
And keep your body from my touch– my stare.
Let me make you with words. Love, just lie there.

The Student

So long I’ve sailed upon Posideon’s sea
And may Prometheus in Hades burn
For what he’s given me: fire-light to see
The azimuth grey and aged from which I learn
And cannot turn, enraged. Why must the sails
Go ever on? Why must they fill and breathe?
And leave an innocence that rips and ails
At every sight upon Posideon’s sea?
Can I return? Divert my ship to shore?
Delay awhile upon some secret isle
Where I may raise my oars, to watch her soar?
My vulture’s vengeful flight to Titan’s trial.
May she devour the light and bring me peace.
And may his pain and my sweet youth increase.

There, A Labyrinth

There, where we were, but what am I now? There,
I lost my way. The high green hedges- leaves
Fanged- close airless aisles scratch and cross hatch my
Skin to lines. Each turn: a wall of yew. There,
I’ll call, “Where are you? Come to me! Believe
With me. Seethe with me. Let me see your eyes.
Say: ‘I will.’” And through the twisted bine, “Here!”
You cry, “hunt me babe, say you will. You’re bound,
So feel your way.” These tangled rows grown to
Test our direction; we leave blood trails here
And there, like voicing vows before a crowd.
I see the stained furze. Do I dare? And you,
Raised on the altar with a map, sing, “Free!”
I, amazed, will follow, in a boy’s dream.

Stain *

Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
Isaiah 1:18

We grabbed hold of goggled Howard as he
Ran home to his mother. His thin, gangly
Limbs were easy to pin and we kicked him
Down in the blue snow one afternoon in
An untrod field, far from help. He didn’t see
Us. We beat him till he pissed himself. We
Packed his lenses with hard handfuls of ice–
Left him blinded with snow, washed by the white.
I recall blood, pupil black blots staining
The soft powder, and his face, still straining
To see me through tears, through muffled cries– whys.
Rage, oh rage, how you scar us, and baptize.
And now, watching my son cut through that same
Blank page, my blurring scratches down Howard’s name.

Late In Life, Looking *

I thought that I saw you last night, late in
Life, looking deeply into me. The kids
Had gone home, dishes were done, leaving us
Alone, sipping tea. “Remember when
We used to drink wine all the time? We did
So much, so fast– lived out our wanderlust.
And through all that time, I still have you here
Beside me.” The veranda’s candle glow
Nudged shadows from your face and I could see
Your snowy hair, your shawl wrapped ear to ear
And every season lined your cheek like slow
Ringed ripples dancing on still, moonlit seas.
It was a dream. It was you late in life.
And this, the last day I call you my wife.

The Grid

I live between two graveyards, down below
The circling crows. Plots dotted with grey-green
Stones, as symmetric as a sonnet, know
That order in necropolis is king.
I sometimes see slumped shapes surround a new
Dark rectangle in the grass. The uniform
Black huddle then breaks, milling slowly through
The yard and back to the paved paths. The swarm
Of crows flies over their stern lines. My wife
Arranged these flowers on my desk. Red
Round petals drop on this page as I write–
On column, form and ledger, parched and dead.
We’ve built our lives here, out of stone, amid
The graves we dig. To survive is to break down the grid.

Awake on the Wicker Chair in the Backyard

Now, as I stand beside the stream, returned
To where I was set free, an older man
Now, I wade through the reeds to open my
Veins– to let my blood speak for me. Returned
To have the final word. With blade in hand,
The cold edge glimmering, tracing a raw line
Across my skin, I will do now what my
Art could not: bleed, breathe– for all my life I
Believed it could be done. Believed. I feel
The breeze on closed eyes, the taste of red wine
On waking lips as your warm fingers slide
Along my wrist, on wounds you cannot heal–
I wake with your eyes smiling into mine,
Face to face with the dream that is my life.

All that I've seen
All that I've done
Age I've Lost and won
All spent in rhyme and song
I saw along the shore
Shoot sunward--
You have sown a dreamer's seed
Don't wake me until 
I make the river bleed.