5 poems by Tim Kalbach

Lives in Greer, South Carolina. Cabinetmaker by trade, naturalist by passion, poet by default. In a long-term love-hate relationship with reality. At turns flighty and grounded. Somewhat disappointed to be certifiably sane. Logging my forty-eighth trip around the sun and constantly astonished to be here. Wife and kids make the lightness of being bearable and keep me from floating away too soon.



(five poems; first line of each is the title)


each of you closes a familiar door one last time

used to be a girl crushed your heart

a bully stuck your head in a toilet, shoved
you in a hallway, punched you on a school bus

you cried, bruised, got over it. maybe you wrote
unreadable poetry. imagined how others might feel
if you killed yourself. you crept toward something

sometimes called wisdom. now you don’t have to suffer
fools, there are shortcuts, a hack for everything –
you can stop time like a wizard. you don’t
have to reach deep for strength to move on

only for the weakness to squeeze a trigger
it’s not like you never reached out for help or understanding,
but easier to reach out for your fathers’ guns.
you join an exclusive fraternity,

one that can’t reject you, having already endured
the hazing. a world will see the real victim,
perhaps unforgivable

but now unforgettable. dress up in a martyr persona
while others skip breakfast,

barely make the bell


Yes, it is better to have loved

My seven-year-old son ( eclectic reader and watcher ),
amazed to learn that some insects live only for a day,
tried to astound me this morning, between a bite of bagel
and the bathroom, with the capriciousness of mortality.
I tried to explain the matter of perception, how the adult insect
may be destined for one hectic day of mating and egg-laying,
but the same individual goes through several incarnations;
egg, pupa, larva; (whatever, I’m hardly an entomologist); growing,
transforming; not quite the tragic brevity we see fluttering by.
Yes, life – cheap, abundant, in excess – (he spots a dead katydid and

a shiny flattened beetle just going down the stairs) leads to death,
but death leads to life as well, and probably only we hold either
so sacred while simultaneously squandering both, as if a circle has ends,
grubbing around in the dirt for years ( I left some of this to inference,
he is, after all, an avowed Santa Claus agnostic who talks to God
in a secular-humanist sort of household ) telling ourselves the pain
will be worth, at long last, those brief moments of flight – when,
the opposite could be true – the crawling and chewing
and digesting unspeakable things is what it’s all about really.
Odd how difficult it can be to identify a familiar wildflower minus its bloom

or a winter tree minus its leaves. Funny how we pour everything
we can muster into these offspring, this top-rated school, that enviable
zip code. Might the beetle larva clicking inside the rotted wood,
so long in the dark, bemoan the injustice of sparkling, winged adulthood
wasted on the very old, a reverse nostalgia for freedom and beauty?
How innocent and pure must be that final few hours of sunlight before the wheel turns. And I take out the recycling and him to first grade. How small they all look in their little matching uniforms, rushing toward what they can’t possibly imagine. There are baby spiders living in my car; easily squished with a fingertip. Some days I have to bow my head.

Suspicion leaves its harbor escorted by tugboats

Thinking if there are children they will be smart
and better looking than either of us somehow –
crushing your poem against my forehead
like a method actor’s idea of a stereotypical
frat boy attending a lecture on the New York
School of Poets and having no idea what else to do
with words like that, (possibly still wearing a toga

and a headache). Maybe envy,
professional jealousy? Slow-moving
but hard to steer or stop once it gets underway,
this metaphor won’t ever find its sea legs, so
screw that – backspace/delete. No eraser crumbs
these days. My voice got lost at the back of
the lowest shelf in the dictionary behind half

a purple simile and might now be toxic with mold
or the next miracle cure. Even given a century,
a hundred LGBTQ monkeys addicted to amphetamines
and alphabet soup could not spill enough startling
syllables from the quickest of keyboards
to ever compose the love letter my ear
wants to mail to your pen, hoping people

still listen to poetry spoken aloud in dark spaces
or write longhand with ink, rather than basking
alone in midnight glows, cursor winking.
I imagine you awake while the dog sleeps,
scratching words, ripping out an offending page,
not even aiming for the trashcan or perfection
but crushing it. I think I’ll elope with your last line.

An online dictionary will never hold the door
while you curse at an unwieldy mattress

a heavy handful of words


plucked like berries

each center pierced
strung up to dry
stored against famine

luscious is a sound

you can taste
toward the end of winter
polished by centuries

fingers tongues

hearts skewered in rows
nutrient-rich words
committed to a frame

inescapable borders

abacus of language
numberless but counting
feel the words slide

smoothly on taut wires

dispelling hunger
even now spelling
as if bridging chasms


(meanwhile, back at the factory-farm)

Hunger down at the corral; we’re golden –
herded snout to tail ( keep’em movin’ )
plump pink children starving for dirt
under nails.  Eye-to-screen incarceration

silences spirits – hushes- sits still,
stops stomping, (shuts up or down), stifles
giggles, bottles tears.  Eat your painan all
you can stomach buffet – twenty-four/seven

newscycle spinning spin Things get lost;
others can’t be, no matter how sweat/ blood
slicks the floor.  Dessert to die for Hang on for five
p.m., ten – grassgreen weekend shuffles an alphabet,

steals a letter here, tries it there – fits to a T.   This
S turns laughter into slaughter; language takes
lovers.  Sordid affairs, as they say – miscreants.
Did she spell that janis or janus?  Twin sisters or just

synonyms : seditious, perfidious.  Sibilant revelry;
words sluiced into the trough, slurped slops.
Slopes always slippery, say heads, talking
past each other, taking the free out of freedom

for a photo op, leaving the dumb so there
is something left to lose.   Me: I’m walking
out of here with my conscience intact.
What we call a false sense of security.


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