Lou Lewis

On The Hudson Line – Poughkeepsie to New York

That first train ride was frightening
To a small boy. The giant black engine,
The smoke and steam, hurrying passengers,
Conductor shouting “All Aboard!”
Were not balanced by my hand in my mother's hand.

But now I press my check against the cool glass
And wait for glimpses of the great Hudson River,
Past the oil tanks, the quarry, the decaying houses,
And there! A cove of shale stones and stunted trees,
Dappled grey waters that reach across to massive hills
That will grow to mountains as they march west.

In New Hamburg more people crowd on board.
Commuters, already weary, students
With backpacks, mothers with small children, all with
Cell phones that are just waiting to disturb my reverie.
I am comforted by a V of Canadian geese descending.

Now, moving swiftly by, the Chelsea Yacht Club
Where I once raced Lightning's, there is sudden sun upon
The water. A hint of wave foam is quickly
Lost in a blur of trees and ledges. A man in a uniform
Is holding out his hand and, with a start, I give him my ticket.

The Beacon station offers a view of Newburgh where
New restaurants and a marina garland the waterfront
The old ferry station stands waiting to be renewed.
I see an oil tanker heading north
And remember the slicks that no longer float upon the waters.
The new Dia Art Museum shoots by on the left, like a performance piece.

Breakneck Ridge tunnel signals the approach to Cold Spring.
The blackness momentarily silences the cell phones.
Storm King Mountain, highway threading
Across its brow, now heralds a five minute stretch of clear views.
The river narrows and a red tug boat proudly bears a flag
That whips in the rising wind. An egret stands poised in the shallows.

In my mind I see the marching figures of cadets and hear the
Drums. Then they are gone, gone with the great chain
That once challenged the British fleet at Garrison. Now there is
A refurbished 19th century railroad station in pastels that speaks
Of parasols and bonnets instead of war. Another train whooshes by,
The interior illuminated and peopled by our sleepy-eyed doppelgangers.

The approach to Peekskill exposes mighty Haverstraw Bay,
We glide across Annsville Creek where Jan Peeck once lived,
The waters are busy with white sails and sea-kayackers and I
Envy their intimate connection to the river. The Commander,
Awash with sight-seers, plows up-river through the current,
Throwing up a surge of white water.

We race past the picnics at Steamboat Dock in Cortlandt; in the
Curve of the land I see Croton Point reaching west and forming
A sheltered bay where once I rode the ancient iceboat “Puff” and then
A new Yankee Class ice-boat that took my breath away. The water is
Calm and soft now. The railroad yard here is large, locomotives,
Passenger cars rest and await the signal to begin again.

Now we pick up speed, the views are blocked by the
Ubiquitous kudzu vine and rampant acacia. These are not the
Trees of Copley or Asher Durand but they are somehow right for
The lost lives shuttered away in Sing Sing prison.
The guard towers seem empty now and barbed wire, on old brick
Walls, is rusting in the afternoon sunshine.

I spot the 1883 Lighthouse in Sleepy Hollow's Kingsland Point Park;
Disney visions of Ichabod Crane and The Headless Horseman
Come flooding out of memory but are erased by the sight of
The Tappan Zee Bridge, crammed with cars and trucks, that
Remind us that the quaint 19th Century homes have been
Superseded by a new esthetic. The capture here
Of Major Andre was long ago.

All too soon we are rounding into Spuyden Deuvel, but there
Is no devil there – only an eight man shell with long oars
Dipping synchronously into calm waters and leaving dappled
Punctuation marks in neat rows behind. I have sailed down
This branch of the Hudson – called East River – and three bridges
Had to be raised for our passage.

The train rocks and snorts through the littered Bronx, across
A steel bridge that gives a view of islands and bridges into the mist,
On, past sturdy brick buildings, in contrast to the more glamorous
Manhattan to the south. Then the earth consumes us into blackness,
Lights come on in our car and I find myself looking at a face
That is staring back, contented, from the window.

When I Was a Child

When I was a child things were blurry,
And I fancied toys that were soft and furry.
I ate and slept and laughed and cried,
And tried to keep my shoelaces tied.

Now and then an adult appeared,
Who wanted either to be loved or feared,
And I, just a mirror, agreeably complied,
Without opinion or taking a side,
Other than my own.

And then, in second grade, as I recall,
I could not read the writing on the wall,
Magic lenses were placed before mine eyes
That made the room into things with size
And sharp edges.

Now I thought myself master of the world
And how I leapt and danced and twirled.
But edges cut and though still far from wise,
I soon discovered truths and lies,
As others told them.

And when in time I came to throw a ball,
Or move a pawn upon the board,
I saw that struggle was the human shawl,
And that what we know not we call “Our Lord.”
As others have written.

And so we learn of love and duty, and work.
That there are tasks we may not shirk
To play as once we did so freely as children.
We are, child and man, no more than pilgrims,
Seeking to tell others.

And still we eat and sleep and laugh and cry,
And watch the minutes ticking by,
Now only our nose and ears are furry.
And thoughts we thought were clear are blurry,
Or so we say to others.

May - 2004

Twenty New Poems For Hiroshige's Large Fish

Amberjack and fugu
Join the bright plum blossoms
In a sea of celadon blue.
But it is only February.

An eyeless halibut
Has a blue-eyed rockfish
For his guide.
A cherry tree must be nearby.

The carp faces the torrent alone.
Each scale is a fan
That cools the emperor's brow.
For now it is spring.

Tuna is not usually
Flavored with geranium.
But the stripes on one
Compliment the other.
And our mouths begin to water.

The abalone hides its shining surface.
The halfbeak is very still,
Frightened by the red blood
Of the carnations.
Sea grass comforts us.

The flying fish cannot
Hear the beating drum.
But matching eyes
Can see the red lily.
The flower stem is broken.

Can July be far away
When the waters are churning
With mackerel and shrimp?
Each twin hangs suspended,
Singing a song we cannot hear.

Greenling and grouper
Each go their own way,
Mouths agape to breathe in
The horseradish root.
The sky is a thin orange line.

My spiny lobster glows
With rough edges and dark power,
While two pale shrimp
Sulk nearby.
It is a hot day in July.

Flowering eggplant frames
Two flatheads gasping for air.
Red gills seek what cannot be found,
In a sea that almost isn't there.
The censor and publisher's marks are strong.

The red rockfish is so bright
That the grey snapper cannot compete.
I cannot keep my eye from the
Succulent ginger root.
There is no sea or sky.

A smiling bright blue mackerel
Is entertained by a dancing crab,
Whose pale blue-green ankles
Echo the leaves of the
Blooming morning glory.

The sea bass is smooth and
Muscular. The pink-red grouper
Looks away, embarrassed by
Drab beefsteak plants.
It is August and the water is warm.

The oban frame can barely hold
A great striped mullet.
The camellia is in awe and
Hides her blush behind
A dark green leaf.

Sapphire blue connects
The porgy and two red bream.
He faces the depths
While they loiter uncertainly.
Bamboo leaf and pepper will be left behind.

It is October and the trout
Are returning to the sea.
A strong current carries them
But, strangely, we see their bones
And white gaps where dorsal fins pull like oars.

A red sea bream fills the page
And he is laughing although
The drifting parsley signals his fate.
We will not hunger for long.

Two gurnards solemnly carry
The yellowing flounder,
Wreathed in striped bamboo leaves.
There is majesty here and
Hiroshige's signature is bold.

The mottled rock cod
Crosses behind the red tilefish,
As if to anchor him to the paper.
The tilefish, frightened, is
Mocked by the bucking horse radishes.

It is early winter.
The full round white eye
Of a bright red rockfish,
Suggests alarm but he is hidden in sea weed,
And cannot be caught.

About the Author

Lou Lewis is a member of The Baker Street Irregulars - a national Sherlockian society - and for the past thirty years has been the Master of Ceremonies for the Hudson Valley Sciontists - a local chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars. He has had several articles, book reviews and poetry published in the Baker Street Journal, including "The Adventure of the Priory School - Some Religious and Philosophical Observations" and "The Adventure of Silver Blaze - The Dick Francis Connection."

Mr. Lewis is also an attorney and the founding shareholder of Lewis and Greer, PC located in Poughkeepsie. He has been practicing law for 41 years and has written and lectured extensively on issues relating to municipal taxation. He has served as President of the Dutchess County Bar Association and on numerous community boards - including the Board of Trustees of Marist College for twenty years. He is currently Vice-President of the Bardavon 1869 Opera House. He holds a Bachelors degree in English Literature from Marist and is a graduate of NYU law school.

Mr. Lewis has three daughters, five grandchildren, and one wife of 44 years.

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