Cal Freeman

Preliminary Questions


When does a keeper of time become an emblem of time? Do you believe that an all-knowing being is perpetually concerned with your life? Why are you sitting on the balcony, reading? Why don’t you come down to the pool?  


Then what, when the filament collapses? When I am no longer still in my lair? How many seasons can a poplar endure being choked in ivy? How many grand intentions can a season be assigned?


Where are those birds now? Why is that Olds Cutlass running in the driveway? Is it the same car that left the oil spot shaped like a lung in the pavement buckles last summer? For what is rising but anachrony, and what earthly carapace can gleam like this in a world of smoke?  


What is so ominous about the afternoon? Why do those white moths and robins that dive-bomb their reflections in clean windows trouble you? What is trapped in those old shin bruises shaped like grains in a maple ledge? Do you ever sing your own name like a friend who hasn’t seen you in some time?


Do you remember correctly when you say that bicycles once sailed down walled avenues in rain? Would Sturgeon Bay hold yellow birch leaves buoyant this time of year, and do you ever think of your brothers as dogs plashing where the beach head crumbles into scarp? At what point is the liver beyond regeneration? What do frogs and stoneflies have to say about such matters?   


How does a place made awful by neglect seem so innocent in memory? What was the name of the pill you would slip beneath your tongue, but refuse to swallow? Should “Universe” be a proper noun, capitalized and branded? Are there other words we should ennoble, beyond our given names?  


What has watching (was it perverse watching after all?) taught us about history and violence that we feel something irrevocable was lost (brain and bone fragments on the widow’s sweater could not be reattached)? As if at 1 pm Dallas time they stopped the heart massages and let us die?


With all of the indignities taking place, why am I concerned with the plight of a washed-up union trucker on a fixed income, working on his neighbors’ foreign cars in exchange for beer? When does the provincial become the universal, and at what point in that evolution should we begin to qualify the limits of lived experience?  


Why is it easier for some people to believe that an ark loaded with all known creatures save one sat atop a world of water than that American police approach young black men every day with a blend of fear and murderous intent?  


Do you also imagine these blocks in leagues of water, our bungalows hurtling like failed arks toward a new, unmapped sea, until our existence is a pseudo-history, a lesser Atlantis nobody will search for? In describing the aesthetics of the damage, could you calculate the weight of water to explain your devastation?


Didn’t I see you on Telegraph Road last winter, your creaking bicycle angled into the wind, posing impossible questions to the sloshing grey? Didn’t I see your strangulation by municipal authorities in a town so archetypal it could be any town? Does it matter what I have seen?  


If “The Universe” is a proper noun, does rebar still jut from the ethereal concrete where it has been broken? Is castigation requisite for whiteness, and is this what we’re doing when we say things like, “If the Good Lord’s willing”?


Have you also received this faulty counsel: “Say everything; tell them you love them before it gets too late”? As we slough off these sentiments, can what we’ve come to know be spoken? Given all that we have shared, wouldn’t it be best to go nowhere, to remain silent, to broker a little deal with time?

                                         Jeanne Bessette

                                        Jeanne Bessette


Two Songs in Doric Mode


In the South Heights

I seek out the common names

of trees that line the riverain: 

honeysuckle, maple, poplar, 

cottonwood, cloying 

to the sad world again, Sarah, 

where everything breaks 

your heart. My throat 

a bucketless rope at the eyes’ 

well, I’m lachrymose with song 

and tired of every rhythm 

save 6/8. I can still strum 

the C, G, F progression 

of The Pogues’ “A Rainy Night 

in Soho” and find some comfort there.

I think you love that song

because we’d never go anywhere

that wasn’t Dearborn, London,

or Detroit, which is why 

so few of our friendships 

have survived. I am a gondola 

without an oar in a world 

of rain, and you are a phosphene 

behind a closed eye.

We are a brick bungalow

scarred with the clinging 

pods of dead trumpet vine

like a healed scar

or greyed flesh beneath

a lasered-off tattoo.

Do you remember, love,

what I was saying about

Dorian mode the other day?

It was nonsense.

That enigmatic major fourth

is actually a natural fourth,

a kind of scale and not a chord

progression, an accidental,

a deviant note placed

in a spot where it sounds good,

a friend corrected me.




I was writing a song

called “Bitter Heart”

but you had already told me

before I had the chance to play it

what it’s like to hear an odd

note in someone’s voice

and resign yourself to it,

as if we were seated

around a table and could not take 

back what had just been played.

As if you couldn’t un-hear me,

and I couldn’t unsay it.  

But there is no pitted surface

made from the glued-together 

pulp of different trees between us,

no aspiration to flatten

moods or modes.

It never behooved me to set

my imagined sorrows before

you, sorrows that begin 

as weeds then grow and wend

their ways into healthy trees,

taking root in the mortar

behind your eyes.  

Any other life is inconceivable;

these repeating scales

baffle melody. The plectrum

attacks like wings of roaches, 

and what booms out 

is unintended as we fight,

clinging to this accidental life.


Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit, MI. He is the author of the books Brother Of Leaving andFight Songs. His writing has appeared in many journals including New Orleans Review, Passages North, The Journal, Commonweal, Drunken Boat, and The Poetry Review. He is a recipient of The Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes) and winner of Passages North’s Neutrino Prize; he has also been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and creative nonfiction. He regularly reviews collections of poetry for the radio program “Stateside” on Michigan Public Radio and serves as music editor for The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review.