Before everything was photographed only
certain things were, special occasions and not
people laughing uncontrollably or our lunch,
people posed, not candid or cute or coy, but
smiling practiced smiles at the prompt ‘Say cheese!’
and we did because it would be weeks before
we knew if someone’s eyes were closed
or Mom would say ‘You didn’t get my good side’
and Dad would be obliged to offer, ‘You don’t
have a bad side, honey’ and that was about
as public as their romance was allowed to be,
sulky children, on the other hand, only had
sour sides, pouting or nonplused standing
stiffly in uncomfortable shoes you couldn’t
even see in the photograph (‘but I know you’re
wearing them’ Mom would say), and they were
primped in starched ‘outfits’ instead of ‘everyday
clothes’ that they were never allowed to ‘play’ in,
as in, just do what it was that a child did, and
this photograph would be pressed into a book,
the corners tucked into those sticky darts
attaching it to the parchment to be viewed on
special occasions or the day after someone in the
photograph died like Dad did and some old Aunt
looking over Mom’s shoulder would say something
like, ‘He always looked so handsome in that suit.’
The highway sped away
behind us in our brown Chevette
as we chased the setting sun
toward the Mississippi; it’s a
race we won and lost so
often we ignored the score.
A thermos of coffee in the
cold, a Coke in the heat wedged
between our feet because
cup holders hadn’t been
invented yet, but we deserved the
convenience of refreshment.
Everything West was ahead of
us, everything East past; we’d
follow closely those who braved
the limits, wondering at the
listless, lifeless dodderers
with no place to hurry to.
How many little, sleepy towns
did we cruise through along the
life we called our highway as we
talked out our dreams; this
happenstance was sacrosanct,
and you taught me reverence.
Chili on a Fine Day
Today a man in a brown coat
sat at the counter
and ordered chili
even though the server
recommended he shouldn’t;
anyone of the regulars could have told him
not to order it here,
for while there were several fine menu items,
like the BLT, Swiss steak and even
a good tuna melt,
the chili, here, has never been a good choice;
but he wouldn’t have listened anyway,
he seemed like the kind of person
who was looking for something to help
ruin what was a fine day for everyone else
but a troubled one for him,
and the chili helped.
I am accused of
having a preoccupation
the anticipation of dying
(which we call birth),
bereavement intrigues me,
hospice and palliative care
I consider bemusing,
even amusing at times;
death and what it means
and doesn’t mean
who it involves
(which is every single
last one of us,
no matter how much
we ignore it, which we do,
we all do),
but death waits for no man,
so before I could
invite it in for a drink,
it chose me,
when I was just a boy,
disguised at first,
but today bold and sociable,
on my terms,
and that’s how it all began
and that’s how it all will end,
and I’ll admit
the accusation has a ring
of truth to it.
For No Reason
As I stand in the doorway the air is
sweet and smoky from the hardwood
burning in a neighbor’s fireplace;
the snowflakes are larger now,
softer and unhurried as they cover
the twice shoveled sidewalks of my
city street; the house is quiet
and there’s just a glow from another
room’s table lamp left burning
as the day hides behind dusk again;
all is muffled by slush, and the horn
of a train which is obliged to blow
at the crossing, pausing for that
timely moment of transit before
heading again on its yo-yo path;
there was no reason for me to
open the door – no mail or paper,
no bell, no visitor, just the urge
to do something meaningless
that compelled me to enjoy this.
Invitation to Prayer – A Tutorial
Instead of reflecting on all those times
you’ve missed the mark,
ignored what is good and right
fallen or failed or f-ed-up
being all that is normal and wrong with us
and life and me,
this invitation is an explorers call
to the strange and distant lands
of ‘because it is there’
a quest you are rarely begged to risk
to search for that exception to Augustine’s rule
that makes a moment sweet
when an embrace longed for is now,
a miracle realized, a gift from God
who must favor tears of joy,
and laugh aloud with us or go about
with a silly, uncontainable grin,
or pause to remember the aroma
of childhood and cookies and bread;
so today when you pray,
hunt undistracted because what you crave
is the kind of love you’re only given,
rummage the haystack
eager to feel the sting of needle’s touch,
trace the patchwork and stitch
quilted from everything gathered,
fight through the conflict forced upon us
by those who celebrate sin
to win the role of our deliverers to whom
we must allocute lest we be damned
and laugh because they will lose;
pray as if your life depends upon finding
the beauty that is living,
the gladness of exhaustion at the end
of a summer’s day,
the contentment of wonder
which needs no explanation,
and you are not broken,
you need not hide in a safe place
because entropy is there too,
and the only secret is that you
will live forever, you will always win
because you played with life as a toy.
How I Remember You, Regardless
I remember you wearing blue – darkt blue,
like a shadow of a clear day.
And that color makes your eyes deeper too.
It’s warm and there’s a breeze that flutters
the skirt or sleeve of what you’re wearing.
And your hair is down.
It’s chestnut or auburn (I never know
what to call that color). Sometimes you
pulled it back in a ponytail, and I liked it when
you wore a baseball cap
and just tucked it behind your ears.
But I like it best when it’s down and
the breeze makes you rake it back
with your nails. As you do you lift your chin
and close your eyes, turning your face into
the breeze. And then you turn again
and your hair flutters and dances
and you rake it back again – I like that.
Your skin is tan like girls used to
like their skin before they didn’t.
And it sounds silly to hear myself
say it, but you were tall. That’s not something
anyone could change.
And you’re smiling; you always smiled.
You weren’t always like this, I know. And
you haven’t looked like this for a long,
long time. It might seem shallow to think
of you this way, regardless. You changed,
and I changed too, I admit. I probably
never said ‘Why don’t you look like
that anymore’ but you probably knew
I thought it. You didn’t say anything
to me, but I never thought you regretted
how I’d changed. That probably wasn’t
fair of me. I’m sorry about that.
I’m not being shallow, I promise. It’s not
just that you looked that way. It’s the way
I feel when I remember you looking that way.
I’m happy and content. And so are you.
There’s no rush about anything.
We’re not going anywhere, but
we’re walking. Sometimes we tweak one
another and laugh and giggle and run playfully
but not from one another. We always
caught each other, didn’t we!
I can breathe and run and laugh. And
so can you. And we do.
We probably didn’t have any money
except what was in our pockets. And that’s fine.
It doesn’t matter; nothing else matters.
Too much matters too much now,
doesn’t it? No matter how we tried things
kept becoming more important – not just the
good things and great things we had, but
little things that seemed to matter
and they didn’t. I don’t like those things now;
I probably hate them. You never did;
you never hated anything.
I remember trying hard, and you trying hard,
but we didn’t succeed, did we. We didn’t
give up. We didn’t win, but we didn’t give up.
A lot of our friends gave up and I
wanted to, often, but you didn’t.
You never gave up. You never gave up on us.
You were never weak about those things.
Today is Just a Page
The marks have no moral,
they know no stories,
nor me or mine,
no memories surfacing
in the quiet of the day’s ebb
haunting and mocking what can’t
be changed by dreams,
they are carried along
as the wave of the page turns slowly
to the next leaving anyone
reading to wonder
who writes this way,
not how but why;
and the way the words go
becomes a prophecy
because it is a path
leading to another nowhere
ready to mean something,
to be noticed
and maybe even remembered
enough to justify
a child’s plea to read it again,
and again, and again, and again.