People died here…

Visiting History

It’s raining on the prairie,
but not in answer to prayer
as we huddle inside a dusty museum wondering
at the recreation of a settler’s life,
determined by weather and wind and rain
on the cut fields of earth;
if we shiver in a sudden summer storm and wonder
at the musky air it’s best to recall that people died
here – in this room probably, because they did
everything in this one dark room – and we can’t
wait for the storm to end and go on with our fun.

How we do things with words…

Only Words

The Philosopher says there are only words,
only ways of saying what can’t be said
about things like toast and coffee and love
and you and us, and somehow this should
make me feel better about how my words
trail off into air, into nothingness, but
when they were spoken, even thoughtlessly,
they were loud and important and true,
and the games we played with our words
that excited us then we reminisce over now,
those lisps of titles, and the laughs which
are certainly words and not just noises,
when a simple yes was amatory and
I waited to hear your voice say my name.

What marks the spot…

X

I can say X is red
or X instead;
because what’s real
is what we steal
from authors dead
but well said,
both/and and lost
found with a cost
that I will pay
every single day
until words mean
not what they seem
to Dumpty’s many
egg’s a plenty
toppled from walls
ruining school halls
angering teachers
pleasing preachers
who always search
for sin’s church
of truth’s facts
but object acts
baffling thoughtless
fearful, cautious
realists all
of Adam’s fall
who hear a word
and jump stirred
by a fear of living
and God unforgiving.

 

 

How to deal with a disgruntled employee…

Signed, the Management

It has come to our attention
that you are dissatisfied
with the general experience
of living, or so it would seem;
your constant complaints,
derogatory remarks, groans,
sour grimaces and typical
passive-aggressiveness
leave us with no other option
than to conclude that you
would be happier with
some other company;
therefore, please be advised
that effective in the immediate
future, possibly within as few
as six months, your employment
will be terminated and
a severance package will
be negotiated at the
discretion of the management
based upon your history
of contributions made
during your time with us.

Signed, the Management

I knew he’d live forever…

Knob of Pearl

I was eight, maybe nine, and it should have
changed my world to see that my father was
a mere mortal – flesh and bones and blood,
but it only made him more of a superman
to me, impervious to torn flesh and oozing
blood – deep red and opaque seeping from
the gash on his knuckle, layers of skin torn
away by a trowel as he gardened and I played
nearby; “Look,” was all he said and I peered
into his wound to see the bright white of his
bone exposed, a little knob of pearl between
the serrated opening, he bent his finger
and it danced, and for once I said nothing,
for almost fifty years; such a display should
cure the myth of paternal immortality,
but it’s effect was the exact opposite.

Dear John and a pastry…

Steinbeck and a Pastry

As we talk about others and ourselves and others
until we start back on us again across
the small coffee shop table with the whole world
rushing past us, nibbling on a pastry we share,
what Steinbeck said about having to get all our
autobiographical material out of our system
or it will hound us until we get it said
keeps interrupting my train of thought,
and yours as well as you ask me where my head is,
and am I listening, which, of course I’m not;
but that’s because we’re only pretending
to be the authors of our lives and this dialogue
we try every day – which you’re so much better at –
seems more accurate about others than us;
and I wouldn’t have it any other way
even though it doesn’t always seem so, and,
no, I’m not going to finish the pastry.

It is what it is… or isn’t…

Starting a new religion usually takes effort,
not necessarily consistency, proof or fact,
just data and anecdotes, which means
listening and creating at the same time;
it’s an interpretive exercise most ignore
because of the difficulty of thinking anew,
and we’re really driven by insecurity and
the need for followers, but not this one;
it won’t matter if a single soul converts,
nothing will change if everyone changes,
because whatever happens will happen
in the new religion of it is what it is.

The day my Dad died…

June 28

It was a Monday,
hot and humid and still
while I slept away the morning
unaware of the dawn screams, begging,
the ambulance, and slowly gathering family
as everything in my young life fell apart.

I had a new clock,
plastic, yellowish, with numbers
that would flip to the next minute
and I woke to the arrival of 11:28 am
looked out my window to see a dozen cars
I didn’t not recognize or care to care about.

Everywhere I looked
people were whispering,
standing and listening and careful
and when I appeared they turned to look
but didn’t acknowledge that I was the last one
to know, to hear all that had happened.

Even before Mom
could get the words out
I started to cry, but must admit I
just knew it was Nana who had died
because she was old and getting older
but never thought it could be Dad.

He was just 49,
and important and busy,
and when he was home he was home,
with us always with him, but no more,
and an Aunt fed me weak tea and dry toast
because somehow that would help.

When Mom said that earlier…
I felt guilt, of course I loved him,
but with my last words yesterday
I’d cursed him for refusing me something,
kicking and promising my hatred,
now unchangeably my testament.

That was in 1971,
and I was young, naïve,
now wondering if I can still remember
his face, rubbing his whiskers at day’s end,
cooing love instead of what I did,
praying every day he’s forgotten my words.

A student that didn’t study…

I hated school and loved it
with the best reasons I could imagine
when I was so young,
it was everything I wanted but came
with such a painful price
of learning by unlearning, hearing
what I didn’t know to hear,
my imagination of a world constantly
spinning had to be stopped
to gain what could not be stilled,
all measured by letters and
discouraging questions trying to diagnose
what might be missing
as I failed to live up to my potential
which as they described it
was never much to aspire to,
year after year until
I walked away because I wasn’t ready
to stop the world’s whirl
and every day I missed what I lost,
every moment counted as wasted,
until the undoing of my undoing
began to take shape
and the only thing I had missed
was what I had missed.

 

What is to be found in books…

In Books

On a bright, fresh Saturday morning
an old man walked from
the library with a large book of some subject
open before him, reading closely
it seems, stepping carefully along the walk
so much like every one of my children,
fascinated and eager for the stacks,
little fingers tracing the spines of
everything they reach, starting book
after book, story after story, then
begging to know how many
they were allowed to borrow, how many
worlds could be opened in their hands,
emerging from their libraries clutching tomes
with one open before each, reading closely,
never stumbling with a peripheral view
that just knew the way even while
occupied with a realm becoming theirs,
toward home and each
would migrate to a spot predetermined
to finish each too quickly, too passionately,
even our one who could never sit still
would perch unmoved for hours
and still does, having to be beckoned
back to now for mundane things
like food and sleep, and this is how I
learned to read, not in letters and words
and sentences, but in lives and worlds and
in books that were borrowed.