Elbow grease and my life…

I spent hours one day when just a boy
searching through the shelves of cans
and tins and tubs, of liquids and oils and
paints and lubricants with numbers
and names of weights and uses from
maintenance to remedies for sticky,
stubborn or stuck things in search of something
called elbow grease which I had never seen
or heard of until told by my father
that was what I lacked to loosen or tighten
or tinker with my bicycle’s training wheels
which I desperately wanted to remove although
warned that I’d fall because I wasn’t ready.

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What is it about coffee shops…

Us, in a Coffee Shop

You make me wonder, as you sit quietly,
considerately across the small table from me
in the midst of our busy, loud and impersonal
coffee shop just around the corner from home;
we don’t speak and only occasionally,
accidentally make eye contact interrupting
our reading – mine of a book, yours a newspaper
and you’re gracious with a small smile,
almost embarrassed by our casual connection,
returning to the worlds on our pages as we
escape the crowded space we choose to share;
our coffee’s are the same, right legs crossed over
lefts, comfortable together like we’re not
with every other person around us;
strangers don’t matter in this place right now,
like they don’t matter so many other places,
and I can tell you wish it was different
like I do, as if this place was in a Paris spring
or rainy London or beside a university campus
with smart ideas filling the air around us
like leaves falling in autumn – expected, raked
together and burned for that sweet aroma
which stings the eyes yet doesn’t drive us away;
but we’re in our cold city on this January morning
and everyone else has someplace to go
and they’re only stopping for their coffee
as they run to work because they’re late or
just have somewhere more important to be,
while we linger together, two perfect strangers
who civilly share a small table together
in an act of pure humanity, anonymously.

When children have cancer…

 

 

 

 

Can it be what is deserved
by a four-year-old child?
The cells distorted and
deteriorating inside, from
inside her bones still soft in
youth, but fragile from birth;
some signal isn’t working,
white cells that won’t mature,
too full and crowding life;
and the word everyone
uses is ‘acute’ – a bad and
unwelcome thing with too
many synonyms to count,
all troubling and painful things
with a mysterious origin than
no one knows so there’s no
one to blame except God;
she only has strength to
smile through dry, cracked lips,
her skin is taunt over thinning
features and only her cheeks
show her adolescence, while
adults are masked to protect
her from what’s always worse,
more tiring, more frightening;
it hardly seems right she is
unafraid and just needs to
rest, while everyone around
her is just terrified and can’t.

Why God made ears…

If for no other reason than to hear
the constant, tireless, angelic voice
of my daughter singing her way
through each and every day, hitting
and missing and finding new notes
for songs which filled the air,
refusing to be kept by closed doors,
stopping passersby through open
windows, and never failing to delight;
if for no other reason than this
had all the wisdom and wonder
of God created ears to hear it would
have been well worth the effort.

 

That interchapter I like…

It’s ponderous lumber makes
that interlude into its own chapter,
it’s dry progress threatens
the snail’s infamous reputation;
the turtle’s nameless fame
is itself a Joad, mesmeric lethargy;
it’s path is a migration against
the desiccated earth – dustbowl dry.

Yes passive, yes armed appliance
the witnesses are numerous and none,
yes agents at first swerving
then steering a targeted shell upset;
soup meat or yellow-nailed apathy
there are so many, many of us afoot;
kicking when upturned, feigned anger,
flailing limbs but our eyes lack humor.

Read on, read on the highway,
we cross and pretend to look both ways;
somehow knowing the dangers
will do something for our advantage;
go on, go on and sluggishly pilot
trusting our conspicuous shell conceals;
the road crossed is burning hot,
there’s no reason to be going this way.

I like Steinbeck’s turtle….

When family photographs mattered…

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.’

Let’s go west… what do you say…

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.

How to ruin a fine day…

 

 

 

 

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.

Death chose me…

 

 

 

 

Preoccupation

I am accused of
having a preoccupation
with death,
the dead,
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
(everything),
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,
or woman,
so before I could
invite it in for a drink,
a conversation,
it chose me,
when I was just a boy,
disguised at first,
but today bold and sociable,
yet never
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.

Life without reason is reason enough…

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.