God Forbids

 
Yesterday, a man crashed in Texas, 
survived his mangled family. 
Everyone wondered if he could go on. 

I remember another who tried. 
Met him years after his tragedies, 
a math professor, 
Amish black beard, 
a mountain lion type, 
but the personality of a lamb, 
quiet, no bleating. 

He told us his story
before a campfire, 
smoke gets in your eyes. 

The Rockies, 
formidable driving, 
Old VW van, flower power. 
It went off a cliff, 
lost all but an infant son. 

Time passed. Re-married. 
This time his new wife was driving, 
another psychedelic van
in the Rockies. 
All lost this time. 

I looked into his slouched face. 
Once onyx eyes as if formed over centuries, 
now wild, maybe insane I thought, 
as if nothing were too horrible, 
as if nothing were forbidden. 

Originally published in Down in the Dirt/Scars

Death Angel 


If I have a guardian angel
do I not also have a death angel? 
What does she do while waiting
when she is assigned? 
Pare her fingernails? 
Read the Book of Death? 
Is numbers up reality
or does she just wait for fate? 
One person at a time or a case load? 
Does she know how I go? 

Originally published in Down in the Dirt/Scars

Artistry 


If you’re baking a cake
and decide to mix shit
with some really top-notch
delicious dark chocolate
then you have a handle on life
and you can stir that spoon
with artistry
so when you
eat your cake
and have it too, 
you will taste reality
like so much of life turns out. 

Originally published in Down in the Dirt/Scars

NEVER

Laughter in sad. No joy in moil.
Nix snicker at sob. Nor smile
at a broken heart.
At no time, a peal of tears.
Mirthful melancholy. Mourn merrily.
Unhappy cackle.
Josh a weeper. Joke despair.
Yuk no yew. Paint blue with hilarity.
Not guffaw at awful.
Deign chortle at cry.
Forget hearty grief.
Neither giggle at the grave or die laughing.

Never!

Originally published in Mad Swirl

DIALOGUE WITH A TROPICAL FISH

My wife dragged me to a birthday party where I knew no one.
I noticed a fish, alone, glaring in the tank behind me,
a beautiful, black angel fish.

“I know you,” she said.
“You kill my sisters and brothers, throw baited hooks at them,
ignore their staring eyes, butcher them even when still alive.
You would do that to me, but no one catches tropical fish.
If we were not small and beautiful and could be eaten,
you would swing hooks before us, reel us in triumph.”

I fought back: “I love tropical fish,
hope my retirement includes the Great Barrier reef,
colorful art gallery in the ocean.
I would love to swim with them.”

But I could deny nothing, thought of the tackle box I got for Father’s Day,
celebrative family fish dinners, vacations to the lake, a tradition from my Father,
fat stringer pictures on my computer gallery.

I knew I would not change.
I wanted to tell her that’s just the way the world is,
plead my humanity.

My wife brought me a drink, pulled me toward someone
I will never remember.

The angel turned her back, swam away.

Originally published in Soft Cartel

DELAWARE: COULD/SHOULD/OF

Based on a movement by hippies to take over Delaware back in the day

The hippies shouldof taken over
Lord de la Warr’s state ,
couldof in the iconic 60’s.

Longed to take over a small, beautiful paradise.
Import:
Free love, anti-war, peace symbols,
psychedelic buses, hitchhiking environmental hearts,
pot-imbibing, hallucinogenic,
yoga-driven, Maharishi,
White Rabbit, Sgt. Pepper trippy music,
vegetarian,
long-haired, braless, dirty jeans, tie-dyed shirts,
non-bathed, sandaled feet selves
to that state,
teach the Fighting Blue Hen meditation
so she would mellow out.

Wanted to create an Eden in the East,
fresh water rivers, pristine forests, fertile soil,
paradise of small towns,
first site of log cabins,
first to ratify the Constitution,
stirring Underground Railroad history.

Small enough to conquer at the ballot box,
legislate total freedom,
no need for guns,
place a flower in the voting booth,
smile as you left.

Why didn’t we?

Originally published in Soft Cartel

Memorial Day

I watch my neighbor back out of his driveway.
He told me he is going to his brother’s grave
to honor a fallen hero,
place flowers or a wreath
his wife and kids in tow,
a visit before a picnic and water-skiing.

I did not lose anyone in a war.
I have no death to remember.
My Dad survived the Merchant Marines.
Once he broke a man’s arm who tried to jump him.
My Step-Dad (Pork Chop Hill) and Father-in-Law (Battle of the Bulge)
fought in horrors they would never share.
My Sister-in-Law’s dad medaled in PTSD
before there was a name for it,
head in his hands in the dark,
sitting alone depressed for hours before he died young.

When Memorial Day comes, I ignore it,
avoid the flags, parades, sonorous music,
pierced by the sound of TAPS,
no picnics or water-skiing or golf,
perhaps cut the lawn.

No one I know died in a war.
Maybe that is why I want a different memorial on this day.
Maybe that is why I see the irony,
remembering what never should have happened.
Instead, my heart breaks when I see the rows and rows,
white boxes lined up in Heaven.

Reminds me of what war truly is
and why it is seldom honorable
but a sacrifice made to some unrelenting god
like the animal sacrifices of old,
striving to appease, never ending.

I know I am not supposed to feel that way,
believe instead that our freedom was won,
cling to the Truth like a flag clutched at the graveside,
guns saluting, honor saved.
I know better.

My neighbor cannot know what I believe.
I cannot ever mention it to him.
His brother died, not mine.

Originally published in The Literary Nest 

Fear at My Doorstep

Today I came up to my front door,
Fear lying on the stoop.

He just lay there looking up,
eyes staring at me.

He changed every time I blinked
to make him go away,

which he didn’t, making me
more frantic because I had ice cream

in my grocery bag that would melt
if I didn’t put it in the freezer.

He was a shape shifter
He looked like a worried line

on the brow of my checkbook,
like my oldest daughter

warbling her songs in California
without health insurance,

like my husband’s coming stress test,
wires strung all over the stoop

like clogged arteries,
easy to trip over.

Fear wouldn’t get out of the way,
just lay there shifting.

This might have gone on forever,
the ice cream soaking the bag.

But I stepped over him,
went into the house

shut the door hard on him.
Put down the grocery bags,

the ice cream in the freezer.
Looked at the kitchen clock

saw that it was time
to pick up my grandson from school,

his single-dad father
working late again.

I thought of escaping out the back door,
but went out the front.

Stepped over Fear
and went right on my way.

Originally published in The Literary Nest

Trumpelstiltskin

You can trap the hearts of
American democracy
in your narcissistic web of lies,
pitch them into a dungeon of untruth,
command they bow to you,
demand they turn gold into straw.

You can love your own voice,
bathe in your own glee,
sing in your tub
as you scrub your hairy soul
till all those who worship you
are raw.

Rumpelstiltskin needn’t crow his name,
dancing before that fire.
But, like you, he had no self-control.
He warbled; you twitter
and your song of ego
will reveal your name.

We hurl every name at you
to change your heart.
We plead for all human rights,
but only the Right you know
is concocted in your rancid stew.
And we will know your name.

In the dark forest of your life,
brag before the fire,
stomp until you split in half
like that evil troll of old.
It will be the vanishing of you.
And we will know your name.

Originally published on I Am Not A Silent Poet

The Girl: Minimum Rage

The girl stands at a train station,
a campaign whistle stop,
the crowd surrounding for the FDR speech,
waves of hope lapping as if they are standing
near a shore.

The President! FDR!
Initials like a rock they throw their arms around
because they were all drowning in 1938,
the weather that day, Depression.
Standing beside him, his sharp-eyed wife.
They say she knows about the girls.
In the night Eleanor feeds his fertile mind,
tells him over and over
about the poor
about a New Deal. 

The girl has a note,
five scrawled words:
“Can you help the girls?”
She knows, not just any girls, 
but the name for the ones who
clean every spot, spill, vomit, shit
that the rich of the world ever make,
who get paid $4 a week
so that the ends don’t even know where to meet.

She lunges forward through the swell of the crowd,
the note stuck out before her, 
waving in her hand above her head.
like fighting to get the attention of the life guard
when you are drowning. 

Close to the shore, a policeman stops her,
shoves her back violently.
As if she were drowning, she shouts: “Help! Help!”
frantic arms waving before she goes under. 

They notice an eddy in the waves.

Eleanor demands, her spouse beckons, 
the policeman relents--
lets the girl through like the sea has parted. 
In a clenched fist,
she shoves the note skyward
toward the caboose.  

Five simple words: 
“Can you help the girls?”
Can you give us decent wages?
I am legion and I make four dollars a week.
Outrageous.

Eleanor and FDR agree.
Twenty-five cents an hour,
triples her weekly, 
changes history forever.

The girl swims back into the crowd,
butterfly strokes as she heads into
the storm of her history,
heard from no more. 

Seattle: Minimum wage: $15.00 now.
Will  be everywhere one day, maybe more.

Praise to the rage of the girl.

Originally published in Quail Bell Magazine

PHONE DAUGHTER


My daughter moved out West,
travels in one of those bands,
the van criss-crossing our country,
leaves dreams like bread crumbs
clawing her way through
brutal, unforgiving woods.
No sight-seeing,
no Grand Canyon, Yellow Stone,
Mammoth Caves, Carlsbad,
but the insides of clubs,
names like racehorses:
Slinky Jim’s,
Nub Buster,
Dark Flamingo,
Carousel.

We visit on the phone a lot,
retired Father and traveling daughter,
music for a soul,
talk for hours, traversing the nation and our lives,
sharing memories and motel info,
what she ate, how did the show go,
how did merch sell?
Will your tour come our way? 

I commiserate with a father,
standing at the edge of his farm
in Missouri
gazing into the horizon
after his daughter and her covered wagon, 
headed West to somewhere, 
husband, beginning brood of kids,  
gear to survive,
no phone, 
and no words. 
 

Originally published in Spindrift

EVE TO THE SERPENT

If you were not so beautiful,
large black eyes
peering down the cleavage of my soul,
tongue fire flicker of lust.

If you didn’t have melting checkerboard skin,
good twisted into evil, clever
able to lie like water quenching thirst,
offer tasty knowledge in a red, round, plump globe.

If you didn’t let me touch,
turn my fingers into loud salve
drowning out the voice in my head:
The warning. The warning. 
If instead you were cuddly,
I could hold you at my bosom
like a Teddy serpent.If you were tiny, shriveled,
not long like a man’s part.
  
Slow too, slithering down the tree like sap,
not slick, shiny-fanged. 

Or even oblong, clunky, some sort of structure
cobbled together by my-yet-to-be-born son.

And hissless, a giraffe voice or ass’s laryngitic bray.

Suppose you were not the Satan.

Then I would have laughed at you
and we would still be in the Garden
not in the burnt out vacant lot
the world is becoming.
 

Originally published in Spindrift

Prevarication

 

Once I heard about an incessant talker who never stopped spewing words until someone told him that we all have a word quota and that he had nearly used his up and that frightened him and he immediately went into a deep silence until he was lying on his death bed and that same woman, now decrepit, told him that it wasn’t true and, on hearing this from her, rose up on one feeble elbow, glared at her and whispered—Good-bye—with as much venom as he could muster and died right into her smile.

Originally published in The Drabble

Insecurity

Old, retired now. 
One errand today—extra-large eggs
at the Co-op. 

It is cold outside. 
My car is warm. 
I have a full tank of gas. 

Sometimes, driving, 
I see black wings
flapping between
bare winter branches.

Originally published in Right Hand Pointing

MEMENTOS

Grandmothers, now gone.
One moneyed, one poor.
Both rich in granddaughter.
One gifted a Grandmother-of-Pearl ring,
the other a practical lip balm tin
among other small items.

The daughter turns from the mirror to her mother. 
“I wear the ring all the time.
I use the lip balm once a year, 
on her birthday. 
I hope she knows I want it to last forever.”

Originally published in The Vehicle

 A MOMENT OF SILENCE

Today they called for a moment of silence.
After violence, a moment of silence.
No one ever killed in a moment of silence.
No bombings or shots in a moment of silence.
Hold a moment of silence
For the rest of time. 

Originally published in Gyroscope Review 

Spiderman

I only remember two names from First Grade. No other kids, not even my teacher. I even forgot the name of my second grade teacher who told my Mom I was a genius. Third grade was sharp-tongued Mrs. Schrum. No one could ever forget Schrum because her dad owned the local pickle factory, the largest employer in our small area.

I do remember Don Fancher, the class bully, and Bonnie Bowie, the dark-haired class belle who was my first girlfriend, standing in for Margret O’ Brien and Shirley Temple.

How curious it is that children often, at an early age, begin to act out what they will become.  In high school, Fancher would roam the boys’ locker room like a prowling lion, threatening with his elastic belt to snap the naked rear of any boy who would not give him pocket change. Bonnie was a petite beauty who perhaps predicted the diminutive young lady who became my wife years later, a brunette at the beginning and a brunette for life.

Don, Bonnie and I were standing at the swing sets at recess. Once I had spouted off I was not afraid of spiders. Why I bragged about bravery toward arachnids I will never know. Perhaps it was to impress Bonnie as so many tried to do because she was the princess of the class. And she really seemed to like me, once pecking me on the cheek without warning. Don saw this and fumed as he was an awkward boy, ungainly, gruff and insecure like many nascent bullies.

He had heard of my bragging so one bright Spring day he approached Bonnie and me  by the swings, holding a stick, not to threaten me this time, but to transport a fierce looking black and yellow crawler with the harmless name of Garden Spider that terrified us all whenever we saw its sometimes throbbing web.

“Fein,” he barked at me. “Heard you’re not afraid of spiders!”
My breath fled. I remember the quizzical look on Bonnie’s face, her black button eyes gleaming, wanting to see what the bully was up to for he had challenged me in various ways whenever Bonnie was present, trying, like Bluto, to steal Olive away.

At the end of the stick was a huge black and yellow Garden Spider. It probably wasn’t that big but it seemed like a tarantula to me as even decades later I can transport myself back to that scene.

“Yeah, why?,” I snapped back, pushing my courage ahead of my abject fear, for I was deathly afraid of spiders.

“Yeah, why?,” instantly understanding what he had in mind.

“Okay, Fein, I heard you say you were not afraid of spiders. So let’s see. Let my buddy here crawl down your arm if you’re not afraid.”

To be tested at six years old! My entire reputation, a word I barely understood, flashed before me. Refuse and Bonnie would never look at me the same, the bully squashing me like the bug I was as I was indeed the smallest kid in the class, other than Bonnie, both of us the opposite of Big Don.

I had no choice. I stuck out my arm and Fancher nudged the spider on to the top of it. It just sat there a bit, checking out its new scene, no way in a hurry, unable to hear my pounding heart.

Every other part of my being froze, but I tried to look brave. My eyes focused on the top of the swings. I never looked at Don or Bonnie. The recess crowd collapsed around us.

Finally, eight black legs, the yellow shining in the sun, sprinted (hooray!) down my arm to my wrist where I quickly flicked the spider off.  A couple of girls screamed.

It felt great to be a hero, to stand tall before Bonnie, to forecast years later that I would be the one who strode into the principal’s office in high school with the courage to turn in Fancher for his bullying in gym class, which caused him to be suspended from school.

Bonnie moved away.  I am sure she does not remember the spider or me, nor does Don. Whatever heroism I demonstrated in life—no more or less a hero than most of us who navigate our average lives—I will remember the black and gold monster that liberated me.

Originally published in The Write Place At The Write Time

Autumn Dread

Autumn the mask of death
I hate those riotous colors

defaces the green leaf
struggles to peek through

shows its disfigured face
knows it will soon be gone

celebrates that dark rainbow
yellow orange red brown

wraps its arcs around
pretends to be summer

an unexpected rainstorm
at the picnic of our lives

blows fiercely into
the icy fingers of winter

grips the season’s throat
doesn’t let go until

every bit of green and sun
warmth choked out

Summer a limp body
our arms can’t hold

Demeter weeps
glares into the distance

Hades steals her daughter again

Published in Spank The Carp