BIRTH



an egg of pain
fingers flutter atop
   sway and fro
what can break the pain?
   song snaps glass
   a song can…
   shell crack
   struggle out
                      love
flex wings
                      sing

Originally published in Mad Swirl

FOOL ON THE HILL


Whooping, laughter-screaming, silly young boys
sprint from the lunchroom toward a hill
launch their bodies aloft
roll, roll, roll into hysterics at the bottom,
jump up and do it again
despite the threats to take away their pilots’ licenses. 

I thought this.

Fling off my suit coat, rip off my tie,
kick off my shoes (not my argyle socks),
roll down the hill, mirth abounding,
tattoo dark green grass stains on my dress trousers,
as the sun smiles
and the clouds scoff
at my wanton foolishness.

But I didn’t.

Originally published in Ariel Chart

BLUE LOVE


A tribute.

On his first day of college,
he held his tray in a crowded cafeteria,
eyed the room for a safe spot.
Ah, an open seat, three coeds
and one other guy,
strangers to each other
so he fit in.
He sat down with the guy on one side,
a slim blonde girl on the other.
His eyes focused on his tray,
on his uninteresting food,
which he began to pick at,
finally glanced next to him into the eyes of the blonde,
the beautiful, sparkling blue eyes
that chose to gaze in his for forty years.

More than beauty,
a startling painter,
a teacher of craft, 
specialized in blue
as if her blue eyes were her palette, 
indigo, azure, turquoise, cobalt, robin’s egg…
sad and happy blue, 
world-wide galleries. 
No blue marriage though,
twins, world trips to historic forests, 
hearts knotted.

Years later, as the disease slowly
discolors her mind,
he holds her frail hand,
looks into her eyes,
the blue replaced by a cloud of gray,
no spark, not even an ember.
Finally, he releases the hand 
too weak to grasp back
rises
shuffles down the hall of the Unit,
his broken heart 
more full of love 
than it was at that table
long ago.  

Originally published in Ariel Chart

SHEEPSHEAD IN EARNEST

In Florida on vacation, 
our kids pranced on an old pier,
fishing poles in hand.
“Maybe we’ll snag some Whiting!

None of us caught anything.
We tried up and down the pier
in all the deepest parts, 
never the shallow end.

Came a hearty, old man, faded overalls,
a once white, dirty t-shirt,
long, silver, greasy hair,
a big burlap bag over his shoulder.

The old man went straight to the first pylon, 
poured out some fish bait
from the bag he placed on the pier,
pulled out a rope with a hook on the end.

Below, crystal clear water.
Stuck a piece of fish on the hook,
dropped the rope down 
the side of the pylon.

Snap, an immediate lurch.
Dragged up a big, beautiful
black and white striped fish,
wiggled as he threw it in the bag.

Another piece of bait on the hook,
another huge fish lashing the pole,
into the bag, into the bag,
fish after flopping fish. 

Everyone stopped fishing. 
Someone whispered: 
“Look at that!”
“What kind of fish is that?”

Only one among us knew
about the strange fish. 
“Them’s sheepsheads.
Good eatin’.”

Into the bag, 
into the bag, 
as if he were alone,
the old man did not look at us.

He only saw the fish
and the expanding bag,
flopping around on the pier
beside his holey shoes.

He stopped,
his bait gone, 
swung the wriggling,
bulging bag onto his old shoulders.

A Hemingway look-alike,
conqueror of the sea, 
he strode away,
an old man headed for a sale.

Originally published in Ariel Chart

AFTER DEATH

Don't tell me 
my dog’s not 
in Heaven.

It doesn't mean crap
if you think there’s a Heaven or not
and if we can't know for ourselves
how can you know for my dog,
who loved me more 
than any human ever did,
showed me in a million ways,
always wanting to walk, play,
lay by me when I was sick,
not eat till I was well, 
bark every bogeyman,
possum or garbage truck away,
eyes on my every move  
till death did us part. 

What a special man 
I was to her.
I loved her,
walked her, 
mapped our neighborhood,
played with her,
threw uncounted sticks,
scuffled her floppy ears, 
every sniffle to the vet.
I was dog’s best friend.

We gave each other more comfort
than even Heaven could. 

If lots of people
conjure or assume
some kind of afterlife
for humans,
angels, harps, gold streets,
virgins sucking down grapes,
a smothering Oversoul,
one God, many,
don't tell me Lola
is not there, 
damn it. 

Rollicks in those green fields,
romps with other animals,
chases down those sticks,  
inexhaustible as my love.

She is.

Originally published in Ariel Chart

DRUMMER'S BLEAT

Your wife called me

                                        your father
who also smoked
in his young stupid days
because movie stars and cowboys did
and his parents said it was bad 
but smoked constantly in front of him--
    
                                      sobbing

about your lung cancer diagnosis
because your 52 year old self
is curled up on their couch
refusing to talk to anyone

                                       including

your two sons, the engineer and the artist
who never smoked for some glorious reason
even though most nicotine-raised children almost always do

                                        living 

in other towns
they begged you
not to smoke for years and gave up
because you would not
                                        listen

or read the letter we wrote
begging you to quit
because we had seen the ones 
before who did not
                                         listen

die in such dirty, x-ray screaming,
gasping, choking ways
made their inevitable demise
worse than it would have been

                                       but now
what can we do
except commiserate with someone we love
cannot turn the clock back one second 
because time is all you have
and all you ever had 
and it is going to be shorter and worse 
by far than it would have been

                                 recalling

what your best friend in your band, 
the best drummer in town,
just before he died

                                  lamented

a story we often told you: 

It is my fault. It is all my fault.
I did this to myself. 

Originally published in Ariel Chart

Worms

I saw a picture of a small,
refugee girl in Bangladesh,
her eyes wide and frightened
as she peeks from under her mother’s arm
in the tent where they live.
My children think tents are fun when we camp.

When I go fishing,
we buy worms,
but never use all of them.
When the day is over,
I think of the fish we caught.
They stare at me from the creel.
Usually we say:
“We’ll leave after the next one.”
One last unlucky fish.

I plunge my fingers
into the wriggling mass,
pick up a tragic worm,
writhing as I stick in the hook.
I tell it I am sorry
just like I tell the fish.

When I get home, I dump
the rest of the worms
into my flower garden,
tell them they are the lucky ones.

I think of the girl as I pick up
that last worm.
Tangled mass of bodies
in the ever mud.
She is unlucky like the worm.
I wish I could fly her to my garden.

Originally published in Terror House Magazine

Our Ancestor Sir James

Always proud of our family,
Mom sought ways to make us special.
Regaled us about Sir James of our lineage.
Preserved a news clipping about this legend.

She’d squint her eyes and say:
Made the English Navy the greatest in the world,
ruler of the seven seas.
Maybe greater than Sir Francis.
Darn history books couldn’t figure that out.

Scurvy, lack of vitamin C, made you weak,
bleeding gums, pain in your limbs, even death.
If a sailor with scurvy fought
against a sailor who didn’t, no chance.
A scurvied crew could languish a ship,
make it into prey, lose the battle.

Our Lancaster ancestor, Sir James
was the smart one,
just like you kids,
and your poor passed Father.
He brought lemons and limes
on board in barrels.
The English sailors, called limeys,
sucked them,
other nations didn’t know any better.
Made England the mistress of the high seas.

We never knew if it was apocryphal.
I kept the clipping in my wallet
until it got washed in the laundry.

Sir James faded, but his memory lives on.
Lemon wedges in my water,
lime twisting in my gin.

Originally published in Terror House Magazine

THE HELPER

At my in-laws reunion 
we lounge in Paradise,
the Pacific a blue shawl tossed over the shoulders
of a mansion surveying 
endless clouds, sunbathers, yachts. 
We eat, drink, laugh, hug.  

One of the children
who flit around the patio
like multi-colored butterflies,
spills something dark 
on one of the pristine, white stones,
hand-cut patio slab.
                      
Their hired Latina helper, 
an aged lady, 
ignores the party around her,
quickly slips from the shadows, 
falls on her knees,
slaves hard to restore 
purity to that stone,
scrubs and scrubs.

It won't come off, 
There is
lots of stepping around her.  

Originally published in Courtship of Winds

O, LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREE

It just happened. We didn’t talk about it before in our old age. We had gone to the same lot for years after our increased salaries had allowed us to abandon the fake Christmas tree with the green toilet brushes we stuck in a wooden trunk that smelled like nothing and get instead the sweet smelling pines filling our tiny living room. We are thankful that our dear children experienced those live trees through most of their lives into adult hood when they now cut down their own trees every year and never have the toilet brushes themselves.
 
Without speaking, we chose a smaller tree. The kids want Christmas at their houses now.
 
“Mom, Dad, you have blessed us all these years. Now it is our turn to bless you.”

So much is diminishing these days, years. As we decorated our little tree, we had to decide which ornaments to hang, which to leave in boxes instead of festooning the tree, loading it down with all the memories, what the kids made in school, the first ornament of our marriage, two gold metal figures kissing, the ornaments from events, Little League and figure skating, and vacations, Maine and Disney, too many to remember.
 
The angel remains, the one put a top our first fake tree with the color-coded instructions. She remains and looks down and out as always and wonders—Does she wonder?—why, like us, she is so much closer to the ground. 


Originally published in Quail Bell Magazine

THE DRILL

No wailing siren.
No in-school A-bomb drill.
No duck and cover.
Just a zinc-oxided old guy trying
to sit down on a beach blanket.
Tuck-n-roll.
Safe landing.
Crawling, worm-inching
toward a bright green
beach towel pillow
to rest his head.
Still no peace in the world.
Peace in his world.

Originally published in Former People 

BLACK LAMB

Right after I was born my Father and Mother
adopted a pet black lamb
and brought it up the rickety stairs
to their second story apartment
so they told me
and it played with me through my toddling
until it got bigger and butted everything
and broke a lamp and butted me
which is why
so they told me
they sent it to a farm
for shearing and death.

They never told me that my Father
was the black sheep of our family,
tupped my Mother,
sheared her heart,
did that to his next wife
and his next wife.

I found out about his betrayal,
decided to be the white sheep,
be faithful to my wife,
not bring a strange pet
into our marriage
so I didn’t have to
hide anything
from my children,
butt them
in their hearts.

Originally published in Former People

BROOKLYN SCENE

An ancient man shuffles towards me
as I walk down a dark Brooklyn street
past an old park
where trees can’t be woken
by the stare of streetlamps.

Clad in a black cape,
long silver hair.
A breeze lifts the cape slightly
to see if anything is inside.

As a small boy
he cavorted in this park,
his limbs wings.

Dracula has aged,
can only dream of blood
as he slips past me.

A wooden stake in his future,
he spits a few Transylvanian words,
shadows past my rapid gait.

Originally published in Cacti Fur magazine

WHY I FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH DEBBIE REYNOLDS



My Stepmother worshipped movie magazines.
She wanted to be a star, 
almost auditioned for Gene Autry 
with her country band, 
The Apple Blossom Trio,
but a member got pneumonia
and the cowboy never saw her.

She married my Father, 
under the safe umbrella of his adultery,
shading her eyes from what was obvious to all,
Hollywood dreams, the slick pages of those mags
muting her pain. 
She left those glossies lying around.

A curious teen , 
I took them to my bedroom 
and fantasied over and over like all boys do
eyeing the ingenue Debbie Reynolds 
as The One. 

There was an actual diminutive girlfriend Bonnie,
heart trysts with Margaret O' Brien and Shirley Temple,
later Sandra Dee, 
but sparkling Debbie sang and danced
her way into my heart and libido
more than any of them. 
She was Tammy and I was in love. 

I grew up, went to college.
Dad and Stepmother divorced.
The VietNam War started.
I got radical, marched and protested, 
read the Guardian instead of the Hollywood Star.

One day flipping through that Leftist rag
beautiful Debbie's picture danced off the page.
My heart remembered her,
my teen angst throbbed.
I knew vaguely of her bad marriage to Eddie,
how Liz Taylor cleopatraed her, 
America's sweetheart trashed like my Step-Mother.
The caption skewered Debbie, complained
she owned 2,000 pairs of shoes and buying more.
Said she wanted to own the world’s largest collection.

2,000 pairs—pumps,  espadrilles, kitten heels,
winklepickers, ankle straps—etc., etc. 
Silver, mauve, yellows, turquoise, reds, 
a rainbow of shoe colors,
a display of wanton, uncaring wealth,
shoes of clay.  

Ms. Reynolds was still attractive in that photo,
the dazzling, dimpled smile faintly there.
I remembered my crush.
But the web of the Tender Trap was rent. 
My heroes now Che and Fidel,
she the enemy, the ruling class. 

A child of poverty,
did Debbie forget that no one dated her
because she didn’t know how to dress,
wore ratty jeans, a country shirt and tennies?
Is that what made her feet crave 
the feel of slipping on shoes,
one after the other
while children starved?

Debbie is gone now,
stroked out the day after her beloved daughter died.
What kind of shoes did she wear in her coffin? 

I fell out of love and into reality.  
I fell in love with my wife,
marches and protests, 
moccasins, 
beside my own worn down boots.

Originally published in Broadkill Review

WE DID NOT THINK OF YOUR NOSE


When your mother and I made love, 
having two sons, 
we coveted a daughter,
we did not think of your nose. 

We did not pay attention 
when you went to high school
and your nose went with you
defining you in that Gentile culture
as different, strange, not pretty.
Did not understand those tears
heard behind your door
were not just strains of young womanhood
but pain from remarks 
about your nose.

You flew through life,
nicknamed Nightingale,
a horseback rider,
a figure skater,
a musician with your own band,
successful at every endeavor, 
we did not think of your nose.

After you moved away,
we read the autobiography of your nose
when you shouted on Facebook 
the beauty of your nose—
that you declined a nose job—
rallied all those other women
to celebrate their profiles.

Your nose a badge of honor,
a face on which to stand your ground 
to tell the world
who you truly are.
Original.

Originally published in Broadkill Review

COPULATION 

The sun she became a woman
and spread her hot thighs
for the young man in the moon
and oh what a wild child
that Earth is.
He never gives you the cold shoulder like Mercury,
the orgasmic war cry of Mars,
tantalizing sighs of Venus,
runs cold, rock-strewn rings around you, 
or up and disappears like dark, irrelevant Pluto. 

Earth lives in blood and sorrow
and the ecstasy of his history
until he turns over in bed at last
and does himself in,
suicide by spoil. 

Originally published in Mad Swirl

ABE LINCOLN NEVER MADE IT TO THE NBA


Honestly, 6’4” Abe would have been a superstar center
in Dale, Indiana, which is what that little town
is named now, but was Elizabeth
when Abe worked on a farm outside there 
and was 16 and sowed instead of shot
because there were no courts or hoops, 
no Hoosiers or Boilermakers,
no NBA early entry,
instead became one of the most honored 
All-Star presidents in our history.

No basketball then,
but gangly Abe could horseshoe with the best of them,
long arms stretch toward the stake,
long legs bullet the kickball at the goal, 
big thumbs snap a marble true,
kids terrified when they called Red Rover.

No, had Doc Naismith
invented the leather ball 
and peach baskets game back then,
Young Abe would have dunked
instead of speechified,
dribbled instead of traveled,
buck boarded to other little towns,
crushed opponents with his height
not his tongue. 

Abe didn’t win on the court,
but in the courtroom.
In the Capitol
dead from a bullet
shot because Booth
couldn’t stand his team
to lose.

Originally Published in Broadkill Review 

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