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

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