Poetry

Two Little Boys in June

His arms had no knowledge of how to hug
and so he hugged toys
and his heart was carefully guarded
behind a wall of plastic and metal
his sense of security
sealed inside a box of sweet cereal
and solitude.

His friend couldn’t catch a football
knowing only how to cling to stuffed animals
his heart too
protected by isolation
and a wall of soft fatherless kisses
in a bedroom without a bed.

They found each other on a dusty road in June
dirty jeans and hands
playing with rocks and gravel
in a city far, far away
on a lonely street
where two little boys used to live.

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In The Days That Follow (published in Deep South Magazine 2014)

Gravity pulled color from the Irises
into soil so heavy the garden became a pond of mud
where cardinals flailed their wings and died.

You watched from the kitchen window
your breath in the June morning air
fogging the glass
your tears filling the sink.

Tonight you would not feel the long bones of his legs
and thin skin of his knees bumping against yours,
would not warm to the outline of his body
nor hear the gentle click of the bathroom light switch at 2 am
or feel the comforting rock of the mattress as he repositions himself.

But in the days that follow
the soil would return color to the Irises
birds would come to nest and feed
and the old hickory would raise its branches in victory
against a backdrop of great Smokey Mountains.
You’ll admire its stoic resiliency
seeing your own path in its branches.

The years with him play out in your thoughts
reel after reel of life
good and fine and rich in its tapestry.
And even the few hurts and regrets
small as grains of sand
are wrapped and polished into pearls.

And in the glare of a summer sunrise
breaching in slow motion like a giant yellow Orca
you can sometimes see him
sitting in the chair by the window
the soft sound of the morning paper being pressed and folded
as straight and deliberate as the crease in his trousers
as welcoming and loved as the warm heaviness of his hand in yours.

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Gone

Remember the young woman
moving into her house with all the excitement
and passion of a new bride
each room like a foreign country
vast and unfamiliar
waiting for life to fill it up
giddy and lost those first few months
like a little girl at choir practice
learning the words
and not knowing what to do with her hands

Quieted by the echo of empty rooms
until each piece of furniture or picture added
with laughter and even the heaviest of sobs
(for there would be pain)
absorbed and softened into the many textures
of her life

Later as children came
and carpeted floors grew worn
with footprints that stomped and ran and paced
carrying teddy bears and birthday candles
and car keys and college acceptance letters

How strange it is now
to drive by and not have a key to the front door
yet still know the placement of each window
and how the sun will fill the living room at 2 PM
in October
and when the wisteria will bloom
and where all the hooks are placed for the hanging plants

Now
like an estranged friend
we no longer hold each other
and the only key we share opens a door to the past
to a life that is no more
to a life that is nothing more
than gone.

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Death Wore Rose Colored Glasses (Published in The Poetry Journal of Maine 2014)

The arms keep vigil over your bed
ticking away minutes and hours
In military time
Children, unfamiliar to you
sit nearby peeling onions
and wiping each other’s tears
while sparrows
fling their small brown bodies
against the window.
Clowns bother you
blocking your limited line of sight
with their big red noses
tugging at the tubes in your throat with their white
gloved hands
and the onion peelers
approach your bedside tentatively
adjusting the thin flannel blanket covering your legs
and even putting a pair of pink fuzzy socks on your cold,
cold feet.
At night the sparrows give way to bats
That somehow find their way in and hang upside down
on your IV pole.
The clowns poke and prod
their giant rubber shoes squeaking so with each step
that you cannot rest.
At least the onion peelers have said goodnight
leaving a mess of papery skins on the floor
unaware you’ll be gone by morning.

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Like Father

He remembered the exact time and place when the rung was most visible
the head nods at meetings and pats on the back
those who sought his opinions were stepping aside
pointing him in the right direction
clearing him for take-off
but he faltered
sputtered
slipped and didn’t even try to regain his footing.

His baby girl pulling at his index finger
he laughed and belly flopped on the floor
so she could ride a wild bronco
they shook their heads at the office
offered crooked, sympathetic smiles
he replied with shoulder shrugs
and a wallet of cascading, accordion photos
he preferred pay checks, picnics and platefuls of chicken
to deadlines, quotas and conferences.

His colleagues became his superiors
promoted and transferred to corporate offices
for twenty years he thought
they secretly envied him
while he went to her college graduation
gave advice on how to avoid the glass ceiling
and the glass slipper
talked corporate strategy and marketability
cleared the way
for her take-off
stepped aside.

Each day now an opportunity to hear from her
a postcard from the rung
a letter hastily written and never long enough
he sees the mail man pass the gate without stopping
inside he watches the clock
and prepares himself for the evening news.

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Time

She buys time on the corner
barters with the vagrants who have so much of it
offers money for a meal or a drink
in exchange for another day.

She corrupts children with offers
of aged wisdom and cigarettes
a fast ride to the beach
for as many days as there are grains of sand
under the fingernail of a beachcomber.

She follows dogs and cats
one years is worth seven
and one life for nine more
but the animals suspect she is not sincere
and they flee her greedy arms.

But prisoners have the most precious time off all
time that bleeds and oozes and cannot be contained
she pleads for it
and they beg her to take it
each longing for what the other has wasted.

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(published in Deep South Magazine April 2014)

Seeds

The harvest is bitter
Weeds that choke and prevent
Healthy growth have plagued her garden
Crowding out the good
With spider webs of undergrowth that strangulate
She sees no other way
But to flee this land
Stomping her boots into the toxic green leaves
In a final fit of impotent rage
The new land looks promising
Fecund, dark and moist
She has no idea that seeds from the old garden have stowed away
In the tiniest crevices of her shoes
In the impossible seems of her overalls
Even under the warm folds of her breasts
At harvest time she’ll curse the soil
And search the horizon again
For a new garden.

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The Burden of Green Lights

You wanted to be forgiven
to feel the embrace of his grieving mother’s arms
and know it wasn’t your fault
but when the door slammed on your bouquet of yellow chrysanthemums
you shuddered
hearing again the heavy thud of chrome against flesh and bone
the blue of an autumn sky flashed in your memory
his eyes once more
locked onto yours for a mere second before disappearing
you sat numb in the car on freshly cleaned vinyl seats
the smell of pine and Windex like poison in your lungs
friends waiting for you would wait
and wait
as sirens cut the warm September air
people cam from nowhere
everywhere
arms reached in
concerned faces
shock, horror
you slumped against the side of your car
felt the heat and smell of burning
rubber tires
that failed to stop in time
you too suffered massive internal injuries
yellow chrysanthemums
sirens in September
and school children walking
will always remind you
of green lights and forgiveness.

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A Poem For You

I am not your immigrant father
I am myself, my own
I do not fear the eyes of the city
I am the city
My breath is the Earth’s soul on a warm day
My laughter is like the sweet cry of gulls off shore
I do not fear what your father did
He carried the entire weight of a people on his slender shoulders
Poured his spirit into the water glasses of ungrateful patrons
Who may have judged
And certainly miss-judged him
I have never met your father
He died before we came to be
But I do know him
I see his fear in your eyes
His pain in your desperate pleas
His words of discouragement in your lost dreams
I am not your immigrant father
I am myself, my own
Why are you unable to see
That you are also not him?

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Garden Lesson # 1

When you were very small
you wanted to help in the garden
barefoot, you followed me
and listened while I talked of perennials and annuals
of deadheading spent flowers
you squatted on thin legs
your painted pink toes looking like small rose buds
the hem of your dress wet with dewy grass
your tiny fingers pinched off the new bud
of a deep red and tightly folded petunia
mistaking it for dead
your face aghast, I smiled softly
and told you not to worry
that sometimes new blooms
look like old ones
and death is just another way
to begin.

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The Distance Between Rooms

And he would not go when she wanted him to
would not leave her with the speed of a Maserati
or the stealth of a nighttime bomber
he lingered and hovered and made his presence known
playing with the coins in his pants pocket
dragging his feet in the gravel driveway.
He wouldn’t speak to her for he knew she wouldn’t answer
and his lips pursed into an ugly pucker to keep words from coming out.

She moved ghost-like in the same rooms he inhabited
fixing her near catatonic stare at some invisible point on the wall behind his head.
He followed the impressions her feet left on the carpeted floor.
He drank from her glass, fixing his lips on the pale coral color of a lipstick smudge.

And when she left their bed at the same time every morning
he quickly awoke and rolled his tired body onto the still warm sheets where she had been.

They made love again and she counted the ceiling tiles
but no words came from her mouth and her tongue turned to heavy pulp
like a wet newspaper.

And he mowed the lawn leaving perfect intersections in the grass
all the while hoping she would appear on the door step with a glass of ice tea or lemonade.

She ironed military creases into his work shirts
occasionally stopping to watch him from their bedroom window
and every day when they passed each other in the narrow hallway of their home
he knotted his hands into tight fists to keep from grabbing her in a desperate embrace
and bit his lip to keep from crying out, “I’m sorry!”
and she sighed, walking in the opposite direction, knowing he would never leave.

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Cardboard Boxes

You arrived in a dress that didn’t match your socks
delightfully demure
unsure
the smell of coconut and fresh corn still lingered
in your hair
and fear
trembled hidden your heart.

A smile, cool as shade
carried in the small pocket of your cotton dress
made your lover want to keep you safe
and only the faintest whisper of ancient bamboo
Sighing like an old woman
kept you from looking back.

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For The Wine Maker

She had no knowledge of your plans
the tools you’d use to escape
wanting only to bask in this year’s vintage
she asked no questions
held no suspicions
and when your demeanor calmed and you called to her
she came, unfolded
sweetness flowed
not knowing the ticket had already been purchased
bags packed
departure time confirmed.
Tonight you’d make sure she felt it
knew it
breathed it
so easy to do
one last kiss for old time’s sake.
Fingers entwined you’d talk of wine
and other loves
she’d drink in your darkness
heavy until dawn
until her day began ( a Saturday like no other)
and yours ended
the smell of gunpowder lingers
but it doesn’t bother you at all.

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Do Not Seek Happiness

Do not seek happiness
you will not find it
happiness is for children
who cling to toys
and are given hugs
at exactly the right time.

Do not seek happiness.

It belongs to flowers
that bloom and die in small increments
of time
to new mothers
whose bodies tether out
sons and daughters.

Do not seek happiness.

It is only given
to fledgling birds
and the dying.

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The War at Home

 

My mother hated you

And I watched her hate you for years

You with your refugee status,

Your government subsidies to buy a car,

And go to school.

She hated your crooked teeth,

High cheekbones,

And the way your bony brown toes

Held tight to the rubber sole of your flip flops

In the middle of December.

I watched you,

Admiring the way you squatted in the dirt

On slim hips that balanced perfectly,

Plucking gingerly at dead leaves.

But mother scoffed,

“They shit in their own garden,

Use it for fertilizer!”

But they love their children

I thought.

And they smile at me with their crooked teeth

Offering up strange foreign vegetables,

That I accept and secretly throw away.

Years later the children of the old man

With crooked teeth

Smile

And offer up strange vegetables

In a simmering, savory broth

As I sit quietly in the corner booth of an old café,

Plucking gingerly at sprigs of basil.

 

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January Poem

 

Where is your wisdom;

the eye that looks to your heart?

past the scar tissue, polished pearl

what do you see?

 

What knowledge do you possess?

clenched in fists and reborn

under the bleating cry of goats

silver and gold mean nothing to you now.

 

Fragile lover what happened?

where is the line, carved in glory

laid out in the palm of your hand?

great promises remain

even though the stars lied.

 

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