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Monday, August 3, 2015

Shadow Men

Sitting opposite me
The old man tugged several papers
From the grimy confines
Of his winter coat.

Each paper was as crumpled
As soiled as he.

Offering them to me
One at a time
He begged I read them.

Each individual paper
Said he
Was the only one needing attention.
But with the conclusion of the first
He begged the second.
At the end of the second’s
He requested the third.
And so it went
Until a dozen papers were read
Aloud.
He leaned back
Eyes closed
His mouth a straight line.

One page built upon another
Presenting the finding of a judge
That long ago
Administered his forgotten case.
The pages were all in the negative
For this illiterate old man.

Handing the crumpled pages
To him again
He smoothed each one
Folding them back into his coat
As one may do
A treasured letter
Though they were anything but that.

Turning away
He offered no thanks
For the reading.
He said nothing further.

Pulling down his tattered hat
He shrugged away.

I wonder…
Is there any sense of deflation
Equal to that
Of a sad old man
Who carries court papers
As testament
That he
Once upon a time
Actually lived?

Apparently damning documents
Are
To shadow men
Preferable
To no identity at all.

Outside Café Beignet

On old Royal Street
I sipped bitter brew
At half-past two in the morning
Watching curiosities
Outside
Café Beignet

The coffee was thick
And stout
But not thicker
Nor stronger
Than early morning
Outside
Café Beignet.

The sugar donuts
Were delicious
But the shadowy creatures
On Royal Street
Were saccharine
And salacious
Outside
Café Beignet.

I sat near the street
Amazed at the flash
The audacious glare
Of the walking dead
Joining and mingling
Beneath the orange neon
Outside
Café Beignet.

There is no hope
On Royal Street
No brightness of promise.
There is only
Donuts and coffee
Only the strange
Sad
And lonely
Outside
Café Beignet.

I finished my brew
Pulled my hat low
Tugged my collar high
And walked into the gloom
Glad this was not
My Zip Code
Content to live my life
Outside
Café Beignet.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Surfs and Sands

West winds
Lift salt spray
From the breast
Of the Pacific
To later mingle
With desert sands.

The salt and sand
Distilling
In the arid
Early morning
Awakens me
Among gnarled
Joshua trees.

It takes no spur
To move my pony.
She is driven
By what drives me.

Desert yields
To scrub plains
Which in turn
Become grass fields
And small
Pioneer towns
Peopled
With quiet
Stern settlers.

And we find the sea
Stretching impossibly
Beyond many horizons.

I wade my pony
Into the foam
Alive in the moment
Our journey done.

But there are many shores.

We will trace
The eastern sun
Seeking a second sea
And the scent
Of others surfs and sands.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The River

My eyes grow weak
From gazing too long
Into the river.

In the stream
I thought I saw again
Those long lost to me.

I thought I saw again
Yesterdays full
Of reason and hope.

Deep within the river
I thought I felt arms
Reaching for me.

So I surrendered
To the quick stream
To the cold and deep current.

My breath shallows
The beating within my breast slows
And I smile into the river.

The river enters me
And I enter into the river
Into the cold and flowing river.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ron's Half of the Impala*

It’s not easy being eleven years old
And confined to the Impala’s backseat
For twelve
Stiflingly hot hours
With the windows down
And August’s thunder of rushing air
So loud
The AM radio could not be heard
And my nine year old brother
Protesting (accurately)
That I had wantonly
Crossed the invisible line
We had established as the DMZ
Between us on the
Sweltering black vinyl seat.

Dad did not believe in potty breaks
So we drank little
As we counted mile markers
Down US 66
And read Burma Shave signs...
If Hugging on Highways
Is Your Sport
Trade In Your Car
For A Davenport!


Deep into the night
Dad searched for a bargain motel.
They always looked beautiful
Washed in red and blue neon lights
Affixed where gutters should have been.
The cabins typically were walled
In knotty pine
The in-window air conditioners rumbling
Like an idling diesel.
The beds were sometimes equipped with
Magic Fingers
That shook the mattress
For ten minutes
The way a wet dog shakes itself.
Fifteen bucks for the room
And a dime for the vibrating bed.
Glorious!

The black and white TV’s
With "rabbit ears"
Received a station or two
But often had to be smacked on the side
To stop the picture from rolling.
But that didn’t matter.
We were on vacation!
Mom and dad tantalized us
With promises of stopping the next day at
The Ozark Mule Trading Post
Where, if we were good
Could buy a pecan log candy bar (my choice)
Or a box of malted milk balls (my brother's choice)!

The new DMZ was now drawn down
The center of our bed
But that was okay
Because sleeping brothers cross that line
All night long.

Those days live only in memory.

I’ve stayed at expensive hotels
Ate wonderful dinners
And haven’t desired a pecan log
For fifty five years.
The Ozark Mule is in ruins
As well those bargain motels.
Movies can be had on any Smart Phone
And today's kids don’t know
What an AM radio is
Much less "rabbit ears"
And rolling pictures.

My brother and I love one another
And the idea of any DMZ
Between us is laughable.
I spoke with him last night.
(Actually, texting has supplanted voice.)
But we are loyal citizens of the backseat
Where memories of oppressive heat
Fading AM signals
Cheap motels
And too-few potty breaks
Have served to make aging brothers
Become young once more.

I would do every bit of
Those rattling road trips
Over again
With one exception…
There is never to be another
No-man’s land
Between Ron’s half of the Impala
And mine.


*It truly does not matter if no one reads this post, but my younger brother, Ron. He turned 60 recently, and I 62. This is for him. But I think other folks may have a memory or two similar to mine. Sometimes memories like these get sweeter and sweeter the further they are from their origin. I guess the lesson here is to cherish every moment...even the sweaty ones. They seem to be the memories we hold onto when the skin wrinkles and the bi-focals are prescribed. There may be no going back...but I am thankful for every moment in the back seat, at The Ozark Mule, The Wagon Wheel Motel, and the 1960's version of Silver Dollar City.

Oxygen

I no longer know you.
I did once.

Familiar metaphors apply…
Water under the bridge.
Turning a corner.

So much time has passed.
I am different as well
Although that is more difficult
For me to see.

Do not misunderstand
Dear one
I ache to see you again
Though that prospect
Is terrifying.

What if I were to look
Into your eyes
And saw the gaze of a stranger?
The cold
Unrecognizing
Return of an alien?
Or the tentative look
Of an embarrassed old love?

I cannot imagine anything more painful.

I still search for you
In the passing parade
At grocery stores
Shopping malls
Backseats of taxis
Cross walks
And bus stops.
But I do so cautiously
Like one uncertain.

When we were in love
The whole world was ours.
The sun and moon
Were our admirers.
Nothing was uncertain.
But uncertainty is now
The oxygen I breathe.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Impossible Trail

Pathless traces
Marked only by fading
Wheel ruts
And the occasional
Abandoned remains
Of an ancient piano
Or china hutch
Show the way west.

Graves are here, too.
The wooden crosses
Long ago reduced to
Splinters and pulp.
Sadness and tears watered
Prairie flowers
All along
The impossible trail.

In the distance
Like a promise of a dream
Strands of purple ranges rose
Beckoning the pilgrims on.
Always on.

Here
A broken wheel.
There
A discarded chest
And over there
The bleached skull
Of a dairy cow
Unable to take
One more step.

But they persevered.
They did the impossible
Leaving as their monuments
The jettison of treasures
And interment of love.

Perhaps
It is not as pathless
As it seems.

The way toward dreams
Is always marked
By sacrifice
And loss.

But the land beyond
The mountains
Beckon still.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Old Steel Pot*

I cooked my meals in
My old steel pot.
Sometimes it was a helmet
Other times it was not.

On my head it weighed
A hundred pounds
But it protected my brains
And my coffee grounds.

I used it mornings
To lather and shave.
I’d take it everywhere
From the field to the grave.

In it I scrambled
Liberated eggs
Though that was a violation
Of Army regs.

I was supposed to turn it in
When I mustered out
But it was goin' with me
Beyond any doubt!

I still have that old pot
Somewhere in my attic.
If I lost that treasure
It’d be traumatic.

Those new Army helmets
Just ain’t the same…
Like kissin' a lady
Or a painted-up dame.

Take it from me
I know what I’m sayin’
That pot was worth every dime
Uncle Sam was payin’!


*I remember an old black and white photo of my dad, cooking a meal in his battered steel pot, somewhere in France. His track was hid under a camouflage net, under a tree...but he was obvious in his delight in whatever that old steel pot was cooking!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Doctor Hooker’s Elixir of Life

Step right up!
Don’t be bashful, sir!
Doctor Hooker’s Elixir of Life
Is the Balm of Gilead!
It’s good for every ailment
Common to man!
It restores hair to the balding head!
Regenerates the liver!
Cures gastric maladies!
Steadies the pulse!
Promotes good digestion!
And invigorates the love life!

Sir, there are diseases this elixir will cure
That have yet to be invented!
It is simply that good!

Made from the purest elements
Of God’s amazing universe
Doctor Hooker’s Elixir of Life
Is the very nectar of the gods, sir!

You need a bottle, sir!
Buy one, get one!
Buy three, get six!
And I can see you are a prudent man, sir...
I can let you have an entire case
Of Doctor Hooker’s Elixir of Life
For the paltry sum of half off the whole lot, sir!

You want it!
You need it!
You simply must take
Doctor Hooker’s Elixir of Life
Home today, sir!
The little lady will be glad you did, sir!
Yes, sir.
Very glad, indeed!

And she was.
The funeral is Friday at noon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Confession's Lament

Were you to trace my path
Were you to do the bitter math
You’d find me to not be the man
Everybody thinks I am.

It’s an embarrassing truth
An eye for eye, tooth for tooth
Testify I was as wrong
As a winter's night is long.

I gotta come clean here to you.
I guess it’s the right thing to do.
I was so smart, but didn’t have a clue.
My story’s an ugly one, but it’s true.

I want to be an decent man
I’d like to say I took a stand
But when push came to shove
I did only what I love.

Forgive me, young child
For my bent to the careless wild
And the reckless way I act
The way I substitute lies and fact.

I gotta come clean here to you.
I guess it’s the right thing to do.
I was so smart, but didn’t have a clue.
My story’s an ugly one, but it’s true.

Find another path to go
And don’t think I’d ever know
The right way from wrong
Because, for me, it was just a song.

I apologize for the man I am
I guess I didn’t much give a damn
About leaving a decent legacy for you.
It isn’t right, but God help me, it’s true.

I gotta come clean here to you.
I guess it’s the right thing to do.
I was so smart, but didn’t have a clue.
My story’s an ugly one, but it’s true.