Mother was always a black and white photo.
When I visualize her now,
my lens loses all color,
like her tight, white smile,
and her pitch black heart.
There, in her coffin,
her white, straw hair in curls.
Her black, stiff suit, punctured by a metal pin.
One eye open, like an aperture
letting in only enough light
for her to see out;
no one to see in.
She threatened to haunt her own funeral.
Her last chance to work the room over.
Fitting, since her ghost-like charm
and her chilling laugh haunted us in life,
like a heavy, black cloud hovering;
a white light piercing our focus.
Our eyes shut tight against the intrusion.
The black hearse waits outside.
Her last ride will be a dramatic exit,
with the sterile white mums displayed
at her graveside.
Someone decided to build an optical illusion
to send her off in this distorted view:
An image of a loving mother
with many friends.
Her coffin lowers into the cold, black earth.
One last prayer, a few sniffles just for show.
Fair weather friends fading into the background,
heading for their cars with plans for lunch.
I will bet she reaches her white, bony hand
through the earth, to not be left behind.
I am sure no one can see her reaching.
I wonder if she knows I’m not there.
The summer Barbara gave birth I received a post
card from someone I’d never heard of, Mrs. Sidney Burns,
postmarked August 4th from someplace I’d never heard of in Iowa.
In a shaky third-grade script these words were penciled:
“have bin thinkin of you how do you like all this winter
now you think of me once in a wile mr. reece what will
become of the ice house
mrs. sidney burns”
On the back a cheap imitation of a Currier
and Ives Christmas scene: by a tiny road a gingerbread
farmhouse in the snow with long
icicles hanging from the roof over the windows
and the faintest outline of a woman’s face in one window, behind
the curtain of icicles, as though someone
had penciled it in and then decided to erase it.
lettuce, carrots, broccoli,
watermelon, leeks, and cabbage,
August’s Sunshine Market is full, like
apples of gold in buckets of silver.
On a recent vacation to Door County, Wisconsin,
priceless life lessons were learned in the oddest of places,
including miniature golf courses, and go-cart rides.
I was traveling with my father and sister, and her
two kids, who sometimes put up a fuss going on vacation,
and get bored and restless on vacation. Sometimes we let
them do what they want to do as much as possible, because
we’d rather see them be happy than pout.
My nephew Ryan sounded like he wanted to go to
a miniature golf course more than anything, and especially
go-carting. There were two places available, one place didn’t
seem as fancy, the other places was built with a pirate theme
and seemed rather fancy.
We went one night to the miniature golf course that
didn’t seem as fancy, and the kids seemed to be having so
much fun. Then they went go-carting, and enjoyed that too.
Then my sister gave them some tickets for the video game
arcade, that they spent on games. My niece won some tickets,
and she was able to exchange the tickets for a lollipop.
My nephew played his tickets more wisely, and got
to get a slightly better prize. By now my niece had somehow
lost her lollipop. My sister was trying to help her find it.
I knew if she didn’t find it, she’d throw a temper tantrum.
So I went up to the counter, and explained to the man behind
the counter the situation. I asked him if he could replace the
lollipop. He seemed hesitant at first, but then he did it. After
all, it was just a lollipop, but I know my niece would be upset
if it was lost for good. I was grateful to this young man.
The kids went go-carting, and enjoyed that too. Then
we saw a bunch of teenagers who played a video game and
win a giant stuffed dragon that was so big it barely fit in
the backseat of the car with them. This was a classic slice
of Americana, and I was very impressed.
The next day, we went to a different miniature golf
course, and I was a bit irritable, because I think I was hot,
thirsty, and tired. They played the golf course, and I decided
to sit in the shade. I asked the workers if there was a water
fountain, and there wasn’t one. They had a vending machine
for soda though, and the saying, “highway robbery” came to
my mind. I guess I’m from the Chicago land area, and I
think that it’s a given that a place is going to have a water
fountain. So that made me grouchy, but I learned a lesson
in patience. It dawned on me, my family would be playing
the golf course game for about a hour and a half, but I’d
have to wait. I made the most of it.
I didn’t have the cash for a soda on me, so when my
sister came to the end of the course, I humbly begged her
for the money to get a soda. That soda was the most thirst
quenching I’d had in a while. It’s amazing the healing
powers of Tahitian Treat fruit punch when you are truly
Then we went to the other go-cart place. You have
to be a certain height to ride in the big kids go-carts. Some
ornery old lady measures my nephew and says he is not
tall enough to ride in the big go-cart. Sitting far away, it
is clear to see he is tall enough. So he has to ride in the
little go-carts, and he says the woman who is supervising
him is yelling at him. He comes back clearly upset.
And I am very upset, too. I felt between the two different
places, it is like night and day. Why work with children
if you don’t like them?
So we decide to go back to the better golf course
the next day. The kids do it again, but this time they are
not jumping for joy. Somehow, three days of miniature
golfing and going go-carting gets old. Summer is magical,
but nothing lasts forever. I ask my father, “What was the
highlight of your trip?”
He says, “Seeing the kids have fun, having a good time.”
Yes, I’d say the same is true for me. I guess as you
get older, it gets harder and harder to have fun twenty-four
hours a day. I suppose there are people who are considered
responsible hard-working citizens, but within every grown
man or woman is a little kid, wearing a disguise of an adult.
W.C. Barnum said a sucker is born every minute.
And somewhere out there, someone has a job making
lollipops in a lollipop factory. And there are workers who
will replace a kid’s lollipop to make a kid happy, because
all it is is a lollipop to scratch off the inventory. Then there
are other people who work with children, and their whole
purpose is to wipe the smile off children’s faces. But
what is wrong with those people? Was there something
missing in their childhoods, that they must ruin the
summer joys of happy children? I don’t know. I guess
I’m just a writer. They don’t pay you to exercise free speech.
A girl my age, I
don’t know her name,
lived across Juday Creek,
and we’d meet
to make clover-flower
chains some hot
And when bitter cold
froze the pond,
we’d skate until we
couldn’t feel our toes
or noses before
calling it quits.
But Dad always
was ready for more
twirls, whirls, and
on his skates.
Tell me please
what can I do
to rid myself
of the ghost of you?
For while you may be gone
these feelings linger on
night and day
in my way
How I wish I could do
the same as you
and simply no longer care
as if you were never there
all the moments warm and tender
all the joy and all the splendor
you came to the conclusion
it was all just an illusion
You were finished
and so you quit
It was over
and that was it
And now although
you may be gone
a part of you
still lingers on
So tell me please
what can I do
to rid myself
of the ghost of you?
It lay there, broken in half, the sand
dollar spilling tiny peace doves on sand
piles; those brown mound guardians
grouped in a protective circle.
A gull lit hard, buried doves, sand
dollar halves, and two crab claws,
picked at a fish carcass, then lifted
to survey the rest of their world.
Sand dollars don’t cry too loud.
I take in details of the canopic jar
of Queen Kiya: the modeled face
with its full lips, prominent chin;
the missing eyelash, once a black inlay.
I wonder which of the queen’s four organs
was stored beneath the calcite collar.
A boy of eight or nine disrupts
my reverie, asking, What was the jar
used for? His mother says, let me
read the sign, clears her throat
and lies, they kept juice in it.
The bored boy pulls her
to the next artifact.
A white businessman in a brown suit
brushes his blond hair back
with his fingers, elbows his friend
and asks, How would you like a cane
like that one? They move away laughing
at the carved Nubian bent over the handle
of Tutankhamun’s staff, his ebony elbows
tied behind his back all these centuries,
his ebony head with its deep-set eyes
and short curled hair meant to be eternally
upside down, his feet meant never to be free.
The grey-haired woman returns a third time
to examine the inlaid pectoral, counterweight
and wide shoulder bands connecting them:
the king with his golden corselet,
ribboned war helmet, flail and crook;
Segmet in her net dress, broad collar
and dark blue wig, the carnelian sun disk
on her head; and Ptah with his turquoise face and hands.
She walks to the back of the case
for another look at the counterweight.
It’s so beautiful, she sighs again. This side
is even more lovely than the front.
Her husband touches her shoulder lightly
and whispers, I wish I could take it home for you.
(First published in Exact Change Only)
the brillo pad white hair
sprawling over a long life span
but strong and still thick with resolve
and the new beard surrounds the poet's wistful
with an engineer's smile
summons the sandman more often
curled in sleep
his grizzled appearance
mirrors the hard life he lived for us
and now the memory won't let him forget
that he has forgotten just where the numbers went
when a life used to be calculated
in terms of quotients
rather than the love potions
we would rather toast to him now.
High above in her eyrie, she listens to morning,
ritual morphed into prayer,
the rocker’s soft chant.
She bends to her book, to meditation.
Intimate with quiet and solitude,
the chair arms wrap around her in stillness.
And though the city sleeps still,
the factory across the way
begins to open its eyes.
Light climbs into her lap,
nuzzles the back of her neck,
lies down beside her on the floor.
A breeze sails in on a sea-green shade,
trembles on the edge of something,
a scent once remembered.
And like the flowers in her alabaster vase,
profusion spills beyond what’s held—
the simplicity of a measured life.
each morning I read my horoscope
looking for inspiration
or to see what the day holds in store
today it says I should relax
but to keep in mind my goals
as others may be watching
but since I’m retired
there are few goals left to me
and about all I do is relax
so I find it hard to relate
I’d like to see a horoscope
but it would probably say
that one day is just like the next
Such a gigantic undertaking
needless to say is far beyond
the capability of an artist
The snow on the grass
must be thick and soft and pure
tempting your innocent feet
to tread to sink to burst out laughing
The sun should make the icicles sparkle
in your dreaming eyes
and the breeze caressing your face
has to ripple your memory pond
On the top of Willis Tower
everything far and near
must be clear
The distant purple haze should not be
a blush of pollution but the flushed air
of this bustling city of steel
The floating ice on Lake Michigan needs to support
a flock of sun-bathing gulls
The tropical fish in the aquarium
should weave a colorful fairy tale
just for you
And of course
this masterful installation art
must be dismantled
right after you leave
Today when oaks bronze and maples blush
Today when the grasshopper cradles in the folds of the rose
Today when my shoulders burn like wildfire
Today when I remember his feathery touch on my cheek
Today when I trade closeted words with a friend
Today when the two-night bloom of the Victorian
water lily turns from white to pink
Today when hospice comes to a mother’s home
for a daughter’s dying, and far away, twins are born
Let the god in the house appear
When a friend says to the universe
It would bring me great joy to see an owl
and sea turtles skim the brine
and the skunks scavenge nearby at twilight
When cricket’s wings chirp
his courting song while I write
and my words hedge and mince
a half-carved belief
Let the god in the house seep
into the silence
(First appeared in Journal of Modern Poetry)
I inhale the brilliant garden
with my eyes
Freesia, fuchsia, black-eyed Susan
And read her heavy-handed message
on the breeze.
Gardenia, jasmine, peony
I’m beautiful, desirable, her fragrant note says.
I’m fertile, waiting.
Coneflower, columbine, coral bells
With the ardent expectancy of butterfly and bee,
I come to her,
remembering again, how to fall in love.
Phlox, foxglove, coreopsis
And roses, oh, so many roses.
These two words may definitely seem like a paradox,
But I'm gonna tell you what God loved before the Magnavox!
I remember days when the rain fell as if it were heaven sent,
I'd take a sheet and tie it to my bed posts and make a tent,
Then go into the kitchen make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich or some ravioli or alphabet soup,
Grab my recorder a note pad, a book of fables then read them aloud then listen to my fav. Group.
At the time it was the O'Jay's and I'd sit there and listen to 'Forever Mine' and 'Loving You,'
Feeling like all was beautiful with the world and everything was exciting and new.
Then after awhile I'd come out my makeshift haven and turn on the black and white Magnavox,
Then stare out the window until the rain
The honeyed buzz of locusts
wrings desire from the night's
dark wanting. Cradled
in summer, too hot to sleep,
they enter the rubbing of wings.
Soon, in the frost's fierce grip,
the cabbage moths will cease
scrubbing the white-hot moon
and leave the flame-blooded darkness
in the hands of dead trees.
Regret is a fallen leaf,
a wing stuck on a window.
The frozen silks of winter
will soon unravel from the sky,
their pale skeins rustling.
(Published previously in Cairn
and Briar Cliff Review)
I am sitting in your wheelchair.
It is dusk. We are watching the film, “300,”
a bloody battle between 300 Spartan soldiers
and one million Persians. I ask if it is okay
to put a bronze rose etched into pink granite
on your wife’s grave. King Leonidas helps
his scant soldiers build a wall around Thermopylae
to contain the numerous enemy.
“How does this work?” you ask, fumbling for the remote.
Leonidas refuses the Persians’ request to lay down
his weapons. You tell me you want no cross on your grave.
Xerxes watches as his faithful Persian soldiers
are slaughtered by a barrage of arrows.
I forget how hard it must be, to fight
for your life with all you’ve got,
using the only weapons
you have ever known
from this chair.
(Previously published in The Popcorn Farm, 2013)
the soft puff of p that slides
into a soothing water rush
to the final tuh,
which in turn slips
leaving the mouth
with a vowel, open
between two d’s
the one unflinching syllable
between tongue and palate,
promising nothing more.
There was a time thought more discreet,
When only birds produced a tweet.
Romantic pairs made google eyes,
A stolen kiss their only prize.
“Text” was a noun, the written word,
No use as action verb yet heard.
Cell phone’s freedom was not designed,
Our tethered talk kept us confined.
We had no social media,
Nor quirky Wikipedia.
But I won’t linger in the past,
The pace of life is much too fast.
New words arrive, meanings evolve,
I will engage them with resolve.
In time I’ll give Facebook a look,
Till then, find my face in a book.
Cucumbers and dill don’t mean much
unless you’ve had a childhood filled
with Ball jars lining basement shelves
and a grandmother who made
the best pickles every summer.
My brother and I helped,
all hands filling clear vessels
with small dimpled fruit, white vinegar,
coarse salt and fresh herbs
from a local farm stand.
Crisp and savory might describe
the first bite of those yearly
treats of green gold,
but this still wouldn’t capture
A sharp taste spread over our tongues
and lingered on our lips. Breathing
slowed and nothing else mattered,
not the past nor the reality that this ecstasy
couldn’t last forever.
Grandma has been gone a long time
and so has her recipe. For years
my brother and I have searched grocery stores
for something which might come close
to the indelible taste only she could achieve.
We could try to make our own pickles,
but the possibility quickly shape-shifts
into more than the end product, a thing
beyond our capacity to recreate,
even though we know the basic ingredients.
Satellite trucks came and went
bearing cameras and microphones
to show the misery
of the poor
to the well-nourished
and self satisfied.
The mayor and the governor
begged for help
from an unknown called FEMA,
while abandoned citizens asked for prayers
and received truckloads of clothing
no longer needed
by generous donors.
The broken dikes
spawned a cesspool
that festered and stank as
the poor awaited rescue
“Why didn’t they leave
before it hit?”
The well fed asked.
Ignoring the fact
that when you are poor,
you have no car.
It’s a rhythm, it’s a tune,
It’s the light from the sun and the moon,
It’s the heart, it’s the soul,
It’s an every minute role,
It’s a feeling, it’s the way,
How they think every day,
It’s the seen, the heard, the tried,
It’s the language, music, the might,
It’s the movements, it’s a grace,
It’s a flight and a pace,
It’s “I am”, it’s “I am being”,
It’s the hearing and the seeing,
It’s a world-wide respect
We should back and protect.
Certain pairs of properties resist measure, my love,
since more of one means less of the other;
thus, if I love you more, your ardor will cool.
It’s the nature of the system itself.
Yet with a nonzero amplitude
(it could happen any time),
we might become entangled
in linear momentum,
a sine-wave of compression.
My lips could become your smile
and our stumbles turn into a dance,
the rhythm precise and distinct.
Consider the potential, the probability.
We’d be like flowers enfolded upon themselves
or birds on the wing, pulsating as one,
a closed system that simply alters form,
or finding hidden variables
like the throbbing wings of a butterfly
ripple across the world to create a tornado
through the quickness of doubling,
swamping the ability to predict.
Such astral bounty and probing force
stand ready to embrace our attraction.
We need only re-configure the heavens,
revise the music of the spheres,
and touching hands,
proceed to shatter the universe.
Don’t say goodbye, I begged,
my mouth full of medical anecdotes,
biblical quotes and other magical thinking.
We’ll meet next month at the Strawberry Fair,
eat shortcake and complain about calories.
I’ll be blind to outward signs,
a forever friend seeing you still
in pony tail and poodle skirt.
Though I chuckle with many,
we always laugh till our sides hurt.
Others have vanished with their scents
of lavender or pipe tobacco,
leaving an odorless void.
Don’t you withdraw the waft
of sun-dried bedsheets and hot apple crisp.
The coarse short hairs and sharp nails
of the oblivious puppy scratch small
children in their romping play.
The soft old dog snores
at the feet of the reader.
Crumbs of buttered toast shower grease spots
across the cluttered breakfast table.
An opened newsprint page
records a sprinkling of the faces
of newly-appointed angels.
Flying along in a cab
to the countryside outside Munich,
streets shooting by, gasthouses a blur,
restaurants registering for just a blink
and then receding like runners into the past
until the city suddenly ends and farm fields
and big green spaces take over, leaving
the crowded bricks and mortar of the
bustling metropolis full of beer, bratwurst
and business behind in the rear view mirror
because a previously unplanned instant
“guerilla” round of golf at a foreign location beckons,
(one completely unknown except for a name & scribbled-down
address that the somewhat confused cab driver doesn’t seem
to be able to find, creeping along a dusty road full of trees,
swooping side ditches, big beautiful yellow sunflowers
and small set-back red brick houses, finally depositing
his baffled, bespectacled passenger
at the wrong place and roaring
away in a big-bang brown billowing cloud
that cloaks all objects in its tsunami-like path),
walking back down the road while huge
pieces of farm machinery ramble by and kick up more dust,
trampling through tall, foot-grabbing grasses
by the graveled sloped side to scramble out of the way,
smelling the earth and feeling lost and
lonely but on a secret mission to track down a place
that seems to have vanished into thin air,
the day thickens and bees tiredly buzz
and after another super-slow-motion half hour
of faltering footsteps, the course is finally found
and the now-weary traveler is paired up with
a rag-tag rental bag of clubs and
a blonde, poised, athletic and friendly lady from Ireland
who, as it turns out, has spent the past decade in Dubai
with her robotics-expert husband before a recent move
back to Hofbrauhaus-land and she has plenty of
fantastic stories about golf and life in that sizzling,
sand-strewn mecca to tell as the ball is struck and found
and struck again, over and over,
as if on a wheel, turning constantly,
but full of ever-changing nuances
like colorful bed sheets flapping and twisting in
a light summer wind in a backyard seen from
a distance while driving by on the way to somewhere else,
the course is practically empty and well-groomed
with tall trees everywhere and the rented clubs
feel good, the elusive rhythm found on more holes than not,
walking in the sunshine, talking about travel, golf, sports
and the somewhat hard-to-fit-in Munich social life scene
until the last green is reached and the round succumbs
to totals on a scorecard, but the vitality between the numbers vibrates
electromagnetically, sending speed-of-light impulses out
into the universe to the great golf gods in the sky who watch over
the trudging, swinging, tiny people below and secretly
nod, sigh, laugh and smile.
Concealed by skin, they are pale
As an old-fashioned bonnet,
Bones, I mean. Odd parts,
bowl-like bones broken by DNA
Eons ago, hips tell the story of
Everyone’s life, but still
Keep it under wraps.
My hips? Two of many
Things I will never see.
Colorless in x-rays-- neither needs
The other, really, though
Together they hold this whole
House-of-cards-of a body
Hips are strong as a
Drowning woman’s will to live.
They will let you shake all you
Want without a sound, but
Swerve too far, you will be stung.
Those hips! I mean,
If your conscience had a face
It would look like a hip
Bone. One side or the other,
Each aspiring to perfection
But born sloping, falling
Off in an arch like some
Sort of angel’s wing.
A siren in the summer distance
wails poignantly up and down,
growing nearer and louder
before fading away beyond hearing.
Was it a policeman chasing a speeder?
An old man rushing in an ambulance
toward his last broken breath?
A fire brigade hurtling toward heat?
Sitting in a lawn chair by my driveway,
I offer a moment of silence to the siren
and to whom it has singled out
for justice or help or death.
"Who was it?" I ask the evening sky.
No reply—no sound now
but a breeze rising in the maple trees
and a low howling from the neighbor's dog.
Who, indeed, was it? Someone I know?
My best friend? My relative? My neighbor?
Will I find the answer
in tomorrow's newspaper?
The mystery of anonymous tragedy
grips my soul like a magnet.
A siren seems to drill a hole in my heart
to let love flow out to the victim.
In the wailing of a siren I hear
an anthropomorphic moan of failure,
a human weakness confronting a greater law
in tooth-gnashing agony.
Sirens will wail on for humanity of the future.
Speeders may give up or escape,
old gasping men may live or die,
fires may burn or be quenched—
but when a siren splits the air, I turn within
to nurse a pang within my own heart.
As with the tolling of John Donne's bell,
the siren wails for me.
(From Inward in Words)
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