Cake and Ice Cream

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There’s a party in the next life,
but not all will get an invite.
That’s what a man with stacks of pamphlets loudly told me.

He was standing on the corner.
Asked, “Would you like to be reborn, sir?”
Then he began to castigate and sharply scold me.

He told me I’m a sinner,
but I could end my life a winner
if I’d just agree to ditch all my worldly ways.

There’s a land of gold and honey
and another not so sunny.
He urged I make my choice before we meet the end of days.

When he described a lake of fire,
I felt I must inquire
how the honey could be expected to taste so sweet?

With all those people burning,
would the others not be yearning
to give water to those suffering from the never ending heat?

Would they all eat cake and ice cream
while listening to the crowd scream?
If so, I’m afraid I’ll have to “lose” the invitation.

Or I’ll have to RSVP,
“Sorry. This one’s not for me.
Sounds far too much like daily life in pick your nation.”

Unlocked

lock

Found a key
on the floor
of the attic,
then started searching
from the rooftop’s shingles
to the basement
where I found
not a thing.

Out the door
into the yard,
there I ran
in twisted circles
around the fenced green world
of my home,
but I found
not a thing.

Kicked the gate,
swung it open,
hit the sidewalk
with a skeleton key
in my left front pants pocket,
walked through town,
and I found
not a thing.

Every key
has a lock.
Every answer
must surely have
a question waiting to be asked.
So I stood
by the road,
hitched a ride.

Walked the coasts,
crossed the land
with the key
‘tween thumb and finger
and a hope for chance discovery
of that lock,
if there was
such a thing.

Took a plane,
searched the globe
for that sweet
and simple click sound
a mystery just released makes.
A billion locks,
a single key,
not a thing.

In the end,
I decided,
there are keys
just meant for trying.
They’ll take you everywhere, show
you everything,
while they open
not a thing.

The Steps

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I think I’d like to dance with you,
but I never learned the steps.
I can feel the rhythm.
I know how to flail and twist.
But I’ve never been shown where the elbows go
or how to use my soles
to count to seven then step,
back, two, three, four…

It’s hard to see what’s right in front of you
when you’re clinging to a melody
not sure of what comes next.

Everything’s so precarious.
One slip and you’re tumbling through space and time to the dance floor far below.

But you seem to know where you’re going and I think I’d like to go there too. And I could, I believe, with my elbows raised,and my toes pointed, and my eyes wide open and watching as you slowly show me the steps.

26th and Main

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I found happiness hidden inside a discarded box I pulled out of a trash can on the corner of 26th and Main.

Someone must have tossed it there with a casual flick of the wrist as they made their way to the train station.

Happiness wasn’t at all what I’d expected. It was mottled, scratched, and dented; fashioned out of bits of wood, old watch parts, and scraps of aluminum and tin; and the whole thing was held together with electrical tape and string.

I had no idea how to use it, and I almost threw it back in again, but then how many times had I already done that, I asked.

I’ve been carrying it in my pocket and a few times every day I take it out and look at it. No instruction manual. No touch screen. No money back guarantee. Just a small engraving on the bottom written in block letters as if labeled by a child.

“Look around,” it says. Sometimes that’s precisely what I do.

What She Did Was

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What she did was is she would look around and make sure no one was watching, then she’d take off running. At full speed she’d pump everything, her knees and elbows, her hands loose like mittens on a string threaded through coat sleeves she never bothered to slip over her fingers. It was all flop, flail, fly.

She made pebbles and birds fly, too. She made the sun chase after her and search for her beneath the tree leaves.

One day she attacked a hill head on, and, in her heart, she won.

So what she did then was she danced right there on the peak. She twirled her arms and hopped on one foot and then the other. On that day at that moment, if anyone was watching, she just didn’t care, so what she did was she called out to all the birds and told them to come on back. And hurry.

Farm Boy Goes to Hollywood

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My father let me drive the truck. It was orange and white and rusted, and the son of a bitch was big, which is how I felt behind the wheel half the time. The other half I felt small.

The cattle fields were rough and the thing bounced so hard across the hoof prints I thought my head was going to  pop through the roof.

When my dad wasn’t looking, I’d stop following directions and floor it through the turns. I wasn’t old enough to take it to the gravel or the blacktop, but there, in the cattle field, anything went. You could be a man; you could go for broke.

The cattle were afraid. I, on the other hand, was a stunt man or maybe even the star of the show, a thirteen year old Burt Reynolds on the verge of turning twenty or thirty or whatever age he was, and a hundred angry smokeys were perpetually in hot pursuit.

Lament of an Unknown Poet

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My words will never know the feel of a hesitant dissection
or the ink from the trembling pen of a first-year English major
who is asking herself how she wound up in a place so very strange
and far away from home.

They will never know the thrill of being scanned and combed
and underscored
by her damp green eyes 
as she thinks about the friends she left behind,
the boy whose heart she broke,
or the Irish Setter who is probably lying by the sofa,
whimpering and wondering when
she’s going to return and toss the rubber ball again.

They will never be her reading assignment,
the academic equivalent
of an arranged marriage,
one in which she might learn to love my work
despite her initial preferences for Chaucer.

They won’t even have the chance
for an accidental meeting
on the third floor of the library
as she’s making her way
through an anthology for a paper due
on Wednesday by 10 AM.

Her thumb will never brush carelessly against them
as she turns the page and lifts,
sending every stanza floating
for a moment
in an arc
before they softly land
on a chewing gum wrapper
she’s been using as a bookmark.

No, the beautiful girl from Kentucky
will never even know my words exist.
They’ll live out their lives in chests of drawers and envelopes,
in shoe boxes on closet shelves,
and occasionally in a frame
hung in a hallway
among some photos of the dogs or grandchildren,
and the women who hold them
will be relatives and friends
and perhaps an old lover or two
who may not even appreciate them
but care an awful lot for me.