Hoof and Ladder

Hoof and LadderI saw him while driving, a man on foot, walking down the grassy lane
between two strips of interstate, with a ladder on his arm. The image haunts me to this day.

Who was he? A hitchhiker waiting
for a ride on a sympathetic fire engine? A vagabond moving from wall to wall?

Or was he a man on a journey,
traipsing the nation’s highways
in search of some elusive high rise,
a solid place to rest his weary rungs.

I often think of finding him
and buying him a pick,
a rope, a backpack filled with gear.

If he needed something to ascend,
mountains, I believe, are better than walls, more rustic, more scenic, more pleasing to overcome,
but I suppose a wall beats nothing.

Better to lug a ladder than to drag around a shovel looking for somewhere to dig a hole, waiting for the bombs to fall.

Letter to Lois

It’s nice to hear you’re doing well
and no longer in need of Superman. The cleaners lost my cape, my tights no longer fit, and I gave up flying ten years back.

The buildings I used to leap? Well, now they all have elevators, and they draw so much less attention. I’m sure you understand.

It’s nice to no longer need a phone booth, such a relief
to not have to keep changing.
The glasses I once wore to disguise myself as me have become a necessity when I read.

I stored away the S. I’m more of a t-shirt and blue jeans guy these days. That draws less attention, too, as you might guess.

It’s nice to relax, slow down, and forget about the speeding bullet for a while. Why were we always in such a hurry? We never just walked and really talked to one another.

Let’s meet somewhere quiet, somewhere far, far and away from the scene of the disaster and all that commotion. That way, we’ll draw way less attention, don’t you think?

Drinking Beer with a Buddhist


Her eyes are lit and so am I,
and there’s talk
of being one
with everything,
which is how I ordered
the burger I’m anticipating
as she goes on pontificating
that all truths are equal except for one I’m holding
that they’re not.

I center myself,
press a hot wing to my lips (yummmm),
and meditate on the arch of her brow.

In my mind I’m inventing
a brand new religion:
a slice of Tibetan Skepticism
on a bed of Secular Catholicism
that comes with your choice of fifteen Sacraments
and an order of hand breaded Onion Rings.

A sacred glaze of fire sauce
coats my contemplative grin
as I watch the bubbles
detach from the foam.

She waits.
Of course, she waits.
She’s a Buddhist
for Heaven’s sake.
I pause and
show her I can wait, too.

“You know, Sarah,” I say, just as the zen breaks, “we should empty our minds, leave these thoughts far behind, and focus on our deep inhalations.”

I bow my lips and breathe,
as she shares all she believes,
and practice deep transcendental inebriation.

It seems I’m but a monk
who is just a wee bit drunk,
and she’s thinking me
under the table.

Tavern in a Small Missouri Town

imageThey perch, in brown boots and blue jeans,  like cats sitting on fence posts, each one atop his bar stool, each one gazing at the Magnavox above the fading cartoon bear.

The bear is spending his day like he does every other: telling anyone whose eyes he meets about the sky blue waters of Hamm’s.

The sun’s heat slips through the screen door, looks to see if there’s anyone it knows, then settles into the familiar embrace of the slowly turning fan blades before drifting off to sleep.

“Humm,” says the fan motor as a cue ball gently kisses a seven and sends it on its way to work. The quarters are lined up near the right front pocket, quietly watching, waiting for their turn.

Everyone knows where this is headed. Keep your eyes on the tv and your hand around your beer. We’re all in this ’til closing time. Someone man the phone.

Fish Blood

imageWhat if there are too many flowers, not enough bicep? What if the words are too long?

What if she sees me dancing, or wearing the same shirt I wore on Wednesday? What if she thinks I don’t know how to change the oil?

What if she doesn’t want me to change the oil? Who changes their own oil anymore? What if she wants someone who does?

Where did I put my tools?

Somewhere there’s someone who knows where his tools are and he’s already put them away and he’s scrubbing the grease from his fingernails and he’s probably about to gut a fish with a knife he sharpened using a whetstone he carries in his pocket.

I hate that guy. He’s probably dumb and says dumb things while he’s flinging fish guts all over the garage.

He’s not going to clean that shit up, you know? And he’s never going to write you a poem.

If he does, the words will be short, they’ll be misspelled, and his grammar will be terrible and you’ll probably think it’s completely adorable, including the stupid smudge at the bottom, the one made of grease and fish blood.

The Kite


I used to hold the spool in one hand,
tight like a secret I couldn’t reveal,
and, with the other, I held onto you.

I was afraid to let you lift,
afraid to let the wind
carry you up and further.

Who would I be but a loser on the beach
left standing with nothing
but a cardboard cylinder?

I wish I’d known then
what I’ve learned from letting go.

I wish I’d known then
what you look like when you soar.

Now I’m the spool,
spinning, wondering, wondering
just how high you can rise,
and I can hear the buzz
of the rapidly unwinding thread,
and I can feel the pull
of the rough-and-tumble wind,
and I can see you darting
between the blinding rays
while all I know to be
is amazed.

Some day the line might break
and I’ll feel the quick release
of someone sailing onward,
but that, I believe, is better
than to feel the slow compression
of clinging
to someone who needs to fly.

I Thought You Ought to Know


I always eyed the kitchen door
on Sunday mornings after church,
waiting for your head to appear
behind the plastic window pane or
against the screen in summer.
It was for me, one day each week,
a little bit of Christmas.

I thought you ought to know.

Perhaps you did know, but I failed
to tell you, and I want to tell you
everything, everything now, I feel.

Your son became a man.
His voice is deep. His hair’s still blonde. He’s good,
and yet I wish you’d been here
to help him be good,
to make it an easier thing to be.
He married and made you a grandmother.

I thought you ought to know that, too.

It could be wish filled thinking,
but I swear she has your smile,
minus the teeth made crooked
by a line drive baseball
too hard to handle.

They never mattered much, your teeth,
no more than the wig you wore
to hide your balding head.
None of that
made any difference.
You were still,
as always,
Did you know I thought that?
We all did. It’s just not the kind of thing
a brother often tells a sister,
but I think it’s time I do.

I have kids of my own, by the way. Yeah,
you missed all that. You missed a lot of things
like my college graduation and my wedding
and all the confusion that followed your leaving.
The Sunday breakfasts disbanded. We didn’t know how
to set the table or how to be together anymore.
We sulked for awhile, then we fought for awhile,
but we each found a rung and pulled ourselves up.

So, even though you weren’t here, I thought
you’d want to know that things got better.
Oh, and I’ve recently taken up poetry,
which reminds me
I need to end this
or I’ll never stop writing.

To All the Girls Who Cut My Hair

hairThis one talks about her craft,
says every head’s a canvas,
and tells me she’s an artist.

She looks things over
and takes her time,
only speaks between the snips.

Her palm on my scalp, she
tilts me to the left then back to the right
and gathers my hair in small, thin sheets.

I appreciate her focused passion,
how she wields her scissors like a brush,
but I am praying she’s no Picasso.

And this one, the one with the spectacles,
she feeds me rumors
and quenches my thirst for gossip.

By the time my head feels new again,
she’s filled me in on a thing or two
about him and her and maybe you.

“Men may be snakes, but that girl there?”
she says, pointing with a comb,
“She’s a mongoose. Rikki-Tikki-Tavvi.”

I nod, pressing my lips together.
I trust her with my hair
but not with my secrets.

And that one? She flirts with me,
tells me little jokes, swats me on the shoulder,
runs her fingers across my scalp.

I know it’s for the tips, but there
for half an hour, I get to pretend,
tell myself that I’ve still got it.

I know I’m not the only one.
I’ve seen the lines, but I still don’t mind.
Everyone needs to feel that way sometimes.

She’s not that good at cutting hair,
but she’s great at what she does,
and for that I’m willing to tip extra.

The Alien

I was a newborn infant
when I landed on this planet,
which must be why I can’t remember
where the hell I left the ship.

I’ve wandered round for decades,
circling and searching
for someone who speaks my language,
who knows something about how we got here
and how we might find home.


We looked like fools,
but you looked so cool
standing there, your elbow
on the counter
and your fingers
wrapped perfectly
around a glass of nonchalance.

You had that mix
of amusement and detachment,
only nodding on occasion
to reservedly give your blessing
to the few songs you approved of.

Us? We danced to every one of them,
like we had no idea our limbs were speaking
in some ridiculous half-baked sign language,
telling everyone
our most embarrassing stories.

You were so cool.
We were such fools.
And still today I feel sorry for you.