i was twenty two when last i saw you
taillights shrinking as you drove home to your wife
supper cooling on the table.
maybe no one waited
at the window hoping
you’d be home soon.
five thirty every night
the big green truck
ground to a stop and
father swung his lunchbox out,
his polka dotted hat
and dirt lined face
a welcome sight.
later, i wished for men
with worker’s hands to pat
my hair and fix my roof
accountants and historians
proved less than satisfactory
poets and glaziers are skilled
with angles and sharp edges
neither one forgives mistakes since
glass drops out when caulking shrinks
and clever words can’t mask the cracks.
it’s not equal
though i don’t remember why she even said that.
most likely, it had to do with the red taillights
class is dismissed.
Flesh stripped from bones
Left bare to shine in the moonlight
Knocking together like
Mah jong tiles on the table,
Old wise women
Suck tea through their teeth
And laugh at the sound.
It’s a shame old men are the only ones
Who wear fedoras and
Cover their heads, like I should,
To hide from my own judgment.
The skeletons in my closet
rustle behind the coats and umbrellas
my father left behind
when he died.
I couldn’t find my feet beneath me to
Walk to the graveyard to say goodbye.
Instead, when I left him on his deathbed
I said, “See you later”
My suitcase bumping into my heels like a drawbridge
Snapping up behind me.
Now, years later
I dream of a blanket of hats.
I am comforted by tweed and herringbone,
Corduroy and felt,
Parisisal and scally,
The fine lace cap on a baby
Asleep in the castle
Of her own making.
Life happens in brief moments—poetry happens in those moments. Sunday and Monday were peculiar sorts of days. Peculiar in their moments.
On Sunday, Chris, Ian, and I went to town to buy groceries. Yes, I “go to town” to shop. My choices here in the county are entirely too limited. As I was readying myself to go, my phone randomly began to play an old voicemail from my friend Rachel, in Colorado. It didn’t play the message in Colorado, Rachel’s in Colorado. I mumbled about erratic technology, put the phone and my iPad in my bag, and continued with my day.
The first stop of the day was lunch, because it is simply not possible to shop on an empty stomach, and it’s impossible to get a good meal before shopping. As I pulled my phone from my bag, it replayed Rachel’s message again. It said, “Hey, I was thinking about you, love you. See you in a couple of weeks.” I’d listened to it the day she called; I just hadn’t deleted it.
Lunch was unremarkable. The restaurant crowded with an odd mix of people who looked like they had just come from church, and people who had obviously been out late Saturday night, indulging. The service somewhat slow.
As we headed out, a woman stopped me, “Aren’t you that teacher from John Tyler?”
I smiled and said, “Well, I don’t know if I’m that teacher, but I do teach there.” I readjusted my bag, it was heavy, you know, it had an iPad in with everything else I carry.
“Yes, yes—you’re the one who read that story. About the chickens!”
Several months ago, I did a reading at the college. I was one of several readers, and the story was short. I was a little surprised that she remembered me. We chatted for a moment about writing, about her son, about the importance of chasing dreams.
It was an awkward moment. It’s gratifying to be remembered for your stories, but a little awkward in the church/hung over lunch crowd. She requested my email address, which I provided, and I continued on in my quest for groceries.
While Chris and Ian packed the trunk with our spoils, I pulled the iPad from my bag and checked my email.
Once home, Ian and I settled in to watch a few episodes of Enterprise. Yes we’re still watching it. No, I don’t want to talk about it; too much doesn’t add up for the rest of the franchise: tribbles, the Borg, before Captain Kirk? Yeah, but it is the only show in the series we haven’s seen, so there you have it.
About halfway through an episode in which Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) is being held prisoner by the Klingons, I realize my iPad is nowhere to be found. It’s not with my keys and sunglasses, it’s not in my bag. This leaves only one other option; it’s been sitting in my car, windows closed, in the heat, all afternoon. Cool. Well, not really, it’s really the opposite of cool on every level I can imagine. It was out of character for me to carry the iPad to the grocery store, one more thing to have to carry. It was unfathomable to me that I would have left it out in the heat. But I did.
Between episodes (The Crossing and Judgment) I went out to retrieve it. There was a loud, angry squirrel chorus in the yard. At first, I thought to ignore it, but it was an insistent sound, loud, so I followed it.
Around the driveway, I followed the line of cedar trees, looking up to see if, perhaps, one of the barn cats had gotten into a nest or something. Hummingbirds were flitting about, even though the sun was setting (Hummingbirds are early to bed, early to rise sorts of beings), and barn sparrows were circling. Circling.
A rabbit hauled ass across the yard, like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
But it’s the vocal squirrels that kept my attention. I found them on the ground, maybe a half-dozen of them. I inched forward cautiously. They weren’t fighting; they had surrounded a terrapin. Its little eyes glared out of the shell, in a defiant sort of way.
“What the hell? What are y’all doing to that turtle? Is it hurt?” I moved towards it.
Squirrels scattered. The buzz of the hummingbirds stopped. Sparrows disappeared. The terrapin snapped into his shell. One brave, belligerent squirrel continued to complain from the tree line. It was an odd moment. I carried the closed shell into the woods on the other side of my library, beyond the squirrels’ line of vision.
Back in the house, I placed my iPad down next to my phone, which was open to Rachel’s voicemail. Again.
We watched another episode of Enterprise (only 3.5 seasons to go!). I fell asleep thinking about militant squirrels, animals whose only defense is their home, and Rachel.
Monday morning I read about the continuing fires in Colorado and decided to call Rachel later in the day. I watched students’ end-of-term presentations, drafted a poem for Yahoo about the squirrel experience, and read an email that said Rachel’s town was being evacuated.
I picked up my cell phone and discovered that it had stopped downloading voicemails the day after Rachel’s call. Odd, I thought. I tinkered with my poem whilst students drafted their final writing assignments. I worried that perhaps the Universe had been trying to tell me something about Rachel the day before; I just hadn’t been listening.
I left Rachel a voicemail, sent a text to a mutual friend, and drove home to wait for a return call. I google-mapped Rachel’s house, and the High Park fire—they are too close together for my comfort, the gap between house and flames is less than ten miles, maybe less than five. Minutes stretched into hours through lunch, and then dinner. I called Rachel back and she answered her phone. She’s been evacuated. If her home burns, she said, it was meant to be. She’s let go of her possessions that she couldn’t rescue. I thought about the terrapin in the yard, the angry—fiery squirrels that surrounded it. I can’t just pluck her house out of the nearby inferno. But Rachel’s ok.
I titled my poem (thank you everyone who proofed and critiqued for me). It’s unseasonably warm here, the animals are short tempered, fires are raging out of control, Captain Archer saves the world from the Borg, who have, you know, traveled back in time. It’s funny how the Universe brings us things, isn’t it? I thought about the dreams I should be chasing, and then submitted the poem. Resistance is futile.
I’ll let you know when it goes up on Yahoo.
I got my first computer in 1982. It was a cute little thing, a Texas Instruments machine. I used a cassette player as a hard drive. I wanted a computer so that I could take better care of my poetry; so that I could store it someplace safely for all time. But, I didn’t think it through; I didn’t have a printer, and most of the poetry was pretty bad. But it was my poetry and I had everything I’d written since the 7th grade.
I had three 2-inch binders full of poetry. I carried it from home to home, adding pages at every stop. I bought the over-priced little T.I. and insisted to everyone in my world that computers would revolutionize the world. One day there would be a computer in every home, at least in every writer’s home.
It wasn’t a good time in my life to be investing in technology. In the course of two years, I moved from Brockton, to Weymouth, to Plymouth. I divorced and finally came to Virginia. The poetry in binders and on cassette survived, the machine, like my marriage, did not. But I still believed that there would one day be a computer in every home. It was the way of the future. I bought a Tandy.
I first went online at 300bps via my phone line—I could cook a whole meal while waiting for something to download. I frequented Bulletin Boards—hosted one even! I did Prodigy and AOL—set up with their individualized forums… groups… circles. Small forums where people with similar interests communicated…
300, 600, 1200, 2400, 36.6, 48.8, 56k. DSL, Cable…back to DSL. I did it all. I can build a computer out of spare parts—so can my kids. We were early in the personal computer revolution, I have always believed that a personal computer is just that: personal. Everyone here has had his or her own laptop for years.
I reluctantly joined Myspace, because Ian wanted to join—and I thought he should have some sort of adult supervision. It wasn’t long before it was a spamming-malware-filled mess. I stopped logging in when some man sent me a request saying he was trying to friend everyone named Mel Jones. He had 800-something friends all named Mel Jones. It was smarmy. I tried to log in recently and have no idea what my username or password is. I have no idea what email address I would have used.
My poetry is stored on my hard drive.
I moved to Facebook as soon as it was an option. Ah, a world without obnoxious games. No malware-laden posts. I expanded my circle of online friends and acquaintances. I adapted to the ever-changing format. I was happy when the computer stopped telling me who I should leave messages for. That was kind of creepy. Soon after came the malware, games, and creepy people that demanded ever an increasing amount of personal online security settings.
I joined Google+ as soon as I was able. I like Google, I’ve always been a fan of Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar… everything integrated. I like it a lot. I have an Android phone—2 actually! It was a natural progression. It seemed the right thing to do.
After several invites, and being told to try again later… I gained membership. The several denials made it feel like it was some sort of exclusionary club. Someplace I had to be. It’s been hyped all over the news. Even the owner of Facebook is a member! I think he is scoping out the competition. And I think he should be worried, in a way the folks at Myspace weren’t smart enough to be.
Google+ is sleek. It allows me to post comments to this group of people, or that. I can send posts as an email to one circle or another… I can friend people I wouldn’t have added on facebook—because there are things I might not want them to read. You know, like it might not be too cool to friend your employer or employees. But with this new found freedom comes responsibility—I have to remember to define who will read what. I have to be a grown-up. There’s no like button, and I’m guessing there will be no dislike button either. No obnoxious games spamming my feed—not yet. I am hoping that Google will steer clear of that sort of thing.
Myspace was (is?) for kids. Facebook for college students. I am hoping Google is going into this with their eyes wide-open and will continue to streamline their social media for grown ups. I like that it’s invitation only. I will be sad when that changes. I was sad when you didn’t need an .edu email for Facebook anymore…
So far, that’s been my experience there. I’m not ready to let go of Facebook, not ready to forget my password there. But I am ready to migrate to something cleaner. Google, please keep it sleek–streamlined and easy to use. Don’t make me have to slog through all the bullshit to discover one valuable thing. And users—friends–please, please, please keep your facebook fights and break-ups on Facebook. Keep your under-age drunkenness there. Your too-scantily-clad photos. Your pets with pages. If you want to come play with the grown-ups, in a place where italics is an option (yes! I saw a post with italics!), grow up! Or at least only share that nonsense with certain circles…
Right now Google+ is the next best thing. But it has the potential, the opportunity, to be the best thing, free from all the unwieldy, juvenile stuff that drove adults from Myspace to Facebook. Free from all the game and malware-spam that now plagues Facebook. Google+ has the experience of Myspace and Facebook to fall back on. If they’re smart, they will have matured through those experiences…
Scoff if you will, Google+ is social networking for grown people. So, do it, at least until there is a better choice. If you want an invite, let me know. But you have to promise you will use the circles.
Word count: 991
Close to perfect poetry, enjoy! Thank you Julie!
serpent, mother, goddess (for mia)
the ﬁre of her soul bubbles up
like champagne uncorked
and spills from her eyes in ﬁery abandon,
her heart having yearned for a return to the womb
of the place of her birth.
goddess, mother, sister, venus, isis, priestess
holds the serpent in her hands, not underfoot
though she could crush it if she chose.
she does not.
instead, she gathers all the lightning of the sky into her arms
and heaves it forward in a
mighty thrust toward the ends
of the heavens, toward dreamtime, toward waking,
toward the lip of the future that quivers with
unspoken promises and kisses and prayers.
what quiet dreams and waking roars of thunder might clash
in her bosom now that she has turned her tanned face from her past and away from the sullen tossings of her angry adolescence,
raging and screaming at the crushing weight
of her fatherʼs battered wrath.
it is not hers to keep any longer,
she has chosen to set this old story gently in the hills
so green, rolling like the early contractions of birth.
she stands silently
feet planted in the soil of her Mother.
Her brother, her sisters beside her, behind her,
above her, below her.
all the strong yet gentle hands of the women who now smooth
her hair with mud, her eyes colored with black,
her feet bare and hardened by miles
of travel up the mountainʼs breast.
now she understands the reason for her journey
the nights she waited quietly
in the shadows
while the owls circled and the bullfrogs
croaked in the shrinking ponds.
no longer is she drifting in the water of uncertainty
that murky place of doubt and dread.
quietly, she stands then journey forward
the mothers left her here with a water skin and a stick.
walk, dear sister, return to your youth
the time of your birth
when you leapt from your motherʼs womb into a life
of your choosing.
now it is time to take the stick and press
writing the song of your future with your feet,
with your lips with this stick and travel
toward it, as surely as your first breath was breathed.
now, she moves into the night
the light of the moon overhead and the whisper of those creatures
and hidden by the grasses in her ears.
in the distance, a drumming, quiet at first
her heart, perhaps, answers as she makes her way forward
splitting from the trail and toward the ocher cliffs she knows
jut outward toward the stars and then beyond.
each step is echoed by the rattle of the strands
of beads that circle her
caressing the bare of her back and her neck, long
and browned by the sun
venus, given form, a sephira of green and copper
nightingale, dove, peacock and swan
beat their wings with abandon
circle and push forward
now! they say.
emerald, jade, malachite, copper beaten into
sheets and wound around her
on her wrists and neck and ears,
swinging and tinkling with each footfall.
she is beautiful, glorious, strong
no match for those who wish to possess her
though her gifts are freely given
when she is approached with love.
it is nearly impossible to see her now
in the distance
if you turn your head
just slightly, her strong form moves there
over the rise in the green mists and the mud huts
with their tawny grasses stand on the earth as they have
since the first mother sprang from her lovers rib.
you might wonder if she will return to you
but do not. all is as it should be, rock unto rock,
breath unto breath, blood warm in her veins. nothing will ever
stop her now. she is home.