--IF YOU’RE STILL BREATHING YOU’RE ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES
…Yesterday was a good day.
Out of the blue, I got a note that someone wanted to publish one of my stories in a college textbook coming out from Columbia Press. I even get paid $150, which is big money for a writer these days.
Then I sent in the nine poems below and all of them got accepted.
…I’ll be gone again this weekend, staying with friends at a very cool place called Indianola.
I hope you have the best weekend ever.
My daughter is looking for answers in
a glass ball of black ink.
I say, “Everybody’s good at something. What
are you good at?”
Without hesitating, my daughter says, “Blowjobs.”
This is how it goes without a wife for me,
without a mother for her—
This house is a cavern and there are things
neither of us wants to know.
“We could go to a show,” I say. “Movie and popcorn, gummi bears.”
“Everything sucks,” she says, her bangs a purple mop draped over her face
as she leans so close to the black ball that she could be almost licking it.
“Well then, what make you happy?”
I’m ready for this. We know each other well and not so well.
“Because I’m good at them. At least that’s what they say.”
I come across the kitchen table and
take the chair next to her,
waiting until she looks up, meets my eye.
“What?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. “Let’s start there.”
Did you notice
that the lake is big enough for two
and the water’s warm as baked biscuits?
Waves slop and slosh with the wind;
doesn’t it sound like messy fun?
Every boat is far away.
The sun is a kind, orange blister hanging high.
Overhead in treetops birds chatter and gossip.
Someone shore-side giggles.
what more could we want?
Yes, I know about that.
It was years ago.
This is today.
Your sister shouldn’t have taken the boat
out by herself.
It wasn’t your fault.
It wasn’t your fault.
It wasn’t your fault.
Here, take my hand.
Did you notice I said please?
Now, just one toe after the other.
When you’re ready for more
I’ll be ready, too.
Over the weekend I have become bold and spontaneous.
Did you notice?
The glasses are all nicely shattered on the tiled kitchen floor
and every plate is a rubble of shards and dust.
The windows will be next to go,
then I’ll have to decide about these walls.
Look, even your cat fears me now,
hissing like a tire under the sofa.
The real test will be your mother.
She always said I lacked moxie,
that I was a timid toad afraid of my own shadow
and yours as well.
I shan’t throw nary a thing her way,
nor lay a hand on her.
I’ve been practicing the art of fire-eating
and if all goes well
I’ll have it down by the time she gets here
and I show her how I can spew flames across the room.
It is indeed exhausting
the way each day finds me
soupy with rank sweat,
tossing a jab here,
an uppercut there,
until my arms are railroad ties
that can no longer be lifted
even if the referee was to declare me victor,
even if I’d finally out-gunned
my regrets for once.
Terrorism Right Here At Home
My son says cops are the real terrorists.
“Here, just look at this,” he says, holding his phone out
so I can see the grainy video of police officers
throwing a black teenager on the ground
while stomping on his head repeatedly without mercy.
“There’s more,” my son says.
I wave him off.
I feel queasy and guilty for some reason.
“312 African Americans have been killed by cops so far this year.
312! And it’s only July!”
He waits for me to reply, but I don’t know what to say
any more than I did when he was a toddler and
his mother passed away.
Finally I offer up, “It’s awful.”
He smiles then, for the first time in years.
“Yeah,” he says, “And they’re going to pay.”
The Kid On The Bus
wispy orange coils that sprout and loop,
that look as if they haven’t been washed for weeks,
that look like termites might be foraging in them,
tearing down a house or the rain forest.
Around his ears he has headphones padded the size of a
toddler’s catcher mitt, though no sound escapes,
yet he writhes and sways in his seat across the aisle from mine.
He’s new, this one. I’ve never seen him.
And still he’s the happiest person on this prison ride to the city.
He looks nothing like Sam,
yet I wonder where my son is,
what he’s doing at this exact minute,
if he’s content,
if he ever thinks of me,
or considers coming back to make amends,
restoring our family.
When I look back the kid catches my eye,
pulls one embellished headphone off his ear and asks if I said something.
I tell him, “No.”
A Change of Seasons
the winds took everything away,
every leaf plucked free like untethered goose down,
tumbleweed rolling across the highway like bony gymnasts,
pine cones clattering off windshields, though,
as I say, it was summer.
And then the sleet and hail came,
hail the size of hacky sacks and stone-hard,
breaking windows and denting doors, cars, the city center statue of Robert E. Lee.
We said our prayers.
We talked of Armageddon.
When fall finally arrived
the world regrew
like a time lapse fast-forwarded:
We said our prayers.
We watched Mother’s boyfriend drive off in a
white-finned ’63 Caddy convertible,
taking everything he wanted with him,
the front seat empty yet loaded.
We watched the taillights wink away.
We watched for any sign of return.
We watched the street
for the rest of that fall
and into the winter.
The Man Across The Lake
has a rifle that he points my way
whenever I am shoreside.
It’s a small lake.
I can almost make out the color of his eyes,
and sound carries well.
When I ask why the gun,
he claims I’m an interloper.
“But this was my grandfather’s cabin,” I yell at him across the wobbly water.
“Get off this land or I’ll shoot you sure as hell.”
Something in his expression,
his fixed gaze sighting the gun
and I remember finding the Polaroids
of Grandpa and that man--
touching and kissing in nearly every photograph.
“You’re him,” I say. “The man in the pictures.”
I hear a click then,
echoing from the other side of the lake
as I turn and sprint.
This pen in my hand
feels like a rusty scalpel,
heavy as a stone sword,
and I’m a bit woozy on nostalgia
thinking about that night
the moon let us down so terrifically,
bloody shadows staining the road forever.
Still I sign anyway, quickly,
remembering Ruby’s ruby-red slippers,
the ones with the flaky Chiclet chips,
her dressed as Dorothy for Halloween,
clicking the heels of her shoes three times,
saying, “There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home,”
before we headed out for the evening.
I had thought—
a car purchase,
a wedding dress and a honeymoon cruise—
any of these would get my signature
instead of a death certificate.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the man of authority says again,
skirting my eyes as he attempt to
take the forms from my fingers.
“Mr. _____,” the man of authority says,
soft and frail,
while I hold tight to the edge of a page,
a toddler in a tantrum,
him not knowing I’m afraid to let go
the way I had released
Ruby’s hand that Halloween night just day ago.
“Mr. _____, please,” he says.
“Please,” he says, “don’t you think this has been
difficult enough already?”